Zayn doesn't understand how his love slipped through the cracks.
He's not complaining. It's just that it feels so obvious to him, everything – and when he looks at Liam it's like he's shouting, I love you, and he wants to clamp a hand over his mouth and try to put it all back in; when they're sitting next to each other his heartbeat is so loud, drumming on the bones of his ribcage like there's no tomorrow, he's persuaded Liam will hear...
So when Liam says to him, "You really can't dance, we should get Dani to teach you," with a frown, instead of "I didn't know you loved me so much it was actually a little painful," this day Zayn's pretty sure he stared at him so ardently there might be little burn marks on the place where the collar of Liam's T-shirt meets his collarbone, he doesn't really think.
"Yeah, you're right," he says.
Zayn's got no idea what he's agreeing to, but Liam's looking at him with his big eyes full of gold shavings, so he shrugs. "Yeah, of course."
That's how he ends up in this room with Danielle, head hurting and a lipstick bite on his neck.
He's not really sure how it all happened.
He knows she knows as soon as he gets in the room. It's all pretty strange – he's always thought of her as remote, not an enemy and not a friend either. It's hard to think of someone as an adversary when Zayn's the one spending every day of the week with Liam and sleeping next to him more often than not, even though they aren't in an actual relationship. He's always thought of Danielle as that sweet girl with the honey skin and the long legs.
But then he walks in the room, and she looks at him, and she knows.
"Hi," she says.
"Fuck," he doesn't answer, and then: "I need a cigarette."
She laughs, a little bitterly, and puts a tango CD in the player.
He's never seen her in tights before. She's really good-looking, with curves and everything (Liam loves her) and she's nice, she's got plump lips and skin that looks soft to the touch (she loves Liam).
She doesn't say, "So, you want to bone my boyfriend?" He doesn't broach the topic either.
Instead, she reaches out a hand, she smiles (she's really beautiful, and say that he's never hated before, it's almost like he's being given a gift). "Shall we?"
The first time, she tugs him towards her and she lets him fall on the floor when he loses his balance, even though she could easily have helped him.
She shrugs. "Learning," she says, a little wicked smile flickering at the corner of her mouth.
He looks up at her through his lashes, still on his knees.
Her eyes are dark. She's pretty, the type of pretty Liam would like, chestnut and honey, and Zayn is learning to hate her, burning like a fire twice born.
He doesn't ask her why they're learning tango, but he suspects the answer would be something like, "Because it's the dance of the cheaters and the prostitutes." He'd say, "No, that's just Moulin Rouge."
He doesn't need tango to strut around stage and do a half-twirl once in a while, but he clamps his teeth hard in his bottom lip and lets her tug at his waist, manhandle him like he's a doll, his skin twisting under her fingers.
"You're pretty," she says at some point, an agile leg wrapped around his waist, her sweaty cheek pressed against his.
"Yeah," he says – grunts, and pushes her backwards in half-controlled steps.
She laughs, raucous, and pushes back.
Loving Liam isn't a hard thing to do. It's the rest that's hard. Dealing with it.
"It's not about how much," Danielle says somewhere in the vicinity of his ear, "it's about how hard. It's about power. Intent has nothing to do with it."
Zayn pretends not to know she's talking about love. Her body when she's dancing is strangely easy, pliant and firm. He likes her like something you want to bite into and mess up, like something you want to make bleed.
It's funny how they both are so unfit to love Liam.
"Look, like this," says Danielle, and walks on his toe. He bites down on his lip, watches her cheeks go flushed, thinks something between oh and good.
There is no clock in a dancing room, never, or at least that's what Danielle says (but Danielle looks more and more like a liar up close), because you only stop dancing because you want to.
They don't want to, so they don't stop.
At some moment he couldn't pinpoint their steps become coordinated, and there's silence between their heavy, laboured breathing, before he twirls her and she slaps back on his chest, sweat-slick skin sliding against his.
"You're getting good," she says, looking half-appreciative and half-aggravated, and then she twists his arm and brings him to his knees, again.
He doesn't like it. He bends her over in a dip until the ends of her hair are touching the ground.
"Yeah, okay," she says.
Dancing is a little like war, Zayn thinks – but then, he thinks a lot of things are like war.
There's no 'who should get to love Liam', because this is real life and Liam isn't a toy that they can bargain over. He's not even sure who would come out the victor, anyway. (It's love – there's no victor.)
Instead, there is a break where they sit on the floor and she unscrews the cap of a Thermos of coffee and passes it to him.
"I should get back to the hotel," he says.
"Yeah," she answers.
There's a beat of silence, then. It's night outside. The darkness weighs heavy on their bones.
"Want a cigarette?" he asks her, even though he knows she doesn't smoke.
It's different, seeing her smoke.
It's not like seeing Liam smoke – the endearing way he holds the cigarette wrong and the way his mouth twists and his little coughs and the way he says, each time, "No, I don't like it."
Danielle knows how to smoke, and she fades well into the darkness, spine straight where it's pressed against the damp wall outside of the studio. The shadows fall on her eyelids like make-up, and her mouth is red, her lashes electric.
Zayn doesn't know why Liam loves her. (It's always been kind of a mystery for him, how Liam chooses the people he loves. It's not that they're worth-it, because they're all strange and kind of fucked up. Maybe he likes fixing people. Yeah, that sounds like Liam. Zayn wouldn't know how to start with Danielle, though – wouldn't know if there is something to fix.)
He kind of wants to say, fuck you, but the satisfaction of saying it isn't worth the conversation that'll have to follow, so he holds it in, sticky on his tongue.
Danielle looks over at him, sharp and knowing. "Good boy," she says, and laughs a little more, smoke flowing out of her mouth in haphazard white wisps.
Kissing her feels like the logical thing to do.
Or maybe she's the one who's kissing him.
One minute her fingers are tangled with his, trying to position her hands right on her hips, and then his fingers are in her hair, pulling her head back, and hers are raking hot red marks on his back.
"Fucker," she whispers in his mouth, and her eyelashes flutter, as though she hadn't meant to let it slip.
He's feeling magnanimous (or maybe it's the way her teeth are drawing blood out of his bottom lip), so he doesn't say anything.
One step back, leg sliding to the right, and Zayn's never learnt how to dance, but it isn't so hard, once you put the right amount of passion into it.
Her lipstick is smeared on his neck and jaw. For some reason, there isn't any on his lips. If it's a sign of the universe, Zayn thinks the universe is fucking cliché.
He's got a hard-on that she's deliberately ignoring, his T-shirt is bunched up on his back, and there's blood. She doesn't look pristine, either. It's a good look on her.
"Not good enough," she says, and this time he doesn't know what she's talking about at all, if she thinks he's not good enough for Liam, at dancing or at standing between her thighs, trying to make her run out of breath. Probably a little bit of the three.
"Let's try a lift," she says, and starts running towards him.
He doesn't catch her. He hurts his wrist and she falls into him with her thighs around his middle, nudging his ribs, strong.
She looks down at him like she's considering something, he doesn't know why, and then she's kissing him again, yanking his hair back.
"Your eyebrows are ridiculous," she says when she's finished and they're both panting, his hands still under her thighs, holding her up. His wrist hurts like hell.
They burst out laughing. It's like a nail on a chalkboard, only about ten times worse, and she's running a finger along his jaw the whole time, looking like she's afraid she might cut herself.
He leaves her in front of the studio. Even in the darkness, he feels so conspicious he wants to run back inside, tiny and scared. He clenches his teeth and tries not to shake. She looks at him without pity. It's surprisingly pleasant.
"See you next time," she says, and then: "We can try cha-cha-cha."
He's alone when he chuckles back, but he's pretty sure he hears a replying laugh somewhere in the starless night.
("So," Liam asks avidly the next morning at breakfast, "how did it go?"
Zayn looks at him and smiles broadly. "It was great," he says.
Harry catches his eyes behind them and raises an eyebrow. He won't tell. Harry doesn't tell. Harry knows about these things.
"I'm glad," Liam says sweetly, reclining in his chair and pushing a bowl of Cheetos towards Zayn.
"Yeah, me too," Zayn says, and hopes the you're the arms I need to stop shaking in his eyes isn't too glaring.)