Zayn has a funny restlessness building inside his chest and he doesn't know what to do with it. He play-fights with Liam and jumps all over Louis and still feels like his skin is the wrong size and he's got more energy than he knows what to do with.
He persuades Harry that it's a good idea for them to sneak out and go to a club. Harry isn't difficult to persuade, obviously. Louis and Liam are off doing something sporty – diving with sharks, probably, or learning to juggle – and Niall is hanging out with their band, so it's just him and Harry sneaking out. When Paul finds them he will, of course, threaten to kill them, but he doesn't really mean it. Zayn suspects the number of times they can sneak out and go to a club before the whole world falls down on their heads and someone tries to drug Harry and steal his hair is limited. They might as well sneak out now, while they still can. Harry grins and says, "Yolo!" and Zayn laughs and follows him out the back.
Harry likes shots and bottles of champagne he can shake up and spray on people. Zayn likes anything with a high alcohol content, and a crowded dance floor where he can feel people pressed up against him and not have to talk to anyone for a while. There is a lot of pressure, sometimes, being Zayn From One Direction. He has to look cool but he isn't actually cool; he'd really like to get drunk and talk about Avengers Assemble with people. Harry will definitely let him do that, later; Harry is agreeable to almost any conversation, and if you can pry his mobile out of his hand and separate him from Louis, he even listens and nods a lot.
Zayn feels weird, still, so he drinks and hopes it'll go away, but it doesn't. He and Harry mostly stick to the roped-off VIP section where they get groped by a load of girls. Zayn thinks about taking one of them round the back, getting his hands up under her skirt, kissing her and seeing if that's the distraction he needs, but he doesn't think it will be. The girls are pretty, but none of them know him. Zayn likes girls and how soft they are, how they smell, how they look at him, but he's got a little tired of girls that he can't remember in the morning. It's not satisfying. Zayn likes to cuddle, and he's never comfortable cuddling strangers.
The club spins a little, so maybe he's had enough shots. "I'm going out for a smoke," he shouts to Harry, and Harry shrugs, a don't-get-kidnapped-or-murdered-before-Paul-finds-us sort of shrug. It's amazing what Zayn has learned to read from his bandmates' body language. It's safer to stay together but Zayn might die if he doesn't get a cigarette and a moment of quiet. The club hasn't made his restlessness go away at all.
Security at the club either recognized them or has been told who they are; when Zayn goes out in the alley they mostly block it off, so he's alone with a couple of other smokers, enjoying the cool, damp night air. A guy wearing an Adidas jacket offers him a light and Zayn says, "Cheers."
"Nice night for it," the other man says, and Zayn shrugs. He'd be out smoking even if it were pouring rain. The guy keeps looking him up and down, and Zayn can't tell if he knows who Zayn is or not. He's university aged or a little older, maybe too old to have voted for them on X-Factor. It's always a bit hit-or-miss with blokes, whether they'll admit to knowing a boy band exists. He looks cool in a sporty way, and his hair is really carefully done, like he spent hours making it look unbrushed. Zayn's not allowed to make fun of anyone else for spending a lot of time on their hair, obviously.
"Have you seen Avengers yet?" Zayn asks suddenly. Harry might to be too drunk for a conversation by the time he gets back inside.
The guy blinks. "No," he says, "not yet." He pauses, glances Zayn up and down again, and says, "Why, was it good?"
"It was alright," Zayn says. "There was a lot about the Hulk, honestly." He blows a lungfull of smoke out and into the night air, and the other guy stares at his mouth a little. Zayn gives him a look out of the corner of his eye, and he glances away quickly.
"I dunno anything about the Hulk," says the other smoker. "I'm Tony, by the way. Is the Hulk important?"
Zayn decides probably he doesn't need to introduce himself in return. "The Hulk's fine," says Zayn. "But there was this whole bit in the middle about a plan I didn't follow. The end bit was great, though. They smashed up New York."
"Sounds good," says Tony. He drops his cigarette and stomps it out with an expensive trainer, then lights another one. He smiles at Zayn.
The restlessness is crawling up Zayn's throat and making him choke. "Are you flirting with me?" he asks suddenly. His voice is abruptly very loud in the alley.
Tony looks a little surprised and a little embarrassed, but he looks Zayn right in the eye. "Yeah," he says. "Sorry?"
"No," Zayn says, shaking his head. "It's fine. I just wasn't sure. With girls it's easier; they scream or giggle or take their tops off."
"I could if you'd like," says Tony, and he smiles crookedly, pretends to play with the zip on his jacket.
Zayn laughs. "That's alright," he says. "I was just checking." He's got used to the idea of male fans of the band, of guys screaming their names and holding up signs. Harry says they're subversive and something about gender and stereotypes that Zayn has never really tried to follow. Zayn's just always thought probably they'll sell twice as many albums if boys fancy them as well as girls, and he doesn't much care what anyone thinks about him as long as they do it politely. He was a little surprised at first, but he's learned to roll with it. Everything since he joined the queue to audition for X-Factor has been a lesson in rolling with it.
Actually, that's not a bad thought, either. "D'you know what yolo means?" Zayn asks. Tony shakes his head. "It means you only live once. You've got to do things, try things, take chances. Life is like a ride you only get one go round on, you know?"
Tony nods and shrugs. Zayn wonders how much shit he could talk and keep Tony staring at him like that. It's a little exciting and makes him feel a tiny bit guilty.
"What if I kissed you?" Zayn asks suddenly.
Tony blinks. "That'd be alright," he says.
"No, I mean…" Zayn laughs at himself and shakes his head. "It wouldn't mean anything, sorry. I'm just… I'm just trying to work something out. You can tell the tabloids and make a mint. I'll say Louis dared me."
"I wouldn't tell anyone," Tony promises. Zayn snorts. He has learned very fast that no one outside the band is entirely trustworthy. Everyone else wants something, even if it's just for him to be Zayn-From-One-Direction for them.
Zayn's pulse jumps in a way it doesn't when he's about to kiss a girl. He's never kissed another guy in earnest before. He thinks about laughing, playing it off, pretending he was just kidding, but Tony's sort of cute, in a forgettable way, and Zayn's not going to run in to that many guys he can discreetly kiss. And anyway, he's only checking something. Zayn ashes his cigarette and leans over. He looks at Tony's mouth for a minute. It's strange that Tony's the same height he is, strange that Tony has wide shoulders and an adam's apple. He smells of cologne and cigarette smoke and rum and his mouth is a little chapped. Girls have always just put on lipstick when Zayn kisses them.
It's a very soft kiss for a minute. Zayn's not sure what to do; he's got a cigarette in one hand and he's not going to put the other one on Tony's waist like he were a girl. Kissing another man softly feels very, very weird, so Zayn pushes a little, uses his teeth, and Tony kisses him back harder. He's pushing against Zayn, almost like it's a contest, and Zayn enjoys that, but…
It's not right. It's not enough. Zayn pulls back and stares off into space for a minute. Whatever's supposed to be going on inside his chest and his stomach isn't. It was a perfectly good kiss, but his heart isn't pounding.
"Wow," says Tony, so maybe he enjoyed it. Zayn feels better about that, at least. He doesn't want Tony going to the papers and saying Zayn is shit at kissing.
"Hmm," says Zayn.
Tony looks at him for a minute. "Just a guess," he says quietly, "but am I not the right person?"
Zayn wonders if he's always this transparent to total strangers. He tries not to watch himself in interviews, so he doesn't know. "It seems that way," says Zayn. "Sorry."
"Too bad," says Tony, with a wry smile. "You're really hot. Especially when you're smoking."
That makes Zayn think about the disappointed looks he's always getting off Liam when Liam catches him smoking. And that makes Zayn wish he'd had more to drink, or less, or… something. He doesn't know, but the buzzing under his skin gets a hundred times worse. "Thanks for being my test case," says Zayn.
Tony says, "Absolutely any time, it's no problem," like he's really serious. Zayn laughs.
"I should go and find my friend," says Zayn. He thinks Paul will probably show up any minute now to yell at them and drag them home, and he wants another drink before that happens. The itchy restlessness that's been crawling up his shoulders has settled into a quiet buzz under his skin.
Zayn has worked one bit out, at least. It's not that he wants to kiss boys. It's that he wants to kiss one boy.
Everyone is already in bed by the time Paul drags them back to the hotel. Zayn waits for Harry and Paul to go into their rooms and then sneaks back out of his. His head is spinning and he will definitely be paying for all this drinking in the morning. Zayn's not so drunk, however, that he can't jimmy the lock between the doors of their suites and let himself in to Liam's room.
Liam's fast asleep, sprawled across his bed, blankets kicked everywhere. He's probably been in bed for hours already. "Hey," says Zayn, crawling up next to him. "Liam. Hey, Liam. Liam!"
"Shut up," says Liam crossly, mostly asleep. He's learned to tell them all to leave him alone and let him sleep without ever really waking up. They do have a tendency to come home drunk and jump on him.
"Liam," Zayn whines. "Are you awake?"
"No," Liam mumbles, but he blinks and squints at Zayn. "Oh my god, how drunk are you? You reek of cigarettes."
"Sorry," says Zayn. "I'll go and have a shower," he promises, and then immediately forgets. "Hey, hey, hey, guess what?"
"What?" Liam sighs, rubbing his eyes with the palm of his hand. He hasn't asked Zayn to leave, and he hasn't complained about being woken up. Sometimes Zayn wonders what he'd have to do to make Liam honestly cross. He can't imagine it.
"I kissed a guy," says Zayn. He's a little proud of himself, and very, very drunk. Transgressive, Harry had said in the van home, and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Okay," says Liam.
They both wait for a minute. "Liam, I kissed a guy," Zayn repeats.
"Well… good for you?" Liam says, scrunching his face up. "It's the middle of the night, I don't know what you want from me."
Zayn wants a lot of things from Liam, but he's too drunk and tired to put any of them into words, and anyway he's not sure how to say them. "You're not shocked?" he asks instead.
Liam shrugs. "Yesterday Louis said he and Harry were expecting a baby together. Why would this shock me? Do you… Do you want me to be shocked? Is this, like, a big thing? Should I buy a rainbow flag and plan to march in parades with you?"
"You could do," Zayn grumbles. He doesn't know why he thought Liam would be excited about this the way Harry was. But then, Harry was drunk, and Liam is mostly asleep. "You still love me, right?" He's not at all worried about this, but he likes to make Liam say it so he can hear it.
"Of course I do," says Liam, as if Zayn is an idiot. "I don't understand what we're talking about."
Zayn pulls a sad face. He wants something from Liam, some kind of acknowledgement. But of course Liam doesn't know who Zayn kissed or why.
"I love you," says Liam patiently. "I love you always and forever, no matter who you kiss. Only don't kiss Louis, because Harry will murder you."
It's not what Zayn wants, but it's enough. "Okay," he says. "Well. That was my news. Sorry, go back to sleep. I'm all wound up, I'm never getting to sleep now. I'll wander the halls for a while, it'll be great—"
Liam sighs and throws the blankets back. "Don't be stupid," he says. "Just sleep here. You never have trouble falling asleep on me, ever."
Zayn loves Liam so much sometimes he doesn't know what to do with himself. He could just lean down and kiss Liam, and Liam would sigh and roll his eyes and wait for him to be done so they could both go to sleep.
Liam isn't nearly awake enough for what Zayn really wants. Zayn kicks off his trainers and snuggles up to Liam. Liam huffs a little laugh and rolls away from him, not out of reach, but just into his own space. Still close enough to cuddle.
Zayn's got his arm over Liam, and it's enough to make the buzzing under Zayn's skin quiet until he thinks maybe he will be able to sleep after all.
Zayn wakes up before Liam does, which is maybe the third time that's happened since they met. Liam is curled up against Zayn's side, warm and heavy. Zayn spends a minute looking at his eyelashes and then another looking at his mouth, and then another looking at how big Liam's hand is where it's resting on Zayn's hip.
When Zayn gets bored he tends to draw little cartoons of the band all over whatever paper is closest. With Louis he draws the smile first, and then his hair; Harry is the opposite. Niall is practically a cartoon in real life, Zayn could draw his face for ages.
Lately he hasn't known how to draw Liam, where to start, what to include. It's probably because he's been looking at Liam from all the wrong angles.
This is the angle he should be looking at Liam from always, Zayn thinks. He nudges Liam's cheek with his nose. Liam snuffles a little bit and doesn't move. Zayn kisses Liam's cheekbone, just below where his eyelashes fall.
"Liam," says Zayn quietly. "Hey, wake up."
Liam scrunches up his face but he yawns and blinks; he's the easiest one in the band to wake up. Normally it takes Zayn ages to wake up, but this morning he's wide awake almost immediately. The buzzing feeling is back, but he knows what it is this time. He wonders, briefly, if this is a good idea, but he can't really see a downside because it's Liam.
"Oh," says Liam around a yawn, "Hi. You're still here." He smiles sleepily and Zayn's heart lurches the way it didn't last night in the alley outside the club, the way it hasn't with all those girls he's met since he got famous.
Where would I go? Zayn thinks, and Why would I leave? but he doesn't say that, he just leans in and kisses Liam instead. For a minute Liam is mostly asleep and entirely confused, but Zayn can be very, very patient when he needs to be, and eventually Liam kisses him back. It's uncertain and very sweet, just the way Liam is when he doesn't know the rules of a game yet. Zayn's never tried to kiss anyone reassuringly before, but he thinks he's managed it when Liam wraps his fingers in Zayn's shirt and makes a fist, like he doesn't know what else he's allowed to do with his hands.
Zayn rolls on top of Liam, because he can. "Hi," he says, grinning down at him. Liam's got pillowcase creases on his cheek and he crinkles up his eyes when he smiles back. "I kissed a boy last night," says Zayn. "But then I worked out that he wasn't the right one."
Liam is trying not to laugh at him. "Oh, is that what that was about?"
"Yes," says Zayn seriously. "Is that cool?"
Liam does laugh, then, and Zayn kisses him again. Liam's fingers are pressed against Zayn's back and when Zayn slides his hands up underneath Liam's t-shirt, Liam's fingers dig in a little. Zayn's got one leg between Liam's and he thinks they both might be very late getting up this morning.
"It's cool with me," says Liam eventually. His bedhead is epic. Louis is going to tease them both until he's used up every single word in the English language and Zayn doesn't care at all. "I can't believe you woke me up in the middle of the night to crawl all over me and never mentioned—" Liam starts, laughing.
Zayn curls his fingers into Liam's side to shut him up. Liam giggles indignantly and tries to shove Zayn's hand away, but he doesn't actually seem that interested in moving Zayn from on top of him.
"Do you still promise to love me no matter which boys I kiss?" Zayn asks teasingly, kissing Liam's neck.
"Of course I do," says Liam, because he can never help but answer seriously, which Zayn thinks is amazing. "But I think I'd rather you only kissed me?"
"Oh good," says Zayn, because that's been his plan all along.