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Blood Slave

Blood Slaves are an integral member of the clan. Also referred to as 'blood pets' or more kindly as 'human subjugates', Blood Slaves are subservient humans sworn to obey every command of the vampire(s) they are loyal to. The history of the Blood Slave is as ancient as that of our kind, for as long as vampires have lived, humans have served as both our servants and our food supply.

In essence, a Blood Slave is owned completely (mind, body and soul) by the clan it is loyal to for the entire duration of it's lifetime as a human. It is a Blood Slave's duty to provide the clan with the blood which sustains us, as well as

 

"Why are you reading that again?"

Liam looks up sharply, the ancient book nearly slipping out of his hands. He shuts it quickly with a snap that sends dust wafting up into his face, his nose wrinkling as he inhales. Zayn is giving him an expectant look, waiting for an answer and, just as the text said, it's his duty to provide one because Zayn requested it and Liam belongs to him.

"I don't know," he admits with a shrug, pushing the book back into its spot on the shelf between two equally old, leather bound books with worn covers and pages that have turned from white to a pale cream colour from time and usage. "Harry always tells me it's good to read up on your history."

"Our," Zayn corrects. "Our history."

Liam makes a face at him. "It's not really my history and you know it," he argues. "I'm not a blood-slave." He says it almost defiantly, raising his eyebrows like he's expecting Zayn to deny, or maybe confirm, that statement.

A soft smile tugs at Zayn's lips, barely there, just a little upward twist and a slight glimmer of perfect white teeth as he crosses the room to adjust the book Liam had just put back so it doesn't stick out any farther than the others. When he's done, he turns to Liam and puts a hand under Liam's chin, tilting it up just a fraction. "Of course you're not," he says, gentle and soft. "You're a lot more than that and you know it, Liam. And Harry would rip apart anyone who dared to refer to you as something as barbaric as—"

Liam drops his chin again, grinning widely. "I know," he admits. While it's not exactly ideal, the life he has, he knows it could be a lot worse.

See, while Liam technically is a 'Blood Slave', as crude and outdated of a term as that is, he's not treated as one. He's met others like him, other human subjugates from other, older clans. When he was fourteen and the Kenward clan had stayed with them for a few weeks, Liam had first noticed the drastic difference in how their subjugate (a beautiful girl much older than Liam with flat, dead blue eyes) was treated. She wasn't allowed to eat unless instructed to, she wasn't allowed to sleep unless granted permission. And then there was Kara, who didn't belong to a clan so much as a single vampire name William, who wasn't even allowed to speak unless directly spoken to by William, even when he wasn't in the room.

But Liam, on the other hand, has a lot more freedom. He's not stupid enough, not deluded enough to think that he's an actual member of the clan, that he doesn't belong to them, but he's still different from the others of his kind. Liam has his own room, with his own things that he likes. Liam is free to explore every inch of their home whenever he likes (excluding Zayn's room, of course, but Niall and Harry don't seem to mind when he goes in theirs). He's not expected to clean or cook for the others. He's not their maid or their servant. He's allowed to say no, have a mind, a personality, of his own.

They still feed off him, though. That's the only thing he has in common with others of his kind, but it could be worse. And, really, what's giving up a few pints of blood when he could have been giving up his free will?

"Anyways." Zayn lets his hand drop back to his side. "Harry asked me to let you know that dinner is ready."

Living in this house whole life, rarely allowed to leave (okay, so maybe Liam isn't as free as he convinces himself he is sometimes), has left Liam with a lot of free time. Over the years he's read up on everything there is to know about vampires, from factual pieces of text to fictional romance novels. Despite popular opinion, they're not actually dead. They're very much alive, very much like him, only they're enhanced. They eat and sleep, just like Liam. Blood still pumps through their veins, and their hearts still beat. Only their hearts beat slower, and the blood that runs through their veins is black as the night sky without the stars shining through it.

It's that blood that makes them what they are. That slows down their ageing, that makes them faster, stronger, more than human. It's that blood that makes them crave Liam's. Like sunlight to plants, vampires require human blood to live. Without it, they deteriorate. Without it, they wither. Without it, they die.

Without Liam, he sometimes thinks, they would die. Not that they exclusively feed off him. Three vampires, one human, he's just not enough. But he's their main blood supply. He's what keeps them going when they don't have the energy to hunt. He's like — he's their microwavable dinner: Easy, convenient.

Liam's lips twist at that thought, but the analogy is close enough to the truth no matter how unpleasant.

"Tell me he's not still on his health kick," Liam pleads as they leave the library. "I can't eat asparagus again. I'm starting to turn green."

"You don't look green to me," Zayn comments. His hand brushes Liam's arm, skin a little cooler than Liam's own. That's how they all are, cool to the touch, like they'd spent the last ten minutes standing outside in the middle of winter. "You look tan." And then Zayn's pulling him to a stop, and Liam's flushing. Zayn's gaze is roaming over his body and it makes him feel a little too hot. "And pink."

"Pink?"

Zayn brushes a thumb over Liam's cheek, nail scratching lightly, not enough to draw blood but enough to send a quick, sharp sting of pain through him. "And tempting," he adds, licking at his lips. "Always tempting."

Zayn's eyes glaze over for a moment, pupil expanding until the faintly caramel colour of his eyes are swallowed by black. It used to terrify him, when he was younger. Now, it sends a jolt through him, one filled with something he can't quite name, can't exactly place, and he's not sure he really wants to.

But he pushes that down, concern rising up inside him instead. "When was the last time you fed?" he demands.

Zayn blinks and his eyes are normal again. "I don't know," he admits with a soft shrug of his thin shoulders. It's such a human gesture, something the older vampires never do, from what Liam had seen over the years. But just as Liam's a little different from others of his kind, so are Zayn and the rest of their clan. They're younger, more prone to human outbursts of emotions and mannerisms. Sometimes Liam even forgets they're not like him. "Days, maybe. A week or so. It's not as if I keep track."

Zayn doesn't, no, but Harry does. He's got a journal on his bed side table, and Liam had sneaked a peek at it once. He doesn't know why, but Harry very carefully tracks every time he's so much as taken a sip of human blood. It's a little morbid, in Liam's opinion.

"Do you want to—?"

Zayn shakes his head sharply, starting down the hall again. "Later," he adds. "After you've eaten."

Liam frowns at his back, but he hurries after Zayn anyway. It's not exactly his job to make sure they're all well fed and healthy, but Liam's taken it on as his responsibility anyway. And Zayn gets like this, sometimes, where he'll go weeks and weeks without feeding from anyone. Weeks where his skin will go from just this side of pale to a grey, ashen colour. Where his cheeks will thin and his eyes will look like two amber coloured suns hanging high above the snow coloured ground, huge and concerning in the hollows of his face.

"Zayn," he says, warning in his tone. Sometimes Liam is convinced that Zayn is testing himself, seeing how long he can withhold from feeding before he dies from it. And sometimes Liam is convinced that he will, one day. (Another, terrified part of him thinks that maybe that's exactly what Zayn wants.)

"Don't test me, Liam," Zayn snaps, his own tone of warning a little sharper, a little more intimidating. "I told you, after you've eaten."

"But—"

"No." It's forceful, no room for argument. "Would it kill you to look after yourself for once, over the rest of us? To put your own welfare above ours for just a moment?"

"Maybe," Liam admits. Because that is his job, taking care of the rest of them, technically. And Liam loves them all, too. Loves Harry's slow drawl and his insightful word. Loves the way that Niall seems to forget, just as Liam does, what he is, with his bright laughter and sharp grins. And he loves Zayn, too, and his bouts of broodiness and his occasional slips, ones where he laughs and grins and shines brightly instead of cloaking himself in the shadows the way he's prone to do.

So, yes, it would probably kill Liam if he put himself first and something bad were to happen to any of them.

Zayn doesn't seem very happy with that answer. His eyes narrow to slit, and he spits something under his breath that sounds a lot "Stupid human." Liam glares at his back all the way to the dining room because of it.

Niall and Harry are inside waiting for them, as they always are. The dining room is a huge, nearly empty room with mahogany coloured walls lined with sconces. There's an incredibly large (too big for all of them, completely unnecessary in size) table in the center, seated on a blood red carpet with a matching red table cloth. An enormous chandelier hangs above it, lighting the room instead of the unlit sconces. That chandelier terrifies Liam, has since the day he got here. It hangs precariously over them, and sometimes Liam swears it swings from side to side like a pendulum, threatening to crash down and crush them all.

"Who pissed on your grave?" Harry asks, amused gaze focused on Zayn as he slumps into one of the seats.

"Fuck off," Zayn mutters.

Liam seats himself closest to Niall, at the other end of the table. Niall, who's already piled his own plate full of food from the many dishes lining the table. Harry always goes overboard, cooks for a crowd as opposed to just the four of them. And Niall always eats before everyone's settled, no matter how impolite that is. The rest of them have stopped trying to break him of the habit.

Liam helps himself to a bit of potatoes, stomach growling at the smell of cooked meat. It's been weeks, it feels like, since Harry's allowed them to eat anything aside from steamed fish and green vegetables. He's dying to dig into the pot roast to his left, to pile his plate high with the buttery mashed potatoes and eat until he feels sick.

"See?" Niall says through his food, pointing his fork at Harry. "Liam's looking at those potatoes like he hasn't eaten in months. I told you that your healthy food shit was killing us all."

"Healthy food doesn't kill you," Harry says haughtily. "That's why it's healthy."

"It's healthy to eat unhealthy things in moderation," Niall counters. "What's not healthy is expecting us to live off fucking broccoli and green beans."

Liam grins to himself as he eats. Sometimes he thinks they argue with each other just for the sake of doing so. To keep things entertaining. Neither of them look particularly upset, Niall's blue eyes crinkling at the sides in a grin, Harry's lips twitching as he tries to fight off one of his own.

"Yeah, well," Harry says. "Shut up and eat. Unless you'd like to do the cooking around here."

Niall shuts up and eats.

The rest of dinner is spent mostly in silence, the only sounds being the scraping of utensils against plates and the occasional satisfied groan from Niall. Liam spends his meal eating and watching Zayn push his food around on his plate, looking down at it with disinterest and a bit of disgust.

So he is in one of those moods, then. They happen periodically for seemingly no reason, where Zayn's attitude plummets and with it so does his appetite for anything, food or blood. Liam sighs at him for it, and Zayn lifts his gaze, like he knows why Liam did it, can read his mind. He can't, thank goodness, but Liam used to wonder until Harry assured him that, no, they can't read minds. Liam's not sure what he'd do if they could, but he has a feeling they wouldn't have kept him around long enough to find out. (Not that he thinks a lot of bad things about any of them, but when you live in a confined space with only a small group of people, sometimes they all rub each other the wrong way.)

"So," Harry says loudly, finally ending the silence. "I sort of have an announcement."

"Oh, this'll be good," Niall groans. "What this time? Tell me you haven't hired one of those human decorators to do our living room again, Harry, because last time—"

"No, I haven't," Harry says lowly, finally looking a little annoyed for the first time that night. It's a touchy subject, the remodelling they'd tried to do a few years ago. Liam wasn't here at the time, but he's heard stories. (And that blood stain hasn't ever come out of the carpet in the formal living room.) "It's about Louis, actually."

That piques even Zayn's interest, and excitement has Liam sitting up a little straighter in his seat. "You mean the Louis?" Liam asks. "The other member of—"

"Yes." Harry doesn't cut people off, normally. He's very polite, Harry, has taken etiquette courses numerous times during his life. But in certain situations, Harry knows when he has to cut people off, or it'll take him forever to get through what he's trying to say. "Yes, Liam, that Louis. The postcard came in the mail today, and he says he's coming home."

Zayn snorts loudly. "That's what he said three years ago, remember? When he was in Spain, he sent us a letter saying he'd be home within a month. He never showed."

Louis is the fourth member of their clan (unless you include Liam, in which case he'd be the fifth, but Liam never does count himself, not really). Liam's never met him. He was thirteen when he'd arrived at the manor, and Louis had been gone since then. They'd told him Louis was on a trip visiting family, and that he'd be back eventually. Liam thought that 'eventually' meant a couple weeks, maybe a month or two at the most. But apparently vampire vacations take a lot longer, since it's been five years and Louis has yet to return.

It's a little hard not to get his hopes up, but Zayn has a point. Louis' sent word that he's coming home several times over the years, and he never has. "Do you think he really will this time?"

"I know he will," Harry says confidently.

"What are you basing that assumption on?" Zayn asks. "Just because you want him to come back, doesn't mean he's actually going to."

Harry frowns at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Zayn shrugs. "Means he's been gone ten years, Harry. I doubt he's coming back."

"Fuck you," Harry hisses. He pushes away from the table, his chair scrunching up the carpet as he does. And then Harry's flitting from the room, gone in the blink of an eye.

"What did you do that?" Niall demands. "You know how he gets."

"And you know that we should stop coddling him," Zayn snaps right back. "Louis isn't coming back and we both know it. Pretending that he's going to is only going to make it harder for Harry to get over it when he inevitably realizes it isn't going to happen."

Liam slowly inches his chair back. A human stuck in the middle of a vampire argument is never a good idea. While he has no doubt that neither of them would ever mean to hurt him, he doesn't exactly trust them to refrain themselves if they're fighting. Liam could easily be a casualty in a fight that left neither of them with a single scratch, and he doesn't want to risk it.

"Sit down, Liam," Zayn growls. Liam sits immediately.

"Oh, put your fangs away, you prick," Niall mutters. Unlike Harry, he barely jostles the table as he stands. "You know, just because you're miserable doesn't mean you have to bring the rest of us down with you."

And then there were two. Zayn rubs a hand over his face, shoulders drooping. Liam sucks his bottom lip into his mouth, moving his plate away from him. Suddenly the food doesn't seem at all appetising. He wants to move to the other side of the table and put a hand on Zayn's arm, wants to comfort him even though he knows that Zayn is the one in the wrong here. He was the one who went off on Liam, first, and then Harry, and then Niall, but that doesn't stop Liam from wanting to take that pained look on his face away.

"Eat," Zayn says without looking up. "All of it."

"But I'm not—"

"Liam."

Liam flinches, he can't help it. Zayn's eyes are black again, and there's something dangerous in his tone. Or maybe it's just the flash of pointed, deathly sharp teeth. Either way, Liam picks up his fork and starts clearing his plate in heaving bites that taste like cardboard.

When he's done, he stands and starts clearing the table, but Zayn gets out of his seat and waves him off. "I've got it," he says. And, before Liam can even protest, "Go."

"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the coffin today," Liam mutters, heading for the door.

"I heard that," Zayn calls after him.

Liam grins over his shoulder. "I know. Come see me after, okay?"

"Okay," Zayn says, offhandedly, and Liam knows he doesn't plan on it.

He heads for his room anyways, climbing the winding back staircase. The house is huge, ridiculous so, and sometimes Liam is still afraid of getting lost. But he loves the back staircase the most, out of every place in the manor. It goes up and up, past the second floor, past the third, all the way to the attic room at the top, where Zayn spends most of his time. Liam's own room is on the second floor, in the east wing, along with Niall's. Harry's is on the third, as is Louis' empty bedroom that Liam's snuck into on several occasions, too curious or bored to stop himself. And then on the top floor is Zayn's room. It's the only one up there, in this wing of the house.

Liam's bedroom is the smallest, but he doesn't mind. It has the biggest window, with a bench seat and everything, as well as thick curtains that are usually kept closed. Vampires are nocturnal by nature, and Liam has learned to be, too, which is why his curtains are made specifically to keep the light out so he can sleep peacefully through the day without the sun shining through the cracks.

The first thing Liam does inside is go over to the window and push those curtains open. It's still dark out, and it will be for a few more hours. It's a gloomy, cloudy night, the kind where the sky looks more grey than black, where the stars don't shine and the moon shows in slivers and intervals as the clouds blow past. Liam cracks his window just to feel the cool air, and he breathes deeply, even as goosebumps break out on his skin.

Liam has everything any guy his age could possibly want in his room. He has a large flat screen TV against one wall, an Xbox hooked up to it. He has an extensive DVD collection in a glass stand, along with an expensive stereo system and any CD he's ever wanted. He has a desktop computer, and a shelf of books and comics.

It's their way of making it up to him, he thinks. Anything Liam asks for, he gets, like the spoiled child of two parents who aren't around enough that buy his love instead of earning it. But he doesn't mind because, again, he could have it a lot worse. And maybe it's still terribly boring, being stuck on the property at all times, but he once read in another one of those history books that some clans make their humans sleep on the floor at the ends of their beds like dogs.

At least Liam's treated like a human, even if he's a trapped one.

 

 

*

 

Zayn hadn't come to him the day before, and Liam knows that he won't do it on his own. So he gets up the next day, just as the sun sets low in the sky, and plans to corner him. He showers first, dresses in his comfiest sweats because he has a feeling Zayn's going to yell at him, and he prefers to be comfortable when he's getting yelled at.

No one else is up yet, unsurprisingly. Niall sleeps late, and Zayn's words last night have no doubt put Harry in a mood, which means he'll likely sulk in his bedroom for the next week. Liam always gets up the earliest, and he hates it. The house is creepy at dusk, when he's the only one awake. The floorboards creek, and none of the lights are on. The years he's spent living here have yet to make that uncomfortable feeling go away as he pads down the dark hallway in his socked feet, but he has a feeling that no amount of time will ever change that feeling.

Not that he really has anything to worry about, he rationalizes. He lives with the kind of creatures that keep most people awake at night, and he happens to be pretty fond of the three of them.

But if Liam's hallway has him shuddering, Zayn's makes his heart hammer in his chest. The attic has always been the worst, has always seemed the most frightening. It's more cave-like than anything, what with the way Zayn's covered each of the windows with large oil paintings. Sound bounces off the walls with no way to escape, and it's pitch black.

The floor groans underneath him and Liam nearly jumps at the sound. He rolls his eyes at himself and reaches along the wall for the doorknob to Zayn's room, and then he spends the next minute searching for the light switch.

Zayn's room barely brightens. The light in the fixture is weak, barely illuminating the space. Liam's always wondered why Zayn likes it like that, but he's never asked.

Of course, Zayn is still fast asleep in his four-poster bed, burgundy comforters pulled up to his chin. His skin looks even more ashen in the lowlight, his lashes fanned across his cheeks like smudges of black paint. Zayn always looks so much softer when he sleeps, with his hair fluffed around his pillow and his lips parted. When there isn't that hard set to his mouth, and his eyes aren't narrowed black slits, he looks so much younger. But his cheekbones are still sharp, and his jaw is still covered in coarse, dark hair, somehow managing to be jagged and dangerous even at his softest.

"Zayn," Liam says. He reaches out, gently shaking Zayn's shoulder.

Zayn sighs and curls up on himself, tucking his head into the blanket. "Go 'way."

"Wake up," Liam prompts. He shakes Zayn a little harder. "I told you to come see me yesterday."

Zayn's eyes snap open and he lets out an inhuman hiss, all sharp teeth and eyes the colour of coal. Liam snorts at him for it.

"You don't scare me," Liam states, but he kind of does. Only Liam's used to this, used to Zayn's hissy fits in the morning. "Get up."

"Get out," Zayn warns. "I swear I'll—"

"You'll what?" Liam asks. "Hiss at me some more? Flash your fangs again? I'm sorry, Zayn, but you're all bark and no—"

Zayn leaps at him. Liam doesn't even have time to suck in a breath before he's falling, Zayn's weight knocking into him. But Zayn turns them at the last second so it's his own back that smacks against the ground, making Liam's teeth chatter. As soon as they've landed, Zayn flips them over, trapping Liam easily under him.

Liam takes a shuddering breath, looking up into Zayn's eyes. They're once again the colour of chocolate and whiskey mixed together and Liam knows he has nothing to worry about right now. Not that he ever does, he thinks, since he trusts them all completely. He sort of has to, what with the fact that the three of them sink their fangs into him on a weekly basis. There has to be a bit of trust there, or Liam would live in a constant state of fear.

"You know you're not supposed to be in my room," Zayn says, his words a little thick and muffled from his fangs. "You know that, Liam."

He does. He doesn't have many rules, Liam. Don't leave the house. Don't touch Harry's collection of letters from Louis. Don't go in Zayn's room. They're pretty easy to remember, but he has a habit of breaking that last one as often as possible. He likes Zayn's room, is the thing. It's nice and so warm from the fireplace. It's almost cozy, if you ignore the dungeon-like aspect of it, the way the ceiling swoops low, narrows in parts because of the roof, and the fact that all the windows are blocked off.

"Sorry," Liam says fairly easily, given the body on top of his. Zayn's holding himself up on both of his hands, though, balancing all of his weight so he's not crushing Liam in the slightest. "But you need to…"

Liam trails off, swallowing thickly. Zayn's eyes aren't on his own anymore. They're trailing down his neck, his fangs digging into his bottom lip. Liam was expecting this to be hard, getting Zayn to drink from him, but judging by Zayn's unsteady breathing, it'll be a lot easier than he thought. He seems pretty close to the edge already, all Liam has to do is give him a little push and he'll take the fall.

"Go ahead," Liam says, tilting his head to the side, exposing his throat. "You have to."

Zayn looks conflicted. His eyes dart from Liam's face, back down to his neck. He's panting now, nails scratching against the wooden floor as his hands curl. "Why do you have to be so fucking hard to resist?" he asks.

"It's what I'm here for," Liam reminds him. "Go on."

Zayn makes a noise that doesn't sound at all like it belongs to him as he grabs Liam's wrist, tugging his arm up. He pushes back the sleeve of Liam's sweatshirt, eyes inky black pools as he digs his thumbnail into Liam's skin. There's a jab of pain, and Liam sucks in a sharp breath as Zayn pulls his thumb back, watching in fascination as blood wells from the wound, slowly trickling down Liam's wrist.

And then he brings it to his mouth, glaring at Liam the whole time.

There's this dull ache, as there always is. It's like getting a shot, Liam's always thought. He builds it up in his head as this big, painful ordeal that makes him dread it, but once it's happening it's not actually that bad. Sure, it hurts. Zayn's teeth sink into his wrist and it hurts, but that pain fades within seconds, turning into something a lot more bearable.

Zayn refuses to break eye contact, and Liam feels trapped in his gaze as Zayn feeds off him. It churns Liam's stomach a bit, watching the way his own blood drips down Zayn's chin, thick and dark and contrasting starkly with his skin tone, hearing the low moan that slips out with it. It also does other things to him, but Liam doesn't think about that because Zayn's teeth sink in a bit more, and Liam hisses in pain but he tries to hide it.

Zayn hears it anyways. He jerks Liam's arm away from him, his lips stained with blood. Liam watches his fangs disappear before looking down at his own arm where it lays flat against the wood now. There's a perfect mark there from Zayn's mouth, and he can pinpoint where each tooth had dug in. But even as he looks at it, it starts to close over. In an hour or so, it'll be scabbed. By tomorrow it'll be a faint scar. Another day and he won't be able to tell it was ever there.

Liam's not sure how that works, what heals the wound so fast. He thinks there's something in vampire saliva, maybe, but he's not positive. And the others never answer him when he asks.

"Wipe your mouth," Liam complains. It's always grossed him out, the blood. "You're a mess."

"Does it bother you?" Zayn wonders.

"You know it does."

Zayn nods. "Good," he says, licking obscenely at his mouth, chasing the last of Liam's blood from his lips. It's still drying on his chin, and his teeth are a faint pink colour from it. "I want it to bother you. I want it to scare you."

"It doesn't." It skeeves him out, yes. But it doesn't scare him. It hasn't scared him for years.

"Idiot," Zayn grumbles. He stands up, shaking his head in disappointment. Liam doesn't know what he's done to deserve that, but Zayn doesn't offer an explanation. (He never does.) But he does offer a hand, which Liam takes, allowing Zayn to tug him to his feet.

"Shit," Liam groans, eyes shutting against the black spots in his vision. He wobbles, a bit unsteady, and his head feels so light.

Zayn's arm goes around his waist, holding him up. Liam needs it, right now, but he doesn't really need to sink into it. Doesn't need to cling to Zayn like he can't keep himself up without leaning completely into him, which he knows he can. Liam's a bit selfish, though, so he lets himself have this one moment.

The cold tip of Zayn's nose nudges against his jaw, and Liam keeps his eyes clamped shut, not wanting to ruin this. "Idiot," Zayn mutters again, this time with his lips grazing Liam's neck. "You're so stupid."

"Sorry."

Zayn pushes him back, keeping his arms on Liam's shoulders, though. "Do you even know what you're apologizing for?"

"Um." Liam shakes his head. "Upsetting you?"

Zayn drops his hands, turning away from Liam. "You don't upset me," he sighs. "You worry me."

Liam is genuinely baffled. "Why?" Zayn is the worrying one, if anything.

"That," Zayn says as he sinks onto his bed. "That is exactly why you worry me. You don't even realize it."

Liam pulls his sleeve down to cover the wound on his arm. "I don't even realize what?"

Zayn sighs again, looking up at the ceiling. "Go back to your room, Liam," he says before getting back under the covers.

"I'd rather stay here, though," Liam mumbles. He tugs his shirt down self-consciously, eyes on the floor, expecting some kind of scolding for that. He doesn't get it, but he does get a pointed look from Zayn that very clearly says he's not welcome to stay. "Fine," he snaps. "Go back to bed, then. I'll entertain myself."

"Shut off the light on your way out," Zayn calls after him.

Liam leaves it on out of spite.

 

 

*

 

It's about two in the morning when Liam starts mopping the grand foyer. He's doing it because he wants to, not because he has to. If he doesn't, Harry'll end up doing it, and while Harry is a very good cleaner, it takes him three times as long as it does Liam because he's anal about getting every single inch of the floor completely spotless.

Liam has no idea where the others are. Last he'd seen, Niall was in the main living room, sleeping with his mouth hanging open and his limbs falling off the sofa. He hasn't seen Harry at all today, and he'd passed Zayn on the staircase a little while ago, but Zayn isn't talking to him, apparently.

Sighing, Liam dips the mop back in the bucket, just as the front doors open. The heavy wood bangs against the walls, cold, strong wind breezing into the room. Liam freezes, mop hovering over the bucket, eyes wide.

A man strides into the house, arms weighed down with luggage. He takes a single look around, chin tilted up in a way that could only be described as haughty, before dropping his bags to the floor. He easily shuts the door behind himself, blocking out the cool wind once again, and Liam is still too stunned to move.

There's this current in the air, like the electric wind of a stormy night, lightning ready to strike at any second. There's a thundering in Liam's ears to match it, his heart beating wildly. A pair of cold blue eyes meet his own, and the man who'd just stepped into their house regards him with the kind of smirk that is all teeth. All sharp teeth, that match his jaw and his eyes. Eyes that are slowly turning black by the second, icy blue melding seamlessly into black.

"Aren't you going to offer to take my bags, pet?" the man demands. Liam blinks at him. "Do you speak English?" He crosses the room in the blink of an eye, finger on Liam's chin, tilting it up much the way Zayn likes to do, only it's not a gentle sort of touch. He jerks Liam's chin up and up until it hurts. "Or are you instructed not to talk?"

"I- I can talk," Liam says, trying to lower his chin.

Liam doesn't trust himself to say much else. He's not stupid, and he's alone right now with a stranger. With a vampire stranger. Which means that, if he'd like to keep most of his blood in his body, and his life, he needs to just be still and quiet and pray that one of the others heard the doors opening.

"Mouth-watering," the man says. His teeth graze Liam's neck, and Liam can feel himself trembling but he doesn't try to push the guy away in fear of upsetting him. One wrong more and it could be his hands wrapped around Liam's neck instead. "I see why they decided to keep you around."

"Louis!"

The man releases him, taking a step back, and Liam stumbles back a bit, too, hand reaching up to wipe away the dampness of the man's breath from his neck. His legs are unsteady, and the mop slips from his fingers just as an arm goes around his waist. Zayn straightens him, makes sure he's not going to collapse, and then he easily moves so Liam's behind him, blocked almost completely by his body.

"So you actually came home, then," Zayn says. "How nice of you."

Liam blinks and Niall and Harry are suddenly in the room, Niall lounging lazily on the staircase. Harry strides past the three of them, shouldering Zayn out of the way a bit. "Louis," he says, soft and barely audible.

That sharp coldness disappears from the man's face, replaced by a blindingly sweet smile. "Harry."

And then Harry attacks him. Louis' head hits the ground, cracking the tile underneath it. Liam can't figure out who has the upper hand, because Louis slashes a gash into Harry's cheek while trying to get him off, and Harry tears at his chest and—

"Get him out of here," Harry hisses over his shoulder, and the second he looks away gives Louis time to flip them over. There's black blood marring Liam's freshly cleaned floor, and Liam thinks Harry means Louis, thinks he's telling Zayn and Niall to get Louis out of the room before they kill each other.

But apparently he means Liam, because next thing he knows Zayn's hauling him off his feet, and Liam's arms wrap instinctively around his waist and neck as Zayn carries him easily up the stairs. Sometimes Niall does it just for fun, pulls Liam off his feet and flits him around the house. Or he had when Liam was younger, but the older Liam got the less tolerable he was with that shit. He hates being carried by them. He hates the butterflies in his stomach he always gets and the disconcerting way they move inhumanly fast.

Zayn doesn't stop until they're in the attic. He drops Liam to his feet and ushers Liam into his room. "Thought I'm not supposed to be in here," Liam says, fully aware that right now is probably not the best time to make jokes, but he's completely incapable of stopping himself.

Zayn clucks his tongue in annoyance and cups Liam's cheeks in both his hands. He slides them down Liam's neck, next, and then his chest, finally stopping at his waist. "Are you hurt?" he demands. "You're not bleeding, I can't smell anything, but—"

"I'm fine," Liam assures him. "Undamaged, I promise."

"Good," Zayn says gruffly. He steps around Liam, pacing the room. "You need to be careful. We were all worried about this, but I never thought he'd actually come back."

"Worried about what, exactly?" Zayn's worrying is worrying him now. Liam goes and perches on the edge of Zayn's bed, hands folded neatly in his lap. "Is this about Louis?"

"Yes," Zayn snaps. "Of course it's about Louis." He tugs a hand through his hair. "Do you remember William?"

Liam shudders a little, he can't help it. William had been, hands down, the creepiest vampire Liam had ever met. He was old and cold and terrifying. "Vaguely."

"Right, well," Zayn pauses his pacing, peering down at Liam like this is important, "that's the type of vampire Louis has been surrounding himself with for the last ten years, Liam. He's been visiting others of our kind, staying with them, living by their rules. They're not like us, you realize, which means that Louis isn't exactly like us anymore, either."

Liam frowns, trying to follow him. "I don't understand."

Zayn sighs, coming to kneel on the floor between Liam's legs. He reaches up a hand, cupping the back of Liam's neck, his eyes wide and concerned. "You're not our slave," Zayn says, a little forceful, nails digging into Liam's skin a bit to emphasize. "Technically, maybe, but we don't treat you like that. We won't treat you like that. You're so much more than that to us."

"I know," Liam says.

"I'm glad you do, but the issue, sweetheart, is that Louis hasn't been here," Zayn explains. "He doesn't know you, and he doesn't know how we are with you. And judging by the way he'd come in here and put his hands all over you without—" Zayn cuts off, his eyes flitting from amber to black for just a second before he calms himself. "He's most likely expecting you to be like any other blood-slave, Liam. He'll expect things of you, and I'm not sure how he'll react when he realizes that you've got a mind of your own, that you're not here to jump to his every command and bare your neck whenever he pleases."

"So he's dangerous," Liam gathers.

Zayn nods. "He could be," he admits. "But you've got nothing to worry about, yeah? I'd never let anyone hurt you, you know that." Liam nods. "You've just got to be careful, that's all."

"I usually am, aren't I?"

"Not even a little," Zayn groans. "You're a hazard to yourself and you don't even realize it most of the time."

"How so?" Liam demands, a little offended, a little not.

Zayn pushes himself up, his hands on Liam's shoulders for leverage. Liam falls back against the bed instinctively, and Zayn moves with him, a light weight in Liam's lap. It's not exactly comfortable, but Zayn always smells good and Liam doesn't mind, even if his bony leg is digging painfully into Liam's thigh.

"You walk around here," Zayn says, nosing at Liam's neck, "completely oblivious to how good you smell." He licks lightly at Liam's neck, and Liam shivers without meaning to. Zayn might be cool to the touch, but Liam is suddenly very, very warm. "And how much better you taste." Liam looks down, meeting Zayn's eyes, and any lightness of the situation dies in the blackness Liam finds there. "And how you always look so fucking—"

Liam blinks and Zayn's weight disappears. He's standing in the middle of the room now, arms crossed tightly over his chest. "See what I mean?" he says. "I didn't even mean to do that. Sometimes I just can't help myself when it comes to you."

Liam sits up, adjusting his now wrinkled shirt. "Maybe you just have terrible self control," he says, sounding much calmer than he feels. There's this thrumming in his veins that has the hairs on his arms standing upright, and this sense of loss as he looks at Zayn, so far away from him now when all Liam wants is to have him a little closer.

That's an issue, though. Liam always wants Zayn closer. He might consider Niall to be his best friend, and Harry is more like a brother to Liam than the others, but Zayn — Zayn is never close enough for Liam's liking. Even in those quiet moments where Zayn catches him alone in the hall and backs him up against a wall, resting their foreheads together, he's still not close enough. Liam wants Zayn to open up to him, but he never does, not completely. And even when they're touching, they're not touching enough. There's always too many layers, too much separating them.

"I have great self control," Zayn says. "Just… not when it comes to you."

"Why is that, do you think?" Liam wonders, a little pleased by the fact that he gets to Zayn as much as Zayn gets to him, even if he knows it's in a completely different way. Zayn wants the blood pumping through Liam's veins, and Liam just wants Zayn, all of him, all the time.

"I don't know, Liam," Zayn answers, annoyed. "Just be careful. Promise me you'll be careful around here for the time being. And if anything happens, you call for me and I'll be there."

Liam sits up even straighter, and he's glad, not for the first time, that Zayn can't tell what he's thinking "No matter what?" he presses. "No matter what, you'll come if I need you?"

"Promise," Zayn says instantly.

"Okay, then." Liam stands up, smiling hesitantly. "I'll keep that in mind."

Zayn grabs his arm on the way to the door. "Where are you going?"

Liam frowns down at where Zayn's thick, long fingers bunch up the navy material of his sweatshirt, once again thinking about the fact that there's something separating them, as there always is. "Do I have to stay in your room?" Liam asks. "You didn't mention that part."

Zayn releases him. "No, you don't." His eyebrows draw together, like he's just as confused by his actions as Liam. "You can go. Sorry."

"I think it's kind of sweet, you know," Liam adds on his way out the door. "How you worry about me. It's cute."

Zayn bares his teeth and growls at him before slamming the door shut between them, and Liam laughs all the way to the back stairwell.

 

 

*

 

It's possibly the most tense dinner that Liam's ever had. The first thing Louis had done when he'd walked into the dining room to find Liam already at his seat was ask, "You actually let him eat at the table with you? How progressive."

Liam had bitten his tongue and dropped his gaze, telling himself not to get offended. Harry was the only other person in the room, at the time, and he was too busy gazing at Louis like a man seeing the sun after years of darkness, and he of course hadn't come to Liam's defence.

Things settled more when Niall came into the room, slouching into his usual seat, helping himself instantly to pasta from the nearest bowl. But whatever calm Niall brought with him washed out completely when Zayn came into the room and took the seat right next to Liam's, moving his chair closer so their elbows kept knocking together.

"I thought the pet belonged to all of us," Louis comments. "Isn't that the point of a blood-slave? Loyal to the whole clan, not a single member. You're looking a little possessive there, Zayn."

"We don't use that word," Harry scolds, coming back to the Harry Liam knows, not the one that's too busy adoring some strange vampire that sets everyone else on edge. "It's offensive."

"I'm sorry, pet," Louis says, not looking it at all as he smirks in Liam's direction.

"Don't call him that, either," Zayn snaps. "He's not a dog."

"What am I supposed to call him, then?" Louis demands. "Someone enlighten me."

Liam clears his throat. "Um, Liam. My name is Liam. You can— you can call me that."

"I can call you whatever I damn well please, actually," Louis says sweetly.

No one says anything to that, and Liam refuses to lift his gaze again. Zayn told him to be careful, and he has a feeling that expressing his current annoyance isn't exactly being careful, so he doesn't. Zayn scoops up a bit of pasta and plops it onto Liam's plate, shoving it closer to him, glaring at Louis the entire time he does it.

Liam and Niall are the only ones who eat. Louis spends the rest of the meal recounting his many adventures he had when he was gone, Harry's too busy listening raptly and nodding his head, and Zayn is like a statue beside him. A statue that twitches every time Louis so much as looks in Liam's direction.

"We should probably talk about this," Harry eventually says, as soon as one of Louis' stories has come to an end.

"Do we have to?" Niall asks. "I already had to stop you and Louis from killing each other today. I'd rather not try to get between him and Zayn. They both fight dirty."

Harry looks a little sheepish. "I already apologized for starting that fight," he says lowly. "I was upset that he'd left for so long and — I was irrational, and I apologized. And no one else is going to be fighting, understood?"

Liam isn't sure how it happened, how Harry became the leader of the clan. He's read so many books on it, but none of them are definite. Sometimes the leader is the vampire that bit the rest of the clan. Sometimes the leader is just the one who brought them all together. And sometimes the leader is unofficially elected because he's the most fitting for the job. No matter how it happened, though, Harry is unmistakeably the leader. He sits at the head of the table; the others fight with him, sure, but they tend not to go against his direct orders; and there's this look of respect in the other's eyes every time they look at him.

Because of that leadership, every single person at the table says, "Understood."

"Good." Harry looks at each of them, just to make sure. "Louis, I know you haven't been around for a while so you don't know how things go around here, but Liam isn't a blood-slave. He isn't a pet. He's a person."

"But you all drink off him," Louis points out. "Don't deny it, I can see the mark on his wrist from here."

Liam tugs down his sleeve and hides his arm under the table. Zayn won't meet his eyes. Harry barely reacts. "Well, yes, but—"

"Are you allowed to leave the house, Liam?" Louis asks him.

"Not— not really," Liam admits. "I can go out on the grounds, but I'm not supposed to step foot outside the gates."

"So he's your prisoner," Louis says, "and you all feed off him. But you're telling me he's not a blood-slave?"

"He's a member of the clan," Niall puts in. "Just like the rest of us."

"He's human," Louis spits. "He's not a member of the clan, no matter how nicely you treat him. You've gone and let him think he's allowed to have a mind of his own. Do you know what the others of our kind would think if they could see him sitting there, eating at the table like he's our equal?"

"He is," Zayn says. "He's earned his spot here more than you have!"

Louis gets out of his seat, slowly making his way around the table, giving Zayn's seat a wide berth. He comes up on Liam's left, dropping an almost friendly hand onto Liam's shoulder. Or it would seem that way, if it weren't for the nails digging into his skin. Liam yelps, even though he tries not to, and he can feel his blood staining the neck of his shirt.

"This is what he's good for," Louis says, bringing blood coated fingers up to his face. He licks at them while eyeing Zayn, and Liam may just throw up all over the dinner table. "They lied to you, dear Liam." Louis caresses his cheek with his freehand. "They might tell you that you're a valued member of the clan. They might say pretty words to your face and let you sit at the table and let you talk to them however you like, but this is all you are to them."

"That's not true," Harry says, standing up abruptly. "Liam, you know that's not true."

"If he's such a valued member of the clan," Louis wonders, "than why haven't any of you turned him? Made it official?"

Silence. Liam's heart is racing and Zayn has his head ducked, breathing heavily. But it's a good question. It's — it's a really good question. No matter what they say to him, at the end of the day Louis has a point: Liam is still stuck here, without the option to leave. They all still feed off him. Maybe he has it better than others of his kind, and for that he's grateful, he is, but they could have changed him. They have that option. They could have made Liam one of them, truly, genuinely a member of the clan. But instead they keep him human.

"I could do it myself, if you like," Louis offers. Purrs, actually. Liam shudders. "I could do it right now. I could turn him. I'd love to, actually."

Zayn gets out of his seat, putting himself, once more, between Louis and Liam. "Try me, Louis. You touch him again and I'll kill you."

Louis laughs and takes a step to the side, which Zayn mirrors. He does it again, and again, the two of them caught up in a strange, heated dance. "Oh, fine, I won't actually," Louis says with a roll of his eyes. "I was just trying to prove a point. And the way you all reacted did just that. I don't see anything wrong with keeping a human around as a pet, but you all pretending that he's not one is just cruel."

"See?" Niall asks. "This is why you're the only one who missed him, Harry. The guy's fucking chaotic."

"I do happen to enjoy chaos," Louis says brightly. He tries to reach past Zayn, hand outstretched in Liam's direction, and Zayn bats the hand away instantly. "I like to push buttons. You three have gotten seriously boring. And I wasn't kidding when I brought up the others. If they could see the way the three of you act around this one, they'd shun you."

"Are you— are you not allowed to be nice to humans, then?" Liam asks. Nothing like that was ever mentioned in any of the books he's read.

"Oh, no, we're allowed," Louis assures him, "but it's frowned upon. You're below us, darling. Your kind is only good for three things: obedience, food, and — Oh." Louis' eyes widen. "So that's why you keep him human. Here I was thinking you three were just twisted, playing with your food. But he's not actually a blood-slave, is he? He's a blood-whore."

Zayn slaps him. Louis' head whips around at the contact, and Harry moves across the table, pulling Zayn back, far away from Louis. Louis, who rubs at his cheek and spits dark blood onto the carpet as Niall gets up, too. Harry drags Zayn from the room and Niall sighs, "Get out, Louis. You've went to far, yeah?"

Louis rubs at his mouth a little more, expression falling. "I didn't mean to. He's just so damn easy to rile up, I couldn't help myself."

"Get out," Niall repeats. "Go apologize before Zayn gets away from Harry and comes back here to kill ya."

Louis actually pouts, looking genuinely scolded. "I didn't mean most of it," he says. "I really didn't. You know I don't care about any of that stuff. If you three want to play house with a human, be my guest."

"Louis."

"Alright, alright." Louis sighs and heads for the door. "And I'm — I'm sorry, Liam, I guess. For the, uh, neck thing and calling you what I did."

Liam nods dumbly, too lost to do anything else. Louis nods back before slipping out the door.

"Fucking idiot," Niall mutters, heading back to his seat. And, because he's Niall, he plates himself another bowl of pasta. "He's a prick most of the time, Louis, but he really doesn't mean anything by it, deep down. He just likes to fuck with everyone. Half the shit he said he only said because he knew it pissed Zayn off."

"What does it mean?" Liam prods. "What he called me."

Niall looks up, fork halfway to his mouth. He drops it onto his plate with a clank and a sigh. "It's a rude term," he says. "It's, like — you're definitely not one, Liam. But it's something people use to describe humans that, uh, like the whole, you know, biting thing. That get off on it. They don't belong to a clan or anything, they just move between any vampire that'll have them. And vampires use 'em for food and… other things."

The name was pretty self explanatory, then, but Liam doesn't see why Zayn got so upset about it. Sure, it was rude, but Louis has literally put his nails in Liam's neck, hard enough to draw blood, and Zayn had just sat there. But that one little name, two words, and Zayn snapped. "I'm going to go clean my neck," Liam says quietly.

"You good?" Niall asks when he stands. "I mean, you're not — you're okay, right?"

"I'm fine," Liam assures him. "Or I will be. It's just a little much, you know. But I'm okay."

"Louis'll make it up to you," Niall says, "when he gets used to it. It's probably a little confusing for him too, you know? I never understood the human hatred myself, t' be honest. I mean, we were all human once. But the older ones, I think they forget that, and Louis just needs a little reminding too. He'll come around. He's great when you really get to know him, I swear."

"Okay," Liam says, but he thinks maybe Niall's a little biased. Louis is his friend, and a member of his clan. There's a bond there that can't be broken, but Liam doesn't have that. And since the guy had compared him to a pet, dug his nails into Liam's neck, and called him a — a whore, or whatever, Liam doesn't think that he'll ever like the guy.

Liam heads up to his room with the intentions of showering to get the dried blood off his skin, and also maybe to clear his head. But when he pushes open his bedroom door, he finds Zayn lounging on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. He doesn't even blink when Liam comes in, something that they all do, from time to time. They just sit, unmoving. It's disconcerting.

"I think," Zayn says softly, "that it'd be best for you to not come near my right now."

Liam frowns, shutting his door tightly. "You're the one in my bed," he points out. He crosses his arms over his chest and eyes the bathroom door. He really does need another shower, and he needs to change out of this shirt, too, and pray that the bloodstain comes out. "Why are you in my bed, by the way?"

Liam doesn't get an answer. He sighs and heads for the bathroom, not sparing Zayn another look. Liam's had his share of moody vampires today. He can't take anymore without flipping on someone, and the house is tense enough without Liam needing to add his own anger to the mix.

But as soon as Liam's shut the bathroom door and shrugged out of his shirt, just as he's leaning over to examine his neck in the mirror, the door opens and Zayn strides over to him. Liam makes an embarrassed sound and tries to cover himself, but Zayn glares at him so he stops.

"You're still bleeding," he comments, eyes fixated on Liam's neck. "Can I—?"

"No," Liam snaps. Zayn had taken enough from him this morning. "You can't, actually."

Zayn bites his lip. "That's not what I was asking," he says gently. "I just want to help. Let me, please."

"No," Liam says again. "You're not allowed to touch me right now."

"Liam."

"He has a point, you know," Liam says. He turns away from the mirror, leaning against the counter. He feels exposed like this, shirtless while Zayn's fully dressed. But Liam's always exposed, really, living in this house. He's like a bleeding swimmer in the ocean, and he's befriended the sharks that circle him. "No matter how well you all treat me, I'm still… I'm still your prisoner."

"You're not," Zayn says. "Liam, you're not."

"Then what the hell am I, Zayn?" Liam demands. "Tell me. What am I? You keep me around to feed off me. You don't let me leave. You won't turn me."

"Do you want me to turn you?" Zayn asks. He steps a little closer, eyes darkening. "Is that what this is about? Is that what you want?"

Liam pushes him away. Zayn barely moves, but he does move. It's for show, though. Liam knows it is, knows that Zayn only stumbled a bit to make Liam feel better about being so fucking powerless here. "I just want to know what the hell you all think you're doing," Liam gets out, anger making his words stuttered and unsteady. "Am I a toy to you? Are you all just — are you all just playing with me? I really don't get it."

"Are you that unhappy here?" Zayn counters. "Is it really that horrible for you?"

Liam looks away, dropping his gaze. "I don't know," he mumbles. "I just — I don't know what to think, Zayn. It's all really confusing for me."

Zayn moves into his personal space again, pushing Liam right up against the counter, cornered once again. "We need you," Zayn tells him, eyes flitting between both of Liam's before dropping to his neck for moment, blood still welling from the scratches there. "Not just because of that. You're vital, Liam." He cups Liam's cheek, trying to get his point across. "All of you. Maybe — maybe we do keep you around to feed off you, I'm not going to lie about that, we both know it. But that's not the only reason."

"Then why?" Liam prompts. "Why?"

"Because you've somehow roped us all into caring about you," Zayn admits. "Really, I don't know how you did it. But you did." His lips tilt up a fraction. "Don't ever doubt that, yeah? Don't ever doubt that, Liam."

"Okay," Liam sighs. Is there really any point in getting upset over something he can't fix? It can bother him all he wants, but at the end of the day he's still stuck here. Fighting with Zayn isn't going to change that, and Liam's not sure if he wants to change that. If he was given a choice, would he ever leave?

No. He knows he wouldn't.

"But you still didn't answer me," Liam remembers. "You didn't tell me what I am. If I'm not a blood-slave, then what am I?"

Zayn leans in, breath ghosting over Liam's neck. "You're Liam," he says. "My Liam, yeah? Just let me…"

Zayn doesn't finish that, but Liam's already tipping his head to the side, exposing his throat. Zayn gently brushes his hands up and down Liam's arms as he leans in, lips sucking at Liam's neck as his tongue slides over the wound. There's no pain, for once. Zayn's not biting him, he's just — running his tongue over Liam's skin. And it feels good. It feels really good. "Zayn," he mumbles, eyes closing.

"I hate that he hurt you," Zayn says against Liam's neck. "I hate that he even touched you."

Liam sighs and drags a hand through Zayn's hair. He's probably not allowed to do that, and normally he wouldn't test it. He's past the point of caring today, though, and Zayn's hair is soft and thick, sliding easily through Liam's fingers like silk. "I'm fine," Liam whispers. He doesn't trust himself to talk any louder with Zayn's lips still on him.

Zayn pulls back and Liam's eyes open, landing on his red-slicked, slightly swollen lips. "Mine, though. I don't like it when anyone else touches you," Zayn mutters. He thumbs at Liam's jaw before wiping the back of his hand over his own mouth, Liam's blood smearing with it. "That should heal soon," he adds, a little gruff, stepping back a step. "It's already closing over."

"Thanks," Liam says awkwardly.

"You're welcome." Zayn nods once before turning on the spot and heading out the door, shutting it softly behind himself.

Liam turns back to the mirror, inspecting his neck again. The wound is already healing. When he pulls back, he sees the flush in his cheeks, and he has no doubt that Zayn noticed it, too.

 

 

*

 

Liam wakes up in the middle of the day to something thumping in the hallway. Somethings, plural. There's definitely two people outside his door. There's another loud thump, the kind of growl that puts Liam on edge, hairs at the back of his neck standing up. The growl is followed by a hiss, and Liam recognizes it as Zayn's.

And then his door bursts open and Louis' moving into the room, only to be tugged back and thrown against the wall of the hallway by Zayn. There's black, inky blood coating Zayn's fingers and leaking from a gash in his neck, and he looks dangerous. Dangerous enough that Liam sits up, moving back against the headboard of his bed.

"I just wanted to apologize to him!" Louis shouts.

"In the middle of the day?" Zayn yells back. "While the rest of us were sleeping?"

"You weren't sleeping," Louis points out. He touches the back of his head, fingers coming back with his own blood. "You were sitting here in the hallway like a creepy watchdog. I'm not going to hurt him, you protective bastard."

"You're not allowed alone with him," Zayn spits. "Ever."

"Didn't we all have an argument just hours ago about him not belonging to any of you?" Louis counters. "Because you're acting like he does."

Liam rubs a hand over his face. Their yelling is hurting his head, and he still feels half asleep. "Zayn," he says quietly. "If he wants to talk to me, let him."

"Yeah, Zayn, let me," Louis mocks. "Take orders from the human."

Zayn looks at Liam, disbelieving. "You really want to talk to this asshole?"

Liam shrugs. "I just want to go back to bed, and I can't do that if you two're fighting outside my door."

Zayn frowns at Louis, then at Liam, then at Louis again. "I'm gonna be right outside the door, Liam." He leans closer to Louis, adding, "If you even think about hurting him, I'll kill you. I'll tear your throat out and feed it back to you."

Louis makes a face at that, as does Liam. "And I'm the threat?" Louis asks. "You need to calm down. I've no intentions of hurting him."

Liam's honestly too tired to care if he does or not. Maybe if he did they'd take pity on Liam and let him go back to bed.

Zayn steps out of Louis' way, letting him into the room, and Louis shuts the door behind himself, blocking Zayn out. He turns on the light, taking a sweeping look around while Liam pulls his covers up a little higher.

"Wow," Louis says, moving over to Liam's stand of CDs and DVDs and video games. "They do spoil you, don't they?"

"I guess," Liam admits. He still feels on edge, and it's dawning on him that it's a little stupid, agreeing to being alone with Louis. Sure, Zayn would be in the room in seconds of Liam needed him, but it wouldn't take Louis that long to kill him if he really wanted to. Snap his neck, easy as anything, and Liam would just be… gone.

"Harry's always been soft," Louis tells him. "Too much compassion. I expect this from him, and maybe Niall, too. But Zayn. It's a little surprising, coming from him." He turns to Liam, grinning wickedly. "Bet he doesn't tell you what he gets up to on the other side of those gates, does he? Bet he acts like the perfect, caring, conflicted angel, doesn't he?"

"I don't know what you mean," Liam says.

Louis laughs. "Of course you don't," he mutters. "I'd be willing to bet anything that he pretends he doesn't love it. That he acts like he's fighting with himself every time he feeds off you, like he doesn't enjoy it. But he does. I've watched him kill a room full of people and laugh while he licked their blood from his fingers, you know."

Liam shudders at the imagery those words bring up. But it's wrong, even as he pictures it. Zayn's not like that. "Did you," Liam says flatly.

"That's adorable, the way you don't believe me," Louis says, sounding almost delighted. He comes over to the bed, sitting on the end of it. "I could tell you stories about him that would terrify you. But that's not what I came to do."

"What did you come to do?"

"To apologize," Louis says with a roll of his eyes. "I can't believe I'm actually apologizing to a human, but Harry said— never mind. Look, the thing is, I'm not used to this." He waves a hand. "You wouldn't understand. The way those three act around you, that's not what our kind is like. That's not the way the rest of us are. It's taking a bit to adjust to."

"People are people," Liam says sharply. "Vampire or not. It shouldn't be that hard to understand."

"Oh, you didn't tell me the puppy bites, Zayn," Louis calls towards the door. He doesn't get a response. "And I'm sorry again, Liam, but that opinion doesn't really count, coming from you. You're biased. You want to be treated equally but the fact of the matter is that you're not equal to us. And the rest of them need to remember that."

"Or maybe you could learn a thing or two from them," Liam counters.

Louis raises his eyebrows, lips pursed. Liam worries, for a moment, that he's pushed a little too far. But then Louis says, "Maybe you're right. Not about to take advice from a human though, no offence."

"Saying no offence doesn't stop something from being offensive."

Louis shrugs, uncaring. "I did what I was told to do," he says. "I apologized. That's just going to have to be enough for the rest of them."

"It's not accepted," Liam says once Louis is off his bed.

"Excuse me?" Louis turns just a fraction, eyes narrowed.

"Your apology," Liam elaborates. "It's not accepted. All you did was insult me and say how much you didn't want to do it, so. Apology not accepted."

In the hallway, Zayn laughs. Louis doesn't find it funny, though. He moves across the room in the blink of an eye. Liam sucks in a breath, squeezing his eyes closed as he waits for the pain to come, not quite sure what Louis will do but positive it'll hurt. Only the bedroom door opens and Liam opens his eyes just in time to see Louis shrugging out of Zayn's grip.

"You all taught him that's okay," Louis spits. "That's not okay. And if I weren't a member of this clan I would drain him right in front of you for talking to me like that."

"You wouldn't get the chance to," Zayn says calmly. "Go back to bed, Liam. You've got nothing to worry about."

"If he doesn't learn some respect, he actually does have something to worry about," Louis argues. "You can't keep watch forever, Zayn."

"Watch me."

Zayn shoves Louis out of the room, locking the door behind himself. Then he flicks off the light, and Liam sucks in a breathe. He can feel it, can feel Zayn still in the room, but it's too dark to tell where he is. And that freaks him out. That makes him completely, one hundred percent vulnerable. Not that he isn't always, but at least he can normally see them coming.

"Zayn?" he asks, a tremor in his voice. "Where—"

The bed dips, just a fraction. "Go back to bed, Liam," Zayn repeats. "I'm right here. You'll be fine."

Right. Because sleeping in bed with Zayn is supposed to calm him, rationally. It's not supposed to make his heart pound in his chest and his palms sweat. "Can you — can you see me?" Liam whispers. For just a second, the light in the hallway, creeping under the cracks of Liam's door, reflects off Zayn's eyes.

"Yes," Zayn answers. "But even if I couldn't, I can hear your heart racing from here. But I told you, you've got nothing to be scared about."

Liam licks his lips, sinking farther down the bed. "I'm not scared," he says, honest. "It takes more than a jerk with fangs to scare me, Zayn. If it didn't, I'd constantly be afraid, living with the three of you."

"Maybe you should be," Zayn says. "D'you ever think of that? Maybe you should constantly be afraid."

"Maybe." Liam shrugs, turning over so his back faces Zayn. "'m not, though."

"Idiot," Zayn murmurs, as he always does. Liam's beginning to wonder when that word started sounding less like an insult and more like an endearment. "G'night."

Liam closes his eyes, listens to Zayn's sparing breaths. He takes one of his own, and another, and another, and then Zayn takes one. One, two, Zayn exhales. He tries to match their breathing, but it makes his head light so he stops trying. And slowly, as the day slips by, Liam falls back asleep.

It feels like minutes, but maybe it's been hours, when Zayn moves next to him. Liam groans and rolls over, just as light floods the room. The sky is orangey-yellow and pink as the sun sets, Zayn's figure blocking most of the light as he stands in front of the window, completely still. Every so often his shoulders lift as he breathes, but other than that he could be a statue.

Eventually the sky turns to black and Zayn shuts the curtains with a sigh. "I know you're awake."

Liam yawns sheepishly. "What were you doing?"

"Sunset," Zayn says vaguely. "I like consistency."

Liam frowns, too tired to follow. "What's that even mean?"

"It means," Zayn says, making his way back to the bed, "that every day the world changes a little more, but the sun will inevitably set, and once again it will inevitably rise. Consistency. Dependability. I like stable things, Liam. They're easier to handle."

Liam snorts at him. "It's too early for you to do your angsty, philosophical ancient vampire spiel."

Zayn rolls his eyes and climbs back into bed. "If one of your kind had taken a picture of it and posted it to that bird site of yours, captioned with those words, it'd be considered insightful. But I do it and it's suddenly clichéd and angst-ridden?"

"Twitter," Liam says. "It's called Twitter."

"It's stupid."

"I never said it wasn't," Liam points out. "It's just too early for you to get all smart on me. Wait until I'm awake so I can at least try to keep up."

"You can't keep up," Zayn teases. "Awake or not."

Liam narrows his eyes a bit before pulling a pillow over his head. "Go back to sleep."

"I wasn't asleep in the first place."

"Then go to sleep for the first time," Liam groans. "Stop keeping me up."

"Alright, alright," Zayn chuckles. "G'night, Liam."

"Mph."

 

 

*

 

Zayn isn't there when Liam wakes up, but Niall is. Liam bats open his eyes, meeting a pair of blue ones as someone roughly shakes his shoulder. He panics for a moment, heart thumping, breath shortening, but then Niall's laughter fills his room and he settles once again.

"Li, wake up," Niall whines. "Seriously, dude, I'm bored. Nothin' fun to do around here. Harry's moping, Louis and Zayn are out—"

"Zayn went out?"

Niall nods. "With Louis. Two of 'em never invite me along. It's not fair."

Liam frowns at this information. "I thought they hated each other. Why would they go out together?"

"They don't hate each other." Niall looks honestly thrown by the claim that they do. "They're best friends, Liam."

"I— what?"

"Well, they were," Niall corrects. "'til you came around, at least. They get up to some serious shit, the two of them. Like, Harry and Louis have their whole 'we're in love' bullshit, but Zayn and Louis are closer than the rest of us. Partners in crime."

That doesn't make any sense to Liam. At all. "All they've done is fight since he's been back," Liam points out. "Verbally and physically."

"That's your fault, though," Niall says. "If you weren't here that wouldn't have happened. But Zayn's protective, and Louis' a little shit when it comes to fucking with humans. I think that's what makes Louis hate you even more, you know? You went and stole his best friend from him." Niall yawns. "Want to teach me to play that game again? Grand Theft Vehicle?"

"Auto," Liam corrects. "Grand Theft Auto."

"Whatever," Niall says. "I wanna run people over."

Liam shakes his head fondly and climbs out of bed, stretching as he goes. He grabs the Xbox controller and turns on the console, handing it off to Niall, who sits cross-legged on the bed, tongue stuck between his teeth like he's concentrating deeply, even though the system hasn't even fully started up yet.

"How do I pull out my gun again?" Niall asks. Liam leans over and taps the button. "Right. How do I move?"

"With this," Liam says, pointing to the toggle. "And this is how you change where you're looking."

"Right." Niall nods and looks back up at the screen. "I'm learning. I didn't have this shit around when I was your age, okay."

"You are my age," Liam points out. "Or you look it, anyways."

Niall snorts. "I haven't been your age in, like, eighty years."

Liam's eyes widen. "Seriously?" That's the closest he's ever gotten to an actual answer to that question.

"Give or take," Niall says with a shrug. "1903? I think that's when I was born. I dunno. I'm shit with dates."

Liam chews the inside of his lip. He has so many questions, but which ones can he ask without Niall shutting down and blowing them off? But he's never had a chance like this before. Every time he brings it up, they all just wave him off, so he has to at least try. "How did it happen? I mean, how did you get like this?"

The game's started up, now, and Niall's running around, punching people uncoordinatedly. "Started with too much vodka," Niall admits. "Most of my best stories do, actually. And I was fucking out of it, but I liked to party, you know? Always have. It was a fucked up time back then, Li, you don't even know. It was nice to enjoy life, and I always did."

He still does, Liam thinks. More than the rest of them, at least.

"And I was so fucking off my ass when this guy comes up to me, offers to get me another drink. I'm not into dudes. I like, you know—" He mimes groping at his chest. "But this guy, like, I couldn't say no to him. Don't think anyone's ever been able to, actually. So I say yes, right, and the next thing I know I'm in an alleyway and he's biting me and, I don't know. Said he was gonna kill me, and I wasn't afraid. I told him to do it, if he really wanted to. I wasn't 'bout to fucking beg for my life. And he didn't."

"He turned you instead," Liam guesses.

"Yeah." Niall nods. "Few years later he admitted he did it because he thought I was a laugh. Wanted someone fun to hang out with, apparently. Not surprised. Louis always does shit because he thinks it'll be a laugh."

Liam makes a surprised sound. "Louis turned you?"

Niall nods. "He asked me first, though. Gave me a choice. Asked if I wanted to die or if I wanted to start living again, and o' course I took the second option."

If Liam thought he disliked Louis before, now he knows he does. "Do you hate him for it?"

"Why would I?" Niall looks away from the TV to frown at him. "Greatest gift I've ever had, this life. I mean, it's not easy all the time, and watching my family grow old and die— it was hard, yeah, but everyone's family died back then. I'd already lost my brother, I probably would have been dead by the second war anyways. Did me a favour, Louis. I didn't realize it at the time, but."

Liam nods, but he still doesn't fully get it. Niall says Louis gave him a choice, but he didn't, really. When your only options are life or death, not many people would pick death. "What about him, then? Who bit Louis? Do you know?"

"Harry," Niall says. On screen he runs over a group of civilians. "He didn't give Louis a choice."

"What happened?"

Niall shrugs again. "Not my story to tell, mate. Doubt he'll ever tell you, though, so you might as well stop wondering."

Liam sighs. "What about Zayn?" He can't help himself. "If Harry turned Louis, and Louis turned you, did you turn Zayn?"

Niall shakes his head. "Wasn't one of us. And don't ask me, Liam, because he'd kill me if I told you. It'd screw up his mysterious thing he does."

"You all do it," Liam grumbles. "Zayn's just not subtle about it."

"True enough," Niall agrees. "Mystery. It comes with the fangs."

"It's annoying," Liam grumbles, pouting just a bit. He just — he hates that he doesn't know these things that the rest of them do. He hates that he's once again the outsider, looking in at them all. They all know their history, they all know the important things about each other, and Liam's never allowed to.

It pisses him off, actually. It's not just annoying, it's infuriating. He's expected to blindly trust them all, they all know every single thing about him, but they never return the favour.

"Liam," Niall says, gentle and quiet. He puts down the controller, just as his character gets arrested, knocked to the ground by a policeman. Niall doesn't seem to care. He crawls over the bed, coming to ruffle Liam's hair. "If they were my secrets to tell, I'd tell you, I swear. But they're not. I'm not trying to hide things from you. But I've gotta respect that Zayn and the others don't want you to know."

"Why not, though?" Liam demands. "Why can't I know?"

"'Cause," Niall says, smiling faintly.

Liam looks away. "Don't trust the human with the important secrets, right?"

"That's not it," Niall denies. "Come on, Liam." He bumps their shoulders together. "We'll tell you eventually, man. Just let us enjoy you liking us for a little while longer."

"What does that even mean?" Liam snaps.

Niall goes back to the game, eyes on the screen as he answers. "Means you look at us like we're still good, you know? But we're not. All vampires have dark pasts, and I don't think any of us are ready for you to know just how dark ours are yet."

Liam isn't deluded. He knows they've killed people. He doesn't care about that. Okay, maybe he does, but the past in the past, and it can't be changed. But people can be changed, and he can't hold everything they once did against them, not if they genuinely seem to have made a change for the better. "Alright," Liam sighs. He'll let it go for now, but one day he wants answers. All of them.

Niall spends the rest of the morning playing video games, while Liam goes about his routine of brushing his teeth, changing his clothes, heading down to the kitchen to get something to eat. It's weird, being in the kitchen without Harry. The attic is Zayn's space, always has been. The front living room is Niall's favourite. Liam likes the back stairwell. And the kitchen belongs to Harry.

But Harry is nowhere to be seen all morning, and when Liam goes back downstairs to make himself and Niall something for lunch, he makes enough for three and carries a plate up to Harry's room. Harry doesn't answer the door, though, so Liam leaves the plate in front of it and heads back upstairs.

As he's bringing their dishes back downstairs (they'd be left in the room if Niall had his way, but Liam hates eating in his room in the first place, and he refuses to leave dirty dishes lying around), he hears the front doors open. Laughter travels through the house, loud and bouncing off the walls. Some of it is completely unfamiliar, but he figures it belongs to Louis. The other laughter belongs to Zayn.

Zayn doesn't laugh all that often, not that loud and genuine. He's definitely never laughed that loud at something Liam has said. Not that Liam would be jealous because of something so stupid. Only he is.

His feet stomp against the back stairs a little as he heads for the kitchen, eyes narrowed. So Zayn is best friends with the guy who threatened to kill him, apparently. How nice. He tosses his plate into the large sink, enjoying the way is sounds like it nearly shatters with the force. He almost picks it back up and makes sure that it does shatter, but the door to the kitchen opens before he can.

Zayn skids a halt with this kind of dopey, open smile on his face. "Hey, Liam," he says, slow and drawn out and not at all Zayn-like.

Liam frowns at him. "Are you — are you drunk?"

"Plastered," Louis corrects, striding into the room. "This is why we don't drink from drunk uni kids, Zayn. We really should know better."

Liam's eyes fall to the front of Zayn's shirt. There's dried blood there, soaking the collar. He's not sure how he feels about that, but something is twisting his insides. Annoyance, definitely. Anger, maybe. Jealousy— probably. Which is a bit screwed up, Liam realizes. Like, he shouldn't care that Zayn drinks off other people. Liam lets other people feed off him, doesn't he?

"We were just comin' to get a snack," Zayn explains, leaning heavily against the counter with his eyes drooped and that smile still in place.

"Looks like we found it," Louis says with a smirk of his own.

Stalking. That's the only way to describe the way Louis moves towards Liam. Like a lion that's closed in on a wounded antelope, he sidesteps the island in the middle of the kitchen, moving lazily towards Liam with an air of intent.

Liam stumbles backwards, and Louis jolts forward, suddenly behind him. Liam can't move, stuck with Louis' hand around his neck and one hand on his chest, holding him steady. Zayn's eyes open widely, but he doesn't move. So much for coming whenever Liam needs him, because Liam needs him right now and Zayn's not doing anything.

"We could share," Louis purrs, right in Liam's ear, breath warm and damp. He's not talking to Liam, though. "It'd be fun, Zayn."

Louis' nails, once again, prick into Liam's throat. Zayn pushes away from the counter, moving dazedly towards them. "Louis," he says roughly, but it doesn't sound like a warning. It sounds like a plea.

"You want to," Louis says. "I can see it in your eyes."

Liam can too, is what scares him. Zayn's not looking at Liam, he's looking at Liam's neck, where Louis' fingers are digging in more, painfully, until Liam can hardly breathe. Zayn still does nothing. He stops just in front of them, eyes glazed over.

"We'd probably kill him," Louis muses, "if we both fed off him at the same time. But I bet he tastes good, doesn't he?"

Zayn licks at his lips, nodding slowly. "Yeah."

"Zayn," Liam tries, croaked because of the hand around his throat. Zayn doesn't seem to hear him.

"D'you want to?" Louis asks. His freehand comes up, thumbnail slicing against Liam's bottom lip. Liam hisses, blood flooding his mouth, dribbling down his chin. "Or maybe you'd like to do it yourself, without my help." Louis shoves Liam into Zayn, and Zayn's arms instantly go around him, vice-like, impossible to push away. "Never knew you to resist yourself before, Zayn. You really going to let one human change who you are?"

Zayn rests their foreheads together, his eyes closed. His tongue swipes out, gliding over Liam's bottom lip. "Zayn," Liam says again, frantic.

An annoyed sound rumbles from Zayn's chest as he sucks Liam's bottom lip into his mouth, turning them and backing Liam up against the counter. Liam turns his head, trying to push at Zayn's shoulders, but all Zayn does is move his lips to Liam's neck, instead.

"I'm afraid now," Liam says. "Happy? I'm afraid now, okay? You can stop."

Zayn pulls back. It takes a moment for his eyes to focus, but when they do his entire expression crumples. "Fuck," he groans, pushing against Liam even harder. "Did I hurt you? Shit, Li— I didn't mean to. Are you—?"

"Liar," Louis says, still behind Zayn. "You wanted to. He knows you did, Zayn, there's no denying it now."

Zayn turns, eyes flashing black again. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Louis?"

"Look who's talking," Louis counters. "You nearly killed him, that wasn't me. I can't make you do anything you don't want to."

Zayn faces Liam again, shaking his head. "I didn't," he says. "I didn't want to. I wouldn't have. I would have stopped. I would have stopped, I promise."

Liam squirms, eyes on the tiled floor. "Let me go, Zayn." He feels rattled. Maybe Zayn's right, maybe he really wouldn't have done it, but Louis is right, too. Zayn wanted to. Maybe he hadn't actually hurt Liam, not severely, but he wanted to. Almost did. That's enough for Liam to want out of Zayn's arms.

"Liam," Zayn says. "Come on, don't—"

Liam punches him. It's probably not the smartest move, admittedly, and it hurts. It feels like punching a wall, there's a loud cracking sound, and Zayn releases him, stepping backwards in surprise. And Louis? Louis cackles. "I'm glad you didn't kill him," Louis decides. "I like it when they put up a fight."

Zayn ignores him, reaching a hand out for Liam. Liam shakes his head and backs out of the kitchen, not turning his back to either of them until he's out the door, feet thundering up the back staircase. He can't catch his breath, and he doesn't stop until he's in his bedroom. He locks the door behind himself, completely aware of how useless it is. If anyone wanted to get in badly enough, they'd be able to, lock or not.

Whatever. Let them. Let them.

Liam climbs into bed, pulling up the comforters, blocking out the rest of the world.

 

 

*

 

"Liam."

Liam grunts and rolls over, swatting blindly at nothing. "No."

"Liam."

No. He wants to keep sleeping. See, he's having this lovely dream, and he doesn't want it interrupted. It's perfect, wonderful, and he wants to live here, in this dreamland, where Zayn smiles at him, no fangs in sight. They're in the backyard, the sun beating hotly down on them. Harry and Niall are in the distance, kicking a ball around, laughing loud enough that it reaches them. But Liam's too distracted by Zayn's lips on his neck, light and wet and perfect, and he's running his hands through Zayn's hair, laughing when Zayn yelps because Liam's fingers got caught in a tangle and he pulled just a bit too hard.

But someone's shaking his shoulder, and the dream shatters. Liam sits up, glaring. Zayn looks down at him, a soft look on his face that Liam really doesn't want to see right now. "My door was locked for a reason," Liam says. "Get out."

Zayn looks almost self-conscious as he frowns down at Liam. "Let me at least talk to you, please."

"What's there to talk about?" Liam asks, aware that he sounds like a petulant child, but he really doesn't care one bit.

"Everything," Zayn sighs. He pulls back the blankets and gets in bed with Liam, not waiting for an invitation (not that he would have ever got one). "Can't I at least explain?"

"An explanation doesn't change what happened," Liam says.

Zayn sighs, rolling over, straddling Liam's hips without warning. Liam almost gasps in surprise, but Zayn's not done yet. He grabs both of Liam's wrists in one of his hands, pushing them up until his knuckles are brushing the headboard. Zayn leans down on them, not enough to hurt, just enough to show Liam how truly trapped he is right now.

"I don't want to hurt you," Zayn says. "I don't ever want to hurt you. I need you to understand that."

Liam can't think. His head is swimming, and, god, he's so fucked up. Liam is so fucked up, because he should be scared right now, especially after what happened yesterday. Instead a shocking thrill goes through him at the way Zayn easily pins him down, at the way his imagination races, picturing how many different things could happen in this position. If he just twisted his hips a little, maybe, and…

"Liam," Zayn snaps. "Focus."

"Sorry," Liam mumbles.

"It's fine," Zayn says. "Just — think about it. If I wanted to hurt you right now, could I?"

Well, yeah. "Obviously. I'm fucking trapped underneath you."

"Don't," Zayn says, eyebrows furrowed. "That word looks terrible coming out of your mouth."

"Fucking," Liam says again. "Fucking, fucking, fucking—"

Zayn leans in, lips at Liam's ear. "You wanna keep going, babe? Because I could sit here all day, just like this."

Liam shuts his mouth with a clack of his teeth, refusing to shiver at those words. He can't, not when Zayn would feel it. "Fine. Say what you have to say then get off me."

Zayn sighs at him once more. "Liam, I'm making a point here, yeah? Think about it. If I wanted to right now, I could kill you. I could do it without breaking a sweat. I could tear your throat out with my teeth. I could dig my nails into your chest and pull out your heart while it struggles to keep beating. I could sink my fangs into you and drain you until there's nothing left and you're long gone."

Liam struggles against Zayn's grip on his wrists. "Why would you— why would you say—"

"That last one," Zayn cuts him off, "you don't realize how tempting that one is. All the time. You've no idea, Liam, how fucking good you taste, you really don't."

"You're fucked up," Liam realizes. How he's managed to miss this crucial character flaw in Zayn, he has no idea. "What is wrong with you?"

"A lot of things," Zayn admits. "But that's not the point. The point is that I could kill you, so easily. You get that?"

"I get that," Liam spits. "I'm really freaking aware of it, all the time."

"Good." Zayn still doesn't let him go. "But I haven't, Liam." The teasing, slightly annoyed look on his face is gone. "I haven't. I've never intentionally hurt you. I can't. I need you to understand that. You're the most breakable thing I've ever had and I'm so careful with you because it kills me to think of ever hurting you."

"Last night—"

"Last night was a mistake," Zayn says. "I get caught up in Louis all the time. It's not an excuse, I'm not trying to make it one, but he's been talking me into stupid things for years. And I shouldn't have come home like that, I know I shouldn't have. There's a reason vampires can't get drunk. We lose our self control. It's dangerous for everyone involved. But Lou found a way around it years ago, and I shouldn't have come home like that. I just didn't think, Liam. I didn't think you'd be in danger by me coming home like that because it's honestly unfathomable in my mind, the prospect of me ever hurting you."

Liam looks away from him. "I've never been genuinely afraid of you before yesterday."

"Idiot," Zayn say. "You should always be afraid of me."

"But you just said you'd never hurt me," Liam reminds him. "So then—"

"But I can," Zayn says. "You need a better sense of self, Liam. It's concerning that you really don't realize just how freaking dangerous we all are to you. Last night proved that. One little mistake and you could have died because of it."

"I don't understand what I'm supposed to get from this conversation," Liam says quietly. "You're trying to convince me you'd never hurt me, while at the same time telling me to be afraid of you. I don't understand."

Zayn releases Liam's wrists but doesn't get off him. "I know. I don't really know what I'm trying to do here, either. All I know is I can't stand you thinking I'd ever want to hurt you, but I also can't deal with you not realizing how fucking vulnerable you are."

"I'm aware of it," Liam tells him. "I'm aware of it, Zayn. I've been aware of it every single day that I've been here. But I trust you all, is the thing."

"First rule, babe," Zayn says, leaning down. His lips slide over Liam's jaw, barely there, just a soft pressure, fleeting and gone as soon as it came. "Never trust a vampire."

He's grinning as he climbs off Liam, heading for the door. Liam watches him go, thinking wrong. The first rule should be to not fall in love with one.

 

 

*

 

Liam sticks to his room for the next few days. Harry and Niall bring him food, both with questions about what happened that Liam refuses to answer. He doesn't want to talk about it, and he doesn't want to talk to Zayn, either. Not that Zayn's tried again after that first attempt. Maybe he thought it worked, his backward apology. Maybe he thought that pining Liam down and reciting the many ways in which he could kill Liam was a good enough apology to fix what he'd done, but it wasn't. Not by a long shot.

So Liam stays in his room, as the dishes pile up on his bedside table. Sometimes Niall joins him, spreading out in his bed and asking Liam about video games and how to illegally download music. Liam lets him in more than anyone, since Niall's companionship is always the nicest. He's light and funny and Liam honestly doesn't know how Niall manages it.

Harry joins him once, after bringing him dinner one night. He opts to sit on the bench seat by the window, haloed by the moonlight. Liam loves Harry, he does. He's a bit disconcerting, though. Harry looks maybe eighteen, at the most, with his bright green eyes and dimpled cheeks, but there's something about the way he talks and this look he gets in his eyes, occasionally, that tells you there's something infinitely older about him.

And by disconcerting, Liam means creepy. It's kind of creepy.

"Still not talking about it?" Harry asks. He folds his hands neatly in his lap, expectantly watching Liam as he shovels food into his mouth. "Or are you just not talking to me about it?"

Liam swallows. "Both," he answers. "I don't want to talk about it, and I'm not talking to you about it."

Harry sighs at him. "Liam," he says. "I know you're upset, but–-"

"Do you even know what happened?" Liam demands. "No, you don't. So don't 'but' me." He hates getting short with Harry, he does, but it can't be helped sometimes.

"I know the gist," Harry says. "Something to do with Zayn and Louis, since they've both been walking around here with their tails tucked between their legs, looking guilty as anything. Which is fairly impressive, actually, because I've known Louis for a long, long time, and it takes a lot to make him feel guilty."

"He doesn't feel guilty for what he did," Liam grumbles. "He only feels guilty because Zayn's probably not talking to him because of it."

Harry frowns. "You're probably right."

"I hate him," Liam says forcefully, dropping his fork onto his plate. "Everything was better before he got here."

Harry gets this pinched look on his face. "He was here first," Harry points out. "I know he's difficult, Liam. Trust me, no one in the world knows just how difficult Louis is better than I do. But he's not all that bad, underneath it all. He's wild, yeah. He's a bit unhinged. But he's got a good heart, underneath that. Really far underneath."

"Good for him," Liam says. "I don't care. I don't forgive him, and I don't forgive Zayn, either."

"What did they do?" Harry snaps. "Just tell me what they did, Liam, because I can't prevent it from happening again if I don't know."

Liam chews at his bottom lip. He doesn't want to answer, but there's always something about Harry that demands answers, in the softest, most subtle way. There's nothing overtly intimidating about Harry, on the surface, but Liam doesn't feel very inclined to ignore the question again.

"They were drunk," Liam states. "Which I didn't even know was possible, by the way."

"It's not supposed to be," Harry admits. "I could drink an entire liquor store and it would only make me bloated. But there's ways around it. If we drink from someone with a high alcohol level, it can effect us. But it's dangerous. When a vampire gets drunk, we lose all sense of self-control and morals."

"I definitely learned that first hand," Liam mutters. He pushes his plate of food away from him, running a hand through his messy, greasy hair. He needs to shower before bed tonight, but getting out of bed seems like such an effort right now. "They came in like that, and Louis came up to me, and he was all –- he was trying to convince Zayn to kill me. The two of them together, and Zayn was... Zayn was listening to him. I think he would have, Harry."

"He wouldn't," Harry says automatically. "He wouldn't be able to live with himself if he did, Liam. He might consider it, sometimes. We all do, you have to know that. When I haven't fed in too long, and you accidentally nick yourself with your knife at dinner. Or when you flush and your cheeks go red and your heart hammers in your chest, I consider it. It's in our nature, but we wouldn't. And Zayn definitely wouldn't."

"That's what he said," Liam admits. "But after that night – I don't think I believe it."

Harry stands up, adjusting his clothes. "There's nothing I can say that will change your mind," he realizes. "But you'll come around. You love him too much, don't even try to deny it. And he'll make it up to you."

"He hasn't even tried to talk to me since the day after it happened."

"Because he's giving you your space," Harry explains. "He doesn't want to scare you."

"He loves scaring me," Liam argues. "He says so, all the time."

"He loves playing with you," Harry corrects. "He never actually wants to truly scare you, though."

"Yeah, well, he did," Liam says.

Harry nods, accepting that. "I don't blame you. The two of them together scare me." Liam snorts. "Okay, they mildly concern me, at least. But you're okay, right? I mean physically. Nothing's fatally wounded?"

"I'm fine."

"Good." He comes over to ruffle Liam's hair quickly, something that they all do, except Zayn, that irritates him as much as he likes it. "Come down to dinner tomorrow? You can't hole up in your room forever."

"I'm held up in this house forever," Liam points out. "What's the difference if I stick to just one room?"

Harry makes a face at that, but he doesn't bother responding. "Goodbye, Liam."

As soon as he's gone, Liam moves the plate of food to stack on top of the others. It's getting fairly high, and he knows it's only a matter of time before he really does have to leave his room. But not today. Maybe tomorrow, but he doesn't want to see Zayn, and he definitely doesn't want to see Louis.

He does need to get out of his bed, though, so that's what he does, heading for the bathroom. He showers away the grime from laying in bed for several consecutive days, cleaning his hair and his body. He hears a sound in his room, though, this loud thump, and he can't help the way he reacts: His eyes widen, his pulse races, and he whirls around, nearly slipping in the tub.

"Hello?" Liam calls. "Harry?"

No answers.

"Niall?"

Nothing.

"... Zayn?"

Again, there's no reply. Liam convinces himself he made it up in his head. He's been on edge, that's all. No one's out there. If it were one of the others, they'd of called back or realized he was in the shower and left. So Liam goes back to shampooing his hair, telling himself that he's too paranoid for his own good.

But he's not, apparently. As soon as he steps out of the bathroom, he almost backtracks and locks the door behind himself. Louis lifts his gaze before he can, though, smirk tugging at his lips. "I could just break down the door," he says, like he can tell exactly what Liam's thinking. "But be my guest. It might be fun."

"What do you want?" Liam crosses his arms over his chest tightly, as his wet hair drips water onto the shoulders of his sweatshirt.

Louis shrugs, flips through the pages of one of Liam's comics. "I came to talk to you, actually," he says, eyes on the comic. "And since Zayn is currently out, I figured now would be the best time to do it. And you can stop looking like a deer in headlights. I'm not going to touch you, don't worry."

Liam refuses to lower his arms or move. "I don't trust you."

"That's probably smart," Louis says. "I don't trust me either, half the time."

Liam sighs. He backs up until he's against the wall, just for more protection. He doesn't want Louis getting behind him ever again. "Talk, if that's what you want," he says. "It didn't work well for you the first time, though."

"Because you're a mouthy little fucker," Louis grins. "I like that, though. I think you might be more entertaining to keep around, actually."

Liam blinks at him. "What?"

Louis shrugs. "If I killed you now, Zayn would hate me for a century, and I can't have thatI'd get bored without him. Plus, I think you've got a bit of spark, you know? You don't know your place, obviously, but aside from that, you could be enjoyable."

"Are you playing with me?" Liam demands.

"I don't play with my food, darling," Louis says. "Or wait, actually I do. But no, I'm not playing with you. I'm being honest. If you could maybe learn to not be an insolent brat, I think we could get along."

"Me? I'm the– I don't even know why I'm trying to talk to you, you're obviously crazy."

"Obviously." Louis pats the bed next to him. "I'm not going to hurt you, pet. Just come here, would you? You're making me nervous, standing over there like you're contemplating throwing yourself out the window."

Actually, he's contemplating throwing Louis out the window. But since Louis would land easily on his feet and jump back up and kill him, he'll keep that fantasy to himself. "No, thank you."

"Suit yourself," Louis says. He reaches behind himself. "But I brought you cake. And before you get suspicious, it's not poisoned or anything. It's red velvet."

Liam gapes, a little. "You brought me cake?"

"Humans like cake, right?" Louis looks uncertain. "Harry said it's your favorite."

Liam almost takes a step forward. It is his favorite. But he's not that stupid. "Maybe."

Louis fingers up a dollop of icing, sucking it into his mouth. "'s good. You should come get it before I eat it all."

"Go ahead."

Louis sighs again, putting the plate down. "Look, Liam. We have to learn to get along. We live together, no matter how much we both dislike it. I think that we should just... put everything else behind us."

"You tried to kill me," Liam reminds him.

"You're overreacting," he says. "Zayn wouldn't have done it."

"You don't know that. And that doesn't change the fact that you wanted him to."

"I do know that, actually," Louis argues. "I know Zayn a fuck lot better than you do, and I know he never would have done it. I like fucking with people, that's all. This life gets boring, so I screw around. Sometimes I take it a beat too far, and I'm – I'm sorry for that, I guess. Or whatever."

"If I accept your apology, will you leave me alone?"

Louis contemplates this for a moment. "Can we share your cake, too?"

"No."

"Fine, I guess I deserve that. Enjoy, pet."

"And stop calling me that," Liam orders. "I'm not a pet."

"Liam," Louis says, obviously grudgingly. His eyes are slightly narrowed, and Liam can almost hear the words just on the tip of his tongue, threatening to spill out. But he holds them in, walking stiffly to the door. "Glad we could come to an agreement."

"I only did it for the cake."

Louis grins at him. "See? You can be amusing." He pauses with his hand on the doorknob. "I could turn you, if you'd like. Then we could be proper friends. I don't associate with people below me, but if you were a vampire..."

Liam wrinkles his nose. It's not that he's against the idea completely. But if anyone's ever going to turn him, it's definitely not going to be Louis. "Thanks, but no thanks."

"Zayn would probably kill me anyways," Louis admits. "He's got a 'no biting Liam' rule in effect at the moment."

Liam's eyebrows raise in surprise. "He does?"

"He's a possessive bastard, Liam," Louis tells him. "I'd be careful. It's a little creepy. He threatened to do some fucked up shit to me if I even looked at you funny. Really fucked up. Like, removing my limbs and putting them back in places that entire arms were never meant to be shoved inside of."

Liam doesn't really want to imagine what Zayn meant by that. He doesn't have to, though, because he's too busy grinning like an idiot, unable to stop himself. Zayn's threatening them if they touch him? That should probably be a little frightening, but it's not. It's kind of... nice. "Huh."

"You looked pleased," Louis comments. "I'm pretty sure this is a form of Stockholm syndrome."

Liam frowns at that, and Louis waves before disappearing out the door. Liam heads to his bed, grabbing the slice of cake before he sits down and eats it. And then he takes the comic Louis had been reading and reads it for the sixth time before shutting off his light and getting under the blankets.

 

 

*

 

Bright light shining in through the curtains wakes him. He rolls over, facing it, letting the heat of it warm him as he slowly blinks open his eyes. He's never awake at this time, when the sun is high in the sky. It's got to be maybe five, six o'clock, and he knows he had his curtains closed when he went to bed, so why are they open?

"You're up."

Liam sits up, focusing on Zayn, who's standing just at the end of the bed. "What are you doing?" he demands. Maybe that weird, confusing conversation with Louis yesterday had put him in a slightly better mood, but he's not ready to deal with Zayn just yet. It was easier to forgive Louis, because Louis hadn't broken his trust. Liam never liked or trusted Louis in the first place. But Zayn? It felt like Zayn betrayed him in a big way. "I don't wanna talk to you."

Zayn sighs at him. "Liam, I'm—"

"Trying to wake me in the middle of the day?" Liam snaps. "Because you succeeded. Now get out."

"Sorry," Zayn says, insincere. "I can't do that, babe. Get out of bed."

Liam looks at the window again, then back at Zayn. "Why would I do that?" he yawns. "I'm still tired. I wanna go back to sleep."

"Just get up," Zayn says, a little sharply. "Get out of bed. Go shower. Get dressed. Hurry up."

Liam eyes him suspiciously. "Why?"

"It's a surprise."

"A surprise," Liam repeats. "What kind of surprise?"

"Defeats the whole purpose of 'surprise' if I answer that, doesn't it?" Zayn teases. Aside from the annoyance at the fact that Liam isn't cooperating, Zayn is in a good mood. His lips keep twitching up, and his eyes are crinkling just at the corners. "Please," he add. "Just do it, Liam."

A sigh passes Liam's lips, but he pushes back his blankets anyways. "Fine," he says. "But I showered last night. I don't need another one."

Zayn comes over, walking deliberately slow. If he wanted to, he could have been at Liam's side in one long bound, but instead he takes careful steps, like he's approaching an animal that will run if he moves too fast. Liam doesn't. He stands stock still as Zayn reaches up, fingering a few clumped together strands of Liam's hair. "You slept with it wet," he says. "It's a mess. You need to fix it."

Liam waits a beat to slap his hand away. As angry as he is at Zayn, he still likes Zayn touching him. "So?"

"So," Zayn drawls, "fix it. Get presentable."

"Why? I don't think Harry or Niall care if my hair's a mess."

Zayn raises his eyebrows, lips set into a thin line, offering nothing. Liam throws up his hands in annoyance and stomps off to the bathroom, slamming the door behind himself. He stops, looking in the mirror, and Zayn has a point. His slightly curly hair is a mess, all frizzy and rumpled, but he doesn't see what the big deal is. Still, he does as he's told (because he always does) and tries brushing it, first, but that only makes it frizzier and messier, so he jumps in the shower quickly before heading back out into the room in just his sweats, with a towel wrapped around his neck.

"Happy?" Liam asks of Zayn, who's lounging on his bed like Louis had been last night. Only Zayn looks like he fits there, amongst the brown comforter and the white pillows, ankles crossed and arms behind his head.

"Won't be until you're dressed," Zayn answers. "Hurry up. We're on a schedule."

Liam snorts and pulls open his drawers. "No one'll be up for hours," Liam points out as he riffles through his neatly folded shirts. "Why are you rushing me? Why are you even in here right now?"A finger slowly glides up his spine, and Liam shudders at the tingles that go through him. He fists a hand in the nearest shirt, eyes squeezing closed, and snaps, "Don't touch me." He hadn't even heard Zayn come up behind him, which is just unsettling, honestly. He hates that they can all do that to him.

"Sorry." He feels Zayn move away from him. "Couldn't help myself. And I told you, it's a surprise. Stop trying to ruin it. And maybe keep your voice down a little. I don't want the others waking up."

"Why not?" Liam tugs out a shirt at random, turning and pulling it over his head. "Why does it matter if anyone wakes up?"

Zayn leans in, lips so close to Liam's that for just a second, Liam honestly thinks Zayn is going to kiss him. He's so freaking close that Liam can smell him, smell some subtle, spicy cologne mixing with the sweetness of his breath. His eyes look so big in that moment, and all Liam can think is kiss me. He meets Zayn's eyes, chanting it over and over in his head, like he wants Zayn to be able to read his mind, just this once.

Kiss me, he thinks. Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me.

Zayn doesn't. "Stop trying to ruin the surprise," he orders, poking Liam's chest for emphasis as he pulls back.

Liam dresses, resignedly, with Zayn right there in the room, too annoyed to care about decency. He pulls off his sweats, exchanging them for a faded pair of jeans as he debates arguing this. Considers pushing Zayn for answers and refusing to move anywhere until he gets them. But Zayn's more stubborn than he is, and he knows that he'll never tell Liam what's going on, no matter how childishly Liam protests.

When he's done, Zayn reaches for his hair again, pushing aside a curl. "You need a sweater, too," he orders. "It's a bit chilly."

Liam frowns. "If you're dragging me out into the yard to do gardening, or something—"

"Put a sweater on and stop being difficult."

"You're the difficult one," Liam grumbles. But he finds a sweater and pulls it on over his head. "There. Now tell me what we're doing."

Zayn shakes his head. He digs into his pocket, pulling out what looks like a bandana and... earplugs? "Put these in," he says, handing the earplugs over. "Then turn around so I can put this on you."

"No," Liam says flatly. "No way am I letting you blindfold me, Zayn."

"The blindfold is being put on," Zayn says, eyes narrowed, "whether you willingly let me put it on you, or whether I have to use force."

Liam snatches the earplugs out of his hand and puts them in before turning around. "You're an asshole," he says. "You really are."

He can't hear Zayn's response, but the blindfold is put over his eyes, and he's suddenly very, very still. He doesn't like this at all. He can't hear or see anything, but he can feel Zayn, just behind him. Zayn's fingertips run along his neck, tracing a vein. He feels warm breath following just behind Zayn's fingers, and it's a sort of sensory overload. He can't see or hear, and everything he feels, he feels so acutely. And then Zayn grabs Liam's hand and pulls him.

"Where are you taking me?" he asks.

If he gets an answer, he can't hear it through the ear plugs. Zayn pulls him out of the room and down the hall, then he carefully lifts Liam up and carries him down the stairs. The second they get outside, Liam feels it. Feels the slightly cool air and the hot sun beating down on him. It's weird, being outside during the day. It's been a long, long time since he has.

They get in a car. Liam hasn't been in a car in — in years. "What are we doing?"

Zayn's fingers tap at his thigh, and he puts Liam's belt on for him. It's a sign of his trust that he doesn't throw a fit right there. That he doesn't pull the earplugs out and rip off the blindfold. He's nervous, though. Maybe Zayn's getting rid of him. Maybe Zayn's sick of him, and he's going drop Liam off in the middle of nowhere. He'd never find his way back to the house, not on his own.

"I'm freaked out," Liam mumbles.

Zayn's hand rubs soothingly up and down his thigh, and Liam takes that to mean he has nothing to worry about.

"Can I take these off, please?"

Two taps on his thigh. No, Liam guesses.

"Are we going far?"

One tap. Yes.

"Should I be afraid?"

Two taps.

"Are we leaving the property?"

One tap.

Huh. Liam hasn't been outside the gates in a long, long time. He's not allowed, and the others don't take him. So technically Zayn is sneaking him out. But why? Obviously he doesn't get an answer, though, and the car comes to life beneath him. It's a little jolting, but Zayn's hand squeezes a bit, and he tells himself to just go with it. Whatever happens, happens. He can't control it.

It's a long, long drive with Zayn's hand only occasionally tapping on his thigh. Liam can tell that it's getting darker, though. The blindfold works really well, but the sun stops warming him through the windows, and the faint light shining through the material gets weaker.

Finally they stop. Liam sits there, waiting for something. His door opens, and Zayn helps him out, one hand carefully around Liam's waist. Liam can feel gravel under his feet, crunching and hard and a little uncomfortable under the too-thin souls of his shoes as they walk.

"Can I take these off now?" Liam asks.

Zayn's fingers dig in a bit, and Liam would roll his eyes, if Zayn could see it. He's dragged past the gravel, onto soft, cushioned grass. And he's suddenly completely thrown off. Something smells. Something smells amazing. It's like — sugar and buttery popcorn and hotdogs and grease, all rolled into one, but in a good way. He takes a deep breath, sucking it in, and he can almost taste it on his tongue.

"Where are we?" he asks. He can't figure it out.

Zayn moves behind him, and he takes out the earplugs and pulls off the blindfold in one quick go. And Liam's mouth hangs open.

He's suddenly assaulted by – everything. It's so loud. The people all around them, crowds of them. Their chattering and laughter and shouting to friends in the distance. There's a beeping to his left, followed by a loud, "We have a winner!" and music pouring from every direction. There's flashing lights on everything. He was right about it getting darker, because it's nearly night, now, the sky is a deep navy, not quite black. But everything about where they are is so bright. Flashing greens and blues and red, beacons of light beckoning him closer.

"Fair," Zayn explains.

Liam can see that. There's rides, and booths. There's food stands and games. There's a brightly lit, impossibly huge Ferris wheel. It's amazing. It's the most incredible thing Liam's ever seen.

"Zayn," Liam breathes. His chest feels tight, and he's a little overwhelmed but in the best way.

"It's my way of saying sorry," Zayn elaborates. "You deserve something to make you happy, yeah? And I'm trying to bribe you into forgiving me."

Liam doesn't care why. He feels like a kid on Christmas morning. There's this ride in the distance that turns and twists and flips people upside down until their arms are hanging and they're screaming in fear or enjoyment, Liam really can't tell. There's a game to his right where a little boy is struggling to hit a button with a hammer that looks too heavy for him as his older brother laughs and holds anf armful of stuffed animals. There are so many people, more than Liam's used to seeing, with cotton candy and corndogs and tickets in their hands.

He's watched TV shows and movies with fairs. He's read about them in books. But they don't really compare to the real thing. To the energy in the air, of laughter and excitement. And the smell of carnival food or the onslaught of sound. It's so much. It's all so much to take in.

"Zayn," Liam says again, because he can't really form any other words.

Zayn takes his hand, a rare grin on his face. "What do you want to do first?" he asks.

And Liam says, "Everything."

Laughing, Zayn tugs him off towards a large, glass-cased booth with a bored looking woman inside. There's a list taped to the glass that reads, 10 tickets for 10, 20 tickets for 15, 35 for day pass.

"The day pass lets us go on anything as many times as we want, right?" Zayn asks.

The woman sighs. "Obviously." She lifts her gaze to Zayn, and she quickly scrambles to add, "I mean, yes, sir, that's correct."

Zayn smiles tightly. "We'll take two, then."

He fishes into pocket, pulling out a thick, stuffed wallet. Liam raises his eyebrows, but he's not all that surprised. They're loaded, Zayn and the others. And Liam isn't going to feel at all guilty that Zayn's spending money on him. In fact, now that the high of excitement has died down just a bit, Liam plans on taking advantage of this. If this is Zayn's way of apologizing, Liam is going to milk him for everything he's got.

The woman in the booth asks them to hold out their hands, and she wraps a thin, slightly uncomfortable paper bracelet around each of their wrists, fingers lingering a little long on Zayn's. And then Liam realizes that, oh, right, she would. Zayn's beautiful. Liam would have done the same thing. It's just a little weird, being around someone else who gets that. Niall and Harry, they don't seem at all effected by the way Zayn looks. But Liam is, and apparently so is the girl in the booth.

When they're done, Zayn puts his wallet away and grabs Liam's hand again, a little tightly as they move into the thick of things. There's a pathway with leading to this ride that consists of a long train of carts pulled quickly along a track surrounded by flashing lights. Even as Liam watches, the ride suddenly jerks backwards, going in the opposite direction. It's making him dizzy just watching it.

"I want to go on that," Liam decides.

Zayn makes a face at him. "Maybe we should get something to eat first," he says. "Or play a game, or–"

"You said we could do whatever I wanted," Liam reminds him.

Zayn sighs and tugs him along towards the ride, sidestepping other people. There's a long queue, stretching far past the ride. Liam gets into it behind an older man and what looks like his teenage daughter and her friend. He looks bored and done with the whole thing, but the girls are giggling and having a good time.

They turn around, eyes flitting over Zayn for a second, landing on Liam. And Liam's – he's not used to people looking at him, is the thing. In the past five years, he's only been around about ten people in total, three of those he spends every day with. He squirms a little, uncomfortable at the attention, but he tries to smile until Zayn pulls Liam tightly against his side, arm around his waist, fingers digging in. Zayn bares his teeth at the girls, and they both turn back around quickly.

"What the hell was that?" Liam hisses under his breath.

Zayn shrugs, grinning falsely. "What was what, babe?"

Liam frowns, shuffling forward a step when everyone else does. People slowly unload from the ride, and the line moves a little more. Zayn's arm stays around him the whole time until they're at the front, a too-cheerful-to-be-genuine teenager nodding them on once he eyes the bracelets on their wrists.

Someone else helps them onto the ride, brings down the thick metal bar that's supposed to hold them in place. Liam's thrumming with excitement. He's never gotten a chance to do something like this. Zayn, on the other hand, looks pinched and uncomfortable, wiggling in his seat.

"Are you sure this is safe?" he asks the man who strapped them in.

"One hundred percent," the guy answers. "You got nothin' to worry about."

Zayn looks at Liam as the man walks off, and then he mutters, "It's not me I'm worried for."

Liam laughs at him. "Are you afraid?"

"For you," Zayn spits. "I'd be fine. If this thing went off the tracks and crashed into the Ferris wheel, I'd be fine. You'd be dead. So yes, Liam, I'm a little afraid."

"You're such a mother hen," Liam teases. "Shouldn't have taken me to the fair if you were gonna be this nervous over everything."

Zayn glares in the opposite direction. There's a little bit of space between the two of them, enough to fit a small child, maybe, nothing more. Liam almost reaches across the space to grab Zayn's hand to reassure him that it'll be okay, but he doesn't. Instead he drums his fingers on his knees as he waits for everyone else to get settled.

And then they're moving. The ride's lights flicker and dance as soon as they start up, and there's music playing specifically to the ride, some pop song that must be popular at the moment. They start out slow, going in a circle. The course is uneven, going uphill slightly, then dropping back down. It's a little anticlimactic, until it starts moving fast.

Zayn's on the inside seat, and whenever they turn, Liam tries to hold onto the bar as best as he can, but he slides across the seat anyways, crushing Zayn against it. Zayn's eyes are narrowed dangerously, and Liam laughs at him again as Zayn struggles to extract his arm from between them, laying it across Liam's shoulder, holding him close even when the ride isn't pushing them together.

They abruptly go backwards, and Zayn's eyes widen and a breath whooshes from his lungs. The couple in the car behind him whoop, and Liam tucks his head into the crook of Zayn's neck, laughing uncontrollably.

As soon as they come to a stop, Zayn is pushing at the bar holding them in and Liam's asking, "Can we go again?"

"No," Zayn snaps. "We can't." Liam's grin slides off his face, and Zayn sighs. "Later," he bargains. "There's a lot more to do."

"Yeah, alright," Liam agrees, a little grudgingly.

Someone comes and helps them out of the ride, and then Liam's stumbling down a small set of stairs, off balance after going round in circles so many times. Zayn steadies him with a gentle hand that he keeps on the small of Liam's back even when they're on the ground again, heading in another direction because Liam wants to explore.

They loop around the whole fair twice. It's set up in a large field, and it's pretty big. There's not very many rides, though. The one they'd went on, and a Ferris wheel. There's the one that flips people upside down that Zayn point blank refused to even go near as well as a small roller coaster, most likely designed with kids in mind. There's a ride of spinning apples (weird, but there it is) that everyone looks deathly sick after getting off of, as well as a huge slide that you have to climb to the top of and then sit on a carpet as you go down that Liam wants to go on eventually, and a carousel. There are bumper cars, too, and a fun house.

"Let's go in there," Liam decides.

Zayn eyes the structure warily. From inside, he hears a loud scream. "Really? That's what you want to do? It's a little childish, don't you think?"

Liam shrugs. "I've never been in one before."

So Zayn rolls his eyes and starts towards it, Liam jogging to keep up. There's no one else waiting to go in, so they're instantly waved inside by another bored looking employee. "How big is it in there?" Zayn asks before they head in the door.

The guy at the entrance shrugs. "Big enough," he says vaguely. "If you're afraid of getting lost, someone comes through every half-hour to help people find their way out."

"Thank you," Liam says politely. Zayn just glares at the door and tugs Liam inside.

It's not a fun house. They get, oh, about fifteen steps inside when a door they passed through slides shut, cutting off the entrance. Liam frowns at it, and Zayn stares straight ahead, chin tilted in annoyance. They're surrounded on every side by mirrors. They're not those funky ones that distort how you look, they're just plain old mirrors. But they're everywhere, and they're angled weird, and Liam honestly can't tell what direction he's going in, and he walks into a mirror twice.

"I knew this was a bad idea," Zayn mutters, as sinister laughter plays from somewhere, Liam can't really tell where the source is. "This isn't fun."

Maybe Liam agrees, just a little, but he's done with Zayn's pessimism. "You're scared again?" he asks. "What kind of vampire are you?"

"I'm not scared," Zayn spits. "I'm annoyed."

"Scared."

"You want to see scared?" Zayn asks. Liam opens his mouth, goes to answer, but then he's alone.

That creepy laughter plays again. The first time, it was laughably fake. Now it's not so funny. Liam looks around, facing his reflection from hundreds of different angles. "Zayn?" he calls. "I was kidding, okay? I take it back."

Laughter again, but this time it's recognizable as Zayn's. That doesn't make it any less dark and malicious, though. It bounces off the mirrors, seeming to come from every direction yet none in particular. It makes Liam glare at nothing as he moves forward, brushing his fingertips over the mirrors so he can keep track of which direction he's going in.

He can hear other people, but he can't tell where they are. It's just him and his reflection. And it's starting to get creepy. Especially when he feels hot breath on the back of his neck, but when he turns there's no one there.

"You're not funny, Zayn," Liam says. This time Zayn doesn't laugh. There's nothing but silence. "You're an asshole."

Someone yanks at his hair, light and playful. He whirls, finds nothing again, and starts forwards. He's finally out of the maze of mirrors, but now he's in a completely dark room with glowing skeletons hung up and writing on the wall that reads Beware: Turn back now. And face the mirrors again? No thank you.

Liam barrels through, not at all afraid. Kids go through this thing (though they're admittedly accompanied by parents) and so can Liam. Even if he swears there's someone just behind him the entire time he's in the black room, though he can't feel anything when he reaches behind himself.

The next room he's in is just a long, wood-walled hallway with nothing. It's just... empty. Somehow that is infinitely creepier than the dark room. It's narrow, the hallway, and Liam touches both walls as he walks, not sure what he's waiting for.

He figures it out when a skeleton drops from the ceiling, nearly right on top of him, hanging from thin, nearly invisible rope. Liam screams like a little girl and stumbles backwards, arms pinwheeling behind him. Someone catches him. Someone that whispers hotly, "Who's scared now?"

"I am," Liam admits, hand at his own throat. He can feel his pulse racing. "You left me all alone."

"You should be more scared when I don't leave you alone," Zayn tells him. His teeth glide down Liam's neck, blunt, not fangs. The stubble on his jaw burns deliciously against Liam's skin, and once again Liam thinks about how screwed up he is. He's got a vampire's teeth on his neck and he's not scared at all. He may just be a little turned on, actually. "Come on," Zayn says once he's pulled back. "I found the exit. It's not far."

Liam lets Zayn guide him out. The sky is finally black when they push through the doors, and everything looks even more wondrous. The lights play over Zayn's cheekbones, flashing in his eyes. Liam swallows and looks away. Just to their left is a tented area with tables filled with people drinking and eating.

"Food?" he asks.

"Finally," Zayn groans. "Let's go."

There's four different food stations, and Zayn tugs him to the nearest one, reading over the sign on the side. There's so much to chose from, though. Popcorn, caramel popcorn, cotton candy, candy apples, hot dogs, corndogs, chips, onion rings. Soda, fresh lemonade, red and blue slushies, ice cream, milkshakes. Liam can't chose.

"One of everything," Zayn tells the guy when they get to the front of the line. "Can we get that on a tray, too?"

The guy stares at him, lips parted. "One of everything?"

Zayn pulls out his money and hands it to him. "Yeah. Can we get the ice cream in a bowl, though? Not a cone."

The guy nods dumbly, taking Zayn's money. "That'll be a few minutes," he warns. Zayn shrugs.

Twenty minutes later and Liam feels sick. He has a feeling Zayn did this on purpose. He didn't buy all this food to spoil Liam, he bought it because he knew Liam would stuff himself until he felt too sick to move. "Ugh," Liam moans. "Too much. Get it away from me."

Zayn daintily dips an onion ring in ketchup, somehow still smirking as he eats it. "Should have paced yourself, babe," he says. "Now you won't be able to go on that ride again."

Liam glares at him, just as a group approaches their table. It's a long table, meant to seat about sixteen, not two. Zayn's eyes narrow as soon as one of them sits next to Liam, though, and he lets out a low sound that has the guy looking up in surprise.

"Is – is it okay if I sit here?" he asks, as his friends settle in around him, oblivious.

"No," Zayn says. "It's not."

Liam kicks him under the table and smiles. "It's fine. We're done here anyways."

They leave their tray behind. Liam feels a little bad about it, but he's too busy balancing his drink in one hand and pulling Zayn out of his seat with the other to avoid some kind of bloodshed. "You've got horrible people skills," Liam tells him. "I'm socially awkward, but you're terrifying."

Zayn growls something that sounds a lot like, "If he didn't want to risk his life he should have sat somewhere else."

They pass by a girl with a giant stuffed panda under her arm. It's huge, awkward for her to carry, and her boyfriend (or that's who Liam assumes it is) looks pretty proud with his arm around her waist. Most people Liam has passed were carrying smaller stuffed animals, but hers is enormous, and he's not the only one looking at her because of it.

"Let's just play a game," Liam suggests. "I want a prize."

Zayn grabs his hand. "You do?"

"Maybe," Liam admits.

Zayn shakes his head fondly. "Then let's get you a damn prize."

They stop at the first game they pass. There's a row of seats, each with a mounted gun in front of it. The object is apparently to shoot a stream of water at the target across from each seat, and when you do it lifts up this platform with a stuffed animal on top. The first person to have their animal hit the ceiling wins. Seems easy enough.

Zayn hands over the money for the game and stands behind Liam as the rest of the seats fill up. And then the bell dings, Liam squeezes the trigger on his gun, and water sprays out. He loses, but the little boy two down from him wins, so he's not too fussed.

"We'll play something else," Zayn says. He pulls Liam off to a game of darts where you have to pop three balloons to get a prize.

It's easy. Liam has good hand eye coordination, and he wins on his first try. "Pick anything from the shelf," the guy running the booth says, gesturing to a row of stuffed animals.

Liam bites his tongue. He doesn't want any of them. They're small and they're all frogs and bears. They had better prizes at the last game. "Could you just — do you think you could just give mine to the next person who comes and doesn't win?" Liam asks.

The guy frowns at him. "You want me to just give one away?"

"Yeah. To someone who can't win their own."

"You sure?"

"He's sure," Zayn says. "And you better do it."

Liam elbows him in the ribs, and the guy nods quickly. "I will."

This time it's Liam tugging Zayn along. "You're a bit rude," he comments. "D'you know that?"

"I don't like people," Zayn says.

"Am I included in that?" Liam wonders out loud.

Zayn makes a face at that. "Of course you're not.

Liam smiles at himself as they pass another game booth, where a girl is tugging on her boyfriend's arm as he complains, "This thing is fucking rigged. I just wasted twenty quid! Bullshit!"

"Sorry 'bout your luck, mate," the older man running the booth says. "Maybe next time."

"Fuck this," the guy spits. He lets his girlfriend drag him off.

"You two want a go?" the man asks them. "Three rings for five, or five for eight. All you have to do is get one ring around the top of one of these bottles, and you get a jumbo prize."

Liam eyes the prizes hanging from the top of the booth. They're the biggest ones available, like the one that other girl had. There's another giant panda, a bear holding a heart that reads I love you, as well as an enormous, floppy-eared blue dog.

"We'll play," Liam decides. "Three rings, please."

Zayn forks out the money, and Liam takes the rings. There's about a hundred bottles set up in a square, and Liam gets cocky, thinking that the other guy who played was just bad at it. He's expecting his first toss to win, carefully throwing it at the bottles. It hits the edge of one and falls between it.

"You still have two more rings," the guy says. "Maybe you'll get lucky."

"Does anyone ever get lucky?" Zayn asks. "Or is it really rigged?"

The guy shrugs. "I've seen three people win this game."

"Three've already won today? That's not too bad," Liam says. "At least it's possible."

"Three the whole time I've worked here," the guy corrects. "And I've been workin' here since I was about your age."

He looks at least fifty. But Liam doesn't get discouraged. He sticks his tongue between his lips, leans forward, and throws his second ring. It bounces off one of the outer bottles, landing on the floor. Zayn rubs at his back, and Liam picks up his last ring, rubbing it between his hands for, like, luck or something, he's not sure.

He tosses it, it seems to land right on top of a bottle and— then it falls off, landing on the table, lost amidst a sea of glass.

"You almost got that one," the guy says. "Wanna go again? I'll give you a discount. Five rings for three quid. How about that?"

Liam grins and tilts his head. "Zayn?" he says expectantly, but he's not asking for money to get more rings.

"One ring," Zayn says. "That's all I'll need."

"Cocky, eh?" the guy says, but he hands Zayn another ring and Zayn hands over enough money for three.

Zayn shrugs. He trades Liam spots, eying the bottles. For just a split second, too fast for anyone else to notice, Zayn's eyes go black. He lifts his hand, flicks his wrist without any effort. The ring slides easily over the top of the very center bottle, and Zayn indulges in a self-satisfied smirk.

The guy looks genuinely shocked. "How did you do that?" he demands. "This game is impossible!"

"Beginners luck, I guess," Zayn answers. "What do you want, sweetheart?"

"The blue dog," Liam says.

"You heard him," Zayn says to the booth-runner, who's still gaping at Zayn in astonishment. "He wants the blue dog."

The man goes about getting the giant stuffed dog down. When he hands it over, Liam has to wrap both arms around it to hold it. It's softer than it looks, plush in his arms, and he's grinning ear-to-ear like a child, not the eighteen year-old he is.

"Satisfied?" Zayn asks as they walk away.

"Very." He eyes the Ferris wheel in the distance. "One last thing?"

Zayn follows his train of sight. "No."

"Zayn."

"No."

"Then I'll go by myself," Liam says, heading towards it.

Zayn speeds after him. "You are not going on that deathtrap alone."

Liam turns, walking backwards. "Then come with me," he taunts. "Unless you're afraid."

The Ferris wheel, like the first ride they'd went on, has a long line. Zayn shoves his hands in his pockets and broods the whole time, and Liam cheerfully holds onto his stuffed dog and grins at nothing in particular. Just like the first ride, the guy waves them on as soon as they get to the front.

It's not like the Ferris wheels in the movies Liam's watched. They're not strapped in by a bar, and their legs don't dangle. Instead there are bucket-seats with benches on both sides, and doors on the others. Zayn and Liam get in, and it wobbles underneath them. Zayn sucks in a breath and Liam laughs at him as he sits, going to put the stuffed animal beside himself.

Zayn picks the dog up and places it on the seat across from them, and then he settles in beside Liam, looking completely uncomfortable. Liam looks out over the edge of their compartment, just as one of the ride attendant shuts their door and thumps a hand against the side.

They move jerkily, only a few feet off the ground as the next compartment is filled, and then the next, and finally everyone is on and they smoothly move upwards, tipping and swaying only a bit. But if you went by the way Zayn's face contorts, you'd think they were nearly tipping upside down every few seconds.

"Relax," Liam coaxes. "It's alright to enjoy yourself every once in a while, Zayn."

"I am enjoying myself," Zayn says stiffly.

Liam snorts and sits up a little straighter, leaning towards the edge to look out. They're nearly at the top. But Zayn tugs him back against his side instantly. "What?" Liam demands. "I was just looking."

"Don't," Zayn says. "You could fall out."

Liam gives him an incredulous look. "You realize kids ride this thing, right? I'm sure I'm fine to look over the edge."

Zayn's arm goes around his waist like an iron cage. "I don't care. You'll sit in your seat."

"You worry too much," Liam states. "Way too much."

Zayn nips at his jaw for that. "Only about you."

They stop just near the top, and Liam's a little upset about it. He'd rather they be moving, because then he could hide the flush in his cheeks, blame the stuttering of his heart on the ride, not Zayn's lips, or teeth, or just... his entire being, really.

"It's beautiful," Liam comments, pulling away a bit. He ignores Zayn's protesting, looking out over the fair. They're in a city, apparently. The lights of it spread on and on in the distance. He can see cars driving on a far off road, the tops of houses, trees, buildings. Things that Liam isn't used to seeing in his every day life. "It's so nice to be out. Just come look, Zayn."

Zayn chin digs into Liam's shoulder as he does. "Nothing I haven't seen before," he mutters.

Liam turns to him, mouth open wide. "Do you often get fifty feet off the ground and look out at the world?" Liam demands.

"No," Zayn says. "I'm just saying, it's nothing special. I've seen the world over, Liam. This isn't anything to gawk at."

"Then what do you gawk at?" Liam asks. "When you've lived for as long as you all have, seen everything, what's left to amaze you? It seems kind of sad."

Zayn tips Liam's chin up. "Plenty amazes me," he says softly. "Every single day."

Liam's gaze drops to Zayn's lips. It's dark up here, the only light coming from the stars and the Ferris wheel. He can just make out Zayn's face in the light of it, though, his lips pink and dry looking, maybe a bit chapped. He wants to lick at them, stupidly enough. And just like earlier, a mantra of kiss me, Zayn, just do it, plays in his head.

Zayn drops his finger from Liam's chin and looks in the other direction. Liam tries to ignore the brick of disappointment in his stomach as they start moving again. Slowly they inch down, down, down until they're at the bottom and another ride attendant opens the opposite door of their compartment, guiding them towards a metal staircase.

"I really am enjoying myself," Zayn says when they're on the ground, shuffled forward by the throng if people behind them. "Just so you know."

"Enough to stay until closing?" Liam asks.

"Don't push it."

But they do. Liam forces Zayn on to every single ride except the one that flips people upside down (accurately called: Death Ride— which obviously makes it so enticing), including the bumper cars. Liam wishes he had a camera. He wants to save this forever, Zayn cramped into a tiny red car with a 27 on the front, looking every bit like the petulant child whose parents forced him onto it with promises that it would be fun as people bump into his car, making him jerk left and right like a rag doll.

They play more games, Liam wins more prizes, but he makes the people running the booth promise to give them to someone else who can't win their own, and then the crowds are thinning, everyone's leaving, and Zayn pulls him towards the parking lot, where they get into a sleek white car.

Liam stuffs his dog into the back and does up his belt himself this time. He's exhausted, ready to go home and crash. Zayn had woken him up early, and he's not used to doing so much. There's something about interacting with other people that's draining, and while Liam normally wouldn't head to sleep for hours, he wants to crawl into bed when he gets home and stay there for as long as possible.

"Did you have a good time?" Zayn asks as they pull away, Liam watching the lights of the fair disappearing in the rear-view mirror.

"The best," Liam says sleepily. "Thanks."

Fingers wrap around his wrist, Zayn's thumb brushing lightly over the inside of it. "Good. Does this mean I'm forgiven?"

Liam considers for a long a long moment, a little caught up in how the very edge of Zayn's thumb is calloused, while the rest of it's smooth. It's probably from flicking his lighter so often, and Liam would scold him and lecture him about how unhealthy smoking is if he wasn't fully aware that it doesn't effect Zayn at all (the lecturing and the smoking).

"I forgot I was even mad at you," Liam eventually admits. "So I guess you're forgiven."

"You guess?" Zayn says. "I won you a giant stuffed dog. I think that earns complete forgiveness."

"You're a show off," Liam mumbles, eyes closing. "Y'only won 'cause you used yer vampire stuff. That's–-" yawn "—cheating."

"You weren't calling it cheating when you were picking out that blue monstrosity," Zayn points out.

"Mm," Liam says. "You win this round. I'm gonna sleep, 'kay?"

"Okay."

Liam falls asleep sometime between Zayn's thumb brushing his wrist and his hand sliding up to play with the short hairs at the back of his neck, as the car glides smoothly underneath him and soft music pours quietly from the radio.

 

 

*

 

Liam wakes up, jostled, to himself being carried up the back staircase. Zayn's hands ore on the backs of his thighs, his arms are hanging loosely around Zayn's neck, and he focuses on keeping his eyes closed and his breathing steady. He doesn't want Zayn to know he's awake, doesn't want to be dropped to the ground and expected to climb the stairs himself. He's too tired for that, and he's enjoying being wrapped around Zayn too much.

They get to the second floor, and Liam almost sighs at how quickly this is going to end. His bedroom isn't far, would only take a matter of seconds to get to. But Zayn's bypassing his floor, heading all the way up to the attic. He pushes open his door without slipping his grip on Liam, and then he's saying softly, "I know you're awake, babe."

Liam coughs awkwardly. "Hi."

Zayn leans down, pulling back the comforter and top sheet before dropping Liam gently onto the mattress. "You can go back to sleep," he says.

"Okay," Liam yawns. He struggles to pull up his shirt, because he's tired but Zayn's room is always warmer than his. Zayn helps him out, tugging the material off. And when Liam undoes his jeans and squirms, Zayn hesitates only a moment before pulling those off for him, too, tossing them to the other side of the room, in the direction of the laundry hamper. When he's done, he goes to walk away, and Liam reaches out, grabbing a fistful of his shirt. "Sleep with me?"

He can't keep his eyes open, so he doesn't get to see Zayn's response to that. Zayn pulls out of his grip, and Liam takes that as a no, but then he's getting into the other side of the bed, moving into Liam's personal space, fitting perfectly against his side.

Liam can feel Zayn's breath on his lips, and he chants that kiss me again. And this time — this time Zayn does. It's gentle, soft, and Liam's too tired to really enjoy it because he's asleep before he can kiss Zayn back.

 

 

*

 

"Adorable," someone coos.

Liam jerks upright, grabbing at the blankets. An arm is pinning him down, somehow impossibly heavy no matter how thin it is. And Louis climbs easily over the edge of the bed, coming right up between Liam and Zayn's legs. Zayn's still partially asleep, eyes closed, his tongue dragging out over his lips.

"Am I-" Louis pushes Zayn's arm away, squeezing into the minuscule space between them, "— interrupting something?"

It takes Liam a minute to realize why he's in Zayn's bed, not his own. Takes a minute to remember everything that happened today — yesterday? He's not sure. The flashing lights, the music, the taste of overly fried foods and the soft ground beneath his feet, the whir of the rides, the crowds of people. When he does, he wants to kill Louis for ruining it, for coming between them in this soft, peaceful moment and ruining it.

"I'm gonna tear out your throat," Zayn mutters. "Get out of my bed."

"Why?" Louis asks. "Two's company, threes a night you'll never forget."

Zayn sits up, teeth elongated, eyes black. "Louis," he warns.

"Calm down, Edward Cullen," Louis says.

Zayn frowns. "Who's Edward Cullen?"

"He was creepily in love with a human too," Louis teases. "Watched her sleep and everything. Sound familiar?"

Liam instantly jumps to conclusion, assumes that maybe Zayn's been seeing someone else. How would Liam know? Just because he's stuck in the house all the time, doesn't mean that Zayn is. Maybe he has a girlfriend or something. A human girlfriend, judging by Louis' words. But then Louis looks pointedly at Liam, and he realizes what Louis means. Oh.

He's wrong; Liam knows he's wrong, but he lets himself have a small moment where he believes it. And then he crushes it down, stomps on it, and vows to not let himself get his hopes up like that again.

"Fuck off," Zayn pleads. "Just — fuck off, Louis."

"Why fuck off when we could jerk off?" Louis says. "Doesn't that sound like fun, Liam? Or we could jerk each other off."

Liam goes red, and Zayn growls. Louis laughs like these are the exact responses he wanted. Which, now that he thinks about it, is probably true. "I'm going to my room," Liam sighs, pushing back the blankets.

"I'll come with you," Louis says.

"If he's going, so am I," Zayn adds.

Liam stops, legs halfway out of bed. "Then we might as well all stay here," he points out. "It'd be pointless for the three of us to relocate to my room."

"I'm not leaving you alone with him," Zayn says lowly.

"I'm bored," Louis whines. "Why do you have to be a buzzkill when it comes to Liam? You need to share, Zayn. You all know him. I don't."

"A week ago you wanted to kill him," Zayn reminds him.

"A week ago you nearly did," Louis counters. The room goes deathly quiet. Even Liam holds his breath. "Okay, crossed the line again. Sorry."

Liam sighs and falls back against the bed, turning onto his side. He tugs the blankets up over his head, blocking out the light Louis must have turned on, as well as Louis himself. And Zayn, too, by association, though he'd rather have Zayn stuck under the blankets with him, just the two of them in their own, dark little world.

"If you two go back to sleep, I'll light the whole bed on fire," Louis informs them. "I swear I will."

"I'm gonna get Harry," Zayn threatens.

Louis groans. "Fine, I'm leaving." He climbs out of bed. "But lunch is ready. Harry made soup, so you two better get out of bed and thank him for it, you lazy, ungrateful bastards. And don't think I don't know exactly why you're both so exhausted. I found the giant blue dog. I know that you two snuck out."

Liam pulls down the covers a fraction, just to see. Zayn looks a little like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, sheepish and surprised.

"Don't worry," Louis adds, already in the hallway. "I won't tell anyone. But you two owe me."

He shuts the door with an ominous slam, and Liam turns to look at Zayn. "Will you be in trouble for that? For sneaking me out?"

"No," Zayn assures him. He turns to face Liam, too. They're both on different pillows, and there's a Louis-sized space between them that makes Liam itch to move closer. "Or— I don't know, maybe, but I don't care. You deserved last night. You deserve to live sometimes, Liam. All the time, actually, but I'm selfish."

"What does that mean?" Liam presses. He hates that, the way Zayn sometimes says things that sound like they have hidden meanings, giving just enough away to keep Liam guessing and never supplying the answers. And he loves it, too.

"Doesn't matter," Zayn says, of course. Liam isn't even surprised. "You want to go get lunch?"

Liam shakes his head, folding one hand between the pillow and his cheek. "I'd rather stay here."

"Alone, or with me?"

"With you." Always, but he can't say that out loud without scaring Zayn off, so he doesn't. "If you want."

Zayn lifts himself up on one arm, somehow moving a fraction closer to Liam in the process. "I'm not tired."

Liam was, but he feels wide awake now, what with Zayn looking at him like that. "Oh," he says. "You can go get something to eat then, if you want."

"I don't have to get out of bed to do that," Zayn says, eyes roaming down to where the blankets fallen just below Liam's chest.

Liam wonders if Zayn can see the goosebumps on his skin. "I guess not," he mumbles. "But I thought there was a 'no biting Liam' rule."

"Louis told you about that, huh?" Zayn asks. His gaze hasn't reached Liam's eyes yet; it's still slowly crawling up his throat, moving past his chin, to his lips. It gets caught there. "But I think I'm allowed to break my own rules."

Liam would rather a kiss, honestly, but he's not in the business of denying Zayn a single thing, so he bares his neck. Instead of going for it, Zayn tugs off the blankets. It's still warm in the room, but Liam's suddenly aware of how naked he is. He vaguely remembers struggling out of his clothes last night, Zayn having to help him because he couldn't do it himself. Now he's in nothing but a pair of faded gray boxers that, admittedly, have seen better days. They're comfortable and soft, though, and they hang off his thighs a little more than his other pairs.

He becomes a lot more aware of his nakedness when Zayn moves into the space between his legs. It's so sudden, so quick and unexpected that Liam doesn't even have time to self-consciously squeeze his legs closed. He'd be trapping Zayn between them now if he did.

Zayn drags a nail down Liam's thigh, and Liam looks up at the ceiling, breathing heavy. He's never really had someone this close to his dick before. Especially not Zayn, and his body is reacting as expected. He can only hope that his embarrassment keeps him from getting hard, but he doubts it will.

That finger slides down the inside of Liam's thigh, and an embarrassing sound tumbles from his lips. The skin there is soft and sensitive, not used to being touched, and his legs jerk at the contact, opening a little wider.

Zayn replaces that finger with his mouth and Liam swears he's going to pass out. His lips are a little rough, like Liam always figured they be, chapped and dry, but they're wet soon enough when Zayn mouths at his skin, sending shivers through Liam's entire body, ones he can feel from the tips of his ears down to his toes.

He bites the fleshy inside of Liam's thigh. It barely even hurts, just a slight ache, a pang that barely registers. Liam lowers his gaze, although he probably shouldn't have. Zayn's looking up at him with dark eyes that trap his own. He can't look away and, yeah, he's hard. It's so freaking obvious, too, there's no way Zayn misses it, the way Liam's cock tents the soft cotton of his boxers.

Zayn's eyes close, a moan slipping out against Liam's thigh. His hand grips Liam's other leg tightly, moving up, fingertips brushing the edge of Liam's boxers. If they moved up just a little higher, they'd slip easily under the loose material.

Liam's mantra goes from kiss me to touch me, and he accidentally says it out loud, strangled and pleading and soft. And that's when Zayn pulls back, blood dripping down the sides of his chin. He's a mess, hair rumpled with sleep, cheeks red from feeding, lips red from Liam's blood. He wipes at it carelessly, staining the back of his hand with it, and then dips in again, tongue licking at the mark his teeth left, the faint pain of it disappearing by the time he's done, but he doesn't stop right away. He mouths at Liam's thigh again, soft and wet and perfect before he pulls back abruptly.

"You should go," Zayn says. He's still between Liam's legs, held up on the palms of his hands, looking stiff as a statue. "Now, Liam."

"But I—"

Zayn shakes his head mutely, and his eyes are still that pure, terrible black instead of the softer brown and amber and hazel they sometimes are, depending on how the light hits them. Liam scrambles to get out of the bed, nearly rolling right off it and faceplanting in his haste. His leg hurts, now that he's standing and his thighs are rubbing together, and he pulls the material of his boxers down to stop that from happening while he searches for his clothes.

"Leave them," Zayn orders. He's almost shouting, but his words are a little choked, and Liam doesn't even fully understand why. Doesn't get what just happened and why Zayn's flipping out like this.

He gets just to the door, hand curled around the knob, when Zayn plasters himself against Liam's back. He's cold everywhere their skin touches, and maybe Liam shouldn't like that so much, but he does. Almost as much as he likes Zayn's warm breath on the back of his neck, threatening and promising.

"Go," Zayn whispers. "Before I do something we're both going to regret."

Liam tries to turn around, but there's no room for him to do that. "What if I wouldn't regret it?"

"You don't even know what you're talking about," Zayn snaps. He somehow pulls the door open, and unceremoniously shoves Liam into the hallway, slamming and locking the door between them.

Liam stands there for a long moment, dumbstruck, before sighing and heading for his room, in search of clothes and answers he'll never get.

He ends up forgoing the clothes when he gets to his room. There's dried blood on the inside of his leg, and he feels dirty, probably from the rides and sweating and everything that happened yesterday. He climbs into the shower, turns the water on hot, and finds himself with one hand braced against the wall, the other wrapped around his prick, eyes squeezed closed as he tries (and fails, miserably fails) not to think about Zayn between his legs or Zayn's lips on his thigh.

After he's dressed, while his hair is still limp and wet, he heads downstairs, pulling the sleeves of his sweater down so they cover his hands. It's cold in the house today, his own room and floor chilly, such a contrast from Zayn's warm, cave-like room.

He finds a bowl of soup waiting for him in the kitchen, and he carries it out into the dinning room, only to find everyone (except Zayn) inside. Niall's eating, Harry's reading, and Louis is sipping wine with a smirk on his face. "We know what you were doing in that shower," he says as Liam sits down.

Liam nearly spills his whole bowl of soup. "E-excuse me?"

"Vampire hearing," Louis explains.

"Shut up," Niall moans. "Tryin' not to think about it."

"Zayn literally had to leave the building," Louis adds. "Went out of his mind. You're a hazard, Liam. Not that there's anything wrong with getting acquainted with your own body, or pleasuring yourself. I do it once a day to relieve stress. But maybe try not to moan while you're living with supernatural beings with an acute sense of hearing."

Liam blinks down at his soup, feeling even his ears getting hot, and it's not from the steam wafting from the bowl. It had looked appetizing when he'd first sat down, but now the creamy, fragrant soup makes his stomach churn. Oh, god, had they really heard him?

"Anyways," Harry says loudly. "How was the fair?"

Liam's eyes widen, and he looks at Louis, who has his hands raised defensively. "I didn't tell him."

Liam seriously doubts that. He still doesn't trust Louis, or like him very much. But there's something about the constant mischief, when it's not involving Liam's life, that he can't help but enjoy, just a little, tiny bit. Maybe he gets it, is the thing. Being cooped up in this place –- it gets boring, and maybe Louis understands that. Sure, he can leave whenever he wants, but when you've lived for so long, everything must seem tedious. He's just trying to relieve a bit of that boredom.

But if he's getting Zayn in trouble in the process, then Liam can easily go back to blindly hating him.

"It's my fault," Liam rushes out. "I, um, begged him to? I didn't give him a choice. Don't get mad at him, please, Harry." Sure, it's a lie, and normally he'd feel bad about lying to Harry but right now he doesn't.

Harry looks mildly surprised. "I'm not mad," he says.

"But—" Liam is confused. "I thought I wasn't allowed to leave. Zayn snuck me out."

Harry shrugs. "You're still alive. I'm sure Zayn didn't allow you to shout from the rooftops about us, and what we are. Niall, you see any reason for us to be upset?"

"Nope," Niall says easily, around another mouthful of soup that's starting to look a bit more edible, now that Liam's embarrassment has ebbed a bit and he's assured Zayn isn't about to get in trouble for last night. "No harm, no foul."

"There you go," Harry says. "No harm, no foul. So, was it fun?"

"Yeah," Liam admits, a little breathlessly as he remembers everything they'd done. "It was wonderful. Amazing. Best night of my entire life."

"I bet," Louis says, waggling his eyebrows. "Only the best nights end with waking up in someone else's bed."

Liam goes red all over again. "It wasn't like that," he says lowly. "I fell asleep in the car and Zayn carried me upstairs."

"To his lair," Louis points out. "Not to your own room."

"It's warmer up there," Liam argues. He rolls up his sleeves, picking up his spoon and shoveling soup into his mouth just so he doesn't have to talk.

Bad idea, apparently. Louis' eyes graze his wrists, and then his smirk widens. "Didn't Zayn look freshly fed when he fled the house?" Louis asks. "Because, Liam, I don't see any bite marks on you. Not the neck, not the wrist. Unless he did it somewhere else..."

That's about all Liam can take. If he blushes any harder, he'll possibly die. He pushes away from the table, leaving his soup behind, just as Harry says, "Lou, leave him alone."

He shuts the dining room door on Louis' reply of, "Oh, come on, Harry, I was only playing."

It's just — intimate, what Zayn had done. Where he'd bitten Liam, more so than everything else. More than falling asleep with their bodies twined together. More than —

Zayn kissed him last night. Liam had forgotten. Just before he'd fallen asleep, Zayn had kissed him, hadn't he? Or was that all in Liam's head? He can't remember. He'd been so, so tired at the time, but he swears he remembers softly chapped lips on his own, for just a second, right before he'd fallen back asleep.

That, coupled with the rest of it, leaves Liam confused. What does it mean? None of the others have ever bitten him somewhere like that. Liam wouldn't let them. And Niall's kissed him hundreds of time, on the top of his head, on the cheek, but never on the lips. It's so hard not to get his hopes up, too, not to convince himself that it means something but — what could Zayn possibly like about Liam?

Nothing. He's not cultured or brilliant. He's not beautiful or enticing. Zayn's had to have met thousands upon thousands of people, beautiful, interesting people. And then Liam's just –- he's just human and boring, when it comes down to it. He hasn't traveled the world. He doesn't have any exciting stories to tell.

So no, Zayn can't possibly be interested in him romantically. It's too impossible. It wouldn't make any sense. But, fuck, Liam wishes he was. Would die to have hundreds of nights like the last one, with Zayn's arm around his waist as he experienced everything he's never had a chance to before. Would kill to end every night with Zayn's legs tangled with his own, and his head pillowed on Zayn's chest.

But Liam isn't dumb. He won't get something like that and he knows it. He doesn't have the greatest luck in life, and there's no way the universe would allow him something so perfect.

Whatever. Liam heads up to his room, going to lock his door just as it's pushed open and Louis and Niall come into the room. "Harry yelled at me," Louis explains. "And Niall wants to play 'Holo' or something."

"Halo," Liam and Niall both correct automatically.

"Does it really matter?" Louis snaps. He throws himself onto Liam's bed. Like, literally. He was practically in the hallway one second, and the next he's hurling through the room, landing gracefully on the bed, seemingly effortlessly. "Your room is tiny, by the way. You realize there are seven unoccupied rooms in this house and they're all about twice the size of this one, right?"

"I'm aware," Liam says. He is. He's explored every single inch of this place (including the dungeon— basement, technically, but it looks like a dungeon) and he knows he could have a bigger room, if he wanted. But he likes his room, and the others feel too big, too cold, too foreign. The only other room he'd take is already occupied by Zayn. (And Liam's pretty sure he wouldn't want it if it weren't.)

He goes to sit on the window seat as Niall grabs the controller, but Louis glares at him and pats the bed. "What, do I smell?"

"No," Liam says, but he heads over to the bed anyways. It's too ingrained into him, the need to be nice and polite, even when he doesn't want to be. "But your complete one-eighty is giving me whiplash. Last week you hated me, now you're acting like we're best friends."

"I told you," Louis sighs. "We got off on the wrong foot. And you're not my friend. Again, I told you I don't associate with humans."

Liam rolls his eyes and sits as far from Louis as he can. "Do you realize that, like, half the things that come out of your mouth are insulting or offensive?"

"Only half?"

Liam rolls his eyes once more and crosses his legs. "Did Zayn say how long he was leaving for?" he blurts. He hadn't even realized he was wondering, but...

Louis shrugs. "Probably until tomorrow. I think you fuck with his head without even meaning to, and he doesn't know what to do about it."

"What does that mean?" Liam demands.

Unlike Zayn, Louis actually attempts to answer that question. He leans in, eyes darkening. "I mean," he says, tilting Liam's chin up, "that I think he's can't figure out whether he wants to kill you," he taps Liam's lips with the tip of his finger, "or kiss you. And that screws with his head." He pulls back, grinning widely. "I love it. It's nice to see Zayn feel things. He's been dead for so long, it's nice to see someone liven him up again, don't you think, Niall?"

"No comment," Niall says. "If he comes home and hears you saying that shit to Liam, he'll kill you."

"Whatever," Louis says flippantly. "What about you, Liam? You got a thing for the fangs? Or is it just Zayn that gets you going?"

"Zayn's going to murder you," Niall says, sing-song like.

"Stop talking about murder," Louis complains. "You're making me horny."

Niall and Liam both give him a look at that. "You're fucked up," Niall says, shaking his head. "Seriously."

Liam picks at a thread in his blanket, pulling it until it gets all bunched up and finally snaps, almost cutting the circulation of his finger off. He's a little uncomfortable right now, and once again he longs for the days when it was only the four of them in the house. Everything was a lot less complicated then.

"So how did you get here, anyways?" Louis wonders. "No one told me."

Liam sucks in a sharp breath, and he can feel Niall looking at him. He's still playing the game, fingers blurring over the controls, but he's watching Liam carefully out the sides of his eyes, like he's expecting a major break down. And Louis is giving him an expectant look, not at all aware of what he's asking, probably not realizing how intrusive that question is.

But Liam... He sort of wants to answer. And he doesn't know why, since that part of his life has been buried for a long time, for a lot of reasons. It's a lot to deal with, sometimes, so he just doesn't. He moved on. This is his life now and that's all he'd like to focus on.

"You don't have to tell him, Li," Niall says gently.

"It's a horror story, then," Louis realizes. "Huh. You tell me yours, I'll tell you mine," he offers.

That piques Liam's interest. "Really?"

Louis shrugs. "Sure. You want me to go first, then?" Liam nods. He wants to know. "Alright, then." Louis pauses, pushing his hair off his forehead. "Our story begins–-"

"I'm out," Niall says, cutting him off. He turns off the game system using the controller, tossing it onto the bed. "I'm not listening to you two go over this. See you both later."

Liam isn't all that surprised. Niall doesn't do well with emotional things. He's too empathetic, Liam thinks. Once Liam had cried over this horrible movie where this dog died and Niall had to excuse himself about half way through the film, ducking out of the room with misty eyes. Liam hadn't seen him for the rest of the day after that.

"Back to my story," Louis says, not at all effected. "It all began on a night just like tonight," Louis says, dramatically lowering his voice, "on this very property. Or— shit, it didn't start on the property. It started, like, a half-our walk from here in a village that's long gone, so that's not important either. Anyways, basically there was this group of teenagers, and this was a long time ago, Liam, back before video games or films or anything even remotely entertaining."

Liam nods his understanding, and Louis continues. "This house, the very house we're living in, was rumored to be haunted. The grass was overgrown, the gates were covered in ivy. But everyone who dared come near here claimed that, if you came by at night, you could see the ghost of the man who lived here standing near the windows. And, being me, I said we all had to come check it out. So a group of my friends and I, drunk off our asses, made our way up here." He stops to fix his hair again, and Liam thinks it's more of a nervous habit than a grooming habit. "No one dared actually stepping foot on the property, though. But I, being the bravest, or maybe the stupidest, or maybe a little bit of both, said I would.

"It was dark inside, and I was alone. I promised I'd bring something, a souvenir back to my friends to prove to them that I'd actually done it. So I stumbled through the darkness, searching for a room with windows, hoping that the moonlight would give me a bit of guidance. But I didn't get very far before I tripped. I hit the ground hard, hard enough to split my elbow open. And the next thing I knew, someone was on top of me." Louis stares at the wall behind Liam, eyes out of focus. "It was the most terrifying moment of my life. And I could feel it, I could feel myself dying. Somehow everything got darker, and I couldn't breathe. My head felt so light, and I started losing feeling in my legs, first, then my arms.

"He nearly killed me," Louis explains. "Harry. Almost drained me. Turned me at the last second when he finally got a hold on himself. And I woke up the next morning in a bed with clean clothes on and — he waited beside me to wake up, I guess. The first thing I did was scream. I screamed bloody fucking murder until it felt like my throat was raw, and he didn't even blink. Or I thought that was from the screaming, anyways. Turns out I was just thirsty."

"He attacked you," Liam says in surprise. He can't imagine it, can't picture a Harry that would willingly hurt anyone, even though he logically knows that Harry has, probably many people, over his lifetime.

"I'm certain he didn't mean to," Louis says quickly. "He was a newly bitten vampire, Liam. He'd run off from the woman who bit him because he hated what he was, and he'd been trying to live off animal blood, which is completely impossible, not to mention disgusting. He was blind with hunger at the time. Couldn't have helped himself if he tried, and I was already bleeding when he found me. I'd be more surprised if he hadn't attacked me."

"So you didn't blame him?"

"Oh, no, I did," Louis denies. "Not now I don't, but I did. Do you know what it's like to have your best friend shove a pitchfork through your chest while calling you a demon? I hated Harry for years. I ran as soon as I could, but eventually I came back when I realized I had nowhere else to go. I'd already screwed up a lot by then, killed more people than I care to admit because I was careless and I didn't have a handle on my self control yet. But Harry welcomed me in with open arms, and I think that he does blame himself, still. I'm also fairly sure that I'm the only person he's ever attacked. We all have a lot of blood on our hands, but Harry's are definitely the cleanest."

This isn't news to Liam. He always sort of suspected that. "Huh," he says anyways. "But wait, you mentioned the person who turned Harry. What happened there?"

Louis actually snorts at this. "Too pretty for his own good, isn't he? She's long dead, the woman who turned him, but Harry was young and rich and lovely and she'd wanted him, apparently. She offered him eternal life, promised that he'd be beautiful and young and rich forever, and Harry was stupid and naive enough to buy into it."

"So he willingly became what he is?"

"Yep. And he's regretted it every day since. Don't mistake an ego and stupidity for maliciousness. Even then he was way too nice for his own good. As soon as he realized that everything has consequences, I think he wanted to turn back, you know? But there's no turning back. There's only going forward. Accepting the hand that you've been dealt and moving on."

"Or death," Liam supplies.

"Or death," Louis agrees. "And for some reason, no one ever picks the second one."

"Huh," Liam says again, because he can't think of anything else.

Louis pats his thigh. "So there you have it. Don't do stupid shit because you'll get attacked by a bloodthirsty vampire."

Liam arches an eyebrow. "I'm sitting in bed with the only vampire I really have to worry about attacking me."

"I'm sure I'm not the only one," Louis says flippantly. "Anyways, you agreed to tell me how you got here, remember?"

Liam drops his gaze and licks his lips. They're suddenly so dry they feel like they'll split if he opens his mouth. "Right."

"So?" Louis prompts.

Liam crosses his arms over his chest. "Um. I was living in a group home, before it all happened. My parents died when I was nine, and I didn't have any other immediate family that could take me in. I was walking home from school one day and I didn't even notice the car following me until I was too late. I was twelve. They threw a bag over my head, dragged me into the car, and knocked me out. When I woke up, I was in a cell."

"Human slave trade," Louis realizes. "Shit, I didn't think they still did that. Most human slaves chose to be what they are, you know? They sold themselves for money, or drugs, or because they were stupid and convinced the vampire they swore themselves to was their soulmate. There's usually a certain amount of consent involved at the beginning, no matter how misguided."

"Yeah, well, not this time," Liam says. "Anyways," he continues, "I had a small cell. Metal door, slot in it to push food through, a thin blanket and pillow, no mattress. And they fed off us, all the time. I don't know if they were even hungry, or if they did it just to keep us docile. I felt dead already, at the time. There wasn't anything left in me, but then one of them took to much, and I thought I really was dying. I passed out, and I was so happy because I thought that was it, it was over. But then I woke up."

Liam stops to take a breath, and now it's Louis who can't look at him, not the other way around. "My cell door was open when I woke up, and there was a guy standing there. And he was pissed, absolutely livid. But it wasn't aimed at me. I know it wasn't. He was arguing with someone, one of the guys who ran the place. It got violent, I think, but I can't remember much after that because I passed out again. And then I woke up here, in this bed, and he introduced himself as Harry."

"I don't think I even realized, at first, that he was a vampire. He seemed so normal, and then Niall would come by, too, and he wasn't anything like the other vampires I'd met either. They were both nice, and they didn't hurt me, and they genuinely seemed concerned about me, but I still wanted to leave. So I planned to sneak out. One day when I knew they were both asleep, I crept out of my room. This place is so big, it took me hours, it felt like, to find the back door. And just when I went to open it, someone else did it for me."

"Zayn," Louis guesses.

"Yeah," Liam confirms. "And he — he looked like a vampire, more than Harry or Niall. I wasn't scared of him, though. At that point it was too hard to be scared of anything anymore. But he didn't even yell at me or anything. He just opened the door and told me to go if I really wanted to."

"He told you to go?" Louis asks. "Zayn? Our Zayn? Possessive, in love with you Zayn just — let you go?"

Liam shrugs, doesn't bother denying the 'in love with you' part because Louis is unreasonable and there'd be no point. "It was winter," Liam explains. "I was in socks and a thin sweater. He told me they wouldn't go after me if I ran, but I wouldn't make it very far. I'd be dead before I got somewhere safe. So I stayed."

"Just like that."

"Just like that," Liam agrees. "I was screwed and we both knew it. But eventually — eventually I didn't want to leave? Like, maybe it's not the greatest situation but I'm happy here. I love them all, and I have everything I could ever ask for."

"Except freedom," Louis reminds him. "You're not allowed to leave. You're still a prisoner, Liam. Your cell may be nicer now, but it's still a cell."

But Liam doesn't see it that way. He sees three people who took him in and took care of him. And yes, they feed off him, and yes, he's not allowed to leave. But Liam's seen hell, he lived in it for four months, he thinks, and this is far, far from it.

"You don't even realize it," Louis sighs. "They've got you so brainwashed it's sickening."

Liam's eyes widen a bit. "When you first got here you thought it was sick because they treated me too nicely, and now you're pissed because they're not treating me nice enough?"

"I know what it's like to feel trapped here," Louis hisses. "Why do you think I run? I can't stand it in this house sometimes. And I love the three of them, I do, but fuck if they don't make me crazy sometimes. You need to get out, Liam. You're — how old even are you?"

"Eighteen."

"Eighteen," Louis breathes. "Don't you ever want to leave? You should be doing normal eighteen year old things. You shouldn't be trapped in this house all the time. Don't you have things you'd like to do one day? Don't you — don't you ever think about going to parties or having friends or—"

"I don't know," Liam mumbles. This whole conversation makes him feel sick. "I don't want to leave here." He says it almost defensively, like Louis' kicking him out or something. He really doesn't want to leave, is the thing. He's happy here. Maybe it's not the best situation, but he wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Couldn't imagine his life without Harry's cooking or Niall playing his video games or Zayn — just in general. He couldn't imagine his life without Zayn in it every day.

"Not permanently," Louis corrects. "But... come on, Liam. Isn't there something you've been dying to do? Isn't there something you'd love to sneak out and do?"

Liam considers this for a moment. "A concert," he says, almost a whisper. "I've always wanted to go to a concert, maybe. But it's too risky. I'm a liability to you all. I know too much, and I could seriously risk your lives if I went out on my own and told people."

"You wouldn't tell anyone," Louis says confidently. "I know you wouldn't. And you know what? I'm taking you to a damn concert."

"I don't think the others would agree to that," Liam reminds him.

"Fuck what anyone else says," Louis spits. "You want to go to a concert? I'm taking you to a concert."

It's a bad idea. They'd probably get in a lot of trouble for it. But — "Okay," Liam agrees. "If you really want to take me."

Louis nods, climbing off the bed as he does. "Soon," he adds. "As soon as I find something close to here, I'm taking you. So be ready at a moments notice."

Liam snorts incredulously. He knows that it won't happen, it's an empty promise. If any of the others caught wind of Louis planning to sneak him out, they'd shut it down so fast it'd make Louis' head spin. Zayn taking him out yesterday was a fluke, a once in a blue moon type thing.

"Mark my words," Louis says. "We're getting you out of here." Liam must look a little panicked, because he hastily corrects, "Just for the night. We're breaking you out of prison, babe. It'll be fun."

Liam has a feeling it won't be. But something like excitement bubbles up inside him, no matter how stupid it is, setting himself up for disappointment. "Okay," he says again.

"Okay," Louis agrees.

 

 

*

 

Thunder sounds through the house. Lightening flashes between the cracks in the windows. The walls of the old house seem to creak and groan under the splattering of heavy rainfall and the strong winds pressing against it. The lights in each room flicker and pop, going out for moments on end.

Liam is kind of terrified, but that has nothing to do with the storm brewing outside.

"Come on," Louis hisses. "This is the perfect time to go. Everyone's sleeping, and no one will hear us leaving over the storm."

Liam rubs blurrily at his eyes. He just woke up, and everything is confusing him. "What?"

Louis throws clothes at him. It's such a contrast from when Zayn woke up him gently to go out, the way Louis had roughly shaken him and pulled him right out of bed, and now he's throwing things at Liam instead of letting Liam pick something out himself.

And, admittedly, he didn't think they'd actually go through with this. He figured Louis would change his mind, or someone else would catch on and stop them. It's been a week since Louis promised to take him out, and Liam sort of forgot about it. Now, he's a little frightened at the whole idea, not to mention the storm. His terror is punctuated by another, worryingly loud, clap of thunder.

"I don't think this is a good idea," Liam voices.

"It's a great idea," Louis argues. "Now get dressed. Hurry up."

Liam reluctantly pulls on the jeans and sweater Louis literally whipped at him, and then Louis is dragging him out of his room, tugging him as he stumbles down the stairs. They're soaked as soon as they pull open one of the heavy front doors. The wind fights against them, threatening to push the doors wide open, nearly slamming them against the wall before Louis catches it and heaves it shut behind them.

There's a garage not far from the door, one with a separate entrance to the house. They run towards it as rain continues to pour down beside them and lightening strikes far in the distance, illuminating the entire sky for just a moment.

There are four different cars in the garage. There's a huge, sturdy looking jeep, a sleek black Ferrari, a fire engine red convertible and the white car Zayn had driven him in. "Give me a moment to get the top up," Louis says, heading straight for the red car. Liam isn't surprised that that's the one that belongs to him. Not even a little.

"I still think this is a bad idea," Liam says, as Louis gets the beige cover of the convertible up. "Really bad idea. It's storming. That's the universe enforcing that this is a bad idea."

"Oh, calm down," Louis says. "It'll be fine. Get in."

Liam gets in, against his better judgement. Louis pulls down the visor, attempts to fix his soaking wet hair, and then he sticks the keys in the ignition and hits a button to open the garage door.

Before Liam can change his mind, or jump out of the car like the logical part of his brain is begging him to do, they're pulling away from the house, speeding down the driveway and zooming out past the wide-open gates as rain patters against the windshield, obscuring their view.

Louis lets out a held breath. "I was worried for a moment there," he admits. "If Zayn had woken up he would have torn me limb from limb."

"What's he going to do when we get back?" Liam asks.

Louis shrugs. "I figure he'll be grateful if I bring you back in one piece," he says, as trees blur by on either side of them, cropping up on both sides of the long, winding road. "And if you're not in one piece by the time this is over, I'm going to rent a cabin in Canada and pray that he never finds me."

That only makes the bad feeling in Liam's stomach grow a little bit stronger. "Great."

Louis pats his thigh consolingly. "Don't worry, Liam. If you die, you'll go out having fun. That's all I could ask for in life, really."

For some reason, that doesn't make Liam feel any better.

They drive for a long time. Louis reaches over, turning on the radio, cranking it much louder than Zayn had. He sings along, even when he clearly doesn't know any of the songs playing. The little green numbers on the analog screen says it's just after seven at night, but the storm makes it seem darker, later than it really is. And as they drive, Liam gets a sense of just how far they are from everything. Louis speeds dangerously down the road, whipping up water behind the tires, and they've been driving for at least fifteen, twenty minutes.

Finally the trees start to thin, and they pull onto a highway instead of a back road. Liam watches in fascination as the windshield wipers try to do their job, as car after car skates past them or falls behind, as the city in the distance rises and comes into view.

"Wow," Liam says. Wherever the fair had been, it was a smaller city. This one is — it's huge. Not that Liam doesn't know what cities are like. He'd visited bigger ones before, with his parents. He can vaguely remember museums and incredible shopping malls and toy stores that left him breathless. But it still feels foreign to him, all the buildings and people.

"You need to get out more," Louis mutters as they drive down street after street, seemingly with no destination in mind, but Liam's sure Louis has one. "Alright. The concert starts at eight. If we were normal people, we'd have to wait in line, but since we're not I think we have about ten minutes before we have to get there. I'm going to give you a brief run through of what's about to happen."

"Okay," Liam says, nodding enthusiastically. He's trying not to seem so excited, but he really is. Now that they're so far from the house, and the threat of getting in trouble, he's thrumming with energy and a need to do something, anything. Everything.

"Calm down," Louis says. "You look like an excited puppy that's about to pee all over my leather seats. First of all, if you want to be seen with me, you have to act cool."

"Cool," Liam repeats. "Okay, I can do that."

Louis raises a single eyebrow. "Doubtful, but whatever. Second, don't leave my sight. I was joking earlier. Even if I moved to Canada, Zayn would find me if something happened to you."

"Stay with you," Liam says. "Got it."

"And lastly," Louis adds, pulling into a huge parking lot, "have fun."

They park, and Louis pauses to fix Liam's hair before nodding and getting out. The rain has let up a bit, now just a cold mist that sticks to every inch of Liam's bare skin, dampening his clothes as they make their way towards a large building.

There's what looks like hundreds of people lined up outside, some drenched, some smart enough to have brought umbrellas. Louis walks straight past them, sliding a pair of glasses onto his face even though it's nearly night time and it's raining, the sun nowhere to be found.

"Aren't we supposed to line-up there?" Liam asks.

Louis shakes his head, walking around to the other side of the building. "I don't do lines," Louis says.

There's another set of doors, these ones blocked by a crowd of large, muscular men. Louis puts a hand on Liam's chest, stopping him, and walks up to one of them. Liam has no idea what he says, or if he flashes them something, like a card maybe, but they instantly step aside, one of them holding open one of the glass doors.

"Him, too," Louis says, nodding his head at Liam. Liam scurries after him, happy to be inside, even if the building is air conditioned and cool. "We could sit up in the stands," Louis says, guiding Liam through the lobby. "But that's no fun. I'd rather be near the stage, wouldn't you?"

Liam nods quickly. "Yeah."

"But there's going to be a crowd," Louis muses, waving his hand at an employee, and this time Liam sees the card in his hand, but he doesn't have time to read what it says or figure out why it makes the employee nod him through without question. "Crowds could be dangerous, especially at a concert. You could get trampled, and then Zayn would decapitate me."

"Oh." Liam tries not to sound disappointed.

"That doesn't mean we're not going to," Louis assures him. "I just like to consider all the reasons why I shouldn't do something before I do it anyways."

If this weren't benefitting him, he'd probably call Louis crazy. As it is, he follows dutifully behind Louis as they enter the main part of the venue. There are hard cement floors, and bright florescent lighting, and two men at every entrance. There's the stage, where a drum set and three microphones are already set up. High, high above them, there are seats. Liam's glad they're on the ground instead. If he was going to be that far away, he might as well have just watched concert footage online.

"Now what?" Liam asks, as Louis heads near the stage.

"Now we wait."

Liam wraps his arms around his stomach. "That's a little boring."

"We could go backstage," Louis suggests. "Meet the band. But since I actually have no idea who's playing, I'm going to say that would be a bad idea. They might get offended when we ask who they are."

Liam gives him a look and turns on the spot as people start filtering in, coming right up to the stage. And then they're trapped, packed in tightly near a girl with too much perfume and a bored look on her face, and a guy that looks much happier to be here. It's so loud all of a sudden, what with the high ceilings and every sound bouncing back at him. Liam had been cold before, but now he's too hot.

It's not the most comfortable situation, by far. Liam isn't used to people, let alone this many pushed right up against him. But, like at the fair, there's an excited energy in the air that's too contagious not to feel. Louis grins up at him, waggling his eyes, and Liam forces out a chuckle that actually sounds partially real.

By the time they stumble out onto the street, the clouds cleared above them, stars shining brightly, Liam can't believe he had any doubts. "That was amazing!" he shouts at Louis, too used to having to raise his voice to be heard from the past three hours of doing so.

His ears are still ringing, his heart is pounding. He's sweaty and too hyped up to stand still. He still has no idea what band just played, but that doesn't matter. It was good music, so loud from where he was standing. The crowd shouted the lyrics back at the lead singer, and the drummer was incredible. It was everything Liam had expected it to be. No, it was better.

"Glad you had fun," Louis says, linking their arms together. "Want to have more?"

"It's eleven," Liam points out. "What fun can be had this late at night?"

Louis smirks. "A lot."

Louis hasn't steered him wrong yet, so Liam shrugs and lets Louis guide him down the street, and the next. Louis stops at a club, and Liam eyes the open door warily as Louis leans in to say something to the bouncer. They're waved in, no I.D. needed, and Liam is starting to have reservations again.

"Louis," he says cautiously. "Are you sure we should be doing this?"

"Have you ever been drunk before, Liam?" Louis asks.

"Um." When would he of had the chance? What would be the point? "Not really."

"We're ticking another thing off on your list of things you've never done," Louis says. "Just go with it. I promise it'll be fun."

Liam's eyebrows draw together in concern, but once again he lets Louis take control of things. He's dragged through another crowd, different from the one at the concert. There's a lot less clothing, a lot more grinding. Liam feels really out of place, but Louis looks completely at home amongst the flashing lights and pounding bass and the sharp smell of alcohol in the air.

They stop at a long counter with stools that spin when you sit on them. Louis stands between two of them, hand wrapped securely around Liam's wrist to keep him close as he shouts an order at the bartender. "Two shots of your most expensive vodka," Louis orders. "Actually, make that four. And can you get my friend here something to chase those with?"

"Sure thing," the bartender says. "Anything specific, or is Coke fine?"

Louis shrugs noncommital and Liam leans forward to whisper, "Why four? You can't get drunk."

Louis turns just enough to flash his fangs at Liam. "I know. Those are all for you."

Liam gulps nervously as the bartender places four tiny glasses on the counter and fills them each rapidly, somehow managing not to spill a single drop on the black counter. He pulls out another glass, pops the tab on a Coke and fills it, and then Louis moves out of the way, gesturing for Liam to go.

"I just –- drink them fast, right?" he asks.

"Best to try not to taste it," Louis agrees. "It'll burn, and it tastes like shit, but you can do it."

Liam nods, more to himself than anything, and grabs the nearest shot glass. He takes a deep breath, counts to three, and tosses it back.

It does burn. It tastes awful. He feels it the whole way down, settling heavily in his stomach. He splutters, bending over with a cough, and Louis thumps at his back while pressing the cold glass of Coke into his hands. "It'll help," he explains.

Liam wipes tears from his eyes and takes a big sip, but the burning carbonation doesn't help much. He places the glass down a little roughly and rubs the wetness from his lips. "That was horrible," he says. "Why do people drink this?"

"Take the next three and you'll see soon enough," Louis coaxes.

And maybe Liam's just impressionable, or maybe it's because he wants to live, for once, but he finds himself reaching for the next shot, going through the motions again. The fourth one is a little easier to down, and he doesn't need as much to chase it with. And that warmth that originally scalded his insides now spreads out in every direction, making him feel weirdly heavy and hot.

"There you go!" Louis says. "I knew you had it in you!"

Liam grins, a little droopily. "Am I drunk?"

"If you're not," Louis promises, "you will be soon."

By Liam's sixth shot, they taste like water and he's letting Louis drag him onto the dance floor. He's never really danced before, but he's not worried about looking like an idiot. He just closes his eyes and enjoys how simultaneously feather light and lead heavy he feels.

Louis leaves him at some point, ducking into a corner with a tall boy with a mess of curly hair that Liam almost thinks is Harry, for a moment, until he turns and catches sight of blue eyes that don't shine nearly as brightly as Harry's green ones.

He ends up dancing with some girl in a pretty pink dress and unnaturally long hair. When Louis comes back, he pulls Liam in and Liam gestures at him to wipe his mouth. "You've got a little, um, blood," he says.

"Shit." Louis uses the back of his sleeve to wipe it away. There's a glassy look in his eyes now, and Liam thinks that he's moving a little sloppier, no longer perfectly coordinated. "Gone?"

"You're good," Liam says. "Can we do more shots?"

"Can we do more shots?!" Louis throws his head back in a laugh. "Fuck yeah we can!"

Liam loses count. He gets lost in Louis' mischievousness and the heat flowing through his own body. He gets lost in the heady smell of perfume and alcohol, and pair after pair of ruby red lips and long legs and pretty hair and boys with arms that bulge under their t-shirts. He's overwhelmed in the burn of the alcohol, someone's fingertips digging into his hips, Louis' infectious laugh. He feels like Alice, and this is the rabbit hole he's fallen down, a whole new world of flashing lights and the bass thumping under his feet like the storm that had been brewing earlier tonight.

He gets too caught up, is the issue. Louis physically lifts him off the ground and carries him out of the building, looking slightly nervous. "I'm sober enough to drive, I think," Louis says. "And we need to get you home now."

Liam blinks lazily at him. The moon looks so big in the sky, impossibly big. "My mum used to tell me the moon was made of cheese," Liam says–- giggles, actually. "Like, imagine that much cheese? What would you do with that much cheese?"

"Oh, god," Louis moans. "I'm so dead. You're so fucked right now."

"I'm fine," Liam assures him. "I'm having fun. Totally — having fun. Yeah?"

"Fuck," Louis says. "Do you even hear yourself right now? How many shots did you have?"

Liam tries to think. It's too hard to sort in his head, so he lifts his hands, ticks off the numbers with each finger, but then he gets to ten and he can't keep counting. "Ran out of fingers," Liam says. "I think it was elevinty– elvin– It was one more than ten."

"Fuck," Louis repeats. Somehow they get to the pretty red car, and Louis shoves Liam into the passenger seat. Liam actually falls into it, surprised to find that his limbs just will not cooperate with him. He reaches for his seatbelt, but his fingers are too big to do the task of pulling it on, so Louis does it for him before slamming the door and getting in on his own side. "I'm praying you'll be better by the time we get home," he says. "Just — just try to sleep while we drive, okay?"

That sounds like a brilliant idea, Liam thinks. He's so tired all of a sudden, and his eyes don't want to stay open. "M'kay."

He falls asleep to Louis muttering, "Shit," and wakes up to Louis shaking his shoulders gently. "Liam, get up."

Liam slowly opens his eyes. There's a faint light on in the garage, and he can't focus on anything. His head is spinning so much, like he's still back in the club and the lights are still flashing, but somewhere in the back of his head he knows he's not, knows that this is wrong, and it makes him sick. "I feel bad," Liam whines. "Spinny. Why's everything so spinny?"

Louis grabs Liam's chin roughly in his hand. "Listen to me, Liam. If we both want to live right now, you need to be quiet, okay? I'm going to take you inside, we're going to go straight to your room. You're going to get in the shower and then climb into bed, and if anyone asks, you haven't left it all day, okay? We didn't go anywhere. We didn't go to a concert. I didn't get you plastered. Understood?"

Liam gives him a shaky thumbs up and Louis releases him. "Didn't go nowhere," Liam mumbles. "Got it."

Louis gives him a long, hard look. "I'm booking my flight to Canada now."

Turns out that walking while drunk? Much harder than Liam thought. He trips getting out of the car, leaves a hand-print shaped smudge on the side from catching himself. Louis has to wrap an arm around his waist to get him out of the garage, and the ground feels so uneven under his feet.

"We'll go in through the kitchen," Louis decides. "If anyone's in there, it'll only be Harry, and he's the least likely to kill me. Plus, we can use the back staircase."

"Good plan," Liam whispers. Attempts to whispers. It comes out loud anyways. "Sorry."

Louis pats his head. "It's okay. We'll be fine. Zayn's probably still sleeping, I bet he won't even know we left."

Louis holds open the back door, dragging Liam over the threshold because Liam's legs are way too heavy for him to lift on his own. It's dark inside, and Louis flicks on the light before going stiff, eyes widening. Liam laughs at him for it, since he looks kind of like that coyote from that cartoon, but then he follows Louis' train of sight and meets a pair of black eyes.

"Uh-oh," Liam says.

"Uh-oh," Zayn repeats. "Uh-oh? That's what you have to say for yourselves?"

Louis actually cowers behind Liam, using him as a human shield as Zayn stomps towards them. Everything's still so spinny, but Zayn's clear, the only thing Liam can focus on. He's wearing a blood-red shirt with black buttons that are done up right to his throat. His hair falls across his forehead, almost the same colour as his eyes at the moment. He's moving so slowly, so stiffly, practically vibrating with anger.

And he's so beautiful Liam almost wants to cry.

He come right up to Liam, gripping both sides of his face. Liam can feel the anger in the tips of his fingers, can feel it radiating from Zayn like a physical thing as he leans in, and then he's — Zayn's lips are on Liam's, hard and demanding. A soft, rough sound splays across Liam's mouth when Zayn pulls back just a fraction before going in again, harder, like he's trying to bruise the shape of his mouth into Liam's lips.

Liam can't think, but his body reacts automatically, hands reaching up to twine in Zayn's hair, pulling him in closer. He parts his lips, tongue searching for Zayn's, pushing against the seam of his mouth until it opens, granting Liam access that he so desperately needs.

There's something sweet on Zayn's tongue, like sugar and blood, sweet and dangerous at the same time. And it's gone before Liam can get his fill, Zayn pulling back, breaking the connection of their lips with a wet sound.

"Don't ever do that again," Zayn says lowly, forehead resting against Liam's. "Ever. Do you understand me? Don't ever do that to me again. I was — I was terrified. I woke up and you were gone. Do you even realize what that did to me?"

Liam blinks confusedly. He can't focus still, but that has equal parts to do with the alcohol and Zayn's lips, slick with spit and still so close to his own. He barely hears the words, doesn't try to figure out the meaning in his head, but he knows he's supposed to say something here, so he says, "Sorry," hoping that's what Zayn wanted to hear.

"You better be," Zayn growls. "And Louis, you get back here right fucking now. Don't think I don't see you sneaking off."

Liam turns to see Louis heading for the door. He pauses at Zayn's words, grimacing heavily as he turns. "Did you need me for something?" he asks. "You two look fine as you are."

"He's drunk," Zayn spits. "Do you think I don't notice that?"

"I'm not drunk," Liam says quickly. "We didn't go to a concert or a club, promise. And Louis didn't get me— didn't get me drunk, I swear. Cross my heart and hope to—"

"Don't say that," Zayn snaps. "Fuck."

"Sorry," Liam mumbles again. "Sorry."

"In my defence," Louis says loudly, "he's completely fine. A little intoxicated, yes. He'll probably have a horrible hangover tomorrow to show for it, but he's not hurt in any way. He's completely fine. No damage done."

Zayn flits across the room in the blink of an eye, and the next thing Liam knows, he's got Louis against the wall, dangling inches from the ground, suspended by the hand wrapped tightly around his throat. "Do you think this is funny?"

"Not— really," Louis gasps. "I think you're — psychotic."

Liam quickly heads over to them, nearly tripping over his own feet. He grabs Zayn's arm, a little worried for Louis right now because his face is going red and he's gulping for breath and Zayn's not letting up at all.

"Zayn," Liam tries. "Let him go."

"I'd rather kill him," Zayn says conversationally, like he's talking about the weather, not murdering his best friend. So Liam collapses against him, making a wounded sound, and Zayn releases Louis instantly to catch him, concern replacing the livid look in his eyes. "Liam? Liam, what–?"

Liam grins as Louis slips out the kitchen door. "Faked it," he says, but he's still leaning heavily on Zayn just because. "I'm fine. You're too easy."

Zayn carefully places Liam on his feet, upright, and holds him at arms length. "I know you're drunk right now," he says, "but this situation isn't funny, Liam."

Liam is too drunk to stop himself from groaning. "I don't know why you're so mad," he says, slurring a little less, carefully pronouncing the words as best as he can. "What's the big deal? Why can't I leave? Do you really not trust me at all?"

"I do trust you," Zayn says automatically.

"Right." Liam rolls his eyes. "Obviously you don't."

Zayn sighs and grabs Liam's hands, holding them in his own, cupping them so they make a bowl-shape. "If you could take your entire world," he says, "everything that matters the most to you, and ball all that up to fit in the palms of your hands, would you ever let someone else hold it? Would you ever trust someone else to keep it for even a second, and return it to you exactly the way it was before, unharmed, undamaged, exactly the way it was?"

You, Liam thinks. I'd trust you with it. But that's not what Zayn wants to hear and he knows it. "I guess not," he says.

"Exactly," Zayn says. "That's exactly why you're not allowed to leave, okay?" He pushes back Liam's hair, gently soothing his hands down the sides of Liam's face, cupping it carefully. "I honestly don't know what I'd do if— if, like, if anything happened to you, Liam. I really don't."

"Okay." Liam doesn't get it, but he's too tired to try to. "Zayn?"

"Yeah, babe?"

Liam leans over and heaves up everything he's eaten in the last twenty-four hours.

 

 

*

 

Liam wakes up in Zayn's bed. It should be a bit disconcerting, since he can't exactly remember how he got here, but it's not. The fireplace is lit, casting flickering light and shadows over the room. The blankets are kicked down to his feet, and his head is pillowed in the crack between both of Zayn's pillows. They smell like him, spicy-sweet, and Liam inhales deeply for a moment, enjoying all of it. The warmth of the fire, Zayn's silky sheets, the quiet of the cavernous room.

When he finally sits up, he wipes at his eyes, first, and then at his mouth. There's crusted toothpaste there, even though he can't remember brushing his teeth before bed. He can't remember much at all, actually, aside from the pounding music of the concert, a confusing amount of dancing lights and one single image of Louis wiping blood from his mouth.

That's all he's got. That and alcohol. A lot of alcohol. He remembers that most strongly, the horrible burn, the lovely weightlessness. And then there's anger, too, in his memory, but not his own.

"Zayn?" Liam calls. He tugs a hand through his hair, fingers getting caught, sharp pain going through him when he pulls them through the tangled mess anyways.

The bathroom door opens. Zayn's bathroom is the nicest in the house. It's all stone floors and pure white counters and the biggest tub Liam's ever seen. Zayn's hair is wet when he walks out, shutting the door behind himself. He's dressed in Liam's clothes, Liam's sweats and t-shirt, the black one with the hole near the bottom. The shoulders of it hang off Zayn a bit, dipping low at the collar, revealing his collarbone in a way that makes him look both too-thin and extremely jumpable, at the same time.

"Morning," Zayn says, soft and unreadable. "How're you feeling?"

Liam reaches for the blanket, tugging it up to his stomach. He plucks at the material, eyes on his movements instead of Zayn's. "Scale of one to ten, how mad are you?"

"Twenty," Zayn answers, flat and emotionless. He comes over to the bed, and Liam scoots over to make room for him, even though he just perches on the edge, back to Liam. "You scared the shit out of me, Liam. I thought you ran away or something, for a while there. And then I noticed Louis gone, too, and it scared me even more. You realize he could have gotten you killed, right? Not even on purpose, either, he's just a reckless idiot."

"We just went to a concert," Liam attempts, feebly defensive. "Nothing happened."

"Just a concert," Zayn repeats. "So why were you plastered out of your mind when you got back here, then?"

Liam winces, glad Zayn isn't looking at him. "Okay, and a club. But it was fine."

"I know that," Zayn snaps. "Obviously. You're here right now, aren't you? But — fuck, one little mistake and you wouldn't have come back. The world is dangerous, Liam, and you don't get how vulnerable you are."

"But I'm not," Liam argues. "What, because I'm human? So is most of the population, Zayn! People die every day, but not everyone does! People don't just hide in their houses forever because they could get hit by a bus when they leave. The chances of something like that happening are too slim to spend your whole life hiding because of it."

"I know," Zayn grinds out. Liam can tell, just from his stance, that he's pinching the bridge of his nose. "You really don't think I get that?"

"Then... then I don't really see what the problem is," Liam admits. "I really don't. And you all say that you're worried about me spilling your secret, announcing to the world that, hey, vampires exist. But you know I wouldn't, Zayn. Don't tell me you don't, because we both know that would never happen."

"I know," Zayn says again. He leans forward, head in his hands, fingers sliding through his own wet hair.

Liam has to touch him, has to reach out and rub at his back, do anything to get that tensed set of it to relax. He rubs circles against Zayn's shoulder blade, guilty because this is his fault and he knows it, but he can't make himself back down on this. "I want to be able to leave," Liam says. "Whenever I want, and come back, too. I don't want to leave forever. I just — I want to be able to go to and from without everyone making a big deal about it. I'd like to have a life, Zayn. Maybe. Eventually."

Zayn sighs, turning around. It's so easy for him to maneuver them, to push Liam down onto his back and settle on top of him, holding him down easily with his hands on Liam's wrists, never pressing too hard. "I figured you'd ask eventually," he says, hair falling over his eyes because he's leaned forward a bit. "I mean, we all knew this was coming."

"You did?"

Zayn nods. "And — Harry and Niall have been ready to let you for years. Since you turned sixteen."

"But—"

"I didn't let them," Zayn explains. "I don't want you to leave."

Liam struggles against Zayn's hands, wanting to reach up and brush that look off his face, the pained, pinched look that mars his features. "Why not?"

"Because I'm selfish," Zayn admits. "I wanted — want to keep you here. With me. Just me. My Liam, yeah?"

"Yeah," Liam says, because he is.

"And if you leave, you won't be," Zayn says. "And one day you might not want to come back."

Liam snorts and Zayn gives him an offended look. "Sorry," he hastily adds. "It's just, like. I'll always want to come back, and I really don't know how you can't see that. You guys are my family. I'm not trying to run away, Zayn. I just want a bit of freedom. I want more than just the rooms of this house, the fenced in grounds. I need more than that."

"Louis' corrupted you," Zayn complains. "I should have seen this coming. I almost liked it better when he was hellbent on killing you."

"It's not Louis," Liam admits. "Maybe he gave me a shove in the right direction, but I'm the one who wants this. I think I have for a long time, I just didn't want to ask and be disappointed."

"And what if I say no?" Zayn asks, defiance in his eyes, in the raised set of his brows.

"Then I'll end up resenting you for it," Liam says honestly.

Zayn sighs and looks away. "Figured as much. Couldn't help but try, though." He releases Liam's hands, but doesn't move to get off him. "I just don't know what I'm going to do when you're not here all the time. When I'm not always around to make sure you're safe. That — that scares the fuck out of me."

"I'm not a toddler," Liam reminds him. "I'm more capable than you give me credit for."

"Trust me, I know that," Zayn says. "But still." He cups both sides of Liam's face. "Whole world in the palms of my hands, remember? It freaks me out, thinking about giving that away. Trusting the world with something that means everything to me."

Liam licks his lips, trying not to blush. "I mean that much to you?"

"Everything," Zayn says. "You mean everything to me."

Liam searches his eyes, expecting to find something false in them but he doesn't. "Why didn't you tell me?" he whispers. "Why didn't you let me know that you felt like that?"

Zayn laughs, sardonic and soft. "Because I'm horrible at caring for things, Liam. But I've told you I love you a million times. You just weren't listening."

"You never did," Liam protests. "You never said it."

"Not with words," Zayn admits. He trails his fingers down Liam's neck, light as a feather. "But in every other way I could think of, I did."

Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, Liam thinks. "Kiss me," he says.

Zayn's gaze drops to Liam's lips, and there's one horrible, embarrassing moment where he thinks Zayn's going to get off him, tell him no. But then he leans down, hair tickling Liam's skin. All he does is breathe in Liam's air for a moment, a give and take between both of their parted lips before Liam surges up and kisses him first instead.

Zayn falls forward onto his hands, for once not at all cautious about crushing Liam beneath him the way he normally is. Instead he blankets Liam's body with his own, heavy and perfect as Liam grabs at his hair, clinging desperately to him.

It's the kind of painfully slow kiss that leaves Liam breathless and too hot. That has him curling his tongue against Zayn and pushing up against him, unable to get any closer but trying his best anyways. At least it's not just Liam falling apart, bit by bit. Zayn's making these lost, hungry sounds into his mouth like he can't get enough as he licks at Liam's tongue, lips, tracing the roof of his mouth with the tip of his tongue.

Liam grins into the kiss, pulling back just enough to laugh against Zayn's lips. "What?" Zayn asks.

Liam shakes his head, carding his hands through Zayn's hair. "It's just, like, incredible. This. I didn't think you'd ever — I didn't think I'd ever get to have this."

Zayn flips them over so Liam's balanced precariously on top of him, steadied by his hands. "You can have whatever you want," he says. "Anything. Everything."

"I don't want everything," Liam tells him. He presses his lips to Zayn's again. "Just you."

"You've had me for a long time," Zayn says.

Liam taps his fingers against Zayn's collarbone. "I didn't realize that."

"You should have. It was really obvious, babe."

"It would have been if you knew how to use your words," Liam teases.

Zayn tugs him down by the front of his shirt, but his lips skid by Liam's, over his jaw, teeth nipping at his ear. He didn't even know that was a place that he wanted Zayn's lips, but apparently it was. He shivers, just as Zayn says, "You want me to use my words? Want me to tell you how good you taste? How badly I've wanted to put my mouth on every inch of your skin? That I want to fucking ruin you, but I'm afraid I might actually do it?"

Liam makes an embarrassing sound, eyes falling closed.

"Or," Zayn says, fingers tracing Liam's spine, "do you want me to tell you that I know every single thing about you, and there's not one part that I'm not in love with? That sometimes I wish you really had ran that day when I held that door open and told you to go, because it's too much to handle sometimes? That I'm afraid I'll never be good enough for you because I'm not, and I'm terrified of the day you realize that?"

"What if I'm the one that's not good enough for you?" Liam counters.

Zayn smiles at him. "Impossible, sweetheart."

Liam doesn't argue, even though he thinks it's true. "I'm in love with you too, you know," he says. "Like, I don't know everything about you yet, but I want to. And there's nothing I've learnt about you that I don't — that I don't love, just so you know. For years, Zayn. God, I've had the biggest crush on you since I was fourteen and horribly awkward and you were this perfect person, right out of those old oil paintings you hang up everywhere, so gorgeous it actually hurts to look at for too long."

"You never told me either," Zayn says. "You never said it either."

"Because I thought it was stupid," Liam admits. "I never thought you'd ever look at me like that. Why tell you when it would ruin everything?"

Zayn's hands ruck up Liam's shirt, nails digging into his hips. "Everything look ruined to you right now?"

Liam's leaning on top of Zayn, hands splayed on his chest, Zayn's hair a mess, his cheeks red, his lips swollen from kissing and still a little slick. "Everything looks perfect from here, actually."

Zayn pulls him down into another kiss, and Liam goes with it. It feels like forever, the time spent in Zayn's bed. The blankets are on the floor by the time they're both out of breath and panting into each other's mouths. The fire stopped burning a while ago when no one attended to it, but Liam still feels warm. Even Zayn's hands are hot to the touch from being all over Liam's body for so long.

Liam falls back against the bed, catching his breath. Zayn props himself up on his elbow, unaware of how wrecked he looks, and how his hair has dried in clumps that stick around his head, making him look younger than he is. Well, he always looks younger than he is, but more so at the moment than usual.

Zayn drags one nail down the front of Liam's chest, and his shirt rips open easily, slicing cleanly down the middle. "Do you want to know how I got this way?" he asks. "You said you don't know everything about me. Do you want to?"

Zayn's nails are now at his stomach, scratching lightly at the thin hair there. Liam swallows thickly, trying to focus because this is important, but his dick seems to think that other things are a lot more important right now. "Yeah," he says, with a bit of difficulty. "I'd like to know."

"Okay." Zayn nods, pushes Liam's shirt open so his whole chest is bare. He traces invisible patterns on Liam's skin, making it turn red sometimes when he drags his nails against it. "I was like you," he says. "Before it all happened, I was like you."

"You were all human," Liam reminds him. "I already knew that."

Zayn shakes his head. "No, I mean — I was a blood slave, before. I lived in a manor house bigger than this, was loyal to a clan of eight vampires. My family sold me to them. We were poor, and this was during a time when our whole village new about vampires, back before they had to hide the way they do now. My sisters were dying, my parents couldn't afford to put food on the table, and my dad was sick. So my mother went to them, begged them for help, and they asked for something in return."

"Your family just — they gave you away?" Liam demands. "How could they —"

"I volunteered," Zayn says. "They wanted one of my sisters instead, but I said I'd do it. I didn't know what I was signing up for, though. It was different than how you have it. I wasn't treated like a person. One of them, Alasandra, she used to make me crawl on my hands and knees and everything. I hated all of them and they didn't like me much better. They thought humans were scum and they weren't afraid to tell me so."

"But one of them still turned you?"

Zayn shakes his head. "Nah. It was some passing visitor. She stayed for weeks, and put everyone on edge. And before she left, she asked me if I wanted to come with her. I think she thought she was in love with me. She wasn't, not really, but I was attractive, or something. Back then, that's all I was good for. A pretty human that the clan liked to use and show off whenever they had guests. Like a purebred dog."

Liam grabs Zayn's hand, pulling him back from his memories.

"Anyways, I told her I couldn't. If I left, they would have killed my family. So she offered me another option. Said she'd give me a way to take care of my family myself. And I took it. Anything to get out of there without risking someone I cared about getting hurt." He takes a breath. "I never wanted to be a vampire, Liam. I hated them. But when your back's against the wall, you take the only chances you have. So I let her turn me."

"And what'd they do? The clan that you were with."

Zayn shrugs. "Nothing they could do. The one that turned me had a lot of friends, they wouldn't risk hurting someone she turned. And we don't kill our own kind often, vampires. It's an unspoken rule, and it's too damn hard to actually do it."

"Is that why you're nice to me?" Liam wonders. "Because you know what it's like?"

Zayn shakes his head. "No. You'd think, but no. By the time you got here, I was just like them. I learned to hate humans to, to think of them as only good for one thing. I've done terrible things, Liam. I'd repulse you if you knew. And I didn't want you here at first. Harry was strict on how you were to be treated, and I thought he was too soft."

Liam thinks back, remembers how standoffish Zayn had been at first. At least, until Harry had given Zayn the task of Liam's home-schooling. He'd come around eventually, but he'd always been the coldest out of all of them.

"But you changed my mind," Zayn says. "That first year, I could have killed you without even batting an eye, if Harry would have let me get away with it. But you're — you're hard not to care about. You were so eager, I think, is the thing. You wanted to make everyone happy, and it was hard not to want to make you happy in turn."

"You do, you know," Liam says. "Make me happy, I mean. All the time."

"Good," Zayn says. "I want to."

Liam looks up at the ceiling. "Will you tell me the rest one day? The other stuff. The stuff you think'll scare me off."

Zayn sighs, mirroring Liam's position. "If you really want me to. But I'd rather not have you look at me like that. Like you — like you hate me."

"It won't," Liam promises. "And I want to know the rest of it, too. All the places you've been. All the people you've met."

"Haven't been that many places," Zayn says. "Or met very many people. I'm not a very social vampire, in case you haven't noticed. Ask Louis that stuff. He's been everywhere."

"Hmm," Liam hums. "Then we'll have to go everywhere together, one day."

"One day," Zayn says. "Not any time soon."

"Why not?"

"If you think I'm letting you on a plane while you're still human, you're delusional," Zayn says. "Those things are dangerous."

"Are you saying I won't always be human?" Liam asks. "Are you saying you'll turn me one day?"

Zayn makes a grumbling sound, eyes narrowing. "I'm saying that Niall and Harry aren't giving me a choice. They're both too fond of you. They'd be lost if you grew old and died. They've been talking about it for a while now, but I'm not budging on that one, okay? You can have your freedom, Liam, but I'm not letting them turn you any time soon."

Liam grins, content with that. "Okay," he says. "I'm happy being human for now anyways. I don't really like blood."

"You will," Zayn says. He grabs Liam's hand, twines it with his own and lifts it up a bit, dragging his thumb down Liam's wrist. He doesn't draw blood, but he could. "You'll love it, eventually."

"What's it like?" Liam whispers. He's always been morbidly curious, every time one of the others feed off him. There's something disturbingly enticing about the way they make it look, especially Zayn. The way he traces the veins of Liam's wrist, or neck, with his nails and teeth that's always left Liam curious as to why it has such an effect on them.

Zayn's quiet for a while, but he tugs Liam's wrist down so he can nip at it gently with his teeth, tongue sliding over the skin. "It's hard to explain," he says. "Hard to describe. It's not like anything else. It's more than just the taste, which is incredible."

"Really?"

Zayn nods. He moves his lips over Liam's palm, kissing up his fingers, taking one of them into his mouth. He swirls his tongue around it, and Liam's breath hitches when his teeth, razor sharp, break the skin just enough for a drop or two of blood to spill out. "Especially you," Zayn says.

"What do I — what do I taste like?" Liam asks.

Zayn is on top of him once more, arms and legs bracketing Liam's body. He leans down, sucking on Liam's earlobe gently. "Good," he adds. Moans, really, right into Liam's ear. "So fucking good, Liam. You taste so good."

Liam's dick shouldn't twitch at that, it really shouldn't. But it does, and he asks, "You said it's more than just the taste. What else is there?"

"Power," Zayn says. "It makes you feel invincible. And it's intimate, feeding off someone, especially when it's consensual. When you know they're so vulnerable," he continues, moving down Liam's body a bit, mouthing at his neck, first, then his collarbone, "that you could do anything to them, but they trust you to be careful."

"You're always careful," Liam stutters. "Right?"

"Course," Zayn says. He bites at Liam's chest gently, teeth human once again. "But sometimes I don't want to be."

"R-really," Liam says again.

Zayn scratches his nails down Liam's chest once more, bumping over his nipples. Liam hisses, but it's not in pain. Not until Zayn does it again, and one of his nails pierce Liam's skin, a surface scratch that doesn't hurt much, but it instantly wells with blood. Zayn ducks his head, tongue licking over it, dragging slowly, wetly, leaving the skin around the wound slick and shiny.

"Sometimes I want to sink my teeth into every inch of your skin," Zayn admits, punctuating the words by biting at Liam's hip. "I don't want to hurt you, though. Just mark you, yeah? So everyone knows that you're mine. All of you."

And Liam is, pathetically his, for as long as Zayn wants him.

"But I want to make you feel good, too," he adds. He's moving down between Liam's legs again, like the time he'd bitten Liam's thigh. The material of Liam's jeans separates them this time, but Liam can still feel them, feel Zayn's teeth slicing easily through the material, dangerously close to sinking into his flesh through them. "I want you to enjoy it, too."

Zayn's hand brushes over the bulge in Liam's jeans, just enough pressure to make Liam throw his head back against the pillow. He's having trouble breathing, trouble thinking. He's painfully hard, the ache of it hurting worse than the scratch on his chest, a hundred times worse. "Zayn," he pants. "Can you just – could you—?"

"Taking these off," Zayn says suddenly. He grabs at the button on Liam's jeans. "Can I?"

Liam nods quickly, making himself feel even more lightheaded. Maybe it should feel too fast, how quickly they're moving, but it feels too slow to Liam. Fuck, he's wanted this for – for years. For years he's just wanted Zayn to kiss him, to touch him. And now that he can have that, every second they spend not doing that feels like a waste, in Liam's opinion.

Zayn pops the button on Liam's jeans, pulls down the zipper in one smooth motion. He tugs them down Liam's hips easily, without even needing Liam to lift himself up. And then his jeans are being tossed to the floor in abandonment, and Zayn's looking down at him like he's – like he's desperate for everything, nothing in particular, just all of Liam.

"Do you know how hard it was?" he asks, kissing down Liam's thighs. "How hard it was to touch you, and put my mouth on you, and not do it in the way I wanted?"

"I would have let you," Liam tells him.

Zayn nods, stubble burning Liam's leg. "I think I knew that," he admits. "Like, deep down, I think I knew I could have you, but it scared me."

The tips of Zayn's fingers push under the leg of his boxers, sliding up, up, until his nails dig into Liam's hip underneath it. And he's so close to Liam's cock, so freaking close that Liam could scream because he drags his hand back down without touching him properly. "Why would it– why would–-" He can't even finish the question, because he's squirming, trying to get Zayn to touch him. "God, just stop teasing me, please. Please."

"Because a part of me knew that I wouldn't be able to stop myself," Zayn admits. He tugs Liam's boxers down a little, so one side is low on his hip but he's still fully covered where it matters. "Part of me knew I'd ruin you and I wouldn't be able to help myself."

"Do you think you can?" Liam has to ask. He sounds weak, even to his own ears, pathetically breathless already and Zayn hasn't even touched him, not really. "Stop yourself, I mean."

Zayn lifts his gaze, moving it slowly up Liam's body until he's meeting Liam's eyes. And he shakes his head. "No," he says. "Definitely not."

"I'm okay with that," Liam admits.

Zayn shakes his head fondly, muttering, "Idiot." And then he pulls Liam's boxers off the rest of the way. They join his jeans on the floor, abandoned and forgotten because Zayn's licking at his thigh, tracing the exact spot where he'd bit Liam last time, even though the mark has long since faded.

Liam squirms again. His cock curves up, resting on his stomach, and Zayn's still not touching him. He's contentedly licking at Liam's thighs like he could spend his whole life doing it. Liam's making a mess of himself already, precome leaking from the tip, smearing across his stomach when he moves too much.

He can't take it. He reaches down, going to wrap a fist around himself, but Zayn grabs his wrist almost painfully, shaking his head again, stubble rubbing roughly over Liam skin. He moves his lips up, closer to the tops of Liam's thigh. His cheek brushes Liam's cock, and he turns his head, meeting Liam's eyes as he presses open mouth kisses to the length of it, leaving it wet when he pulls back, doing absolutely nothing to relieve the tension inside of Liam that feels like it's going to strangle him, with his feather-light touches that leave him wanting more than they satisfy.

His teeth dig into Liam's stomach, just shy of breaking the skin. When he moves to Liam's hip, Liam can see the mark left behind in the shape of his mouth, angry purple-red, and he has a feeling it'll be there tomorrow, that he'll be able to poke it and feel it ache.

"You'll beg for it, yeah?" He follows Liam's v-line with his tongue. "I always figured you would."

"Zayn," Liam says.

"Gonna have to do better than that," Zayn says. He pushes himself up, hands sliding up and down Liam's thighs until his hands no longer feel slightly cold. They feel almost blisteringly hot, actually, and Liam would be angry at him if he could, but he can't.

"Touch me," Liam pleads. "Zayn. Please."

"I am touching you," Zayn points out.

"Zayn," Liam snaps. "Need you to just — just do it, please, fuck, do it."

Zayn bites him. His teeth sink into Liam's skin, and his eyes are so black. Liam's lips part in pain, and his eyes sting. And then Zayn's reaching up, fisting a hand around him, and Liam almost wants to cry, he's so relieved.

It's way too much, all at once. The pain of it, contrasting so sharply with how good Zayn's hand feels around him. He's pumping Liam slowly, in a tight fist, dragging it out. And Liam doesn't ever want it to end. He feels wound so tightly, every nerve electrified, back arching, trying to thrust up into Zayn's hand to get him to speed up.

Zayn pulls off him, licking at his lips as he does just that. Liam's never had someone else touch him like this, and it's overwhelming, how close he feels to coming already.

When Zayn slows down, Liam almost shouts at him for it, but then he licks up Liam's length, all the way to the head, before wrapping his lips around it. He slowly lowers his mouth, still teasing, and he's so warm and wet wrapped around Liam, pulling embarrassing sounds from Liam's mouth while barely even trying.

Liam arches of the bed again, so, so close, fuck, he's right there, just —

Zayn pulls off him. Liam slumps against the mattress, feeling exhausted and more frustrated than he's ever been in his entire life. But Zayn's not stopping. He's moving his hand over Liam again, quick, expertly, eased by the spit left from his mouth as he says, "You look like you're mine."

Liam grabs at his arm, nails curling against his skin but, unlike Zayn's, they don't break it. He sucks in a breath, chokes it down almost painfully, and then he's coming over Zayn's fingers, so suddenly that it makes the room go black for a moment.

When he opens his eyes again, he's panting, struggling to breathe still, and Zayn's petting his hair, gently carding his hands through it, whispering things in Liam's ears that Liam can't workout right away, but when he can it sounds like a mantra of, "I love you," and "You amaze me," and "Everything about you, just — everything, Liam."

"I think you killed me," Liam croaks.

Zayn chuckles, kissing his cheek gently. "You're alive," he says. "Told you I didn't want to hurt you. Just ruin you."

"Yeah," Liam breathes. "You definitely – yeah."

Zayn grins, swift and short. He cuts it off, eyebrows drawing together. "I didn't push you to far, did I?" he asks. "That was okay, right? I didn't hurt you? Shit, I—"

Liam laughs weakly. "How do you do that?" he asks. "How d'you go from — from 'I want you to beg for it' to 'Oh, goodness, are you alright?'"

Zayn's eyes narrow to slits. "It's not funny," he says fiercely. "Nothing matters more to me than you being okay."

"Well I am," Liam promises. "More than okay."

Zayn's thumb brushes over his jaw slowly. "Good," he says.

"Could you kiss me again?" Liam asks.

"Whenever you want," Zayn says.

Liam snorts. "Then we'd never get anything done. I always want you to kiss me. You can't kiss me forever."

Zayn raises his eyebrows. "Just watch me."

 

 

*

 

It's a wonder that they ever get out of bed, really. But mostly they sort of... don't. Not Liam, at least. Or he doesn't leave the bedroom. He showers, once, changes into Zayn's clothes twice. Eats lunch, dinner, breakfast the next day in bed without moving, because he's not sure if he can. He feels exhausted, in a delicious way that makes his toes curl against the sheets.

It's disappointing, watching the marks he'd left on Zayn's neck and shoulder with his teeth, the scratches he'd dug into Zayn's back fade as he gets back up. But it's satisfying, pining him down and making them all over again, over and over.

Logically he does have to leave the room eventually, but Zayn looks just as reluctant to let him as Liam is to actually do it.

And he's regretting it as soon as he goes downstairs for lunch, wearing Zayn's clothes, Zayn's marks on his skin, Zayn's scent ingrained into him, probably as much a part of him as his own is, by now.

"He finally let you leave," Louis teases, as Liam sits down at the table with a roast beef sandwich. "We were about to send a search party, make sure Zayn didn't have you tied to the bed."

"Did," Zayn says, snatching a carrot off Harry's plate. "At one point, at least."

Liam flushes, and if he were close enough he'd slap Zayn's arm. "Zayn."

"Don't say his name like that," Niall pleads. "Ever again, Liam. Ever again."

"Vampire hearing," Louis adds. He smirks at Liam. "Didn't take you for a screamer. Probably should have, though."

"Oh, God." Liam buries his face in his hands, reluctant to uncover them and look up because Louis' teasing, he can take. But the knowledge that, yeah, everyone had heard them, including Niall and Harry, is too much.

Zayn settles in the seat next to him, grabbing Liam's wrist under the table, rubbing soothing marks against his skin. "Fuck off, Louis," he adds.

"What?" Louis demands. "You knew we'd hear you. In fact, I think you're happy about it, you possessive fuck."

Zayn sighs, leaning in to kiss Liam's neck. "Ignore him."

Liam nods slowly, eating his sandwich. Niall won't meet his eyes, so Liam stops trying. Harry, on the other hand, is watching him curiously. "So how was the concert the other night?" he eventually asks.

Liam's eyes widen, and he looks to Louis, who seems just as shocked that Harry knows as Liam is. "What concert?" Niall asks.

Zayn stiffens a bit next to him. "The one Louis snuck Liam out to see."

"Oh." If he's expecting Niall to get upset, he's sadly mistaken. "Cool. Was it fun?"

"You don't – you don't care?" Liam asks.

Niall shrugs. "Why would I?"

"Because I'm not supposed to leave?" Liam suggests. "Because we broke the rules?"

"You're allowed to leave," Harry says. He looks at Zayn, almost defiant. "Whenever you want."

"We already talked about this," Zayn hisses. "Drop it, Harry."

"I won't, actually," Harry says sharply. "I know you talked about it, but you didn't exactly give him permission, did you?"

Liam thinks back. No, he hadn't, really. He'd said he knew Liam would asks, that he figured it would happen eventually, but he never actually said Liam was allowed to leave, did he? No, he didn't. "I can, then?"

Harry nods, and Louis grins, like he's already planning hundreds of things for them to do, things that Liam has a feeling will get him either killed or at least seriously in trouble. "If you want," Harry adds. "And you can come back whenever you want, or if — if you'd like to leave for good, that'd be okay, too."

Zayn growls in protestation. "No, that wouldn't be—"

"I don't want to leave for good," Liam says quickly. He puts his sandwich down and folds his hands neatly in his lap, because he's been thinking about it, when Zayn had been asleep and Liam had been a little too awake to join him, staring over at the flickering fire as he thought about leaving and what he'd want to do. "I'd like to get a job, though."

The room is silent for a moment, and Liam looks around, trying to gauge their reactions but, seriously, vampires have really good poker faces. "Why would you wantto do that?" Louis finally asks, nose wrinkling up.

"You don't need to work," Harry adds. "You know we'd give you money for anything."

"Yeah, I know." Liam pauses, running a hand through his hair. "I'd like to, though. And maybe – maybe go to school, one day. Not right away, but eventually."

"No." Zayn shoots that down instantly. "You'd have to leave every day to do that, and—"

"If that's what he wants," Harry cuts him off, "then he can."

Liam grins to himself, pleased, but Zayn's eyes are still narrowed to slits. "Then I want something in return," he says. "If Liam gets his way, I want mine."

"Here we go," Niall says.

"What do you want?" Harry asks.

"No one bites him," Zayn states. "Ever again."

"Oh," Harry says. "That's all? Done. No one bites Liam."

"Objection," Louis says loudly. "I haven't even gotten to yet!"

"And you never will," Zayn says flatly, challengingly, barring his teeth and everything.

"No one?" Liam asks. Zayn turns in his seat, teeth bared a little still from when he'd been looking at Louis. "I mean, like, just – no one? What if I – I wouldn't mind if you, like. I wouldn't be against you—"

Liam stops, sucking in a breath when Zayn's eyes go black. For a moment he thinks he's said something wrong, but then Zayn's in his lap, nearly tipping over the chair, kissing him gently, thoroughly, like his whole intent is to drive Liam crazy and cut off his ability to breathe.

"Can my rule be that no one's allowed to do that at the dining room table?" Niall asks.

Liam carefully pushes Zayn away, embarrassed, and Zayn swoops down to kiss him once more before reclaiming his seat. Liam starts eating again, and Louis and Harry start arguing over something, some plans to remodel again because Louis apparently hates his room, and he'd like a bigger bathroom, and Niall's reminding them all of what happened last time when the decorator tried to hang up gold curtains in the living room and had ended up dead on the carpet an hour later.

Liam settles into Zayn's side until he's done, with Zayn stealing half his sandwich, eating much slower than Liam does. When they're finished, Liam plans to go to his room, and Niall follows, Zayn at his side as he always is.

As always, Niall settles himself near the end of Liam's bed, legs crossed, focused on the screen. Liam grabs a comic and spreads out, propped up by the pillows. Zayn's at the window, curtains thrown wide, letting in cool air as he fills Liam's room with the smell of cigarettes, the cherry illuminating his face is the shadows as Liam pretends to not be watching him.

Eventually he gives up any pretense, and he carries his book over to the window seat, sitting with his back pressed against Zayn's chest, in between his legs.

"Stars are consistent too, you know," Liam comments. "Like sunsets and sunrises. The stars are always there."

"And you will be too, right?" Zayn asks. He presses his lips to Liam's hair, one arm wrapped tightly around Liam's chest as he lazily flicks his ash out the screenless window with the other hand.

Liam snorts at him. "Obviously."

"Good. My Liam, yeah?"

"Does that mean you're mine, too?" Liam wonders. "Just to even things out. If I'm yours, it's only fair that you'd be mine, too."

Zayn laughs at him, tossing his cigarette out the window. He wraps his other arm around Liam, pulling him closer, and says, "Been yours for a while."

 

 

*

 

"Liam, honestly," Lisa groans for the hundredth time. "I told you how to steam the milk. It's not that hard."

Liam looks down at the order he'd just made. It looked fine to him, but apparently it's not good enough. He's kind of a shit barista, but it's only his fourth day on the job. He's still learning, and he thinks he's doing alright, all things considered.

"Sorry, sorry," Liam says quickly. "I'll remake it."

"And tell your boyfriend that if he's going to stay your whole shift, he has to buy more than one coffee," she snaps.

Liam follows her train of sight, finding Zayn sitting in the window seat, which is apparently his preferred spot in the café. He's reading, carefully licking his fingers before turning each page, but Liam's pretty sure he hasn't actually retained a single word. He's meeting Liam's eyes over the book, and Liam has a feeling Zayn's been watching him the whole time.

"I'll go tell him," he says. "Right now. I'll go do that."

"If you're going over there to flirt with him, Liam, so help me God, I will fire you," Lisa warns. "I get that he's gorgeous but that's no excuse to—"

Liam ducks around the counter, trying not to grin as he makes his way over to Zayn. "Are you really going to babysit me during every shift?" Liam demands.

Zayn pretends to be reading his book. "Don't know what you're talking about, sweetheart," he says. "I just got here."

"You've been here all afternoon," Liam deadpans.

Zayn sighs and lowers the book. "What?" he asks. "It's not my fault. This place is dangerous, Liam."

"It's a coffee shop."

"You wanted freedom," Zayn points out. "You're getting it. But if you think I'm not going to do my best to keep you safe anyways, then you're seriously wrong. Go back to work before you get fired. I don't want to have to drain your coworker for yelling at you."

Liam looks back to find Lisa watching them, and Zayn's eyes narrow dangerously. "Oh be nice," Liam snaps. "She's just doing her job."

"So am I," Zayn grunts. "Now go do yours."

"Fine," Liam says, somehow still fond no matter how annoyed he is. He knows there's no changing Zayn's mind with this. And he knows that Zayn will be here again tomorrow, sitting at this spot, carefully checking every person who comes in here to make sure they don't pose any danger. "You need to order something, though. You can't stay if you don't order."

"Get me a slice of that red velvet cake," Zayn says while standing up to pull out his wallet. "Wrap it up to go. You can lick the icing off me when we get home."

Liam snatches the money from him, cheeks going red. He stomps back to the counter, thinking that the only person here who puts Liam in any danger is Zayn, because he's going to have a heart attack one day from the kinds of things he says so flippantly, as if he's not completely aware of what he does to Liam in the process.

"Love you, you prick," Liam mutters as he shoves a container with the cake into a bag. Across the room, Zayn's lips tilt up in a short, sharp smile, just for Liam.