The clock in the corner of the room is ticking far too loud and he's pretty sure that he can hear the tap in the bathroom dripping even though the door to the en suite had been firmly shut an hour and fifteen minutes ago. Niall rolls over onto his stomach, leg flinging out in search of cool sheets and respite from the stifling heat under the covers. He buries his face in the middle of the two pillows letting out a low growl at the fact that the ticking only gets louder - if that's even possible.
It's clammy and warm but the window is open and the air conditioning is on, which only makes the noise in the room worse, a low humming and the faint sounds of cars and people in the early morning street fifteen floors below him. The duvet is pooled around his waist because it's so hot but he can't sleep without the comfort of covers so he's stuck in a sort of limbo - kicking them off to pull them right over himself again.
Dawn is beginning to creep up on him and he hasn't slept a wink, it's the third time this week and Niall is exhausted. It had started off slow, nothing too out of the ordinary. It starts to take him a little longer to fall asleep but he chalks it up to a combination of running high on adrenaline and the fact that he can't get Zayn out of his head.
But when he comes down from his high and is so thoroughly exhausted that he could cry but still can't drop off to sleep. It makes him frustrated, staring at the ceiling and willing for his mind to shut down and let him slip off into darkness.
Zayn finds him one morning, just walking up and down the hallway. He's coming out of his room, cigarettes in his hand and flicking the flame of his lighter on and off when he startles Niall - it's after three and he hadn't expected anyone to be up.
"What's up?" Zayn asks, eyebrows furrowing at the sight of him. Niall feels a jittery panic build in his stomach that he usually associates with seeing Zayn ever since he had came to terms with the fact that he's harbouring a major crush on his best mate and would quite like to see him naked. He runs his fingers through his hair self consciously, aware that he's standing barefoot in front of him and in the ratty t-shirt he sometimes sleeps in. Zayn's face twists in confusion at Niall's silence, he's just sort of gaping at him under his fluffy fringe.
"Can't sleep?" He suggests, flicking the lighter out of habit again and Niall feels an embarrassed flush work it's way up his neck, like he's been caught doing something he shouldn't. He still doesn't say anything so Zayn just quirks an eyebrow and doesn't push the subject. "Come out with me for a smoke?" He asks instead, hope edging into his tone.
"Yeah." Niall can't help the way his stomach twists or the way his lips quirk up into a smile. Zayn just returns his soft smile and hooks an arm around Niall's neck, leading him off towards the lifts and the cool outside. There's a light breeze that ruffles their hair and makes Niall shiver, which annoys him because his room is so hot. He curls his toes against the cold and hovers in the doorway as Zayn steps out and lights his cigarette.
"So how come you can't sleep?" Zayn finally asks him and Niall suspects it had been on the tip of his tongue the whole elevator ride down. He turns so he can watch Niall's expression change from neutral to bewilderment.
"I dunno." Niall sighs, hand gripping the splintered wood to keep him from swaying on the spot - because he doesn't. He wants to sleep, needs to sleep and just can't. "Even when I get my head to quiet down and stop thinking about everything it still takes forever."
"What are you thinking about?" Zayn prods him, blowing a ring of smoke that floats up above their heads, growing wider and wider until it disappears. "Anything I can help you with?"
Niall snaps his eyes away from the swirling smoke of Zayn's cigarette and feels his cheeks heat up, he glances around, anywhere other than his eyes.
"Nah." Niall shrugs hoping he can brush it off and Zayn won't push further. "Nothing to worry about. I just want to sleep."
"Yeah." Zayn's eyes narrow and Niall wonders what he's going to ask. He pauses for a moment, just to look at him and inhale the last draw from his cigarette before he sighs and stubs it out on the wall beside Niall's shoulder. He turns and Niall can nearly see the strings he's pulling to get the smile on his face to work. "Come on. Let's get you to bed."
Niall let's himself be pulled close and smiles into Zayn's neck as they slowly make their way back up to their floor. Zayn hesitates outside him room, questions in his eyes that Niall isn't brave enough to answer, he wants to ask him to stay or pull him through the doorway but doesn't. He just gives Zayn one last squeeze before slipping inside his dimly lit room and flopping down onto the mattress, sleep still seeming so far away.
None of the other boys really notice - well they do - Niall's being too quiet and irritable during the day for them not to notice that something's wrong but none of them dig for a reason. It's drawing to the end of the tour and the rest of them are tired too and no one really wants to start an argument.
Zayn just takes in his appearance the next morning, runs the pads of his thumbs under his eyes with a contemplative hum before telling him that he can sleep against his shoulder on the way to the venue. Niall accepts his offer but for the next hour and a half he just blinks slowly, eyelashes brushing against Zayn's neck and inhaling the scent of his cologne as he dodges sleep yet again.
"M'fine." He mumbles when he pushes himself off Zayn's chest answering his unasked question. He suspects that Zayn doesn't believe him but he buys Niall a cup of coffee anyway and doesn't say anything to the rest of the guys, which Niall is inexplicably grateful for.
He figures and sort of prays while he lies awake at night staring at the ceiling that it'll be different when he finally makes it home, with his own pillows and mattress and nothing specific to get up in the morning for. He dreams of it when he does drop off, restless even in his dreams and the hope is stronger than ever when he wakes up just as exhausted as before.
But it doesn't. Sleep is still elusive as ever in London as it is in Florida.
It's Zayn who catches him again but Niall isn't surprised. He's just bought a house but it won't be ready for a few weeks so he's staying in Niall's spare room while he's in London. Niall tries to play it off and for a day or two he thinks it's working because Zayn doesn't say anything to him. But on Thursday morning, sun peaking over the edge of the London skyline and birds starting their morning chorus, Zayn finds him, curled in a ball on the end of the couch, body aching but eyes wide open.
"What's wrong Niall?" Zayn asks, voice soft, sleep still lingering on the edges of his eyes. He slips onto the couch beside him, feet curling under the blanket to tangle with Niall's.
Niall shrugs. "Can't sleep." His shoulders feel heavy but there's not much he can do. Zayn just quirks an eyebrow and shuffles closer so he can snuggle into him more. Niall let's him, revelling his warmth and letting it soak into his bones. He rolls around so he can tuck under Zayn's arm properly and let himself be cuddled.
"You not tired?" Zayn asks him in the quiet, words nearly disappearing into his hair. Niall nods, chin rubbing over Zayn's collarbone. Zayn doesn't say anything else, just tucking his fingers under Niall's arm and keeping him close. He falls asleep fifteen minutes later and Niall just listens to him breathing until the sun is much higher in the sky.
He falls asleep eventually, curled up beside Zayn and only wakes up when he hears the whistle of the kettle and Zayn softly speaking into his phone in the doorway to the kitchen.
"Sorry." He sighs when he sees Niall blink up at him. "Didn't think it would whistle so loud."
Niall shrugs, shoulders popping. He feels groggy but he knows that he'll never be able to drift off again. He sits up, untangling himself from the blanket and pads into the kitchen to where Zayn is pouring water into three mugs. He adds three sugars to the blue cup on the end and somewhere in his foggy brain he connects the dots and figures that it's for Harry.
Niall sips at his tea with a grunt of thanks to Zayn but it's too hot and it burns his tongue so he blows sleepily on the lip of his mug and perches on one of the bar stools at the island waiting until he hears Harry's signature three taps on his front door and the sound of his key fitting into the slot.
He ruffles Niall's hair when he slinks past, Niall too slow to duck away so he just lets blunt nails scrape over his scalp and watches as Harry gives Zayn a half hug, gulping at his tea with his other hand.
Niall doesn't listen to what they talk about, Harry is gesticulating a lot with his hands and Zayn is laughing but Niall doesn't pay much attention to the words, letting them wash over his head as he turns all of his concentration to just watching the line of Zayn's throat when he throws his head back or how he sometimes curves over in on himself when he laughs. He likes the way he can see a sliver of skin, pulled tight over his hip bones and edged by the lines of his waistband. He wants to press his thumbs into the shadows of Zayn's hips, thumb over the ridges and slip his fingers under his t-shirt, running over the plains of his stomach.
He hasn't said one word since he's woke up but he isn't really sure if his mouth would work right now anyway, it feels heavy and disconnected to the rest of him - sort of like he's forgotten how to speak so he just sips at his tea and stays quiet. Harry notices, shooting him concerned looks whenever there's a lull in conversation that he would normally be filling. Niall stares blankly back, unable to make an expression anyway. His tea goes cold so he pushes it into the centre of the island and let's Zayn pour it down the sink.
"Are you feeling alright Nialler?" Harry finally asks him when he's pulling his jacket back on and apparently leaving. Niall doesn't say anything and neither does Zayn so Harry just rolls his eyes and pulls him into a hug. Niall can't help it, sort of melts into him just because it's getting hard to stay up right on the uncomfortable stool. Harry chuckles quietly into his hair before stepping back but the worry is still clear behind his smile.
"Don't worry." Zayn grins, reaching out to smooth a hand over Niall's cheek. He's mirroring the frown on Harry's face but his jaw falls slack as soon as Zayn touches it. "I'll look after him and he'll be right as rain soon."
Niall feels his lips tug up and something warm settle in his stomach. Zayn's giving him this look that Niall can't really describe and he's hit suddenly with the intimacy of the situation, even though Harry is beside them and he's probably imagining it. He gasps a breath and watches as Zayn's eyes flicker, glinting over his cheeks and lips before turning back to Harry. The smile on his face seems to placate Harry because the worry slips away, turning into a genuine smile that lights up the room.
"Ok." He pulls Zayn into another hug. "I'll see you in a couple of days. Don't get up to too much mischief while I'm away."
Zayn laughs, low and rich and it's like a punch to Niall's gut. He walks him to the door where they stand on Niall's doormat and have a hushed conversation, most likely about the state of Niall but he can't find the energy to care, flopping off the stool and making it back into the living room. He's just got the blanket around his shoulders again when Zayn reappears, worry more pronounced on his face now that it's just the pair of them but he doesn't say anything, just settles down beside him like they had before and flicks through channels until he finds something to watch with the volume so low neither of them can really hear it. It's in black and white and has lots of scenes with water and Niall let's his eyes follow the rock of the waves until his eyelids begin to droop and he's finally able to drop off again.
It's nearly dinnertime by the time he wakes up again. He hasn't slept that long in days but it doesn't really feel like he's been asleep at all. The TV is on, still turned down low and Niall watches a few adverts blankly while he blinks the sleep from his eyes. He can hear Zayn clattering about the kitchen and smell cooking so he sits and waits until Zayn pops his head round the door a few minutes later.
"Oh good, you're awake." He smiles and disappears again into the kitchen. He returns, two bottles of beer under each arm, bottle opener clutched between his teeth and two plates balanced in his hands.
"Thanks." Niall mumbles, voice rough when he reaches out to take a plate. Their fingers brush and Niall knows he's practically living a cliché but he's sure he doesn't imagine the little shivers that zing across his arm or the flutter in his stomach. Zayn clears his throat awkwardly, shuddering himself as he settles onto the sofa beside him. Niall's not sure if he's hungry but the food looks nice and Zayn keeps throwing him a small expectant look that's hard to turn down so he digs a fork in and swallows down a mouthful, eyes caught in Zayn's gaze the whole time.
Louis calls round when it appears that they've both become hermits. He had called Zayn, demanding that he join him for the long drive up North but Zayn had refused, eyes stinging from where he was chopping onions. Louis had appeared fifteen minutes later, keys jingling in his hand and a frown firm on his face.
"How did you get across London that fast?" Niall asks him curiously. He's not feeling too bad today, just a little groggy but he had blasted cold water in his face when he was in his shower until he didn't feel so fuzzy around the edges. Niall rubbed the towel through his hair and settled onto the end of the armchair as Louis brushes away his question.
"I have my ways Horan." Louis shrugs and turns on Zayn who has spent the most of his time clearing Niall's cupboards of everything edible. He's on his second stew of the week and Niall's stomach is already rumbling at the smell of it. "Why aren't you going up home?"
"Didn't want to leave Niall on his own." Zayn shrugs, holding out a spoon to Louis to taste. Louis frowns at him, lips wrapping around the spoon before he draws back, waving his hand in front of his mouth.
"Hot!" Louis exclaims making Niall giggle. Zayn's face lights up at the sound and he has to turn back to the stove so they don't see his blush. Once Louis has swallowed down a few mouthfuls of water straight from the tap he turns back to them, eyes narrowing as they rake over Zayn's still hot face. "It's good." He mumbles, gesturing to the bubbling pot before he turns and gestures over to where Niall's sitting. "But I'm sure Niall can handle a few nights on his own. He's a big boy you know?"
"Yeah." Zayn agrees, grinding some black pepper into the pot so he has something to do with his hands. "I'm aware of how big Niall is."
"I bet you do." Louis smirks, joke automatic on the tip of his tongue. He steps closer and drops his voice. "Zayn." He murmurs warningly. Niall can just about make out his words. Louis flicks his eyes obviously in Niall's direction and there's a pretty flush on Zayn's cheeks again. "What's this about?"
Zayn rolls his eyes. "Stop over analysing everything and go and see your family. So what, I'm staying with Niall for the weekend."
"He doesn't really need looking after." Louis protests and Zayn sighs, dropping the spoon and stepping back from the stove.
"Niall is sitting right here." Niall reminds them half heartedly, pulling his hoodie closer around his chest. It smells like Zayn and Niall doesn't want to admit to himself how nice it feels wrapped around his shoulders. Louis glances over and takes in the sorry sight before him with a frown.
"Actually." He changes his mind and prowls towards him. "You do look a little peaky."
Niall bats his hands away from him, edging off the side of the sofa and walking towards where Zayn is pottering around the fridge.
"So." Louis sighs, resignation in his tone as he glances over to Zayn. "Zayn going to nurse you back to health? That's it? There's nothing else going on here?" He waggles a finger between them and Niall nearly passes out his heart drops into his stomach that fast. Zayn doesn't move away from the fridge, flaming face stuck between two jugs of milk and Louis' adopts the biggest shit eating grin Niall has ever seen him.
"Ahh." He giggles gleefully, hands actually clapping together as his eyes flick back and forth. "I'll leave you and your sexual tension here shall I?"
Niall wants to punch him. He hasn't felt this embarrassed in quite some time. Zayn pulls his head from the fridge, much redder than before and Niall's stomach does a sort of somersault as his brain kicks into overdrive analysing what it means.
"I made cakes." He says flatly thrusting a Tupperware box into Louis' hand. "You don't deserve them, but we have far too many."
"Thank you grandma Malik." Louis smiles sickenly sweet and Zayn swats him around the side of the head. "I have to say though, your plan is flawless."
"Oh yeah?" Zayn asks idly and then clenches his jaw, realising belatedly that he's only feeding into Louis' jokes.
"Yeah." He nods, faux serious as he stuffs a pink frosted fairy cake into his mouth. "Getting to Niall's heart through his stomach. Ingenious."
"Fuck off." Zayn snaps and pushes a giggling Louis out the door. Niall tries not to read too much into his tone and when he appears back in the kitchen a few moments after the front door clicks closed he's calm again, faint smile on his face as he shuffles back to the stove, spooning some stew out for Niall to taste like nothing even happened.
"You have an eyelash." Zayn says batting away Niall's curled knuckles from where he was rubbing at the sleep still stuck in his eye. They're pressed up against each other, swaddled in one of the blankets that normally sits over the back of the sofa. There's some rubbish movie on the TV but neither of them have really been paying that much attention to the plot. They've been doing this a lot. Dragging pillows and blankets into the living room and cuddling together until Niall feels sleepy enough to drift off to sleep for a few hours.
"Here?" Niall rubs at his cheeks but Zayn only smiles fondly at him and reaches out to catch the eyelash on the edge of his fingertip. Niall can feel Zayn's breath because they're so close, short and shallow huffs against his chin. His hand slips down to cup his chin and Niall can't help himself but push his lips out into a pout so he can feel Zayn's fingertips as they trail over his skin. It's almost like a kiss and his breath hitches when Zayn's eyelids flutter shut, eyelashes sweeping down like ink.
His lips are soft and pouty and warm against his. They don't move at first but on the second brush of Niall's against his, Zayn finally responds gently kissing him back. Niall pulls back, sucking air into his lungs and looking up to catch Zayn's gaze.
"What are we doing?" Zayn asks him in a whispered rush. His hand has dropped down so that his fingertips brush the nape of his neck and slip into his hair there.
Niall thinks a moment, he sort of wants to sit back, ignore it happened and laugh it off as some sort of sleep deprived mistake but Zayn is still impossibly close and he can't stop inhaling his scent or letting his eyes flicker down to run over the swell of his lip.
Zayn catches him but instead of asking him again he just presses forward to catch his lips and kisses him properly, hard enough to elicit a moan from both of them. Niall winds an arm around him, the blanket slipping down off his shoulders as he hooks his elbow around Zayn's shoulders and pulls him closer until their chests are touching.
"Should we be doing this?" Zayn pants against his cheek when they next break for air. Niall giggles through his gasping and brushes his lips over Zayn's chin, skin catching on stubble.
"Probably not." He whispers and enjoys the visible shiver that goes down Zayn's spine. He runs his finger down the back of his neck, dipping down into the collar of the loose t-shirt he's wearing until he can scrape a fingernail down one, two, three knobs of his spine.
"Yeah." Zayn presses his lips back to Niall's again, pulling his bottom lip into his mouth and running his tongue over it. "This is a bad idea."
"Definite bad idea." Niall agrees pulling him back again, free hand sliding down into the folds of the blanket that's pooled around their waists so he can run a thumb over the slice of skin between the hem of his t-shirt and the waistband of Zayn's boxers. Zayn huffs a gasp against Niall's collarbone, dipping down to nip at the skin there and pushing forward until he can push Niall back into the mound of pillows behind him. Niall grins into the heated air between them, hitching a leg over his waist to pull him closer and bracket his hips with his knees.
They kiss lazily, breaking apart of whisper and giggle at how insane this is, until Niall's eyes are drooping and Zayn doesn't have the heart to keep him awake any longer.
"Maybe you're my cure." Niall slurs against Zayn's throat when he half carries him into his bedroom. Zayn just smiles at him and doesn't point out that he's been up nearly twenty four hours straight, just tucks him in and slides into the middle of the bed beside him. Niall curls into him, lips pressing softly to the meat of his shoulder in a goodnight kiss before he's completely out for the count.
Zayn stops shaving and Niall spends the next few days watching as his jaw gets darker and rougher. He wonders, idly, how it would feel against his skin, rough against his tongue. He brushes his forehead against it one evening when Zayn hugs him, cuddled up in front of Wimbledon highlights that neither of them are too interested in but can't be bothered to turn over. It's the girls, and Niall supposes he should be more interested in tight white skirts and overly suggestive grunting but his mind is drawn to the scratch of Zayn's chin against the crook of his neck. It's rough and shouldn't really feel good at all but Niall has to bite on his lip and fight against the stirrings in his stomach when Zayn drags his chin across his shoulder, the collar of his shirt dragging with it until it can go no further and snaps back, the cotton soothing after Zayn's skin.
He huffs out a breath and let's his eyes focus on the ball as it flies over the net, back and forth, back and forth as Zayn shuffles about beside him, falling sideway onto some cushions and getting more comfortable. Niall sort of misses his heat, the feeling of being cocooned into the arm of the sofa but he can still feel the thrum of heat from Zayn's thigh, pressed solidly against his knee.
He can see Zayn yawn from the corner of his eye and feels his jaw go with it, yawning wide until his cheeks hurt. He can hear Zayn laugh at him, leaning over to grab the notepad off the coffee table. He's making a list of ingredients but Niall can't really remember what he's making, he's sure that they've talked about it but for the life of him he can't recall it. Zayn moves his leg, knee coming up and ankle coming over so it can hook over Niall's lap. He settles it there, calf pressing against him and toes wiggling into the fabric of the sofa beside Niall's wrist.
It's raining outside, dark before it should for this time of the year and no where really near bedtime but Niall hasn't slept all day again, and had only gotten an hour during the night so he turns his eyes back to Wimbledon, back and forth, back and forth until his eyes can't follow it anymore and he's sucked into darkness.
"I've Googled it." Zayn announces one foggy morning once Niall has woken up enough to process his words. He's wedged onto the bench, sandwiched between a chilly Obama and a warm Zayn, cradling a strong cup of tea between his knees that are pulled up to his chest.
"Yeah?" Niall asks hoping that he hasn't missed the start of this conversation and should know vaguely what he's on about. Zayn grins at him sheepishly and ducks his head a bit. He smells like bread and a sweet spice and Niall wonders again how he has the energy to bake when he feels so drained in comparison.
"I think you have acute insomnia." Zayn mumbles, the embarrassed flush rising higher and Niall feels a sudden rush of affection for him. "You have trouble sleeping and when you do it isn't restful."
"I already knew that." Niall mutters and finishes his tea but the mug is still warm so he shoves back between his thighs. It's a chilly morning but the cool air swirling around the little balcony is making him more alert than the caffeine. It rained again last night and he can still smell it in the air. It mixes with the smell of sugar and Niall wonders what Zayn is going to cook today.
"I know." Zayn agrees, running his thumb around the lip of his cup, eyes following it like he can't quite meet Niall's. "It's caused by stress and I think the jet lag and travelling has just made it worse."
Niall bites his tongue so he doesn't make a sarcastic remark about Zayn's sudden medical degree via google. It does all fit, but so far knowing what to call it doesn't give him any ideas of how to sleep better.
"And what's the cure?" He asks instead turning his head to the side so his temple rests gently on Zayn's soft warm shoulder. "Do I have to go to the doctor?"
"No." Zayn runs a soothing hand over his thigh and let's his palm rest on his knee. "I don't think it's that bad yet. There's all these things about getting you into a routine and making sure you have good sleep hygiene."
"Like brushing your teeth?" Niall can't help but ask and he feels Zayn's chuckle as well as hears it.
"No." He squeezes Niall's knee and grins down at the crown of his head. "Like making sure it's dark and quiet and warm."
"Oh right." Niall nods and watches as Zayn's hand slips around his knee until his fingers can slip behind and he has a grip on the muscle, thumb rubbing over the bone. Niall presses his knees together and traps his fingers gently.
Zayn tastes of spice, hot against his tongue when Niall licks into his mouth. His hand is curled around his neck, thumb pressed against his pulse and he can feel Zayn's moan before his ears register it. It sends a shiver down his spine and he can't help the way he arches up into him in response.
It's late. Niall knows it is because he's been lying in bed for hours, Zayn resolutely staying in the living room until it was his time to go to bed. It's the first night of trying Zayn's new rules. Bed at midnight, no caffeine or alcohol after dinner and nothing too exciting for the hour before he goes to bed. Zayn called it 'wind down time' but all Niall has done all day is muck about on the guitar and play a few half assed rounds of Fifa with Zayn while his things in the kitchen were simmering. He hasn't been up anywhere to wind down from.
So far, his rules aren't really working, considering the speed of Niall's heartbeat right at this moment.
Zayn rolls him over properly, an elbow coming to rest against the pillows near Niall's ear and straddling his hips. Niall squirms under him, trying to feel more of Zayn's skin pressed against him. He tries trailing his free hand up over the curve of Zayn's bum to settle at the base of his spine and push him down against him, deepens the kiss with a hot swipe of his tongue against Zayn's.
"Niall." Zayn pants against his lips when he pulls apart.
"Yeah." Niall puffs out, only realising now how out of breath he is. He presses forward anyway, capturing Zayn in another breathless kiss, feeling his resolve crumble when he sucks on Zayn's bottom lip until he's kissing him back for a long moment.
"This is going against my rules." Zayn murmurs, grinding down slow, hand coming up to press against Niall's chest where he can feel his heart hammering below his ribs. Niall groans, head rolling back into the pillows, baring his neck to Zayn. He licks over skin, small and short kitten licks until he's lapping up his jaw and reach his mouth again. "You're supposed to be getting a good nights rest."
"You're not really a doctor." He gasps out, watching from heavy lidded eyes as Zayn let's a slow, sly grin fall onto his face. "I think it's the wrong treatment anyway. We'll get a second opinion in the morning. Just kiss me."
Zayn laughs against his skin, nipping at his neck and licking over to soothe it. Niall can't help the sounds he's making now, he can feel Zayn against him, hard and hot against his thigh and all he wants to do is rub up against him, slot against him and just roll his hips. He flips them over, listening as Zayn moans into his shoulder when he presses down into the mattress. He kisses him again, it's sloppy but Zayn doesn't seem to mind, hands slipping into his boxers in return, palms against his skin and pushing them down over the curve of his arse. Niall doesn't waste any time either, hand slipping below his waistband and curling around Zayn and watching with fascination as Zayn's eyes flutter closed and his mouth opens into a perfect 'o'. He gives a testing tug and Zayn's eyes open wide, sparkling and intense, jaw opening to let out a breathless grunt when he cants his hips upward.
"There's no turning back." Zayn gasps at him, one hand palming him, the other coming up to grip his chin and pull his face to meet him. "If we actually do this, I'll -"
Niall wants to scream, Zayn's hand is warm and perfect around him and he just wants to fuck furiously into his palm. He twists his wrist teasingly, watching Zayn swallow and his eyelids flutter again.
"I'll want to do this all the time." Zayn pants into Niall's collarbone, lips smoothing over skin and his tongue reaching out to lick at him like he can't help it. It sounds like a warning but it ignites a flickering flame of hope behind Niall's ribs.
"I'm ok with that." He tells him with a slow grin. Zayn's hand scrabbles around his side so he can clutch at his shoulder blade and he moves his other hand again, making sparks shoot up Niall's spine and settle in his belly.
"Good." Zayn mutters, rocking up against him. Niall doesn't know where to focus, there's so much skin pressed against his and he wants to run his hands over it all. He's glad when Zayn pulls him close, hand tangling in his hair and kissing him hard, teeth scraping over his lip until he comes a few minutes later all over Zayn's fist.
They fall apart, breathing harsh and shuffling over to the other side of the bed. Zayn rolls over onto his stomach, hands suddenly hesitant when he reaches out but Niall just tips his head until his lips can land somewhere half on Zayn's cheek, half on the corner of his eye, lazy smile clear on his face. Zayn smiles back, content and already falling asleep. Niall kisses him again before Zayn pulls apart to breathe hot against his neck, slipping asleep long before Niall does.
"Are you tired of doing endless crunches and lunges and not getting anywhere?" A man with a crooked moustache and nasally American accent asks him. He's straddling a bench and is wearing red lycra shorts. Niall's already seen him - it's his second loop through the shopping channels.
"Yes." Niall answers drowsily.
"I lost two inches off my waistline in two weeks!" A perky blonde announces, mega watt grin on her face, she turns to the side so Niall can see her chiselled hips and smiles wider. Niall wants to punch her.
"Good for you Mindy." He slurs instead and flicks over the channel so he doesn't have to see Mindy and moustache man demonstrate their gym apparatus for a second time. It's the chopper that he's already bought, he had watched the presenter slicing a cucumber for forty minutes last Tuesday, Niall doesn't even like cucumber but he bought it anyway. Zayn has already chopped everything chop able in the apartment into perfect little pieces.
Zayn snuffles against him. He's fast asleep, curled into Niall's ribs and snoring lightly. Niall's ridiculously jealous of him but he likes the rhythm of his breathing and the feeling of it ghosting over his arm. Niall has an arm flung over his shoulder, rising with the shift of his chest and his fingers pressed against his bicep, smoothing over the skin there. It's calming in a way that late night infomercials are not.
The next one is a balding man building a wall with a magic bricklaying gadget. Niall doesn't think he has any walls to build so he flicks back onto Moustache Man.
"Go to sleep." Zayn murmurs against him. He can feel his lips, damp through his t-shirt.
"Sorry." Niall mumbles as Zayn untangles himself from Niall's grip. His eyes are only half open, drooping even as he fights the drowsiness. They sparkle from the flashing lights of the TV where Mindy is doing something wiggly with her hips and telling them what number to dial. "Didn't mean to wake you."
Zayn doesn't respond, just sighs, then yawns, and leans over to flick off the television.
"M'tired." Zayn murmurs kissing the corner of his mouth on his way back. Niall manages to smile at him but Zayn is already threading his fingers through Niall's knuckles and pulling him off the cushions and towards his bedroom.
"So am I." Niall sighs when Zayn pulls away from him to crawl into the bed.
"I know you are." Zayn fights another yawn and let's Niall slide in beside him. Niall's kind of surprised at how quick they've gotten used to this. It's not that they didn't cuddle before, but it just feels much more different now. Zayn winds his arm over Niall's waist and tucks him into him, kicking his foot through his ankles so they're interwoven.
"We'll try something new tomorrow." Zayn promises him, running his nose over the ridge of Niall's shoulder and pressing his lips against his skin. Niall presses back instinctively, relishing his touch but Zayn is already falling back asleep, chin hooked over his shoulder and nose buried somewhere near Niall's ear.
They don't bother hiding love bites and bed hair. There's one on Zayn's hipbone that Niall's especially proud of, it peeks out over the waistband of his sweats when he opens the door for Liam on a few days later on a dizzily Friday morning.
"Morning." Zayn murmurs and moves on past him to the kitchen where Niall is already sitting. He's been awake for a few hours, part of Zayn's plan of action is getting him into a routine so he's up at 7 whether he's awake or not.
Liam follows him in, mouth hanging open slightly and eyes growing wide as they flick between the pair of them.
"Have you had breakfast?" Zayn asks flicking on the kettle and rubbing at his eyes. He stretches up to the cupboard and the bruises across his hips are more noticeable. Both Niall and Liam's eyes trail them, but for different reasons. "I baked banana bread if you want some. There's eggs, or leftover curry from last night if you want to go straight into lunch."
"I thought - " Liam starts, eyes swivelling around to look at Niall who blushes at being caught ogling Zayn. "I thought Louis was taking the piss."
Zayn frowns. He pushes at Liam's shoulders until he sits down before he collapses and Niall pushes a bowl of perfectly sliced apples towards him.
"About what?" Zayn asks, turning back to the stove.
"About you two." He splutters. Niall peels the crust of his toast off and dips it into the boiled egg he's finally managed to get open without shattering the whole thing.
"What about us two?" Niall asks, grin already creeping onto his face. He doesn't feel remotely bad about being obvious in front of him, it's impossible to keep a secret between the five of them so there's no point. Zayn chuckles and finishes fishing the eggs out of the saucepan. He pops more toast and sets a plate in front of Liam who just looks between them again, mouth opening and closing before he can find words.
"That you've -" He lifts and hand and gesticulates wildly around them and Niall peeks over at Zayn to see if he's finding this as amusing as he is. "You've created some sort of love nest."
Zayn splutters into laughter, sliding into the seat between them.
"You have though." Liam insists hand waving around the kitchen again. "Zayn you've become some sort of domestic goddess and I don't know what the last time either of you have left this house?"
Niall sighs and bites into another round of toast. "Zayn does make a very good casserole though, if you had Zayn cooking for you, you'd never leave the house either."
Zayn smirks at him, hand reaching over the table until their finger tips brush over the wood. Liam stares at their hands with wide eyes before he swallows loudly.
Zayn nearly chokes at his bluntness.
"We are?" He asks playfully once he catches his breath and Niall giggles into his glass of orange juice. Liam gapes at them for a moment.
"Yes." He nods. "Look at you, this place reeks of sex and Zayn, you're covered in love bites. You better hope they're away by Monday by the way. Niall doesn't look like he's slept in weeks. Have you both lost your minds?"
"That's for an entirely different reason sadly." Niall tells him half seriously, but grips at Zayn's fingers until they're intertwined. Liam doesn't look very convinced, eyes flicking down to stare at their hands before flashing between the two of them.
"Calm down Liam." Zayn tells him, smile thinning until it's just a soft pull of lips. "It's all sorted out, nothing to worry about."
Niall grins down into his eggs as Zayn gives his hand a final reassuring squeeze that makes Niall's stomach flip.
"All sorted out?" Liam asks faintly, hands reaching for a piece of toast automatically.
"Yes." Zayn tells him seriously. "I'm working on Niall's little sleeping problem."
"No." Liam moans. Niall bites back a laugh at his expression because he looks like he might actually loose it in a moment.
"It's ok Liam." Niall cuts across Zayn who looks like he's about to give another bullshit answer. "Just eat your eggs and be safe in the knowledge that neither of us are going to suck you into our sex den."
Zayn snorts and cracks the top of his egg off. "Not for lack of trying though. Niall was easy to convince, you're next on my list."
Liam gives him a withering glare and turns to his eggs.
"I was not easy." Niall objects but he's grinning and Zayn just giggles over at him, pulling him close so he can squeeze a kiss onto the side of his mouth. He tastes like marmalade and when they finally pull back Liam looks slightly faint.
"It's not girly." Zayn tells him for the tenth time, but he's smiling and there's no annoyance in his tone. He kicks off his boxers into the pile of clothing he's already shucked off. Niall just gives him a mock glare and Zayn laughs at his pout.
"It is." Niall protests but each one had been getting feebler than the last so with a deep sigh he pulls off his t-shirt. Zayn grins at him, happy that he finally agreed.
"If you're that bothered, we don't have to tell anyone." Zayn reassures him, lifting a leg and stepping into the tub. He let's out a little groan of satisfaction due to the heat and Niall just raises an eyebrow.
"Like that will last." Niall tells him finally stripping naked and waiting until Zayn is settled in the bath before he climbs in too. "You all will be slagging me off for weeks about this."
Zayn snorts, hands coming out gently to settle on Niall's hips and guide him down into the silky smooth water. It's the last of Zayn's attempts to get him a good night sleep and Niall has a sneaking suspicion that Zayn has been looking forward to this more than he's letting on.
"That's probably true." Zayn laughs as Niall settles against him, back pressed to Zayn's already slick chest. "But I'll make sure to tell them that you objected for a total of three seconds before you got in."
"Well." Niall shrugs, wriggling back so he can sit more flush against Zayn. His annoyance at the idea is ebbing away as the hot water begins to relax his muscles. Zayn's added something flowery to the bubbles as well and as much as he hates to admit that Zayn is right, it's making him drowsy. "It was either bathe with my extremely hot naked boyfriend or not, how can I resist that?"
Niall can feel Zayn tense behind him they're pressed so close together and momentarily winces at his choice of words. He's running on a few hours sleep, granted a few more hours than this time last week but his mouth still feels disconnected to his head sometimes. He moves his hand up, fingers slipping over the nodule of Zayn's knee before he curls around it and squeezes. He feels Zayn release a breath against his neck and Niall doesn't know if it was a good sigh or a bad sigh yet.
"Is that ok?" He finally breaks the silence, his voice sounds loud in his little bathroom. Zayn has lit candles so it's dim and he doesn't really want to turn around because he's pretty sure that Zayn will look heartbreaking, bathed in flickering golden light and face shiny from the clammy heat around them.
"Yeah." Zayn murmurs against his neck. Niall can feel his lips against him and it's like a switch has been flicked and he feels instantly relaxed again. Zayn lifts his hand and curls it around Niall's waist, palm flat against his tummy and holding him close. "It's just that Liam was on the phone again today..."
He trails off and Niall can't help but roll his eyes, catching a little of Zayn's frown out of the corner of his eye.
"Liam worries too much." Niall says decisively. Leaning back into Zayn's hold. He goes boneless, his head lolling back onto Zayn's shoulder and legs sliding out until he can reach the taps with his toes because it's too much effort to keep his knees bent. Zayn noses at Niall's hairline until Niall tips his head towards him, cheek against Zayn's chin. He's shaved it because they're in the studio tomorrow, thrust back into the real world with paparazzi and demanding fans and Niall sort of misses the rough scratch of it against him.
"Are you worried?" Zayn asks into his hair. It's the first time that Niall's heard a hint of worry or caution in Zayn's tone since they've started whatever it is they've started. He sits up straighter, slipping in the porcelain slightly but he wants to look at him now, the gravity of the situation dawning on him. He angles his head so he can catch Zayn's eyes. They don't look worried, warm and softening the longer Niall looks at him. He still sometimes feels his stomach twist when he looks at him, fluttering and nervous energy settling below his skin but only this time, unlike before, he's allowed to press up against him, kissing his lips until they're gasping for breath and his skin is tingling all over.
"No." Niall tells him honestly. He tips his forehead forward until it's resting against Zayn's temple. The bathroom is hot and his head is starting to swim because of the heat and the lavender in the air but Zayn has a grounding grip around his waist keeping him tethered. "Nothing's going to change when we leave this apartment."
Zayn doesn't look too convinced so Niall rephrases himself, smiling, peppering a few kisses to Zayn's smooth jaw. "Nothing between us is going to change. And we can take everything else one day at a time, when it comes."
"You've become very wise all of a sudden." Zayn tells him, joking tone finally making it's way back into his voice. He uses his grip on Niall's hair to tip his head back so he can kiss him properly before Niall slips back around to sit against his chest.
"You're rubbing off on me." Niall shrugs and fights to keep his face straight. They'll probably have to talk about it when Niall is a bit more coherent but Niall's pretty sure that his opinion has been put forward well. Zayn grins, ducking his head to bite at Niall's shoulder eliciting a lazy laugh from Niall and making him grip at the thighs that come up to bracket him in again. He lets his eyes flutter shut and settles his cheek against Zayn's chest, listening to his breathing.
"Come on." Zayn rubs his knuckles down the bumps of Niall's ribs and presses into his waist when it becomes clear that Niall can hardly keep his eyes open. "Let's get you out."
Niall smiles sleepily, letting Zayn manhandle him out of the sloshing water and swaddle him in a towel. Niall collapses onto his mattress, only rolling around so Zayn can swipe the towel over his hair, leaving it in damp tufts, before throwing it away in the direction of the floor and spooning up behind him.
"Does this mean I get to call you babe and sweetie?" Zayn asks him once they've settled against the pillows and laughs when Niall wrinkles his nose. "Boyfriends get to do that right?"
"No." Niall slurs out, not having enough energy to do much else.
"But I quite like pet names." Zayn tells him, running his finger through his fringe so it's not splayed over his forehead. Niall smiles at his gesture, cracking one eye open to look at him.
"Are you going to go all soppy on me?" He asks, watching Zayn give him a sweet grin.
"Ok." Zayn bargains, rubbing his thumb over Niall's eyelid to make them close. "How about I can use them to make Liam uncomfortable."
Niall snuffles a laugh into the inside of Zayn's wrist.
"Yeah." He agrees through lagging lips. "That could be fun."
"Good." Zayn whispers after a pause. "Sleep tight kitten."
Niall makes an attempt at a laugh but he's already half asleep.
"Night night Zayn." Niall hums into the pillow instead, words running together and quiet. Zayn grins down at him, curling a hand
over his hip and pulling him closer, nuzzling into the crown of his head. "Night Niall."