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The Tale Of Lucky and Bright Eyes

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Zayn’s first encounter with Niall is at a party that he doesn’t even want to be at, surrounded mostly by people he doesn’t even like, doing things that he’d rather die than do.

He’s not really sure how he ended up at this party, except he is, because when you’re best friends with Louis Tomlinson, you’re more than familiar with his brand of puppy-dog-eyed, black-mailing persuasion. But honestly, Zayn should’ve been at home, finishing the layouts for the next few issues, because even though the deadlines weren’t for a few weeks, exams were coming up and he figured it was better to finish the layouts early so that he could focus on revising later on. But Louis, who had never really spent a day in his life planning ahead, had bodily dragged Zayn from their flat, because he needed a wingman and really, Zayn could do well to stop being such a stiff anyway.

The party smelled like sweat and booze and the always intoxicating combination of vomit, pizza, and desperation, and Zayn rued the day he’d decided that Louis was his best friend and wished he could go back and tell his infant self no, do not share your cookies with that strange boy. But it was too late now, and he was trailing behind a bright-eyed Louis as he scoured the party, seemingly having a blind spot for all the gross, gyrating bodies just inches from his own. The older lad trudged forward, pushing past the grinding, groaning crowd towards what was presumably the kitchen. Once there, Louis immediately found his target amongst the few bodies in there and leapt forward, grinning madly.

“Hazza!” he crowed, jumping onto one of the boy’s, a tall, lanky boy with chocolate curls, back and latching onto him like a koala. The boy spun around in a circle, like a dog chasing its tail, trying to find his attacker, laughing the whole way.

“LouLou!” he cried back, finally stopping his spinning and grabbing onto Louis’s hands, which were wrapped around his neck, and squeezing them in greeting.

Harry was Louis’s boyfriend of almost two years. Louis had first met him while he was still a pledge for the frat and they’ll instantly fallen ass over tits for each other. Louis stuck with Harry while he had to wipe the seniors’ vomit off the hard-wood floors of the frat house and he would help clean his wounds after a good few hours of hazing. He even bailed Harry out of jail that one time when his “brothers” had convinced him to take the fall for that raucous party they had last November, and Zayn always joked that if that wasn’t true love, he didn’t know what was (but seriously, though.) Harry was a great guy. He was smiley, with these dimples that Louis always claimed he could swim in, and he was charming, too. When he first joined the fraternity, he wasn’t trying to be a kiss-up to the upperclassmen, he just wanted to make friends and he was just such an agreeable guy that he did whatever he was told, even if it meant three hours in a cold jail cell with a guy who robbed a convenience store.

As the two of them canoodled, Zayn diverted his attention to the two people Harry had been talking with before all of his focus was turned to Louis, something that happened quite often and which Harry’s friends had become accustomed to. Zayn smiled when he recognized Liam, who was standing and chatting with another boy that Zayn had never seen before.

“Hey, Zayn, you alright?” Liam asked once he noticed Zayn standing there and smiled at him cheerily. Liam was a close friend to Zayn, not as close as Louis (unfortunately for Zayn,) but still close. He and Louis had met him in high school and they became the best of friends, even deciding to go to University together. Liam was nice, kind, smart, responsible, athletic, all the traits of a young, bright-eyed gentleman with an even brighter future ahead of him. Which is why it baffled Zayn to no end that Liam had joined a fraternity. Not to say that frats were just parties and booze and girls and bongs (though they mostly were,) but Liam was none of that, in fact, he was the exact opposite. But still, Liam had told Zayn time and again that there was a lot more to fraternities than met the eye, and he just wanted to make friends, so the other boy just let it be.

“Yeah, m’alright,” Zayn replied, letting his eyes drift from Liam to the boy next to him, who was leaning against the counter and fixing himself a sandwich.

He was pale and little, with rosy cheeks and blonde hair that was fading to mousey brown at the roots, though it was difficult to see under the bright red Bulls cap on his head. When he finished his rather impressive sandwich, he lifted it to take a bite and Zayn caught a glimpse of braces lining his teeth. He was actually pretty cute.

“Oh, Zayn, this is Niall,” Liam spoke, gesturing to the blonde, whose head popped up at his name and Zayn could see his bright, vibrant blue eyes, which sparkled with a smile while his mouth chewed his food.

“Hey, mate,” he said through the sandwich and Liam grimaced as he saw bits of ham and mustard when he spoke, but all Zayn could focus on was the slight hint of a brogue he might’ve heard.

“Hello,” Zayn returned, smirking. “I’m Zayn.”

Niall gulped down his sandwich and grinned a bright grin. “Nice to meet you,” he chirped, holding out his hand to Zayn, who took it easily. Yep, that was definitely an Irish accent there, which Zayn happened to find inexplicably attractive. “Louis’s told me about you.”

Zayn rolled his eyes at that, because Louis was actually always at the frat house, cuddling with Harry and of course he knew all of the brothers and would go around talking about Zayn to them.

“No worries, mate, it’s all positive. Somewhat incriminating, but positive,” Niall said and Zayn, though irritated at Louis, chuckled.

“Never seen you around before,” Zayn said. “You new?”

“Yup,” Niall said, turning and tucking back into his sandwich. “Just came over from Ireland. M’a pledge this year.”

“Cool,” Zayn said, nodding to himself as he reached over Niall’s arm to grab at a few chips in a bowl behind him.

“Wanna head out to the pool?” Niall asked, surprising Zayn slightly, because they’d kind of just met and he was so friendly, but for some reason, it didn’t matter. Niall was intriguing, not to mention really cute, so why not? Zayn watched with amusement as Niall lifted the top of his sandwich and placed a few of the chips from the dip bowl onto the top before answering.

“Sure,” he said. Niall reached down to grab at a cooler while trying to precariously balance his sandwich in the other hand and Zayn smirked, taking the plate from him. Niall smiled at him gratefully, but with a dangerous glint in his eye.

“Take a bite of it and I’ll kill you,” he said in a joking tone, though Zayn didn’t really feel like he was joking.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Zayn replied, turning to walk out the door and coming face to face with an unfortunately familiar sight. Harry had Louis trapped against the counter, their mouths moving furiously against each other, completely oblivious of any other human activity in the room. Zayn scoffed and rolled his eyes, while Niall just laughed behind him, which erupted into full-on cackling when Zayn started to sing the first few bars of “My Band” by D12, which Louis had confided in Zayn was the most un-romantic song in history.

Soon, Niall was singing along with him and Louis was grunting into the kiss, though he was making no move to break it, and swatted his arm behind his boyfriend’s back, trying to find purchase on Zayn. Zayn just danced away and sang louder, but decided it was best to exit the kitchen when Louis started pawing at the counter behind him, probably looking for some sort of pointy object. He walked from the kitchen, Niall close behind, the blonde’s laugh tinkling through the air like bells and sending Zayn’s heart fluttering like hummingbirds.

~ ~ ~

The party was even louder outside than inside, which was surprising as there was nothing for all of the sound to bounce off of than the open, endless sky. Zayn was always fascinated by how stupid people became when he was at these parties. Like the guy who’s about to dive headfirst into the shallow end of the pool to impress that girl, who was way beyond drunk and incapable of even registering what was going on around her? He was in Zayn’s Calculus class and was one of the smartest guys there. It was a bit disappointing, yet also encouraging, because after every one of these parties, he was back in class the next day, not even missing a beat.

But Zayn wasn’t really paying attention to his classmate and his impending head trauma, because Niall, as it turned out, was really pretty cool. Sure, he cheered obnoxiously whenever someone did something really stupid and left once or twice when summoned to help with a keg stand, but when he returned, he always picked up their conversation right where they’d left it off, with an apologetic smile but a mischievous glint in his eyes.

He had great taste in music and he was funny, too. Not only that, but everyone seemed to love him. Even as only a pledge, almost every person who stumbled by greeted him or tried to goof around with him, more than once big, bulky guys tried to pull him into a violent bear hug, which he was all too happy to return. And for every person that spoke to him, Niall would introduce Zayn to them as if they had been friends for years and not forty-five minutes.

And it might as well have been that way, too. In the span of time since he’d met Niall, he knew Niall’s age, birthday, favorite color, favorite artist, his favorite instrument, and how long he’d been playing guitar for (nineteen, September thirteenth, green, a tie between Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé, the guitar, since he was ten,) among dozens of other obscure, Niall Horan fun facts. And Zayn found himself sharing little tidbits about himself as well, he couldn’t help it. Niall was just so friendly and inviting and compelling.

“So, Liam told me you write for the school’s literary rag, right?” Niall asked, kicking his feet idly through the water. He’d suggested that he and Zayn move to the pool, and upon his discovery of Zayn’s inability to swim, he surprised the Pakistani boy by not making fun of him, but suggesting they just dip their feet in and chat.

“Yeah,” Zayn replied, dodging out of the way of a rogue beach ball subconsciously. “Well, sort of. I’m the editor... and founder,” he finished lamely, reddening from bashfulness, but Niall’s jaw dropped, like he was genuinely impressed.

“Shit, so you are, like, in charge of it? The whole thing?” he asked and Zayn nodded, which the Irish boy met with a huge grin. “That’s fucking awesome, mate. What’s it called?”

Zayn cast his eyes downward and his face pinked again. “‘Zap!’” He loved the name, but he regretted coming up with it when he had to say it out loud.

“Cool,” Niall chirped, beaming at Zayn widely. “I mean, I’ve never read it, but I’ll make an effort now.” Zayn smiled and nodded politely, knowing that Niall would probably make no such effort, but appreciating he’d had the decency to pretend he would. The rag was only really popular with liberal arts students and few others, so it didn’t really offend him when people like Niall didn’t read it.

There was a beat of silence, during which Niall bobbed his head to the Rick Ross song blaring behind them and dragging his feet back and forth through the water, when Liam came stumbling up to them, not drunk but flustered, red in the face and as put out as a sweet guy like Liam could be. Zayn raised a dark eyebrow at him and Liam huffed moodily.

“Went for a wee and found that Harry and Louis had otherwise occupied the bathroom,” he explained and Niall snorted behind Zayn, who was rolling his eyes and grimacing. He couldn’t believe his life had gotten to the point where this was a normal thing for him to hear. He also couldn’t believe that it had gotten to the point where he actually knew how a solution to it.

“Want me to clear them out?” he asked and Liam smiled gratefully.

“If you could. I really have to go and the other one has someone asleep in the bathtub in a pool of his own vomit. I’d kinda like some privacy,” the other boy said and Zayn nodded, standing up and turning to say goodbye to Niall (which he was admittedly really sad to do,) when he found that the blonde had hopped up to stand next to him, grinning impishly.

“You wanna come along?” Zayn asked and Niall nodded eagerly. “Really? You see a lot of skin in this line of work. Not for the faint of heart.”

Niall laughed and shook his head. “Mate, I live with Haz. I see this almost as much as you do. And besides, I have a plan that could be kinda fun.” He started walking back towards the house, Zayn following behind, curious and once again intrigued by the new kid.

~ ~ ~

“Ready?” Niall asked, standing outside the door to the bathroom, from which some very un-child friendly sounds were coming, even over the pounding music from downstairs, his guitar at the ready and a huge smirk on his face.

Zayn nodded, trying to hold back his giggles. Niall seemed so innocent and cute, with his wide blue eyes and braces and blonde hair, but he’d come up with such a devious plot, and Zayn thought maybe there was more going on inside his head that he’d originally thought.

But before he could think too much more on it, Niall had started playing and then they were singing “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion through the door and when the noises got louder, they just started singing louder until there was an angry scream and a “Fuck you so much, Zayn!” from the other side. Zayn and Niall dissolved into giggles on their side while a red-faced, furious-looking Louis, accompanied by Harry, who was trying to hold back a smirk, emerged from the bathroom, which Liam scurried into with a “Thanks, mate” thrown over his shoulder.

“Why can’t you get stupidly drunk at a uni party like everyone else?” Louis spat, glaring knives at Zayn, who was trying to hold back even more giggles as he watched Niall and Harry fist-bump behind the smaller boy.

“Why can’t you lock the door like everyone else?” Zayn replied, smirking when Louis scoffed and stomped away, Harry, who smiled and nodded at him as she passed, chasing after him.

When he turned back to Niall, the smaller lad was smirking and held out his hand for a high-five when he saw his gaze on him. Zayn obliged him and said, “You got moxie, kid. I like that.”

“Yeah, it’s a gift,” Niall replied. “Wanna head back out and time how long it takes before Louis starts screaming at Grimshaw again?”

Zayn smirked, because maybe this kid was more like him than he’d thought. “Sure.”

~ ~ ~

When Zayn woke up the next morning, his head wasn’t pounding like every other person at the party’s would be when they awoke, and he didn’t wake up in the yard amidst beer bottles and the occasional pair of panties, but on a bed, Liam’s roommate’s to be precise, as he’d gone home for the weekend. Around three a.m., he’d asked his friend if he could crash in his room for the night, because if he tried to sleep anywhere else, say, the couch, he’d wake up either covered in permanent marker dicks, shaving cream, or with some guy’s actual dick in his face. Liam was sound asleep in his own bed, and Zayn decided that he would scribble him a quick note before scraping Louis off the floor and dragging him back to their flat.

It wasn’t until he was already driving home, Louis dead to the world asleep and drooling in the passenger seat, that he realized he’d never gotten Niall’s number or even said goodbye. When he realized this at a red light, his heart jolted painfully and he sighed. He’d only known Niall a short time, but he thought he was really cool and that maybe they could be good friends. But he didn’t know what he studied and where he’d be and he didn’t know if they were close enough yet for him to just show up at the frat house to see him. Zayn wasn’t sure why it was so painful for him to realize this, but it might be a long time before he got the chance to see Niall again.

~ ~ ~

At least, that’s what he thought until the next Tuesday, when Niall waltzed into their flat behind Harry and Liam, whom Louis had so generously invited over for pizza and the pretense of studying for exams.

Zayn’s eyes widened when the blonde walked in but he turned his back and rushed into the kitchen to try and hide it. Louis was already there, pouring chips into a bowl. He resisted the urge to bound up to him and shout, “Niall’s here?!” and instead leaned against the counter, trying to be as nonchalant as possible.

“So... Niall?” he asked and Louis glanced up at him, one of the world’s biggest smirks on his face, and Zayn wasn’t even really sure why he tried anymore, Louis saw through him every time.

“Yeah, I thought you’d appreciate that,” Louis said, padding across the kitchen tiles towards the refrigerator.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Zayn asked, purely out of routine, but he and Louis had done this sort of schtick all their lives.

“Well, when my best mate comes whimpering to me every few hours since the party ended, asking for a lad’s number and skulking away when I come up empty-handed, I spring into action. You’re welcome,” Louis’s voice reverberated from the inside of the fridge as he rummaged through it. When he emerged, he had two beers in his hand, one for him and one for Harry. Louis’s motto was always fend for yourself, and the guy whose dick you’re sucking (although he’s gotten more romantic with it lately.)

“I wasn’t whimpering,” Zayn muttered. “I asked once if Haz had his number.”

“Yes, but then, the next day, you came up and said, ‘Are you sure Haz doesn’t have it? Can you ask him?’” Louis mocked him and started out of the kitchen, carrying only the two beers and leaving the chip bowl for Zayn to carry.

“I don’t sound like that,” Zayn grumbled, pouting as he followed him out into the living room.

When he stepped out, Niall’s head turned to see him and he grinned his metal smile and Zayn wondered vaguely if anyone had ever considered using Niall for a lightbulb, the way he brightened up a room.

“Hey, mate!” he said cheerily, bouncing over to him and grabbing a few chips from the bowl before taking it from Zayn’s grasp completely and Zayn deflated, because Niall only wanted him for his food. But then Niall was putting the bowl down on a table and turning back to Zayn, pulling him into an embrace. Zayn started, surprised by the affections, but returned it quickly before Niall pulled back.

“Sorry, mate, m’a hugger,” he said, shrugging and Zayn shook his head.

“S’alright,” he murmured and Niall beamed at him. He grabbed for the chips again and skipped over to the couch, plopping himself down on it and digging right in. He put his feet up on their coffee table, grinning, and Zayn smirked at him, though Liam grimaced.

“Niall, don’t be rude!” he chided but Niall just flipped him off between shoveling chips in his mouth and Zayn chuckled. He kind of liked that Niall just made himself at home on his living room couch.

“No, it’s fine. It’s kind of flattering that he thinks it’s so cozy here,” Zayn said and Niall turned to him, smiling a thousand-watt smile.

“Finally, someone who understands my gestures!” he crooned, then patted the seat next to him, asking Zayn to join him. The older boy smiled and obliged, circling the couch and sitting down next to the blonde, helping himself to a few chips.

“So, when does your next issue come out?” Niall asked, licking the salt off of his fingers. “I want to make sure to grab it.”

“Actually, came out yesterday,” Zayn replied, smirking at the Irish boy. He was really sweet to put so much effort into “trying.” “My copy’s actually right underneath your Supras.”

Niall’s eyes widened comically and he lifted his legs up, realizing that, indeed, his footrest had been a pile of magazines, on the top of which was a newer looking one, the cover still shiny albeit a little wrinkled from Niall’s feet on it. “Zap!” was written across the top in bright red, block letters and there was a cartoon of a superhero wearing swim trunks over his spandex outfit, lying on a beach chair and trying to tan.

“Oh, shit, sorry!” Niall said, reaching forward over the bowl and grabbing the magazine, dusting off a little dirt and inspecting it, chuckling when he saw the picture.

“One of our writers does a lot of action and fantasy, and he’s one of the most popular, so his character has become a bit of a mascot,” Zayn said by way of explanation and Niall nodded.

“The picture’s great! Who did it?” Niall asked.

“Well, it alternates every issue, but that one’s mine,” the older replied, tapping the cover of the rag and laughing when Niall’s jaw dropped.

“You did it?!” he squealed, turning back to the magazine and looking it over with new fervor. “That’s incredible, mate! Are you studying art?”

“Nah, it’s more of a hobby. M’studying English,” he replied.

“You could totally do art, though, mate,” Niall gushed, flipping through some of the pages of the book. “You’re fantastic.”

Zayn found himself blushing, which he never really did, and smiled modestly. “Come off it,” he said, bumping his shoulder with Niall’s.

“No, really, it’s awesome!” he said, turning to Zayn and staring at him with wide, earnest eyes and the darker boy was suddenly caught in their gravity, and he should probably look away soon before Niall gets freaked out, but he just couldn’t, he was trapped.

“Pizza’s ordered!” Louis screeched as he flounced back into the room, startling Zayn from his trance. He turned back to his best friend and really wished he hadn’t, because Louis was giving him the filthiest smirk right then, and he knew it was no good.

“Niall, we got your Hawaiian for you,” Louis informed him, causing the younger lad to grin hugely.

“Thanks, Lou!” he said, going back to flipping through the magazine.

“Got you a whole pie, too. You’re eating pretty tonight, Blondie,” the Doncaster lad said and Niall smirked at him.

“Do you not get enough at the frat house?” Zayn asked and the other four boys, Liam and Harry having just walked back into the room with them, burst into laughter.

“No, no one else gets enough,” Harry said, smiling lazily. “This is the only place he gets to eat all he wants and no one yells at him.”

Niall smiled and nodded in agreement and Zayn didn’t believe a kid so small could finish a whole pizza by himself.

That was, until an hour later, when the pizza had come and Niall had scarfed it all down within thirty minutes, even sampling some of the other boys’ pizzas, too (“Zayn, how can you eat anchovy?” “What? I like it.” “It’s fucking weird, mate.”) Zayn decided that Niall was just full on surprises.

~ ~ ~

They spent the night chatting and Liam put in his customary two-cents of “I thought we were going to be studying,” even though he knew coming over that there would be no such thing. Once it had been established that there would be no reading or learning whatsoever, Zayn set up the XBox and they played Fifa and Halo and when they got tired of that, they watched a couple of movies.

Halfway through “Pitch Perfect” (Louis’s request/demand,) Zayn found his eyes falling on Niall, who was sitting between himself and Liam and watching the movie with childlike interest, with wide eyes and munching on popcorn excitedly (he was still hungry?!), and the look was actually really adorable on him. But then, his face split and he was laughing, loud and strong, his eyes squinting with the force of his smile and throwing his head back. Zayn was quickly becoming addicted to that sound.

But then there was the sound of a throat being obnoxiously cleared and he turned to the source, Louis (of course,) who was once again smirking at him impishly and Zayn turned away, blushing and irritated.

~ ~ ~

When he woke up the next day, his neck was sore and his living room was strewn with sleeping college students. He tried to stretch his back but a weight on his arm stopped him and he turned his head to be bopped in the nose by the bill of Niall’s cap. He maneuvered his head around the hat and found Niall’s head resting on his shoulder, and he looked peaceful, adorably so, even with the drool falling from his lips. He was actually precious and Zayn didn’t want to wake him up, however, Liam apparently had no qualms about it. The Wolverhampton lad strode from the kitchen, looking wide awake and cheerful, with two pieces of toast on a paper towel in one hand and a water bottle in the other. Zayn watched with drowsy interest as he walked over to Niall and tapped him gently on the head with the water bottle. Niall stirred, but didn’t wake up.

“Ni-aaall,” Liam sang quietly, poking him harder and getting no response. He huffed and looked to Zayn for help and the other boy smirked, shaking him mildly but instead of waking up, Niall turned and cuddled deeper into Zayn’s shoulder. The darker boy’s heart fluttered pleasantly at the sight and he looked to Liam, at a loss, until a scoff sounded from across the room.

“You coddlers, I’ll do it,” Louis snapped, standing up from where he and Harry had been snuggled on the other sofa and stomped over. He grabbed a pillow from the spot beside Niall on the couch and, without warning, whipped it at the blonde and screamed, “NIALL, YOU LAZY CUNT, YOU HAVE CLASS IN TEN MINUTES AND IT’S ACROSS CAMPUS, GET YOUR ASS UP NOW!”

Zayn’s heart went out to Niall as he jolted jarringly and stood up, eyes wide and alert as he searched for any signs of dangers. When he seemed to become aware of his surroundings, he turned to Louis, a hand over his fluttering heart.

“Jesus, wasn’t there any other way to do that?” he asked and Louis rolled his eyes at him.

“Of course not,” he said. “You have seven minutes to get to class.”

Zayn almost laughed at how fast Niall’s eyes widened again and he looked at the clock and yelped, searching for his left shoe, which had fallen off during the night, and then dashing off, grabbing the toast and water from Liam, shouldering his bag, and sprinting from the apartment, throwing a muffled, “See you!” over his shoulder.

By the time they were all sitting down to actual breakfast, none of them having classes until at least noon, Zayn realized once again that he’d forgotten to get Niall’s number. He pouted into the eggs over easy Harry had made and sipped gloomily on his orange juice.

~ ~ ~

It was Wednesday night and Zayn was doodling out the new issue’s layout when his phone buzzed and he picked it up, eyes widening at the message there.

Hey, mate, it’s Niall! Swiped your number from the back of your magazine! :)

The phone vibrated with another message.

Also, swiped your magazine. Sorry, wanted to read it. Hope you don’t mind.

Zayn was stunned, staring at his phone like it was an alien, before thumbing back a reply.

Uh, hi no trouble, keep it.

He went back to his doodles, trying to ignore his racing heart, when it buzzed again.

Thanks :) it’s really good, mate. You were right, the kid who writes about the superheroes is really good!

Thanks :) Yeah, he is, isn’t he?

Zayn had all but given up trying to work on the layout and was just staring at his phone, waiting for a response.

Totally! By the way, I really like the section with the anonymous stuff people send in. What is it? Secret Identity?

Zayn sighed. Another good name for something that sounded stupid, but still cool.

Yeah. It was a little scarce this week, not a lot of people send in so early in the school year

That’s cool, mate, I still like it a lot :) You do a great job with this rag.

Zayn’s heart jumped into his throat as he replied.

Thanks :)

No problem :)) Well, I gotta go, Liam’s riding me to do homework again :p Talk to you later?

Zayn pouted, actually sad this brief conversation was already ending, and he was sort of worried about what was going on with him.

Sure :)

Cheers, mate! Later!

Bye

Zayn put his phone down and tried to get back to work, but couldn’t when he kept waiting for maybe another buzz, another vibration, another anything, even if it never came, and he sat back in his chair, knowing it was hopeless now. What was it about Niall that captured him like he did? Zayn didn’t know, but it was intriguing, and a little disturbing.

~ ~ ~

Soon, it was Friday again, and Zayn had to meet up with the team to put the finishing touches on this week’s issue.

“Zayn, I have the Secret Identities for this week,” Cher, a pretty girl with huge Bambi eyes and a bright smile, chirped, bouncing over to him with a stack of papers in her hands.

“Great, thanks, Cher,” he said idly, looking over another boy’s shoulder at the art submissions for this week.

“Don’t you want to read them?” she asked teasingly, tapping the papers against his back. “What if I accidentally put another naughty one in like last time?”

“Cher, will you pretty please not put anymore naughty ones in?” Zayn said, turning to her and she nodded, saluting dutifully.

“Aye aye, captain!” she said before gliding away, not before Zayn saluted her back briefly.

Cher was nice, a sweet, hard-working girl who was a lot like Louis in her own right. She was a short story writer, mostly romance and comedy, and she was pretty popular among female readers.

“Malik, got my poems for ya,” a tall, ginger-haired man drawled as he walked over and Zayn smiled, taking the papers from his hands.

“Thanks, Ed. You alright?” he asked.

“Yeah, m’alright, mate,” the man, Ed, replied.

Ed was probably the most popular writer among readers, at least, as a poet. He was a songwriter as well, but he’d tried his hand at poetry and he’d immediately taken off with both Zayn and the fans. He was fantastic, stylistically beautiful with his words and he pulled at the emotions of everyone who read his work, though you wouldn’t be able to tell from his personality.

He was very laid back, very relaxed, which is probably why he was best friends with Harry. He was in his frat too, and he was the only one brave enough to sleep on the couch (though he would sleep anywhere he could.) It didn’t really matter if he was brave or not, though, no one really wanted to make Ed the butt of their practical jokes, because he was so likable that it felt too mean to prank him.

“Playing a gig at the pub tomorrow night,” Ed said easily.

“Awesome, I’ll be there,” Zayn replied and Ed smirked.

“Yeah, well, I figured, since Haz is coming, which means Louis will go, and he’d make you lot come anyway, so,” Ed said and Zayn laughed, nodding.

When he was putting all of the last bits of it together, Zayn felt the weight of his phone in his pocket, and wondered if he should invite Niall to come to the pub tomorrow. He was probably coming anyway, but he kinda wanted to be the one to ask Niall...

He shook his head. He needed to focus on the rag right now. Niall had somehow become a constant distraction to him since he texted Zayn, since they’d started trading messages back and forth when they could. Nothing too committal, just “what’s up?’s” and the like. But Zayn was suddenly always craving the slight buzz in his pocket, maybe it was because Niall was new, unlike the friends he’d had for years, and he was excited for a change. He wasn’t really sure, but he didn’t really like to think too obsessively over it. It tended to get a bit worrisome.

~ ~ ~

Zayn was on his computer, trying to write an essay for Advanced Literature when his door flew open, smacking against the opposite wall thunderously.

“Zayn!” Louis screeched, bounding over to him and jumping on his bed, barely missing the darker lad’s laptop as he moved it out of the way.

“What?!” Zayn snapped, trying to be irritated, as if he wasn’t always prepared for one of Louis’s ambushes.

“Did you read the Secret Identities for this week?” he squeaked, holding up the latest issue of “Zap!” with wide, mischievous eyes, and Zayn groaned.

“Oh no, did Cher put another dirty poem in there again?” he asked, reaching for the magazine but Louis snatched it away.

“No, though that was hilarious. Cheers to Cher, good lass,” Louis said, eyes sparkling with mirth.

One thing to note about Louis was that, pain in the ass that he was, he was incredibly supportive and loyal to his friends, meaning he was “Zap!’s” first, biggest, and only fan for a while until it picked up. Even now, he continued to read every issue, and Zayn was really grateful.

“But no, look, read this,” the smaller boy said, flipping through the pages and folding back the cover and brandishing the words to Zayn, who scanned the page and grimaced.

“‘Why My Classmates Call Me Dandruff Dan’? Piss off, Lou,” Zayn scoffed, reaching back for his computer while Louis cocked his head and read the page again curiously.

“No, not that, stupid,” Louis said, turning the page around. “This one.”

His slender finger was pressed against the title of a poem at the top of the page.

“‘To the Hot, Lanky Brunette’?” Zayn questioned, eyeing Louis suspiciously.

“Just read it!” Louis squawked and Zayn rolled his eyes before obliging.

To the Hot, Lanky Brunette

When you walked in,
You might not have seen it,
but my whole world changed,
I really do mean it.

Hot, lanky brunette
with all those tattoos
Looking gorgeous in
the low light, amid the odor of booze

You’re trapped in my head now
I can’t get you out
I was gone the moment
I saw that sinful pout

-Anonymous

Zayn raised a dark eyebrow at Louis, trying to decipher what he wanted from him.

“It’s a nice poem?” he said and Louis groaned, rolling up the rag and swatting Zayn over the head with it.

“Of course it is, you sod! It’s about you!” Louis said and Zayn stopped his griping as his friend continued to strike him and glanced up at him, shocked.

“Are you mental? What makes you think it’s about me?” he stopped for a minute and side-eyed Louis warily. “Did you write it?”

Louis’s jaw dropped, looking horrifically offended. “Excuse me? Why would I write an ode to you? I have a boyfriend, Malik.”

“Yes, the whole campus is aware,” Zayn grumbled. “Then, why would you say this is about me?”

“Hello?” the tan boy said, prodding Zayn’s forehead forcefully with his finger. “‘Hot, lanky brunette’? ‘All those tattoos’? ‘Pout’?”

“That could be anybody,” Zayn said dismissively. “This probably isn’t even about a guy.”

“But what if it is?” Louis asked.

“But it’s not,” Zayn said, reaching for his laptop again.

“But what if it is?” Louis repeated. “What if this is about you and some guy saw you at a party and thought you were so scrumptious they wrote a poem about you?”

“So?” 

“‘So’? What if this is your soul mate, Zayn!” Louis squealed and Zayn rolled his eyes.

“Lou, we’ve been over this. Just because you found your other half within two weeks of being at Uni doesn’t mean I’ll find mine anytime soon. I might not even find him here,” Zayn drawled, because this was a broken-record conversation between the two. Any conversation between Zayn and another guy was instantly the beginning of a huge, romanticized love story in Louis’s head. Zayn was actually pretty touched, Louis really wanted him to be happy with another guy. However, that soon lost its charm when it became literally every guy.

“But what if it is him?” Louis whined.

“Will you stop saying that?” Zayn snapped, not even taking his eyes from his computer screen now.

“No!” Louis said, bouncing on his perch on Zayn’s knees. “What if this is your guy?! What if this guy,” he smacked the stanzas of the poem for emphasis. “Is your soul mate and you’re letting him get away!”

“Lou, we’re not even sure that poem’s about me, and there’s a 99.9% chance it isn’t!” Zayn said. “And besides, what if it was written by a girl? It would sure suck to find out my dream guy has a vagina.”

“At least you would have tried,” Louis said. Zayn scoffed and rolled his eyes and Louis pouted. “This isn’t over, Malik.”

“Pretty sure it is,” Zayn said as Louis stood up and stomped away.

~ ~ ~

By the time next Saturday rolled around, Zayn had completely forgotten about his secret admirer that didn’t exist until Louis trudged into his room again, magazine held tightly between his fingers and a determined expression on his face, while he was looking over some notes for a class he had an exam for in a few weeks.

“Zayn, I’m telling you, these poems are about you!” Louis said, haphazardly knocking Zayn’s books to the floor and sitting his bum in their place, slapping the rag down onto his friend’s lap.

“Louis, I’m not doing this again with you, I have to start revising,” Zayn said, though he was thankful for the break in the mind-numbing studying.

“Zayn, what’s an education when your soul mate is calling?” Louis said, tapping the page, and the other boy rolled his eyes.

“Well, when my dream guy and I get married, I’ll want to pay the bills, won’t I?” he replied sarcastically but Louis ignored him, glaring at him pointedly until Zayn sighed in defeat and looked down at the page.

“It’s anonymous, how do you even know it’s the same guy?” Zayn asked.

“I can feel it,” Louis whispered, nodding and Zayn groaned before turning back to the words on the page.

Bright Eyes

I’ve started calling you Bright Eyes
In this lovesick head of mine
The way your hazel eyes sparkle,
the way those precious gems shine.

You may think me foolish
for letting myself fall,
but you see, it’s not a choice,
not an option at all

Your crooked, perfect smile,
your dark olive skin,
You drive me so crazy,
won’t you please let me in?

Anonymous

Zayn hated to admit it, but this did sound kind of like him... No, he decided, shaking his head quickly. He couldn’t let Louis’s stupid conspiracies get inside his head.

“So, it’s definitely the same guy,” Zayn noted, and it was true. The style was the same; short stanzas, four lines. Short and sweet.

“See?” Louis squealed, grinning his bright grin.

“Great, so we’ve proven this guy or girl has a crush on someone. Can I study now?” Zayn asked and Louis huffed, slapping Zayn on the arm.

“Zayn!” he whined. “Why are you so blind?!”

“I’m not, Lou, I’m reasonable,” he said. “This isn’t about me!”

“But bright eyes, Zayn! Bright hazel eyes! You have those!” Louis carped. “And dark olive skin, and a crooked smile! And the stuff from the other poem, too! Lanky, hot brunette, tattoos, pout?! Must I draw you a picture? And it wouldn’t matter, because if I did, it would look like you.”

“You can’t draw for shit, Lou,” Zayn said, glancing down at his notebook, which, in a fit of aggression, Louis snatched up and flung across the room. “Can you stop?!”

“No!” Louis snapped. “This could be real, Z! Look me in the eyes and tell me that that person doesn’t fit your description!”

Zayn couldn’t really deny it, so he shrugged noncommittally. “Yeah, I guess it does, but I can’t just go and skip all over campus, trying to find the anonymous writer to the odes to my beauty,” he stopped, then added. “And besides, there are plenty of guys with that description.

Louis groaned in frustration and stood up, taking his magazine with him. “You’re being stupid, Malik. I will prove this to you!”

“Have fun with that, harpy,” Zayn muttered, only to be smacked in the face with his notebook as Louis returned it to him.

When he was drifting to sleep that night, though, his mind wandered back to that poem and how it could be about him. The words were sweet, kind, beautiful. He wondered if the writer, if the poem was about him, of course, was thinking about him now. Weaving another poem in his heads with the fine silks that are words about Zayn, or the actual object of his affections.

~ ~ ~

“Wait, you have ‘Zap!’ tattooed on your arm,” Niall pointed out to him, when they were all gathered together to eat pizza and play video games again later that week. Zayn turned to him and nodded, smiling.

Niall had very quickly become integrated into their little group and it was instantly like he’d been there the whole time. Everyone loved him, for their own special reasons, and it was easy to see why. Niall was so relaxed, he could talk about anything or joke about anything and it was a real talent to be so diverse.

As for Zayn, he wasn’t really sure how, but he and Niall had probably become the closest out of their group, save for him and Louis. It probably started with Niall texting him and telling him, once again, how great “Zap!” was and Zayn was floored that Niall actually read it and was continuing to read it. From there, they talked about life and being homesick and their classes and their majors and their friends and their goals and their last meal they’d had and soon it was “Wanna go for coffee?” and then they were really, really close.

Zayn didn’t suspect it was anything special about the two of them together (though he did sense a little chemistry,) but more about Niall himself, and his ability to get under the skin of anybody and become their new best friend. It was a trait that made Zayn fairly jealous, if he was frank, because he kind of liked when Niall’s attentions were on him. He was happy to report, however, they Niall seemed to continually come back to him for chats and coffee and friendship, so. Score one for Zayn. (On what scoreboard he was winning, he wasn’t sure.)

“You got the name of your lit rag tattooed on your arm?” Niall asked, obviously trying to hold back a smirk, and Zayn reddened.

“No!” he said. “I got it before I came to college.” He yanked his arm back, tracing his tattoo idly and Niall laughed.

“Sorry, mate, didn’t mean to hit a nerve. Did you name the rag after the tattoo?” he asked and Zayn nodded. “Why did you get a ‘Zap!’ tattoo?”

Zayn looked down, face bright pink by now and Louis piped up. “Oh, may I tell it? I simply adore telling it. Zaynie over there was obsessed with comic books when we were lads. Still his, because he thinks I don’t know about all of the ‘Iron Man’s’ he has under his bed.”

“Lou!” Zayn griped, to the laughter of the other boys around him.

“That’s alright, Z,” Niall said through his smile, patting the older boy’s back comfortingly. He leaned in low and whispered in Zayn’s ear, “I still have a teddy bear me mam gave me when I was three.” He pulled back and grinned at Zayn, who stared back at him, dumb-founded.

Niall was the type of guy that didn’t want anybody to feel left out, and he showed that to the extent of sharing his own personal secrets with people who were left out. He was honestly one-of-a-kind and Zayn couldn’t believe he was actually friends with a guy like him.

The stereotypical frat boy was rude and crass, he made jokes at other people’s expense and was never sorry. He was a drunk, he was loud, he was mean, he had a superiority complex. Not Niall.

Sure, Niall loved a good party, and he loved to make jokes and laugh, but never about anyone else. He’d make jokes at his own expense before anyone else’s and he came to the defense of people who were made into jokes.

He looked the part, jerseys and Supras and snapbacks and basketball shorts and a shit-eating grin, but he was so much more than that.

And it was the more than that that had Zayn feeling like he liked Niall a lot more than as a friend.

~ ~ ~

When Louis did his third routine round of trying to make Zayn believe his conspiracy theories, he had the biggest grin on his face, yet he looked oddly serene, too, like a guy who knows he’s won a bet before the money’s even hit the table.

He slapped the magazine down and just pointed to it, and Zayn, curious by his silence and change in demeanor, picked it up and read it without argument.

I’ve got myself stuck
on that jawline of yours
And that dark stubble that lines it
I bet gentle, not coarse

And the way your hair flies,
Perfect, without a care,
I want to run my fingers
Through that dark head of hair.

Your voice, so smooth,
so decadent, it pours
like caramel over chocolate,
ZAP! I was yours.

-Anonymous

Zayn put the magazine down and turned to Louis, whose smirk was gone and whose eyes were dancing with curiosity and hope. He traced the lines of the tattoo on his arm, with stark, black letters etched into him forever, as he answered.

“Yeah, I see it,” the darker boy said, and Louis pumped his fist in triumph.

“I told you!” he said but he groaned when he saw the look on Zayn’s face.

“No, Zayn, you have ‘doubt’ face on. Stop ‘doubt’ face,” Louis drawled.

“No, Lou, I mean, so what if it’s about me? It doesn’t change anything. We don’t even know if it’s a guy!” he said and Louis stomped in irritation.

“You’re so stubborn! Why don’t you put a little blurb about it in there?” Louis pointed to the magazine and Zayn turned to him in horror.

“And look like the most desperate guy on the planet?! No thanks,” Zayn snapped, but Louis rolled his eyes.

“No! Nothing like, ‘Call Zayn for good time, I’ll fuck you right, honey’! Like, make it a game! A back and forth! Like, a flirtatious ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are’!”

“No, Lou. I’m not going to put out an advertisement in my literary magazine. If this guy wants to reveal himself, he will,” he said and apparently the conversation was over, because Louis did his obligatory stomp away and Zayn returned to his work.

But he couldn’t deny the heat in his cheeks, the pounding of his heart. Someone who writing anonymous poems about him, and they were good. They made him feel good.

Zayn loved words, especially what someone could do with them. Words could bring tears, cause laughter, start marriages, end wars. Words became music and art and the greatest stories ever told. He always knew words would be a big part of his life, which is why he didn’t mind inking his skin with little phrases, because they meant something to him.

And now, words were being strung together by another person, for him, talking about his apparent beauty, and it felt incredible.

He almost wished this person would step forward, because he was using Zayn’s favorite thing to get to his heart and that was really Zayn’s fairytale ending.

But he wasn’t into romantics, and long-shots, and hunches. Zayn, as much as he loved a good story, always separated fantasy from fact, and hopes from reality. He couldn’t get wrapped up in a story-book finale that might be a dream.

~ ~ ~

It’s mid-afternoon the next Tuesday when Zayn gets a call from a distraught Niall, asking him if he can come pick him up. So, obviously, Zayn’s immediately in his car, speeding to the frat house, where he’s shocked to find Niall sitting outside, by the curb, on top of his suitcase with another one and his guitar case next to him.

When Zayn pulled up and jumped out of his car, Niall was immediately in his arms, shoulders shaking with sobs and words unintelligible. Zayn wanted to ask what had happened, but Niall was too far gone, so he just decided to help Niall load all of his luggage in his backseat and drove him to the coffee house, where he bought Niall his favorite, with extra whipped cream and a huge gooey cookie, before he sat down and asked him what had happened.

“I-I got put on academic probation,” Niall sniffled miserably, reaching to take a sip from his drink and completely ignoring the cookie, something that made Zayn very worried. The older lad took the treat and broke a piece off, handing it to Niall pointedly, who smiled wetly at him and took it, popping it in his mouth and chewing it.

“Really?” Zayn asked. “I’m really sorry, Ni. What subjects?”

“E-English and Calculus,” he muttered. “I need at least a B in every class to stay in the frat. I have an F in Calc and a C- in English.”

“Okay, but we can get those up! You’re a smart kid, Niall, you can do it!” Zayn said and Niall smiled at him again, thanking him with his eyes, which were still puffy and red. “Hell, I’ll help you study every night if I have to.”

“Z, I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Niall said quietly, which was scarier than the not eating, to be honest, shoulders slumped and looking smaller than ever.

“You don’t have to ask, because I’m already doing it,” Zayn replied and Niall laughed softly, the sound mutilated by the tears still building in the boy. “But I don’t understand, why was all your luggage out there?”

Niall looked up at him, wide, beautiful eyes glistening with moisture and his lower lip wobbling.

~ ~ ~

“Haz, what the fuck?!” Zayn shouted into the phone, receiving an annoyed grunt on the other end at his volume, but he didn’t care.

“Hello to you, too, Z,” Harry droned back and Zayn rolled his eyes, not in the mood for pleasantries.

“How could you let those guys kick Niall out of the house?!” he demanded. Niall was currently in his and Lou’s bathroom, taking a shower to calm himself down and in the meantime, Zayn decided to make a call.

“Hey,” Harry snapped back and Zayn was surprised by the rough tone in his voice. “I didn’t let them do anything! I begged for them to let Niall stay to the point where I was almost kicked out of the fraternity all together. Liam, too. The only reason we’re still here is because Niall told us to stop and just walked out.”

Zayn thought on it, and he could believe that. Niall was so kind and caring, he would take the fall for anyone else, even if it was hurting him.

“But how could they do that? He has nowhere else to stay!” Zayn said and that was sort of a lie, because the second Zayn had heard the news about Niall’s eviction, he’d decided Niall was staying with them until he got back into the frat house, and he knew Louis would have no objections.

“The brothers here don’t give a fuck about pledges. They forget that they’re actual human beings sometimes,” Harry said, and in his tone, Zayn could tell that he sometimes resented the type of people his friends were. “And when someone gets put on academic probation, they usually get a warning about it to get their grades up so they can stay, but the douchebags here decided that a pledge doesn’t deserve a warning.”

“But they all loved Niall!”

“Yeah, they do, but sometimes, they get so caught up in tradition and the stereotype that...,” he sighed and his tone softened before he continued,

“I swear, Z, I tried my hardest to change their minds. Niall doesn’t deserve that treatment,” he said and Zayn felt like Harry was apologizing to him as well, though he didn’t know why.

“No, he doesn’t,” Zayn agreed, sighing. He looked back to the bathroom, checking if the door was still shut, then said, “He’s staying with me and Lou.”

“Really?” Harry asked.

“Yeah. He doesn’t know it yet, and he’ll probably try to say no, but I’ve already decided. And I know Lou won’t say no, he loves Niall,” he said.

“Yeah, he does. He could hate Niall, and he wouldn’t kick him out, Lou’s not like that,” Harry said and Zayn smiled a little.

“Yeah,” he said. He heard the shower turn off behind him and said, “I gotta go, Haz. I want to help Niall get settled in.”

“You do that,” the Chesire boy replied. “In the meantime, I’ll see if I can try to convince the brothers to change their minds. Not sure how much good it’ll do. They’re really stubborn.”

“Thanks, Haz. Appreciate anything you can do,” he said, noticing that Niall was emerging from the bathroom now. “Bye.”

“See ya.”

Zayn ended the call and turned around, pleasantly surprised to find Niall in just a towel standing in the middle of his living room. His skin was pink from the hot water, but it was still pale, like ivory, and it was beautiful. It still had a sparkle to it from the rivulets of water as they glided down his form, and Zayn found himself immobilized by the beauty of it until Niall spoke.

“Thanks for lettin’ me use your shower, Z,” he said. He glanced around the room and saw his suitcases and guitar case on the couch. “You didn’t have to bring that stuff in. We could’ve left it in the car to just take to... wherever I’m going.” Niall’s voice broke a little and Zayn’s heart broke for him. He was scared, he had just moved here from his home country and it was hard enough to adjust without being kicked out of your home.

“You’re already there,” Zayn said, watching as Niall tried to decipher what he meant to himself, and when he did, his eyes widened and he shook his head.

“No, Z, no, I can’t stay here! I can’t put you out like that!” he squeaked, but Zayn would have none of it.

“Niall, you’re staying here. I’m not gonna let you waste your money on another place to stay when we have room here. Besides, we could use that time you could’ve been using to find a flat to study for the exams coming up. If you do well enough, it might be enough to get you back into the house,” Zayn said, but Niall still looked uncertain.

“I-I can’t do this, Z. It’s not fair! It’s my own fault that my grades dropped-”

“But it’s not your fault that those assholes kicked you out instead of helping you. You’re staying here and that’s final. And if you protest again, I will call Louis and tell him and see what he has to say about it,” he said, smirking, and Niall was just gaping at him, until he was crossing the room and throwing his arms around Zayn, pressing his bare chest to Zayn’s clothed.

Zayn was stunned for a minuted, the fresh smell of soap and Niall’s own scent filling his nostrils and making him feel light-headed. He could feel Niall’s heated skin through his t-shirt and the warmth and the smell and the feeling of Niall was intoxicating. He hugged back, holding the boy close.

“Thank you so much, Z,” Niall whimpered into his shoulder and Zayn pet his hair sweetly.

“No problem,” he replied, fighting the urge to kiss his hair and temples and cheeks and lips and wow, this was getting out of hand and probably warranted some self-reflection.

But before he could dwell too much on that, Louis walked in and made a filthy comment about their embrace and Niall’s state of undress, until he found out what had happened and then was coddling Niall on the couch, rocking him and alternating between cooing to him and verbalizing his plans to castrate the brothers at the fraternity who weren’t his boyfriend and best friend.

~ ~ ~

“So, show me what gives you trouble in Calculus,” Zayn said to Niall, later that night when they were sitting at the table. Zayn had agreed to help Niall with his classes (more like demanded Niall take his help,) and while he knew tutoring Niall in English would be easier for him (it was his major after all,) he figured they should start with Calculus, since that was the biggest problem.

Niall gave him a pointed look and reached into his backpack, retrieving his Calculus textbook and dropping the thick book onto the table with a huge thwack, then turning back to Zayn.

“Okay,” Zayn said, holding back a smirk. “Why don’t you show me your notes?”

Niall nodded and took his notebook from his bag, a weathered-looking red spiral with doodles on the front. When Zayn opened it, he smirked again.

“Okay, now I see the problem,” he said and Niall turned to him with interest. “You wrote this lesson in another language.” He turned the book around and displayed for Niall the page full of eraser and graphite smudges, as well as what look to be something resembling words, though it was written illegibly. Niall rolled his eyes at him.

“I have good handwriting, really,” Niall said and Zayn gave him a look, but the blonde shook his head. “No, for real! It’s the class’s fault, really.”

“Oh?” Zayn asked and Niall nodded.

“Why do I have to take a stupid gen. ed. class when I’m majoring in Music?” Niall ranted. “I don’t need to know integrals to write a Top 40 hit.”

“Music?” Zayn asked, intrigued and Niall nodded again, this time with a huge smile on his face.

“Yup,” he said. “Love it. Always have. But apparently, I won’t ever be a musician if I don’t know how to anti-derive, so.”

“Silly Nialler, don’t you know that all of the greats got to where they are now through Calculus?” Zayn joked and Niall pouted at him. “So what happened?”

“Well, I always just... zone out during class, because I’m thinking about music or songs or whatever, and then suddenly the teacher’s erasing stuff and I missed everything she said, so I have to scribble it down fast so I have it, but then I have no idea what’s going on and... Stop laughing!” Niall snapped and Zayn tried to calm himself, holding his chest as he breathed.

“Sorry, Ni,” he said, smiling at him though Niall was ignoring him now. “So, why don’t we start with the basics?”

~ ~ ~

By nine o’ clock that night, Niall was still struggling with the basics and he was getting endlessly more frustrated.

“Look, Ni, why don’t we take a break for tonight?” Zayn asked, sad to see Niall getting upset.

“I’m sorry I’m so stupid,” Niall grumbled miserably and Zayn rushed to rebuke him.

“No, Niall, you’re not stupid! Calculus is a hard class! I promise, you’ll get it, okay?” he said and Niall nodded, still pouting. “Can I make you tea?”

Niall looked up and smiled, nodding. Zayn got up and put the kettle on, watching Niall as the boy went back to leaning over the textbook on the table.

He thought back to his feelings about Niall from earlier, of wanting to hold him and kiss him. Niall was sweet and funny and kind and cute and thoughtful and smart and Zayn really liked him. He wasn’t sure in what way yet, but he had a pretty good idea, and it was scary. Zayn wasn’t even sure Niall was gay. And even if he was, was Zayn even his type? Shouldn’t he like loud, boisterous, extroverted guys like him? Zayn sighed as he heard the kettle start to whistle and poured the hot water into two mugs. He brought one over to Niall, who took it gratefully.

“So, you think you’ll be okay in my room?” Zayn asked and Niall cocked his head at him, curious.

“Why your room?” he asked.

“That’s where you’ll be staying,” Zayn said and Niall blanched.

“No! What about you?” he squeaked.

“I’m good with the couch,” Zayn replied but Niall shook his head erratically. “I can’t do that, Z! I’m already putting you out, I-”

“You’re actually not, Ni! I’m glad to have you here,” Zayn said before he could stop himself and Niall looked at him and smiled, though Zayn himself was blushing hard.

“Thanks,” Niall said. “But I want the couch! I’m fine with the couch!”

“That’s cool, but you’re getting the bed,” Zayn insisted and Niall huffed. “‘Taking the couch’. Next you’re gonna say you’re gonna pay rent.”

“I am paying rent,” Niall said and Zayn rolled his eyes.

“No, it isn’t,” Zayn replied.

“Yes, it is!” Niall said and Zayn smirked.

“Nope,” he said, taking a swig from his mug.

“Fine,” Niall conceded haughtily. “I’ll just give my money to Louis!”

“Don’t even try,” Louis said as he glided into the kitchen, reaching for another mug and pouring himself some tea. “I’ll get terribly offended if you do.”

“But-!”

“No,” Louis and Zayn said in unison and Niall pouted, sitting from his mug moodily.

~ ~ ~

When Cher brought the Secret Identities around this week, Zayn stopped her.

“Hey, I just wanted to... read through these,” he said awkwardly, not wanting to have to explain himself, because ugh, how desperate can you get. And it wasn’t like he wanted to make anything out of the poems. He was just curious.

“Sure,” Cher chirped, apparently not at all curious as she handed over the papers and skipped away jubilantly.

Zayn set out all of the works on the desk, eyes searching through the stack until he found the one he was looking for, another poem entitled “Behind Those Bright Eyes.”

Behind Those Bright Eyes

I know I’ve only noted
Your looks, like your soft eyes,
But now, its your heart
that’s taken me by surprise.

You’re so kind and so caring,
you flew to the rescue,
I guess it’s no wonder
why I’m falling for you.

-Anonymous

By the end of the poem, Zayn’s heard was thudding against his rib cage like a drummer with no rhythm. Falling for him? And what did he mean to the rescue? This guy must be someone that he already knew. Someone who had met him and knew him enough to know how nice he was? He was at a loss, and it was much too late for him to be thinking, and before he knew what he was doing, he was scribbling out a note and adding it to the stack before putting it in the mailbox to be printed.

~ ~ ~

“Zayn, you sly dog!” Louis crowed as he bounced into Zayn’s room, magazine in hand, just like Zayn had known he would. “You did ask Anonymous for his identity!” That’s what Louis had taken to calling him. “Anonymous.” He actually asked about him a lot more than Zayn found necessary.

“So what?” Zayn said. “I got curious.”

“You do want to find him!” he squealed, running over and swatting at Zayn’s arm excitedly. “This is fantastic!”

“What is?” Niall asked, peeking his head in the door as he walked past it.

“Nialler, Zayn has a secret admirer in his magazine and he’s decided to sent out a signal to bring him to him!” Louis crooned dramatically and Zayn groaned. He actually didn’t want Niall to know about this guy and his maybe-attempts to contact him. Why? Because of his continually growing feelings for Niall and he didn’t want Niall to think he really had any competition but he wasn’t even sure if Niall was gay, let alone into him and wow, this is why he preferred his romances fictional.

“Really?” Niall asked, entering the room and sitting on the foot of Zayn’s bed. “Has he responded?”

“Not yet, he just put it out last night, but soon they’ll be together!” Louis cried. “What a wedding it will be, doves and silk and the best food from all over the world.”

“Sounds like my kinda party,” Niall joked and Zayn glared at him.

“It’s not, like, real,” Zayn said. “I was just curious.”

“Oh, how modest and bashful, silly boy!” Louis said, pinching at Zayn’s cheeks before frolicking away.

“It’s really nothing,” Zayn said to Niall, who turned to him and nodded, smiling.

“It’s cool that you’re giving it a shot. I mean, I saw those poems in the Secret Identities and I thought ‘Hey, that sounds like Zayn!’ Cool to see I was right,” he said. He patted Zayn on the back and stood up, walking from the room, leaving Zayn to groan and question why he hasn’t kicked Louis out yet.

He turned to where Louis had left the magazine next to him and picked it up, flipping to the back, where Zayn’s note had been placed.

Dear Anonymous,

Roses are red,
Violets are Blue
Your notes are intriguing,
Just who are you?

I wish you would step out,
not be so discreet,
so I was just wondering,
why don’t we meet?

-Bright Eyes

(It was cheesy and lame, and Zayn wasn’t proud of it, but Louis had been right, it was better to be flirty and coy, not direct. He’d actually spent hours sitting in front of his computer screen, agonizing over what to say to his secret admirer, and he found himself wondering why he cared so much, but he directed himself back to the poem before he could let himself think too much on it.)

~ ~ ~

“Thought maybe you’d wanna see this week’s Secret Identities, boss,” Cher said, dropping the papers on his desk with a smirk. “Trying to get a hot date?”

“It’s purely curiosity, Cher,” Zayn said, snatching the papers away irritably.

“Whatever you say, Bright Eyes,” she replied, dancing out of the way of the pen Zayn threw her way. Zayn scowled at her before turning back to the pages. He searched once again for the tell-tale titles or style of his admirer and was surprised to find two poems from him. The first was short, concise.

Reply to My Bright Eyes

I see you want to meet me,
Face to gorgeous face.
I wish I could, darling,
but it’s just not my place.

I want to hold you, to squeeze you,
Be the apple of your eye,
But alas, dear Bright Eyes,
I’m so painfully shy.

-Anonymous

Zayn cursed under his breath, despite his heart beating so fast. It was just like a romance novel; it was mysterious, it was coy, it was elusive, and it was actually kind of sexy. But he was still no closer to finding his admirer.

He turned to the next poem and his eyebrows raised when he found that this one was longer, almost half a page.

I’ll Give You a Name

I bet your lips are like clouds,
soft, supple, and sweet,
but when I think of kissing you,
my heart skips a beat.

You’re so beautiful, my Bright Eyes,
I sometimes forget that you’re real.
Your rejection would kill me,
A wound that’d never heal.

That’s why I’m hidden, my darling,
I’m just really too scared,
though you may think me a coward,
my heart’s too weak to be bared.

It’s a constant struggle
to restrict myself from you,
I yearn for you so deeply,
Please believe me, it’s true.

I hope I’m not hurting you,
I couldn’t bear to make you frown.
If I were brave enough, I’d scream
My love all over town.

Though I’m scared to do so-
Please don’t think me plucky-
I shall give you a name,
why don’t you just call me ‘Lucky’?

Lucky

Wow. Zayn actually felt himself tearing up at this one because... because it was so heartfelt and painful. He would sometimes forget that this person is real, and it’s not just a story he’s reading. This is real life, and someone is out there, hiding from him, keeping his identity a secret, but apparently falling for him so completely that his rejection would kill him (wow, no pressure.)

He had such mixed emotions about this guy, because he felt guilty that he wasn’t trying harder to find him and meet him, find out who he was, but the other side of him was angry, because this guy was out there, building up something in Zayn’s heart that wasn’t whole, forming a person without a face, and those portraits may never be finished because he was too scared.

Though, he could understand his reluctance to show his true colors; love was a scary and complicated thing and it killed more people than most illnesses. He could see why he didn’t want to put himself on the line like that. After all, he might be in the same boat.

~ ~ ~

“Maybe he sleeps around a lot?” Louis suggested as he sat on the foot of Zayn’s bed. “Like he gets ‘Lucky’ a lot?”

“I’m not sure he’s the type of guy I’m looking for then,” Zayn drones, looking over the problems Niall is working on to practice Calculus. The blonde is sitting to his right, watching him over his shoulder, his chin resting on it comfortably. Zayn had quickly realized that Niall was a cuddly bloke, and he had absolutely no qualms about this whatsoever.

“Oh, come on, Zayn! You need to lower your standards! If he gets a lot of ass, that means you’d get ass,” Louis said and Zayn scoffed.

“I feel like he’s a bit too romantic to just want to sleep with Zayn, don’t you think?” Niall pointed out, groaning when Zayn marks one of his answers wrong. Zayn turns to him with an apologetic smile and continues to grade.

“Maybe,” Louis said. “But maybe it’s both! Maybe he’s horny and romantic!”

“If he was horny, he probably wouldn’t beat around the bush so much,” Zayn drawled. “Now get out, I’m tutoring.”

He handed Niall his paper back and Louis traipsed out of the room and Niall took it, pouting at all of the red marks.

“Don’t worry, you’re getting a lot better. You’ve got the basics, now it’s just the more complicated stuff,” Zayn said encouragingly and Niall nodded, looking over the paper.

“So, do you think you’d date this guy?” Niall asked, erasing a number and replacing it with another.

“That’s better,” Zayn said, watching him, and Niall smiled. “I don’t really know. Depends.”

“Depends on what?” Niall asked.

“Well, if he ever comes out of hiding, for one,” Zayn said. “Change the variable here.” He pointed to a spot on the page and Niall fixed it.

“And if he does?” Niall asked.

“I’d have to see what he’s like. Like, if he’s nice or whatever,” Zayn said, not really enjoying this conversation. He didn’t want Niall thinking he was ready to jump into the arms of any guy who was willing and ready. He actually had standards.

“What if he’s not hot?” Niall asked and Zayn shrugged.

“I mean, it doesn’t really matter. If he’s sweet enough to write me these poems and he’s nice when I meet him, maybe it could work from there,” Zayn replied. “But I’m not really planning on building anything from this.”

Niall hummed and nodded, before his brow furrowed again. “How do I derive here?”

Zayn, happy for the change in subject, reached over and explained the problem, drinking in Niall’s sweet aroma and relishing in his warmth.

~ ~ ~

“So there’s no return address?” Zayn asked and Cher shook her head.

“Sorry, Z. Whoever ‘Lucky’ is doesn’t even send them in by letter. He just drops them in my mailbox,” she said and seemed genuinely sorry about it.

“It’s okay, Cher. Thanks anyway,” he said and she nodded as she left Zayn to the submissions from this week.

It was much easier to find Lucky’s poems now that he signed them with an actual pseudonym and he scouted it out immediately.

My Fantasies

My Bright Eyes, I fantasize,
about if we’d ever meet,
how I’d try so very hard
to sweep you off your feet.

I’d embrace you, I’d hold you,
if I may be so bold,
I’d stare into your eyes,
the color of molten gold.

I’d kiss you, I would, though
my heart would race, my dear,
and I’d let myself whisper
so gently in your ear

sweet nothings, all about you
how I see you in every dream,
how you hold me together,
like the thread to a seam.

It’s quite pathetic, really,
how I’ve come to need you so,
how you’re the air that I breathe,
though you might never know.

I’m afraid I’d disappoint you,
if you ever discovered,
who I really, truly am,
that’s why I stay covered.

But never doubt, my Bright Eyes,
please know this as true,
how completely and utterly
and truly I love you.

-Lucky

By the end of the poem, Zayn had tears streaming down his face and he feels physically pained by the pain of this other person.

Since he’s started to become invested in this, he’s reread every poem since the beginning, and he can feel his heart curling into a shape around something, surrounding something or someone, whose shape is still unknown. This person, his admirer, is actually changing Zayn from the inside, giving him these feelings for a person he’s never even met and making Zayn see himself as a cheesy, rom-com heroine, except he doesn’t remember them feeling this kind of pain.

It occurs to him that he might actually be developing feelings for this other person, who’s been treating him so right through just words and stanzas and phrases and making him feel so special.

He wants the words on this page to jump into his brain and start to form a face there, but when he gets one, it’s blonde and has bright, blue eyes and braces and he knows who it is, but he also knows that it’s probably not possible, purely because he wants it to be.

He wants these two people to be the same. He feels like he’s grown two hearts inside of him and one forms around the tangible being and the other around the elusive one, the one whose name and face he can’t place, and he’s so conflicted, he doesn’t know what to do.

The person he can see, can touch, can feel, that he wants so badly, probably doesn’t love him like Zayn wants him to. And the person that does love him, the person that he knows he can go to for affection, won’t reveal himself to him. There are two people he wants, but he can’t have either of them and this lonely feeling is so suffocating and painful, he thinks he might die.

~ ~ ~

When Louis came in the next morning, he doesn’t bounce or sashay, he’s not grinning or laughing. He had a somber look on his face, like he can feel the pain Zayn’s feeling and he sat on the bed next to him and pulled him into his arms. Zayn tried so hard to hold himself together for Louis, not let anything slip that he’s so frustrated and upset by Lucky’s newest poem, but Louis could always see right through him and he collapsed into his embrace, weeping quietly and lamenting on how unfair it all was.

~ ~ ~

By the time Monday comes around, Zayn has calmed himself down and is able to function again, which is good because they have exams this week and Niall is stressing out.

The good news was that Niall was really improving in Calculus and he was actually starting to understnad everything and he might do really well on this exam. Zayn was really proud of him actually, and proud of himself that he was the one that was able to help him out. He may have to keep his something-close-to-love for Niall a secret, but he could still express how much he cared for him in other ways, like staying up until two in the morning teaching Niall integrals. (It sometimes occurs to Zayn that the better Niall gets, the faster he’ll have to move back out and go back to the frat house, and that hurts Zayn, but he knows not being with his friends is hurting Niall, and as far as he was concerned, Niall came first.)

The bad news was that the Calculus lessons had taken longer than anticipated and they’d just kept postponing the English lessons until suddenly the exam was that morning.

“Niall, I’m so sorry we didn’t study any English,” Zayn said as he walked next to Niall towards the English building. His own exam was down the hall from Niall, and he was definitely ready, English was his best subject.

“It’s really okay, Zayn,” Niall said. “I don’t mind because I was failing Calculus and I got a B on my last test thanks to you! And besides, I feel like maybe I can bullshit well enough to scrape by in English.”

“Are you sure?” Zayn asked, though it was too late to do anything now, now that they were standing outside Niall’s lecture hall.

“Positive,” he said, then reached up and pulled Zayn down for a hug, which the older boy returned. “Good luck, Z.”

“You too, Ni,” he said, watching as Niall walked away, turning back to wave at him once before disappearing into the sea of students.

~ ~ ~

“How was it?” Zayn asked as Niall walked out of the classroom, and the blonde boy shrugged. 

“Not bad,” he replied. “I might feel better if you buy my lunch.”

Zayn snorted and rolled his eyes. He wound his arm around Niall’s shoulders.

“If you think it’ll help,” he joked.

~ ~ ~

Now, it was Wednesday morning, and Niall had asked Zayn to quiz him quickly over breakfast for his Calculus exam.

“Ugh, I still can’t get that!” Niall groaned, banging his head against the table in frustration.

“Ni, it’s not that big of a concept for this exam,” Zayn said encouragingly, rubbing at the younger boy’s arm, ignoring Louis’s pointed look.

Lately, Louis seemed to be picking up on on his feelings for Niall, and while he was usually a lot worse about Zayn’s crushes, this was a guy that was living with them, and he would love it if he were more discreet.

“I just... I don’t want to disappoint you if I fail. You put so much into helping me and I don’t want you to let me down,” Niall said and Zayn smiled at him.

“Nialler, you could never let me down,” he said, grasping his hand on top of the table and grinning at him.

When they walked up to Niall’s classroom (Zayn had no exams that day, but he wanted to walk Niall there anyway,) he pulled the smaller boy into a tight hug.

“You’ve come so far, Nialler, and I’m so proud of you. You’re going to be fine, okay?” Niall hugged him back and he could feel the boy’s lips curling into a smile against him through his shirt.

 

“Thanks, Z. Thank you for everything,” he whispered before pulling back. “Love ya!” he said before turning and walking into his classroom.

“Love you, too,” Zayn replied, the words tasting sweet but sour in his mouth.

~ ~ ~

When Niall walked out of the classroom, he was smiling lightly and shrugged.

“It’s over now, Ni,” Zayn said. “Lunch?”

Niall nodded and slung an arm over Zayn’s shoulders.

“Sounds great.”

~ ~ ~

It was Friday and the exam scores were all posted up and there were swarms of students crowding around the bulletin board, some cheering, some crying, some shrugging noncommittally, and some honestly too fucked to care. Zayn and Niall were standing at the back of the crowd, Niall’s hand grasping Zayn’s arm tightly.

“I’m so nervous,” he confessed and Zayn pulled his hand away, squeezing it in his own.

“Whatever letter is up on that board, Nialler, you gave it your all. That’s what counts,” Zayn said, and with that, he started leading Niall through the crowd to the front, hand loosely holding the other boy’s.

“You know, I don’t even really care if this is enough to get me off academic probation,” Niall said airily as they wormed their way to the front. Zayn glanced back at him, dark eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Really?” he asked and Niall nodded.

“Yeah, I’d actually be really sad to move out. I really like it at the flat with you and Louis. But I think I’ve overstayed my welcome, so,” he shrugged.

“Nialler, you’re always welcome at our flat. Even though I know you’ve passed, I wouldn’t mind if you had to stay longer,” he said, then rushed to add. “Though, I’d be happy for you if you got to go back to the house.”

Niall was smiling at him when they finally made it to the boards. He took a deep breath and let his eyes drift to the board, Zayn’s following and searching through the names. But then, he felt a tight squeeze on his hand and then Niall was killing him in a tight, constricting hug.

“Thank you, thank you, thankyouthankyouthankyou!” he squealed, bouncing up and down on his toes and Zayn hugged him back, looking over at the board and searching for the name. Then, there it was: “Niall Horan: English: A, Calculus: B+” (Later, he’d ask Niall how he managed to do so well on an exam he didn’t even study for, and Niall would just shrug and say “Guess I got lucky.”)

“Niall, that’s amazing!” he shouted, embracing Niall with a new vigor and nearly picking him up with the force, delighting in Niall’s tinkling laughter right in his ear. “I’m taking you out to dinner, Ni. I’m so freaking proud of you.”

“Thank you, Zayn. I couldn’t have done it without you,” Niall gushed, holding Zayn tighter still until they heard someone clear their throat behind them.

“If you two are gonna make out, can you do it to the left of the bulletins?” Louis asked, smirking at him but with a genuine, delighted sparkle in his eyes. Harry and Liam were behind him, both with huge grins on their faces. The five of them stepped out of the crowd (even if they lost their place, Harry’s sheer size would get it back quicker than you could blink) and Louis pulled Niall into a hug, whispering congratulations into his ear.

“We really missed you at the house, Nialler,” Liam said, hugging Niall next. When Liam had come over to the flat since Niall’s eviction, he always lamented about how much he missed Niall and wanted him back. Liam was actually very protective of Niall, in a den mother sort of way.

“S’not the same without my beer pong partner,” Harry said, taking Niall in next.

They all went out together later that night, to celebrate Niall’s success and his return to the fraternity house, and Zayn texts Cher to take care of the new issue herself and totally forgets about Lucky’s new poem until the next morning.

~ ~ ~

The surprise waiting for him the next day is two-fold.

First, there’s an email in his inbox, from Cher, titled “Thought this Inappropriate for the Rag, but Enjoy it Anyway ;)”

When he opened it, bewildered, he was surprised to find one of Lucky’s poems there.

Dream a Little Dream of You

I thought you’d want to know
the dream of you and me,
I had it last night,
I wish you could see

How beautiful you looked,
in the dark dim light,
towering over me, panting,
you treated me right.

Your voice was gritty and low,
as you whispered, so dirty,
how good I felt around you,
though you worried I was hurting.

I was moaning and whining,
Though I felt no shame,
I was overwhelmed by the fact
that you felt the same.

It struck me how much I want it,
to be taken so possessively,
but to be loved by you also,
I crave it obsessively.

I’m sorry I’m so crude,
but I wanted you to know
that we climaxed together,
while you growled my name, low.

-Lucky

Zayn’s jeans felt incredibly tight by the end and his cheeks were bright red and he had no idea what to make of this poem because sure, he knew Lucky was romantic, but amidst that, he’d forgotten that this person also had a sex drive, and craved human touch like Zayn did. Even though he still had no face to this name (or even a real name,) or a body to boot, Zayn was incredibly turned on by the prospect of being with this person.

“Zayn, did you see the new- what’s wrong with your face?” Louis asked as he walked in, eyeing the other boy suspiciously.

“N-Nothing!” Zayn squawked, snapping the top to his laptop shut, but it was too late. The seeds of mischief had been planted in Louis’s mind. The older boy skulked over to the bed, eyes never leaving the laptop, and Zayn pulled it away from his reach. But then, Louis pounced on him, sissy-slapping him and tickling him and Zayn was incredibly embarrassed by how quickly Louis had taken it from him.

“Lou, wait!” he called, but Louis was already reading the poem, his eyes getting wider and wider with every word.

“Zayn!” he yelped, turning to the other boy, who was looking away and blushing profusely.

“I don’t know, Lou! I-I jus- Just don’t tell Niall, okay?” he begged.

“Tell me what?” Niall asked, poking his head in and Zayn cursed under his breath. He tried to grab Louis’s thin waist as he moved, but he was too fast and he was across the room before the darker boy could even blink, shoving the laptop into Niall’s hands.

“Louis!” Zayn whined, covering his face with a pillow in mortification.

“Wow, lucky you, Z,” he heard Niall say on the other side of the pillow and Zayn groaned.

“Shut up,” he moaned.

“But, Zayn, this is fantastic, it-”

“No, Louis, it’s really not,” he snapped, sitting up and standing up off of the bed. He crossed the room and took the computer from Niall’s hands, stomping back to the bed and putting it there.

“Why not?!” Louis griped and Zayn glared at him again.

“Because, this guy won’t get what he wants if he refuses to tell us who he is,” he snipped, pushing past the two boys and walking into the living room.

It was hard enough harboring feelings for two completely different people without people telling him that it could actually work out when he knows that there’s no plausible way it will.

“Ni, we should get going if we want to get you moved back into the frat house by dinner,” he called back, voice softening from sadness. He really didn’t want to see Niall go, though he was so proud of him for doing so well on the exams.

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Niall said as he followed Zayn into the other room, a sad look on his face. “Sorry if we... made you mad, Z, Lou didn’t-”

“No, Nialler, it’s not you,” he sighed, looking at him with apologetic eyes. “I’m just... it’s frustrating and complicated, okay? And I’m sad that my little Nialler’s moving out.”

Niall smiled at him and pulled him in for a hug. “Oh, come on, Z! I’ll be around! You and Lou feed me too good here for me to stay away for too long.” Zayn laughed as he pulled away, stooping down to grab one of Niall’s suitcases.

“I knew you only liked me for the food,” he said.

~ ~ ~

When they’ve settled Niall back in and everyone has come to welcome Niall back home (though Zayn’s wary of any upperclassmen who came Niall’s way, because why were they being so nice when they were the ones who kicked Niall out?), Zayn and Niall were sitting on Niall’s bed, relaxing, and Harry walked in.

“Ni, we got the new ‘Zap!’ here for you,” he said in his low drawl, handing the magazine to Niall, who took it gratefully.

“Thanks, Haz,” he said, thumbing through the magazine idly. Zayn read some of the stories over his shoulder, and when Niall got to the Secret Identities page, the blonde’s eyebrows shot up.

“Z, there’s another Lucky poem in here,” he said and Zayn bolted upright.

“Oh no, Cher didn’t publish it, did she?” he asked, but Niall shook his head, leaning over to show Zayn the page.

“No, it’s different, look!” he said and Zayn let his eyes fall to the page, heart pounding.

I’ve discovered very recently
that I might not even mind
to share with you my feelings,
though I hope you’d be kind

As I gave them to you
with my heart and my soul
as I finally showed you
how you make me whole.

You see, my Bright Eyes,
I’ve been untruthful to you,
we’ve met, face to face,
though you may have no clue

And I’ve decided I can’t stand it,
keeping myself concealed,
I think the time’s approaching
for my name to be revealed.

I’m sorry I’ve been cruel
By telling you lies,
it hurts me, it does,
please be patient, my Bright Eyes

-Lucky

Zayn tried to hold it back, he really did, but it was all becoming too much; the passion he felt because of the last poem and the heartache that this one caused him, it built up and then there were tears falling over his cheekbones and he was whimpering quietly and Niall was gaping at him, wide-eyed.

“Z? What’s wrong, Zayn?” Niall asked, dropping the rag and pulling Zayn towards him, though the older boy tried to hide his face from him. “Z, look at me. What’s wrong?”

“I just... It’s just really hard, Niall,” he said, unable to keep it inside anymore. “I just... this guy keeps writing to me, with these beautiful, heartfelt poems, making me feel so... loved with the words he says, and I can’t stand it, because I want so badly to meet him and see if he’s for real, but I can’t because he won’t tell me who he is and he keeps telling me to be patient, but it’s killing me! This guy’s building a picture in my head without a name and... I can’t keep waiting around for him because I want to move on and be try to be happy with someone else, but he keeps capturing my attention with his words and I... I just want to make him happy and I feel like shit, because I can’t, but it’s his fault, because he won’t let me in! He doesn’t even trust me enough to let me give him a chance!

“And now, I find out that he’s someone I’ve actually met, that I know, and he’s still keeping himself secret and I just... am I not worth the effort or the honesty?”

“No, Z, no,” Niall tried to soothe him, pulling him close and rubbing his back gently. “He’s probably just scared, okay? He’d be stupid to let you slip through his fingers.”

“But how can he expect me to keep on waiting? What if I’m letting some other person slip through my fingers while I’m ‘being patient’ for him?” he asked and Niall sighed.

“I-I don’t know, Z. But look, read this poem. It sounds like he’s close to telling you, right? It won’t be long now, I know it,” Niall said and Zayn huffed, rubbing at his nose.

“I hope so, Ni. I just... It hurts, you know?” Niall nodded against his shoulder, hugging him even closer.

“I know, Zayn.”

~ ~ ~

Even though Niall had moved back, it wasn’t really like he was gone, because he was always at Zayn and Louis’s flat, either eating or doing homework or challenging Zayn to Halo.

Now that exams were over, everyone was able to relax a little more and they all had more downtime. Though, unfortunately for Zayn, that left him more time to think about Lucky.

When he’d gotten home from the frat house on Saturday, he’d gone to take a shower and slowly jerked off to the image from Lucky’s earlier poem, all the while imagining that it was Niall underneath him, mewling and keening his name, sweating and his pale skin rosy with the exertion and emotion. He imagined how good Niall would feel around him, his warm, tight heat combined with the image of Niall’s debauched face bringing him to the edge.

He’d found that this was the best way to handle his crushes at the time. Use Lucky’s words and put them to Niall’s face, combing the two people into one, though he knew that reality wouldn’t be so kind to him.

He realized that soon, he’d probably have to make a decision. Niall or Lucky? He wanted Niall, he wanted to hold him and kiss him and love him so desperately, but he didn’t know if Niall would let him. He wanted Lucky, to be loved and held and kissed and cared for, but he couldn’t find him. He lost no matter which way he went and he hoped something would change soon, because this was literally the most painful thing he’d ever felt.

Friday couldn’t come fast enough.

~ ~ ~

On Friday night, Cher handed him the folder without a word, somehow just knowing how tired he was getting. He nodded at her thankfully before opening it, bypassing the other pages to get to Lucky’s.

I realize I’m hurting you 
And it kills me everyday.
But you don’t know how close
I come day after day

to saying those three words
they’re always right in my throat,
waiting for my lips to form them,
like a musical note.

You’re just in my reach
and, I promise, love, soon,
That the second you ask,
I’ll bring you the moon.

You’re everything, darling,
And I’ve decided I’ll tell
the secret eating away at me
and it makes my heart swell

to think of saying those words,
of letting you know
how much I adore you,
so, here we go.

I’m going to tell you, my dear,
those words, only three,
just one poem more,
please wait for me, Z.

-Lucky

Zayn felt his heart nearly breaking his rib cage in two. He’d known for a long time that these poems were about him, but having this person validate it like he did, it was just... it made it all the more real.

He felt like he had an idea in his head, about who this could be, but Zayn feared it was just too much wishful thinking and didn’t let himself dwell on it, lest he get his hopes up only for them to be crushed.

~ ~ ~

“I saw Lucky’s poem,” Niall said as he walked into Zayn’s flat that Monday. “You really think he’s gonna tell you?”

“I really hope so, Ni,” Zayn sighed, plopping himself down next to Niall on the couch. The Irish lad watched him for a moment, then leaned over and gently placed his head on the older boy’s shoulder, cuddling into him slightly. “I just... I know it sounds selfish, but I just want it to be over now, you know? I just... I want to know, I want to find out, then move on.”

“It’s not selfish, Z,” Niall whispered. “I’m... sad to see you so upset over something like this. You don’t deserve it, and I’m sorry it has to be this way.”

“It’s not your fault, Nialler,” Zayn whispered back. “Thank you, though.”

There was a beat of silence between the two of them before Niall spoke up again.

“What will you do if this person isn’t what you want?” he asked and Zayn sighed, low in his throat.

“I... I guess it’s okay. I’ll move on. After all, I have you, right?” he said, and he could feel Niall’s cheeks shift against his shoulder as he smiled.

“Yeah, you do,” he replied.

Zayn, in a moment of bravery, bent down and pressed a soft kiss to Niall’s hair. Niall hummed in acknowledgement.

“Love ya, Z,” Niall said.

“Love you, too, Nialler.”

~ ~ ~

The second he’d woken up on Friday, he’d been buzzing with excitement and anxiety. Every class crawled on forever and whenever he saw Louis or Niall, they would smile at him encouragingly, giving him a thumbs-up or a quick hug. Niall, however, seemed to have a different air about him. It seemed... nervous? But maybe it was just his own nervousness transferring onto everyone else, he didn’t know.

By the time he got to the “Zap!” meeting, Cher once again handed him the folder.

“I didn’t look through it,” she said. “Out of respect. I thought... maybe this is one you should do alone?”

Zayn smiled at her and pulled her into a hug.

“This was a lot more excitement for a shitty lit rag than you were expecting, huh?” he joked and she giggled.

“Yeah, a bit. But it keeps things interesting,” she said, hugging him back. When she pulled back, she pressed a light kiss to his cheek.

“Whatever happens, I’m here for you, babe,” she said.

“Thanks,” he replied, watching her as she walked away, then turning to the papers.

As he searched for Lucky’s poem, he found that there were two of them. One of them had huge letters at the top that read “PLEASE READ FIRST”, so he put the other one down and took a deep breath, before letting his eyes fall on the page.

Hello, Bright Eyes. I believe this is the first time we’ve ever “spoken” in non-poem form. Thank you for reading this poem first. I have to tell you, there’s a bit of backstory to this one.

I wrote this poem a long time ago, with my earliest poems, but I didn’t dare publish it because I felt it was too revealing of my identity. But now, as our literary journey together comes to an end, I feel it’s a fitting time to share this with you.

Love always,

Lucky

Contrast

I was stunned to discover,
dumbfounded to see,
the stark contrasts
between you and me.

You hair, dark like midnight,
and your skin, so very tanned,
look darker next to him,
with blonde hair and pale hands.

Your eyes, like chocolate,
for which I’ve fallen so hard,
rival mine, a light blue,
like a sapphire’s shard.

But it’s not only looks, dear,
which keep us apart,
it’s you on the inside, too,
another part of my heart.

You’re quiet and thoughtful,
I’m loud, with a boisterous laugh,
but despite all our differences,
you’re my other half.

We’re the sun and the moon,
we’re ice and a flame,
yet we’re two puzzle pieces,
we are yin and yang.

-Lucky

Zayn couldn’t feel his toes. He couldn’t feel anything, actually. This was... This was too good to be true, because if what he thought the poem meant was true... everything... He shook his head. He couldn’t let himself get his hopes up too high yet. He had one more poem.

He put the other paper down and picked the last one up. He stared at the page in its entirety. There must be so many answers on this single page, and he was a bit scared to find them all. He’d been so ready to end this just a few days ago, but now, he wasn’t sure he had the courage to end it. But he had to. There was a glimmer of a chance for him now, he had to press on.

He took a deep, cleansing breath, then turned to the poem.

The time has come, dear,
to take off the mask,
But there’s just one more thing
that I beg, that I ask.

Don’t pity me, Bright Eyes,
Don’t be sorry or sad,
if you don’t feel how I do,
please, don’t feel bad.

If nothing else, I was able
to show how I felt,
how you make my heart soar,
how you make my heart melt.

Rejection will hurt,
like I said, no more lies,
but at least, for a time,
I could call you “my Bright Eyes.”

And if you push me away,
if my very thought brings distaste,
I’ll leave you alone,
vanish, without a trace.

But no more sadness, my dear,
nothing’s set in stone!
There’s still a chance
I could call you my own.

It’s not even scary
to put my heart on the line,
if there’s even the slightest hope,
that you could be mine.

So the time’s finally come,
here’s what I’ve felt for a while,
I love you, I need you, I adore you
...

“Love from, Niall,” Zayn read the last line aloud, his voice quivering and he looked back down at the page. He read the poem once more, twice more, three times, four, five. He had to make sure his mind wasn’t playing tricks on him, with his heart pounding so fast and the blood rushing in his ears.

He felt the corners of his mouth pull up until he was grinning from ear to ear. He felt the two hearts that had formed around nothingness so long ago start to morph into one huge heart with a beautiful, pale face in the center, with gorgeous golden hair and impossibly blue eyes, the widest smile in the world, still adorable though lined with metal, as he rushed from the room, the last poem still clutched tightly in his hand.

~ ~ ~

When he got to the frat house, he pushed past the guy who opened the door for him (he didn’t see who it was and he didn’t care,) and bounded up the stairs, two at a time, then bolted down the hall, ignoring the stares he was getting from the other frat brothers, until he reached Niall’s room.

He yanked the door open and Niall’s head snapped up, his eyes wide and nervous and scared and hopeful, with an antsy smile on his face. Zayn stared at him, trying to find the words to say, then he found them.

“You liar,” he said breathily before crossing the room in two strides and throwing himself onto Niall, crashing his lips against the blonde’s and pinning him against his bed. Niall was still for a moment, shocked and wondering if this was for real or just his imagination, before he finally found the ability to move again and buried his hands in Zayn’s hair, pulling him closer as he tilted his head and kissed him deeper.

Zayn felt everything that had built up in the last nearly three months of this whole whirlwind of emotions crackle through him with that kiss, every ounce of love he felt for Niall and for Lucky, swirling together from his lips into Niall’s and he prayed the blonde could feel just how much this meant to him. To have the two people he wanted to be in his arms, at this moment, embodied into one, perfect being, holding him close like he wanted so hopelessly.

Niall pulled back, gasping for air, but Zayn kept up his affections, pressing kisses all over Niall’s face and up and down the alabaster column of his neck.

“H-How am I a liar?” Niall panted out and Zayn smirked as he sucked a bruise into Niall’s neck.

“You didn’t need help in English, you little shit,” he said, looking into Niall’s eyes with as much adoration as he could possibly muster and Niall breathed out a quick laugh before pulling Zayn in, fitting their lips together so perfectly, like the first time they were designed to be together, like a lock and its key.

“I love you,” Zayn whispered lowly when he pulled back, for just a second, just to let Niall know.

“I love you, too,” Niall replied, before slotting their mouths back together again.

~ ~ ~

“So why did you tell me that you were failing English?” Zayn asked some time later, when their breathing and heart rates have returned to semi-normal and they’re lying face to face on Niall’s small bed, arms wrapped around each other and blissful grins on their faces.

“I could have been,” Niall replied, cheeks bright pink from bashfulness. “My poems weren’t that good.”

Zayn smiled at him and leaned forward to press another soft kiss to the blonde’s lips. “Niall, they were beautiful. I absolutely adored them.”

“But they made you cry!” Niall said, guilt suddenly lacing itself into his voice and he tightened his hold around Zayn’s neck. “I honestly didn’t mean for that to happen, Zayn, really, I just... You were so awesome and gorgeous and I’m just me and I had to find a way to tell you, but I was so shy and I thought it was harmless until I started telling you everything and then I was in too deep because putting down on paper how much I cared about you was almost as good as actually telling you but then I saw that I was hurting you and making you upset and I tried to end it, but I couldn’t just stop it right in the middle because that would hurt you even worse and I just... I’m so sorry, Z, really, I-”

Niall swallowed his next words down as Zayn connected their lips in a long, lingering kiss and the blonde sighed happily through his nose. Zayn felt the soft breath hit his face as he kissed him and he smiled into it.

“Niall,” he said when he pulled back, panting the slightest bit but grinning like a lunatic. “I cried because I thought I wasn’t able to have you. I wanted you so badly, because you’re beautiful and amazing, but it didn’t seem like you liked me like that and then there was Lucky, who seemed to actually love me but I could never know who he was and it hurt. It hurt, because I didn’t think I would be able to have either of you, because you were both so far away from me in your own ways, but now I find out that... that I can have both of you.” Zayn laughed breathily and hugged Niall close. “I’m just really happy, Ni.”

When he pulled back, he pressed another kiss to Niall’s lips.

“So, does this mean that we’re boyfriends? Because if not, I’m gonna be really pissed,” Niall said and Zayn laughed, caramel eyes sparkling. He really wanted to crack a joke, be the goofy person that it was so easy for him to be around Niall, but he was honestly so happy that he couldn’t bring himself to be anything but earnest.

“Of course it does, Ni,” he said and Niall smiled a soft, genuine smile up at him.

“Good,” the blonde replied.

The two stared at each other for a while, just wondering if the other is actually real and lying in their arms right now, trading kisses and soft, gentle, loving words after believing for so long that there was no chance of that. Every so often a random smile would just break out on one of their faces and it was contagious, forcing a smile onto the other’s face and it was a beautiful, vicious cycle from there until their cheeks hurt from smiling so much.

“So, first order of boyfriend business?” Zayn spoke up first and Niall hummed in question, grabbing one of Zayn’s hands from his own hip and twining their fingers together. “Let’s talk about that naughty poem you sent me.”

Immediately, Niall threw his head back and groaned loudly, and Zayn laughed as his cheeks blazed with color.

“No,” he whined but Zayn shook his head, grinning cheekily at Niall.

“Yes,” he mimicked. He poked Niall in the stomach with his free hand.

“No, Zayn! It was a moment of weakness, okay? I just wrote the poem and before I could think better of it, I’d already sent it!” the Irish boy moaned, mortified.

“I don’t see why you’re so upset,” Zayn said coyly. He bent his head in low so his mouth was level with Niall’s ear and whispered, “I got myself off to that poem thinking about you.”

Zayn could immediately feel the immense heat radiating from Niall’s face as he turned bright red up to his ears and he smirked, pulling back to admire his handiwork. Niall’s eyes were wide and incredulous, their gaze never leaving his face, and his mouth was hanging open wide, then started flapping uselessly as he tried to form words with them.

“B-But...” he stuttered, and Zayn grinned at him. “H-How did you even... You didn’t even know it was me, yet!”

“I didn’t have to. I didn’t have a face to put to the other person in that fantasy, and you have quite a lovely face, so I thought, why not?” he said, bringing a hand up to Niall’s burning cheek. The corners of his lips quirked up as he leaned into Niall again, watching as the blonde’s chest started rising and falling rapidly and feeling how hot the breaths were on his jaw. “And besides,” he whispered huskily, “that wasn’t the first time I’d thought about you like that, underneath me, whimpering and moaning for me, all hot and sweaty and pink and gorgeous.”

Niall made a high-pitched noise in the back of his throat before he could stop it, and Zayn laughed as the blonde grabbed his face in his hands and pulled him towards him, smashing their lips together and immediately pushing his tongue into Zayn’s mouth. The smirk was lifted from Zayn’s face very quickly as the kiss became more heated and he rolled over so that he was lying on top of Niall, the older boy adjusting himself quickly so that he wasn’t crushing Niall, but the blonde didn’t seem to mind. He wrapped his arms around Zayn’s strong, wide shoulders, the fingers digging into the denim on his jacket as their tongues wrestled.

Zayn could get addicted to this feeling, of having Niall in his arms, feeling his warmth and his smooth, soft skin and how his heart was pounding against his rib cage, directly above where he could feel Niall’s thudding against his own and they were mingling, having their own conversation, and how he allowed his hips to start gently moving back and forth over Niall’s, tentatively, testing the waters of this new but quickly moving connection between the two of them (Niall didn’t seem to mind, in fact, he made a shivering noise of approval low in his throat, so Zayn figured that he could continue.) He could get addicted to smelling his sweet scent and hearing his breathing and the soft sounds he made as he kissed him and moved against him he knew he’d feel like this someday, but he never dreamt he’d find someone like Niall and it was actually the most perfect thing ever to him. In fact, it was so perfect neither of them even heard the stomping of feet down the hall until...

“I knew it! I knew it, Niall! I knew you were Lucky this whole time, I knew you liked Zayn, this is fantastic! You have to go-” Louis burst into the room, talking a million miles a second, until his eyes fell on the two on the bed.

Niall and Zayn separated quickly and half-gaped, half-glared at Louis, both panting heavily and why did it have to be Louis of all people? Zayn’s dark eyes met Niall’s, which had turned cobalt with the arousal between them, and then back to Louis, who was watching them, tight-lipped and stony-faced.

“Oh, I see,” he said crisply. The couple on the bed jumped at his words, even though they’d been prepared for shrieking and screeching. For some reason, this was much more disturbing. “I’ve interrupted something. Well, I’ll just be on my way then.” With that, Louis turned on his heel and walked briskly from the room, closing the door behind him.

The two waited in silence for a few seconds. “Is that it?” Niall asked warily. “I thought it was gonna be-”

“THERE IS INTERCOURSE HAPPENING IN THE ROOM AT THE END OF THE HALLWAY, EVERYBODY STEER CLEAR OF NIALL HORAN’S ROOM!” Louis’s shrill voice pierced through the air, loud enough that they were sure every person in the house had heard him. There was a groan as Niall’s roommate, Josh, spoke up. “Ugh, seriously? Where am I supposed to sleep?!”

Zayn and Niall let out twin groans of exasperation, the older’s head falling into the crook of Niall’s neck.

“I fucking hate him,” Zayn muttered into Niall’s skin.

“NO, YOU DON’T, ZAYN MALIK, BOY WHO IS ALSO IN NIALL HORAN’S ROOM! AT THE END OF THE HALLWAY! WHERE THERE IS INTERCOURSE HAPPENING!” Louis’s voice continued and Niall laughed brightly through his boyfriend’s growls.

“Maybe it’s best if we get out of here and get some food or something,” Niall said, patting Zayn’s back as he continued to moan in anguish. His whining rose in volume at Niall’s suggestion but the blonde rolled his eyes. “Come on now, up you get. Walk of shame time.”

Zayn reluctantly got up, pouting until Niall stood up after him and pecked his protruding bottom lip quickly and then he couldn’t stop the grin that took over his face. He opened his arms and pulled Niall into them, who went gladly.

“I’m really happy it was you, Ni,” Zayn whispered into the smaller’s ear and he could feel Niall’s smile against his neck.

“Me, too, Zayn,” he said. When they pulled back, Niall took his hand in his and made his way towards the door. He put his hand on the knob before turning back to Zayn, who rolled his eyes but nodded. The pair took a deep breath before Niall opened the door and stepped out, where every boy in the house was waiting in the hall, all eyes on the door at the end of the hallway. There was a beat of silence, then everyone was bellowing and cat-calling, pointing at the couple’s intertwined hands and shoving at them teasingly. Several of the brothers yelled out stuff like, “Yeah, get it, Horan!” and stuff like that and Louis was standing at the end of the hall, grinning wickedly but eyes showing genuine happiness, with Harry by his side with a lazy smile at them that said he was happy for them. Zayn found himself grinning despite the heat he was getting, because Niall was getting it with him and that’s all he really wanted.

~ ~ ~

“Zayn, it’s Niall. Just order a pizza with pineapple and he’ll be naked on your bed before you can say ‘Thirty minutes or less’,” Louis snarked from the couch as Zayn waited for his phone to vibrate with his mum’s reply.

“I don’t want him in my bed,” Zayn lied. He did want Niall in his bed. Just not at that particular moment. Well, that was a lie, too. But still. “I just want to treat him a little bit. We always get pizza and this is our first date, I want it to be special.”

Zayn and Niall had been together nearly a week now and they’d gone out for coffee and stuff like that, but not a true, honest-to-God date, but that was changing tonight. And Zayn was kind of dying. He’d texted his mum, asking what to cook for dinner and he’d realized that in his bliss over Niall he’d kind of forgotten to mention that he had a boyfriend to his mother, so the text went something like, “Hey, Mum, how’s life, how’s the girls, by the way, my boyfriend I just got is coming over for dinner tonight, what should I make him?”

Louis was being wholly unhelpful with his snide comments and Zayn was ignoring him, as he’d learned to do many years ago.

“It’s gonna be special as long as it’s with Niall,” Louis said with an uncharacteristic amount of romanticism. “My first date with Haz was special and it was in a closet that smelled like coffee grinds and sweat.”

“Hooking up with Harry five minutes after you met him in the storage closet at the coffee shop isn’t a first date, Lou,” Zayn said monotonously, reading his mum’s text as his phone buzzed.

“It was so. It was almost as good as our second date, when he gave me free coffee afterwards and sat with me and we talked for hours,” Louis said dreamily and Zayn rolled his eyes.

“Well, I was thinking that maybe Niall and I could do something other than make the patrons at our places of employment severely uncomfortable,” he mumbled. “My mum says to make him stir fry.”

“Sexy,” Louis snorted.

“Yes, well, it’s no free biscotti to wash down the taste of Harry’s semen, but I think it’ll do,” Zayn droned and he ducked out of the way of the pillow Louis pitched at him. “Also, my mum says ‘hi’!”

“Tell her I love her but I wish she hadn’t had such a dreadful son,” he called back.

“Will do,” Zayn said. “You’ll be out by six, right?”

“I’ll do you one better! I’ll be out by 5:59 and I’ll leave a bunch of condoms on the table as a centerpiece,” Louis said and Zayn would’ve laughed except Louis was only 20% kidding.

“Lou, come on, this is really important to me, okay?” Zayn said. “I don’t want to fuck this up with him.”

Louis tore his eyes away from the TV and turned to his best friend, blue eyes sparkling. “Zayn, he lived with us for almost two months, he sent you love poems, you helped him pass his exams and get him off academic probation, and you fucked him in his room seconds after you got together.”

“We didn’t fuck, Louis,” Zayn said, but Louis’s face told him he was kidding and to shut up and listen.

“You’ve already got him, Zayn, you have nothing to worry about,” Louis said honestly and he smiled encouragingly at Zayn, who smiled back.

“Thanks, Lou,” he said, feeling a bit better.

“Anytime,” he said, turning back to the TV. There was silence as Zayn read over the recipe his mom had sent, before Louis said, “You still want me to pick out an outfit for you?”

“Yes, please.”

(He couldn’t be completely confident about everything.)

~ ~ ~

“Hey, babe,” Zayn said as he opened the door for Niall, accepting the kiss he gave him and stepping aside to let him in.

“Hey,” Niall replied, grinning at Zayn. “Smells great in here.”

“Thanks,” Zayn said, smiling nonchalantly as if he hadn’t been worried that the broccoli made the place smell like rotten egg five minutes before Niall had gotten here. “I made some of my mom’s stir fry.”

“Oh, that sounds fantastic,” Niall replied, smiling but it looks forced and awkward and nervous, kind of like how Zayn feels.

There’s a pause, because they’re not sure what to do or say from here but Niall looks really good in his blue shirt that fits him tightly, better than his t-shirts, and his jeans, different from his joggers, and with his absence of a cap on his head, and Niall’s thinking the same thing because Zayn is wearing dark jeans and a black shirt that shows off his muscles very nicely with a sleeveless denim vest over it with a hood and they both look really good but this feels different to them and they aren’t sure what’s okay and what isn’t and Zayn was slowly freaking out, because this wasn’t what he wanted. This was tense and awkward and hesitant and he and Niall are nothing like that, they’re open and laughing and always in tune with each other, so Zayn did the only thing he can think to do and grabbed Niall by the hips, yanking him in and pressing a long, lasting kiss on his lips and immediately he relaxed, letting the feeling of Niall course through him and unwind him. He could feel Niall sigh in relief through his nose as he let his hands fall to Zayn’s arms, grabbing them and squeezing them. They pulled apart after a moment and Niall smiled at him, grateful.

“Thank you, I had no idea what to do for a minute,” he said and Zayn chuckled, leaning in to press a kiss to the blonde’s cheek.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. They stared at each other, smiling, for a while longer. “Hi, baby.”

“Hi,” Niall replied, grinning giddily, and his shoulders rose up like the excitement inside him was, because this was him and Zayn now.

“You wanna eat?” Zayn asked, nodding his head towards the kitchen.

“Maybe,” Niall said. “Can’t we do this a little longer?” He let his arms wind around Zayn’s shoulders and kissed him again.

Yes, please, forever, Zayn thought, but he had three hours’ worth of hard work waiting for them in the kitchen (considering it was his second try) and he had to know whether or not he had to order pizza if it was bad enough. With some difficulty, he pulled back.

“We will, but first, food,” he said and Niall pouted, but nodded. Zayn smirked and reached his arm around Niall’s back, pulling him close as they walked to the kitchen.

“You’re telling me you’d rather make out with me than eat?” Zayn asked, jokingly, but sort of flattered.

“What can I say?” Niall said, shrugging. “You’re kind of cute.”

~ ~ ~

“So all of those times you told me you were writing songs, you were writing the poems?” Zayn asked over the stir fry, which was actually pretty good, if he was honest. Niall nodded, grinning sheepishly.

“Sorry I never let you read them, I just... you know,” he said modestly, but Zayn shook his head.

“No, I totally get it,” Zayn said, smiling. “Sorry I took up so much of your song-writing time.”

“Well, I still wrote songs,” Niall admitted. “But they were mostly about you, too.”

Zayn felt his heart swelling and his face split into a grin, and he thought Wow, I love him, and that made his heart pang, jar like a sour note on a guitar, and he could feel his grin falter. He wasn’t looking forward to having this conversation, but it kind of had to happen for them to progress.

“Niall,” Zayn said, and the blonde’s head popped up, slurping up some of the noodles with wide, innocent eyes, as he hummed in question, and Zayn couldn’t help but smile at him. “Y-You know how when we got together, and I kind of... tackled you...” Niall’s face instantly broke out into a grin, and Zayn felt a little more confident, but not much.

“And that was great and awesome and everything, and...” he looked up and Niall’s baby blue eyes were so curious and bright and encouraging, and he gulped. “You know how I told you I loved you?”

Niall’s grin grew ten-fold and he nodded. “Yes, I remember. I was there, you know.”

“Y-Yeah,” Zayn stammered. “Well, I wanted to let you know that that’s true. I do. Um, ...l-love you. And I know you said it back, but i-it’s okay if you didn’t mean it yet.”

Niall’s smile dropped a little and his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Zayn, meanwhile, was practically buzzing with nerves because he probably shouldn’t have opened up this can of worms, they were perfectly fine where they were, but he had to go and make things awkward.

“What do you mean?” Niall asked.

“W-Well,” Zayn said. “I don’t want you to think that you had to say it back just yet. If you weren’t ready. But I did mean it. Just so you know.”

Niall watched him unwaveringly, blue eyes transfixed on Zayn’s face for a long time, before his mouth quirked up and he snorted and then he was shaking with laughter and okay, this was so not how Zayn wanted that to go.

“Niall, come on, I was being serious,” Zayn muttered, mortified, face bright red, and Niall saw his expression and fought to stifle down the giggles.

“Zayn, of course I know you were being serious,” Niall said, trying to sound serious too. “I just... that was kind of stupid, you know?”

This just keeps getting worse, Zayn thought miserably, feeling a stab of pain in his heart as the smirk reappeared on Niall’s cute face.

“Sorry my wanting to make sure you’re comfortable was stupid,” Zayn grumbled moodily and all of the mirth disappeared from Niall’s eyes immediately, his smile replaced with an expression of guilt and concern. He stood up swiftly and rounded the table towards him, all the while saying, “No, no, no, Zayn! I didn’t mean it like that!”

When Niall finally got to him, he sat himself across Zayn’s lap and put his arms around him, holding the older boy’s jaw in his hand and making him look up at him.

“Zayn, you know I didn’t mean it like that, right?”

“Then what did you mean?” Zayn snapped, probably more harsh than he’d meant to, but honestly, they aren’t even together a week before Zayn screwed it up by being weird and emotional and now Niall probably pities him and he so doesn’t need that. He just wanted Niall to be comfortable with him and he thought he was doing okay up to this point, he made stir fry for God’s sake, and Niall doesn’t even know how long Zayn spent on his hair, but now he’d made it all weird and he wished he could just go back, but then Niall was talking again.

“Zayn, I sent anonymous love poems to your literary magazine for some eleven weeks, declaring my undying love for you time and again. How could you think I wasn’t ready to tell you that to your face?” Niall asked and Zayn blushed again. That was a good point.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I thought maybe it was easier on paper than in real life?”

“Well, it was,” Niall agreed. “But it was easy face-to-face too. You make it so easy for me, Zayn.”

Zayn felt his heart lifting in relief and happiness again. “I just... didn’t want you to feel like you had to say it just because I did. I didn’t want you to be freaked out that I said it so soon.”

“I wasn’t,” Niall assured him. “Zayn, I sent you a poem about how I had a wet dream about you. That you jerked off to, I might add.” He was smiling now, teasing, and Zayn felt even more tension melt away.

“It is soon to say this for us, but it doesn’t matter so long as we mean it, right?” Niall said. “You do mean it?” His tone was hopeful, like he was the one that needed reassurance now, and Zayn nodded.

“Of course I do,” Zayn said.

“Good. And I mean it when I say,” he fixed his glittering eyes on Zayn’s as he spoke. “I love you, Zayn Malik.”

Zayn’s heart leapt and his chest opened up like a bird’s cage, like all of the constrictions of his uncertainties just broke off. “I love you, too, Niall.”

The blonde beamed at him and bent down for a quick kiss. They ate the rest of their meal with Niall staying right where he was, perched on Zayn’s lap and feeding him bits of his veggies every once in a while.

“Sorry I freaked out,” Zayn murmured while Niall munched on some asparagus. “I just... I don’t want to screw this up with you.”

Niall swallowed his food thoughtfully. “I’m not sure you can at this point.”

Zayn felt his heart fluttering and he grinned as he stabbed another piece of broccoli to feed to him.

~ ~ ~

Now, they were lying on the couch together, Niall in front of Zayn, the older’s arms wrapped around the younger’s waist, a blanket thrown over them as they attempted to watch TV, though it was tough when all they could focus on was each other.

“What are we watching?” Niall asked.

“‘My Strange Addictions’, I think. That lady seems to be addicted to eating cat hair,” Zayn answered and Niall looked up at the screen just in time to watch the woman start nibbling on her cat.

“I bet she’s fun at parties,” Niall quipped and Zayn smirked.

“Would you like me to turn something else on?” he asked and Niall shrugged, turning just so he was looking back at Zayn.

“Why are you not turned on by cat-eaters? Because I am,” Niall joked.

“Well, you’re in luck, because that stir fry I gave you was almost ninety-percent cat hair,” Zayn teased back, smirking.

“What was the last ten percent?” Niall asked, trying to fight back the grin on his face.

“Broccoli, green beans, and a pinch of dog hair,” Zayn replied and Niall lost it, busting into laughter, and as he does, he starts to squirm against Zayn, and the older boy can feel the tingling in his lower half as Niall’s ass moves against his crotch. He didn’t say anything about it though, just let it be.

Until the show went to commercial and Niall started to move to find a more comfortable position, wriggling relentlessly and unknowingly against Zayn’s cock. The darker boy said nothing, he kept his lips pressed tightly together to prevent him from making any embarrassing noises, and Niall was none the wiser as to how Zayn’s jeans were becoming tighter and tighter by the second. It wasn’t even like he was that sensitive, but he was so exhilarated being around Niall and he was so warm and smelled so good and he’d said he loved him and he couldn’t stop himself from hissing lowly when Niall shifted so that he’d pressed his hips back into Zayn’s rather hard.

Niall stiffened at the noise and by now he probably felt Zayn’s clothed erection against his ass and Zayn’s face flushed.

“Z?” Niall called, turning back to look at Zayn to make sure what he felt against his bum was what he thought and when he saw the color of his boyfriend’s face, he knew it was. Niall didn’t say anything, just watched Zayn as he started to move again, this time more deliberately, rubbing his ass on the older boy’s crotch.

Zayn let out a choked noise but Niall ignored him, continuing to move against him and the older boy was straining against his zipper now, watching as Niall bit his lip and wound his arm backwards behind his and Zayn’s heads. He braced himself there and twisted around more until their lips were level before closing the distance between them, pecking him quickly on the lower lip before kissing him again and holding it there.

“Come on, Z, don’t just lie there like a dead fish,” Niall whispered against his lips when he pulled back for just a second.

“I can’t believe you’re talking about dead fish while you’re grinding your ass on me,” Zayn said, because it was the only thing he could think to say, and Niall laughed breathily.

“Well, then, why don’t you shut me up?” he challenged coyly and Zayn was moving before he even got the last syllables out of his mouth. He grabbed Niall’s hips and hauled him over on top of him, the blonde yelping when he felt Zayn’s clothed erection press against his own. He let out another squeak when Zayn started moving, rolling his hips up into his and pressing kisses to his jaw and neck.

When Niall finally regained him composure, he turned his head slightly to meet Zayn’s lips and kissed him, nibbling slightly on his lower lip as he started to move against Zayn again.

Both of them inhaled sharply through their noses as their cocks brushed each other, even through the denim the pressure was incredible and Niall couldn’t hold in a moan as Zayn rolled his hips and their erections met again. Zayn’s hands flew to the swell of Niall’s ass and he let them slide into the back pockets of his jeans, squeezing the warm flesh and pulling him down onto him, grinding their cocks together harder.

Niall moaned loudly and Zayn quieted him by pressing their lips together, swallowing any of the whimpers he made, the pace of which accelerated in time with their hips.

Zayn should probably be embarrassed by how quickly he’s coming to the edge but there was something about Niall that sent him reeling even when he wasn’t frotting against him on his couch with trash TV playing in the background and it was really okay, because he could tell that Niall was getting close too. The blonde had pulled back from the kiss, his breath coming way too fast to be able to continue kissing without suffocating so he just ducked his head down into the space between Zayn’s head and shoulder, his hips moving erratically on top of the other’s. Zayn, though sad to see the feeling of Niall’s soft lips go, busied himself instead with sucking a bruise into Niall’s neck, reveling in the extra simper it pulled from Niall’s lips amongst the little noises he was making.

“Come on, baby, come on,” Zayn mumbled lowly into Niall’s ear, leaning up to nibble on his earlobe and Niall moaned, high and needy, again, and it occurred to Zayn that it might be a little embarrassing for them to both come in their jeans; they were both in college now, that was teenager stuff. So, he moved on of his hands from Niall’s back pocket (not before giving the ass cheek an appreciate squeeze) and started moving towards their fronts, with the intention of unzipping their jeans but it only touch a brush of his fingertip against Niall’s crotch and the boy’s body went taut on top of his, keening and crying out a low whine of Zayn’s name and the sound and feeling of it all hit Zayn like a freight train and then he was coming in his jeans for the first time since he was fifteen.

The two lay there for a while, huffing heavily against each other, their chests moving in time, as they came down from their highs. When Zayn could finally feel his own limbs again, his laced his fingers through Niall’s hair and brought the boy’s head up so he could give him a gentle kiss on the temple. Niall hummed contentedly and lifted his own head up, staring down at Zayn with half-lidded, dazed eyes, cloudy with arousal and desire and satisfaction, his cheeks pleasantly pink, and he was absolutely adorable. Zayn realized belatedly that he had missed the chance to see Niall’s face while he was coming, but he could make do with this face.

“I can’t believe that started with a conversation about cat hair and dead fish,” Niall said in a smooth, sated voice, like syrup, and Zayn laughed, pulling him down into a long, languid kiss.

“I wonder what it will be like when we actually talk about things that are arousing,” Zayn mused and Niall giggled.

“Let’s not wait too long to find out,” he replied, grinning mischievously and Zayn thinks that Niall may be perfect.

~ ~ ~

It’s a few hours and several more episodes of trash TV later when Zayn is laying in bed, already missing his boyfriend’s warmth next to him, when his phone buzzes and he picks it up, reading the text.

From: Nialler <3
Ran into Louis when I got back to the house and he gave me the third degree because I showed up in pants that I didn’t leave the house in.

Zayn chuckled to himself. After their little “cuddle session,” as it were, Zayn had lent Niall a pair of boxers and some old joggers of his so he could wash Niall’s jeans and return them to him later.

To: Nialler <3
Yeah, sorry about that. I thought that this method was preferable to the other ;)

From: Nialler <3
Agreed ;) You should’ve seen his face when he saw “Bradford High School” written on the side.

Zayn blushed. He really didn’t want Niall to be subjected to Louis’s relentless teasing because of him (but he’d have to grin and bear it because Zayn didn’t really have any intentions of letting him get away.)

To: Nialler <3
Sorry, love. Didn’t want you to be embarrassed :(

From: Nialler <3
Hey, if all I have to deal with after doing that with you is a little teasing from Lou, I’ll run around in a thong that says “Property of Zayn Malik” on the front.

Zayn busted up laughing at that, at both the image and the face Louis would make when he saw it.

To: Nialler <3
No need to do that LOL. Appreciate the sentiment, though, babe :)

From: Nialler <3
Anything for you :) I’m off to bed now. See you tomorrow?

To: Nialler <3
Of course :) Nighty-night, baby <3

From: Nialler <3
Sleep tight, Z <3

Zayn sighed happily, dozing off to sleep with a huge grin on his face.

~ ~ ~

Another reason that they’d decided to have their first official date that night was because it was winter break starting Monday and Niall would be leaving to go home to Ireland on Sunday morning. The next day Zayn and Niall spent it together around the fraternity, Zayn helped his boyfriend pack and once that was done, they watched TV or cuddled in Niall’s room, listening to the playlists Zayn had put together for them. Even Josh came in for a while to chat with Zayn and listen to music with them. Once he was gone, Zayn and Niall made out of Niall’s bed until they were called down by Liam so they could all go out for pizza.

The next day, Zayn drove Niall to the airport.

“So, when are you coming back again?” Zayn asked as he sat in the terminal with Niall, playing with the fingers that were intertwined with his.

“Why?” Niall asked teasingly. “You miss me already?”

“Yes,” Zayn replied honestly and Niall grinned, leaning over and pecking Zayn on the cheek.

“Same here, Z,” Niall said. “I’ll be back on Saturday. No big deal, right?”

“I guess not,” Zayn shrugged. “It’s just... we just got together and I just want to spend all of my time with you.” Zayn’s cheeks flamed bright red as he admitted this, but Niall beamed at him, cheeks also coloring from bashfulness.

“Once I get back, I am staying glued to your side,” Niall said, nuzzling his nose into Zayn’s jaw, where soft stubble was already growing. “Was right about your stubble,” he mumbled as an afterthought and Zayn smiled to himself.

“I like that idea,” he said. “Can I come pick you up at the airport when you come back?”

“I was already assuming you were,” Niall said. He furrowed into Zayn deeper as the older boy wound an arm around his shoulders. It was pretty early in the morning for both of them, and they were both a bit tired.

“M’gonna text you a lot,” Niall mumbled. “Skype, too.”

“Yeah?” Zayn asked and Niall nodded into his collarbone.

“Yeah. Call you, too, if you want,” the blonde said. “M’gonna miss you a lot.”

“I’ll miss you too, baby,” Zayn whispered, hugging the Irish boy close to him.

Not ten minutes later, Niall’s flight was called and Zayn was helping him gather his carry-ons before pulling him into a tight embrace.

“Miss you,” Niall said into his shoulder and Zayn nodded.

“Miss you more,” he replied. “I love you very much, Niall.”

“Love you too,” Niall agreed, reaching up to kiss Zayn, holding it there until his row was called for boarding.

“I’ll text you when I land,” Niall said and Zayn nodded, pecking the blonde once more on the cheek before sending him off, waving to him when Niall turned back to him quickly.

Zayn watched Niall’s flight take off then went back to his car, driving it back to campus and keeping it on Niall’s favorite station, even when stupid, pop songs started playing because they reminded him of his boyfriend.

~ ~ ~

Zayn couldn’t even bring himself to be ashamed of how much he missed Niall, even though it had only been a few days. Even after Niall had moved back to the frat house, he always got to see him and now it felt like he was there, but he couldn’t see him at all, and it sucked. After he’d seen Niall off, he went back to the flat to grab his bags and say good-bye to Louis, then drove home to Bradford to see his own family for Christmas.

It was actually a good distraction from missing Niall; he’d missed his family a lot too and was happy to see them, especially his sisters. His mum had made the fatal mistake of asking him about Niall in front of them, and now they wanted to know everything. He showed them pictures of him on his phone and was forced to bear the humiliating coos when he brought up pictures of the two of them together, being especially cuddly.

“He’s cute!” Safaa had said, peering at the picture from her spot on Zayn’s lap.

“Yeah,” Zayn agreed, grinning stupidly at the picture Niall had taken when he’d stolen Zayn’s phone, smiling his metal grin exaggeratedly into the camera and crossing his eyes.

“Look, he’s texting you!” the little girl cried excitedly, pointing to the message that had suddenly covered up his boyfriend’s face.

“So he is,” Zayn said, sliding open the text.

From: Nialler <3
Hey, what are you up to? :)

To: Nialler <3
Funny you should ask. I’m actually introducing you to my family with the pictures you left on my phone as we speak xx

From: Nialler <3
Oh dear, I hope you got my good side ;)

To: Nialler <3
Every side’s your good side, babe xx

From: Nialler <3
Oh, you sly dog, you! Charming your way right in me knickers

To: Nialler <3
Careful, mate, my little sister keeps trying to read the texts you’re sending me.

To: Nialler <3
Hi Niall! My names Safaa and Im Zaynies sister! <3333 He says your cute and his face gets all pink when he talks about you!

To: Nialler <3
Shit, sorry, she stole my phone from me.

From: Nialler <3
No problem :) Hi Safaa!

Zayn relayed the message to her and she squealed in glee.

From: Nialler <3
Anyway, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to Skype tonight? Miss you a lot :(

To: Nialler <3
Of course, love! I miss you more :( How’s Ireland? xx

From: Nialler <3
It’s great. I’m glad to see my family and all, but I miss you. Lou, Haz, and Liam, too. But mostly you

Zayn felt his heart warming and jumping into his throat as he read the text message.

“Zayn, you’re making a really stupid face,” Safaa commented and Zayn snapped out of it enough to stick his tongue out at her as he replied.

To: Nialler <3
I can’t wait to see you <3 But until then, enjoy your time at home. Skype you tonight?

From: Nialler <3
Sure :) Love you! <3

To: Nialler <3
Love you more <3

“Zayn, next time you come home, can you bring Niall with you?” Safaa asked, cuddling back into his side when he opened his pictures up again.

“Of course, love,” he replied, because he really did want to bring Niall home with him. He was actually incredibly proud of him and his mother had already begged him to ask Niall if he wanted to come next time.

He grinned down at yet another picture of him and Niall as he imagined his gorgeous boyfriend sitting with his family at dinner, being adored by all of the Maliks, but none more so than Zayn.

~ ~ ~

“Hey, baby,” Zayn greeted as Niall’s face appeared on the screen, a huge metallic grin on his face that wasn’t hindered in the least by the screen’s pixelation of his image.

“Hey!” Niall chirped back. “Merry Christmas Eve!”

“Merry Christmas Eve, darling,” Zayn replied. Zayn hadn’t realized how much he loved pet names until he found that Niall applied to every single one.

“So, am I the Malik family’s newest celebrity?” he asked and Zayn groaned.

“Ni, you have no idea how much they love you and they haven’t even met you yet!” he said.

Niall sang a few bars of “Haven’t Met You Yet” by Michael Bublé because he was Niall, and that’s what he did, then turned back to Zayn, smiling. “Are you suggesting they’ll have a reason not to love me once they see me face to face?”

“I’m implying nothing of the sort,” Zayn countered. “My mum really wants you to come down with me next time we get a chance to visit. If you’re up for it, of course.”

“I’d love to come see your family, Zayn,” Niall said. “My mum wants to meet you too, but she realizes it’s a lot harder for you to come over here.”

“We’ll find time,” Zayn said. “I want to see where you grew up, babe.”

“It’s pretty boring here, actually,” Niall said, looking around his room as if that was the entirety of Mullingar.

“The Megan Fox poster on your wall suggests differently,” Zayn teased and Niall turned around, laughing when he saw it.

“And I’m sure your Dragon Ball Z poster kept you company on your lonely nights?” Niall poked back and Zayn chuckled.

“But of course,” Zayn said haughtily. “Anyway, I can’t wait to give you your present when you get back.”

“You got me a present?” Niall asked, blue eyes wide with excitement and curiosity. “You didn’t have to!”

“Yes, I did, baby,” Zayn quipped. “And it’s alright if you didn’t get me anything.”

“I most certainly did get you something, Mr. Doubty-Pants!” Niall snapped and Zayn smirked at him through the computer screen.

“Doubty-Pants?” he asked but Niall ignored him.

“We’ll exchange gifts as soon as we get back to your flat,” Niall said matter-of-factly and Zayn nodded agreeably.

“Sounds good, love,” he said. He watched as Niall moved across the screen, how he wished it were clearer, like a window, so he could see the perfect shade of blue his eyes were and how adorable his pink cheeks were and how soft his hair was. He was brought out of his trance when Niall spoke again.

“I miss how you smell,” Niall said suddenly and Zayn looked up at him, eyebrows raised in surprise. Even over the webcam, Zayn could see his cheeks were reddening. “I know it’s weird, but... I just... I don’t know, I miss it.” He shrugged and Zayn grinned at him, feeling like his face could break in half with the force of it.

“I miss your smell, too, Niall,” Zayn admitted and Niall glanced up. “Even though it’s just the smell of your deodorant and soap, I miss it.”

“Hey! I wear the top-brand of deodorant!” Niall pointed out, but he was beaming. “I miss your warmth, too. LIke when you cuddle me and we’re watching movies or stupid shows on MTV.”

“Mm,” Zayn agreed. “I miss your hands. Like when we hold hands and I can feel your calluses, even though you think I don’t like them because they’re rough. But I do. And I miss them.”

“I miss your voice. Like, I know I’m hearing it right now, but I miss it, like, right next to me. Like, I haven’t heard it much in the past few days, so...”

“I miss the way you cuddle into me, with your nose against my neck and your whole side pressed into mine.”

“I miss feeling your stubble against my face when I kiss you or cuddle you.

“I miss hugging you.”

“I miss kissing you.”

“I miss you,” Zayn finally said and he’s blinking back tears and honestly, this is ridiculous, it’s only been three days.

“I miss you, too,” Niall replied and Zayn could tell he was trying not to let on that he was close to crying, too. “I was serious about what I said when I get back. I’m not leaving your side for a long time.”

“How about ever?” Zayn asked and Niall beamed at him.

“Ever sounds good.”

~ ~ ~

Zayn was sitting in the airport now, waiting for the gates to open and let the flow of people come through, the flow of people which would include his boyfriend.

Christmas had come and gone and it had been lovely for both boys, even if they were apart, because they texted each other the second they woke up and spent the whole day messaging each other about what they got and whatnot.

Zayn looked up when he heard a swell of voices and people were finally filtering through the doors and he strained his eyes as he looked through the throngs of mothers dragging their children and frazzled-looking businessmen to find a head of blonde hair, but apparently he didn’t see him, because there was a weight barreling into him before he could even realize what was happening.

But then the smell of Niall and home caught his nostrils and he grinned, pulling the boy into his chest and clutching him tightly to him, squeezing him with all his might.

“Yeah, let’s not do that again,” Niall said and Zayn grinned.

“At least, not without each other,” Zayn agreed and Niall nodded.

In the car on the way home, Niall kept their fingers clasped over the center console the whole time and Zayn kept shooting loving glances over at him when he could, kissing his knuckles when they got to a red light.

“So, anything interesting happen while I was gone?” Niall asked and Zayn shrugged.

“Not really. Mostly just Louis hitting me with stuff because I was moping,” Zayn admitted.

“Like he wasn’t the same way when Harry was in Chesire,” Niall said and Zayn groaned.

“Niall, it was worse,” he said. “He honestly sat himself by the refrigerator so he wouldn’t have to move far when he wanted to eat his feelings away.

“Also, I recorded a whole week’s worth of trash telly for us to watch together to make up for lost time. Whaddya say?” Zayn asked.

“Sounds perfect.”

~ ~ ~

“So, Cher comes up to me with her arms full of all of these envelopes and she throws them on my desk and says ‘This is Niall’s fanmail’,” Zayn said as he opened the door for Niall, carrying his bags for him and putting them down in the living room (they had decided Niall would stay the night at his flat because they hadn’t seen each other in a while.)

“Seriously?” Niall asked and Zayn nodded, smirking.

“Apparently, our readers loved Lucky. I don’t suppose you could dust off the old pen and dive back in?” he asked but Niall shook his head.

“‘Fraid not, Z. Kinda lost my inspiration now that the pining’s over,” he said, grinning and lacing their fingers together.

“Shame,” Zayn said. “At least you haven’t stopped writing entirely.”

“Nope,” Niall agreed, popping the “p” at the end of the word.

“So, what do you want to do first? We could eat now before Lou and Harry get home, or wait to eat so we can go out with them, or both? I know you can do both,” he said teasingly and Niall smirked.

“Both sound good, but I want to give you your present first,” Niall said. Zayn grinned and nodded, pulling Niall to the couch and sitting him down there.

“Wait here,” he said, then scurried off to get Niall’s present from his room. In the meantime, Niall opened one of his suitcases and dug through it looking for Zayn’s gift.

When Zayn returned, he was hiding something behind his back with a million-watt grin on his face. He sat himself down on the couch next to Niall, who was beaming back at him, then extended his arms with the present in it. Niall smiled warmly and took it, handing off his own gift to Zayn.

The two set to work unwrapping their gifts and Niall got his open first. He lifted the lid to the box and gasped when he pulled out a box of custom guitar picks, all of which had a decal similar to Zayn’s ‘Zap’ tattoo on them.

“You know, we kind of got together because of it and...” Zayn shrugged modestly and Niall squealed, tackling Zayn in a hug, which he laughed and returned.

“Open yours!” Niall urged excitedly when he sat back up and Zayn did. Inside the packaging were three, expensive-looking, leather bound notebooks, all with a fancy “Z” embedded in the front. Next to them, there was a long, thin box and Zayn picked it up, glancing at Niall self-consciously. Niall grinned encouragingly and Zayn opened it, inhaling sharply when he revealed a dark fountain pen embroidered with gold.

“Do you like it?” Niall asked, a trace of apprehension in his voice and Zayn stared up at him, mouth hanging open.

“I love it,” Zayn whispered, pushing his presents to the side and pulling Niall into him, hugging him tightly and the blonde returned the hug and Zayn was reminded just how much he’d missed Niall.

When he pulled back, he stared into Niall’s face, into his bright blue eyes that he could finally see without pixels marring it and his beautiful pale skin that looked so much whiter with his dark hands cupping it gently and his soft, gorgeous blonde hair and God, he’d missed Niall so much and he was so fucking smitten, it was ridiculous.

“I love you, baby,” Zayn said and pulled Niall into a kiss, one that the Irish boy returned eagerly, instantly wrapping his arms around the older boy’s neck and letting himself slide into his lap. Zayn laid himself back, letting Niall lie on top of him as they kissed, recalibrating their bodies into familiarity with each other and just enjoying the feeling of having each other in their arms again.

“Zayn, I bought you your crisps, so you can stop whining about it like a little - Niall!” Louis cried, dropping the grocery bags to the floor and scuttling over to where the couple was laid on the couch. He vaulted over the top of the couch and landed on top of Niall, pulling a deep grunt from Zayn, who felt all of the air rush out of him, even more so when Harry slowly rolled himself on top of the dog pile, too.

“Get the fuck off of me!” he snapped as he felt Liam join the heap, too.

“No!” Louis crowed. “We’re all back together again!”

“So you decide to celebrate by killing me?” Zayn asked.

“Yes, we must make a virgin sacrifice to thank the Gods for this reunion!” Louis said and Zayn rolled his eyes. He looked up and saw Niall smiling down at him, happy because they were together and all of their friends were together and it was an incredible feeling and Zayn didn’t feel all of the weight on him anymore when he was in the clouds.

~ ~ ~

It was a month after Niall’s return to England after winter break and University is back up and running. Zayn and Niall have started new classes and they help each other study when needed and if it isn’t they just sit together and try to focus on studying while they hold hands on top of the desk in the library, which is hard to do when Niall keeps telling him how hot he looks in his glasses.

Speaking of the two, they keep finding new reasons to fall in love with each other everyday and it’s almost nauseating (at least, it is to Louis) how clingy they are with each other. It seems some days that Niall stays at Zayn and Louis’s flat more than his own frat house, but neither of them minded and according to Josh, he liked the alone time to practice his drums without disturbing anyone, so it was a win-win for everybody.

Amongst the new classes and hanging out with the guys and dates and cuddling with Niall, Zayn had a pretty full schedule, some days he literally had no free second to add anything else onto his day, but he loved it.

Until he remembered that there was something else he had to add on.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit,” Zayn cursed, pacing around the magazine room, biting on his thumbnail nervously.

In all of his fun and canoodling and relaxing with Niall and his friends, he’d completely forgotten about “Zap!” and now it was Friday night, seven p.m., and he didn’t even have a layout ready. The last few weeks, he’d had issues planned in advance, so he’d made the deadlines then. He was utterly baffled as to how the time had gotten away from him like it had, but it had and now he had approximately four hours to get a whole new issue together or he would be in some serious shit.

And as if he didn’t feel bad enough, he’d promised Niall he would go with him to a frat party tonight, but once he’d realized what a shit-hole he’d dug himself into tonight, he sent the blonde a long, grueling, sniveling text apologizing profusely for canceling but he had to do this layout and issue tonight, sorry, much love, make it up to you later, love from Zayn.

And as if it couldn’t get any worse, Cher had requested the night off two weeks ago so she could go back to her hometown and visit her friends and family, so he had literally no one working beside him tonight.

I wonder if jumping off the roof would be less painful than this, Zayn wondered vaguely when he heard the door to the room open behind him and he sighed heavily.

“I’m really sorry, mate, I’m completely swamped right now, I can’t really help you with anything,” he called, picking up some entries and scanning them when he was answered by a voice.

“Well, that’s good, because I’m not the one that needs help,” Zayn whirled around to find Niall standing in the door, smiling widely at him.

“Niall?” he asked and the younger boy nodded, grinning. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, when my boyfriend sends me a text telling me that he’s going to die because he’s accidentally shirked his responsibilities to his own literary magazine, I figure the least I can do is help him out. Especially since the reason he’s neglected it is mostly me,” Niall replied, stepping into the room with Zayn.

The darker boy was staring at Niall, jaw hanging open, when he regained himself and shook his head.

“Baby, thank you, but I can’t ask you to do that, you have that party tonight, right?” Zayn said, already turning back to the swatches of color and words when he felt two arms wrap around his waist and a warm torso press against his back.

“I want to help you, Z,” Niall said. “Besides, that party wouldn’t be any fun without you anyways.”

Zayn felt his cheeks coloring at the words.

“But you had fun at parties before me, right?” Zayn asked and he could feel Niall shrug against him.

“I guess. But now a lot of things aren’t fun without you,” he said and Zayn felt his heart picking up speed and he turned around in Niall’s arms.

“You really don’t mind, love?” he asked and Niall shook his head.

“I already have a pizza on the way over for you. Half-anchovy, half-pineapple,” he said.

“You remembered my favorite pizza topping?” Zayn asked and Niall rolled his eyes.

“Of course, I did, you twit,” he said and Zayn could nearly cry with how much he adored Niall. “Now stop being all gushy with me and tell me what we have to get done!”

Soon, Zayn and Niall are rushing around, cutting and pasting and agonizing over the details of the issue, and when the pizza comes, Niall hands Zayn his slice and he eats it right away, not even bothering with a plate as he pores over the papers. It’s a long night, and it’s a stretch, but they make a great team and they’re done with an hour to spare.

Zayn had just put the layout and final draft into the department’s outbox and had ran back into the magazine room, jumping onto Niall and hugging him with everything he had.

“I can’t believe you did that for me,” he said and Niall laughed as he hugged him back.

“Of course I did, Z,” Niall answered. “I’d do anything to help you.”

“I know, it just... it means so much to me,” he admitted and Niall smiled, pulling Zayn’s head down into a kiss, which Zayn, positively giddy with appreciation, yanks him even harder into and not three minutes later Niall is lifted up onto the desk at the front of the room with Zayn between his legs, thanking him over and over again for his help.

~ ~ ~

It’s about a week later now and Zayn and Niall are cuddling on the couch again, Louis is out with Harry and a film is up on the screen but neither of them are really paying attention to it at this point. Zayn had Niall under him and was kissing him like he might die tomorrow and he just might if he stops kissing his boyfriend any time soon. Both of them are really hot now and somewhere along the line, Niall whispers, “Bedroom” against Zayn’s lips and the older obliges him. Neither of them are sure how they got there, but soon Zayn is on his feet and Niall is in his arms, the younger lad’s arms and legs wrapped around him as he stumbles to the bedroom, their lips still attached and working against each other furiously.

When he gets to the bedroom, he brings Niall over to the bed and lays him down on it, and he sheds his shirt quickly before climbing onto his bed and crawling over to where Niall is laid. Niall wraps his arms around Zayn’s neck and pulls him down onto him, connecting their lips again and letting their tongues dance together in a languid dance while they start to move against each other.

Zayn lets one of his hands travel to Niall’s shirt and rucks it up, exposing the boy’s pale stomach up to his light pink nipples. His fingers rub against one of those dusky nipples and Niall whines low into Zayn’s mouth. Zayn relishes in how the little nub feels in his hand as it becomes hard. Once he’s groped his fill of Niall’s smooth chest, he slides the blonde’s t-shirt up higher and he pulls back from their kiss for only an instant so he can remove the shirt entirely, throwing it nonsensically somewhere across the room.

When he lowers himself back onto Niall, he can feel their warms chests as they move against each other, their heartbeats only separated by their skin and it’s incredible to him, how the feeling of that fluttering beneath his skin can turn him on so much.

Zayn pulls back and lets himself burrow into Niall’s neck for a little while, then he lays kiss after gentle kiss down the blonde’s chest, and he can hear Niall panting and whimpering loudly above him and it’s doing crazy things to his head and then he’s at the other boy’s jeans. He lays soft pecks to Niall’s hip bones and tummy, feeling the downy, light hairs of his happy trail, and then he’s nosing along the zipper of Niall’s jeans. He looks up at his boyfriend, through his dark eyelashes, for permission and Niall nods so fast he might get whiplash, his cheeks bright red and face contorted in want.

Zayn springs up and latches him mouth onto Niall’s leaving open-mouthed kisses to the boy’s lips as he fumbles with his belt, and when he finally gets it undone, he makes quick work of the zipper. He pecks Niall’s lips quickly before he sits up and then he’s yanking Niall’s pants down, giving them the same treatment as his boyfriend’s shirt and tossing them carelessly behind him.

He travels down Niall’s body again and then his face is right on Niall’s navel again. He’s pressing gentle kisses to that area and then he moves down, ignoring his crotch and kissing and nibbling on his boyfriend’s gorgeous, pale thighs, pulling even more soft whines from the boy above him. When Zayn decides that he won’t make Niall (or himself) wait anymore, he moves up and mouths at the front of Niall’s boxes, kissing and blowing air on the damp spot that’s already bloomed there. Niall is keening above him and he takes the hem of boy’s boxers in his teeth. He looks up through his dark, dark eyelashes and groans deeply at Niall’s face, bright red and debauched, his spit-shined lips parted and silently begging him as he pants and he starts to pull Niall’s underwear down slowly.

When his member is freed, it bobs up and hits his stomach, already leaking pre-come at the tip and Zayn moans at the sight of it, perfectly pink and hard for him. Niall in front of him is a vision of beauty, all laid out and ready for him, his beautiful alabaster skin stretching on for miles and only tinged by the several love bites Zayn has already left on him.

Zayn is busy admiring the absolute masterpiece that is Niall Horan when said boy quietly calls out to him. “Z-Zayn, please,” he says softly and Zayn looks down to where Niall is holding onto the bed sheets, gripping them to keep from touching himself and he gets it, he leans down to peck Niall’s lips swiftly before he moves down until he is face to face with Niall’s cock.

He blows air on it gently then licks a fat stripe up the underside of him, delighting in the way Niall’s breath hitches as he does. Then, he takes the tip into his mouth, letting his tongue swirl around the head slowly and Niall moans loudly above him, his hand untangling from the bed sheets and twining through his dark hair.

Zayn starts to take even more of Niall in, as much as he can, letting his tongue move up and down Niall’s cock as he does, before beginning to bob his head slightly. Niall writhes under him and he moves to place a gentle hand on Niall’s hip to keep him from bucking up into his mouth. He’s bobbing his head faster now, moving up and down and enjoying the new taste of Niall for him, tonguing at the slit and tasting the pre-come that’s gathered there.

It’s not long before Niall’s fingers tighten in his hair and they’re gently pulling him backwards and Zayn can hear him gasping as he attempts to form words and finally croaks out, “Z-Zayn, stop. W-wanna come with you inside me.”

Zayn feels himself nodding erratically, embarrassingly so, but he can’t seem to care at this point as Niall catches sight of his red, swollen lips and surges forward, capturing them with his own and moving them together, and they fall back onto the bed with the force of the kiss. The blonde’s hand moves between them and starts palming at the front of Zayn’s jeans, and Zayn hisses as his neglected member finally gets some attention. He lets his hands dance over Niall’s pale stomach until they’re on the swell of his ass and then he grabs him, squeezing and kneading at the cheeks while Niall mewls high into his mouth.

He can feel Niall’s wet hardness against his bare stomach and that does really weird things to his insides, and he’s not even sure if it’s because it’s Niall or whatever, it’s just such a rush to him to feel that and know that that was because of him. He lets his fingers fall into the cleave of Niall’s ass and his middle finger travels down even farther until it barely brushes against the blonde boy’s warm hole and Niall keens with pleasure and anticipation.

Zayn suddenly pulls back and Niall whines in protest, arms still outstretched from where Zayn left them and his mouth hanging open, missing the warmth of Zayn’s tongue, but the older boy is shaking his head.

“Ha-have to get lube, darling. D-Don’t want to hurt you, okay?” he says and he’s amazed at himself and his ability to be utterly sappy, even at a time like this, but Niall seems to appreciate it as he nods and sits up, wrapping himself around Zayn as the older boy starts digging through his bedside table, pressing hot, open-mouthed kisses to his neck. When Zayn finds the bottle, he kisses Niall quickly and tells him to lay back, which he does and when he does, he spreads his legs open slightly for Zayn to settle himself between and Zayn gulps audibly at the sight of Niall spread open for him.

He pops the cap of the lube open and pours a generous amount onto his fingers, rubbing them together to warm the lotion up, then leans back down over Niall.

“Let me know if it hurts too much, okay, baby?” he asks and Niall nods, eyes squeezed shut in anticipation, and Zayn presses a finger to his hole, rubbing his finger around to coat the surrounding muscle with a little bit of the liquid, before finally pressing the digit in.

Niall hisses, both at the temperature and the intrusion, it feels weird, but it doesn’t hurt, only stings for the first second and Zayn works it in and out of him gently, opening him until Niall tells him feebly to add another.

Zayn presses another finger in and this time he does hurt, he can tell, and he leans down to press kisses against Niall’s jaw, cheek, neck, and lips to help him relax. When he feels the crease between Niall’s eyes finally lift, he starts to slowly scissor his fingers and Niall whimpers.

“I’m sorry, baby, really, it’ll feel good soon, I promise you,” Zayn whispers into his ear, kissing it and then moving back to his lips.

Soon enough, the pain is dissolving and it actually starts to feel good, Niall is whining more with pleasure now than with pain.

“Can I add a third one, baby?” Zayn asks tenderly. “I want it to hurt as little as possible for you.”

Niall hums his assent and Zayn lets a third finger enter the muscle and join the other two. The stretch hurts, but it soon gives way to pleasure and then Niall’s whimpering with every thrust of Zayn’s fingers and he even starts to press back against them, meeting the fingers and allowing them to travel deeper into him.

“Z-Zayn, I want you to... to put it in,” Niall moans and it takes a second for Zayn’s brain to catch up with the words because he’s absolutely mesmerized by Niall’s heat and the prospect of him being inside that heat, but then his mind joins the rest of them and he nods, sitting up and beginning to unbuckle his jeans. He gets them undone and slides them off, along with his boxers, and he groans as the cool air hits his member. Niall looks up and moans at the sight of Zayn; he’s positively gorgeous and he has a hard time believing that this guy is even his boyfriend, let alone having sex with him.

“P-Please hurry up,” Niall begs and Zayn nods again, it’s extremely hard for him to form words at the moment.

He grabs the lube and pours a little more onto his hand and lubes himself up quickly, hissing as his cock finally gets some relief. He discards the bottle then moves back between Niall’s legs, bracing his hands on Niall’s milky thighs and lining himself up.

He glances down at Niall and the boy gives him an anxious but warm smile and he bends down, kissing him breathless, then pushes into him.

Niall chokes slightly at the intrusion, Zayn is much bigger than his fingers and it does hurt, but he tries to hide his discomfort, to no avail.

“Does it hurt too much, love? Should I stop?” he asks, no matter how much he wants to continue and just thrust into Niall, because he feels incredible and his eyes are nearly crossing with how amazing it is.

“N-No,” Niall whispers between the gasps he’s taking, shaking his head. “Just... give me a minute.”

After a moment, which Zayn is using to contain himself and trying to ignore the twang in his heart when he sees the tears prickling in Niall’s eyes, the younger boy whimpers out a soft, “Okay” and Zayn exhales the breath he hadn’t known he was holding. He squeezes Niall’s thighs and moves in slowly, listening for any protests that Niall may give, until he’s fully sheathed inside of the blonde and even that feels utterly euphoric.

“M-Move, Zayn,” Niall murmurs and Zayn does, pulling out only so that the head is still in, then thrusts back in quickly, listening to Niall gasps and feeling relieved when he realizes it’s a gasp of arousal, not of pain.

Niall can still feel a little pressure inside him, but he can hardly feel the pain through the pleasure; being filled up like he is is unfamiliar to him, but it’s not unpleasant. Not unpleasant at all.

Zayn pulls out and presses in again, this time faster, then picks up a pace and he’s barely able to keep from pounding wildly into Niall because this is Niall and even that in itself is amazing, because he loves Niall, with everything in him, and this feeling of heat surrounding him is amazing in itself but it’s a million times better right now because it’s his baby, his Niall.

They begin to kiss again, Zayn continuing to thrust and he changes his angle ever so slightly and then Niall’s wailing, throwing his head back against the pillow and Zayn’s insides curl with worry and regret.

“Niall? Baby, are you alright, did I hurt you-?”

“Do that again,” Niall growls out lowly, and then Zayn gets it and he presses in again and it takes him a few thrusts before he finds the angle again and then Niall’s mewling loudly again. Niall wraps his arms around Zayn’s neck and locks his ankles around Zayn’s back, pulling him forward and even deeper into Niall’s tight heat and they both groan in unison at the feeling. Niall’s hips are snapping down in time to meet with Zayn’s thrusts and he’s whimpering insistently in Zayn’s ear.

“P-Please, t-touch me, Zaynie,” he says and Zayn can feel his stomach coiling suddenly from the nickname that he’s never heard before and that he never thought he’d want to hear, but there it was and he was nearly coming from it.

He reaches down between their bodies and wraps a hand around Niall’s painfully hard dick, stroking him slowly, then quickly in time with the thrusting of his hips and Niall moans even louder, nearly pornographically, with it.

“Feel good, baby?” Zayn asks and Niall nods wildly against him.

“S-So good, Zayn, so good, love you,” Niall whimpers.

“Love you, too, God, love you so much,” Zayn replies as he continues to move.

“M’close, Zayn,” Niall tells him and Zayn nods against him shoulder.

“I am, too. It’s okay, baby. Come for me,” he says. “Come for me, Niall.”

Niall whines and it takes a few more thrusts to the blonde’s bundle of nerves deep inside him and then he’s crying out Zayn’s name, high and loud right in Zayn’s ear, painting both of their stomachs with his cum.

It’s the sight of Niall, so beautiful and blissful in his arms, mixed with the erotic noises he’s making and the way he’s clenching down around him, that sends Zayn over the edge. He thrusts once, twice more into Niall then he’s growling out the younger’s name and releasing into him. He collapses on top of Niall, once again delighting in the feeling of their hearts chattering to each other through their rib cages as he floats through his high.

He presses his lips against Niall’s as they start to come down, and when his breathing finally returns to normal, he nuzzles his nose against Niall’s.

“How do you feel, bug?” he asks and Niall smiles lazily and blissed-out up at Zayn.

“Incredible,” he mutters back, already looking drowsy and Zayn chuckles. He gently pulls out of Niall, kissing his temple when Niall hisses at it, still overly sensitive, then stands up. “Nooo, come back. Wanna cuddle,” Niall whines and Zayn smiles.

“I’ll be right back, baby, I promise,” he says and he walks to the bathroom, thankful that Louis is spending the night at Harry’s so he can be free to walk around in the nude without worrying about ridicule. When he returns, he has a warm washcloth in his hands and then he’s wiping Niall down, beaming at the hums of approval it draws from his boyfriend’s throat. By the time Niall’s all clean, he’s practically purring as he makes grabby hands at Zayn. The older boy laughs and lets the rag fall to the floor, climbing back into bed and pulling Niall towards him.

“I love you so, so much, Niall,” he whispers, nuzzling into Niall’s cheek and kissing him there over and over.

“Love you more, Z,” he replies. Suddenly, a huge smile overtakes his face and he says, “I love you, Bright Eyes.”

Zayn’s face nearly splits in two with his smile. “I love you, Lucky.”

~ ~ ~

When Zayn stirs back into consciousness the next morning, he finds his favorite pair of eyes in the whole world staring down at him, smiling and sparkling in their azure wonder and he grins.

“Good morning, baby,” he says.

“Good morning, stud,” Niall jokes and Zayn laughs, reaching up to kiss Niall lightly.

“So I’ve been thinking,” Niall says as they cuddle in the low morning light, swaddled together exultantly in their warm blankets and in each other.

“That’s always a good thing,” Zayn comments.

“I’ve been thinking that we should write a reply to your readers. One last Lucky poem,” he says and Zayn leans up to look Niall in the eyes, hands stilling in the boy’s locks where he was stroking through his hair.

“You and me?”

“Yeah!” Niall says. “Bright Eyes and Lucky collaborate in a poem together. Just to let the general population know how well it turned out for us.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Zayn says, leaning down and capturing Niall’s lips in his, absolutely ecstatic that this boy is his.

They spend the rest of the day in bed together, Niall’s song-writing notebook between them as they try time and again to write the best poem they can, cocooned in each other’s arms the whole time.

~ ~ ~

The Tale of Lucky and Bright Eyes

I never thought it’d come out
that things went so well,
that I’d have such a fantastic
story to tell.

I never believed that I could be
so very, very lucky,
to have myself a boy
that was so sweet and happy and plucky.

I dreamt about him night and day,
I wanted him to be mine,
I wanted to be able to hold him,
to stare into those eyes that shine.

I thought he was a fantasy,
I thought he was only a dream,
wasn’t I lucky to find,
things aren’t always what they seem.

I feel for those Bright Eyes,
that lovely dark hair,
that beautiful crooked smile,
that laugh that left me without a care.

I fell for his spirit,
his loud, wonderful laugh,
his mind and his body,
I’m just so lucky to have.

We wanted to share
with the whole entire world,
how happy we are,
after you watched this story unfold.

It took us a while,
but we got there, for sure,
and I plan to keep him
for a hundred years, maybe more.

Hope you enjoyed our lovely story,
Hope you’ll be as happy as I,
Hope you can find your own tale,
Like that of Lucky and Bright Eyes

-Lucky & Bright Eyes