The first thing Liam registers when he opens the front door to the house is an overwhelming scent of curry. His lips curl into a knowing grin and he shakes his head as he hangs his jacket on the coat rack that is fastened to the wall by the front door. It’s Zayn’s night to cook and of course he’d chosen curry. The week before Liam had spent at least two hours teasing Zayn for being predictable on his nights to cook to which Zayn argued that he was completely off his rocker. Before he can speak Liam hears Layla’s voice coming from the kitchen, talking about whatever problems a boy at her school Joshua had been giving her today and Zayn’s comforting assurance that he wasn’t teasing her to be mean but more because he liked her.
“Like Daddy likes you?” Layla asks. Liam can hear the disgust in her voice and he snorts softly. Zayn gives a soft hum in agreement and Liam hears Layla sigh. “Ew. Gross.”
“Gross?” Zayn barks out a laugh. “You think your Daddy and I are gross?”
“Duh,” Layla sighs. “I think Joshua is gross. He picks his nose and wipes it on his jeans. And he farts all the time in class.”
“That IS gross,” Liam chimes in as he joins his family in the kitchen. He beams at the grin that Layla gives him and approaches her so he can press a kiss to the top of her head. “Hi Lays. How are you today Princess?”
“Good Daddy. Zee’s making dinner. Curry again.” She goes back to her homework in front of her and Liam can see her first grade math pages on the counter and takes a moment to watch her look at each picture and count how many puppies or kittens are in each box and then add them together. Liam presses another kiss to her head as he chuckles at her commentary.
Zayn speaks before he has a chance to say anything. “No. This is different. My mom sent me this recipe it’s called Anda Kaleji and…”
“It has chillies?” Liam asks, interrupting.
Zayn rolls his eyes.
“And garlic? And masala? And…”
“Fine.” Zayn snaps playfully. “For that, you don’t get any.”
Liam’s attention is distracted by Layla’s gasp and the way she holds her hand to her chest. “But just him right Zee? I get some right?”
The genuine concern on her face has Liam laughing out loud.
She glares at her Daddy before turning back to face Zayn who is at the stove. “Please babe?” Layla begs. “It’s not fair. Been sitting here so good doing my homework. Just because Daddy’s mean…”
“Don’t you worry babe,” Zayn assures her. He presses a gentle kiss to her forehead as he leans across the counter. His stomach flutters at the beaming grin that she gives him. “There will always be curry for you.”
Although Liam knows it’s genetically impossible, he is certain that Layla has grown into her love for spicy food from Zayn. He has never been a fan of anything too spicy and is thankful that Zayn understands and generally will make two pots of everything, one for Liam and one for himself and Layla. The first time Zayn had given Layla a taste of his curry Liam had worried she would hate it, that it would be too hot for her and she would be forever scarred from it. He hadn’t expected her to love it and eventually ask why Liam got one pot and Zayn got another. It was more recently that she’d begged Zayn to sneak her some of his really spicy curry, determined to try it despite her Daddy saying it was too hot for her.
She’d practically licked the bowl clean and begged for more. Liam had been shocked; Zayn proud and none of them had looked back after that day.
“Thanks babe.” Layla answers with a kiss she blows across the room at him. Moments later she’s compiled all of her homework and is presenting it to Liam to check over. Once he’s gone over everything with her and presents her with a hug and a congratulatory kiss, she’s given permission to go into the living room to watch some telly before dinner.
When they’re alone, Liam approaches Zayn and turns him so that they’re chest to chest and Zayn is pressed against the counter. He covers the other man’s mouth with his own in a steamy kiss, licking as deep as he can while his hands move around to cup Zayn’s ass firmly.
“I love you so much Zee,” Liam gasps when they finally break apart. He dives in once more, kissing Zayn until finally they’re forced to pull away for Zayn to check the pot bubbling on the stove.
“Love you too Babe,” Zayn smirks. He wipes his lip with his thumb and tries to hide his blush. He gives the pot one last stir before he turns the burner off and puts the lid on. “Just need to wait for the rice and it’s done.”
“Do we have time…?” Liam looks at Zayn before checking into the den where Layla is curled up on the floor watching the screen transfixed.
Liam doesn’t even try to hide his pout. “You don’t even know what I was going to say.”
“You want to know if we have time to go upstairs for a shag.”
Liam wiggles his eyebrows and flashes Zayn a sultry smirk.
“No,” Zayn reiterates. He pulls a pan of naan out of the oven and shakes his head with a grin. “Babe, you can wait until she goes to bed.”
“Plus, Niall called earlier. Said Eamon was asking when Lays could go over for a sleepover. I said that she’s free this weekend so he’s taking her Friday after school and will bring her back on Saturday for dinner.”
Liam wants to complain about having to wait a few hours but when the rest of what Zayn has said sinks in he grins. “What did she say?”
“She said she wanted to ask you first if it was okay.” Zayn turns his back on Liam to check on the rice before pulling plates out of the cupboard. He and Liam have been together for four years now. They’ve moved from their individual flats to a house and are practically married but without the papers. Layla has admitted that she doesn’t remember her life without him in it but still there are times when Layla will defer to Liam for permission even though she knows that Zayn is her guardian too. He tries not to get offended by it, he knows that she’s not doing it maliciously or making any type of statement by it, but it admittedly hurts. He loves her with all of his heart, like she’s his own and he knows she’s legally not, but his heart doesn’t accept it. Zayn doesn’t like making a big deal about it so he brushes it off and by the time he turns around to look at Liam, all traces of hurt is gone from his expression. Thankfully Liam is focused on Layla’s homework and missed the exchange.
“Layla?” Liam calls from the table. He grabs the plates from where Zayn has put them and starts to set the table. Seconds later the television flicks off and Layla runs into the kitchen, ponytail bouncing behind her.
“Can you please wash up for dinner?”
“I can Daddy.” Layla skips over to the sink and pulls her step stool from where they keep it by the pantry. She climbs on and washes her hands efficiently like Zayn has taught her countless times. When she’s done she grins and heads to the table where her place is set. “Oh, and Daddy?”
“Can I go sleep at Nialler’s and Eamon’s house this weekend? Nialler called today and asked if I could have a sleep over with them.”
“Do you want to babe?”
Layla grins and whispers thank you to Zayn as he hands her a plate. “I do.”
“Did Zee say you could go?”
Zayn watches as Layla blushes. Her eyes flicker to him quickly before she nods and looks away. “He did. But I didn’t want you to get upset if I didn’t ask you. Maybe you’ll be lonely without me. Maybe you have plans already for us that Zee doesn’t know about. Maybe…”
“Lays?” Liam says with a laugh. “You’re not in trouble.”
“S’just you’re my Daddy, you know Daddy? Zee’s my Zee, but you’re Daddy.” She starts eating dinner with enthusiasm, eating the rice and curry with the naan like Zayn has taught her countless times. When she’s swallowed a big mouthful she grins up at Liam. “So, can I? Sleep at Eamon’s house with him and Nialler? It’s just Friday night.”
Liam exchanges a smile with Zayn and grins. “Of course you can Babe. And maybe on Saturday night we can see what Harry and Lou are doing. When Niall and Eamon drop you off, maybe we’ll have a big dinner.” He laughs at the way Layla’s eyes widen and she claps enthusiastically.
“Gonna be the best weekend ever.”
Neither Liam nor Zayn can argue. A whole night with Layla sleeping over at Niall’s and being able to sleep in on Saturday. Liam can’t remember the last time they got a night to themselves let alone a lazy Saturday morning to sleep in and have lazy morning sex.
“Will you both be okay with me gone for the night?”
Zayn chuckles at how genuinely concerned Layla is for them. He winks at her and blows her a kiss. “Babe, don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll find something to do while you’re away.”
Things have been tense lately. Liam has been under more stress at work and he’s been working much later hours than he normally does. There are nights that he’s not getting home until well after Layla’s in bed, sometimes finding her asleep on the couch waiting for her Daddy to come home to put her to bed so she can see him.
He’s had an abysmally bad day and all he wants to do when he gets home is have some dinner, take a shower and go to bed. It’s past nine thirty and for the third time this week he’s missed dinner and missed time with his daughter, both of which had been the only thing to get him through most of the day. The moment he walks into the flat, he’s not expecting all of the lights to still be on and Zayn and Layla sitting at the dining room table amidst a giant mess of paints and paper.
“Hi Daddy,” Layla grins and waves.
Liam forces himself to take a deep breath and smile. He’d just been lamenting that he’d missed getting to spend time with his daughter and now that she’s still up, sitting in front of him looking so happy to see him, he’s irritated. Irritated that she’s not in bed where she’s supposed to be. Irritated that there is a giant mess at the kitchen table, the table he was going to eat his dinner at. Irritated that there is a mess of running shoes in front of the front door, one of which he trips over. Irritated at anything and everything.
“Babe, what are you still doing up? Shouldn’t you be in bed?” Liam approaches and grimaces at how the table is covered in paint and Zayn is simply sitting in his spot, adding to the mess that Liam will no doubt have to clean.
“Zee said I could wait up for you. I was super excited to see you and he said if you came home before eleven I could stay up.”
Liam glares at Zayn. They’d had an argument that morning and hadn’t properly resolved anything from it. The sting of the fight was still lingering in Liam’s brain and he can’t help but let the residual anger bubble up. “Well Zee knows how hard it is to get you up in the morning so I don’t know why he would let you stay up two hours after your bedtime.”
Something in his tone causes for Layla to stop immediately, her smile slowly dropping from her face. “I wanted to see you Daddy. I missed you.”
The guilt of how excited his daughter was and how quickly he’s ruined her excitement stabs at Liam’s headache. He rubs the bridge of his nose and gives his head a small shake.
“No babe. I miss you too. I’m sorry, I’m just tired and I had to stay at work late today and…” He leans in to kiss Layla’s cheek gently. “I’m sorry. I’m not mad.”
“Are you sure?” Layla looks up at Liam with her lower lip caught between her teeth. “I’m sorry; I just wanted to give you this.” She presents Liam with a picture she’d painted in class earlier that day and told him that the teacher had given her a gold star on. Seeing how great she was with paint, Layla tells him that Zayn stopped off after school at the art store and bought her some supplies so she could paint more pictures. Liam looks at the paintings on the table and sees ones addressed to Harry, Louis, Nialler and Grandma and Grandpa. “I’m gonna paint one for Zee’s mummy and papa too.”
He’s not entirely sure why her reaction has Liam blaming Zayn, but he can’t help but feel resentment towards him. Resentment for making him the bad guy. Resentment for him spending the night just hanging out at home doing nothing while Liam slaved at work all day, miserable and frustrated. As he pulls his daughter into his arms, he glares at Zayn over her shoulder. The look of confusion and frustration on Zayn’s face only furthers to enrage Liam.
“Babe, you’re the best. Do you know that? Do you know how much I love you and how happy I am that you waited up for me?”
“Promise?” She asks with wide eyes and a shy smile.
“Promise.” He closes his eyes and falls into the tight hug that Layla gives him. When he pulls away he nuzzles her nose with his own. “How about you go and get cleaned up for bed. I’ll clean up here and then come up to tuck you in.”
Layla grins and nods her head in excitement. “Okay Daddy.” She runs around the table and throws herself at Zayn. “Night Zee. I love you. Thanks for the art stuff.”
“Night Lays. Love you too babe.” Zayn presses a kiss to Layla’s forehead. Liam holds his breath until she’s rushing up the stairs to the bathroom. When they’re alone he starts to collect the paint tins and brushes that are lying around the table. “Li, I’ll get this. I’ll clean it all up.”
Liam barks out a laugh as he rolls his eyes. “Right.”
Zayn cocks his head to the side. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You? Actually clean something up. That’ll be a change.” Liam storms into the kitchen and starts the warm water. What he wants to do is throw everything right into the rubbish but he knows Layla will be very upset if she wakes up tomorrow to find all of her new art supplies in the garbage, so he controls his anger enough not to do something he’ll regret when he’s not as emotional. He’s not surprised when Zayn storms into the kitchen after him.
“What is the matter with you? Where is this coming from?” Zayn rests against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest defensively.
Liam huffs angrily as he brushes past Zayn to grab the rest of the supplies.
“No really Liam. I want an answer.”
“Life is so easy for you isn’t it? No responsibility. No one to answer to but yourself. You spend your nights doing nothing and then don’t understand when I come home tired.” Liam turns to face Zayn. Seeing Zayn’s anger only fuels Liam’s. “And then here I am, cleaning up after you because god forbid you clean your own messes.”
“I told you I’d clean it Liam,” Zayn argues hotly. “Go up and tuck Layla in. Go spend some time with your daughter for a change.”
Liam fights to take in a deep breath. He storms across the room to stand in front of Zayn, itching to reach out but clenching his fists angrily. “The fuck?” He screams. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re home late most nights. You’re in a right foul mood when you do finally get home. Yelling at me for what? For spending time with Layla? For having fun with her?”
“No, I’m yelling at you because you’re worse than a child,” Liam yells. “You are completely incapable of cleaning up after yourself. I’m so tired of having to do everything around here. I work all day and then am expected to come home and take care of everything at night.”
“No one ever said you had to take care of me,” Zayn hisses angrily. “In fact, as much as I’m aware, I pull my weight here. I pay half of the bills, I pay half the mortgage. You’re not taking care of anyone but yourself and Layla.”
“I don’t need this from you Zayn,” Liam says as he brushes past Zayn to head into the living room. He starts to wipe down the table, unaware of worried eyes watching from the top of the stairs through the bannister.
“YOU don’t need this?” Zayn says as he follows. “YOU? You’re the one that started this. We’ve spent the night excited for you to come home. Waiting for you to come home and see our art and then tuck Lays to bed. You’re the one that came home pissed and yelling.”
“I’m too tired for this Zee. Some of us work hard…” Liam stops and wipes his forehead angrily. “I just wanted to come home, have some dinner and go to bed. Not come home and take care of shit you should have already taken care of. I don’t want to deal with this tonight.”
“Then you shouldn’t have fucking started something,” Zayn says, finally raising his voice. “You’ve been tired and stressed for weeks now Liam. And you’ve been taking it out on me. It’s not fair.”
Liam throws the sponge he’s been cleaning with across the room. It hits the wall with a splat and falls to the floor. “Fine. I’m a monster. Fine, I’m an asshole. Maybe you should just find somewhere else to be tonight Zee. Maybe you should leave.”
“I should leave,” Zayn says incredulously. He looks at Liam, unsure if the other man is serious or just talking in the heat of the moment. He sees the pure rage on Liam’s face, the anger in his eyes and he can’t take it. “Fine. I’ll go.”
Before he makes it to the stairs, tiny feet run towards the bedroom right next to the bathroom. A door softly closes and then opens just a crack. Layla watches Zayn stomp up the stairs and down the hall to the last door on the right to where the master bedroom is. She doesn’t know exactly what is happening, just that her Daddy has told Zee to leave. She sneaks down the hall and sees Zayn in their bedroom. Tears are flowing down his cheeks and he’s shaking. She’s never seen him cry ever, never seen him this upset and her eyes widen as he pulls a bag out of the closet and starts to throw clothes in it. For a moment, she’s frozen until she runs back into her bedroom.
Her Frozen knapsack isn’t big but she dumps out all of her schoolwork on the bed and starts to grab things. She stuffs her pajamas in and then Mr. Monkey. Next she grabs a picture from her nightstand of her, Zayn and her Daddy and puts that in as well. She can still hear Zayn moving around and grabs everything she thinks she might need and finally pulls a sweater from her drawer and puts it on quickly. Zayn is down the stairs when she comes flying out of her bedroom.
“ZEE,” she screams frantically. “STOP. Please, stop. Wait.” Layla runs down the stairs careful not to trip. She has her backpack in one hand and her favourite blanket in the other. Her boots are at the door and she just needs to put them on and she’ll be ready. “I’m coming. Wait.”
Zayn turns around at the panicked sound of Layla’s voice. He is shocked when he turns around to see that she’s still dressed. She’s wearing a sweater and has her knapsack in her hand. It’s not entirely zipped up and clothes are hanging out, like she stuffed in whatever she could find. Her blanket is trailing behind her and her eyes are wide and scared. Quickly he wipes at his eyes and pastes a smile on his face.
“Babe, what are you doing?”
Layla makes it to the bottom of the stairs and drops her bag and blanket. She reaches for her boots and starts to put one on. “I’m coming with you.”
“Oh Lays,” Zayn sighs. He has to fight to keep the tears at bay. His hands are shaking and he’s barely holding it together but he can’t let her see that. He won’t. “You’ve gotta stay with your Daddy okay? I’m just…”
“NO,” Layla screams. She’s so loud Liam comes in from the kitchen and sees her scrambling to put her boots on before Zayn leaves. “No. I’m coming with YOU Zee.”
“Layla, you can’t babe. I’m sorry.”
“No Zee. I won’t be bad. I promise. I’ll be a good girl, you won’t have to take care of me at all. I love you Zee, don’t go.”
“Layla Payne,” Liam says gruffly. “You’re staying here. Take your boots off.”
“No, you’re mean Daddy. I don’t want to stay here with you. I want to go with Zee.”
Zayn can see Liam’s last nerve is being tested. He’s glaring at Zayn like this too is his fault, like he’s responsible for this and he knows that for everyone’s sake, it’s best she stay with her father. He kneels down in front of her, lifting her face so that she’s looking at him. Tears are in her eyes and her lower lip is wobbling. This is what a heart breaking feels like and he’s never been this devastated in his life.
“Layla you know I love you right? More than anything in the world.”
Layla sniffs and nods. She throws her arms around Zayn and holds him tight. “I want to come with you Zee.”
“I know you do babe, but you can’t. I’ve gotta go for a little while. I’m going to a friend’s house. That doesn’t mean I don’t love you. That just means I love you enough that I can’t take you with me.”
“Because you have to stay with your daddy.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I know you don’t babe, but you have to. Do you love me?”
Layla sniffles and nods.
“So you stay here with your Daddy and take care of him for me, okay? You remember that I love you.”
Layla sighs as she reaches for her bag. She pulls out Mr. Monkey and holds it up. “Can you take Mr. Monkey with you? I don’t want you to be alone. He can keep you company.”
Zayn nods as he blinks back a few tears. “Okay Lay. I’ll take Mr. Monkey for now.” He pulls her in for a hug and breathes in her scent, kissing her cheek before letting her go. “I love you babe.”
“Love you, babe.”
Zayn stands up and walks out of the house without looking back. He gets into his car and before he can break down, starts to drive.
Layla looks up at Liam who is standing in the doorway, arms crossed angrily over his chest. Defiantly, she stands up and huffs at him.
“I am very disappointed in you babe.”
Without waiting for a response, she stomps up the stairs and into her bedroom. Liam jumps at the force with which her bedroom door slams.
Liam knows he needs to give her some time to cool down before he goes to talk to her. He hadn’t expected her to know what had happened, let alone want to go with Zayn. The table is clean, her art supplies are drying on napkins in the kitchen and he’s sat down at the table trying to figure out exactly what he’s going to say to her. He’s stunned when the doorbell rings. It’s now past eleven and he can’t guess who would be showing up at his house.
Harry standing sheepishly on his doorstep is one of the last people he expects. “Haz? Everything okay?”
With an awkward smile, Harry nods and steps into the foyer. “Hey. I just… Layla called. Well, she called for Lou but he’s gone home for the week and…” As he’s explaining, Layla’s bedroom door opens and she comes down the stairs. In addition to her knapsack, she’s also filled her wheelie luggage and is trying to get them both down the stairs without dropping anything.
“Daddy, I’m going to live with Uncle Harry and Lou Bear for a while.”
“Excuse me?” Liam is genuinely surprised. He looks at Harry who only shrugs and offers an apologetic smile.
“I’m going to live with Harry and Louis until I’m not mad at you anymore.”
“Layla Payne, what did I tell you? You’re not going anywhere.” The exhaustion of the night, the overwhelming emotions of the day has caught up with him and Liam is too fed up to deal with any of this. Harry steps in.
“Okay Layla Bear. You can come with me on one condition.” He holds up his hand to silence Liam before he can speak. Layla smiles up at him and nods. “I’m starving. I didn’t have dinner tonight. Is it okay if I have a snack with your Daddy? And then when I’m done, you can come home with me?”
Layla looks between Liam to Harry and down at her luggage. Finally she sighs. “Okay. Fine. I’m not hungry. Zee and I had vindaloo earlier and I’m still full. You go in and eat and I’ll wait in my room for you. Come get me before you leave. Don’t forget.”
Harry nods and pinkie swears. She heads back up to her bedroom and this time closes the door a lot softer than she had earlier. Harry doesn’t let out his breath until he’s alone with Liam who looks ready to either break something or break down.
Liam doesn’t want to talk about it. Harry nods and agrees as he suggests they have a beer and watch some telly. They sit in comfortable silence for an hour before Harry nods at Liam. They head up to Layla’s bedroom, not surprised that she’s fallen asleep on her bed waiting.
“You gonna be okay?” Harry says with a smile. Liam wipes his face in exhaustion and shrugs.
“Call me if you need.”
Liam sees Harry out and heads back to his daughter’s room. He’s never seen her that upset with him. Part of him was proud that she’d stood by Zayn, that she loved him enough to want to go with him, but at the same time it struck a chord in him that he’d been spending too much time away from her. Work was important, but not when it was at the sacrifice of his family. Of his love.
His sleep had been fitful at best. Liam had been tossing and turning since he’d finally gotten into bed so when Layla’s piercing scream echoed through the hall he was up almost instantly. He can hear her crying through her screams in within seconds he’s down the hall and at her side.
“Babe? What’s wrong? It’s okay Lays, you’re okay.”
Layla throws herself into his arms, crying so hard that she’s sobbing and choking. “I’m sorry Daddy. I’m sorry.”
“What’s the matter Babe?” Liam coos, stroking her back gently.
“What if Zee doesn’t come back?” Layla looks up at Liam through her tears. “Was I bad? You were fighting about the mess. I’m sorry I’m a bad girl. I’m so sorry.”
“Oh Lays,” Liam can’t help but let a few tears of his own fall. “It wasn’t about you. You’re not a bad girl.”
Layla nods sadly. “I am Daddy. I made a mess. I wanted to stay up and surprise you.” She buries her face in his chest and sobs. “And you told him to go away because I’m bad. What if he doesn’t come back? Don’t you love him anymore?”
Liam has to swallow down the lump in his throat. He takes a moment to compose himself, to wipe the tears from his eyes before he can speak. “Of course I do. I love him so much.”
“But you told him to go. You said he had to leave.”
“Just for one night.”
Layla looks up, hiccupping through her tears. “Promise babe? You forgive him?”
“Always.” He picks Layla up and brings her into his bedroom so that they can sleep in his and Zayn’s king sized bed as opposed to her single. When he’s comfortable he has moved them so that she’s curled up against his chest, her hands tight in his tee shirt. He strokes her hair comfortingly, listening to her breathing even out until she’s finally asleep.
Liam thinks about the night. About his mood from work and how he’s brought it home with him. He thinks back to the last week. The last few weeks. He thinks about what has been happening and how it’s not only affecting him but his relationship with Zayn and mostly his relationship with his daughter. Liam knows without a doubt that this whole night has been his fault. He makes sure that Layla is deep asleep before he lets the tears fall. He reaches to the nightstand and pulls his phone from where he has it charging.
I’m so sorry. Please come home.
Liam waits for Zayn to answer. He doesn’t know if the other man will answer. Doesn’t even know if he deserves one after the way he’s acted tonight but he can’t not try. He’s staring up at the ceiling, lost in the feeling of Layla sleeping beside him, holding him tight when his phone vibrates.
I need time.
Liam swallows thickly and lets out a deep breath. He deserves that, he knows he does. He nods to himself and fires off one more text.
Just know that I’m sorry and I love you. Always.
Breakfast is a disaster. Liam is exhausted and Layla is grumpy and irritable. He puts too much milk in her cereal and she refuses to eat it. When she grabs a banana from the counter she eats half before she decides that she wanted an apple instead. Liam makes her lunch all wrong and she tells him that she’ll wait for him in the car to take her to school. Liam wants to be short with her, he wants to snap at her that they both miss Zayn but he knows it’s not her fault and refuses to make it worse for her.
When they pull up to her school he pulls her close and hugs her tight. “Love you Layla-bear.”
“Love you Daddy,” she replies sadly. She looks up at Liam and he knows she wants to ask him something but instead she looks away and moves to get out of the car.
“Lays?” When she turns around to look at him he fights not to cry at the look of desperation in her eyes. “I’ll see if Zee can pick you up from school today. Okay?”
Liam smiles as she gives him a shy grin. “Promise babe?”
He nods. “ Promise.”
The first thing Liam does when he gets to his office is lock his door and take a few calming breaths. He dials Zayn’s number, not surprised when it goes to voice mail. He knows Zayn is probably screening his call so he expected to leave a message.
“Zee, it’s me. I … I’m sorry. I don’t want to bother you and I know you want time but Layla was wondering … well we were both wondering if you had time today. Maybe you could pick her up from school today. She really missed you last night and woke up crying for you. I don’t want to make this about me, but … if you… yeah. Please just let me know if you can. If you can’t no problem, I’ll pick her up. I just know it would mean a lot to her if you could. Okay. Bye babe. I …” Liam takes a deep breath and swallows. “I love you.”
Liam is in the middle of composing an email to a client when his phone rings. He immediately abandons his work and scrambles to pick up his phone. It’s a text from Zayn.
I’ll pick her up today.
Liam’s pulse is racing, his stomach fluttering. He closes his eyes and takes a few calming breaths before he replies.
Thank you. Take as much time as you need. I love you.
The rest of the day is a wash for Liam. He can’t focus on anything, can’t be arsed to care. He makes it until just after lunch before he gives up. He heads to his boss’ office and tells him that he needs to go home. Liam assures him that he’s on top of his accounts and can be reached by email or text if there is a problem.
The first thing Liam does when he gets home is does a full clean of the house. He’s nervous and all he wants to do is crawl into bed and sleep, to forget everything of the past twenty four hours but he can’t. He puts all of his anxiety and nervous energy into cleaning. When he’s done he decides to make dinner. Hopefully when Zayn picks Layla up and brings her home, he’ll want to stay. If not for good, then at least for dinner.
Liam hasn’t been this nervous since that first day he’d brought Layla to meet Zayn at Niall’s diner. He’s resting on the couch watching a football match when he hears Zayn’s car pull up into the driveway. He sits up immediately and starts to fidget with his jeans, pulling at the frayed pieces from the hole in his knee.
Layla bursts through the front door and Liam can’t help but turn to look. His breath catches on how beautiful Zayn is and how happy he is to see him. It’s only been a night but Liam knows it could have been longer. It still might be. Zayn looks exhausted, like he hasn’t slept but he’s hiding it well as he listens to a story that Layla is telling him.
“Li,” Zayn says softly as he looks up to meet Liam’s gaze.
For the first time all day Liam feels something in his stomach uncoil. He sees the emotion in Zayn’s eyes. Behind the hurt and anger though, he sees the love and he knows that whatever this is, they’ll be okay.
“Daddy, hi.” Layla tilts her face up and sniffs a few times. “What’s that Daddy? Did you make dinner?”
It’s then that she realizes he’s home so early and her eyes widen. “You’re home? Why are you home? It’s so early.”
Liam lets out a nervous laugh. “I left work early today. Couldn’t focus so I just came home.”
Layla grins and runs over to hug him tightly. “This is great Daddy. Maybe you can come home this early more often?”
“I think I might,” Liam says looking at Zayn. “I think Daddy’s been working too hard lately.”
Layla grins and skips into the living room to sit on the couch. “I think so too.” She pats the couch beside her and motions for Zayn to come and join her. “Zee? Are you going to stay for dinner? Please?”
Liam watches. He doesn’t want to be too obvious in his hope but can’t help but hold his breath. He grins when Zayn nods. “Of course Babe.”
“And you’ll stay to put me to bed?”
Zayn looks at Liam and offers a shy smile. “Of course. If it’s okay, I’m just gonna stay.”
Layla’s eyes widen and she grins as she turns to Liam. “It’s okay right Daddy?”
“This is your home Zayn. Our home, all of ours.” Liam says softly. “I know it didn’t seem like it last night but it is.” He looks up into Zayn’s eyes and tries to express just how sorry he is. His heart stutters when Zayn nods and lets out a deep breath. He turns his attention to Layla and hugs her. “Zee and I are going to talk okay? We’ll be in the kitchen, if you need anything just let us know.”
“Okay babe,” Layla says with a smile. She focuses on the television as Liam and Zayn head into the kitchen.
Once they’ve sat down with a mug of tea for each of them Liam starts. “I can’t say it enough Zee, but please know how sorry I am. I have no right taking things out on you like that.”
Zayn nods as he fiddles with his spoon. “I’m just … I could see it coming, you know? You’ve been so angry lately. So frustrated and I guess I should have…”
“No,” Liam interrupts. “You shouldn’t have anything. God, I can’t even believe how horrible I was last night.”
“I overreacted too,” Zayn admits with a shrug. “And for a minute I forgot Layla was even here. Like, I just was so angry at you. She’s the most important thing and it wasn’t until she started yelling for me that I remembered she was here, that she could hear us.” He’s surprised when Liam gives an embarrassed laugh.
“When you left? She turned to me and said ‘I’m very disappointed in you babe.’ She shook her head and walked up the stairs to her bedroom and slammed her door.” They both break into relieved laughter and Liam trembles as Zayn reaches over to tangle their fingers together.
“Are you serious?”
“Just like that,” Liam says. “I knew when she wanted to go with you that I was wrong, that I’d gone too far but that just made me madder, you know? And she was so angry at me. She even called Harry and told him to come and get her. She told me that she was going to go live with him and Louis until she wasn’t mad at me anymore.” Liam watches as tears pool in the corner of Zayn’s eyes. He knows Layla loves Zayn but just the act of her choosing Zayn over him shows him just how much. And Liam knows that it means so much to Zayn that she stood up for him like that, that she would stand up against her Daddy for him.
“I was so fucking scared,” Liam breathes out. “Scared that you left and that you might not come back. Scared because I don’t blame you. I kicked you out of your own home Zee,” he cries softly. “I was horrible.”
Liam is startled as Zayn strokes the fingers of his free hand through Liam’s short hair. “What is going on with you, Li? This isn’t you. This isn’t who you are.” He waits for Liam to compose himself for an answer.
“I just … I don’t know babe. But I think I need to step back and look at things. Look at work, look at how much I’m doing and what it’s for.”
“I was scared for you,” Zayn admits softly. He looks into Liam’s eyes and shrugs. “I was scared for us. For Layla.”
“I know,” Liam says.
“Whatever you need,” Zayn promises. “I’ll help you. I’ll do what you need, just don’t shut me out. Don’t shut us out.”
Liam nods and leans forward so that he can take Zayn’s lips in a kiss. He melts into Zayn’s embrace and relaxes against him. They stay like that until they’re joined in the kitchen by Layla.
“Daddy? Can I please have some juice?”
Liam pulls away and smiles at Zayn before focusing on Layla. “Of course Lays.” He checks the time and winks at her. “Dinner should be done anyways, so we’ll just eat.” As Zayn moves to stand up, Liam motions for him to stay put. Liam pulls a glass from the cupboard before filling it halfway with apple juice and finishing with water. When he turns to bring Layla her juice, he sees her sitting with her chair against Zayn’s. They’re so close they’re practically sharing Zayn’s seat. Liam’s heart feels like it’s going to explode with the amount of love he feels for the two of them.
Once he has given Zayn his plate and Layla hers, Liam plates his own dinner and joins them at the table. Conversation is light, mostly Layla filling both of them in on the drama of grade 1 until she turns to Zayn and smiles brightly at him.
“You’re my Daddy too.”
Liam pauses with his fork halfway to his mouth. Zayn fights not to choke on the mouthful of potatoes he’s just taken in. When she doesn’t get a response, Layla continues speaking.
“We’re family. Missus Pezza says we don’t stop loving our family. That family is stronger than anything. Even if we get mad at them or if they’re bad or mean or say things that hurt you, they’re still your family and you love them.” Layla takes a moment to eat another piece of her chicken. “Missus Pezza,” she turns to face Liam first and then Zayn before she giggles. “That’s my teacher. Missus Pezza.”
“I know babe,” Liam says with a laugh. “We’ve met her. Remember, when we had our Parent – Teacher interview?”
“Oh, right. Well Missus Pezza says you can have two daddies or two mommies. Or no mommy or no daddy. That it’s okay to have a family like me, with a Daddy and a Zee. Sometimes kids have a mommy and a daddy and sometimes they don’t. But it’s not bad or wrong and I’m lucky because I have a Daddy and a Zee.” They watch her frown for a moment before she looks at Zayn. “But I want you to be my Daddy too. What do you call your Daddy Zee? Do you call him Daddy? Or Papa?”
It takes a few times for Zayn to clear his throat. He’s shaking, he knows Liam can see his hands trembling and he takes a few moments to gather himself. “He’s my Baba. That’s what we call our Daddy. My sisters and I. We call him Baba.”
“That’s what they call in …” Layla looks like she’s trying to think of the right word. “What language do your parents speak?”
“Well they speak English too babe,” Zayn laughs. “You’ve met them before. Remember?” He asks. When she nods and smiles he continues. “But they speak Urdu.”
“Urdu,” Layla echoes. She grins and grabs onto Zayn’s hand in her small one. “Do you want to be my Baba? Can I call you Baba?”
Zayn nods as Liam wipes his tears. She looks at her Daddy and frowns.
“Is that okay Daddy? Are you upset that I want him to be my Daddy too? My Baba?”
Liam responds with a shake of his head. “Oh Layla. Of course not. You’re a smart little girl love. I’m very proud of you.”
Giggling Layla responds with “Course Babe. Missus Pezza says that people have fights sometimes but it’s okay. I shouldn’t be scared. She says that just because you fight it doesn’t mean you don’t love me.”
“That’s right,” Liam says with a watery smile. “Missus Pezza is very smart.”
“You have to be smart to be a teacher Daddy,” Layla grins. “Duh!” She gets up and walks to Zayn’s other side where she can approach him without her chair in the way. With a hug she buries her face in his chest. “I love you Baba.” She presses a kiss to his cheek and walks around the table to do the same with Liam. “I love you Daddy.”
They are both smiling at her as she grins at them. It’s as though she’s waiting for something and finally Liam laughs and shakes his head.
“We love you too Layla,” he says affectionately.
“I know babe,” she says like he’s slow. Finally when they exchange a confused look she rolls her eyes. “Now you say it to each other.”
Both Zayn and Liam can’t help but burst into laughter. Liam leans in and brushes his lips against Zayn’s. “I love you Zayn,” he whispers before kissing him deeply.
“I love you Liam,” Zayn replies when they break for a moment. They both open their eyes and stare lovingly at each other before kissing again. It’s not until Layla steps in between them that they pull away.
“Now can we watch a movie?”
Liam shakes his head. “Bed time babe. You didn’t sleep well last night.”
Layla frowns at Liam. She turns to Zayn and bats her eyes prettily at him. “Baba?”
Liam snorts as Zayn groans. “No Lays, bed time,” Liam says firmly.
“In your bed?” She negotiates.
They both shake their head. “Nope.”
With a sigh and a groan Layla pouts. “Not fair.”
“Life’s not fair sometimes Layla,” Liam counters.
Layla is sulking out of the room when she stops and turns to look at her Daddy. “You’re weird Babe!”
Zayn is covering his laugh while Liam is shaking his head in disbelief. “Where did you learn that word?”
Both men watch as Layla turns on her heel and faces them. She has one hand on her hip and she’s giving them a look that can only be described as fond. “Uncle Hazza said that love makes you weird. When you make crazy choices and do crazy things. It means you are weird. And you Daddy are weird.” She tries to wink at them but manages to blink both eyes. “Now you’re both going to come up and tuck me in, right?”
“Of course Princess,” Zayn says with a chuckle. “We’re just going to clean up a bit and we’ll meet you.”
“Make sure you brush your teeth and watch your hands and face first babe,” Liam calls after her.
“Duh Daddy,” Layla shouts as she skips up the stairs to her bedroom.
The dishes are relatively easy to do. Zayn sticks them all in the dishwasher while Liam cleans the table and sweeps the floor. It’s still early but neither are looking to waste time pretending they don’t want to go up to bed. Liam tells Zayn he’ll lock up and that he’ll meet him up there. When Liam finally makes his way to his daughter’s room, he sees Zayn laid out beside her on the bed. She’s tucked in snugly, Mr. Monkey back under her arm where he’s meant to be and a wide toothy grin on Layla’s face. Liam pauses for a moment and watches Zayn run his fingers delicately through Layla’s hair, listening intently as she speaks softly to him. His stomach flutters at the sight of the two most important people in his life and he coughs in embarrassment when he’s caught staring.
“Daddy,” Layla says with a yawn. “Gonna watch us all night or gonna say goodnight?”
It’s so Zayn that Liam can’t help the bark of laughter that escapes. He pushes himself off of the wall he’s leaning on and heads in, sitting on the bed opposite of Zayn. “Night Sweet Pea,” Liam’s voice is thick with emotion. He leans down to press a kiss to the top of her head before she wraps her arms around him.
“Night Daddy.” Layla turns to Zayn and pulls him in for a tight hug. She nods as he whispers something into her ear and grins. “I love you too Zee.” She whispers back. “Night Baba.” They give her one more round of kisses and goodnights before they head to her bedroom door.
Liam pauses at the bat symbol night light she has perched on her dresser. “Light on tonight Babe?” He watches her ponder the question seriously before she finally gives a tentative nod.
“Yeah babe. That okay? I’m still a big girl if I need my light right?”
“Course babe,” Liam says with a smile. “Specially when it’s this cool night light.” He watches Layla roll her eyes as she giggles and settles herself into her bed. Once she’s let her eyes drift shut he shuts the door softly and steps into the hall.
Zayn is already pulling him towards their bedroom. Liam lets himself be pulled as he tries to settle the butterflies in his stomach and regulate his breathing. When they’re in the safety of their own bedroom, the door shut behind them Zayn presses Liam against the door and kisses him hungrily. Normally they would wait until they’re sure that Layla is sound asleep before having sex but neither can wait. They’ve been so stressed lately, going further back than last night and it’s clear in the intensity of their kiss, the frantic way that their hands are pulling at each other’s clothes that they need this now.
“Zee,” Liam moans into Zayn’s mouth. “Need to feel you.”
“Li, please.” Zayn mouths. “God…” He pulls away and presses their foreheads together. They are both breathing heavily, stripping the last pieces of clothing off of themselves and each other. “Want you inside me. Please Li…”
Liam gives a sharp nod as he pushes them from where they’re pressed against the wall. He directs Zayn backwards towards the bed and gently tips them over. As Zayn scrambles up the sheets to the head of the bed, Liam leans in and crawls his way until he’s hovering above the other man. He takes a few moments to simply look at Zayn’s body, admire the lean muscles in his stomach and chest and regard how hard Zayn is, his cock at attention and leaking just a little from the tip.
“You are beautiful Zayn,” Liam says in awe. He leans down to press a series of gentle kisses from one ear down Zayn’s jaw before heading towards his mouth. Once he’s reached the other man’s lips, he kisses him deeply, licking into his mouth so that their tongues are dueling back and forth. “I love you so much.”
Zayn opens his eyes and stares deep into Liam’s. Their eyes are locked and so much is passing between them. “Show me.”
It feels like no time at all and forever, all at the same time as Liam slides first one, then two and finally three fingers inside of Zayn’s body. He wants to stretch him enough so that Zayn will feel only the love he has for him, the pleasure of their bodies together. Zayn is arching into his touch, panting roughly into Liam’s ear as he continues to stretch him. Finally they’re ready. Liam presses a hungry kiss to Zayn’s mouth and gives his lower lip a teasing bite.
Zayn’s arms are stretched over his head, elongating his body. Every ridge of his muscle is on display for Liam, every goose bump that decorates his skin is teasing him. He wants to run his tongue over every inch of Zayn’s gorgeous body. Wants to kiss him and worship him like he knows Zayn deserves. Next, he promises himself silently. Once he’s done, when they’ve had enough and are ready for another round he will do everything that he wants to do. Will show Zayn just how much he loves him. Over and over.
When Liam has slid deep inside of Zayn’s body, as far as he can go, they both pause. Zayn is strung tight like a bow and Liam is focusing on controlling his own pleasure. Zayn’s body is tight around his cock, his eyes open wide and staring deep into Liam’s.
“Move,” Zayn whimpers. “Leeyum, need it. Want you to move. Wanna feel you.”
His hips are moving without abandon, each thrust echoing in the otherwise silent room, their own grunts of pleasures bouncing off of each other’s mouths. As much as Liam wants to make this last, he knows he’s already too close to the edge.
“Babe, you feel so good. God, so fucking tight for me.”
Liam whimpers and nods. He rests his head against Zayn’s shoulder as he pistons in and out of the other man’s body seductively. To grip Zayn’s hip, Liam lets go of Zayn’s hand and watches it move directly to his cock, stroking his erection furiously.
“God I love how deep you fuck into me,” Zayn whimpers. His thumb swipes over the tip and gathers the precome. Liam watches as Zayn lifts his finger and paints his lips with it before kissing him hungrily.
It takes barely half a dozen more strokes of his cock for Zayn to shout into Liam’s mouth as his orgasm washes over him. Liam feels Zayn tighten around him, his body trembling from the force of his orgasm and with a few more thrusts, Liam is coming. He’s buried his face in Zayn’s throat, biting down on his lip roughly to keep from screaming like he wants to.
It takes a little while for their breathing to return to normal. Liam pulls Zayn close, kissing him with a sated satisfaction as he tangles their bodies together. When Zayn breaks the kiss to breathe, he shifts and feels the result of their lovemaking without a condom along the back of his thighs. He can feel the lube Liam used mixing with the quickly drying come that is leaking from him and he frowns.
“We need to take a shower Li.”
Liam whines and holds Zayn closer. “Maybe later.”
“Now babe. Or you’re sleeping in this bed alone in dirty sheets.”
Liam opens an eye and sees Zayn grinning at him. He pouts only to have Zayn shake his head. “Shower. You know that if we leave it, it’ll only end up being awkward later. It’s always awkward later.”
An image of Layla finding them in the morning flashes in Liam’s mind and he sighs. He knows Zayn is right but still, he just wants to lie in the afterglow of his and Zayn’s orgasms and wait until they can go again. Together they get up and make quick work of the sheets. The dirty sheets are tossed in the hamper as they make the bed with clean ones. Their shower is extended as they get distracted cleaning themselves and each other before making out lazily against the wall. It isn’t until the water is cold and Zayn is shivering that Liam shuts the taps and pulls him out of the stall. Once they’re dry and changed into pajamas, Liam curls up around Zayn and barely lets him put a few inches between them.
Wrapped up in one another, they begin to talk about everything. Liam feels the exhaustion of the past few days catching up with him but he refuses to give in, not just yet. He doesn’t want the magic of this night to go this soon. He admits this to Zayn who grins and confesses that he feels the same way.
The slight creaking of their bedroom door opening catches their attention. Liam lifts his head just enough that he can see Layla’s head peeking in through the darkness, the light from the window reflecting off of her face. Their eyes meet and he sees her eyes widen as she gasps and pulls the door close.
“Lay?” Zayn says softly. Liam nods.
“Yeah. She ran off though. I’m going to go check on her babe.”
Zayn chuckles. “Told you so.”
“Fuck off,” Liam hisses without heat. He makes his way down the hallway and steps into Layla’s bedroom. He sees her curled up under her blanket pretending to be asleep. Smiling fondly, Liam crosses the room and sits on the edge of her bed. “You okay babe?”
“Sleepin’,” Layla says from under her blankets. She makes exaggerated snoring sounds which are punctuated with giggles. “Can’t talk Daddy.”
“Layla Payne!” Liam laughs. He leans in and starts to tickle her through her blankets until she pokes her head out laughing heartily.
“Daddy, stop. Not fair.” When she’s calmed herself down from her laughter, Layla curls up with her head on Liam’s chest, arms wrapped around his stomach affectionately.
“What happened babe? You came down to our room.” Liam waits and sees Layla shrug. She avoids looking at him and he leans down to kiss the crown of her head. “Layla? Are you okay?”
“I’m okay, Daddy.”
“Please look at me Love,” Liam requests. When she looks up he smiles at her. “What happened?”
Layla takes a deep breath and buries her face in her Daddy’s chest. Finally, she pulls away and looks up at him again. “I had a bad dream. I had a bad bad dream. A mare.”
“Nightmare?” Liam supplies softly. He kisses Layla’s cheek when she nods.
“Nightmare. I had a dream that Zee left and didn’t say goodbye. That he left and didn’t come home ever.” Layla looks up at Liam with wide eyes as she bites her lip nervously. “S’why I had to come and check. Wanted to know if he was still here.”
“Do you know how much I love you Babe?” Liam says honestly. He pulls his daughter onto his lap and holds her tight, careful not to hurt her but enough so that she can’t get away. “How much you mean to me?”
Layla nods and kisses Liam’s cheek affectionately. “I love you Daddy.”
Liam watches as she looks at the door shyly before curling back into his embrace. With a knowing smile, he leans down to whisper into her ear. “Did you want to go down and check on Zee? Make sure he’s okay?”
She twitches a few times, like she wants to go but isn’t sure she should. Finally, she shakes her head and look up at Liam with a distracted smile. “It’s okay Daddy. I’m a big girl.”
Liam shrugs. “I don’t know babe. I think Zee would really like if you went down to tuck him in. He wasn’t sleeping. We were just talking. I think he would be happy if his Layla Bear went down to wish him a good night.” The hope in her eyes, the way she lights up and her smile takes over her whole face has Liam’s stomach fluttering happily.
“I know.” Liam watches her nod resolutely.
“Okay. Let’s go.” Layla says as she jumps off of his lap and holds her hand out for Liam to take. They walk down the hall together and Liam isn’t surprised to see Zayn sitting up with the lamp on the side of the bed on. As soon as they walk into the bedroom, Layla lets go of his hand and rushes to the bed to crawl up beside Zayn. “I came to tuck you in Baba.”
Zayn’s lips curl into a grin and he pulls her onto his lap. “You did? I’m so lucky.”
“You tucked me in, now its’ my turn.” She leans in and presses a kiss to Zayn’s jaw as she tucks herself under his arm. “I’ll stay until you fall sleep, okay Baba?”
Liam watches fondly as Zayn doesn’t even look up from Layla, curling so that she’s the little spoon to his big spoon. “I was just going to ask you to stay with me until I fall asleep, Babe. You’re the best.”
With a pat to his head, Layla giggles. “Of course I am. Duh.”
It is literally a matter of minutes, the time that it takes Liam to head down to the kitchen for a bottle of water and return that he finds both Zayn and Layla snoring softly in the room. They’re both passed out in exhaustion, Zayn’s arms wrapped around Layla protectively and her holding onto Liam’s pillow in her tiny hand. Liam pulls his phone out of his jeans where they’d landed on the floor and opens his camera to take a few pictures. When he has taken at least a dozen pictures, Liam sets his phone safely onto his dresser and slides as gently as he can into the bed. He whispers his goodnight both to his daughter and his soul mate. It is with a silent prayer of thanks for his life, for all of the blessings he knows he is lucky to have that he lets himself relax and let the relief that they’ve weathered this storm wash over him.