“No, wear this one!” Zayn tugs at Liam’s loose red jumper insistently and shoves a blue, fitted shirt at him instead.
“Oh, how the tables have turned,” Liam half grumbles as he shrugs his favorite jumper off and places it in Zayn’s waiting hands, “I almost miss the times when you were afraid of me. Now I don’t even get dibs on my own clothes.”
Scrunching up his nose at his Dom, Zayn pulls on the article of clothing that Liam’s just shed, retorting, “It looks better on me anyway.”
“That, it does,” Liam chuckles, pulling Zayn into his arms and whispering, “Now, how about helping me get this damn shirt on.”
They’re traveling up to Zayn’s old home today, so Liam can ‘meet the folks’ half a week before their ceremony, which Liam has steeled himself for by memorizing the entire wikipedia page on “Pakistani Wedding Customs”, much to Zayn’s amusement.
“We’re not that traditional, you know,” Zayn laughs as Liam asks for what must be the fifteenth time that day, if it’s true that they’d be kept away from each other for three days before the wedding.
“When we’re back, I’m going to marry you again in a little chapel though,” Liam says, “I’m traditional that way.”
“Or you can’t get enough of me.”
“Cheeky,” Liam pokes at Zayn’s nose, which the Sub immediately scrunches up, sticking out his tongue at Liam. “But true. We should get married every month. We’ll have a Chinese wedding next month, an Italian one next month, then...”
“I’ll bankrupt you.”
“You mean you won’t love me if I’m poor?”
“I’d love you anyway.”
And really, that’s enough. Liam knows they’re both being extra cheeky and disgusting with each other today to hide their collective nervousness at stepping foot in Zayn’s childhood home - a place Liam’s not sure if he should love or hate. He’s gotten over his disdain for Yaser and his ways by now - the way Zayn’s speaks about his family so lovingly and regards his father with such reverence has finally made Liam accept that though their family runs different from his, they don’t love Zayn any less. The thought that Zayn will be seen as his lesser, though, still makes Liam’s stomach churn with discomfort, and he can only hope that Zayn never believes that again.
Karen and Geoff are heading up too - they’d been introduced to Zayn in a Skype conversation after Liam told them that he was going ahead with the wedding anyway. The resolution on the screen may have been shit, and the connection crappy, but Liam could tell that his parents had taken to Zayn almost immediately. The Sub on the other hand, had been thrumming with nervous energy throughout the conversation, and turned instantly to Liam to ask “How did I do?” the second they hung up.
“Zayn?” Liam asks just as they bundle into the car to make the two-hour drive to Lakeview.
“You’re lovely and I’m lucky to have you. I’m going to love your folks too. Trust me, okay?”
“Okay,” Zayn gives Liam a reassuring, yet shaky smile, “Love you.”
“Love you more.”
Zayn, predictably, falls asleep during the ride, leaving Liam humming along to whatever’s on the radio. It’s just as well he’s got a GPS installed in the car because he’s hopeless at reading maps and the snoozing, limp form in his passenger seat is pretty much useless for the next two hours.
Liam doesn’t mind though. It’s times like this that he gets lost in his thoughts for a while, thinking about the future ahead. He hasn’t told Zayn yet, but he’s got a couple of interviews lined up in the next month with a few state football teams that are interested in taking him. In fact, Liam’s easily one of the highest-sought college players in the country, which means that he might have to move after he decides on the best offer.
What he isn’t sure about though, is whether he wants to make a career out of the NFL. After all, there’s only so long he can play before newer, younger players come up and he gets relegated to the sidelines. A little while longer, and perhaps Liam Payne the starlet will become Liam Payne the coach, having given the prime of his life to football.
He knows Niall has decided he’s done with football after college, though he’s almost as good as Liam, and no less in demand. “‘M selling out and goin’ corporate!” he had declared.
Quite honestly, he’s worried about Zayn. He’s due to start his new job the following month at the preschool Liam had seen, and he honestly doesn’t want to disrupt Zayn’s life anymore than he already has. Now he knows the Sub will surely follow him to the other end of the world if he asked, but what would he do when Liam’s away, playing for his team?
“I can hear you thinking,” Zayn says as Liam stops at a cross-junction, “You’re worried.”
“And you’re up, sleepyhead.”
“Why’re you worried?”
Sighing, Liam turns to look at Zayn before confessing, “Honestly, I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do after graduation. Y’know, married man and all.”
“You’re going to be a star.”
“Can’t be a star without you.”
“You’ll come home often, won’t you? And I’ll have you when it’s off-season?”
“I might move to the other end of the country.”
“You’ll fly back every week, right? I’m sure the team is generous with their allowances for their star players.”
“Wanna take you with me.”
“Can’t put my promising teaching career away for you,” Zayn teases.
“Babe...” Liam looks at Zayn, his Zayn, trying to be strong for him and he feels guilty, “Come with me, babe. You’re not going to be a burden. They’re plenty of schools in the country that need teachers like you.”
“If you go.”
“You’ll always come, right?”
“I’d want you to. Honestly, I don’t think I can go anywhere without you.”
“You think my dad’s gonna ask you about your plans for us in the future?” Zayn looks out of the window at the now familiar streets, remembering that he’s about to go home. There’s a sinking feeling in his stomach that accompanies the excitement of seeing his family again. That sinking feeling that he can only attribute to the fear of how Liam will react to his family.
“Well then it’s great that we’ve gotten it sorted out now, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. But he sure wasn’t thinking when he dropped me off at your place though.”
“You okay, babe?” Liam frowns. It isn’t like Zayn to say anything negative about Yaser or his family at all. In fact, Liam had expected more excitement on his part, after not having seen his family for a month.
“I don’t… I don’t think you’ll like them, or love them. I’m sorry,” Zayn sighs as the car comes to a stop outside his familiar, yet foreign home, “We’re different from you.”
“But I love you, don’t I? And I’m not going to love you any less just because your family is different. Sure, maybe I don’t agree with some things they’ve done, but as far I can see, a family that raised someone like you, can’t be all that bad, can it?”
Zayn gives a weary smile, stepping out into the cold as Liam comes up beside him, grasping his right hand in his tightly.
“Welcome home, baby.”
Liam honestly expected the Malik household to be more… different. But other than the exotic fragrance of Pakistani food wafting from the kitchen, Zayn’s childhood home is very much like Liam’s own, with pictures of the Maliks dotting the walls. A place that is unmistakably home, and a very warm one at that.
Yaser heads for Zayn the minute the pair step in, pulling the boy into a hug and ruffling his hair fondly. He offers a Liam a hand, which Liam takes and shakes stiffly, their previous exchange not forgotten. As gesture of goodwill and out of consideration for Zayn though, Liam cracks a small smile and nods at Yaser as he’s offered a seat.
It shouldn’t unsettle Liam this way when Zayn instinctively goes to sit on the floor between his legs, his head coming to rest on Liam’s knee. Afterall, Zayn had begged him to go with it, as though Liam wouldn’t put up with anything for his sake. He settles for running his fingers through Zayn’s dark mop of hair and pulling gently like how Zayn likes it, earning a pleased hum from his Sub.
“He is sweet, isn’t he?” says Yaser, addressing Liam quite literally over Zayn’s head.
“He is,” Liam replies, looking down as he speaks to Zayn sincerely, “The sweetest.”
“Only because you haven’t met his mum.”
Liam raises an eyebrow as Zayn chuckles, prompting Yaser to give an amused bark of laughter before he says, “They say when you meet the one, you just know. Still as madly in love with her as when we first met.”
Liam laughs too, because, of course he knows that feeling, Zayn makes him feel it every single minute of the day. As if on cue, Tricia comes out of the kitchen with snacks and apologizing for not coming out to meet him earlier.
“There was a riot in the kitchen, what with Waliyha and Safaa being no help at all!” she exclaims, gesturing to the two young girls who’ve bounded out of the kitchen, excited to meet Liam.
Liam cannot help but notice how much Zayn looks like his mother and sisters, with matching deep set eyes and dark hair. Zayn’s smile, though, was definitely a product of Yaser’s - the same open laugh and possibly the same quirky sense of humor too. He thinks he can definitely learn to like this family.
“Is he your boyfriend?” Safaa, the youngest, asks Zayn and the older Sub instantly blushes, not having had to field such questions before.
“Husband,” Liam corrects, beaming at the little girl, “A little late to the party, aren’t you, Princess?”
“I’m not a princess! I’m a pirate!” Safaa declares before launching herself into Zayn’s lap, “Zayn’s the princess!”
“Safaa!” Tricia and Zayn both exclaim at her in a mixture of horror and amusement.
“Gonna grow up to be a Dom or the most impossible Sub ever, this one. Waliyha too.” Yaser comments, “You can always tell with your own. That’s what a friend of mine used to say.”
“My dad?” Liam ventures, feeling particularly brave now that the ice’s been broken.
“You’re a smart one, aren’t you? Yeah, James always knew. He’d tell me things about you. Always beaming with pride whenever he mentioned his Liam. And I’d never seen you or met you. But looking at my boy… I just knew.”
Liam can feel Zayn tensing from where he’s seated, as though preparing for Liam to make some kind of snarky remark the way he always does when his dad is mentioned.
Yaser’s right though, what he says about just knowing. Having a Sub changes you, and knowing he’s definitely the one has made Liam particularly soft and open when it comes to Zayn. He can feel Zayn’s anxiety and worry, and Liam wants nothing more than to tamp it down and to reassure him that everything’s gonna be alright.
“My dad… He’s made one good choice then,” Liam manages, smiling as he continues to play with his Sub’s hair, feeling his worry melt away at Liam’s civil reply.
The stereotype about Pakistani families is true though. After being introduced to Zayn’s older sister, Doniya, who’d given him the sister’s version of a shovel talk and warned him to take care of my baby brother, Liam had been shown so many Uncles, Aunties and friends of the family that he was about to lose track of who was Yaser’s sister’s husband’s brother, or which one of the cousins it was now running into the living room, playing catch with yet another cousin Liam couldn’t remember the name of.
There’s something about large families that warms Liam’s heart. He’d never had siblings or many cousins his age growing up, and watching as Zayn plays with his cousins and little sisters makes him wonder if his Sub would ever be up for adopting one… or six children and building a big family of their own. Harry and Louis would want in on them too, and they’d probably be the Uncles that spoiled their kids rotten. Niall would probably kidnap them from time to time and try to teach them guitar or football.
And Zayn? Zayn would be the best dad ever. He’d tell them stories and sing to them, teach them English and Math and important things like how to be a good person. And Liam would teach them football and deal with the bullies at school. He’d probably have to be the disciplinarian too while Zayn would kiss their boo boos, comfort them and coddle them. They would make the most lovely family.
Liam just knows.