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Floating On The Water

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The first day of summer vacation is always Liam’s least favourite. Most people loved the first day of freedom; loved the fact that their summers spread on in front of them, seemingly endless, just begging to be filled with pointless activities and days spent lounging on the couch in front of a television. Liam resented those people because, unlike them, Liam’s summer would be spent working.

The first day is always the worst, too. The most gruelling. First of all, it took a bit to adjust to working so much in the humid heat. By the end of the summer he would have an incredible tan, and his brown hair would turn a shade lighter (if he hadn’t buzzed it off a few weeks ago). Secondly, he had to attend the annual employee meeting, which was run by Mr. Malik, his wife, and their son. Not that Zayn actually did anything at these meetings. Or ever, really.

Harry pulls up in front of where he’s standing on the sidewalk, still rolling down his window as he yells, “Get in, Payne!”

Liam gives his home one last, forlorn look. He’ll see it again at the end of the week, when they’re off for the weekend. By then he’ll be so exhausted he’ll barely make it up the front walk before he collapses, though.

See, part of the job description (which was listed as an employee ‘benefit’, though Liam knows that is not actually true) of working at Malik Resort is living at the resort during the week. You get the weekend off to relax (or, more accurately, recover) and then you start all over again on Monday.

He often questions why he even bothers working at Malik Resort, but the answer to that is very simple: he needs the money, and he needs a steady, reliable job every summer. During the school year Liam worked just down the street at the bakery with Harry. They only got the occasional shift, though, and that job couldn’t be counted on the way the one at the resort could.

Liam throws his duffle bag into the backseat, along with Harry’s, and then reluctantly climbs into the rusted green car that Harry’s mum helped him buy a year ago, instantly reaching for the air conditioner. “I’ll get it,” Liam says determinedly.

Harry’s car is kind of shit, to be completely honest. They’re both aware of that fact. Liam has a way with it, though. He knows that the air conditioner isn’t so much broken as it is stubborn. Just a few turns left-- push the button in -- another turn right-- pull, click. The sound of air flowing through the ancient vents fills their ears, and Harry woops loudly.

“How do you always do that?” he asks.

Liam snorts. “Easy. It needs a gentle touch, and you take more of a sledgehammer approach.”

Harry doesn’t deny this, but he does turn the radio up too loud for them to talk anymore. Liam doesn’t mind, because this is kind of a tradition of sorts. Malik Resort is located forty minutes outside of town, and every Monday Harry will come pick Liam up, they’ll greet each other as pleasantly as they can that early in the morning, and then they’ll spend the rest of the drive listening to whatever shitty songs are playing on the radio or one of Harry’s mixed CDs .

The opening bars to Call Me Maybe come on, and Harry looks at Liam, eyebrows drawn together. “I hate this song,” he shouts over the first line. “Why are they still playing it?”

Liam shrugs. “To torture us.”

Harry nods in agreement and then, a moment later, they’re belting along to the song, Harry shaking his head along with it, Liam drumming his fingers on the dashboard. As soon as it ends, Liam coughs awkwardly and Harry says, “That didn’t just happen.”

“What didn’t just happen?” Liam replies, lips quirking up of their own accord.

“Exactly.”

By the time they get to the resort, Harry’s put in one of his CDs, too frustrated with the constant repeating of the same ten songs, over and over. Liam’s glad, because every single one of his favourite artists were introduced to him by Harry.

Liam is once again taken aback by just how beautiful the resort is. When you first turn into the driveway, you’re surrounded by a tall cluster of trees that seem to surround you on every side. The farther up you go, though, the thinner the cropping of trees gets. And then, at the end of the driveway is the resort.

The resort is on a small lake that always manages to take his breath away. There’s a path leading from every one of the buildings on the resort down to the lake, and every Friday Liam will be stuck down there, giving surfing lessons to whatever twelve year olds are on the list that day. There’s also a tennis court to the left of the property, and a hiking trail to the right, which Harry leads a group hike through every Friday while Liam’s doing his surfing lessons.

The resort itself is a grouping of four buildings. There’s the main building -- the only one with more than one floor-- where you will find the receptionist desk, the cheapest rooms they offer, and then the banquet hall and the rec room (which is filled with games and toys and is accessible to anyone under the age of 18). It also houses the employees locker room and the employee living quarters.

One of the other three buildings (the one with that pretty much looks like a box made of glass, that faces the trees instead of the lake) is the pool building. Inside you’ll find a large, heated pool, three sauna rooms, and two hot tubs.

The second largest of the buildings is the more expensive rooms. These are the ones with the lakeside view, the wall-sized windows, the hot tubs. This is where Liam and Harry will be spending most of their time, since those rooms are constantly cleaned out.

And lastly, you have the bungalow. The bungalow is like a really fancy, really freaking expensive cabin. All the other rooms can be rented daily, but the bungalow is only rented monthly, and it’s always rented by the same family. Liam figures this is because the Tomlinson’s are the only ones who can afford it, but Harry thinks it’s because Mrs. Tomlinson and Mr. Malik are having an affair.

“Okay,” Harry says once he’s parked the car in the lot (a few minutes walk away from the main building, closest to the tennis court) and pocketed the keys. “Pep talk time, Liam. Come on, give it a go.”

Liam unbuckles his seatbelt and turns to Harry. “Right. First of all, we need this job, Harry. The pay is fairly good, it’s reliable, and we’re not serving burgers to our schoolmates and wearing McDonalds uniforms,” Liam starts. Harry nods his head, gesturing for him to continue. “Um. We get to work with Eleanor, and you love her to pieces. You love leading the hikes, even though you only get to do it once a week. Mary cooks better than either of our parents, and she always sneaks you an extra piece of dessert.”

“Yeah,” Harry nods. “And you’re not stuck babysitting for your neighbours like you were when we were fourteen. El sneaks us into the pool at midnight sometimes. And I can picture stabbing Louis Tomlinson in the face as often as I want, and he actually can’t do anything about it. And you get to room with me.”

“That’s not a positive,” Liam points out.

“Sure it is!” Harry protests. “I clean your side of the room all the time!”

“That’s for your benefit, not mine,” Liam counters.

Harry waves him off. “Plus, there’s Niall.”

“Plus there’s Niall,” Liam repeats, grinning. “Speaking of, he’s probably wondering where we are right now.”

Harry grabs Liam’s arm and twists it so he can read the time on Liam’s watch. “Actually,” Harry says, eyes wide, “everyone’s probably wondering where we are. We’re about five minutes late.”

“Shit,” Liam breaths, jumping out of the car. “Leave the bags, we’ll come get them tonight.”

Harry nods and scrambles out of the car, too, and then they’re both jogging towards the main building. By the time they get inside, Harry’s hair is matted to his forehead with sweat, and Liam is praising himself for having the sense to cut his own off a few weeks ago.

They head directly for the locker room, knowing that their coworkers and bosses are already in the banquet hall. Everyone’s going to look up at them when they walk in, and Mr. Malik will no doubt ask them both to stay behind and question why they were late. There’s nothing they can do to help that now, though, so they’ve just got to try and be as quick as they can so that they’re not even more late.

Liam pulls open his locker and grabs out his uniform, already stripping out of his t-shirt as he tugs his Malik Resort polo shirt off the hanger. It’s black and the material is fairly comfortable, and just below the left shoulder is the resort name, written in thin gold thread. He shucks off his pants next, not caring that Harry is standing right beside him. They’ve seen each other naked on more than one occasion, and they’re too good of friends for it to really be an issue anymore.

The worst part of the uniform is definitely the khaki pants. Not that Liam has anything against khaki, because his wardrobe actually includes more than one pair of khaki pants or shorts. It’s just that these ones are of a weird, almost wool like material, and they get swelteringly hot by the end of the day.

When they’re both dressed, Harry straightens his shirt and then they head out the door and into the banquet hall.

The banquet hall is an impossibly large room that is rented out during the summer for parties or weddings. Right now, it’s filled with a couple rows of chairs, and every single person who will be working at the resort this summer, even the people who’s shifts won’t start until this weekend.

Just as Liam suspected, everyone looks up when they walk in. Mr. Malik just waves for them both to take a seat -- which they do, at the far back, directly beside Eleanor and Niall, both of whom are giving them questioning looks-- and then continues on with his speech about what’s expected from all of them, and what they can expect from their bosses in turn (“Because you’re not just our employees-- you’re our family!”). Liam tunes out most of it because he’s heard it all before, and the speech hasn’t changed at all since the first time it was given to him two years ago.

“Okay,” Mr. Malik says finally, and Liam stops playing with a loose string in his polo to listen. “I hope we all have a great summer together, now get your asses in gear!” He always says this, as if swearing will make him more relatable or something. “Except Mr. Payne.”

Everyone heads out the door (Mrs. Malik leaving with Eleanor to talk about something that Liam didn’t catch as they passed him) with the exception of Niall and Harry, both of whom linger behind with him. “Just Liam, sir?” Harry asks.

Mr. Malik nods. “Just Liam. You and Mr. Horan can wait outside, though, if you’re so determined to stick together. Then three of you can put away these chairs once we’re done.”

Harry gives Liam an apologetic look, and then drags Niall from the room.

“Don’t look so afraid,” Malik says, chuckling. “Get up here, Liam, I have something very important to ask of you.”

He’s busying leafing through a pile of papers, and when Liam gets to him he’s handed one of them. Liam looks down at it, frowning. It’s his schedule, which had already been mailed to him a few weeks ago. There is one very significant change to it, though, and that is his 6:30-7:30 cleaning slot on Tuesday, which is now blank.

“What is this?” Liam asks, lifting his gaze to Malik’s.

Malik smiles at him. “That’s your new schedule, as long as you’re willing to accept my offer.”

“Offer,” Liam repeats. “What offer?”

“Well, see,” Malik says, leaning over to point at Liam’s schedule, just over the now empty time slot. “On top of an increase in your pay, we’re willing to offer you access to all of the resorts benefits, including the pool, the rec room, the restaurant. All free of charge, of course. But only during this time.”

Liam still doesn’t understand. “On what condition?”

“Ah,” Malik sighs, and crosses his arms over his chest. “This is where things get a bit delicate. Personally, I don’t see why he’s making such a big deal of it, but my son-- you’ve obviously met Zayn on several occasions, yes?”

Liam nods, making sure his face is carefully blank. Obviously he’s met Zayn during the two summers he’s been here. Zayn drives a red convertible, has a penchant for leather jackets even though it’s summer and it’s freaking hot. He also has an attitude that rivals even Louis Tomlinson’s-- which probably makes sense, given the fact that they’re best friends.

“He can’t swim,” Mr. Malik says flatly. “He never learned, and he’s got a fairly big fear of large bodies of water because of it.”

Liam tries not to look surprised. “I see,” Liam says, though he still doesn’t get what this has to do with him.

“I need you to teach him, Liam,” Malik says. “But this has to stay between the three of us. No telling Styles, or Horan, or any of your other coworkers. If you agree to this, every Tuesday after the pool closes at nine, I’ll have Eleanor leave the key with you. You’re only asked to do this for an hour, which is why I’ve given you the free time slot during the day to make up for the fact that this will be butting into your free time.”

Liam chews the inside of his lip. There are so many reasons to say no to this. Liam’s not a swimming instructor; everybody who attends his lessons is required to have a basic understanding of how to swim. And he also doesn’t see himself lasting through an entire hour alone with Zayn without a repeat of what he likes to call ‘The Harry and Louis Incident ’ from last year, which nearly got Harry fired (attempting to strangle guests is apparently frowned upon, though Harry was let off the hook after Eleanor vouched for him, explaining that Louis provoked it -- which Harry still refused to give him details about).

“How much is the extra pay?” Liam asks anyways.

“A hundred a session,” Malik tells him.

Liam extends his hand and Malik takes it. They shake, just once, as Liam says, “I accept.”

“I’ll be sure to let Zayn know,” Malik replies, already heading for the door. “But this stays between the two of you, Liam, or else no deal. He was very adamant about that.”

Liam nods and folds his new timetable before shoving it the back pocket of his pants. The moment Malik is out the door, Niall and Harry come in. Niall stands by the door for a few moments and then closes it and says, “Coast is clear.”

“What was that about?” Harry asks immediately.

“Uh,” Liam says eloquently. He’s kind of horrible at lying, especially to Harry. “We were just talking about my schedule.” Technically the truth. “He moved some things around on Tuesday.” Also the truth. “I won’t be working the six-to-seven with you. Apparently the kitchen is a bit understaffed or something.”

Harry groans. “I hate that shift, why do you get out of it?”

Niall laughs and slaps Harry on the back. “Because Liam’s everyone’s favourite. And you’re a shit employee. Remember when you tried to strangle Tomlinson last year? ‘The Great Strangling of 2012.’”

“That’s what you call it?” Liam asks, raising an eyebrow. “Sounds much more dramatic than ‘The Harry and Louis Incident ’.”

Niall cackles. “What about you, Harry? What do you call it?”

“‘That time I should have went for the balls but instead went for the throat ’.”

Liam rolls his eyes and starts folding chairs. Niall begins to help him after tugging on one of Harry’s curls, but Harry just sinks into one of the chairs and watches them.

“Are you going to help?” Liam demands after they’ve already done about half of the room.

Harry looks up at him. “Too busy fantasizing about killing Louis.”

Liam finds an empty cardboard coffee cup and throws it at Harry’s head.

Once they’re done clearing out the banquet hall, they’re all scheduled to start prepping the rooms. Niall is sent off to the bungalow, and both Liam and Harry are supposed to head to the next building, the one that’s just rooms (which Harry has labelled The Overlook Hotel, because he read The Shining during their first year of college and he thinks he’s funny). It’d be faster to head out the back door, but they go through the front anyways so that they can talk to Eleanor, who’s the receptionist.

“Fired?” Eleanor asks him, as Harry leans on her desks, reaching for one of her pens. She’s slaps his hand away.

“No, just switching a few things around,” Liam says.

“Oh, right, the thing with--,”

Liam makes a cutting motion with his hand, and she cuts off abruptly, frowning. She must not know what’s going on then. She probably just has instructions to give him the pool key, and that’s it. “The kitchen thing,” Liam adds so she’ll know not to say anything else.

“Right, the kitchen thing,” she says slowly. “Anyways, how’ve you two been? You were supposed to call me last weekend, Curly.”

Harry frowns at her. “I was?”

Niall and Eleanor both live in the next town over. The resort is almost exactly halfway between both of their cities, which is why they rarely see each other, unless they’re at work. Sometimes Harry and Liam drive out to visit them, but they tend to just text and chat on the phone every once in a while.

Eleanor rolls her eyes at Harry and then waves them both off. “Guests should be arriving in three hours. You both might want to get to work.”

“You might want to get to work,” Harry counters.

Eleanor points at her computer. “I am.”

“Oh,” Harry says, and then shrugs. “You’re probably right anyways. See you at dinner, El!”

“Later,” Liam calls to her as they head outside.

It can’t take more than a minute to get to the next building, but the stupid pants they have to wear are impossible to breathe in, and Liam’s forehead is sweating by the time they get inside. Harry leans against the wall for a moment before running a hand through his hair.

“How long do you think it takes to get from the front doors to Overlook?” he asks.

Liam shrugs. “A minute.”

Harry nods. “We’re going to die.”

Liam puts a hand on his shoulder for a moment, completely agreeing. “Let’s get to work.”

The first thing they have to do is head to the supply room, which is just the left of the entrance. The room itself is about the size of all the hotel rooms, without the wall separating the main room from the bathroom. There’s four carts against the left wall, and both Liam and Harry grab one and pile them with sheets and pillows and blankets, as well as various other cleaning products, like Windex and bleach for the bathtubs.

Most of the rooms should already be spotless, but they can’t be too sure. Sometimes the staff from spring break slacks off, and they’re stuck picking up after them.

The resort is technically closed most of the year, except for Christmas holidays, spring break, and summer. Liam and Harry were both offered jobs during those times, but they both declined. They might need the money, but they also needed time to just be teenagers.

Harry grabs a set of keys for himself and tosses the other to Liam, and says, “I’ll take the left, you take the right. First one done has to go get our bags from the car.”

Liam grins, already knowing how this is going to turn out. He’s a faster cleaner than Harry, mostly because Harry is a perfectionist and won’t be happy if there’s a single fingerprint on the window, or a piece of dust under the bed.

“Deal,” he agrees.

Liam was right about the spring staff slacking off. The first room he checks is mostly fine, though he has to empty the trash can and wipe down the windows. The second room is much the same. The third room looks like it was hit by a tornado. He groans loudly and starts stripping the bed, thankful that the buildings are all air conditioned.

“See you at dinner,” Harry says, peeking his head through the door of Liam’s eleventh room.

Liam glares at him. “I hate you.”

Harry smiles brightly before disappearing. He doesn’t even offer to help, which Liam is so going to remember next time Harry’s swamped.

Liam just finishes by the time guests start moving in. He smiles a greeting to the woman he passes in the hallway on the way back to the supply room and then bags up the laundry and carts it over to the main building.

The laundry room is in the basement of the main building, and it’s probably Liam’s least favourite part of the resort. It’s creepy and damp and the dryers all make a weird whirring sound. Normally, he and Harry will finish around the same time, and Harry will screw around in the basement while Liam does laundry. Liam never gets bothered by that, mostly because it’s better than going down there by himself.

Finally, he’s done with his first shift of the day. He still has half an hour left for dinner, and then he’s scheduled for room service.

The staff dining room is separate from the guests dining room. It’s across the hall from the banquet room, and it’s fairly small. Inside are six picnic tables, each covered by a flowery table cloth. Harry’s sitting at a table with Eleanor, Niall and Amber. There’s an extra spot waiting for him, but before he can take it Harry grins at him sweetly.

“Did you get our bags?” he asks.

Liam sighs and turns back around, giving Harry the finger on his way out. He’s starving and hot and tired. His polo is sticking to his back by the time he gets to the car, and he’s seriously considering putting in a complaint about the stupid pants.

He pulls out his bag first and slings it over his shoulder before reaching for Harry’s. He has no idea what that asshole has in there, but he’s pretty sure it’s a pile of bricks. As he slams the door shut behind himself, someone comes peeling into the lot. Someone in a candy red convertible.

Liam’s day just gets better and better, especially when another car follows along behind it a moment later, parking in the spot directly beside it. He doesn’t recognize the car, but he does recognize the boy who gets out of it.

Liam remembers back when they first started working at the resort, back before Harry and Louis had actually spoken to each other. Harry spent the first week crushing so hard on Louis it was ridiculous. Looking at him now, Liam can see the appeal. The way his jeans cling to his legs, the way his hair is perfectly styled and his sunglasses sit on the bridge of his nose. Liam’s just never been into the stuck up type.

“Who is that?” Louis demands as Liam tries to pass them on the way back to the main building without being seen.

He stares straight ahead as Zayn answers with, “Liam. He’s worked here for the past two summers, you idiot.”

“Oh,” Louis replies. The sound of gravel crunching under their feet tells Liam that they’re following him. “Damn. When did he get so attractive?”

Zayn snorts. “You need to get your eyes checked, mate. We don’t slum it with the help.”

Liam knows his cheeks are red, and it’s not from the heat. He hikes his bags up on his shoulders, trying not to let it get to him. He knows what Louis and Zayn are like. This is nothing new. At least, that’s what he tries to tell his hands, but they’re still clenched tightly into fists.

“Wait, is he-- he’s Styles’ friend, right?” Louis asks suddenly, and Liam grins because Harry, unlike him, has little self restraint, and maybe Louis would remind Zayn of that and Zayn would think before making another rude comment.

“Didn’t I just remind you not to slum it with the help?” Zayn asks.

Louis makes an annoyed sound. “I wasn’t planning on it.”

“I see the way you look at him,” Zayn comments, and Liam nearly freezes in his steps. That was unexpected, and he’s pretty sure neither of the boys behind him are aware of the fact that he can hear them.

“How do I look at him, exactly?” Louis snips. “I only look at him with either contempt or terror, because, if you recall, he once wrapped his hands around my fucking throat.”

It sounds too defensive even to Liam, who doesn’t know a thing about Louis, really. He plans to recount this whole thing to Harry in about five minutes, when he remembers why he’s even hearing it in the first place. Maybe he won’t tell Harry after all.

Liam has to turn left to head in through the back doors, but Zayn and Louis keep walking straight. Liam casts them one look over his shoulder and ends up meeting Zayn’s gaze. He pauses for a moment and stares back at him until Zayn’s lips curl back in a sneer and he returns his attention to Louis.

Tomorrow is going to be just lovely, he knows.

 

--

 

He wakes up to Harry throwing something at him. Liam groans loudly and rolls over to face (and possibly murder) his best friend. Harry is far too awake right now, and he’s smiling happily down at Liam. “Time to get uuuuup.”

“Don’t talk to me,” Liam moans. “I hate you so much.”

Harry jumps on his bed next. Their room is just like all the rest of the rooms in the main building; it’s got two twin beds with a small table separating them, a dresser -- which they have to share--, a small closet, and an attached bathroom. There’s also a desk against the wall, just under the curtain covered window, not that either of them will ever really use it.

Liam finally swings his legs out of bed and stretches, while Harry gets up and pulls open the curtains, letting in the too bright light reflecting off the water.

He’s got a long day ahead of him, and he’s already started it off on the wrong foot. Harry’s already showered, though, so Liam heads into the bathroom and does the same. When he gets out he feels much more alert, but still just as emotionally unprepared for the day as he had when he’d woken up.

“Come on,” Harry says, waving him on. “Get dressed so we can go eat breakfast.”

Liam doesn’t even check what he pulls out of his bag. He’s yet to unpack, and he probably won’t get to it tonight either, not after swimming lessons with Zayn. He has a feeling he’ll be drained by the end of them.

The employee living quarters are on the top floor. There’s a back stairwell that they all use so they don’t wake the sleeping guests as everyone heads downstairs at seven for breakfast. Niall joins them as they get to the stairs. Unlike Harry, he looks just as tired as Liam feels.

“I’m rooming with Jake,” he explains with an annoyed set to his mouth. “He fucking snores. Why can’t I room with you two?”

Harry shrugs. “I’m sure if you asked Malik he’d let you move a cot into our room.”

Niall frowns for a moment. “You think so?”

Liam nods. “Just ask him next time you see him. Worst thing he’ll do is say no. It’s not like he’s going to fire you for asking.”

“Brilliant,” Niall says, holding open the door for both him and Harry. “Neither of you snore, right?”

“No,” Harry tells him. “Did walk in on Liam wanking once, though.” Liam turns a dark shade of red, but Harry barrels on with, “You know what I call that? ‘The Great Wank of 2012 ’.”

Niall laughs so hard his face turns just as red as Liam’s. “Everything good happened last year.”

“Are you kidding me?” Harry counters. “Both of those incidents left me scarred.”

“Shut up,” Liam orders, because they’re walking into the dining room, and their boss happens to be inside chatting with Eleanor.

Both Harry and Niall have the sense to shut up at that. “Morning, Mr. Malik!” Niall says cheerfully.

He looks up at them and smiles before turning back to Eleanor for a second. Liam heads straight for the coffee, while Niall heads straight for the table covered in bagels and muffins and toast and jams. He watches as Harry starts to follow him, but Mr. Malik steps in front of him before he can.

He can’t hear their conversation, but Harry goes from smiling and respectful to shocked and terrified. He nods once and Malik claps him gently on the shoulder before walking out.

Liam nearly overflows his cup with scalding coffee before he tears his eyes away. When he turns back around, Harry is sitting at an empty table, staring straight ahead, like he’s in shock. Niall gives Liam a questioning look, but Liam shakes his head, indicating that he has no idea what’s going on.

He quickly adds sugar to his coffee, and then grabs a muffin and hurries over to Harry. “What did he want?” he asks.

“You look like you just died,” Niall puts in.

Harry shakes his head slowly, not meeting either of their eyes. “He wants-- I’m going to be-- babysitting.”

Liam frowns. “One of the guest’s kids?”

“Yep,” Harry says flatly. “I’ll be spending most of my days with them, making sure they’re entertained and not getting into trouble. Which mostly means that I’ll be stuck in their room six hours out of the day.”

Liam and Niall frown at each other before Niall asks, “Who?”

Harry starts laughing then. It’s rough and humourless, and Liam would think he was sobbing if he wasn’t looking into Harry’s manic eyes. “Who do you think?” he asks loudly. Loud enough that a few people around the room turn to look at him. “I’ll give you a hint: their last name starts with a T and ends in ‘son’. As in, ‘our son is the biggest fucking prick on the planet’.”

“Oh,” Liam says softly.

“Shit,” Niall breathes.

Harry pushes away from their table. “I’m going to go get dressed. I’ll see you guys at dinner.”

The door swings shut with a bang behind him, and Niall and Liam turn back to look at each other. “That’s going to end badly,” Liam says.

Niall nods. “Let’s hope Eleanor’s there to pull him off Louis again.”

Liam doubts they’ll be that lucky this time.

He doesn’t have time to worry about Harry, though, because apparently Harry heading off to the bungalow to watch Louis’ younger sisters means that Liam is stuck with extra room service work. After he changes into his other uniform and throws the one from yesterday in the wash, he’s up and running around the resort for the next three hours. He ducks in and out of the kitchen so many times he’s lost count. He also nearly burnt himself on a steaming bowl of soup, nearly tripped with three plates of food in his hands, and knocked on the wrong door once, waking up the very annoyed older woman inside.

All in all, it was a pretty hectic morning. He had a short, twenty minute lunch break, and then he was up again, doing the exact same thing only carrying sandwiches instead of plates of eggs and bacon.

His last room is on the second floor of the main building. Liam climbs the stairs, still out of breath from his previous delivery. He knocks once on the door before the person inside yelled, “Come in!”

Liam hates those kind of guests because he always felt awkward just walking into a room. He does it anyways, because that’s what he was told, and finds Zayn spread out on the queen sized bed inside. He barely looks up at Liam when he walks in, and just waves him towards the desk.

“Leave it there,” he says.

“Right.” Liam nods and tries to move quickly past him so that he won’t block his view of the television.

Just as he’s about to close the door behind himself, Zayn says, “See you tonight, Liam.”

Liam is confused, to say the least. Zayn and his family don’t actually stay at the resort. According to Harry (who could be wrong, or even just creating an elaborate story for fun) they own a huge, sprawling house just outside of Niall’s town. Of course, Zayn still spends a lot of time at the resort, bossing around the staff and hanging out with Louis, but Liam’s positive that he’s never actually stayed over.

It looked like he had last night, though. Liam had noticed a few pieces of clothing strewn about the room, and there was a book open on the bed beside him. That just confused Liam more, though, because he figured if Zayn and his family were staying at the resort, they’d stay in one of the nicer rooms.

Liam doesn’t have that much time to think about that, either, because from lunch until dinner he’s pretty busy. He has to take a company car into town to pick up something for one of the guests, he has to help Niall clean one of the Overlook rooms, and he also has to fix one of the games in the rec room. He gets to chat with Harry for a bit at that, and Harry actually looks a lot better than he had when he’d left after breakfast.

“I have no idea where he is,” Harry says quietly to him, while the girls he’s babysitting are too busy playing some other game, “but he’s not in the bungalow.”

“He’s probably in Zayn’s room,” Liam realizes.

Harry frowns. “What?”

Liam shakes his head. “I’ll talk to you at dinner.”

 

--

 

Liam flops into his seat at dinner after grabbing a plate of lasagne from the kitchen. He’s pretty sure he worked harder than anyone else today. He knows that he’s in better shape than any of the other employees, and he’s pretty sure that everyone takes advantage of that by having him running from one side of the resort to the other, over and over again.

“You were on breakfast and lunch?” Niall asks, mouth full of lasagne.

Liam wrinkles his nose but nods. “I’m going to talk to Malik about these pants,” he says, pushing his food around on his plate. “They’re deadly.”

“I’m seconding that one,” Harry says. “You can’t breathe in them.”

“You’ve got kitchen duty next though, right?” Niall asks. “Don’t they make you change into dress pants for that?”

“What?” Liam replies, before remembering. “Oh, right. Yeah.”

“So there you go, at least you get to change,” Niall says.

Liam doesn’t actually know what he’s going to do for the next hour. He can do whatever he wants; he could go swimming at the pool , or play tennis. He could even make his coworkers bring him food in bed. Instead, Liam changes into a pair of swim trunks and sneaks off the beach, being extra careful not to get caught by Niall or Harry, lest he have to explain why he lied about kitchen duty.

When he gets down to the beach he finds two people already down there. They’ve spotted him by the time he figures out who they are, and he can’t just slip away now. He tries to stay as far down from Zayn and Louis as he can as he throws his towel onto the ground and heads straight for the water, knowing that he’s safe there at least. He doesn’t think Louis or Zayn would mess up their hair by actually getting in the water, figures their bathing suits are just for show, or to get a better tan (not that either of them really need it, which Liam doesn’t notice because he’s so not looking).

He’s pretty surprised when he comes up for air to find Louis heading towards the water. Zayn is still on the beach, spread out on a towel with a book in his hand. Liam swallows and stands there in water that comes up to his shoulders, watching as Louis keeps coming towards him.

Louis dives under the water and Liam waits until he surfaces a few feet from him. He slicks his wet hair back and grins at Liam before asking, “Shouldn’t you be working?”

Liam frowns. “I have some time off.”

Louis nods and looks back at the beach. Zayn is too busy reading to notice them, apparently.

“I’m thinking of signing up for your surfing class, you know,” Louis says conversationally. “I heard you’re pretty good.”

Liam shrugs. “Apparently, or I wouldn’t have the job.”

Louis lets out a bark of a laugh at that. “Attractive and funny. Why haven’t we ever really spoken before?”

Liam raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know,” he says slowly. “Maybe it has something to do with you not ‘mingling with the help’ or whatever it is Zayn said. Or it might have to do with the fact that my best friend tried to strangle you.”

Louis waves a hand. “That’s in the past, I’ve gotten over it. Probably did deserve it, too,” he mumbles under his breath. “And Zayn’s kind of an ass, in case you haven’t realized.”

Liam doesn’t say anything. Louis may seem like he’s trying to be friendly, but that doesn’t mean Liam is going to badmouth his bosses son in front of him. He also doesn’t mention the fact that he’s heard more than enough stories from Harry to know that Zayn’s not the only one who’s an ass.

“I should probably go,” Liam says slowly. “I have to get back to work soon.”

Louis grins. “Race you back to shore?”

Liam hesitates. “Um--,”

“Ready. Set--,” Louis dives into the water without warning, and Liam finds himself doing the same after only a beat.

He’s a good swimmer and, despite his slight disadvantage because of Louis’ head start, he ends up beating him. He stands up and wipes the water out of his eyes before grinning at Louis, who is only just now surfacing.

“Christ,” Louis says, shaking his head. Droplets of water fly everywhere. “You’re good, I’ll give you that, Liam. We should do this again sometime.”

“I’m pretty busy,” Liam says apologetically.

“Oh, right,” Louis nods. “See you later, Liam.”

Liam nods, too, and heads toward his towel. He wraps it around his shoulders just as Louis reaches Zayn.

No matter how far away from them he tried to stay, he’s still close enough to hear Zayn ask, “What the fuck was that?”

Liam really needs to stop listening to their conversations because, for some reason, he always ends up with his cheeks heating up. “Did you see those abs when he got out of the water?” Louis demands. “Look at them, Zayn! Look at them. They are glorious.”

“You’re an idiot,” Zayn tells him. “And I thought you were in love with the curly one.”

Louis splutters something in reply to that, and this time Liam is definitely recounting the story to Harry.

 

--

 

He almost completely forgets about the swimming lessons. He’s helping Niall do laundry when Eleanor comes in and slips him the keys for the pool. “Just put them in the front desk when you’re done,” she says on her way out.

“God she’s hot,” Niall breathes when she’s gone. “Think she’d go out with me?”

Liam’s never really considered it, but Eleanor is sweet and Niall’s great. “Probably.”

Niall grins. “Awesome. Everyone’s getting together for a bonfire down at the beach on Monday. Think I should ask her to come with me?”

“We’re having a bonfire?”

“Oh, shit,” Niall says, slapping his forehead. “I was supposed to tell you and Harry at dinner.”

Liam rolls his eyes. Niall is the kind of person who lives in the right now. Rely on him to relay a message, and you can bet that he’s going to forget what you said about as soon as he says, “Sure, I’ll tell them.”

“What’d she give you the keys for, anyways?” Niall asks suddenly.

“Um,” Liam says, bending down to pull a few sheets out of a dryer. He folds them slowly. “Just something Malik asked me to do. Shouldn’t take long.”

“They’re working you hard, mate,” Niall tells him.

Liam shrugs. “I don’t really mind,” he lies.

By the time he and Niall are finished, he has just enough time to run up to his room and grab his second pair of swim trunks. He passes Harry on the way down the stairs, and he’s glad that he thought to put them in a bag to avoid questions.

“Where’re you going?” Harry asks, but Liam just continues walking.

“Work,” he says over his shoulder. “Also, I think Louis Tomlinson might be in love with you.”

He added the second part just to distract Harry from asking him questions again. It works, too, because just before he ducks through the door he turns to see Harry gaping at him, eyes wide.

When he gets to the pool building, Zayn isn’t there waiting for him. Liam looks around twice and then decides to just head inside. He turns on all the lights, hoping that the trees surrounding the building are enough to keep them from being seen by anyone, because Malik had been pretty adamant about the fact that no one is to find out about this.

Liam doesn’t wait for Zayn to show up, but instead heads into the change room to put on his swimming trunks. He’s just closing his locker when Zayn walks in. Liam has no idea what to say to him, but Zayn just heads to a locker at the other side of the room anyways.

With his back turned to Liam he asks, “You going to sit and watch, or what?”

Liam hurries out of the room as Zayn pulls off his shirt, closing the door loudly behind himself so Zayn will know that he’s gone.

He gets into the pool because he doesn’t know what else to do. The water is a bit warm and Liam wonders, not for the first time, why there even is a pool. They’re so close to the lake that it seems redundant, but some people are afraid of fish or swimming in public water or something. He doesn’t know.

Personally, he prefers the lake. Prefers the seemingly endless amounts of water. Once, when he, Niall, Harry, and a few other employees went down to the beach at night, he and Harry tried to see how far out they could swim. They just kept going, until Niall started waving them back, apparently worried about them drowning or getting eaten by a gigantic fish.

When Zayn comes out of the change room he’s wearing a pair of black swim trunks that fall low on his hips. Up close, Liam can see that his chest is covered in tattoos, and he’s got one on his hip, too, as well as the ones on his forearms. His skin looks smooth, and it’s a rich tan colour a few shades lighter than his father’s.

“Do I just get in?” Zayn asks, raising his eyebrows.

Liam lifts his eyes to Zayn’s face, only to find Zayn glaring at him. “Um-- yeah. Get in. The shallower end.”

Zayn nods once, jerkily, and then sinks down to the ledge of the pool and gets in. Liam swims closer to him while Zayn stands up straight in the pool. The water goes to about his waist.

“I think we should start with…,” Liam trails off. He has no idea what they should start with. He isn’t equipped for this. He has no idea how to deal with someone who is genuinely afraid of the water.

Because Zayn is afraid of it. He can see it in his eyes, and in the way his hands are clenched into fists. He might be glaring at Liam, but that doesn’t hide the tense set to his shoulders, or the way his lips are pulled down in a frown.

“First we should teach you to trust the water,” Liam says finally.

“Trust the water,” Zayn repeats, sounding as if Liam is speaking a different language, one he doesn’t understand.

“Well, I can’t teach you to swim if you’re terrified of it,” Liam points out.

“I’m not afraid,” Zayn snaps.

Zayn both sounds and looks about twelve years old, despite the fact that Liam knows Zayn is (at nineteen years old) actually older than him.

“Okay, fine,” Liam says, raising his hands defensively. He might not know how to teach someone to swim, but he is used to dealing with rude children. “Humour me, then. Try floating on your back.”

“Floating,” Zayn repeats. “How, exactly, do I stop myself from sinking?”

“I don’t actually know,” Liam admits, frowning. “You just-- don’t. As long as you don’t freak out, you’ll be fine. Just-- here, I’ll show you.”

Liam feels Zayn’s eyes on him as he falls back into the water and lifts his legs up. He breaths in slowly, forcing himself to relax and stay still. He has no idea how someone could not like this. Could not like the weightless feeling of being in the water, or the relaxing motions of moving slowly over it, or through it. It’s one of Liam’s favourite things.

Liam straightens himself after a moment. “See? Not so bad.”

Zayn snorts and then, within the blink of an eye, he gets this steely, determined look on his face. Liam watches as he falls back into the water the same way Liam just had. Except something goes wrong when Zayn lets his feet lift up. His arms flail and his head goes beneath the water.

Liam moves toward him quickly, but Zayn pushes him away and brushes his now dripping, inky black hair off his face. He’s panting, too; his chest rises and falls quickly with each breath. His eyelashes are stuck together with water, and Liam notes for the first time that his eyes are not pure brown, but have flecks of other colours in them that make them appear a bit lighter.

“You freaked out,” Liam finds himself saying.

Zayn crosses his arms over his chest. “Fuck you,” he says, lifting his chin a bit.

Liam is starting to get why this is so hard. It’s not just that Zayn is afraid of the water, he’s also afraid of looking stupid. It’s always easier to teach kids something because kids don’t care if they look stupid.

“Let’s try that again,” Liam tells Zayn. “This time I’ll make sure you don’t go under.”

Zayn looks like he really doubts that. “What do you plan on doing?”

Liam shrugs and moves to stand directly beside Zayn. “I’ll hold you up.”

Zayn still looks extremely distrustful, but Liam lifts a hand and Zayn doesn’t push him away when he puts it between Zayn’s shoulder blades. He does not think about how warm Zayn is under his fingertips, or the fact that his skin is as smooth as it looks. He doesn’t, because not only is that inappropriate, but he also extremely dislikes Zayn, and these things are not important.

He uses his other hand to gently push on Zayn’s shoulder, and Zayn slowly sinks back down to the water. This time, when he arms flail a bit, Liam is there to keep him up.

“Just relax,” Liam coaxes. “The harder you freak out, the harder this is going to be.”

He figures Zayn would be glaring at him if he didn’t have his eyes closed. Somehow he still manages to pull off the same look with just the set of his mouth, though, which is actually fairly impressive.

Zayn’s legs come up and then Liam’s holding him there, just above the water. His arms are no longer moving at his sides, but instead float a bit until they’re stretched out beside him, the way Liam’s were when he did it.

“I’m going to let you go, okay?” Liam asks, because he feels weird all of a sudden, looking down at this beautiful boy with the horrible personality, eyes closed almost peacefully as he drifts on the water.

Zayn’s hand darts out and encircles Liam’s wrist in a vicelike grip. “Don’t you fucking dare.”

“You’re fine,” Liam tells him. “Just don’t freak out.”

“Liam,” Zayn warns.

Liam moves his hand out from under Zayn without Zayn even noticing, apparently. He pries Zayn’s fingers from around his wrist and then takes a step back, and then another. “Just stand up, Zayn,” he says.

Liam thought they were making progress, but the moment Zayn realizes Liam had let him go, he flounders. His arms pinwheel and his legs kick out, and he goes under for a moment before resurfacing.

His hair sticks up around his head in a way that distinctly reminds Liam of a baby bird. His eyes are impossibly wide, too, and he looks both adorable and extremely pissed off. The best thing to do in this situation is probably not laughing. Liam can’t help it, though.

“Fuck this,” Zayn says, heading for the ladder to get out of the pool.

“Zayn,” Liam says, moving towards him.

Zayn turns, hand curled around the metal pole of the ladder. He’s gripping it so tight that his knuckles are turning white. “Go fuck yourself, Payne,” Zayn snaps.

He doesn’t head into the change room, but instead stomps right through the doors of the building, dripping water everywhere he goes. Liam stares after him for a moment, stunned, and then finally pulls himself out of the pool.

As he’s changing he wonders if he’ll ever have a conversation with Zayn that doesn’t involve Zayn swearing at him.

 

--

 

The rest of that night was spent laying in bed, replaying the scene at the beach to Harry, and then listening to Harry bitch about Louis and deny any claims that Louis might actually possibly have a thing for him.

Wednesday is just as busy as Tuesday, but he doesn’t feel as drained because he knows that once his shift is over he can just lounge about and not worry about seeing Zayn again. Mr. Malik never comes by to tell him that the swimming lessons have been cancelled, like he’s waiting for him to do, and Liam realizes by Thursday that he’s still expected to be at the pool next Tuesday.

Come Friday, Liam is grateful to head home. Their shifts end at eight, and Liam only has to do his surfing lessons and then two hours of cleaning. After that, he’s free.

He occasionally doesn’t have anyone signed up for his class, especially during the first two weeks, when the rooms are still filling up. When he grabs his list from his locker, where Eleanor must have taped it earlier, he finds that he does have someone signed up today. A single someone.

This is going to be either interesting or disastrous.

Liam carries two surfboards and towels down to the beach only to find Louis already there, waiting for him. He’s in a full wetsuit, just like Liam is.

“Can I be honest with you?” Louis asks as Liam sticks one of the boards in the sand. Liam nods. “I don’t actually need lessons. I may or may not already be a fantastic surfer.”

Liam frowns at him. “Then why--,”

Louis shrugs. “I walked past the sign-up sheet on the way to Zayn’s room today, and I noticed that no one else had signed up. Don’t they just send you off to do something else if you don’t have to give lessons?”

“Yeah,” Liam says slowly, frowning.

“See? I’m doing you a favour, then. You don’t have to work, and I get a surfing buddy.”

“I don’t know,” Liam says slowly.

Someone might think he’s bugging off work, and he could get in trouble for that. Plus, you’re not supposed to just ‘hang out’ with the costumers. Mr. Malik reminds them of this every year, and he proved to be serious about this a year ago when Richard was caught sleeping with one of the guest’s daughter. He was fired instantly.

“Come on, Liam,” Louis whines. “I hate surfing by myself.”

“Why didn’t you invite Zayn?” Liam asks.

Louis laughs. “Like he’d get in the water,” he says, shaking his head. “He’d screw up that perfect quiff of his, and I’d never hear the end of it.”

Liam happens to know first hand that that isn’t why Zayn probably says no every time Louis invites him to go for a swim. He also happens to know that Zayn looks just as good -- if not better, even-- with the quiff flattened.

Not that he says any of that. Instead, he says, “Okay.”

It’s against his better judgement, but he really can’t see any reason not to. If anyone saw them, Liam had solid proof that Louis was signed up for his class. And, two hours later when he and Louis get out of the water and Louis uses one of Liam’s towels to dry his hair, Liam has another secret to keep from his best friend.

He kind of maybe sort of likes Louis Tomlinson. As a friend, but still. That is more than enough to piss off Harry, and he knows it. But Louis is kind of funny, if a bit overwhelming at times. And he’s surprisingly nice to Liam, which he never would have expected-- both because of Harry and because of his unfortunate choice of friends.

“Next Friday, then?” Louis asks, picking up the board he used. It takes Liam a minute to realize that he’s actually going to help Liam carry it back.

“Sure,” Liam agrees. “I might actually have to teach my class, though.”

Louis shrugs as they start walking back towards the resort. “As long as I finally have someone to get in the water with me.”

Liam’s actually looking forward to it. He can’t remember the last time he got to get out in the water with someone who actually knew what they were doing. It was nice to actually just surf, instead of spending his whole time making sure someone’s not falling off their board or drowning or something.

They bring the boards to the pool building and hang them up in the supply closet, among flotation devices and pool noodles. Louis turns to him after he’s done, and he searches Liam’s eyes for a long moment while chewing the inside of his lip.

“Does Harry really hate me?” he asks after a moment, and Liam did not expect those words to come out of his mouth.

The thing is, Liam is pretty freaking sure that he does. But Louis’ eyes are wide and he looks so nervous, just asking that, that Liam actually feels bad for him. And for the first time ever, he wonders if maybe Harry was wrong to hate him so much.

“I’m not sure,” Liam lies. “I don’t think he wants to strangle you anymore, if that helps.”

Louis laughs, but Liam notes that it doesn’t sound the same as his normal laugh. “That’s kind of my fault, really.”

Liam frowns. “He never really went into detail about it. What happened?”

Louis sighs and leans against one of the shelves, crossing his arms over his chest. His hair is a bit of a mess, drying in kinked strands that hang over his forehead. “You’re going to repeat everything I say to him, aren’t you?”

Liam hesitates, but he decides to be honest. “Probably.”

Louis nods, accepting this. “Well, first of all, I think I should tell you that I’ve sort of had a crush on Harry since the first year he started working. The thing is, Zayn has this thing where-- I guess you could say he’s sort of an asshole. And he makes it very clear that he doesn’t approve of dating beneath our social status or whatever, and dating the ‘help’ is apparently doing just that.”

Liam nods but doesn’t mention the fact that he’d heard that directly from Zayn’s mouth.

“So I sort of treated Harry extremely badly,” Louis admits. “It was easier to pretend that I didn’t like him if he didn’t like me. And then that day when the incident happened, Zayn was hanging out with me at the bungalow, and Harry brought us our lunch. I sort of purposefully knocked my glass over -- and this was after complaining about the food, and how long it took, and telling Harry that I was going to definitely tell Zayn’s father about all of that-- and then I said, ‘Aren’t you going to clean that, Harry?’ You know the rest. He sort of dove over the table at me, hands going for the neck area.”

The first thing Liam does is say, “Huh.” The second thing he does is laugh so hard that he bends over with the force of it, tears brewing in his eyes. “Sorry,” he gasps out, because Louis does not look amused. “I just-- sorry. It’s not funny.”

“No, it’s not,” Louis agrees.

“You know,” Liam starts, wiping tears from his cheeks, “you could always just apologize.”

Louis blinks at him for a long moment before saying slowly, “Apologize.”

“Yeah,” Liam nods. “Tell him you’re sorry for being an ass. He’s not going to forgive you right away -- he’s a bit stubborn, to be honest-- but if you genuinely mean it, I’m sure he’ll get that eventually.”

“Huh,” Louis says, looking genuinely surprised by this, as if the thought of apologizing never once occurred to him. “You’re going to help me, Liam.”

Liam takes a step back. “What do you mean?”

Louis comes over to him and throws an arm over his shoulder. “You’re going to help me convince Harry I’m not a completely stuck up prick,” he explains. “And I’ll convince Zayn’s dad to let you off for a few hours every Wednesday to come surfing with me. With full pay, obviously.”

“Really?”

Louis nods. “You let me handle this,” Louis says, guiding him out of the supply room, “and you just cover the Harry not hating me part.”

It’s only because Louis genuinely seems to want Harry to like him that Liam agree. It has nothing to do with the prospect of having a few hours off every Wednesday to just get in the water and ride the waves. Definitely not. He’s a good person.

“Okay,” he says.

Louis releases him and they head outside. Louis starts in the direction of the bungalow, while Liam heads towards the main building so he can get changed and get back to work.

“Oh,” Louis calls, and Liam turns to look at him, “if Zayn is giving you shit, give it to him right back. He might threaten to have you fired, but he thinks you’re way too attractive to actually do that.”

Liam’s still a bit stunned by the time he gets inside the building.

 

--

 

The weekend passes in a haze of sleep and shitty television. When Monday morning comes around, Liam wakes up with the knowledge that he literally did nothing the entire weekend. And he’s a bit happy about that, to be honest. He thinks he kind of deserves it after the week he had.

Harry has two moods in the morning: too cheerful to handle, or too annoyed to handle. Liam gets in the car and the only word he can think of to describe Harry’s face is grumpy. He’s like a petulant child who got all his toys taken away.

Liam opens his mouth to ask him what caused his mood, but Harry lifts a hand. “Not until I’ve had coffee.”

Liam snorts but complies, knowing that the grumpy mood could quickly turn into a full on angry Harry, and he’s too tired to deal with that right now. Thankfully, after they’ve gotten caffeine into him, Harry’s mood brightens a bit. He ends up stealing half of Liam’s coffee too, though, so Liam’s not sure if he takes this as a win or not.

The rest of the morning is a frenzy of cleaning. Apparently there were a lot of reservations made that weekend, and they have a horde of guests coming in later in the day. That, coupled with the fact that the weekend rush left them with a good amount of dirty rooms meant that every spare minute was spent cleaning. Niall was the only one who managed to escape cleaning duty, but he was stuck doing almost all of the room service for breakfast and lunch.

“At least we get to relax tonight,” Niall says at dinner.

Liam can’t remember the dining room ever being this quiet. Eleanor is one of the only people not falling asleep in her soup, and Liam hates her just a bit for it, because he is one of those people.

“I’ve got Liam and Harry set to run into town to pick up things for guests,” she says as Liam attempts to lift his spoon to his mouth. It’s difficult. He’s not quite sure how he manages it. “Everyone’s chipped in ten quid to go towards the liquor fund.”

“Awesome,” Harry says brightly. “No more fucking cleaning. Honestly, I considered just hanging myself with the bed sheets in my last room, prison style.”

“Why didn’t you sign me up?” Niall asks, pouting just a bit.

“Because,” Eleanor replies, “Malik doesn’t trust Harry to take out one of the cars -- Sorry, Haz, it’s true-- and neither you nor Liam are old enough to buy the booze yourself, so Harry has to go with him.”

“You’ve got to teach me how to get into his good books, mate,” Niall says to Liam, pointing his spoon at him for emphasis. “What’d you do to make him like you so much anyways?”

“It’s not so much what he did, as apposed to what he didn’t do. Like turn an entire load of laundry pink by washing his red snapback with a load of sheets,” Eleanor says, grinning fondly at Niall. “Or attempt to strangle one of the guests.”

“Is anyone going to let that go?” Harry asks. “My gravestone is going to end up reading, ‘Harry Styles-- once attempted to strangle Louis Tomlinson’.”

“I remember that!” someone at one of the other tables yells. “Good on you, mate!”

More than one person grunts their agreement. “He’s not that bad,” Liam finds himself saying before he can stop himself.

Harry literally drops his spoon. It falls onto the table, smearing the creamy broccoli soup over the tablecloth. “Not that bad,” he repeats slowly. “I’m sorry, did my hearing just suddenly go? I could have sworn you just attempted to defend him.”

Liam looks down at his bowl and shrugs while spooning up another bite. “Maybe,” he admits.

“What the fuck, Liam?” Harry demands. “You know that he--,”

“Wants to apologize,” Liam says, cutting him off. “He wants to apologize.”

Harry snorts. “Sorry doesn’t always fucking cut it.”

“Maybe you should hear his side of things,” Liam counters.

“Maybe I should stab myself in the face with a pitchfork,” Harry spits. “Doesn’t mean I’m actually going to.”

“Whatever,” Liam says, shaking his head. He doesn’t like fighting with Harry, mostly because it’s pointless. Harry is one of the most stubborn, thick-headed people Liam’s ever met. “Just forget I brought it up.”

“No way,” Harry replies, shaking his head. “How do you even know he wants to apologize?”

“Probably mentioned it during their surfing lessons on Friday,” Eleanor puts in.

Liam glares at her. “Thanks for that.”

“You surfed with him?” Harry demands.

Liam points his spoon at Eleanor. “Now look what you did.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Harry asks. “Why didn’t you mention this to me? You seriously spent a whole lesson with him? What else did he say? Did you not see how much of a prick he is? Oh, obviously not, actually, since you’re trying to defend his pathetic, stuck up, round, distractingly firm looking ass!”

“I’m literally choking on the sexual tension,” Niall cuts in. “Literally. Someone slap my back.”

Harry ignores him and pushes his bowl away from himself before getting up. “Thanks for telling me, Li,” he says, and his use of the nickname only makes it more apparent that he’s not just angry, but he’s also hurt.

Liam doesn’t run after him as he pushes out the door. He knows that it would just make things worse. When Harry is angry, he prefers to be alone.

“That was dramatic,” Eleanor says quietly.

Liam snorts at her, but Niall just blurts, “You want to come to the bonfire with me tonight?”

Niall has impeccable timing.

 

--

 

The drive into town is equal parts awkward and tense. Harry is quiet almost the whole way there, only breaking his silence to snort at certain songs as they play on the radio. Liam does most of the errand running while Harry waits in the car, until they have to go the liquor store, where Harry goes in and Liam waits in the car.

While they’re driving back, Call Me Maybe starts playing. Without even thinking, Liam reaches for the dial and turns it up. He checks Harry’s reaction out the sides of his eyes to see Harry’s lips quirking up in a smile. And then, just like last time, as soon as the bridge starts up they’re both belting along to it.

The moment it ends, Harry reaches for the dial to turn the volume down. He sighs loudly and runs a hand through his thick curls, and then says, “I’m sorry for being a prick.”

“I’m sorry for not telling you,” Liam says instantly.

“You should be, you know,” Harry tells him. “But I know you only did it because you knew I’d react this way. And it’s not like you had a choice. You can’t just refuse a guest lessons because I hate him.”

Liam chews the inside of his lip for a moment, knowing that his next words are going to start a fight all over again, but also knowing that said fight would only be worse if they had it next week, or the week after.

“I didn’t do it just because I have to,” Liam admits. “He might not be completely terrible, to me at least.”

He feels Harry staring at him and stares straight ahead, grateful that he has the excuse of driving so he doesn’t have to meet Harry’s judgemental and most likely angry green eyes.

“You like him,” Harry states.

Liam shrugs. “Maybe he’s not as bad as you think he is. Or maybe he’s changed.”

“People don’t change,” Harry says quietly. “They just pretend to be different to get something. What’s he want, then? Come on, don’t tell me he didn’t ask you for something.”

“He did,” Liam agrees. “But I can’t tell you what.”

Harry raises his eyebrows. “Why the hell not?”

“Well, for one, you wouldn’t believe me. And I don’t think he’d be happy with me if I did.”

“Oh,” Harry says before sucking in a breath that tells Liam he’s in for a really good chewing out. “So you’re keeping his secrets now, from your best friend, who--,”

“He has a crush on you,” Liam blurts. “Okay?” He shakes his head. “Are you happy?”

He pulls his eyes off the road just long enough to see Harry opening and closing his mouth, like a fish out of water. It’d be hilarious if the situation wasn’t so not funny.

“He doesn’t,” Harry says after a moment. “Liam, he’s lying.”

“Don’t think he is,” Liam tells him. “And I told you that you wouldn’t believe me.”

“Because-- because-- why would I? He’s treated me like shit for two years! Do you know how many times he threatened to have me fired? Or sent back food because it wasn’t hot enough, or because I moved it too much when I carried it? Do you know how many times I’ve remade his bed because I didn’t tuck the sheets in just right, or because the comforter was pulled too tight?”

Yes, Liam is aware of all the things, because he had to listen to Harry bitch endlessly about them. He doesn’t think Harry would appreciate him saying that, though.

“There’s no way,” Harry finishes finally. “There’s just no possible way.”

Liam shrugs. “Believe what you want to believe.”

“I will.”

“Good.”

“How are swimming lessons with Zayn?”

Liam nearly drives the car off the road. He straightens the wheel and then gapes at Harry. “How do you know about that?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Come on, Liam, you’re the worst liar ever. And I was sneaking into the tennis court to hit a few balls with Eleanor and saw the two of you inside.”

Liam sighs. “You can’t tell anyone.”

“Wasn’t planning on it, but are you going to explain to me what the hell is going on there, or are you in the habit of keeping secrets now?”

“Malik told me I couldn’t tell anyone,” Liam snaps. “And he’s paying me a hundred pounds just to teach him to swim, so it’s not like I could say no.”

“He can’t swim?” Harry asks.

Liam shakes his head. “He’s pretty freaking scared of it, actually.”

“Wow,” Harry breathes. “I never would have guessed. Looks good on him, though, for being such an asshole. It’s like-- you can do something he can’t. He can’t look down at you for once.”

Liam frowns. He’d never really thought of it that way. “I guess.”

“Is he as much of a dick when you’re alone as he always is?” Harry questions.

“Um,” Liam stalls, thinking about the question for a moment. “Considering the fact that the lesson ended with him saying ‘fuck this’ and then telling me to go fuck myself, I’m going to have to say that, yes, he is still a dick.”

“Maybe you should try strangling him,” Harry suggests. “Apparently that wins the hearts of all the respectable men.”

 

--

 

At exactly eleven thirty, all of the staff under the age of twenty-five sneak down to the beach. Harry and Liam are in charge of carrying down the alcohol, Niall’s stolen a few blankets from the laundry room, and Jessica -- the girl who gives tennis lessons every Friday and Sunday, and spends the rest of her time in the kitchen-- steals leftover dessert and a few bags of crisps and marshmallows from the pantry.

Eleanor is left in charge of the fire, because she’s a control freak and she’s also good at it. Within ten minutes smoke is billowing into the air, some people have already gotten into the water, and Niall is helping Eleanor roast a marshmallow.

It’s a bit chilly being this close to the lake so late at night, but Liam likes it. Likes the smell of the water and the fire mingling together, and the way the air lifts the smell of burnt marshmallows with it. He likes looking out at the lake as the moon reflects in its waves, and the star shine brightly because there’s not much artificial light this far out of town.

Everyone’s loud, but the sound of the cracking fire still reaches his ears over top of them. He hears girls giggle and guys shout as someone pulls out a football and they start up a game, using already empty beer cans to mark the goals.

Liam doesn’t grab a blanket because he doesn’t mind the sand underneath him. He just spreads out on the cool dirt and leans his head back, staring up at the sky. It’s almost peaceful, until someone flops down beside him and sloshes a cold drink onto his leg.

“Sorry,” Harry says quickly. “Here,” he adds, handing Liam a plastic cup the looks like Coke but smells like vodka.

Liam takes it and sips it slowly. He’s not much of a drinker most of the time, because he’s always got to worry about driving him and Harry home. Here, though, he doesn’t have that hanging over his head. He can drink whatever he wants and, as long as he doesn’t stumble down the beach and into the water, or through the forest, he’ll be fine.

“’s nice, isn’t it?” Harry asks, grinning widely at him. “Sometimes I fucking hate this job, but sometimes it’s just-- nice.”

Liam nods. “Not that bad if we get to do stuff like this,” he agrees.

“Want to get drunk and go skinny dipping?”

“I’m in,” says a too familiar voice. Harry tenses beside him as Louis falls onto the sand on Liam’s other side. He doesn’t look over at them just yet, but he knows that Zayn’s there, too, because he hears him sigh before he falls to the ground as well.

“This is supposed to be employees only,” Harry says coldly.

Liam sighs and lets his head fall back against the sand. There goes his whole night.

“Didn’t know I had to clean rooms in order to be invited to a party,” Louis replies, sounding just as waspish as Harry.

“Well you do,” Harry tells him.

“Okay,” Louis says. “Next time you do your cleaning rounds knock on my door. I’m fairly good at making beds.”

Harry looks between Liam and Louis, as if asking Liam, “Is this guy for real?”

“What?” Louis hisses. “Just because I don’t do those things doesn’t mean I’m not capable.”

“Honestly, at this point, I think you two should just get it over with and makeout,” Liam says.

Apparently, neither Louis nor Harry hear his words, but Zayn does. “Or stab each other. I really don’t see any other possible ending to any of this.”

Liam turns so that his cheek is laying against the ground and he’s facing Zayn. “Does it make me a horrible person if I’m kind of routing for the second option?”

Zayn’s smoking, but his lips quirk up around the butt of the cigarette. “Probably,” he says while breathing out a cloud of smoke.

Liam wasn’t paying attention, so he has no idea why Louis gets up, but a moment later Harry follows him. Liam watches them go, taking in the set of Harry’s shoulders, and the way he’s briskly heading towards Louis. They might just get repeat of the ‘Harry and Louis Incident’ tonight, but Liam’s not going to bother trying to stop it. It’s probably just best to let things play out and hope that no one ends up severely injured.

It’s ridiculous, really, that Liam actually thinks Zayn is going to stay and keep him company. He watches as Zayn takes another drag off his cigarette, slowly exhales the smoke, and then stands up and walks away without another word or a single glance for Liam.

Because, to Zayn, Liam is unimportant. He’s just the guy who works for his parents and one time tried to teach him how to swim. Liam kind of hates him, just a little bit. Sure, he disliked Zayn before, but Liam hadn’t hated him. He doesn’t ever hate people, really, because, as Harry often points out, Liam is always, “Trying to see the good in people even if they treat you like shit.”

Maybe he’s just realizing now that not everyone has this secret, hidden goodness inside of them. Maybe some people, like Zayn Malik, really are just as bad on the inside as they act on the outside.

 

--

 

Liam is considering just skipping out on the swimming lessons by the time Eleanor hands him the pool keys. He’s had a shit day on top his hangover. He knew he should have stopped drinking last night, but Louis and Harry kept bickering, and Niall kept getting him refills, and then the rest of the night was a blur or arguments and Niall kissing Eleanor and Zayn smoking cigarettes while not ever meeting his eyes.

The money is too good to miss out on, though, so he grabs his swim trunks and heads for the pool. This time, Zayn is waiting for him just outside the doors, cigarette dangling from his fingers. He doesn’t greet Liam in anyway, but instead keeps puffing on his cigarette as Liam unlocks the door.

He doesn’t hold the door open for Zayn. He just heads straight for the lights, flicks them on, and then moves on to the locker room. He ducks inside one of the free stalls to change, knowing that Zayn is right behind him and he doesn’t feel like flashing Zayn his ass -- or anything else.

When he exit’s the stall, Zayn is already out of the room. Out in the pool room, he finds Zayn already in the water. He’s in the deeper end, floating on his back, a small smile in his face.

“What are you doing?” Liam asks.

“Shut up,” Zayn orders. “If you distract me I’ll loose my cool and drown.”

Liam watches him for a few minutes. He can admit that, objectively, Zayn is nice to look at. It’s just hard to pay attention to that when he knows what kind of person he is. Liam is not one of those people that thinks looks outweigh personality.

“Did you even consider how to get back to the shallow end?” Liam questions eventually.

“I’ve been practising,” Zayn admits quietly.

Liam frowns at him. “You can’t do that, Zayn,” he says, annoyance building in him. “You shouldn’t ever swim by yourself, especially when you struggle with it. You could have gotten seriously hurt. You could have died.”

Zayn’s arms flail for a moment, but he steadies himself before he goes under. “Figured you’d be pleased about that, not angry.”

Liam sinks down to the edge of the pool and lets his legs hang in. “I’m not kidding, Zayn,” he says. “Don’t do that again. If you want to practise, ask someone to come with you.”

“Worrying about me, Liam?” Zayn asks, lips quirking up into that soft smile again. Liam sort of wishes he could see Zayn’s eyes, but then again it’s probably a good thing they’re closed.

“No,” Liam snaps. “I just don’t want to lose my job because you’re an idiot.”

Zayn’s lips turn into a thin line at that, and then he’s flailing again, going under. Liam jumps into the pool and swims over to him, since Zayn is still in the deeper end. Even if he straightens himself, he won’t be able to touch the ground and stand.

He lifts Zayn above the water and pulls him over the shallow end. “Done?” he demands.

Zayn rolls his eyes. “You’re a bit of a bore, aren’t you?” Zayn asks.

Liam narrows his eyes. “Can we just get on with this?”

Zayn lifts his hands defensively. “Whatever you say.”

So maybe he had done something this weekend, because he’d spent a few minutes (or hours) researching how to teach someone to swim. Apparently he was on the right track with trying to get Zayn to not be afraid of the water (which apparently worked, too). A few of the sites he checked suggested the assisted floating, just like they’d done.

Next he has to teach Zayn the right motions for keeping himself up and moving through the water. He has Zayn hold onto the edge of the pool (like the site instructed) and kick his feet out. It takes all of about five minutes for Zayn to get annoyed with this.

“I feel like a fucking idiot,” Zayn hisses, looking over his shoulder at Liam. “This is ridiculous.”

He does look kind of ridiculous, but Liam somehow manages to keep this thought to himself. “You wanted to learn. This is what we’re doing.”

“Why aren’t you doing it, then?” Zayn demands.

Liam raises an eyebrow. “Because I, unlike you, actually know how to swim.”

Zayn releases the edge of the pool and turns to face Liam. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what I said,” Liam replies. “And also like I said, if you want to learn, then you’re going to have to do what I tell you.”

Zayn glares at him for a moment before turning back around and grabbing the edge of the pool. He continues with the kicking motions, and Liam has no doubt that he’s purposefully kicking water directly at Liam, because every time he moves Zayn just shifts over a bit.

“You’re probably loving this, right?” Zayn asks after a moment. “The fact that I can’t do this. Makes you feel like you’re better than me, or something.”

“No,” Liam says, and it’s the truth. He doesn’t feel superior to Zayn at all. In fact, Zayn’s done such a good job of reminding Liam exactly where he stands in the world that it’d be pretty impossible for him to feel better than Zayn. “Unlike some people, I don’t get off on everyone else’s insecurities.”

“Like you have any,” Zayn snorts. “Everyone-- fucking loves you.” He somehow managed to get water in his mouth, and he spits it out as he spits out the curse word. “My parents. My best fucking friend. It’s ridiculous. It’s like you shit fucking rainbows.”

Zayn kicks harder, now, and there’s a steady spray of water from behind him. Liam moves back and out of the way, frowning at Zayn as he does so. Just like Liam not hating anyone, he doesn’t really think anyone’s ever hated him. Or, he’s tried to make sure that no one would have a reason to, prides himself on being a good person. But Zayn? Zayn definitely hates him.

“You’ve got them all so wrapped around your fingers,” Zayn continues as he kicks at the water. “Fucking Wonderboy, is what you are. And for some reason I’m the only one who seems to remember the fact that you clean rooms and deliver food for a fucking living. Like, what’s so great about that? Why does that make you better than me, in their eyes? It’s bullshit, is what it is.”

Liam’s steadily moving away from Zayn now, but Zayn doesn’t seem to care or notice. He just keeps talking, keeps digging at Liam even more, until Liam tunes it out and pulls himself out of the pool.

“Get out,” Liam says, moving to the edge of the pool near Zayn. “Get the fuck out.”

Zayn lets go of the edge of the pool and stands up. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” Liam tells him. “Get out. We’re done here.”

“It’s only been, like, forty minutes,” Zayn says, impatiently pushing his hair off his forehead.

“Yeah, but we’re done,” Liam tells him.

Zayn glares up at a moment before shrugging his shoulders and climbing out of the pool. Liam turns his back on him and heads for the change rooms. He doesn’t pull on his dry clothes, but instead grabs his keys out of the pockets of his pants and grips them tightly in his fingers, the ridges biting into his palm.

He waits out at the pool for Zayn to get changed, and when he comes out Liam pushes through the door and then waits for Zayn to leave the building before locking it behind them. After that, he doesn’t spare Zayn another glance. He just stomps towards the main building, feet soaking his shoes, making the soles slosh with water as he walks. He just doesn’t give a fuck.

Zayn doesn’t follow him, and Liam has no idea where he goes, nor does he care to find out. He heads to the receptionist desk and puts away the keys, and then heads to his room. He doesn’t slam the door behind himself, but Harry looks up at him in surprise anyways.

“What happened?” Harry asks instantly, getting out of his bed.

“Nothing,” Liam tells him. He ducks into the bathroom to avoid further questions, and turns the water on scalding hot before getting in. He lets the warmth wash away the pool water and Zayn’s words.

 

--

 

Most of Wednesday is a blur, but Louis is true to his word, and Malik stops him during one of his cleaning rounds to tell him he’s got from 4:30 until 6:00 off to, “Accompany Mr. Tomlinson down to the beach.”

Liam thanks him and heads back to his to change at 4:30, and then grabs two boards from the pool’s supply room. Louis has no idea how grateful he is for this, because he needs a break. He needs to just take a minute and relax and enjoy himself.

When he gets to the beach Louis is waiting for him, just like last time. He pulls his sunglasses off and grins widely at Liam. “There he is,” Liam says brightly. “The man of the hour!”

Liam frowns at him. “What’s up with you today?”

“Oh, nothing,” Louis says brightly. “Just in a good mood, I guess.”

Liam’s frown deepens. “What happened?”

Louis shrugs. “Nothing groundbreaking. Harry still hates me, Zayn happens to hate you. But I spent my morning in the bungalow while Harry watched my sisters. It was adorable. They love him.”

“Apparently the Tomlinson kids just can’t get enough of him,” Liam teases.

Louis knocks his shoulder into Liam’s. “Apparently.” He grabs one of the boards from Liam and walks towards the water. He stops just at the edge, though, and fixes Liam with a questioning look. “Mind telling me what happened yesterday?”

Liam just carries his board under his arm and jogs into the water, calling a loud, “Nope!” over his shoulder.

Liam’s not sure exactly how long they stay in the water, but by the time they stumble out Liam only has enough energy to make it to Louis’ pile of towels before he collapses in the sand. Louis places his own board on the ground and crashes to the earth, too, and they just lay their for a long moment, letting the cloud-covered sun beat down on them.

Eventually Louis pulls himself up and checks his cellphone -- which is laying on one of the towels-- and sighs. “You’ve got about fifteen minutes before you have to get back to work,” he sighs.

Liam groans. “Great.”

“Come on,” Louis coaxes. “I’ll carry our boards back.”

Liam pushes off from the ground and waves him off. “I’ve got it,” he says, but Louis insistently grabs his board, juggling the two of them, the towels, and his phone after he places his sunglasses back on his face.

They pass Harry on the way to the pool house. He walks straight by them for a moment before doubling back, eyes narrowed and distrustful. “You were surfing,” he states.

Liam swallows and opens his mouth to say something, but Louis interjects. “Not his fault,” Louis tells Harry. “I forced him into it. Made Malik give him the hour off. He didn’t want to, but I was persistent.”

Harry frowns at them both for a long time before narrowing his eyes. “Whatever,” he says. “See you tonight, Liam.”

They both watch him walk briskly towards the main building. When he gets inside, Louis sighs loudly. “That is going to take so much work.”

Liam nods. “It definitely is.”

“Well,” Louis says, slapping Liam’s back. “We have the whole summer in front of us. We’ll figure it out. And in the meantime, I’m going to be an exceptionally good friend to both you and Zayn, and I’m going to talk to him about this whole ‘hating your very soul’ thing he has going on.”

Liam blanches as they start trekking towards the pool building again. “Don’t bother, Louis.”

Louis shakes his head. “I will bother, thanks. He’s being ridiculous. You’re perfectly lovely, there’s really no reason for him to be such a dick about this.”

“I don’t care if he hates me,” Liam says, and it’s partially true, at least. “Let him feel the way he wants. Doesn’t affect me.”

Louis gives him a long, quizzical look. “You’re sure?”

Liam nods. “As long as he doesn’t try to get me fired or something, he can hate me as much as he wants.”

“Okay,” Louis says slowly. “Whatever you want, Liam.”

It is what he wants. Zayn Malik can hate him if that’s what makes him feel better. He just better expect Liam to feel the exact same way.

Weirdly enough, when he gets to his and Harry’s room, Harry says the same thing to Liam that Louis did. “If you want to be his friend, go ahead. I’m not going to make you feel like shit for it. Whatever you want, Liam.”

Liam falls asleep wondering why this summer is so much more complicated than last year.

 

--

 

Thursday turns out to be his easiest of the week. There is no draining swimming lessons with Zayn, or explaining his newfound friendship with Louis to Harry. There is just work. Lots of it, but then, it’s a good distraction from everything else.

Harry is off his babysitting duties because Louis was taking his sisters into town for something. Harry didn’t press them for details, apparently. He just followed Liam over to Outlook and the two of them cleaned out rooms and screwed around. At some point -- it had to be almost eight-- Niall came to find them, and he helped them clean out their final room before the three of them flopped onto the large, queen sized mattress and turned on the television.

They could get in a lot of trouble for hanging out in the rooms, but the chances of them getting caught would be slim. The most one of their coworkers would do is blackmail into them covering for them at some point in the future.

“Think we could convince Jess to send us room service?” Niall asks as Harry flips through the channels.

Harry snorts. “Probably not.”

“Liam could,” Niall points out. “Go on Liam, try. Just call her and ask to send over some chips for us.”

Liam shakes his head. “Why can’t you?”

“Because,” Harry starts, “everyone likes you. She’ll do it for you. Call her. I dare you.”

He’s not twelve, and he’s not going to just do something because someone dared him. He’s going to do it because he’s hungry.

He picks up the phone on the bedside table and presses *2 and waits. Jess answers a moment later with a bright, “Hello, this is Jessica. What can I do for you?”

“It’s Liam,” he say quickly. “We’re in room 109. Do you think you could send someone over with some food?”

“You’re in one of the guest rooms,” Jess says flatly. She doesn’t sound pleased, but he knows she’s not going to tell on them. “Okay, fine, I’ll have Jake bring something over for you -- two, or three? Is that Irish bastard with you?”

Niall, who apparently can hear her through the phone, laughs and yells, “Love you too, Jess!”

“Yeah, he’s here,” Liam admits. “So you’ll send something over?”

“Mhm,” she agrees. “Whatever leftovers I have laying around from the gust dinner. Don’t make a habit of this, Payne.”

When Liam hangs up, Harry and Niall shake their heads at him. “You get away with everything,” Harry says, looking awed.

“I’d probably hate you if you weren’t one of my best mates,” Niall tells him. “It’s ridiculous how easy you make people like you.”

He knows that they’re complimenting him, he does, but the words make him feel sick to his stomach. “It’s not like I force them to.”

“No, we know--,” Harry starts, but Liam cuts him off.

“It’s not my fault that I’m nice and a good worker,” he says. “And it’s not like I try to make people look bad. But apparently everyone thinks that’s what I do, right?”

Niall shakes his head, surprised. “No one thinks that.”

Liam snorts and falls back against the bed. “Some people do.”

“Who?” Harry demands. “Who said that? Want me to strangle them?”

“You’ve got a problem, mate,” Niall says to Harry. “We’re going to get you therapy. But seriously, Liam, who said that?”

“Zayn,” he admits. “He apparently hates me. A lot.”

“You never did anything to him, did you?” Niall asks.

Liam shrugs. “Apparently I did.”

“That’s bullshit,” Harry puts in. “And he’s a prick. We all know it. Just ignore him.”

“Easier said than done,” Liam tells him.

“Wait,” Harry says, eyes wide. “Did he say this during your swimming lessons?”

Niall looks between the two of them, confused. “Okay, there’s something I’m missing here. Swimming lessons?”

Liam groans and closes his eyes. “You weren’t supposed to say anything,” he says to Harry. “I specifically said that I’m not allowed to tell anyone.”

“Well he knows now” Harry points out. “Might as well get it out there, then. Liam’s teaching Zayn to swim, because he apparently can’t.”

Niall is quiet for a moment, and Liam’s waiting for him to laugh the same way Harry had. He doesn’t. “I didn’t learn to swim until I was eleven,” he says slowly. “He being difficult with you?”

“A bit,” Liam says. It’s a huge understatement, but he’s not going to take a leaf from Harry’s book and bitch about every little thing Zayn does.

“Can’t be that terrible, though,” Harry muses. “I mean, he’s kind of gorgeous. Like, really, really attractive. And the tattoos--,” he sighs. “Maybe you two should have angry hate sex.”

“Maybe you and Louis should have hate sex,” Liam snaps at him.

“Who do I get to have hate sex with?” Niall asks.

The mood lifts and they’re laughing again until Jake knocks on the door with their food. He lingers back with them a bit, stealing food off everyone’s plates until he heads back to work. When they’re done they clean up the mess they’ve made in the room and then head up to their rooms to change and relax.

Niall comes into their room half an hour later, pulling a lumpy cot into the room. “Guess who just got a new roommate?”

Harry sits up, eyebrows raised. “You convinced Malik, then.”

“Yep,” Niall says brightly. “Told him Liam requested it, and he was like putty in my hands.”

Liam falls asleep that night to the sounds of his two best friends whispering quietly to each other while trying not to wake him.

 

--

 

When he heads down to the beach on Friday for surfing lessons, he has three people signed up. They’re all kids between the ages of twelve and thirteen. Apparently their parents are all friends who vacation together, and they figured this was the best way to get rid of the kids for an hour or two. Harry is leading a hike with a much larger group (sometimes people from town come just for the hike and don’t rent rooms), and he’s all bright smiles and cheerful waves, always in a good mood on Fridays.

Just like that first Tuesday when he snuck down to the beach, he finds Louis and Zayn already there. Zayn is fully dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, but Louis is in a wetsuit. He leaves Zayn to jog over to Liam, carrying his board under his arm.

“I’ve got to actually run a class today,” Liam tells him.

“Yeah, I know,” Louis says. “Eleanor told me. Figured I’d come and give you a hand.”

Liam frowns. “You’re a guest, Louis. You should be-- relaxing, ordering people around. Not helping me with my job.”

“I don’t mind,” Louis says honestly. “In fact, this is a completely selfish act. Zayn is in a shit mood, and I need to have some fun.”

“This is serious work,” Liam says hesitantly, because it is. They’re responsible for those three boys kicking sand at each other behind Liam’s back. If one of them got hurt because he and Louis were slacking off, not only would Liam lose his job, but he’d feel guilty about it forever.

“I can be serious,” Louis promises. Liam seriously doubts this, but he reluctantly agrees.

Turns out, the kids love Louis. Liam sees a whole different side to him that he didn’t even know existed. He’s teasing and playful, as always, but he’s energetic and friendly and the kids flock to him. Louis handles the entertainment part, while Liam actually instructs them. When they get into the water, Louis takes one of the kids, and Liam takes the other two.

They take a five minute break, during which Louis asks Liam to, “Grab my suntan lotion from my towel, will you? I’m going to turn into a tomato.”

“Can’t you get it yourself?” Liam asks, sucking down a bottle of water that he’d carried down in a cooler borrowed from the kitchen. He tosses a bottle to each of his students and to Louis.

“Didn’t you just tell me I should be ordering around the staff?” Louis says, raising an eyebrow.

Liam sighs and jogs over to where Zayn is still sitting, book in hand. He doesn’t look up at Liam once as Liam reaches down to grab Louis’ suntan lotion.

He does, however, say, “You look good out there, Wonderboy,” quietly as Liam walks away. Liam pretends he didn’t hear it, because he probably didn’t. It’s very hot out, he’s under hydrated, and he probably just imagined the whole thing.

 

--

 

His mum dots on him the whole weekend. Apparently she’s having a breakdown over him going off to University at the end of the summer, and she’s, “Just sad that I’m going to barely see you at all during the summer, too.”

He spends as much time as he can with her, feeling guilty. He helps her make dinner, catches up on Teen Wolf (which is their guilty pleasure, though neither of them ever speaks about it) and tells her about work, skipping all the more touchy subjects.

It’s harder to leave for the resort this time, because his mum stands on the front step and waves, looking so sad. Harry waves brightly at her and Liam knows that she’s going to miss Harry almost as much as she’s going to miss Liam. At least they’re going to the same University. It’s lucky that Denton offered the premed courses Harry wanted to take, and the business course Liam was taking.

“So, um, we’re invited to a party,” Harry informs him as they drive. “On Wednesday.”

Liam frowns at him. “A party?”

Harry nods. “Louis sort of asked me Friday. Told me to bring you and Niall and Eleanor, too.”

Liam is more than a little stunned. “And you said yes?”

Harry shifts in his seat and fiddles with the volume on the radio, if only for something to do with his hands. “He was so nice about it,” Harry admits. “I’d of looked like an asshole if I said no.”

Liam finds himself grinning. “This is great. I’m glad you’re at least trying here.”

Harry narrows his eyes for a moment before smirking. “I’m glad you’re trying, too.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the party is at Zayn’s house.”

It was probably a bad idea to take a sip of his too hot coffee as Harry spoke, because it ended up all over the front of his pants. Liam hisses and swats at his jeans, trying not to let the hot liquid burn his legs. Harry is laughing, because Harry is evil and Liam needs new friends.

“What do you mean it’s at Zayn’s?” he demands after the crisis is mostly averted. His pants are soaked, but he’ll just have to wait until they get to the resort to change.

“Boss is going out of town for two days, apparently,” Harry tells him, looking smug. “Zayn’s got the place to himself, so he’s throwing a big party. And we’re invited.”

“By Louis,” Liam corrects. “Zayn probably wants me nowhere near there.”

Harry shrugs. “All the more reason to go. Do it just to piss him off, if you have to.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Then I’ll drag you there,” Harry says simply. “Apparently I have a thing for violence, Liam, you might not want to test me.”

Liam sinks back in his seat and spends the rest of the ride glaring out the window.

 

--

 

“Are we still doing this, then?” Liam asks Tuesday night when he gets to the pool building, finding Zayn leaning against the wall with a cigarette just like last time.

“Just getting my money’s worth,” Zayn says easily.

“Maybe I don’t want the money anymore,” Liam says as he unlocks the door.

“Have fun telling my father that,” Zayn says, patting Liam on the shoulder as he passes him.

Liam’s shoulder feels too hot after his touch, like he can pinpoint where each of Zayn’s fingertips touched him. A move like that, if delivered by Niall, or Harry, or even Louis, would be considered friendly. From Zayn, though, it felt both mocking and condescending.

When Liam gets into the changing room, Zayn is naked. He’s not just tugging off his shirt; he’s fully, completely naked. Liam discovers that Zayn has a tattoo on the inside of his left thigh, though he can’t see exactly what it is, because only part of it is visible given the way he’s standing with his back to Liam.

Liam’s eyes move up Zayn’s thighs to the curve of his ass, and then to the spot where his back dips in a bit above it. It’s ridiculous, really, but his workpants suddenly feel too tight in the crotch area, and Liam feels his cheeks heat up, but he can’t pull his freaking eyes away. There’s so much smooth, dark skin, and then suddenly Zayn’s grinning at him over his shoulder.

“Can I help you with something?” he asks, raising his eyebrows.

Liam shakes his head and practically runs into one of the stalls, shutting the door loudly behind himself. He leans against the cool wall for a moment, his eyes falling closed, breathing heavily. Closing his eyes is not a good idea, apparently, because all he can do it picture Zayn naked, and that’s a very, very bad thing, given the fact that he needs to change into his swim suit. He doubts the flimsy material of it will hide his erection, and he really can’t deal with this right now. He just can’t.

He’s aware that he’s taking long, and that’s only proven more obvious when Zayn calls, “Meet you in the pool, Liam.”

Liam runs a hand over the short bristles of his hair, for the first time since he’d cut it missing the longer strands, because at least he could pull on those until the pain was enough to distract him. Instead, all he has is Zayn’s words from last lesson, which he repeats to himself over and over in his mind until the anger outweighs the arousal.

Finally he undoes his pants and pulls off his clothes before tugging on his red swim trunks. He carefully folds his clothes and puts them in a locker, along with his towel, and then heads out into the pool room.

Zayn is just floating on the water again, looking like he doesn’t have a care in the world. “Issue with your trunks?” he asks, smirking to himself.

Issue with you, maybe, Liam thinks. He doesn’t say it, though. “If you wanted someone to come watch you float around I’m sure you could have paid any of the female employees to do it. I bet they’d do it for free, even.”

Zayn’s eyebrows draw together. “You sound almost jealous.”

“And sometimes you seem almost bearable, but then you open your mouth,” Liam snaps at him.

Zayn just sighs and opens his eyes a bit while kicking his legs. “You know, that kicking thing actually works, apparently,” he says, managing to move to the shallower end of the pool without going under. “I think another lesson, maybe two, and we’ll be done here.”

“Thank god,” Liam says under his breath.

“That quick to get rid of me?” Zayn asks, because apparently Liam is bad at saying things under his breath. The teasing tone is gone and he narrows his eyes. “Whatever, Liam, just get in the pool.”

To clear his head, Liam heads to the far side of the pool and dives in. It’s deep, deep enough that he knows he’s safe to do so, and for a moment he relaxes into the calming glide through the water, the feeling of his muscles moving him forward. He comes out a few feet from Zayn, who’s eyes slowly slip up his body in a way that makes Liam feel just as naked as Zayn had been in the change room.

“Can you teach me to do that?” Zayn asks suddenly.

Liam frowns. “Not today.”

“But eventually?” Zayn questions, and he looks genuinely hopeful. So much so that it confuses the fuck out of Liam.

“Maybe,” he admits. “I don’t know. Can we just get on with this?”

Zayn opens his mouth for a moment and then snaps it closed and frowns. “If you really don’t want to do this, just go back to your room, Liam. I’ll tell my dad that you stayed the hour. Don’t worry about it.”

Liam has no idea what to do with this almost bashful Zayn. Annoyed, rude Zayn is easier to deal with, because then he knows what to expect. But everything that comes out of his mouth today is just confusing him more and more, and he doesn’t like it. He feels like he’s on unsteady ground, and that has nothing to do with the movement of the water surrounding him.

“Did Louis talk to you?” Liam asks abruptly.

Zayn blinks at him for a long moment. “Yeah,” he admits, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck. “He may have told me to back off a bit. And he threatened to slap me if I didn’t.”

Liam crosses his arms over his chest. “I don’t want you being nice to me just because Louis told you to. I like you better when you’re being an ass.”

Zayn’s eyebrows come together, like he’s trying to work out what goes on in Liam’s head and he just can’t. “Why?”

“Because at least I know it’s genuine,” Liam says quietly. “Now come on, you’re getting comfortable with moving around the pool, let’s try actually swimming.”

Zayn stares at him for a fraction of a minute before shrugging. “Okay. What do I do?”

Liam chews his lip, trying to remember what that site said. “You were doing good with that kicking thing, so let’s try that again, but without holding the wall. Like when we first did the floating thing, I’ll hold you up until we both think you’ve got it.”

“I’m going to get water in my mouth, aren’t I?” Zayn asks, tone flat.

Liam considers this and then nods. “Probably. In your nose, too.”

Zayn grimaces. “I’m starting to think that knowing how to swim is overrated.”

“It’s really not,” Liam tells him. “It’s good to know even just the basics, in case of an emergency.”

Zayn snorts. “Unlike you, I don’t spend my freetime rescuing babies from drowning or shark attacks.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Zayn shrugs. “Doesn’t mean anything. Come on, Wonderboy, teach me how to swim.”

Liam’s eyes narrows at the nickname, and the slight smirk on Zayn’s face. He shakes it off, though, because the faster they move this along, the faster he can get up to his room, go to bed, and forget about this whole thing for another week.

“Okay,” Liam starts slowly. “When you’re moving one your stomach through the water, the best way to take a breath is to tilt your head to the side. I’ll show you, just watch me, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Zayn repeats.

Liam dives under the water and emerges at the other side of the pool and treads water for a moment, making sure that Zayn is watching. Then he swims toward him, tilting his head to the side every few moments to suck in a breath.

“You make it look easy,” Zayn says when Liam gets back to him.

“Once you know how to do it, it is.”

“Show off,” Zayn mutters. “Right. Let’s do this. And if I die, I’m having you fired.”

Liam’s lips twitch up a bit before he can school his face back into a look of indifference. “You’re not going to die.”

“You going to save me, Liam?” Zayn asks. They’re almost the same height, but Liam suddenly feels like Zayn is look up at him, all wide eyes and long lashes. Liam realizes that, rich or not, Zayn would have had everyone taking orders from him anyways.

Liam ignores the question and moves to put a hand on Zayn’s stomach, just over his bellybutton. Zayn sucks in a breath and looks at him sharply, but Liam does his best to just not think about that as he puts his other hand on Zayn’s back and guides him down into the water.

It’s not easy. Zayn is the most reluctant swimmer ever, and he freaks out every time he gets water in his nose, eyes, or mouth. About six times they end up standing before Zayn’s even manages to kick forward a single foot. And Liam’s getting frustrated.

“Just trust me,” he snaps. “Okay? You’re not going to get hurt or-- whatever ridiculous fantasy you’ve concocted in your mind.”

“Trust you,” Zayn repeats. “Why the hell would I trust you?”

“Because I haven’t done anything to you!” Liam shouts. “I’m trying to help, and you’re making it pretty freaking difficult on me.”

“Fucking,” Zayn says.

Liam frowns. “What?”

“You said ‘freaking’, but the word you were looking for is fucking,” Zayn corrects him. “Come on, Liam, say it.”

Liam glares at him. “I swear all the time.”

Zayn shrugs. “You don’t say it, I’m not trying again.”

Liam puts a hand on his hip. He feels like he’s dealing with a child. An annoying, spoiled child. “No.”

“Suit yourself, then,” Zayn says, moving to fall onto his back to start floating again. He likes doing that, Liam realized a bit ago. Liam does, too, but he’s not about to join him.

“Okay, fine,” Liam says, and Zayn straightens and raises an eyebrow. “Fucking. Fucking fuck fucking. Are you happy?”

“God, that’s hot,” Zayn breathes. “Yeah, okay, let’s go.”

Liam’s mouth is hanging open and he knows it, but Zayn acts like those words never came out of his mouth, raising an expectant eyebrow, as if telling Liam to get a move on.

This time, Liam can’t help but notice the feel of Zayn’s stomach under the palm of his hand. He might not have washboard abs, but he’s all thin, wiry muscle, and there’s a thin patch of hair leading from his bellybutton downwards that Liam almost brushes his fingers against. Almost.

They make it halfway across the pool, and Zayn tries to stand up while grinning before realizing he can’t exactly touch the ground. They’re just a bit too far out, and Liam’s toes only just touch the ground, not enough to keep him above water. And, once again, Zayn freaks out.

He flings his arms around Liam’s neck, holding on tight to him. It’s all Liam can do not to let Zayn’s weight pull them both under, and he wraps an arm around Zayn’s waist and struggles to move them over to the shallow end again.

Just as their feet hit the solid ground, the door to the pool opens. “You two are looking very cozy,” Louis comments loudly.

Liam looks up at him, eyes wide. He knows he looks guilty, but he’s not exactly sure why.

Zayn suddenly pushes him away, saying, “Don’t fucking touch me.”

Liam turns back to him, but Zayn’s shaking his head, water flying everywhere, and pulling himself out of the pool. Liam stands there, too dumbstruck to even move.

“What are you two doing in here, anyways?” Louis asks. “I was walking by just in time to see you two grab onto each other. Is there something I need to know? When’s the wedding?”

Liam wants to tell Louis to shut up, if only because his words are bringing heat to Zayn’s cheeks, and Zayn’s sneering at Liam. “I was going for a swim, and Wonderboy thought I needed help or something and jumped in.”

Louis looks between the two of them for a moment. “I’m-- I’m just going to go,” he says quietly. “Sorry.”

“Just wait outside a minute, yeah?” Zayn yells after him.

Louis turns and nods. “Okay.”

Liam pulls himself out of the pool by the time Zayn gets into the change room. Both he and Zayn use the stalls this time. They finish getting dressed at about the same time, but Zayn walks briskly in front of him and pushes open the pool house door and swings it shut behind himself so it nearly hits Liam, who just shakes his head and curls his hands into fists.

It’s dark out, but Liam can faintly make out Louis, who’s leaning against the wall by the door. He turns his back on him and Zayn to lock the door, but when he turns back around Louis is shaking his head at Zayn and coming over to Liam.

“Walk with me,” he orders, throwing an arm over Liam’s shoulder. He glares at Zayn as he passes, but Louis just guides him away, heading down the bath to the beach.

Liam looks over his shoulder just once to find Zayn staring after them, lip caught between his teeth, hands fisted at his side.

“Shoes off,” Louis orders once they get to the beach.

He takes his arm off Liam’s shoulder and pulls off his shoes and kicks them into a pile, gesturing for Liam to do the same. When he has, Louis grabs his hand and pulls him closer to the water, so they’re walking in the damp, soft sand, water lapping at their heels.

It should have been awkward or even a bit romantic, but Louis’ hand is just warm and friendly in his own as he swings his arm, forcing Liam’s to lift up high and then drop back down as they walk.

Liam hasn’t spent much time exploring the beach. He sticks closer to the resort, only going farther down if the waves are better somewhere else. Now, Louis leads him far away from their shoes, the only light guiding their path coming from the moon and the stars.

They don’t really talk much. Louis attempts to crack a few jokes, but other than that they mostly just think to themselves. Liam replays the last forty minutes over and over in his mind, wondering why he was still surprised every time Zayn showed his true colours.

When they head back, Louis finally breaks down and asks, “What happened back there, exactly? The truth, Liam, not the bullshit story Zayn gave me.”

“Um,” Liam flounders, trying to think up a good lie that Louis’ actually going to buy. “We were just--,”

“You were teaching him how to swim,” Louis finishes for him. Liam knows he must look surprised, because Louis continues immediately. “I know he can’t, and I also know that he’s embarrassed about it. He’s my best friend, Liam, I’m not an idiot.”

“Oh,” Liam says softly. “Right. Yeah, I was trying to teach him.”

Louis nods. “And let me guess, he was completely stubborn about the whole thing?”

Liam barks out a bitter laugh. “Something like that.”

“The thing about Zayn,” Louis starts, kicking up a bit of sand, “is that he doesn’t like failing at anything, or being unable to do something. His parents put a lot of pressure to be good at things, you know? They always expect him to be better than what he is. So when he finds something he just can’t do, he gets angry, because he’s so used to getting judged for it, right? And he takes it out on everyone else around him because it-- makes him feel better, or something.”

Liam’s quiet as they walk, just letting Louis talk and listening to the waves hit the rocks farther down the shore. He thinks that there’s truth to what Louis is saying, but it doesn’t excuse Zayn’s behaviour at all, and Liam doesn’t want to feel bad for him, or to wave off his rude behaviour just because there might be a reason behind it.

“It’s like-- when he got into Art school,” Louis says, still going on. “He got into a great school. The one in Wilton?” Liam’s mouth snaps shut. He does know the school Louis is talking about, because it’s in the same town as Denton. “Well, they wanted him to take business as Denton, right? But for once Zayn told them no, and he ended up going to the art school. And since he didn’t do what they wanted, they punished him for it, you know? He came home this summer to find all his stuff in the garage. They converted his room into an art studio. That’s why he’s staying at the resort.”

Liam doesn’t know what to say to that. He’s found it odd that Zayn was staying at the resort instead of at home, he just hadn’t ever considered the possibility that it was because he couldn’t stay at home.

“That’s--,”

“It’s fucking rude, is what it is,” Louis finishes. “He acts like he doesn’t care, but you know things about your best friend. You can tell when they’re lying, even if they think they’re telling the truth. And it gets to him. And this swimming thing is probably just another one of those things that they pushed him into, and so he’s taking it out on you.” Louis gives him an apologetic, sympathetic look. “I’m not trying to excuse his attitude, I’m just trying to let you see that he’s not some horrible, heartless prick who enjoys making your life hell just for the fun of it.”

“Feels like it sometimes,” Liam admits when they get back to their shoes.

Liam slips his back on, but Louis just picks his own up and carries them, walking barefoot up the path. “You’re still coming to the party tomorrow, right?”

“I don’t know,” Liam says. “I don’t think he wants me there.”

I want you there,” Louis argues.

“Only because of Harry.”

Louis stops dead in his steps and fixes Liam with an annoyed, hurt look. “That’s not true. You get that, right? That I didn’t just-- befriend you to get to him.”

Liam scratches the back of his neck even though it’s not itchy. “I know.”

“Good,” Louis says firmly. “And you’re going to come, and we’re going to get wasted and have a fantastic time.”

“Whatever you say, Louis,” Liam tells him.

 

--

 

It was a bad idea to agree to go in the first place, but Liam hadn’t expected for it to be this bad.

Zayn’s house is, as Harry had guessed, not far outside of Niall’s town. It’s huge and beautiful, with a driveway that rivals that of the one at the resort. They’re not even halfway up the drive when the music leaks in through the windows, some loud, pounding thing with too much bass for Liam’s liking. They actually can’t drive farther up due to the cars all parked along the path.

People are stumbling to and from cars, and from the light provided through the windows of the beautiful home, Liam can see people drinking and dancing on the front lawn, and in the rooms just behind the windows.

Harry parks the car and leans forward to stare out the windshield. “Now this is a party,” he says.

“This is insane,” Liam corrects.

“I keep forgetting that none of you have been invited to one of these before,” Eleanor says primly from the backseat.

The three boys in the car turn to her, and she raises her eyebrows. “What? I’m always invited.”

“Let’s just go in,” Harry says while shutting off the car.

“Let’s just go back,” Liam suggests.

“Don’t worry, Li,” Eleanor says, leaning forward in her seat to put a comforting hand on his arm. “Nothing too bad happens at these parties. Promise. I mean, a few people will get drunk and pass out on the lawn, sex will be had in the weirdest places, and at least one person will stumble into the woods and disappear for two days, but no one ever dies or anything.”

Liam blinks at her. “I’m starting to think you’re an evil person with an innocent face.”

Eleanor smiles brightly at him. “That’s because I am. Now let’s go! Preferably before someone throws a mattress in the pool. Parties always go downhill after that.”

Liam is apparently the only one with any reluctance (or sanity) because Harry and Niall get out of the car, grinning widely at the scene in front of them. Eleanor takes Niall’s hand and the two of them, with Harry on Eleanor’s left, head towards the house. Liam lingers behind them a bit, not anywhere near excited to get inside.

It’s not that he doesn’t like to have fun, or party. He does. He just doesn’t get why everyone has to get so chaotic. He knows from experience that being so wasted that you throw up on yourself is not fun. It’s horrible. It’s a lot more enjoyable to get just the right amount of a buzz and hang out with people you like, instead of a hundred people you’ve never met before.

The music gets louder the closer they get to the house. Up close, it’s even nicer. It’s all brick and windows and beautiful shrubbery that’s being ruined by people drunkenly leaning on it.

“Can we at least make a game plan here?” Liam asks nervously.

Harry turns to him and grabs Eleanor’s arm to stop her and Niall. “That’s a good idea,” he says. “How long should we stay?”

“Two hours?” Niall says, and Eleanor nods her agreement.

“Okay,” Harry says, pulling out his cellphone. He gestures for everyone else to do the same. “Set an alarm for exactly two hours from now. We’ll all meet back at the car. If, for any reason, you can’t make it back to the car, just call one of us and the person most capable will come and get you. Deal?”

Liam nods. “Deal.”

“Now let’s go get shitfaced,” Harry says.

Liam wonders if he can sneak back to the car and spend the rest of the night in there, playing Angry Birds on his phone, but Harry turns around and grabs his wrist and yanks him forward, as if he could sense what Liam was planning.

The music is deafening inside. If they weren’t so far out of town, the police definitely would have been called a long time ago.

The house is huge, but there’s enough people that it still feels crowded inside. Harry ends up releasing his arm halfway through the living room, and Liam can’t find him again. He can, however, find Louis, so he goes over to him, trying not to interrupt what is probably just a normal conversation but looks like an argument, because they have to shout over the music.

“Who the hell is that?” the girl he’s talking to asks. She’s pretty, he notices faintly. Wild dark curls fanning out around her head, dark eyes and a bright smile.

Louis turns to find out who she’s talking about, and his smile widens when he sees it’s Liam. He grabs Liam’s waist and pulls him forward. “This is Liam,” he shouts. “Liam, this is Danielle!”

“Nice to meet you,” Liam says, straining to be heard over the music.

“You, too!”

“Sorry, Dani, but we have to go,” Louis tells her, looking regretful. “I have the heart of a curly haired boy to win over.”

Liam frowns at him. “Are you drunk?”

Louis shakes his head no and says, “Yes.”

“I don’t know where Harry went,” Liam admits.

Louis shrugs “We’ll look for him. Let’s split up. If I don’t find you in ten minutes, meet me- in- the-,” He frowns and thinks for a moment “In the closet upstairs! The one to the left of the bathroom.”

Liam doesn’t question why they’re going to meet in a closet, mostly because Louis is already darting off before he can. Liam sighs and goes in search of a friendly face, or at least a heavily alcoholic beverage. He’s going to drink, he decides, because hopefully being tipsy will make this whole situation seem a bit more bearable.

In the kitchen -- which he doesn’t exactly find, so much as get pushed in the direction of, like riding a wave on his board-- there’s a plethora of plastic cups, things of juice and Coke and Pepsi and bottles of alcohol. Liam grabs a new cup, opens a new bottle of Pepsi, and then fills the glass almost all the way before adding a bit of vodka.

The first sip burns on the way down, but it’s a good distraction from everything else, so he takes another. And another, until suddenly his cup is empty and he’s staring down at the plastic white bottom of it. He shrugs and fills it again before exiting the kitchen, because it smells too heavily of perfume and spilled alcohol.

He has no idea where Niall, Eleanor, Harry, or Louis have disappeared to, and he has a sinking suspicion he’s not going to find them. He checks through most of the bottom floor, and then looks in the backyard, too, where lights are strung up and people are pushing each other into the pool. Liam promises himself to head back out there later to make sure that no one gets hurt.

He figures it must have been at least ten minutes, so he heads upstairs to find this closet that Louis was talking about. He said it was beside the bathroom, but Liam doesn’t actually know where the bathroom is.

He tries the first door, finds a couple in some state of undress on the bed inside, and quickly pulls the door closed. The next room shows him much of the same, except it’s three guys and-- yep, he’s not even going to wonder what’s going on there, either.

The third door is locked. He has no doubt that Louis could have found a way to lock himself in a closet, so he knocks hesitantly on the door and calls, “Louis?”

The door opens moments later and Zayn is standing on the other side. He frowns for a moment before grinning and grabbing Liam’s arm to pull him into the room. “Liam!” he says happily, like he couldn’t think of a single person he would rather see right now. “One second, let me lock the door again.”

He reaches behind Liam and turns the lock, and Liam looks around the room. There’s an easel in the middle of the floor, and it’s canvas is covered in a chaotic mess of paint that is both too random to be nice, but also too pretty not to be. The floor is much of the same, paint spilled everywhere on the grey carpet.

In fact, everything in the room is covered in paint, including Zayn. He’s wearing a white shirt without sleeves that dips low on his collar, showing off not just a few tattoos, but also paint splattered skin.

“One more second, actually,” he says, moving through the room. Liam watches him pick up a cigarette and light it, inhaling deeply with his eyes closed for a moment before blowing out smoke, letting Liam know that, no, that is actually not a cigarette.

“Right,” Zayn says, joint between his lips, “help me, yeah?”

“Um.” Liam puts his cup down. “With what, exactly?”

“Destroying things,” Zayn tells him, handing Liam a paint brush coated in red paint. “With the pretence of making art.”

Liam frowns. “You want me to--,”

“Flick it everywhere,” Zayn says, and Liam thinks he looks a bit manic. His eyes are wide, and his lips are parted.

Liam is still so angry at Zayn, just not this Zayn. This isn’t normal Zayn, obviously, and he feels like it’s almost wrong to be upset with the bright, smiling, insane boy before him.

Zayn makes a frustrated noise and moves to stand behind Liam, putting one hand on Liam’s wrist, while pulling the joint out of his mouth with the other. The smoke wafts around the two of them, and for once Liam finds himself not disliking it.

“Like this,” Zayn says, moving Liam’s wrist quickly. Paint flies, splattering the canvas, the floor, the shelf on the other side. Zayn leans over Liam’s shoulder -- it’s awkward, because he’s still standing behind Liam-- and grins at him. “See? We’re destroying my mum’s pretty room, but we’re also making art, so it’s okay.”

Liam steps away from Zayn and puts the paint brush on the shelf of the easel before he faces Zayn again. “You’re drunk,” he states.

Zayn takes a hit off the joint. “Drunk, high,” he waves a hand as he blows out the smoke. “Bit of both, really. Basically I’m just really fucking up right now, so don’t bring me down, okay?”

Liam frowns but Zayn grins once again, and he tries to hand the joint to Liam. Liam shakes his head, and Zayn’s eyes narrow, but for once not maliciously. He’s just inspecting Liam carefully.

“Have you ever even smoked a joint, Wonderboy?”

Once, at a party when he was sixteen. He’d coughed his lungs out and he didn’t even get high. It wasn’t an experience he’d like to repeat, to be honest. “Yes,” is all he says to Zayn.

Zayn shakes his head, still smiling. “You’re lying.”

“I’m not.”

“Liam,” Zayn says, voice slow and thick. He steps towards Liam, and Liam can’t step backwards unless he wants to fall into the easel. “ Since you taught me, I’m going to teach you, yeah? Teach you how to loosen the fuck up for once, Wonderboy.”

Liam’s shaking his head, but Zayn puts a hand on his arm and he stills.

“How do you plan on teaching me, then?” Liam asks. He sounds much more calm than he feels, which is most likely because of the drink and a half he’d had. It was making him a bit foggy already.

Zayn puts a hand on his chin, tiling his head up a bit. “Just relax,” Zayn orders. “Like floating. Just relax.”

Liam tries, but then Zayn is bringing the joint to his lips, inhaling, and then pulling their mouths together. Zayn’s lips are both soft and rough, since they’re a bit chapped, and he opens his mouth, those lips pushing Liam’s open, too, as he exhales into Liam’s mouth.

He has about a seconds warning, a second to really comprehend what’s happening -- because he knows what shotgunning is, even if he’s never done it-- before he has to breath, sucking in the smoke as he does so. He doesn’t choke on it, but he feels it move down his throat, thicker than normal air, leaving a slightly unpleasant taste in his mouth.

“Relax,” Zayn says again, his thumb rubbing circles on Liam’s jaw.

He couldn’t relax even if he wanted to, not with Zayn touching him like that, or standing so close. Not when everything smelled like paint and smoke and alcohol. Zayn doesn’t let Liam move, though, keeps a grip on his face with his hands. Then repeats the motions again: inhaling, pulling their mouths together, exhaling.

This time, as Liam breathes out, Zayn’s mouth lingers on his for a moment, his tongue licking into Liam’s mouth, brushing against his own for only a moment. Not long enough for Liam to even react, because he pulls back a moment later when someone knocks on the door.

Zayn takes a step back, dropping his hand to his side. He looks at Liam for what feels like a long time, and Liam wishes he could read what the fuck was going through his mind, because he’s pretty confused right now. Between the alcohol, the weed, and Zayn’s lips, Liam feels too light. It’s like someone put a screen in front of his eyes, and he can’t see properly or think properly or even move.

Zayn turns and pulls open the door, and Liam recognizes the girl on the other side, he thinks. Danny, or whatever Louis said her name was.

“Danielle,” Zayn says brightly. And then he’s pulling her into the room, cupping the back of her head, and kissing her.

It’s so different from what had just happened moments ago between him and Zayn, because Zayn wraps his arms around her waist, pulls her body close. She wraps her arms around his neck, fingers curling into his hair, and they don’t break apart.

Liam walks out of the room, thinking that Zayn did really need his help. He did a fantastic job of ruining things without even trying.

 

--

 

Eleanor drives them all back to the resort and makes sure they all get into bed without getting in trouble or waking any of the guests. Liam only knows this because she recounted the story twice over breakfast while glaring at everyone.

“I’m annoyed at these two,” she says, pointing her toast at Harry and Niall, both of whom look like shit. They were all more than a bit hung over, even Liam. “But you, Liam. I’m surprised at you. And a bit--,” he waits for the word disappointed, “impressed.”

Liam blinks at her. “What?”

She laughs. “I didn’t think you had it in you, to be honest. You were smashed, and, if the smell of weed clinging to you was any indication, a bit high, too. You’re quite the funny drunk, you know. You explained to a group of about seven guys, who were hanging on your every word, the best way to make their rooms look clean without really cleaning.”

Liam groans. “Great.”

Harry is the least talkative of them all. He’s spent almost all of breakfast pushing around pieces of cereal in a bowl without lifting the spoon to his lips once. It takes Liam a moment to realize that he’s not hung over. He’s upset.

“What happened to you last night, anyways?” Liam asks, frowning at him.

Harry looks up and blinks at Liam for a few moments before sighing. “I, um, spent most of the night in a closet, actually.”

Liam’s frown deepens before he asks, “The one to the left of the bathroom?”

“Um.” Harry pushes his hair off his face, and his cheeks are red. “Maybe.”

“Oh my God,” Liam says, shaking his head. He covers his mouth with his hand. If anything could have brightened his mood after last night -- he wants to shudder just thinking about everything that he could remember--, this is possibly it. “You totally--,”

“Shut up,” Harry growls. “Don’t say it, Liam, I swear to God.”

“What?” Niall asks, eyes flicking from Liam to Harry. “Someone tell me what I just missed.”

“Last night Harry and--,”

“Liam!” Harry snaps.

Liam grins. “You liked it, didn’t you?”

“Shut up,” Harry repeats. His cereal becomes extremely interesting after that, apparently, because he refuses to look up from it until everyone’s finished eating and has started to clear up.

When Liam goes to leave, Harry gestures for Liam to stay, until they’re the only ones left in the room. Liam watches him, waiting.

“He kissed me,” Harry says quietly, looking up at Liam with confusion in his eyes. “He kissed me.”

Liam grins. “About time, too, if you ask me.”

“No, Liam, you don’t-- you don’t get it. I liked it. I kissed him back.”

“Do you want a sticker?”

Harry’s eyes narrow and he shakes his head. “I can’t deal with this,” he says quietly.

“If it makes you feel better,” Liam says, equally soft, “I think Zayn and I kissed last night. Sort of. Or not really actually. I’m still pretty fucking confused.”

Harry tilts his head up. “You-- what?”

Liam shrugs. “About half a minute after putting his tongue in my mouth, he started making out with someone else, so…”

Harry gives him an incredulous look. “Damn. Bet you’re having about as good of a day as I am, then.”

Liam shrugs. He was trying really hard not to think about it, to be completely honest. Trying not to remember the way Zayn’s lips had felt against his, or the way he’d tasted. Or the manic glint in his eyes, and the way the red paint splattered everywhere, and how he’d pulled that girl in without a second thought for Liam. Without considering that maybe, even though things didn’t ever matter him, they might matter to Liam.

“Let’s just go to work,” Liam says suddenly, getting out of his seat. “For once, I’m actually looking forward to the distraction of making beds and scrubbing windows.”

“Never thought I’d ever hear those words,” Harry says solemnly. “And the fact that I agree with them just shows how fucked we really are.”

 

--

 

Weirdly enough, Liam doesn’t see Louis again that week. He doesn’t come to Liam’s surfing lessons the next day, or stop him while he’s heading from the main building over to Overlook. He’s just-- gone, apparently. But, at the same time, he doesn’t see Zayn at all, either.

Going home for the weekend is like finally being able to breath again. Harry ends up staying over both nights, curled up in Liam’s bed beside him.

Liam is accustomed to hearing Harry moan on and on about Louis Tomlinson. He usually swears and curses him to hell, though, and now… Liam isn’t sure if this is a good thing, or a bad thing, really. He doesn’t know if he can handle hearing about the way Louis kisses and tangles his hands in Harry’s hair, or about how great his ass felt one more time, because he’s almost at his snapping point.

On Monday, when they get to work, they’re a bit late again. When they get into the locker room, they’re not the only ones late, at least. Liam doesn’t recognize the person at the other end of the room with their back turned to him and Harry; not until he turns.

The polo looks good on him. He’s got the top two buttons undone, and somehow he pulls off the khakis in a way that Liam had never managed. In fact, he looks less like the scruffy boy with a cigarette constantly dangling from his lips, and more like the son of some rich business man (which he actually is) who’s about to spend the weekend at a country club. If you ignore the tattoos, of course.

“What?” Zayn snaps, catching Liam staring at him.

“What’re you doing in here?” Harry asks, frowning at him.

“None of your fucking business,” Zayn tells him. He pulls a pair of sunglasses out of his locker and puts them on before shouldering past Liam and Harry without another word.

Once the door closes between them, Harry turns to Liam and says, “He does realize we’re inside, right?”

Liam ignores him and starts getting dressed. He doesn’t want to know why Zayn was not only in the employee locker room, but in the employee uniform, too. Of course, he still does think about it, and he figures he knows exactly why Zayn is here: his parents are punishing him for the party.

He’s on room service duty, or so Liam learns not much later. Liam’s cleaning rooms in Outlook while Harry continues to watch Louis’ sisters. He passes Zayn in the hallway twice, and every time he does, Zayn looks about ready to throw whatever carton of food he has in his hands at Liam’s face.

If that’s not weird enough, lunch is worse. Zayn sits by himself at one of the picnic tables. Everyone freezes when they see him, and then they carefully avoid his table, even if that means packing eight to a table that only seats six. Zayn notices this, too, and he ends up pushing his food away from him and stomping from the room.

By dinner he doesn’t look so good. The shirt seems to hang off him now, and he can tell that Zayn has learnt first hand just how much it sucks to be stuck in the khaki pants all day. His quiff has mostly fallen, too, and he pushes his food around on his plate without looking up at anyone.

Liam sits across from him. Harry shoots him a confused look, as does Niall, but Eleanor takes it in stride and sits down next to Zayn without a word. After a beat Niall and Harry follow, too, and then the room settles back into a semblance of normalcy. Niall and Harry start talking, and Eleanor puts in a few words every now and then.

Liam spends as much time forking meatloaf into his mouth as he does watching Zayn. Finally, after what feels like hours, Zayn lifts his eyes to Liam and says, “Don’t look at me like you feel bad for me, Wonderboy.”

Liam fumbles out the words, “I- I’m not.”

“Oh, so then this isn’t a fucking pity party.”

“Don’t talk to him like that,” Harry says loudly.

Zayn raises his eyebrows and levels Harry with a look that would have had Liam sinking back in his seat, but only makes Harry straighten up more. “I think you’re forgetting who I am,” Zayn says slowly.

“Oh, and who’s that? Because from where I’m sitting you look just like one of us,” Harry replies, smiling sweetly at him.

Zayn looks down at the polo shirt and the khakis he’s wearing. “This is so bullshit,” he huffs, standing up.

“See you at work tomorrow, Zayn!” Harry calls after him as he storms from the room.

“That wasn’t very smart,” Liam says instantly.

Harry shrugs. “He can get me fired for all I care. I’m not sitting there and watching him treat you like shit after you went out of your way to be nice to him.”

“It’s not like he asked me to,” Liam points out, frowning down at his meatloaf. It doesn’t seem appetising at all anymore. “I mean, honestly, are any of us really surprised by that?”

“No,” Niall says first.

“Knew it was a bad idea the moment I sat down,” Eleanor puts in.

Harry shakes his head, looking at the three of them in turn. “Doesn’t make it okay. And you need to stop giving him the benefit of the doubt, Liam. I know that you’re-- friends or whatever with Louis now, and maybe he isn’t just some asshole who orders us all around. But not everyone--,”

“Is hiding a nice person inside of them,” Liam finishes for him. “Yeah, I think I got that, thanks.”

“Just making sure,” Harry says.

“The thing is,” Liam says, frowning down at his food, “I don’t see why his behaviour has to effect mine. If he wants to be an asshole, he can be an asshole. But I’m not, and I’m not going to turn into one just because he snaps at me, or narrows his eyes, or talks down to me.”

Harry stares steadily at him for a moment and then, without a word, he nods his head, just once. He doesn’t have to say anything, Liam gets it. He’s going to back off. If Liam wants to get treated like garbage, Harry isn’t going to make him feel worse for it anymore.

“That,” Niall says suddenly, “was some deep shit. Seriously, El, you got a pen? We should right that down.”

Eleanor’s ignoring him, though. She’s giving Liam the same look she gave Harry, but her lips are tightly pursed. “I’m still ordered to give you the pool keys tomorrow,” she tells him.

Liam’s surprised. He figured that, given the party, Zayn’s dad would have cancelled that. Or, also because of what happened at the party, Zayn would have cancelled that.

Instead of voicing any of this, though, he asks, “Does everyone know? Am I that bad at keeping a secret?”

“Pretty much,” Niall says brightly.

“Oh, shut up,” Eleanor says to him, laughing. “You were the one who told me.”

“Oh yeah,” Niall remembers.

“I don’t know why I’m friends with any of you,” Liam says as he stabs his fork into his meatloaf.

“Same reason we’re friend with you,” Harry says, throwing an arm over Liam’s shoulder. “We all need each other.”

Niall grunts his agreement, Eleanor nods her head, and Liam leans into Harry, because he’s sort of right, even if he is an idiot.

 

--

 

Liam isn’t going to his swimming lesson with Zayn tonight, and this has nothing to do with the way Zayn’s been acting lately. It has to do with the fact that Liam can barely sit up without threatening to vomit all over the floor.

“You’ve got a fever,” Mary says, leaning over him. “Best to stay in bed for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t even suggest you getting a drive home, hun.”

Liam wants to thank her for coming up here when Harry ran down to the kitchens to get her. He likes Mary, but he barely gets to see her because of their busy schedules. She reminds him of his mum. She’s all warm smiles and ugly old jumpers and she constantly smells like dessert. All that comes out of his mouth is a groan, though.

He watches as Mary turns to Harry. “You’re going to have to get someone to cover his shift, and I’d suggest finding someone else to take care of him.”

Harry nods. “I know just the person,” he says. When she gives Liam one last, feeble smile, Harry shuts the door behind her and says, “I’m getting Louis.”

“I’m fine,” Liam lies.

“You look like shit,” Harry tells him flatly.

“Thanks,” Liam says weakly.

“Sorry, Liam, but it’s the truth. And I don’t want to leave you alone, but we can’t both take the day off. I’m getting Louis. He’d probably be pissed if he found out and we didn’t anyways.”

“Fine,” Liam reluctantly agrees, just as another wave of nausea hits him. He lets his head fall back against the pillow and squeezes his eyes closed, willing it to pass. He’s already thrown up twice, and he has nothing left in his stomach anymore. Dry heaving hurts, and this time he’s not sure if he can make it to the bathroom.

“Just-- don’t die until I get back at least, okay?” Harry orders.

“I hate you so much,” Liam moans.

Harry winces at him before running out the door. Once he’s gone, Liam focuses on not throwing up, and then focuses on just getting back to sleep. He can’t remember the last time he felt this sick. He knows that he’s missing work, and he’s going to miss his swimming lessons with Zayn. He’s going to miss everything today, and there’s not a thing he can do about it, because there is no way he’s getting out of this bed unless it’s to go to the bathroom and/or throw up. Maybe even at the same time, given the state of his stomach.

Sadly, it’s not just his stomach. He feels weak and exhausted, and his head is pounding. It’s like every single part of him that could be sick decided to do just that today.

He must have succeeded in falling asleep, because the next thing he hears is Louis’, “Oh, wow, he really does look like shit.”

“I wasn’t lying,” Harry snaps.

Liam cracks his eyes open to face them, and Louis comes over and places a hand on his forehead. “You’re hot,” he comments. “Really hot.”

“Thought you said I look like shit,” Liam points out.

Louis laughs. “You really do, babe,” he admits. “But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. You just stay in bed, and I’ll make sure your rooms are cleaned today. Where’s your uniform, anyways? I doubt I’ll be able to get my big bum into your pants, but I’ll fit in the shirt, at least.”

Liam’s not the only one surprised by Louis’ words. “I thought you were going to watch him!” Harry says loudly.

“Don’t yell,” Liam begs. “Please.”

“Sorry,” Harry whispers before repeating, “But I thought you were going to watch him, Louis.”

Liam watches as Louis shakes his head, and it makes his own head spin even more. “Someone’s got to cover his shift or you’re going to be left with a lot of extra work, right?”

“Right,” Harry admits, “but--,”

“No but. I’ll cover his shift, and I’ll send someone else over to watch him,” Louis says firmly. “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. We can all survive a day without Liam.”

“Doubtful,” Liam responds.

“You’re sassy when you’re sick,” Louis says, sounding pleased. “I like it.”

“Just-- go to work, then, Louis.”

“Right,” Louis nods. “I’ll come see you at dinner then, love. Just hang on until he gets here, okay?”

“He who?” Harry and Liam both ask.

Louis just smiles and walks out of the room, too much of a bounce in his step for Liam, or Harry, to not be wary. “You’re definitely okay until Louis gets someone over here?”

Liam nods. “I’m just going to sleep.”

“Okay,” Harry says.

He looks like he wants to just stay and fret over Liam all day. Liam has a feeling he won’t be the only one bedridden at the end of the day if he does that, because Harry’s concerned looks are already making his patience wear thin. He needs to get to work, not stand there and worry about Liam.

The door closes behind him and Liam is left alone again. It takes him all of about five minutes to realize that he should have gotten someone to hand him the remote for the small television sitting on their dresser, because it’s all the way across the room beside said television. And he can’t get back to sleep, for some unknown reasons. Maybe it’s the fever.

He tries to sit up, but another wave of nausea has him leaning forward in bed, head between his legs, praying that he doesn’t throw up all over himself. He really couldn’t handle that right now. In fact, if he throws up again, it’s going to be like one of those scenes from really bad comedy movies where one person throws up, and then it causes a chain reaction of throwing up. Only it’ll just be him, sitting in bed, throwing up and then throwing up because he’d just thrown up, and it won’t stop until he, like, dies, or his stomach comes out of his mouth.

He didn’t hear the door open, but someone is suddenly rubbing calming circles on his back. It helps, even if the hand is a bit warm against his already too hot skin. The motion is just slow enough that thinking about it doesn’t make him want to throw up, and it’s actually sort of nice.

“Thanks, Harry,” he says after a moment, eyes still closed. He knows it’s Harry, because Harry is the only person who knows that Liam likes backrubs when he’s sick.

“Not Harry,” says another too familiar voice.

He’s an idiot, because he looks up sharply at Zayn and that makes his head spin all over again.

“Damn it,” Liam breathes, falling back against the headboard of his bed. He wishes he would have wedged a pillow between his back and the hard surface first, but he hadn’t.

“You should maybe stop moving, yeah?” Zayn suggests.

Liam tilts his head just far enough to glare at him. “What are you doing here?”

Zayn shrugs and sinks onto the edge of Harry’s bed. “Louis told me to.”

“What’d he do?” Liam asks, hating how feeble and thin his voice sounds. “Threaten to cut off your hair if you didn’t?”

Zayn smiles tightly. “No. He just said that you’re really sick, and everyone else is too busy to stay with you to make sure you’re okay. And I sort of owe you, so…”

Liam tilts his head to the ceiling and closes his eyes, because he finds that his head spins less like that. “You don’t owe me anything,” he says with his eyes still closed. “In fact, you should probably just go. I’m fine by myself. I’m not a child.”

Zayn snorts loudly. “If you wanted a drink of water, what would you do?”

“Go and get it,” Liam says.

“Oh, really? Because you looked about ready to throw up all over me just from lifting your head. I’d like to see you even get a leg out of bed, let alone stand up and get yourself a drink.”

Liam makes a sound that was meant to come out as annoyed and angry, but instead sounded weak and pathetic. “Like you ever care,” he adds to make up for that.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Zayn asks, and he manages to sound annoyed without a problem. Liam hates him.

“Only because everyone would think you were an asshole if you didn’t,” Liam points out.

“Everyone already does.”

Liam blinks open his eyes, only because he wants to see if Zayn looks as indifferent as he sounds. He can’t tell, though, because Zayn is laying on his back on Harry’s bed, staring up at the ceiling, hands folded on his stomach.

After a minute or so he turns his head and asks, “So, are you going to keep trying to kick me out, or are you going to let me stay and help?”

Liam tries to shrug. He fails. He hates his life.

His eyes have fallen closed again, but he hears Zayn sit up before he asks, “How about I order us some breakfast?”

“No,” Liam says quickly. “God, don’t even mention food.”

“Okay, um. Is there-- do you want anything? Need me to turn the television or, or get you-- a drink? Or maybe a book, or something.”

“Just stop talking,” Liam says.

“Right,” Zayn replies. “Stop talking. Got it.”

Liam would glare at him but he just doesn’t have the energy.

He can hear Zayn fidgeting on the other bed. He needs his energy to sit up, because he’s suddenly way, way too hot. He’s felt hot since the moment he woke up, but this is too much. He feels like he can’t breath he’s so warm, and he needs to get his shirt off. And the blankets, too.

As slowly as he can, Liam manages to sit up, leaning heavily on his arms. With effort, he reaches down and pulls up his shirt with one hand, and gets the first side off. Then he switches sides, leaning on the other hand and lifting the other side. It takes so much effort, and by the time he falls back against the bed he’s panting and his shirt is sitting in his lap.

He throws it off himself after a moment and then kicks off the blankets, too. Seconds later they’re pulled back over him and Zayn tucks them in around his shoulder.

“Don’t,” Liam begs, looking up at him with pleading eyes. He doesn’t even care if he’s currently begging Zayn Malik for something. He is past the point of caring about anything. “Too hot.”

“You know my mum’s a nurse, right?” Zayn asks, arching an eyebrow. “You’ve got to sweat it out.”

“I’ve got to die,” Liam says dramatically. He tries to kick the blankets off again, but Zayn just leans over him and holds them down until he gives up. “I hate you.”

“Yeah, I know,” Zayn says quietly. “Don’t move, Wonderboy, I’ll get you a cold cloth.”

“Wish you’d stop calling me that,” Liam calls after him. Or he attempts to call. It comes out far more quiet than he’d meant it to.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Zayn says from the bathroom, before the sound of running water reaches Liam’s ears.

He really doesn’t want Zayn here. In fact, he would prefer almost anyone else in the whole world to be here right now. He’s too weak and tired and sick, and Zayn is witnessing him in all of his pathetic glory. It’s not just embarrassing, but it’s infuriating. Why is it that Zayn always gets to be so closed off, and Liam is always left feeling exposed?

His fingers twitch towards the top of the comforter just as Zayn appears again. “Stop that,” he orders. “And hold still for a moment.”

Liam doesn’t know what he’s holding still for, but it’s not like he can actually move anyway.

Zayn’s hands are sliding under his head, and then he’s being lifted slowly, Zayn’s being so gentle with him that it makes Liam’s breath catch in his throat. He tucks an extra pillow under Liam’s head and then puts his head down again, before placing the damp, cool cloth carefully on Liam’s forehead.

Liam sighs, lips tilting up in a smile. It feels so nice against his heated skin. He kind of wants to tell Zayn to just take one of the blankets and soak it, too, and then lay it on top of him. Or maybe he should have a cool bath, one with ice cubes in it. He can just picture the steam that would rise from his too hot body hitting the too cool ice. For some reason, it makes him feel slightly better.

He falls asleep like that, smiling slightly.

When he wakes up, the first thing he does it try to sit up. He’s really good at making bad decisions, because sitting up that quickly feels like stabbing himself in the stomach. Pain shoots through him and he clutches as the blanket, trying not to cry out. A wet cloth falls into his lap and he stares down at it while slowing his breathing.

“Why am I still sick?” he asks himself.

“Because it’s only been about two hours,” Zayn answers.

Liam turns to him, eyes wide. He was pretty sure that he imagined Zayn being there, like a fever dream. But nope, he’s sprawled out on Harry’s bed, book in his hands, eyebrows raised. This time, Liam takes in how good he looks. He let the stubble stay today, and there’s just a hint of it on his jaw and chin. He’s wearing a pair of jeans and a simple shirt, but that’s not what makes him look so good. It’s the hair, not in it’s quiff, but instead fluffed up a bit in a way that makes it look like someone hacked at it with a razor. In a good way.

Liam hates him so much it makes his stomach hurt all over again.

“You’re still here,” he gets out as soon as he trusts himself not to vomit when he opens his mouth.

“I left for about ten minutes to get a book, but yeah, still here.”

Liam sighs and falls back against the pillows. He’s not sure if he’s thankful about that, or pissed. Maybe he’s a bit of both.

“Do you mind?” Zayn asks. Liam looks over to see him holding a pack of cigarettes.

“Your parents own the place,” Liam points out. “You can do whatever you want.”

“Not true, actually,” Zayn tells him as he heads towards the desk by the window.

He opens the window, and Liam winces against the bright light before throwing an arm over his eyes to block it out. He hears the flick of the lighter and then a loud exhale a moment later. The light might be deathly but he’s grateful that Zayn opened a window, because now that he thinks about it, the smell of smoke just might have him heaving again.

“You should eat something,” Zayn comments.

“Definitely not,” Liam replies instantly.

“Crackers, or toast,” Zayn suggests. “I’ll get you some in a minute.”

“I’m not eating anything you bring me.”

“You’re not going to get this out of your system if you don’t eat,” Zayn points out.

“You’re going to have to literally shove it down my throat,” Liam promises.

Zayn laughs. “That sounds like a good way to spend the afternoon.”

It takes Liam a moment to catch up to what he means. He’s running a fever too hot to blush, at least. Still, he says, “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Sure you didn’t.”

“I thought you were getting me food.”

He hears the creaking of a chair as Zayn gets up. “I’ll be back in, like, two minutes. Don’t get out of bed.”

He’d roll his eyes, if he could actually open them. But he can’t, so he doesn’t.

True to his word, Zayn is back in record time, bringing the smell of toasted bread with him. He puts down a large glass of ice water on the bedside table, and then a pack of saltine crackers and a plate of buttered toast. The smell of the toast is so strong it’s overwhelming, and Liam doesn’t even want to look at it.

“Come on,” Zayn coaxes. “Sit up, Liam.”

Liam sighs deeply, putting as much contempt into the sound as he can manage. He listens, though, and struggles to pull himself into a sitting position. He hates his body feeling this weak. Usually he’s strong and fit, and his body is just not cooperating today. It makes him feel helpless.

Zayn sinks onto the edge of his bed while Liam pulls the covers over his stomach. He’s just now realizing that he still doesn’t have a shirt on.

Zayn hands him the glass of water first, and Liam takes it, sipping down half the contents in one sip. The cool water is exactly what he needed. The warm, buttery toast Zayn tries to hand him next is not. He shakes his head even though it makes the room spin.

“No, Zayn,” he says as firmly as he can.

Zayn drops the plate on the side table and grabs the pack of crackers. He rips them open and hands Liam one. “Eat it.”

Liam narrows his eyes but takes the stupid thing and bites down on it, because at least the cracker doesn’t really smell like anything. It doesn’t really taste like anything, either, except for salt. It’s too dry in his mouth so he reaches for his drink afterwards, but Zayn’s already grabbing it and handing it to him.

“Thanks,” Liam says grudgingly. After he takes a sip, Zayn hands him another cracker. “How many of these are you going to make me eat?”

Zayn shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says, biting one himself. “This is what my mum does whenever I’m sick, though, so…”

“I’m only eating one more and then I’m going back to bed,” Liam tells him.

“Fine,” Zayn relents.

He hands Liam one more cracker and then puts the pack on the table before moving back to Harry’s bed. Liam finishes eating, downs the rest of his drink, and then pulls a pillow over his head and attempts to get back to sleep. He is acutely aware of every noise Zayn makes, though. His breathing, the occasional grunt as he moves or something, the turning of a page. It’s just as he starts to hum quietly to himself that Liam falls asleep.

He wakes up to noise. Way, way too much noise for his pounding head. “What are you even doing here?”

He blinks open his eyes. He can’t see him yet, because his eyes are too fogged still, but he can tell it’s Harry.

“I told him to be here,” Louis answers.

Liam groans, needing them to be quiet, but they just keep talking. “No, you said you’d send someone over. I think I’d remember if you mentioned that you were sending him over, because I would have told you not to!”

“Why? He’s done a fine job, obviously!”

“Because he’s an asshole!”

“Can you two shut the fuck up?” Zayn asks. “He’s trying to sleep.”

Liam grunts his approval of these words, and then Louis is at his side, touching his forehead. “How’re you feeling, babe?” he asks. “Tell your guard dog that Zayn’s doing fine with you.”

“He’s-- been helpful,” Liam admits.

Harry is standing beside Louis now, but he looks extremely doubtful. “Do you want me to take the rest of my shift off and stay with you instead?”

Zayn makes an annoyed sound but Liam speaks before he can. “No, no, it’s fine. We’re-- we’re fine. Go take your lunch. Both of you.”

“See?” Louis says to Harry. “Told you.”

Harry glares at him for a moment but then sighs. “Okay, fine. You need anything just call down to the front desk and El will come get me.”

“Sure,” Liam agrees, though he doesn’t plan on ever needing to do that.

Louis pets his head once more and then slaps Zayn’s knee on the way out. Liam doesn’t miss the warning glare Harry gives Zayn, but he follows behind Louis a beat later. The door closes between them and Zayn runs a hand through his hair.

“He hates me almost as much as you do,” Zayn comments.

“Almost,” Liam agrees.

 

--

 

He wakes up in a pitch black room, freezing cold. He pulls the blankets higher up, but it doesn’t help. He needs more clothes. And another blanket. Maybe a warm shower, too, because the cold seems to seep into his bones, and he has a feeling that extra blankets isn’t going to cut it.

He tries to roll over so he can get out of bed to get another blanket, but the lamp beside his bed comes on and Zayn gives him a quizzical look. “Hungry?” he asks.

“Cold,” Liam admits. “Can you-- in the dresser, second drawer, there should be a sweater.”

Zayn nods and jumps out of bed. He turns on the room light, and Liam winces. It feels odd, watching Zayn dig through his drawers. It can’t be helped, though, because he is so not getting out of his bed. The air around him is too cold. He’d likely freeze to death before getting across the room.

Zayn grabs his red sweater and stands beside the bed as Liam sits up. He can sit up now, at least, but he so, so doesn’t want to. He’s got no shirt on, and the blanket slips down his shoulders, making him shiver. He pulls on the sweater as quickly as he can, but it’s too thin. It’s summer, so he didn’t think to bring something that would actually keep him warm.

Liam sinks back down and pulls the blankets up until they’re tucked under his chin. He’s aware that he’s still shivering, but so is Zayn. A moment later, Harry’s blanket it added on top of his own.

“Better?” Zayn asks.

“Turn the heat up, maybe?” Liam suggests.

Zayn nods and goes to turn up the dial on the thermostat. Liam waits for it to start working, because he feels like his toes are going to fall off.

He tries curling up into a small ball to conserve body heat, but it doesn’t help much. His toes are warmer, but the rest of his body is still achingly cold. He hates being sick. He hates it so much.

“You’re still cold.” It’s not a question.

“It’s this stupid fever,” Liam hisses. “Or flu. Or maybe I’m dying.”

Zayn gets off Harry’s bed again, and the lamp is switched off. Liam can’t see him anymore, but it’d be pretty impossible to miss when his blankets are pulled away on one side, and then the bed dips down under Zayn’s weight.

“What’re you doing?” Liam questions.

Zayn settles into the bed beside Liam. “What’s it look like?” Zayn asks.

An arm is thrown over his waist, and Zayn is so warm that Liam doesn’t want him to go. “I’m probably contagious,” Liam informs him in an attempt to get him to go away anyways.

“Shut up, Wonderboy,” Zayn says quietly.

Liam rolls over so he’s not facing Zayn anymore, and Zayn moves closer to him until they’re -- spooning. There is really no other word for it. He’s deathly sick, he can’t get out of bed, and he’s spooning with Zayn Malik. Maybe he is imagining this whole thing. Maybe the fever killed him when he first woke up and everything since then has just been a preview of what’s to come in hell.

A few hours had to of passed, because Liam’s feeling slightly better when the door to their room opens. Someone turns on the light for a short second before it goes out again.

“Are they cuddling?” Louis whispers.

“I think so,” Harry answers.

Liam’s on his back now, and Zayn is curled up on his chest. Liam looks down at him to see the light from the hallway reflecting in Zayn’s eyes. They both look at each other for a long moment, but then Liam closes his eyes again and neither of them move.

“Come on, Styles,” Louis says. “Grab Horan. You two can stay with me at the Bungalow tonight.” The door closes between them, but he hears Louis out in the hallway still, saying, “We’ll watch Grease, and then--,” Liam doesn’t hear the rest, because he’s too far gone.

 

--

 

He feels a lot better in the morning. Still not 100%, and his body is exhausted, but he doesn’t feel like dying.

There’s a pair of lips at his neck, and it takes Liam a moment to register that they’re real, and that someone is in bed with him. Someone who whispers, “Morning, Wonderboy,” against his skin.

Liam almost rolls all the way out of bed. His feet his the ground before he can go sprawling, though.

“I’ve got to shower,” Liam says quickly, not looking at Zayn. He ducks into the bathroom before Zayn can answer, but he still gets to hear Zayn’s amused chuckle.

Liam runs a hot shower and undresses in record time, given the fact that his body doesn’t feel like fully cooperating with him yet. He needs another good ten hours of sleep, he figures. He’s got work, though. He can’t take another day off and stick someone with his shift. He’s just going to have to deal with it.

And deal with the boy in his bed. Why was he still there? Oh, right, Harry went to Louis’. And shit, he’s going to have to explain to Harry why Zayn was even in his bed in the first place. For some reason, he really doubts Harry is going to believe the honest truth, that Liam was just cold and Zayn had been too warm to turn away.

Okay, so the neck kissing thing didn’t go along with that story, but that was Zayn, not him. Zayn, who just keeps confusing Liam more and more everyday. Did he get off on fucking with Liam’s head? Is that what’s going on here? Because the day before he’d been nothing but rude to Liam, and then yesterday he’d been-- almost sweet, if Zayn Malik was even capable of sweet, which Liam seriously doubted.

He can’t stay in the shower forever, sadly, and he turns the water off and grabs a towel. He brushes his teeth and finishes the rest of his bathroom routine before realizing that he didn’t bring extra clothes in with him. He pulls on the sweatpants he wore to bed yesterday and carries the rest of his clothes back into the room.

Zayn’s not there. Liam feels a slight pang in his chest for a moment, taking in the perfectly made bed, but then he sighs in relief. It’s easier this way and he knows it.

Everyone’s apparently heard about how sick he was yesterday, because after going down to the locker room and changing into his uniform, everyone is smiling at him and patting his cheeks and telling him how happy they are that he’s feeling better.

No one’s allowing him to do his job, though. He’s supposed to be on room service, but Mary and Jess have him running around the main building instead of all the way across the resort like he normally would. Every time he goes to ask what the hell they’re doing, they send him on another pointless errand.

“Can you go tell Eleanor that I need her to call in an extra order of hamburger for tomorrow?” Mary asks.

Liam doesn’t want to get testy with her because she doesn’t deserve it. He can’t help the slightly snippy, “Why don’t you just call down there?” anyways. He doesn’t like people treating him like he’s not capable. Yes, he’s still tired. Yes, he felt like shit yesterday. He’s fine to do his job today, though.

“She’s not answering,” Mary tells him. Liam thinks she’s lying, but he can tell she’s not going to let him do his room service today.

“Fine,” Liam sighs out.

He heads down to the receptionist desk. He hadn’t realized Zayn was working again today, but when he gets down there Liam finds him talking to his mother, dressed in full uniform again. Zayn’s mother is a nice woman. In fact, as far as bosses go, both of Zayn’s parents are nice.

He’s never seen that pinched, annoyed look on Patricia’s face before, though. Without even thinking, Liam heads over to the two of them.

“Everything okay?” Liam asks.

Zayn shoots him a glare, and Liam realizes for the first time how upset he looks. His hands are balled into fists, and his back is tense. His eyebrows are drawn together, too, and his lips are a thin line.

“Oh, everything is fine, Liam,” Patricia assures him. “It’s just that some people, unlike you, dear, don’t know how to work an honest day. My son here apparently doesn’t get that we were letting him off the hook for the little stunt he pulled the other day by giving him a job here to pay for the damages. And how does he respond to our kindness? He skips out on his second day of work.”

Zayn doesn’t deny this. Liam’s still not feeling completely on top of things, but he puts the pieces together pretty quickly. Zayn was supposed to work yesterday but he’d stayed with Liam instead. And now he was getting trouble for it.

“Oh,” Liam says, shaking his head. “No, he was working yesterday! I was deathly sick. Didn’t someone tell you? I swear I told Harry to let you or your husband know. I had the flu, or a fever, or something. I couldn’t get out of bed. And Zayn was on room service yesterday, but I was supposed to be cleaning.” Zayn’s giving him an incredulous look, but Liam just barrels on. “Jess and Mary said they could get Jake to take care of Zayn’s rooms, so Zayn could cover my cleaning. Better to have a few breakfasts come in late than have a guest get a dirty room, right?”

“Right,” Patricia says slowly. She looks at Zayn. “Is this true?”

“It is!” Liam says quickly. “Just ask-- Niall!”

Niall, who was walking by with an armful of towels, turns on the spot and comes over to them. “What’s up?”

“Patricia was just wondering how Zayn did cleaning my rooms yesterday,” Liam tells him, praying that Niall will go along with it.

Niall hesitates for a moment before saying, “Oh, yeah. Good work ethic, this one.” He slaps Zayn on the shoulder. “I’ve got to get these towels out to the pool, though, so unless anyone needs something else from me…?”

“No, we’re fine here,” Patricia says. “Thank you, Niall. And Liam. You just saved Zayn from a world of trouble.” She shakes her head at Zayn. “Why didn’t you just tell me you were covering for Liam?”

“Must have slipped my mind,” Zayn says, eyes on the floor.

“Well, get to work, then,” she tells him. “And Liam, honey, you should take today off, too. Get back on your feet. God knows if anyone needs a break around here, it’s you.”

Liam shakes his head, smiling politely. “Got to make up for yesterday.”

Patricia smiles at him. “If you insist. I’ve got to get back home, anyways. Glad to hear that you’re feeling better.”

Liam watches her head out the front door, and then Zayn turns to him. “You didn’t have to do that.”

Liam shrugs. “I owed you,” he says simply, the same way Zayn had said to him yesterday.

Zayn looks like he’s about to say something, but Liam just turns around and heads over to Eleanor’s desk, passing on the message from Mary. When he turns back around, Zayn is gone.

 

--

 

On Friday, Louis isn’t at his surfing lessons. He’s got four kids today, and he was actually looking forward to Louis being there to maybe help. Not that it was Louis’ job. Louis’ job was lounging around doing nothing all day. It was just nice to have someone shoulder half the weight.

The beach isn’t completely empty, though.

“I can help, if you like,” Zayn offers.

His class is three girls and one boy today. Liam can’t deny the fact that each of the girls looks especially hopeful that Liam will say yes. Liam wants to say no. They’ve both been so busy the last two days he’s barely had to see Zayn at all, unless he was passing him by on the way out of the kitchen, or on the way to Outlook. And Liam’s happy about that.

He needs to distance himself from Zayn as much as he can, or this boy is definitely going to drive him crazy.

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Liam says. “Plus, shouldn’t you be working?”

Zayn scratches the back of his neck awkwardly. “I may have gotten Eleanor to change my schedule around so… technically, I am working. You’re looking at the new assistant surfing instructor.”

Liam gapes at him for a long moment before his brain catches up to his mouth. “Given the circumstances, I don’t think that’s going to work.”

Zayn laughs. “You’ve worked here for the past two summers. I’ve watched you teach this class at least ten times, and I know that most of it is done on the beach.”

He tries to ignore the part about Zayn watching him and focus on the issue at hand. “But--,”

“Oh, come on, Wonderboy. Loosen up, yeah?” Zayn smiles down at the kids in his class. “Any of you have an issue with me helping out?”

“We don’t have a problem with it,” one of the girls squeaks out.

“That’s only because you’re attractive,” Liam mutters.

“Was that a compliment?” Zayn muses.

Liam frowns at him. “This is serious, Zayn.”

“I’m taking it seriously.”

The thing is, he sort of does. He’s a lost cause when it comes to the actual teaching, but he keeps the other kids distracted while Liam focuses on one student at a time. And, of course, the kids love him. This is a side of Zayn that Liam’s yet to see before, and he’s all bright smiles and jokes.

There are so many sides to Zayn, at this point, that Liam can’t figure out which one is real and which ones are just an act.

At the end of class, Liam’s pretty sure that the only one of his students who actually learned anything is Cole. The girls spent the whole time giggling at Zayn. In fact, he’s pretty sure if he asked them, they wouldn’t even remember Liam’s name.

But Zayn helps carry the boards back up to the pool building, and he follows Liam around like a lost puppy. “Don’t you have to get to back to actual work now?”

Zayn shrugs. “I finished room service earlier. I’m pretty much off until Louis gets back from the hike with Harry, and then I’m supposed to clean the bungalow. Lou already did that, though.”

Liam cocks his head to the side. “Louis went on the hike?”

Zayn grins. “He’s got quite a thing for Harry.”

“I know.”

“Oh, right,” Zayn’s eyes narrow just slightly. “Forgot that you stole my best friend.”

Liam ignores him. “How long are you stuck working, anyways?”

“Today’s my last day,” Zayn explains. “They put me on for a week for what I did to their studio.”

Liam regrets bringing it up now because his mind races back to that night. His hands curl into fists at his sides, and he takes a slow breath, willing the annoyance and anger and hurt to pass.

“If it’s any consolation,” Zayn starts while pulling a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket, “I’m sorry for that night.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Liam says lightly.

Zayn frowns at him. “Yeah, you do.”

“Can we just not talk about it?” Liam asks, stopping midstep to face him. “It wasn’t a big deal. It’s already forgotten.”

Zayn leans into him, just a bit. He’s got a half-smirk on his face, left side of his mouth twisting up a bit. “All of it?”

Liam steps back and resumes walking towards the main building. “All of it.”

 

--

 

On Monday morning, there’s a crowd outside the door to the dining room. Harry frowns and pushes through the crowd, trying to see what’s going on, while Liam holds back a bit. Or tries to, but then Harry’s arm shoots out and he grabs Liam’s wrist and pulls him forward.

“Meeting,” Harry explains once they’re through the door. “After breakfast, in the banquet hall.”

“For everyone?” Liam asks. He heads over to the food table and grabs a bagel for himself, pausing to add a bit of jam to it. He takes a large bite before asking, “Think someone’s in trouble?”

Harry shifts on his feet and he reaches for a muffin, which he promptly drops on the ground. He tosses it in the garbage before grabbing a second one and heading to their table. Liam watches as he takes off the wrapper and then pulls the muffin apart, using his long finger to rip it into tiny, crumbly pieces.

“You’re worried,” Liam guesses. “What did you do?”

Harry looks up at him and smiles weakly, but the smile falls off his face almost instantly. He rubs his hands on his pants and then messes up his hair and fixes it, something he does often, but usually only when he’s thinking long and hard about something.

“I may have made out with Louis up against a tree during my hike on Friday,” Harry admits.

Liam nearly chokes on his bagel. He swallows and then snorts out a laugh. “Against a tree?”

Harry glares at him. “It’s not funny. Someone could have seen, and I could be getting fired, and--,”

“You’re fine,” Liam says, rolling his eyes. “I doubt anyone is actually in trouble.”

Harry nods and swallows. “You’re right. It’s just-- this kind of puts things into perspective, right? I mean, obviously it was a mistake and I shouldn’t do it again. I can’t risk my job, no matter how good Louis kisses, or how nice he was during the hike. It’s not going to last, and I’m not giving my job up for something temporary.”

“You really like him,” Liam states.

Harry throws a piece of muffin at him. “Shut up. I’m still figuring this out, okay. I kind of went from wanting to stab him to wanting to kiss him like, all the time. It’s a little jarring.”

Liam’s shoulders slump as he nods. “Trust me, I get what you mean.”

“Oh no,” Harry says, shaking his head. “Please tell me this doesn’t have to do with the cuddling thing.”

Liam looks at him sharply. “We discussed this on Saturday. It wasn’t cuddling.”

“It was cuddling.”

Liam stands up and tosses the rest of his bagel in the garbage. He’s not hungry anymore. “I hope you get fired,” he adds to Harry as they exit the dining room to head over to the banquet hall.

Eleanor and Niall are already seated at the back, and Liam notices that their hands are entwined. He grins and sits down heavily in the chair next to Niall, and Niall jumps before slapping his shoulder in retaliation.

“What’s going on?” Liam asks El.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. They don’t actually tell me everything.”

Harry leans over Liam to ask her something, but Zayn’s parents come into the room, followed by Zayn. Everyone sits up a bit straighter, and whatever conversations had been going on suddenly halted.

Zayn’s parents head to the front of the room, but Zayn sinks into the seat next to Harry. Harry looks apprehensive for a moment before asking, “What’s going on?”

Zayn shrugs a shoulder. “I don’t know.”

“I’m sure you’re all wondering what’s going on here,” Zayn’s father starts, and Liam returns his attention to the front of the room. “There’s two reasons I’ve called you all in here today, and while I wish I could assure you that it’s completely on good terms, I can’t.” He pauses as the room all shifts restlessly. “Bad news first, then?” No one answers. “It’s recently been brought to my attention that the ‘No Dating Guests’ rule is apparently not being followed by all members of staff.”

Harry turns white and Zayn breathes out a quiet, “Shit.”

Without hesitating, Liam reaches down and grabs Harry’s hand. Harry squeezes his fingers so hard he’s pretty sure there is no blood circulation to his own, but he doesn’t let go or tell him to let up. Liam’s heart is beating too quickly in his chest to open his mouth.

“The employee in question--,” He, Harry, Zayn, Eleanor and Niall all suck in a breath, “Thomas Mathers has already been spoken to and let go. This is an unfortunate situation, and I don’t wish to be hard on any of you, but this is a rule for a reason, and I’m sure we won’t have anyone else breaking it in the near future.”

Harry releases his hand and it starts to tingle, but Liam doesn’t care. They just dodged a huge bullet here.

“Now,” Malik says, smiling again, “on to the good news! This Friday we’ve decided to host a party down at the beach for the guests. Only a small fraction of you will be working this party, but this will affect you all, since your workloads are going to be a bit hectic that day.”

“A party,” Harry repeats. “Fuck, I thought I was getting fired.”

Liam and Eleanor both look sharply at him and he sinks back in his seat, quiet once again.

“There’s also going to be a wedding reception held in the banquet hall on Wednesday, so this is going to be a busy week for everyone.” Malik concludes. “You’re all free to resume work, but I ask that Eleanor, Liam, Jessica, Niall, and Mark all stay behind to discuss Friday’s event.”

Harry groans. “Oh, come on. I never get to be a part of these things.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Eleanor promises.

The rest of the employees -- and Zayn-- filter out of the room. Even Harry, who walks from the room with his shoulders slumped and his head down. Malik gestures for them all to move to the front. Jessica sits down on his left, while Niall sits on his right.

Malik hands Eleanor a clipboard and a pen. “We haven’t decided on a theme yet. That’s going to left up to you. The budget is listed on that page, as well as the number of guests that will be attending. The five of you are free to do as you wish, just let us know by Wednesday what you’ve decided on. We’ll expect there to be food, drinks -- both alcoholic and non-alcoholic-- as well entertainment for the kids.”

Eleanor frowns down at her clipboard for a moment and scribbles down a few things.

“Sir,” she asks, looking up at him with wide eyes. Eleanor’s got the innocent look down pat. Everyone might say that Liam gets away with everything, but he has nothing on Eleanor. “If I put Jessica and Niall on food and serving, Mark on beverages, Liam on entertainment, and I supervise the whole event, I’m going to be short staffed. I’m going to need someone to need to handle clearing tables and heading up here if we run out of anything. Is there any way I could get another staff member to help?”

Malik sighs while his wife laughs and calls, “Mr. Styles!”

The door opens and Harry peeks his head in, a grin on his face. “Yeah?”

Patricia shakes her head fondly. “I knew you’d be just outside the door. Can’t separate these four,” she says, gesturing to Niall, Liam, and Eleanor. “Now, darling, you have a golfing game scheduled for two. I’m sure everything is covered here.”

“I’ll have the tents and food ordered by tonight,” Eleanor promises. “And I’ll handle getting a DJ and everything else during the week. It’ll be great, promise.”

“Thank you,” Malik says to her. “We’ve been trying to make the resort a more children friendly place. Bring in more families.”

“I’m sure we’ll manage to do just that,” Eleanor says firmly.

Zayn’s parents smile at them all once more before heading out. As soon as they’re gone, Jess is out of her seat. “I’ve got to get back to the kitchen. Mary’s probably swamped with breakfast orders. Do you need me to help you figure anything out, or are you okay?”

Eleanor waves her off. “I’ve got it. I’ve pretty much planned the whole thing out in my mind already.”

Mark follows her out, and then Liam stands up, too. “I’ve got to starts clearing the rooms from the weekend,” he explains. “You need me for anything?”

“No,” Eleanor says, staring down at her clipboard. “Oh, wait. How do you feel about body paint?”

“Um.” Liam frowns at her. “I don’t really know.”

“Great,” Eleanor says distractedly. “The kids’ll love it. We’ll make it clear that everyone under the age of 18 is asked to wear old white shirts so that their parents won’t get upset if they get ruined. Kids love making messes. It’ll be perfect. And they can wash the paint off in the water.”

 

--

 

Tuesday is, as Malik promised, hectic. A quarter of the staff is busy setting up the banquet hall for tomorrow, the kitchen staff is busy prepping for the reception, and Liam is stuck cleaning both his and Niall’s rooms.

By the end of the day he’s ready to go to bed. He gets almost all the way to his room before Eleanor intercepts him and passes him a set of keys. Liam stares after her for a moment, wondering what the hell was going on before he remembers.

With a sigh, Liam heads up to his room to get his swimsuit. He doesn’t have the energy today, but there’s a part of him that’s sort of looking forward to the swimming lessons, not to see Zayn -- or so he tells himself-- but because he genuinely enjoys the time spent in the pool.

“You’re late,” Zayn informs him, tossing his cigarette to the ground.

“I forgot,” Liam admits as he unlocks the door. “I almost went upstairs to bed.”

“You forgot?” Zayn asks, looking mock-surprised. “How could you, Liam? This is the most important part of my week. I’m hurt.”

Liam turns on the lights and faces Zayn, a hand on his hip. “What the hell is up with you lately?” he asks. “Because I recall last Monday you yelling at me and fighting with Harry, and then the next day you took care of me when I was sick and I woke up to you kissing my neck. And then you help me with the surfing lessons, and you’ve been-- you’ve been nice to me, and I don’t get it. I just don’t get it, Zayn, so whatever game you’re playing here, can you just cut it out?”

He expects Zayn to get angry. Or maybe to explain, at least. Instead, he laughs. Liam is starting to understand why Harry had strangled Louis. He’s definitely considering doing just that to Zayn.

“You’re kind of adorable, you know that?” Zayn asks, patting him on the shoulder. He heads towards the locker room, calling, “Coming, Liam, or do you plan on swimming in your uniform?”

He placates himself by picturing shoving Zayn into the pool and the way his face would look when he surfaced, clothes billowing out around him, hair in his eyes. It’s a very relaxing fantasy, and it gets Liam through the next fifteen minutes without actually causing Zayn bodily harm.

“Come on,” Liam calls, grinning. He’s in the middle of the deepest end of the pool, treading water. Zayn is still in the shallow end, where his feet can touch the ground. “I can’t teach you to tread water if you won’t get in the deep end.”

“I can’t touch the ground there,” Zayn snaps at him. “I don’t want to.”

“Just swim over here,” Liam says. “I know you can do it, Zayn.”

Zayn shakes his head and mutters, “Fucking Wonderboy,” under his breath before spreading his arms out in front of himself. “You better hold me up when I get over there, Liam, or I swear to God--,”

“I will, I promise,” Liam assures him. “Hurry up.”

Zayn is possibly the least graceful swimmer Liam has ever met. He’s been practicing again, though, because he’s capable of swimming from one side of the shallow end to the other. He won’t go deeper than that, and he moves through the water in a way that reminds Liam of a cat. He moves spastically, his discomfort obvious. But he’s determined, even if being in the water is out of his element.

The moment Zayn gets over to him he wraps his wiry arms around Liam’s neck and gulps in a deep breath. Liam laughs at the way he shakes his head, looking like a cat that was dropped in the bathtub.

“Okay,” Liam says, putting his hands on Zayn’s waist, “you’ve got to kick your legs to stay up. You can use your arms, too, but it’s mostly in the legs.”

Zayn nods and kicks his legs under the water. “I got that part.”

“I’m going to let you go for a second,” Liam says slowly, and Zayn’s eyes go wide. “You’ll be fine. I’ll be right here the whole time if you go under. Just try to stay up for as long as you can.”

“Don’t-- don’t let go,” Zayn says softly. “Just give me a second, okay?”

Liam nods, and Zayn closes his eyes for a moment, taking in deep breaths. After a bit he opens his eyes again and nods his head, and Liam releases him and uses his arms to propel himself back a bit.

Zayn kicks his legs too fast, that’s the main problem. His arms aren’t pin wheeling like they used to, but they’re still not helping much. He goes under in about three seconds, and Liam is right there to pull him back up.

Zayn gasps for air before fixing Liam with a glare. “You said to kick. I kicked.”

“You kicked too fast,” Liam explains.

Zayn pushes on Liam’s shoulders until he goes under the water. That wasn’t the best decision on his part, though, because Liam has to let him go to get back up. When he does, Zayn’s arms are flailing again.

“Kick!” Liam tells him. “Just kick!”

Just Zayn’s head is above the water, but he listens. Again, it’s obvious that this isn’t within Zayn’s comfort zone, and there is nothing elegant or relaxing about Zayn when he’s in the water, but he stays up, so that has to count for something.

“Try moving,” Liam suggests. “Use your arms and move forward.”

“Try-- moving,” Zayn spits while tilting his head back, trying not to get water in his mouth. “Are you-- insane?”

“I’m, like, four feet away from you, Zayn,” Liam points out. “Just get over here. That’s all I’m asking.”

“What’s in it-- for me?” Zayn questions. “What do I-- get if I get -- over there?”

“The satisfaction of knowing that you can.”

Zayn snorts but he moves his arms in a way that Liam is sure was meant to move him forward. It doesn’t. Instead, he goes back a few inches and Liam laughs. A moment later he gets a face full of water in retaliation.

By the time Liam’s wiped the water off his face, Zayn is inches away from him, grinning unabashedly. He’s got a nice grin, when it’s not malicious or cocky.

“’s not so hard,” Zayn admits. “When I stop freaking out, at least.”

He’s so close that Liam can see the lighter colours in his eyes. He can see the faint stubble above his lip, and if he wanted to he could probably count each and every one of those long, dark lashes, too.

“Race you back to the shallow end?” Liam says quickly.

Zayn opens his mouth but Liam is already diving under the water. He prefers to swim that way, completely under the water instead of half on the surface. He opens his eyes despite the burning chlorine to make sure he doesn’t end up swimming diagonally like that time when he was younger and ended up splitting open his eyebrow by hitting the wall.

It takes Liam seconds to get to the other side of the pool. It takes Zayn an entire minute. When he can stand up, he pushes his hair off his forehead and grins again, though, like it didn’t matter how long it took because he still did it.

It’s infectious, really. Zayn’s good mood is too good at combating everything inside of Liam that’s screaming for him to get out of the pool and get the fuck away from him.

“We should--,” he’s going to say stop. Those are the words that he plans carefully in his head. Until Zayn’s smile starts to slip off his face. “Never mind,” he says, shaking his head. He can’t do it. “Come on, get out for a minute.”

“Are we stopping?” Zayn asks, a frown forming on his face. “We still have, like, twenty minutes. At least.”

Liam heads towards the ladder and pulls himself up. “Yeah, I know,” he calls over his shoulder. “Just get out for a minute.”

When he’s standing on the poolside he looks back at Zayn. The other boy looks wary, but he follows Liam out of the pool, and then Liam brings him over to the edge by the deep end. Zayn stares down at the depths of the water, lip caught between his teeth. The resort pool is big, and it’s fairly deep.

“You asked me the other day if I could teach you to dive, right?” Liam questions, tugging absently at the drawstring of his swim trunks. “So just-- jump in.”

Zayn looks at him as if he’d just suggested that Zayn stab himself in the throat. “What? No.”

“I can’t teach you to dive until you just jump in,” Liam tells him. “You’re going to sink, and it’s going to be a bit scary the first time. Best to get over that part first and then focus on actually diving after.”

“What if I can’t get back up?” Zayn asks, leaning over a bit to get a better look at the bottom of the pool. “I can’t even tell how deep that is.”

“Do you really think I’d let you drown?” Liam asks, arching an eyebrow.

Zayn shrugs. “Sometimes I think I’d probably deserve it if you did, but no.” He looks up at Liam. “Jump with me?”

“Sure,” Liam agrees. “On three.” Zayn nods. “One.” They both suck in a breath. “Two.” Liam bends his knees a bit. “Three.”

Zayn grabs his hand and they both jump in. Liam likes diving, but he hates just jumping in. Their combined weight pulls them far down, and there’s there moment of confusion, when you can’t tell which way is up.

They don’t even hit the ground, that’s how deep it is. Liam starts kicking his legs instantly, Zayn’s hand still gripping his making it difficult to pull them up. He manages, though. When they break through to the surface, Liam takes a huge breath of air and then checks to see if Zayn’s okay.

He remembers the first time he fell into the deep end of the pool. He may or may not have cried. It was a traumatic experience that would have kept him from going in a pool ever again if he didn’t enjoy swimming so much. Knowing that, he’s expecting Zayn to be freaked out.

Zayn is grinning. “That was fucking awesome,” he says, putting a hand on Liam’s shoulder so he doesn’t have to use as much of his energy to keep himself up. “Fuck diving, can we do that again?”

“I-- what?”

“That was terrifying,” Zayn says, shaking his head with that grin still in place. “It was like-- riding a really big rollercoaster.” He pushes away from Liam, already starting towards the ladder at this end of the pool. “Again, yeah?”

Liam just gapes at him as he climbs the ladder out of the pool. It’s like every time Liam thinks he’s got Zayn down, knows just how he’ll react, Zayn does the exact opposite.

Liam sighs and opts to just pull himself out using the edge instead of swimming over to the ladder. When he gets out, Zayn has his eyebrows raised. “Show off,” he says

“What?” Liam asks innocently. He is not unaware of the fact that all the hard work he does has given him a pretty good body. He knows that when he uses his arms to pull himself out of the water the muscles in his bicep bulge impressively. He really wasn’t trying to show off, though.

The moment he’s standing, Zayn tackles him back into the water. Liam doesn’t even have a moment to react. They’re sinking fast, and Zayn’s arms and legs are tangled with his. Zayn’s hand brushes his thigh, and Liam grabs his bicep to get them straightened so he can kick back up to the surface.

This time when he surfaces, he glares at Zayn. “That’s really dangerous,” he says. ‘You can’t just do that!”

Zayn laughs and rolls his eyes. “What’s the worst that could have happened?”

“We could have hit the bottom of the pool,” Liam says. “We could have-- I don’t know, but for future reference, don’t do things like that. There’s-- pool safety rules, or something. It’s dangerous.”

“Lighten up, Wonder--,”

“And stop calling me Wonderboy,” Liam snaps. He pushes as far away from Zayn as he can and heads for the ladder.

“Liam,” Zayn calls after him. “Come on, don’t be mad.”

“Right,” Liam says, putting his food on the first step of the ladder. “I should loosen up, right?”

He knows his anger isn’t exactly justified. He knows he’s blowing things out of proportions, and he’s probably being a bit of an asshole. He can’t help it, though.

“Liam,” Zayn says again, but Liam’s not listening. He’s heading towards the change room, leaving Zayn behind. “Don’t leave me out here. Liam, come on, don’t-- don’t-- leave--,”

The last of his words sound thick, and Liam turns to find Zayn struggling to stay above water, thrashing his legs way too much to be effective. Liam puts a hand on his hip and rolls his eyes, not falling for another one of Zayn’s games.

“Li--,” His head goes under water, and Liam realizes a bit too late that he’s not playing.

He jumps into the water and moves to Zayn in record timing, wrapping his arms around Zayn’s waist as he pulls him to the edge. Zayn’s not exactly light, but Liam heaves him up over the edge of the pool and then climbs out after him.

He’s positive that Zayn’s fine, but Zayn is just laying there with his eyes closed, breathing heavily.

“Zayn,” Liam tries, but Zayn shakes his head, eyes still closed.

“Go away,” Zayn tells him. “That was fucking embarrassing.”

Liam doesn’t laugh at him. “What happened?” he asks instead. “You were doing fine, and then you just--,”

“I was doing fine because I was too busy trying to impress you to freak out,” Zayn says quietly. “And then when I thought you weren’t going to be right there to save me if I went under, I started freaking out again.” He blinks open his eyes and stares up at Liam without moving. “Go on, Wonderboy. Tell me that I’m pathetic.”

Liam frowns down at him. “I’m not going to do that.”

Zayn pushes himself up a bit. “I know you’re not,” he admits. “One day you will, though.” He stands up and grins at Liam. “One day I’ll crack you, Liam. Just wait for it.”

Liam watches him saunter towards the change room, his shorts hanging low on his hips. And he doesn’t deny Zayn’s words, because he figures they’re right.

 

--

 

To be honest, Liam has barely any recollection of Wednesday. There’s so much going on with the stupid wedding reception. Liam ends up getting roped into waiting on tables, stuck in a pair of dress paints and a black vest. Harry sniggers at him the whole time, the prick.

Thursday is spent catching up on work he missed the day before, and setting up the tents for Friday’s party.

He gets to sleep in on Friday, at least. Malik tells everyone who’ll be working the party that they don’t have to start getting ready until 10:30, which is a blessing. The party itself isn’t starting until 5:00pm (“That way it’ll still be early enough in the day for people to swim, and then we can do a bonfire at around eight,” Eleanor explained on Thursday.) and it doesn’t end until nine. Liam’s not going to be on his feet the whole day, though, thankfully.

He still has to finish setting a few things up at his tent. Eleanor had ordered them a cheap box of white t-shirts, which Liam is now setting up at one of the tables in his tent. He gets a whole tent to himself. It’s not one of those closed in tents, though. It’s just four poles sticking out of the sand with a tarp stuck on top, that way he’s not stuck in the sun the whole day.

He’s got three tables: one for the shirts, which has a bucket of pens and markers on it so the kids can decorate them; one with actual paintbrushes and tubs of paint in every colour you could imagine; and one more table, which is covered in towels. That one’s not actually for his activities; it’s for after people get out of the water. Eleanor couldn’t find anywhere else to put them, though. (Liam thinks that’s a bad idea because the towels are white, and there’s going to be a lot of paint flying around.)

“It’s fucking hot,” Harry says from behind him. Eleanor’s got him running to and from the main building, carrying different things each time. “I think I’d almost rather be cleaning.”

Liam laughs. “You wanted to be involved in this.”

“Yeah, but I want to do something fun, like you. You get to throw paint at little kids, and I’m stuck carrying boxes of hamburger buns.”

Liam raises an eyebrow. “You want to trade?”

Harry laughs and shakes his head. “Hell no. Do you know how hard it is to get paint out of this hair?”

“Get back to work, Styles,” Eleanor says in a clipped tone. She’s looked stressed all morning, not that Liam would ever mention such. “And Liam, are you good for paint? If you need more, I think we have another box up at the main building that Harry could get.”

“Of course Harry could get it,” Harry mutters under his breath. “Harry’s a fucking golden retriever who isn’t trusted to do anything but fetch.”

“What was that?” Eleanor asks.

“I said your shoes are so fetch,” Harry says brightly.

Eleanor looks down at the plain black running shoes she’s wearing, frowning. “Get back to work, Harry,” she repeats.

“You’re a freaking dictator,” Harry tells her.

“And you’re going to be dick-less if you don’t do your job,” she replies.

Harry rolls his eyes and heads back up to the resort. Eleanor hurries off to boss someone else around, and Liam finishes setting up the paint. There’s so much of it, it’s ridiculous. What are they going to do, coat people in it?

By half past five, Liam realizes that, yes, that’s exactly what they’re going to do. The paint is non-toxic, and it washes off with just a bit of water. This means that none of the kids parents care if they cover themselves in it. Liam stopped trying to stop them after the third ten year old boy ripped his shirt off and poured half a tube of blue paint over his head.

He isn’t wearing his uniform but is instead wearing one of the white shirts that Eleanor bought. Or, it used to be white. Now it’s a rainbow of colours, and he hadn’t picked up a single tube of paint. He’s not really running the activities so much as letting the kids do what they want, only there to keep anyone from getting hurt.

The smell of barbequed burgers reaches him, and Liam stares longingly at the tray Jessica is carrying. There’s about a hundred people attending the beach party, and Eleanor’s set up chairs and tables and giant torches that are stuck in the ground to light up the area once it starts to get dark. The top of Liam’s tent has lights wrapped around it, and those will go on later, too. She did a really good job, Eleanor. Too bad none of them are able to enjoy it.

Louis comes over at around six, carrying a drink and a plate of food. Liam glares at him until Louis passes them both to him, saying, “You looked about ready to kill for some food.”

Liam bites into the burger. It’s juicy and perfect. “I was,” he says with his mouth full, which makes Louis wrinkle his nose. “I’m starving.”

“I was hoping to see a bit of Harry,” Louis admits, sitting down on the collapsible chair beside Liam’s. “He’s running all over the place, though.”

“We’re all a bit busy,” Liam admits, gesturing around his tent. There are six kids throwing paint at each other.

Louis nods. “I’ll get you another burger and then leave you to it. Want another drink, too? Something with a much higher alcohol content?”

Liam shakes his head. “I think being drunk would actually make this worse.”

“Suit yourself,” Louis calls as he leaves.

Louis doesn’t return for a while. By the time he has, all of Eleanor’s white shirts are an array of blue and green paint. Liam turned his back for just a moment, thinking he spotted a familiar quiff in the crowd. When he turned back around, they were all on the ground and covered in paint. He couldn’t even figure out who did it, either, since there were four kids in his tent and each of them had blue and green paint on their hands.

Louis hands him another plate of food and then nearly gets sprayed by a tube of yellow paint. “I’m so out of here,” he says after jumping out of the way. “This shirt is too expensive for this shit. Sorry, Liam!”

Liam waves him off. He wouldn’t expect Louis to stay with him. If he had the chance, he’d be out of here too.

At around eight, his tent is empty but Eleanor won’t let him go or help with anything else, just in case someone has the sudden desire to drench themselves in paint. She flicks on his lights and then heads off to start the bonfire. Liam leans far back in his chair, wondering if he could fall asleep without Eleanor finding out.

“Aren’t you supposed to be running this thing?” a familiar voice asks.

Liam blinks open his eyes to find Zayn standing by the paint table, picking up random colours before putting them back. “What are you doing?’ Liam asks.

Zayn shrugs, back to Liam, and says, “I was just finishing my third shot of vodka and I thought ‘You know what would be fun? Painting my whole body. I wonder where I could possibly do that?’, and then I came over here.” Zayn looks over his shoulder. “Come help me.”

Liam sighs and stands up. There’s paint dried on his arms and it’s itchy. He needs a shower and a nap and possibly a pay raise, because tonight’s ‘party’ was not fun.

Zayn strips off his t-shirt when Liam gets to him, and then he asks, “What colour should I do, then?”

Liam doesn’t hesitate in grabbing the nearest tube of red paint. He does hesitate after uncapping it, but then he thinks fuck it. He’s dealt with about thirty screaming, shouting, messy kids today. He deserves this one thing.

He coats his hands in red paint and then wipes his hands down Zayn’s chest. He doesn’t do it slowly like he wants to, though, because that’d be a bit hard to explain to Zayn. Next he coats Zayn’s stomach, and then his arms. He gestures for Zayn to turn around and he complies while Liam coats up his hands again.

The red looks nice on his skin.

“You know,” Zayn says, lifting his arms just a bit so Liam can get his sides, “red is the colour of love.”

Liam nearly chokes on thin air. “It’s also the colour of anger,” he points out.

“And desire.”

“And hatred.”

Zayn turns around and wipes a hand coated in blue paint on Liam’s cheek. “Which one do you think’s going to win out over the others, Wonderboy?” he asks with a smirk.

Before Liam can even open his mouth, let alone think up an answer to that, Zayn is heading back to the party, leaving his discarded shirt and Liam behind.

Liam stares after him for a long time, even when he looses the red of Zayn’s paint-coated body in the crowd. Sometimes, Liam thinks that Zayn might actually be into him. Other times, he’s pretty sure that Zayn hates him, or is at least indifferent to his entire existence. He’s like this … thing that’s managed to worm his way under Liam’s skin. This thing that itches, no matter how much Liam scratches at it.

Red is definitely Zayn’s colour, because Liam’s pretty sure that he’s felt each of those things -- anger, hatred, desire, maybe even love-- for Zayn at some point. Zayn is kind of like a fire -- maybe that’s why he hated the water-- but no matter how much water Liam tried to throw on him, he just kept on burning.

“Guess what?” Harry asks.

Liam’s trying to find lids for all the paint. It’s not nine yet, but it’s close enough that Liam thinks Eleanor will be okay with him closing up shop-- or tent.

“What?”

“Malik’s letting the all of the staff that worked the party tonight and the wedding on Wednesday have the leftover food and booze. Says he knows about our bonfires and that, as long as we don’t, like, burn down the beach, he doesn’t care what we do.”

Liam looks up at him. “We’ve got to drive back home tonight. I don’t think it’s a good idea to stay.”

Harry grins. “I already thought about that. We’re staying at Lou’s.”

“You’re calling him ‘Lou’ now?’ Liam asks. He shakes his head. “Never mind, that’s not important, because that is a really bad idea. Malik would flip.”

“He won’t find out,” Harry promises. He reaches over to help Liam cap some of the paint tubes. “Lou’s parents are getting an extra room tonight for some ‘alone time’ or whatever. Louis’ stuck watching his sisters, but he’s putting them to bed in an hour, and we’ve got to clean up first anyways. Then he’s going to come down here and party with us. He said it’d be fine for us to crash in his room.”

Liam started shaking his head before Harry even finished speaking. “Harry--,”

“Loosen up, Li,” Harry begs.

“Loosen up,” Liam repeats. He squeezes a tube of paint too hard, and green squirts all over his hands. He sighs. “I wish everyone would stop saying that to me. Fine, but if we get in trouble for this you can count on me throwing you under the bus to save my job.”

“Deal,” Harry says instantly. “I’ve got to bring the chairs back up to the resort. See you in about an hour!”

The tents are being taken down tomorrow by the company who brought them over, but Liam has to clear off the tables and throw out the empty tubes of paint and the ruined shirts. He also helps Jess pick up discarded paper plates and cups from around the whole beach.

Louis gets his sisters to bed before they’re finished cleaning, and he helps the rest of the staff carry everything in. Zayn’s still shirtless and covered in paint, but he helps, too. Liam can tell that everyone’s on edge about this. Before, everyone was goofing around and slacking off a bit. Now, everyone is mostly silent, lest the bosses kid get them all in trouble.

Liam can’t take it. His whole day has been too irritating and he needs everyone to just relax. Plus, Zayn definitely deserves it for earlier.

Liam picks up a half eaten burger and throws it at Zayn’s head. Zayn looks up at him sharply, and only Louis and Harry refrain from gaping at him.

“Liam!” Jess says shrilly.

Zayn. Zayn just laughs and throws a bottle of water at him. It ends up hitting Harry, though, and then it’s game on. Jess gets a plate of chips thrown at her by Louis, she throws a glass of beer at Niall, and even Eleanor gets into it. By the time they’ve finished cleaning, everyone has food on them somewhere.

Music comes from somewhere, Jess and Niall break out the last of the food, Eleanor opens a cooler of beer and hard lemonade and vodka. Liam grabs another hamburger and a beer for himself and moves a bit down the beach from the bonfire, which everyone else has flocked to.

Someone kicks a bit of sand beside him and Liam looks up to see Zayn grinning down on him. His eyes reflect the light from the fire, and Liam pats the ground beside himself, inviting Zayn to sit. He’s not sure if Zayn will, because who knows what the hell Zayn is going to do next? Definitely not Liam.

“Hurry up,” he says instead of sitting.

“With what?” Liam asks, taking a swig of his beer. He hates the taste but he couldn’t be bothered to make himself an actual drink.

He looks out at the water. The waves aren’t big enough for any surfing. They’re low and calming, and the moon looks impossibly big tonight.

“With eating,” Zayn elaborates. “We’re going to go swimming.”

Liam swallows another bite of his burger and frowns without looking at Zayn. “In the lake.”

“In the lake,” Zayn confirms.

“We don’t have swimsuits,” Liam points out.

Zayn collapses onto the sand beside him. “Boxers are pretty much the same thing. Unless you’re going commando. You know, I’ve always wanted to go skinny dipping.”

Liam snorts and shoves the last quarter of his burger in his mouth. He wipes his hands on his pants and then stands up. He doesn’t offer Zayn a hand, but he does reach down and undo the button on his jeans, and then he kicks them off and pulls off his shirt.

Everybody wants him to loosen up, right? Well, he’s loosening up.

“Christ,” Zayn breaths, eyes slowly running down Liam’s body. Liam shivers, but it’s not really that cold.

Zayn scrambles to kick off his own pants, and then he’s running down to the water. Liam waits a single moment before tearing after him. Liam’s faster in the water, but Zayn’s thin legs carry him quickly, and he manages to get in first.

“Fuck that’s cold,” Zayn yells.

“What do you expect?” Liam asks, following Zayn into the water until it’s up to his waist. “Lakes aren’t heated.”

“I didn’t know it’d be this cold,” Zayn admits, but he’s grinning and wading farther out into the water. “Never actually been in here before. I’m sort of terrified right now, to be honest.”

“This was your idea,” Liam says. The water is almost up to his shoulders now.

“I just wanted to get this paint off,” Zayn confesses. “It’s a bit itchy.”

Zayn doesn’t look ready to go out any farther, but he does bend his knees and duck down a bit so that he’s submerged up to his neck. When he straightens, his shoulders and chest are still bright red. Zayn frowns at it and tries the kneeling thing again.

“It’s not coming off,” he says, wiping a hand down his chest. “It’s supposed to come off with water, right?”

“Yeah,” Liam confirms, frowning. He looks at his own arms, and the paint is gone off them. “Maybe you’re going to be red forever.”

Zayn scrubs his hands vigorously over his skin. “Come on, Liam, this isn’t funny. Help me.”

Liam playfully splashes him. He gets Zayn’s hair wet, and the quiff falls just a bit. Liam laughs.

“Oh, you think that’s funny?” Zayn asks, and then he shoves Liam’s shoulders.

“You shouldn’t play fight in water,” Liam lectures, but he splashes Zayn again.

Liam tries to run before Zayn can retaliate. The shallower the water the harder it is to move his legs, though, so he tries to stay in water that’s deep enough to swim in. He swims farther down the beach, away from the direction of the bonfire, while Zayn moves after him, staying in shallower water so his feet don’t leave the ground.

When Liam’s far enough from the bonfire that he figures he doesn’t have to worry about anyone seeing them, he stops and, instead of swimming farther down the beach, he moves into deeper water.

“That’s not fair,” Zayn says. He’s far enough away that he has to yell for Liam to hear him. “Cheater!”

“You can’t see it,” Liam tells him, because he can’t. They’re too far from the fire and the moon does little more than outline their bodies, “but I’m grinning.”

Zayn lifts a hand, giving him the finger. “Can you see that?” he asks.

“Nope,” Liam lies. “You’re going to have to get a bit closer.”

Zayn doesn’t reply to that, but he can see Zayn moving towards him slowly. If he had to bet, he’d say that Zayn was probably wearing that annoyed, determined look he sometimes gets during their swimming lessons.

“Come on, Zayn,” Liam encourages. “You can do it!”

“If I had something to throw at you,” Zayn says a bit thickly, since he’s trying to keep water out of his mouth, “I’d aim for the face.”

Liam laughs and continues to tread water. His boxers are billowing away from his body a bit, and he kind of regrets the decision to forgo getting his swimming trunks. The water is nice and cool, though, and his body is relaxing into the gentle tide of the water. It’s just-- nice.

Zayn stops a few feet from him and treads water, arms spread out beside him. “Happy, Wonderboy?”

Liam’s grin slowly falls from his face, almost instantly turning into a frown. “Why do you call me that?”

Zayn shrugs. “Because,” he says. “Now come on, float with me.” His legs come up and he lays there on top of the water. “Think we could float all the way to the other side?”

Liam hesitates for a moment longer and then gets onto his back, too. “Keep talking,” he instructs, eyes falling closed so water doesn’t get in them. “I don’t want us to drift too far apart. You should always stick with a buddy in the water. It’s dangerous.”

“Should have let you finish your beer,” Zayn says, snorting. “Loosen you up a bit more.”

“I’m plenty loose,” Liam retorts.

Zayn laughs loudly until he starts coughing. He must have gotten water in his mouth. Looks good on him for laughing.

“Do you really not notice that you sometimes say really suggestive things without meaning to?” Zayn asks. “It’s hilarious.”

“How do you know I don’t mean to?” Liam asks boldly.

“Because you’re about as pure as you are nice,” Zayn informs him. “Virgin. I can tell.”

Liam’s cheeks burn red but he doesn’t stop floating, or swim away from Zayn. He’s not ashamed. He just hasn’t ever been in a real, long term relationship. It’s not that he doesn’t want to have sex, he’s just never, you know, had the opportunity.

“Shut up,” he says to Zayn. “You can’t know for fact.”

“I’m not making fun of you,” Zayn says gently. “But I am a bit surprised. I mean, you’re sort of hot, you know? I can’t believe that not a single person has tried to get a piece of that.”

Liam nearly swallows a mouthful of water. “Shut up,” he repeats. “What about you, then?”

Zayn laughs. “What do you think?”

Like thinks that mothers warn their daughters about boys with smirks like Zayn’s.

“Change of subject?” Liam asks instead of saying that.

“Why?” Zayn questions, and he’s probably got that smirk on his face at the moment. “Making you uncomfortable?”

“Maybe,” Liam admits.

Zayn’s voice sounds like it’s coming from his right, but when they’d first got on their backs Zayn was to the left of him. He wants to crack an eye open, see if they’ve gone too far out. He doesn’t want to break whatever is going on here, though, so he doesn’t.

“Okay,” Zayn relents. “What do you do when you go home for the weekend?”

Liam’s eyebrows draw together. “Why?”

“I’ve always sort of wondered,” Zayn admits. “It’s like you don’t really exist outside of the resort.”

“I go to school,” Liam answers. “Going to Uni in the fall. I-- um, I work at a bakery sometimes, with Harry. Not often enough for it to be considered a real job, but it helps with a bit of spending money during the year. I played on my school’s rugby team, which I’m fairly good at.”

“I can see that,” Zayn tells him. He sounds a bit closer, and Liam wonders if they’re going to accidentally bump into each other. “You definitely look like the jock type. Bet you date the hottest girl in school, and you sit with the popular kids and drink cheap beer on the weekends and listen to shitty music.”

“Not hardly,” Liam snorts. “First of all, I’m not into girls. At all. Secondly, Harry’s the popular one. I prefer to keep to myself a bit more. I don’t like beer all that much. And Katy Perry isn’t shitty music.”

“I can’t believe that you have literally no interest in her boobs and yet you just said that,” Zayn tells him.

“Shut up,” Liam says. They’re getting quieter the longer they talk, and it’s only a matter of time before they’re whispering. “What about you?”

“I’m go to an art school a few hours away from here during the year,” Zayn starts. Liam doesn’t point out that he already knows this because of Louis. “I like to read. Not really particular about what. Horror, angst, drama, romance. I’ll read anything once.” Liam recalls seeing him with a book in his hands on several occasions. “And unlike you, I actually did sit with the popular kids and drink beer and listen to shitty music on the weekends.”

“Of course you did,” Liam says. “Like Louis would have let you do any differently.”

“Too true,” Zayn admits.

Liam cracks an eye open to see that Zayn’s hand is only inches from his. Before he can think of a reason not to, Liam moves over a bit and grabs it. Zayn’s fingers curl into the spaces between his own after a few moments, and then they’re just floating on the water, arms spread wide, holding hands. For just a moment Liam wishes he could get a picture of this scene.

“Liam!” someone shouts in the distance. He realizes it’s Niall just as Harry’s voice follows it, calling his name as well.

“Zayn!” Louis shouts.

Zayn releases his hand. “We’re fine!” he shouts. “Shut the fuck up!”

“We should probably head back,” Liam says softly.

“Yeah,” Zayn agrees.

Liam straightens himself, and he realizes just how far out they are. He doesn’t realize it quick enough, though. If he had, he would have told Zayn not to open his eyes and could have just pulled Zayn back towards the beach.

The bonfire is so far away that Liam’s actually pretty sure that Harry and them didn’t hear Zayn’s answering shout. He can hardly make out anyone on the shore. And Zayn’s eyes, only seen because of the light from the moon, are wide and terrified.

He clings to Liam like a freaking koala bear, arms around his neck and legs around his waist. The water this far out is even colder, and Liam wonders how he didn’t realize that they’d drifted so far away. Probably because he’d been too busy listening to Zayn’s lilting accent as he talked about liking books. Fuck.

“Hey,” Liam says, brushing Zayn’s hair off his face. His eyes have squeezed closed, and his grip on Liam is almost painful. “You’re fine. I’m not going to let you go. You’re going to have to let up a bit if you want me to get us back to shore, though.”

“Not yet,” Zayn says quietly. “Can’t open my eyes. Too far out. I think I’m having a panic attack.”

He might be, actually. His breath is coming in ragged pants, and it may just be the moonlight, but his skin looks sickly pale and ashen.

“Remember when you tackled me into the pool the other day?” Liam asks abruptly.

“And you got all pissy with me,” Zayn says, nodding.

Liam ignores the insulting part. “And you said, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ Remember that?”

“You’re going to apply that to this situation, aren’t you?”

“Yep.”

“That was different,” Zayn tells him, opening his eyes to glare at Liam. Even terrified, Zayn apparently can’t give up a chance to glare at Liam. “We’re in the middle of the fucking ocean. That was a pool.”

“We’re in a lake,” Liam corrects. “The only way something bad could even possibly happen is if you let go of my hand. So just-- stop clinging to me and hold my hand, okay?”

Zayn chances one more glance at the beach and winces before his eyes shut again. “Going to take a pretty good incentive to get me to let go of you.”

Liam sighs. “Zayn. Come on.”

Zayn shakes his head, eyes closed, and he looks like a petulant child. “Going to have to give me something.”

“I’m pretty impressed by the fact that you’re scared shitless and yet you’re still managing to blackmail me,” Liam says flatly. “Fine. What do you want? Before our friends start a search party or call your parents or something. I really don’t want to have to explain to your dad what we were doing.”

“Stay with me tonight,” Zayn says, eyes still closed, and Liam? Liam could have thought of a million different things that Zayn could have asked for, and he never would have considered those words coming out of Zayn’s mouth.

Liam swallows thickly. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Louis said that you and Harry are staying at the bungalow,” Zayn explains. “In fact, we’re doing this for them. Giving them some alone time. Come on, Liam, I thought you were a good friend.”

Liam is so not taking the bait on that one. “Your parents--,”

“Won’t know,” Zayn promises. “They don’t even know what room I’m staying in. I mean, they could ask Eleanor and she’d tell them, but the chances of that happening are so slim.”

It’s not a good idea. It is such a bad idea, in fact, that Liam can’t even consider it. “Zayn--,”

“I think I can see Harry calling the police from here,” Zayn tells him.

“Your eyes are closed.”

“I forgot.”

“It’s getting cold, Zayn, come on,” Liam pleads.

“Say yes. We’ll just-- watch a movie, or something. I’ll sleep on the floor, even.”

Liam chews the inside of his lip while contemplating Zayn’s words. It’s only because they really should get back to their friends that Liam says, “Okay, fine.”

Zayn grins and releases his hold on Liam. He grabs Liam’s hand tightly and says, “Take us back to shore, Wonderboy!”

Liam rolls his eyes and pulls Zayn along behind him. He’s like a tow-truck and Zayn is the broken, useless car he’s pulling along behind him. Zayn is like deadweight, not helping at all. If Liam wasn’t fully aware of just how scared Zayn had been, he’d probably get annoyed with him. He’s not, though.

When they’re in shallower water, Liam releases Zayn’s hand. Zayn’s eyes fly open but he realizes that they’re close to shore so he doesn’t shout at Liam for it. It’s best not to be caught holding hands within sight of Liam’s coworkers. He doesn’t think that any of them would tell Zayn’s parents but he doesn’t want to get fired just for holding hands with Zayn when he was scared.

On shore, Liam tugs his pants on overtop of his soaking wet boxers. Zayn laughs at him, saying, “Looks like you pissed yourself, mate.”

Liam glares at him. “What do you suggest, walking around in my boxers?”

“That’s what I plan on doing,” Zayn says confidently, gathering his pants and shoes in his hands. “And we’re not heading back in yet. I plan to get drunk first.”

Liam sighs as Zayn heads towards Harry and Louis, both of whom look fairly pissed off at him and Liam. Liam looks down at himself and decides that he doesn’t care if his pants are getting soaked from his boxers. He’d rather walk around with wet spots on his pants than in just his underwear.

During the night, both Harry and Louis ask him what the hell he and Zayn were doing. Both times he answers with, “We just went for a swim.”

Harry doesn’t look happy with this answer, but Liam isn’t offering anything else.

Louis just replied with, “How’d you get him in the lake? Did you offer him sexual things, Liam?” which let Liam know that he’d had a few too many glasses of Coke and vodka.

It’s a bit harder to get Harry off his back when he tells him that he’s going to be spending the night in Zayn’s room. Harry looks about ready to slap him.

“Are you insane or just stupid, Liam?” Harry asks incredulously. Liam takes a step away from him, knowing that Harry doesn’t miss the flash of hurt in his eyes. “Not-- not like that, Liam. I just-- Zayn? Really? Come on, that’s not a good idea and you know it.”

He does know it. In fact, he reacted pretty much the same way when Zayn suggested it. Hearing the judgement and disbelief in Harry’s voice makes him feel defensive, though.

“Do you not trust me to make smart decisions for myself?”

“Of course I do!” Harry says instantly. His cheeks are red and he’s had a bit too much to drink, too. “Just-- not when it comes to Zayn.”

“What’s that supposed to even mean?” he asks, grateful that Zayn is off somewhere with Louis and Niall. Actually, maybe he’s not. Those three should probably not be left unsupervised.

“It means that-- I just don’t think it’s a good idea. Okay?”

Liam puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Stop worrying about me and focus on the fact that you’re going to be spending the night alone with Louis.”

Harry blinks at him for a long moment before his mouth falls open. “Oh my God.” He grabs Liam’s shoulders and shakes him. “Oh my God.”

Liam starts laughing, but Harry doesn’t even notice because Louis, Niall, and Zayn are walking towards them, coming from the woods. Liam doesn’t even want to know what they were doing.

Before Liam can ask what he’s doing, Harry is running -- in a wobbly, uncoordinated diagonal line-- towards them. Louis doesn’t having any warning, either, when Harry jumps him, knocking them both into the sand. Liam looks around frantically, making sure no one else has noticed this, before jogging over to them and kicking sand onto Harry’s back.

“Get up!” Liam hisses. “Do you want someone to tell Zayn’s parents that you were kissing a guest?”

Harry looks up at him with dazed, glazed over eyes. “Don’t care.”

Niall is already hading back towards the bonfire, no doubt having spotted Eleanor, but Zayn looks down at Harry and Louis and rolls his eyes. “You two are demented,” he says, grabbing Harry’s arm. He pulls Harry up and then passes him Liam, who Harry leans heavily on. Then he pulls Louis up, too, and says, “Let’s get these two to the bungalow.”

Louis is grinning brightly. “We’re probably going to get naked,” he tells Liam loudly.

“That’s, uh-- brilliant,” Liam says lamely.

“Brilliant,” Harry repeats. He still looks dazed.

“How much did you two drink?” Zayn asks.

“How much did you drink?” Louis counters.

“Four shots, two beers, and one of those lemonade things that don’t really taste like lemonade,” Zayn answers.

“Holds his liquor like a champ, this one,” Louis says proudly, slapping Zayn on the back as Harry waves goodbye to everyone still around the fire.

It takes them longer to get to the bungalow than it should. Harry stops once to take off his shoes, Louis insists they steal something to eat from the kitchen, and then Harry suggests a late night game of tennis, which Louis quickly seconds. Liam reminds them that the tennis court is locked before they stop asking.

Liam thinks the bungalow is ridiculously priced, but it’s priced that high for good reason. When you first walk in, it seems huge. There’s just one big, front room, which has a couch and a television, as well as a pool table and a dart board. The living room and the rest of the bungalow are separated by a large wooden wall. There’s a door in that wall, and if you open it you’ll be in a hallway. At the end of that hallway is the kitchen, and the hallway itself has five doors-- the master bedroom, which is as the opposite end of the kitchen and features a king sized bed as well as a hot tub and it‘s own adjoining bathroom; three bedrooms, all of which have two twin beds; and a bathroom that is about as big as Harry and Liam’s entire room.

It’s hard to get Louis and Harry to shut up, but Zayn manages with Louis by saying, “If you don’t stop giggling I’m going to tell Harry about that time last summer when you--,”

Louis cups a hand over Zayn’s mouth and looks at him, horrified. Liam, on the other hand, doesn’t have to blackmail Harry. He just sighs at him and Harry pouts.

Finally, they get the two idiots into Louis’ room, and then they shut the door behind them and leave the bungalow as quietly as possible so that they don’t wake Louis’ sisters.

“That’s going to become a thing, you realize,” Liam tells Zayn. “I don’t think the world is prepared for those two getting along. It’s going to be disastrous.”

“I’m just happy for them,” Zayn says, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans. Liam doesn’t remember him putting them back on, but he had.

“Really?” Liam asks. “What about ‘not dating the help’ or whatever?”

Zayn looks up at him but doesn’t stop walking towards the main building. “So you did hear that, then.”

Liam shrugs. “Possibly.”

Zayn does stop now. He grabs Liam’s arm and pulls him to a halt too. They’re standing just outside the backdoors to the main building. It’s not exactly dark, because the resort stays well lit, even at night. Still, Liam can’t make out the colours in Zayn’s eyes, and they look almost black.

“Come on,” Zayn says, spreading his arms wide. “Get it out. Call me an asshole. Tell me I’m a stuck up prick. Tell me off for all those times I was a shitty person. And don’t tell me no this time, Liam, because we both know I deserve it, and we both know that even if you’re not thinking it right now, you’ve thought it before. So come on. Let me have it.”

Liam does, just not in the way Zayn expects. He hadn’t realized it until then, looking at Zayn in the faint light, the way he genuinely wanted Liam to tell him how much of a bad person he is. He didn’t realize it until it became clear that, yeah, he had thought that before, but he doesn’t anymore. He’s not even sure when that happened, but there it is. The whole night was pretty much leading up to this, and Liam figured he might as well get it out of the way now, when they can still laugh it off if it doesn’t work.

Liam kisses with hesitance. Even if he is feeling bold because of the look on Zayn’s face, or because of the two beers he’d drunken at the party, he’s still Liam.

Zayn’s lips aren’t chapped this time, and the smell of smoke isn’t surrounding them, but it is seeped into their clothes from the bonfire. Zayn is unresponsive for a beat, and then another, and just when Liam is starting to pull back and apologize, Zayn’s hands go to his face, holding him in place.

Zayn kisses with confidence. His tongue insistently pushes on the seam of Liam’s mouth until he opens it, and then Zayn’s tongue moves against his, guiding the kiss easily. Liam’s not even sure if they’re kissing anymore or if Zayn is just trying to memorize the way Liam tastes, because he licks into Liam’s mouth with fervour, hands moving to the back of Liam’s neck, nails digging in a bit.

Liam clings to Zayn the way Zayn had clung to him out on the lake, like he’s terrified but it’s okay as long as he doesn’t let go of Zayn. His nails dig into Zayn’s shirtless back, and Zayn groans into the kiss, pulling back. He tugs on Liam’s bottom lip before separating them.

“Inside?” Zayn says, voice rougher than usual. Liam feels a mild sense of satisfaction knowing that he caused that.

His head is fogged, and it’s not from the two beers he drank. “Um,” Liam says, realizing that Zayn has asked him a question. “Yeah. Yeah, definitely. In--inside. We should-- yeah.”

Zayn brushes a thumb over Liam’s cheekbone before grabbing his hand and tugging him into the building. He leads Liam quietly through the halls until they get to the door of the room Liam had brought Zayn food to that one time. Liam watches Zayn fumble to get the key in the hole, feeling slightly better about himself because of it. Zayn can pretend to be all cool and calm, but he might be just as affected by Liam as Liam is by him. (Okay, probably not, but he’s at least somewhat affected, and that’s good enough for Liam.)

He lets go of Liam’s hand when they get into the room, and before he even turns on the light he says, “Lock the door, yeah?”

Liam turns to lock it, but before he gets his hand on the lock Zayn is crowding against his back, pushing him against the door. Zayn’s breath is warm on his neck, and his hand slides under Liam’s t-shirt, over his stomach. He pulls his hand back, following the same path but using his nails. And that’s about all Liam needs to feel that familiar warmth of arousal settle in his stomach and his jeans getting too tight. He arches against Zayn instinctually.

“I can’t wait to get you naked, Wonderboy,” Zayn says directly in his ear.

Liam shivers before Zayn turns him around and reaches over to lock the door himself. He kisses Liam lightly on the lips and then fists a hand in the front of Liam’s shirt and starts walking backwards, tugging Liam along with him.

Liam can’t see anything in the lightless room, but he knows the general layout. He expects Zayn to fall back onto the bed when they get to it, pulling Liam with him, but Zayn turns them at the last minute and gives Liam’s shoulders a gentle push, guiding him down.

Zayn tugs on Liam’s shirt until Liam lifts his arms so Zayn can pull it off. He had no idea where it goes, but that’s probably not important right now, because Zayn is pushing on his shoulders again until he’s laying flat against the bed. His head hits the mattress before Zayn straddles his hips. He’s a solid, warm weight on top of Liam, and Liam doesn’t know where to put his hands. There’s so much skin and he kind of wants to touch Zayn everywhere.

He settles on tangling his hands in Zayn’s hair as Zayn leans down to press their lips together again. It’s softer this time, not as rushed. Zayn takes his time, licking Liam’s lips once, sucking on Liam’s tongue. His hands slide down Liam’s sides, fingers ghosting over Liam’s ribs in a way that has goosebumps breaking out on his skin.

When his hands find the waistband of Liam’s jeans, he pulls himself up a bit and does this horribly teasing thing where he slides his index finger along the waistband that has Liam’s hips jerking upwards of their own accord.

And then Zayn is gone, across the room, turning on the light. He’s not even meeting Liam’s eyes, but is instead staring at the wall somewhere above Liam’s head, hands tugging at his own hair.

“Shit,” Zayn says. “Shit, Liam, I’m sorry.”

Liam is so confused. “Um, it’s okay?” He has no idea what Zayn is apologizing for.

“God, I’m such a fucking prick, all the time,” Zayn says, covering his face with his hands. “If you want to go to Lou’s, I’m sure the door is still unlocked.”

Liam sits up, frowning. “Why would I want to do that?”

“Because you-- you--,” Zayn waves a hand. “And I just force you into this without even thinking about the fact that you probably want to slow down. I’m taking complete advantage of the fact that you’re too nice to tell me to fuck off, and--,”

“Zayn,” Liam says loudly. “I didn’t tell you to slow down because I didn’t want you to. Trust me, if I want you to stop, you’ll know it.” Which probably won’t ever happen, but he’s not going to admit that out loud.

“Promise?” Zayn asks, looking so serious, like this is extremely important to him. “Like-- I don’t care if we’re both naked and ready to go, if you even have a second of doubt, let me know and we’ll-- watch a movie, or something.”

“I don’t want to watch a movie,” Liam tells him firmly. “So if you could maybe get back over here?”

“Yeah,” Zayn breathes, nodding. “Yeah, definitely.”

He leaves the light on, and it’s a bit awkward after Zayn’s outburst. But then Zayn falls onto the bed beside him and pulls Liam on top of him easily, and it’s pretty hard for Liam to remember his name let alone what just happened when Zayn kisses him again.

Zayn moves his lips to Liam’s neck, sucking just beside his birthmark. He figures there’ll be a mark there tomorrow, and he tries to be a little upset about that but it’s too hard to bother. Instead, he closes his eyes and grinds his hips down against Zayn’s a bit, trying to get a bit of friction between them.

“You know,” Zayn says against his neck between kisses, “I’ve sort of had a thing for your abs since, like, the second day you were here. When you were helping whatever that guys name was fish that piece of plastic out of the lake. You were all wet and it was hot.”

Liam pulls back, frowning. “That was years ago.”

Zayn shrugs and says, “I know that, but--,” his eyes drop to Liam’s stomach, “it was a bit hard to forget.”

Liam feels a blush rise to his cheeks because a Zayn who actually paid attention to him back then just doesn’t make sense in his mind. He was pretty sure Zayn had no idea who he even was, or if he did he didn’t really care to remember his name, let alone any details about him.

Zayn lifts Liam’s hips so that he’s kneeling high above Zayn, and then Zayn dips his head to kiss Liam’s stomach. His tongue comes next, dipping into the spaces between the muscles there. Liam can’t remember having anyone even touch him there, let alone someone’s lips or tongue or-- fuck-- teeth. That, coupled with the way Zayn is looking up at him while doing it is more than a bit overwhelming -- in a good way.

Liam cards his hands through Zayn’s thick hair. It’s soft, any of the product he’d used in it washed out from when they went swimming. Zayn moans against his skin and Liam thinks that, at this rate, he’s going to definitely come in his pants before either of them get undressed.

Or not, because Zayn is reaching for the button on his jeans. “This okay?” he asks first.

The word no isn’t even in his fucking vocabulary at the moment. “Definitely,” Liam says. He sounds a bit more breathless than he’d like, and he repeats it, trying to sound more firm. “Definitely. Yes.”

Zayn chuckles and undoes the button easily, sliding down the zipper next. Then he grabs Liam’s hips, somehow sits up a bit, and pushes Liam flat against the bed. His head is hanging off the edge a bit, but details like that are really not important, in the grand scheme of things, because Zayn is tugging his jeans down and then gripping the hard length of him through his boxers.

Zayn’s fingers hook under his waistband next, and he’s hovering just over Liam’s cock.

“Fuck,” Liam breathes, and Zayn stills, like he thinks he’s done something wrong. “No, keep going,” Liam says quickly. “Please keep going. Like-- green light. Definitely green light.”

Zayn chuckles and tugs down Liam’s boxers next. This time he sees where they go-- far on the other side of the bed, and he tries to stash that piece of information for later, when they’re getting dressed-- but again, really unimportant when Zayn’s breathing hotly on his hip, and then kissing down his thigh.

He’s never needed someone to touch him more in his life, but Zayn is teasing him, lips and hands everywhere but the place where Liam needs them. Every time Liam thinks he’s finally going to wrap his hand or lips around him, Zayn just switches to the other side, sucking a mark into the indentation of Liam’s hip, scratching at his skin with his nails, until Liam’s groaning and arching his back.

Zayn stops and smirks up at him. “Going to have to tell me what you want if you really want it, Wonderboy.”

“Can you just--,” Liam waves a hand. “Come on.”

“Come on what?” Zayn asks innocently. “Going to have to be a bit more specific, Liam.”

Liam glares at him. This isn’t teasing; it’s torture. “I’m going to handle it myself in about three seconds if you don’t,” Liam says, frustrated.

Zayn’s smile falls off his face as he contemplates Liam’s words. “Can I request that in the near future? Because I’d seriously like to watch that, but right now I was actually planning on--,”

“Just touch me!” Liam snaps, head falling back. It hurts his neck because he’s hanging off the bed a bit, but he doesn’t care. “Please, Zayn.”

Zayn gives in, wrapping a hand around Liam’s cock. His fingers are smooth and thin, and Liam lets out a soft sound at the contact, but it’s nothing --nothing-- compared to Zayn’s lips, which wrap around the tip soon after. Zayn does this thing with his tongue on the underside of the head, and Liam keens, hips feebly jerking up, but Zayn has a firm hand on his stomach holding him down.

Liam’s fingers curl into the bed sheet like he’s hanging on for dear life. His feels too warm, oversensitive everywhere. He wasn’t stupid; he knew that Zayn had experience with this type of thing. He just hadn’t expected him to be this good at it, because the way Zayn’s mouth is sliding down him, cheeks hollowing as he pulls back up, tongue dragging over him, is too good, too much.

Liam looks down at him to see Zayn’s eyes closed, lashes making dark, feathery crescents on his cheekbones. He watches as Zayn reaches down a hand and presses down on his own need, like he’s desperate to get off, too, but getting Liam off first is more important.

He doesn’t really have to wait all that long, though, because Liam feels his stomach tightening, feels that momentary warning as Zayn pulls him closer to the edge far more quickly than he’d like. He pulls on Zayn’s arm, tugging him up, and Zayn pulls off him, lips wet and swollen and red.

“Come on, Liam,” Zayn coaxes, sliding a spit-slick hand up and down the length of him once, twice, and that’s it for Liam. He lets out a long, shuddering breath that he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding as he comes over Zayn’s fingers, eyes falling closed.

The after-orgasm bliss is a lot like being in the water. His boy feels loose and weightless, and he can’t do anything but lay there for a long moment, trying to steady his breathing and his heart, which is pounding in his chest.

Zayn doesn’t ask for anything in return. He just falls onto the bed beside Liam, laying on his side so he can reach over and brush his thumb over Liam’s eyebrows, and then his jaw. Up his cheeks, over his temples and eyelids, down his nose. Like he’s trying to memorize every part of Liam’s face.

Finally, Liam feels more like his normal self, and he rolls onto his side, too. One day, if he gets the chance, he’s going to get the story behind every one of Zayn’s tattoos, even if it’s just a simple, “I liked the way it looked,” because he wants to know it all. Right now, though, there’s a fire burning in Zayn’s eyes, and he wants to know what it’ll take to make it go out. If it’ll go out.

Liam experimentally runs his fingertips over the bulge in Zayn’s jeans, and then grips him through the material when Zayn doesn’t push him away. His fingers feel too thick when he tries to undo the button on his jeans, though, and he fumbles for a moment before getting it, and then the zipper. Zayn kicks the jeans off quickly and Liam is left to take in the curve of his thighs, the way his boxers do little more than cover him.

He swallows and then tugs Zayn’s boxers down next. He’s not going to freak out, or call this off. He can’t, really, because he wants to touch Zayn everywhere. Wants to kiss his ribs and scratch at his back. Wants to feel the smooth skin of his inner thigh, and the curve of his spine, or the feeling of Zayn’s naked chest pressed against his back. Honestly, he doesn’t know what part of Zayn he wants to get his hands or lips or skin on more, but he can take a guess at where Zayn would like him to start, so he slides his hand over Zayn’s thigh and grips him in what’s probably a too loose grip.

“Come on, babe,” Zayn says, pushing himself up on one arm. Liam looks up at him, recalling the way Zayn had made him ask for it. It’s like Zayn can read his mind, though, because the next words that come out of his mouth are, “I’m not going to beg for it, Liam.”

Liam didn’t really expect him to. Not that it wouldn’t be a pretty site, Zayn breathless, fingers curling into the blanket, gasping out Liam’s name because it’s all he can remember. Another time, maybe.

He might not have experience with doing this to someone else, but Liam’s not exactly unacquainted with his right hand, either. He tries to mimic what he’d do to himself, rubbing his thumb over the head, tightening his grip a bit, moving his hand quickly up and down the shaft at some points, dragging it out slowly at others.

Zayn is mostly quiet, biting down hard on his bottom lip. Every once in a while his breath will hitch or he’ll let out a quiet moan, and Liam savours each one of them because he knows that Zayn is trying really hard to keep his cool, but sometimes he can’t help but let it slip.

When he comes, his lips part and he grabs Liam’s bicep in a tight, painful grip. Liam just strokes him through it until Zayn let’s out a shuddering breath and pushes his hand away.

Zayn doesn’t take a moment afterwards to regroup, like Liam did, but instead swings his legs out of bed. Liam turns to checkout his ass -- he can’t help it-- and Zayn turns around and winks at him. “Come take a shower with me,” he says.

Liam frowns at him. With Zayn no longer touching him, he is painfully aware of how naked his is. Naked, and not alone. He sits up and reaches for his boxers while asking, “What?”

“A shower,” Zayn repeats from the bathroom doorway. “We both need to clean up a bit, and I’ve got sand in the crack of my ass from that lake.”

It’s so ridiculous that Liam can’t stop the laughter that bubbles up inside of him. The sound of it is drowned out by the water running, though. Liam stares at the open bathroom doorway for a long moment, long enough for steam to billow out of it.

It’s not so much that he doesn’t want to, he’s just-- a bit terrified. He didn’t regret what just happened, and fuck he wanted to do it again, over and over, until he knew every inch of Zayn’s skin off by heart. But it was all so overwhelming and confusing. Actually, Zayn was just overwhelming and confusing, all the time. Why should this be any different?

Liam sighs and scratches at his head before following Zayn into the bathroom. He shuts the door behind himself and then hesitates before pulling back the shower curtain.

Zayn has soap dripping down his back, and Liam finds himself staring again. He can’t help it, though. Not really. Even from an objective standpoint, Zayn is beautiful. Liam is no longer objective, though, because he knows how smooth the skin of his shoulders are, knows that Zayn arches again him when he digs his nails into the small of his back. That just adds to the whole dizzying affect of Zayn’s body.

“Stop looking at me like that,” Zayn says, half teasing, half serious.

“Like what?” Liam asks, frowning. The water is a bit too hot but he doesn’t complain. He just steals what looks like a new bar of soap and lathers it in his hands.

“Like you’re in love with me or something,” Zayn says, turning back around so Liam can’t see his face.

“I-- I’m not,” Liam says quickly.

“Good,” Zayn says, “because in case you forgot, I don’t date the help.”

He was reaching for the shampoo and the moment Zayn’s words reached his ears, it slipped from his fingers. Something twists in his gut, and he thinks there it is, because he’s been waiting for days for Zayn to stop playing around and be himself again. It’s just-- he’d been stupid enough to maybe believe that he was being honest and real with Liam. Harry was right, though. Liam is stupid when it comes to Zayn. So, so stupid.

Zayn whirls around as the shampoo bottle hits the floor, and Liam stares down at the stupid little thing because it seems so dramatic, making so much noise when Liam’s heart just cracked open and he didn’t even make a sound.

“Shit,” Zayn blurts. “No, Liam, hey, no, I was joking. That was a joke.” Zayn grabs the sides of his face, tilting his head up until Liam has no choice but to meet his eyes. “If it’ll get that look off your face I’ll date the whole fucking staff.”

Liam rolls his eyes and tries not to feel like an idiot all over again, failing only slightly. “You’re not very funny,” Liam informs him.

Zayn snorts and turns back around. “I’m plenty funny,” he denies.

Liam shakes his head fondly and then questions why this is all so easy. Wonders when they developed this banter, and when he started feeling so comfortable in Zayn’s presence. He also wonders when he accepted the fact that, despite what he said just moments ago, he is in love with Zayn. Just a little bit, but it gets worse the longer they’re together. It’s kind of like an hourglass; the more time that passes, the more sand falls to the bottom. Liam is that sand, and he wonders how long it’s going to take before he’s completely fallen.

After their shower, Liam wraps a towel around his waist and sighs at his clothes, really not looking forward to getting back into his boxers, which have dried a little stiffly from the lake water. He reaches for them anyways, and Zayn wrinkles his nose.

“I’ll get you a pair of sweatpants,” he says.

He follows Zayn out into the room, and Zayn digs in his dresser for a moment before grabbing out a pair of red sweatpants and a pair of black ones. He passes the red ones to Liam, and Liam takes them before asking, “What, no shirt?”

Zayn turns and purposely lets his eyes trail slowly down Liam’s chest and stomach. “Definitely not.”

Liam heads back into the bathroom to pull on the sweatpants. It’s a little silly, because Zayn’s not only seen him naked, but touched him, too, but he can’t help it. It’s different now, when it’s not heated, when he doesn’t feel like he’s on fire and Zayn’s the only thing that could stop him from burning.

When he gets out of the bathroom Zayn is laying on the bed, on top of the covers. “Want to watch a movie, or just sleep?”

It’s got to be late, and Liam feels more than a little tired. He stretches and yawns before answering with, “Bed, I think.”

“You can turn off the light, then,” Zayn tells him, and he yawns, too. “I’m not getting out of bed unless the building’s on fire. And even then I might just make you carry me out.”

Liam heads over to the switch on the wall and plunges them into darkness. As he’s walking to the bed, he says, “You know, I seriously considered being a firefighter.”

Zayn chuckles and crawls under the covers as Liam pulls them down. “Of course you did, Wonderboy.”

“I can never tell if you use that name as an insult, or an endearment.”

As he pulls the blankets over himself, Zayn throws his leg over Liam’s and grabs one of Liam’s hands in both of his. “Maybe it’s both,” he debates. “Now shh. I’m tired. Stop talking and just-- enjoy this before the sun comes up and ruins everything.”

Liam smiles to himself and closes his eyes, enjoying the warmth of Zayn’s skin against his, not fully understanding Zayn’s words, or how right they are.

 

--

 

Liam wakes up to Harry flicking his ear. He yelps and rolls over, disentangling Zayn’s limbs from his own. It’s a little difficult, admittedly. It’s not exactly easy to tell where he ends and Zayn begins.

“Come on,” Harry says loudly. “My mum’s freaking out. I forgot to warn her that I wasn’t coming home last night, and she wants me home, like, now.”

“Shut up,” Zayn groans, pulling a pillow over his head. “Liam, make him shut up.”

“Oh no,” Harry says, shaking his head. Liam doesn’t understand how Harry is so alert right now. Wakefulness seems like a far off dream that won’t ever be a reality, because his head is so foggy and his body is so tired. “You don’t get to say that to me,” Harry continues, unaware of the fact that Liam is imagining suffocating him with a pillow. “You’re lucky I’m not shouting and throwing things at you, you prick. But I will. Mark my words, Zayn, if you hurt him--,”

“Call him off, Liam,” Zayn grumbles. “Too tired for this shit.”

“Can you just--,” Liam gives Harry his best puppy look. “I’m up.”

“I need you up and out of bed,” Harry snaps. “And dressed. Where the fuck are your clothes? What did you-- nope. I don’t want to know. I don’t even want to know.”

Liam considers giving Harry full, explicit details just to be spiteful. Instead, he pulls off the covers and gets out of bed, sparing Zayn’s naked back one single, forlorn look.

“I’ve got to stop at the room,” Liam tells Harry.

“Just hurry up,” Harry hisses.

“How did you even get in here?” Liam asks, heading to the door. He wonders if he should say goodbye or something to Zayn, but he’s pretty sure that Zayn’s actually fallen back asleep.

“El gave me the keys,” Harry explains as Liam closes the door softly behind them. “I couldn’t figure out where you were at first, because I thought we were all crashing at Lou’s, but then I remembered you and Zayn sort of getting us back to the bungalow and then leaving, and I realized you must have been with him.”

Liam grunts in reply to this as they climb the stairs.

“Are you going to tell me what happened there, or do I have to fill in the gory pieces for myself?” Harry asks.

“Are you going to be a judgemental prick about it?” Liam wonders as they open the door to their room.

“Most likely, yeah.”

“Then no, I’m not going to tell you,” Liam says flatly. He pulls clothes out of his drawer in the dresser, remembering that he left a shirt, boxers, and pants at Zayn’s. He’ll have to get them on Monday.

Harry doesn’t push him. He doesn’t ask again during the ride home, or at all that day, or on Sunday. Liam’s grateful, because he’s still sorting through everything. Still replying it all in his head because it doesn’t seem real, almost. The whole night almost feels like a fantasy that he’d concocted as he and Zayn held hands while floating over the lake. Everything after that was just-- impossible, really. In a wonderful sort of way.

He’s never been so glad to get back to the resort in his life, and for the first time Liam isn’t looking forward to the end of the summer. In fact, it’s coming way too quickly. This is the seventh week. Next week will be there last, and then he and Harry will head off to University, and Liam will most likely never see Malik resort again. He just hopes that isn’t the case with Zayn, too.

“Does this summer feel like it’s just flown by to you?” Liam asks as they drive.

Harry takes his eyes off the road for a moment. “If by ‘flown by’ you mean ‘dragged on in an endless stream of making beds and carrying plates of food’ then, yeah. It’s flown by.”

Liam sighs, not surprised by Harry’s answer. “It just feels different,” he adds anyways.

“It is,” Harry agrees. “And you know what? We can blame all of that on the fact that Zayn Malik can’t swim.”

“He can,” Liam corrects. “He can swim now.”

Harry snorts. “But if he had learned when he was younger, like a normal person, you never would have given him lessons, you probably wouldn’t have befriended Louis, I never would have had sex with Louis--,”

“You had sex with Louis?” Liam practically shouts the question.

Harry glares at him. “Not, like, full on, but yeah. There were penises and blowjobs and butt stuff.”

He says it so straight faced. That’s what makes it go from just really funny to so-funny-Liam-can’t-breathe. He clutches the dashboard as he laughs, and Harry can’t help but join in.

“It wasn’t funny,” Harry tries to say firmly. “It was-- a very touching experience.”

“I bet,” Liam agrees. “A butt-touching experience.”

“That, too.”

Liam calms himself and tries to turn the conversation back around. “So are you two-- what, dating?”

Harry smiles softly to himself. “I think so. Louis made me breakfast in bed. It was sweet.”

“See?” Liam asks. “You just called Louis Tomlinson sweet. This is the weirdest summer ever.”

“At least that was kind of expected,” Harry points out. “I mean, the sexual tension’s been there for years. But you and Zayn-- that doesn’t even make sense.”

Liam frowns at him. “Why not?”

“Because you’re so-- and he’s so-- you know,” Harry says vaguely.

“I don’t, actually.”

Harry turns to him and rolls his eyes. “Come on, Liam, you know I don’t mean it in a bad way. It just-- it doesn’t make sense. You two just don’t, like, fit.”

“Because he’s--,”

“A prick,” Harry finishes before Liam can.

“He took care of me when I was sick,” Liam reminds him.

“And that’s one good day out of, what? Hundreds of bad ones?”

The thing is, Liam can’t even argue with that. It’s just that Harry doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get that Zayn’s got this whole other side to him that’s just-- not like the other one. And that for some reason Liam gets to see it.

He doesn’t get that he’s ruining it, either. Making Liam second guess everything. In the light of day, was that all really as perfect as Liam remembered it to be? Was it really as wonderful and pure as it seems, looking back, or was he just imaging that? Making it up so he didn’t feel so stupid for it all?

Liam just shuts down and stops thinking about everything all together, focusing on the sound of the music and the trees that pass them by as they drive. He feels Harry’s hand on his thigh, and when he looks over Harry is giving him an apologetic look.

“I just don’t want anything bad to happen to you,” Harry says softly.

Liam rolls his eyes. “It’s not like I’m going to get caught and get fired, Harry.”

Harry shakes his head and turns back to the road. “I’m not worrying about you getting fired. It has nothing to do with that at all.” He sighs loudly. “I’m worried about you getting hurt.”

“Well,” Liam says instead of denying Harry’s words, because he’s not stupid. He knows he could get hurt, that it’s already gone too far for him to be able to escape from whatever might happen unscathed, “we’ll deal with that if we come to it. Until then, can I just-- enjoy this? Please?”

Harry nods. “Yeah. You’re right.”

When Liam gets to his locker, there’s a note taped to it. He pulls it down and reads it quickly.

Pool tonight at midnight? Zayn :)

Harry shakes his head. “If you get fired for dating guests, what do you think Malik’s going to do if he finds out you’ve touched his son’s penis?”

Like sucks in a too fast breath and coughs. “What is wrong with you?” he hisses at Harry.

“So you did touch his penis.” Harry looks smug. “You wouldn’t tell me what you two did. I still want details, but I figure I’ll get them from Lou, because Zayn’s probably not as much of a prude as you are.”

Liam folds the note and puts it on the top shelf of his locker.

As usual, the first half of his morning is spent cleaning out the rooms at Outlook. Harry’s babysitting for Louis’ sisters again, so Liam is left to this by himself. A part of him wishes Zayn would show up out of nowhere and distract him, and he ends up creating this elaborate fantasy in his head where Zayn comes in when he’s cleaning a room, locks the door behind them, and then fucks Liam into the mattress. Obviously Zayn is doing bad things to Liam’s mental health.

By the time he’s done cleaning, he manages to grab a quick lunch -- he doesn’t have time to eat in the dining room because his cleaning ran late-- from kitchen, which he eats while leaning against a counter. After he’s done he’s sent off to the front desk to bring Eleanor her lunch, and then he’s got to come back and do room service.

He gets almost all the way to El’s desk before he sees the head of wild curls and the dark, toned legs. Danielle is leaning against the receptionist desk, chatting with Eleanor. They look friendly, and Liam tries really hard not to dislike this girl instantly, but he can’t help it.

“Lunch,” Liam says, coming up beside Danielle.

“Oh,” Eleanor says, blinking. “Sorry, Liam. I was just chatting with Danielle. Danielle, this is Liam. Liam, this is Danielle--,”

“We met at the party,” Danielle says, smiling. “I’m Zayn’s girlfriend.”

The thing is, she seems so nice and friendly, and she’s smiling this bright white smile that’s fucking blinding, and Liam doesn’t even register her words right away. He just hands Eleanor her sandwich and then pauses and drops it right on top of Eleanor’s keyboard.

“Liam!” Eleanor shouts, jumping up. “Jesus Christ, what’s the matter with you?”

“I-- I--,” Liam fumbles out, shaking his head. “Sorry. I’ve-- got to get back to work. Nice meeting you, Danielle.”

“You too, Liam!” she says sincerely. It makes Liam’s stomach churn.

He heads back to the kitchen in a daze. He’s not even aware of what Mary says to him as she hands him the Styrofoam box of food. In fact, the only reason Liam even knows where to take it is because of the room number written in large black numbers.

Girlfriend. The word repeats itself in Liam’s mind the whole way to Overlook. Of course she’s his girlfriend. He’s seen them together at the party, hadn’t he? And Louis hadn’t mentioned Zayn seeing someone, but why would he? It’s not like he’d ever mentioned any romantic interest in Zayn to anyone but Harry, really. Hell, he’d not really even admitted it to himself.

Really, he’s stupid to be surprised. Zayn is far too beautiful to not of already been seeing someone. And, really, he hadn’t once said anything about him and Liam being something. Sure, he probably should have mentioned the whole ‘girlfriend’ thing to Liam before they hooked up, but then, Liam had never asked.

And this is Zayn. He acts without ever thinking about anyone else, doesn’t he? Why should Liam be excluded from this?

Liam delivers the food to a middle aged man who has a much younger girl in his bed. Liam doesn’t comment, he just hands the food over and walks away, feeling almost robotic, like someone had programmed the moves into him and he was just acting out what he needed to, not really thinking about anything.

He gets back to the kitchen and Mary frowns at him. Liam waves her off and puts a bright, fake smile on his face, letting her know that he’s fine. He is fine, he really is. Liam is fairly good at dealing with everything life throws at him.

He dealt with his dad walking out when he was seven. He dealt with the lack of birthday and Christmas calls after he was twelve. He dealt with the kids who bullied him until he was fourteen and started working out, getting stronger than anyone who fucked with him, which is why they stopped. He dealt with his first -- and only -- boyfriend breaking up with him because he was too boring. He dealt with everything, and he would deal with this, too, when the surprise wore off.

Of course, he probably should have paid more attention to what Mary said to him in the kitchen. If he had, he would have realized the room number of the plate of food in his hands, and he would have shucked the job off to Jake. He hadn’t, though, and he has to suck it up and knock on Zayn’s door.

“Come in,” Zayn calls.

Liam doesn’t reach for the door handle. He just stands out side the door and waits, listening for the sound of the bed creaking under Zayn as he gets up. A moment later the door opens and Zayn grins widely at him.

“Why didn’t you come in?” he asks, leaning on the door. “Can you take a five minute break? Sit with me for a minute? I missed you over the weekend.”

Liam hands Zayn his food and walks away.

“Liam!” Zayn calls after him.

 

--

 

Liam can see the pool if he looks out his window and cranes his neck. He can see the lights inside, can faintly make out Zayn gliding through the water. He’s not sure how long he spends staring out the window, and he knows it’s a little weird, but whatever. No one’s there to see him do it because Harry’s out with Louis somewhere.

At about one, Zayn gets out of the pool and the lights go out. Liam is just heading to bed when Harry and Niall come into the room. They’re both laughing and clutching to each other, and Liam figures that Eleanor managed to sneak alcohol from the kitchen for them all. How nice.

“Liam!” Harry says loudly, jumping at him. Liam ducks out of the way at the last second. “How was your pool date with Zayn?”

“It was fine,” Liam lies.

“Aw,” Niall coos, reaching forward to scrub a hand over Liam’s hair. “He’s all grown up, Harry. Our Liam and his first love.”

“I’m not in love with him,” Liam snaps.

“Ooh, someone’s touchy,” Harry comments while flopping onto his bed. “So, what’d you two do?”

“We were at the pool,” Liam snaps, continuing with the lie. “What do you think we did?”

“Sex,” Harry and Niall answer immediately.

Liam shakes his head and climbs into bed. “Whatever. I’m tired, can you two shut up?”

“Eye eye, Wonderboy,” Harry says, giggling.

Liam looks at him sharply. “What did you just call me?”

Harry frowns. “Sorry,” he says quickly. “Something Louis picked up. I don’t know. I heard him use it once or twice.”

“Don’t call me that,” Liam says, pulling a pillow over his head.

He wakes up the next day feeling like he hadn’t slept at all, probably because he’d spent most of the night tossing in bed. This is exactly what he meant about Zayn getting under his skin. Liam just desperately needs him to get out, because it wasn’t fun anymore. Liam believed in giving people chances, but Zayn had gotten far too many, and he’s just done.

Zayn calls in fifteen orders of room service. Liam knows this because he’s personally requested every time to bring them to his room, and every time Liam passes the work on to Jake.

“Just go fucking talk to him,” Jake snaps as Zayn calls in an order for a plate of chips . “I swear to God, Liam, I’m going to punch your boyfriend in the face.”

Liam gapes at him. “My what?”

Jake raises his eyebrow. “Oh, come on, Liam. Don’t tell me you didn’t fuck him, because that boy looks like a lost puppy every time he opens the door and finds it’s not you on the other side.”

“I didn’t,” Liam says flatly.

Jake shrugs and picks up Zayn’s orders of chips. “Maybe you should, then,” Jake suggests. “Let that poor boy out of his misery. And did I really just say that? Do I actually feel bad for Zayn Malik? Fuck, Payne, fix this.” He shakes his head and ducks out of the kitchen.

Thankfully, Liam’s off room service by the time Jake gets back and gives Liam another warning look. At dinner Eleanor sits beside him and pets his head.

“I don’t think they’re still together,” Eleanor says softly. “Okay? I don’t know what exactly is going on here, but -- listen to him. Doesn’t he deserve that, at least?”

“I don’t think he really deserves anything,” Liam tells her.

Niall and Harry looks confused. “What happened?” Harry asks first.

“Zayn’s girlfriend came in on Monday, and Liam threw a sandwich at me,” Eleanor explains. “And now Zayn keeps calling into the kitchen to get Liam to deliver him food, but Liam’s not speaking to him.”

Niall gapes at her, but Harry shakes his head. “No-- no, he doesn’t have a girlfriend,” Harry says. “Louis would have mentioned it. Liam--,”

“He does, apparently,” Liam says emotionlessly. “And I’m fine, really. Wipe that pitiful look off your face, Harry. I’m fine, I promise. And it’s not like we’re both surprised, right?”

“I am, though,” Harry says honestly. “This has to be a big misunderstanding, Li. Come on.”

Liam shrugs and stabs a fork into his -- he doesn’t even know, really-- and swallows a bite of whatever it is they’re having for dinner. “Can I get the pool key early tonight?” he asks Eleanor.

Eleanor frowns but says, “Sure. I’ll bring it by.”

He doesn’t mention the fact that the swimming lessons are probably no longer a thing because he’s pretty much taught Zayn everything he could. He just wants to get into the supply room to grab a surf board. He needs to get out on the lake tonight and just lose himself in the waves for an hour or two.

Which is exactly what he does when he’s done work. He takes the keys from Eleanor and heads to the pool building. He changes in the locker room and folds his clothes neatly before shutting his locker door and heading to the supply room. He grabs his favourite board -- the red one, with the black flames painted on it -- and heads down to the beach.

It’s not the smartest thing, surfing alone at night. In fact, surfing at night at all is a bad idea. Liam knows this lake like the back of his hand, though, and he knows he’ll be fine. Even if the water’s a bit chaotic tonight. That just makes for better surfing, really.

He forwent the wetsuit tonight, opting to just wear his swimsuit. The moment he gets out in the water, he feels better. For some reason everything is easier to deal with when he’s out on the lake because it’s like the things that are bothering can’t reach him as long as he’s not on shore.

But no matter how relaxing it is, he can’t get his mind off everything. He can’t stop replaying that night out on the water with Zayn, even though it’s like poking a bruise. It hurts distantly, and he just keeps poking at it, replaying it, wishing things had been different.

Zayn deserves the right to at least explain to him. Liam’s being not only stubborn, but stupid and selfish, too. Eleanor and Harry are right. He probably is just misunderstanding the situation. He’s not sure how, but that could be the case. He has a habit of jumping to conclusions, and Zayn deserves better than that, right?

He’s just thinking this, deciding to head back to shore, when a large wave knocks him off his board. He goes flying into the water, losing sight of his board instantly. He didn’t even get a chance to suck in a breath, since it was so unexpected, and he’s under for far too long. The waves are too restless, pushing on him from every side, and it’s too deep. Even with his eyes open he can’t tell which way is up, can’t tell what is actually moonlight and what is just a reflection of it.

A pair of arms go around his waist just as everything starts to get a bit foggy. He surfaces and sucks in a deep, heaving breath. He swallows a bit of lake water but that can’t be helped, he needs to breathe.

Zayn doesn’t even look at him. He just tugs Liam along behind him to shore. Liam stumbles a bit when they get to shallower water but Zayn just keeps dragging him forward until they’re on the beach. Then he whirls and pushes Liam so hard he stumbles and trips, falling onto his ass and his hands.

“You fucking asshole!” Zayn spits at him. He stares down at Liam, eyes looking black and bottomless in the dark. Liam can’t do anything but stare up at him, dazed and more than a little confused. “What were you thinking? Do you not take your own advice? Don’t you remember? ‘Never swim alone, Zayn, it’s dangerous!’ but you can’t listen to your own fucking words? What the fuck?!”

Liam drops his eyes from Zayn’s face and settle them somewhere around Zayn’s knees, because they’re a lot less judgemental. Zayn is right and he knows it. He wasn’t being smart, and he could have gotten seriously hurt. He was just lucky that had Zayn being there to get him, or… what? Would he have even made it to the surface?

Probably not.

“Fucking idiot,” Zayn continues, still shouting. “Completely stubborn fucking idiot. God, I nearly-- I nearly had a fucking heart attack, Liam. I went to the pool because Eleanor said she gave you the keys, but you weren’t there! And then I noticed the supply room was open, and I checked to see if anything was missing and I noticed one of the boards was gone, that one that you always use when you teach your class, and I ran down here to talk to you just in time to see you go under. Do you realize what that did to me?”

“I’m sorry,” Liam tells Zayn’s knees.

“Sorry,” Zayn repeats. “You’re sorry. Oh, well, that totally makes this all okay. Do you have a fucking death wish? Or are you really that thick?”

“I thought it would help,” Liam says, voice much quieter than Zayn’s. “I needed to clear my head, deal with some things. I thought -- I’m an experienced swimmer, Zayn, I should have been fine. The chances of that happening were too slim for me to really worry about them.”

“But it did happen,” Zayn points out. “And-- deal with what? Does this have anything to do with the fact that you’ve completely avoided me for the past two days?”

“Maybe,” Liam admits, finally lifting his eyes to Zayn. “I sort of met your girlfriend on Monday.”

“My-- Danielle?” Zayn asks, looking dumbstruck. “She-- she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Not what she said,” Liam tells him, digging his fingers into the sand. Now that the initial shock and adrenaline has worn off he feels fairly stupid. Zayn was right to yell at him. He’d made a bad decision, and it had consequences, and Zayn had every right to be upset with him.

Zayn sighs loudly and falls onto the ground beside him. “I’m trying to be angry with you,” he says to Liam. “Why is it so hard to hate you? Can you explain that to me, because trust me, I’ve tried really freaking hard and it just doesn’t work. You’re far too loveable for your own good.”

Liam just continues to dig at the sand, making a small pile which he attempts to form into something before crushing it with his hand.

“I should probably explain about the Danielle thing,” Zayn decides after he realizes Liam isn’t going to speak. “So, Danielle was my girlfriend. We dated through our last year of school, before University. It was just -- convenient. We were friends with the same people, and we were the only two not in relationships. We dated for about six months before we went off to University. I told her I didn’t want a relationship after that because there was really point. She went to school halfway across the country and, to be honest, I wasn’t really all that attached.

“And then this summer I guess she just figured that we’d pick up where we left off,” Zayn continues. “I guess I can’t blame her for that, because I gave her mixed signals that night at the party but, to be fair, I only kissed her because I really wanted to kiss you.”

Liam builds up another pile of sand, smashes it, and then says, “You could have, you know.”

“Not then I couldn’t,” Zayn argues. “I was still trying to tell myself that you were this horrible person who constantly made me look bad by just existing. Like-- do you know how many times I’ve heard my parents say things like ‘Now Liam, that’s a son a mother could be proud of!’ or some shit. And then you and Louis were getting really close, and it just felt like everyone liked you a lot better than me, and I resented you for it. But I’ve sort of had this like -- crush on you, for years. And it just made me act like a complete asshole all the time.”

“I’m not going to argue with that,” Liam tells him.

“Fair enough,” Zayn replies. “And I know that I have a lot of shit to apologize for, and to make up for. And I’m sure I’m pretty confusing to deal with all the time. But the Danielle thing -- that’s not really one of them. If I was seeing someone, I wouldn’t have hooked up with you. Or I would have told you, or something. And I talked to her after she was here Monday, just so you know. Let her know that I’ve actually been seeing someone else, someone that I sort of really like.”

Liam’s quiet for a moment while taking in Zayn’s words. They sound honest, and Liam feels even worse for everything. “So then this is all--,”

“Just a really big misunderstanding,” Zayn finishes for him. “Doesn’t make up for the shit you pulled tonight though, Wonderboy. I don’t think I can let you surf ever again. I’m probably traumatized.”

“I’m sorry,” Liam says softly. “I wasn’t really thinking straight.”

“Jealous, were you?” Zayn asks, and Liam can see the faint grin on his face in the light of the moon.

“Not so much jealous as -- hurt, I guess. I just figured that everything meant a lot more to me than it did to you, and it hurt.”

“Can I be honest with you?’ Zayn asks.

“I hope so,” Liam answers.

Zayn knocks his shoulder into Liam’s. “You mean a lot to me. I don’t even know how that happened, because I fought tooth and nail not to. Apparently teaching someone to swim is a good way to win their heart. I’ll have to remember that in the future.”

“So then, what is this?” Liam asks, gesturing between Zayn and him. “What are we?”

Zayn grins widely now. “Whatever you want us to be.”

Liam frowns at him. “I don’t think you get that I don’t-- I don’t just do things lightly like you do, Zayn. I can’t just screw around and not put feeling into things.”

“I wouldn’t expect any differently from you, Wonderboy,” Zayn says, jumping up. He wipes sand off his jeans and offers Liam a hand up. “Now lets get back up to the resort, yeah? You’re not skipping out on swim practise with me just yet. I still have a lot to learn.”

Liam snorts. “Like what?” he asks as Zayn pulls him up.

“Like how to hold my breath for a long time,” Zayn says as they walk up to the resort. “I want to see if it’s possible for me to give you a blowjob under water.”

Liam chokes on his reply and gapes at Zayn. Zayn just grins at him.

“Wait--,” Liam turns around. “My board--,”

“Long gone, Liam,” Zayn tells him, tugging him forward. “Forget about it. I’ll tell Eleanor to order a new one and to not let my parents know. Don’t worry about it.”

Liam sighs and scratches the back of his neck. “That was a really stupid move.”

“Yep,” Zayn agrees. “And it better not happen again, or I’ll seriously ban you from the lake. You know, my parents actually own this place. I could probably do it, too.”

Liam rolls his eyes, but Zayn holds the door to the pool open for him. In the change room Zayn pushes him towards the showers. “You’re all sandy,” he explains. “I’ll be in the pool when you’re done.”

Liam only agrees because he knows Zayn is right. The showers are just past the stalls, and Liam heads into one and turns on the water, letting it wash away the slightly rank smelling lake water and the dirt that caked under his nails from playing in the sand. When he’s done he stops at his locker. He keeps an extra pair of swim trunks in there at all times, and he changes into those ones instead, tying off the drawstring before he heads out to the pool.

Zayn is, unsurprisingly, floating on his back and smiling serenely. If he was being honest, this is possible Liam’s favourite place to see Zayn. It gives him a chance to admire every exposed part of Zayn’s body, to appreciate how calm and relaxed he looks, and the dark spots of ink on his body. His legs are spread a bit, and he can just see a strip of the tattoo between his thighs, and he promises himself to pay attention to it this time so he can figure out what it is.

Without warning, Liam dives into the pool, jumping in as ungracefully as he can so he creates a bigger splash. When he surfaces, Zayn is treading water a few feet from him, glaring.

“That wasn’t funny,” Zayn tells him, flicking water at Liam’s face. “I was relaxing.”

“You weren’t paying enough attention to me,” Liam informs him.

“Oh, really?” Zayn asks, moving towards. He stops just in front of Liam, and Liam can feel the way Zayn’s kicking legs disturb the water close to his.

Without warning, Zayn wraps a hand around the back of Liam’s neck and brings their lips together. It’s wet, and Liam’s trying to focus on keeping himself above the water, so he can’t exactly touch Zayn the way he wants to. Zayn, on the other hand, wraps his arm around Liam’s shoulders to keep himself up, and he controls the kiss completely, pushing his tongue into Liam’s mouth, guiding the way their tongues move together.

After a moment Zayn’s free hand moves down Liam’s side under the water. He trails a finger over Liam’s stomach before gripping him through the material of his swimsuit. Liam’s head goes under the water.

When Liam breaks the surface again, Zayn is far away from him, laughing so hard it looks almost painful. “I wanted-- to see-- if that would work,” Zayn gets out.

Liam glares at him.

“Sorry,” Zayn says, coming back over to him. He brushes his thumb over Liam’s lower lip. “Just wanted to see what it would take to get you to lose control for a minute, Wonderboy.”

“Remember that time I told you that you weren’t funny?” Liam asks, raising an eyebrow.

“I might have some recollection of that,” Zayn admits, still grinning.

“Yeah. It’s still true.”

Zayn snorts but then falls onto his back, eyes fluttering closed. “Can we do that thing again?” he asks as Liam watches him. “Where we hold hands and just float or whatever?”

“You have a floating obsession,” Liam tells him, but he gets onto his back, too, and then cracks his eyes open just long enough to grab Zayn’s hand before closing them again. “What do you want to talk about this time?”

They talk about a lot. Liam’s not sure how much time passes, but they talk about school, and the fact that Liam’s University is in the same town as Zayn’s art school (which makes Zayn sit up and kiss him hard again, though Liam doesn’t know why). They talk about the last book Zayn read (some horror book that had apparently been made into a movie a few years ago, one that Zayn promised he’d get a hold of so Liam could watch it) and Zayn promises to take Liam to see one of his paintings some time. Liam tells Zayn about nearly failing English and not graduating with Harry, to which Zayn replied with, “Too bad you weren’t my boyfriend last year. I’m actually great at English.”

“Boyfriend,” Liam repeats softly.

“Boyfriend, Wonderboy,” Zayn says. “I’m a fan of pet names. Get used to it.”

Liam smiles to himself. He doesn’t mind the nickname so much anymore, now that it doesn’t sound like an insult but instead comes out as a compliment. Eventually Liam suggests they get out of the water. His fingers are getting wrinkly and it’s been at least an hour. Zayn reluctantly agrees.

As he’s changing into his clothes, Zayn comes up behind him and kisses the back of his neck softly right where Liam likes it, just behind his left ear. “My door’ll be unlocked all night,” he tells Liam.

Liam shudders and pulls his shirt out of his locker as Zayn heads back over to his own and closes it. They don’t hold hands on the way back to the main building, but Zayn’s got a grin on his face the whole way, and it’s kind of ridiculous, really, that Liam started the day feeling so shitty, and he’s ending it on a high note that he never could have predicted.

Liam brings the keys back to Eleanor’s desk and then kisses Zayn once on the lips, chastely, and they part ways with every intention of meeting back up in a few minutes. Liam’s just heading upstairs to drop off his clothes, grab a pair of sweatpants to sleep in, and explain to Harry where he’ll be.

He gets to the room and finds Harry in bed, blankets pulled up to his chin, eyes red. Liam looks around, wondering where Niall is, but he’s nowhere to be found. Harry makes a pitiful sound and Liam tosses his clothes on his own bed before sinking onto the edge of Harry’s.

“What’s up?” he asks.

Harry sits up and rubs at his eyes. “Nothing. I’m just-- an idiot.”

Liam frowns. “What did you do?”

“Got caught up in things,” Harry answers. “Forgot that there’s a life outside this stupid resort, and that everyone is going to keep living it at the end of the summer, and this won’t have meant anything at all.”

Liam brushes his hands through Harry’s curls. “That’s not true.”

“No, but it is, Liam,” Harry says seriously. “Louis’ leaving on Thursday.”

Liam tilts his head to the side. “What? No he’s not.”

“Yeah, he is,” Harry says. “And he didn’t even tell me. The only reason I know is because I’m scheduled to clean up the bungalow after they leave to make it ready for the family that’s coming in on Friday.”

Liam stands up, shaking his head. “No way,” he says flatly. “You -- wait here. Don’t move.”

“Does it look like I’m planning to do anything in the near future?” Harry asks, falling back against his pillows.

“Right,” Liam says. “Sorry. I’ll be back, though.”

He heads down the stairs in record time and doesn’t even knock on Zayn’s door. He just pushes it open, finding the light still on inside, and Zayn laying in bed watching television without a shirt on. He very well might have a lot less on, too, but Liam can’t stop to find out right now.

“Louis’ leaving?” he asks.

Zayn sits up a bit straighter and flicks off the TV. “Yeah, on Thursday. His parents are taking his sisters to France and he’s going skiing with a few people from school.”

Liam shakes his head. “Fuck,” he breathes.

“What’s wrong?” Zayn asks, frowning. It takes a few seconds, but the frown slips off his face. “He didn’t tell either of you.”

“No, he didn’t,” Liam says, closing his eyes for a moment. “Shit. Harry’s pissed and hurt and-- they don’t have enough time to fix this, do they?”

“Um, definitely not,” Zayn says. “Lou’s parents are leaving Thursday, but Louis’ catching his plane tomorrow.”

Liam gapes at him for a moment, and Zayn climbs out of bed. He’s wearing just a pair of really, really tight white briefs, and Liam groans loudly.

“Don’t come any closer,” he says, holding up his hands.

Zayn takes a step back, looking confused. “Liam--,”

“No, because if you kiss me I’m not going to want to leave,” Liam explains, swallowing. “I need to go-- be a good friend. Because staying here right now would definitely make me a bad friend, no matter how badly I want to.”

Zayn nods. “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow. This time when I order room service, don’t send Jake to bring it. I think he was going to punch me by the third time.”

Liam’s eyes slide down Zayn’s body once more. It’s really not fair. The white looks too nice against his skin tone, and all that swimming has really started to pay off, because he’s fairly sure that Zayn’s stomach muscles weren’t that defined when they started lessons. But that’s really not important right now. What’s important is the shitstorm that is going to be ‘The Harry and Louis Incident 2.0’.

“Right, I need to-- bye,” Liam says, turning on the spot. He hears Zayn’s soft chuckle as he pulls the door closed.

When he gets back to his room, Niall is back. He brought three tubs of ice cream, a bag of crisps, and a single banana. Liam frowns at all of these -- which are sitting on the bedside table-- and then sits on his bed.

“Louis’ leaving tomorrow,” Liam says to Harry. It’s a bit harsh, but it’s going to suck no matter how he says it.

“Tomorrow,” Harry repeats. “No, they’re leaving on Thursday--,”

“His parents are leaving Thursday. He leaves tomorrow. He’s going skiing with friends from school.”

Harry nods and sits up. Niall is sitting at the end of Harry’s bed, and he’s not really doing much more than rubbing Harry’s ankle through the blanket, looking as lost as Liam feels. He’s dealt with Harry through break-ups before, but it’s different than this. Normally, Harry’ll spend a night getting drunk and then curse the name of whoever it was he was dumped by before he gets over it. Harry tends to feel very fleetingly for people. But for Louis-- there’s always been something strong there, even if it was hatred for a long time.

That’s probably why Harry reaches for the banana and throws it at the wall. It makes a weird splattering sound and falls down the wall. “I’m going to kill him,” Harry states. “This time, no one pull me off him. I’m totally fucking killing him. He-- he didn’t even warn me. He just -- hooked up with me because I was around and it was easy, and now that his real life is starting again I don’t even matter.”

Liam gives him a sympathetic look, shaking his head. “That’s not true, Harry.”

“Yeah, it is, Liam.” Harry glares at him. “Don’t try to fucking spin this around because we both know that no matter how you twist it, this is bullshit.”

“Okay, I’m not going to try to,” Liam says. “But coming from someone who’s already made a giant mistake by jumping to conclusions, maybe you should let him explain first.”

Harry frowns at him. “You made up with Zayn.”

Liam struggles to keep the smile off his face, if only out of sympathy for Harry. He’d feel like a real ass if he started grinning or waxing on about the way Zayn’s lips felt against his, or the way Zayn’s eyelashes looked against his cheekbones while Harry was upset over Louis.

“Yeah,” Liam says indifferently, shrugging. “We made up.”

Harry’s eyes narrow. “You’re fucking radiating happiness on the inside, aren’t you? I hate you.”

Liam grabs a tub of ice cream and hands it to Harry. “Eat your mint chocolate chip and we’ll deal with this in the morning. We’ll figure it out. I’m sure he’ll have some great explanation for everything, and I’m sure he never meant to hurt you.”

“Maybe,” Harry admits, grabbing for a spoon. He digs it right into the carton of ice cream and puts a giant bite in his mouth and then says, mouth still full, “Maybe he thought I wouldn’t care. Right? I mean it’s not like I said we were in it for the long haul. I just thought it was obvious. Maybe it wasn’t.”

Niall moves farther up the bed. “Pass me a spoon,” he says to Liam, who complies. “Maybe,” Niall says after swallowing, unlike Harry, “you all need to learn to fucking talk to each other. I swear to God, if it’s not one of you with relationship drama, it’s the other.”

Liam and Harry both throw ice cream at him.

 

--

 

Things are not better in the morning. Things are not better in the morning because Louis is already gone. Liam learns this at lunch, when he gets back from cleaning rooms at Outlook. Harry is pushing food around on his plate, and he looks like shit, to put it lightly. His curls look limp, his cheeks are red, and the rest of his skin is pale.

The first thing Harry says when Liam sits down is, “He didn’t even say goodbye.”

Liam looks to Niall for help, but Harry doesn’t look like he’s going to say much else any time soon. Niall quickly recounts a story that involves Harry heading over to Louis’ to baby-sit Louis’ sisters, and him asking where Louis is. Apparently he left this morning at eight to head back home before packing up. According to one of Louis’ sisters, he was leaving at ten, which meant that he was already gone. Not a word to anyone, just gone.

“Whatever,” Harry says suddenly. “Fuck him. If he doesn’t realize that maybe I’d want to at least say goodbye to him, then I’m glad I didn’t get a chance to. Time to start moving on. It was a stupid summer fling that wasn’t going to amount to anything anyways. In fact, let’s just be happy that it ended with us fucking and then--,” Harry’s voice breaks, “him running off without a fucking care in the world for how I felt, because it could have ended much worse, right?”

“Harry--,” Liam tries, but Harry shakes his head.

“I’m going to go and -- get to work,” Harry says. He has this blank look in his eyes that worries Liam a lot more than him throwing things or shouting would. “See you at dinner.”

If Liam honestly thought there was something he could do to help, he would have gone after him. But he knows there’s nothing he can do. Harry is going to deal with this in the way Harry deals with everything -- by blowing off steam and then reproaching the situation from a more logical standpoint. Until he’s blown off that steam, though, it’s best not to get caught in the crossfire.

After lunch Liam starts delivering food. There’s a sandwich waiting on a plate for him to deliver, but he tells Mary to just leave it. He’ll bring that one after he’s done the rest. She tells him it’ll be cold by the time he delivers it, but Liam doesn’t really think Zayn’ll mind.

When he’s done his last trip to outlook with a ham sandwich, he heads back to the kitchen, grabs the sandwich, and then goes to Zayn’s room. He knocks once on the door before Zayn yells, “Come in!”

Liam does, heading straight for the bedside table. He puts the plate down and then sits on the edge of the bed.

“Louis’ already gone,” Liam tells him. “He didn’t even say goodbye to Harry.”

Zayn sits up a bit straight and runs a hand through his hair. “Shit. He -- fuck. Louis is really good at running away from things that mean something. I probably should have warned you.”

“Not me,” Liam says, shaking his head. “Harry. He’s -- I don’t know. It’s different with Louis, and I don’t know how to fix it.”

Zayn sits up and moves so that he’s sitting behind Liam, his legs spread out around Liam’s body. He grabs Liam’s shoulders, heels digging in a bit. It’s nice, almost calming.

“You can’t fix everything, Wonderboy,” Zayn tells him. “And I know Louis. He’s fucking up big time right now, but Louis always manages to fix things himself, in spectacular ways. Just wait.”

“You didn’t see Harry,” Liam tells him, eyes falling closed. He leans his head back onto Zayn’s shoulder as Zayn continues to gently massage his back. “I don’t really see Louis being able to make up for this.”

Zayn kisses his neck, hands moving to Liam’s chest. “Sometimes you’ve just got to let things play out, you know? Now,” he says, grinning against Liam’s skin, “how long until someone’s going to be wondering where you are?”

“Um.” Liam thinks for a moment but it’s a little difficult with the way Zayn’s lips are working at his neck, and his hands are sliding under Liam’s shirt. “Ten minutes, maybe?”

“Ten minutes,” Zayn repeats. “I can work with that.”

Liam laughs but Zayn’s not joking. He gestures for Liam to turn around and pulls Liam’s polo off and then pushes Liam down so he’s laying with his back propped up on the pillows. Zayn crawls on top of him, hands sliding up and down Liam’s chest. He’s going to give Liam a complex, he really is. No one’s ever looked at him like that, heated, heavily lidded eyes, like Liam is all they want in the world. It’d be overwhelming if he didn’t know that he probably looked at Zayn the exact same way.

Ten minutes later Liam’s lips feel swollen and he’s going to have to head back to work with a boner, but he really has to go. Zayn is gently pushing down on the bulge in his pants, not doing enough to really do much more than keep Liam hard and desperate.

“I really have to go,” Liam says breathlessly against Zayn’s lips.

“Really?” Zayn asks. “Are you sure?”

He grips Liam through his pants again and Liam’s hips jerk up a bit. “Yes,” he bites out. “Zayn, come on.”

Zayn rolls off him and spreads himself out on the bed, the picture of comfort and relaxation. Liam wants to throw something at him.

“I’ll be here if you get time off,” Zayn says as Liam pulls his shirt back on. “In fact, I’ll be here naked. And maybe I’ll call Mary to send me down some of that leftover chocolate stuff from last nights dessert, and --,”

Liam does throw something at him. A pillow, but it’s still effective, because he shuts up. He’s still smirking, though.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Liam tells him. “I doubt I’ll be able to sneak over tonight. With, you know, the Harry thing.”

Zayn nods. “If Louis calls me, I’ll let you know.”

“Right, bye,” Liam says. It feels awkward and not good enough, like there’s something else he needs to add on there. He’s not ready for that yet, though, so he just pulls the door closed behind him.

 

--

 

Liam doesn’t get alone time with Zayn at all that week. Sure, Zayn sneaks into one of his rooms while he’s cleaning at Overlook, and they make out on the bed for a few minutes, but Niall comes in and throws a towel at them, and that breaks it up. That’s probably a good thing, too, because Liam’s getting reckless, and he can’t afford for them to get caught. It would be his luck that somehow Zayn’s father would walk in on them and fire Liam on the spot, and there goes asking for a job recommendation in the near future.

Harry is not okay. He spends the rest of the week in a robotic state where he barely talks and does his work like he’s on autopilot. Liam keeps waiting for the anger, waiting for Harry to flip out and yell or cry or just get upset in general, but he doesn’t, and it’s concerning. Harry’s always up. Always. Sometimes that means he’s laughing and jumping around, others it means he’s shouting or throwing things. But either way, Harry always expresses how he’s feeling in a way that’s impossible to ignore, and he’s just not.

The ride back home is quiet. He doesn’t turn the radio on at all.

Liam spends the weekend in a constant state of guilt. He keeps waiting for the time to pass so he can get back to the resort, but his mum is always so excited to spend time with him, and he feels bad thinking that there’s somewhere he’d rather be, he just can’t help it. He’s not used to being in a-- relationship. Because that’s what it is, right? Zayn called him his boyfriend, which meant, yeah, dating. Even if they hadn’t really went on an actual date.

This time, when he climbs into the passenger seat of Harry’s car, he’s not looking wistfully back at his house. He tries to turn on the radio, just to fill the silence that Harry is refusing to fill himself. Harry slaps his hand away, though, and Liam doesn’t try again.

He does try to get him to talk, though.

“I’m fine,” Harry snaps after the third attempt. “Okay? I’m fine. I’m totally freaking fine, Christ, everyone needs to stop asking or I’m not going to be.”

Liam’s quiet for a moment, trying to resist the urge to point out that Harry’s words don’t sound very confident, but he fails and says, “You don’t sound fine.”

Harry laughs. It sounds almost real, but his eyes are still cold and blank. “Let it go, Liam, okay?”

“No way,” Liam says, shaking his head. “You know what? We’re going to throw a party. Down at the beach. I’ll get Eleanor to make a fire, we’ll pick up alcohol--,”

“Don’t bother,” Harry says.

“No, we’re doing it,” Liam says firmly. “And we’ll get drunk, you’ll cry it out, and then -- things will start getting better.”

“Crying doesn’t always fix things,” Harry says quietly. “If it did, it’d be fixed already. But it doesn’t, and I’m not doing it again. I wasn’t worth a goodbye, and he’s not worth the tears.”

“Then Niall and I will make asses of ourselves until you can’t help but laugh,” Liam promises. “It’ll be fun.”

Harry doesn’t look convinced, but he does give in, with a simple, “Fine.”

Once again, there’s a note on Liam’s locker when he gets to the locker room. This one reads:

Beach tonight at 11, don’t wear a swimsuit.

It’s not signed this time, but then, it doesn’t really need to be. Liam pockets it quickly, but not before Harry sees and sighs loudly.

“I hate couples,” Harry says. “You’re making me sick.”

Liam kisses him wetly on the cheek. “Love you, too.”

Breakfast isn’t much better than that. Harry spends most of his time throwing muffin pieces at Eleanor and Niall until they stop holding hands. By the time he leaves to start working, Niall sighs and turns to Liam.

“We need to fix this,” Niall says. “Or I’m going to strangle him.”

“Oh the irony,” Eleanor quips up. “I’ll hold him down for you.”

“You guys,” Liam starts, frowning. “He’s--,”

“There is muffin in my hair,” Eleanor states. “In my hair, Liam.”

There really is. She does not look happy. “We’re throwing a part tonight,” Liam says quickly. “Let everyone know. Okay?”

He remembers Zayn’s note but he knows that, as much as he would love to spend the night alone with Zayn, Harry has to come first.

Once again, Zayn has him looking forward to something he’d normally dread. By the time he’s finished cleaning his rooms he’s practically running to the kitchen and starting deliveries. It’s especially hot today, and his shirt is clinging to his back, but he doesn’t really care.

By the time he makes to Zayn’s door -- this time carrying two sandwiches--, he’s sweaty and exhausted and he sort of just wants to steal the extra sandwich and curl up in bed with Zayn and not worry about work, or best friends with broken hearts.

“Did you get my note?” Zayn asks as he pulls open the door.

Liam snorts and hands him the plate of sandwiches, heading directly for the bed. He falls back on it and stares up at the ceiling.

“I can’t,” Liam admits. “I -- we’re throwing a party. Sort of a ‘get better Harry’ party.”

Zayn sits on the bed beside him. “Tomorrow night, then. And maybe you can sleep over here afterwards.”

Liam sits up on his elbows. Zayn is grinning down at him, and he wants to say yes. He wants to say yes so badly, because he knows that their time is running out. In less than a week they’re both heading back to school and, yes, they’re going to be in the same city, but who knows what will happen then. Just like Harry said, it’s easy to forget that there’s life outside the resort, and things are going to be different.

“I can’t,” Liam finds himself saying again anyways. “Harry-- I just don’t think it’s a good time.”

Zayn keeps smiling at him. “Say Harry’s okay by then,” Zayn says, tracing Liam’s collarbone with his finger. “Would you say yes then?”

Liam frowns. “Of course. But --,”

“Okay,” Zayn says, grabbing the plate of sandwiches. “I’m holding you to that.”

He hands Liam one of the sandwiches and Liam sits up, crossing his legs as they eat. “What do you know that I don’t?” Liam asks.

Zayn shrugs. “I just know that things will work themselves out. Just wait.”

Liam eats instead of voicing his doubts. When he’s done, Zayn puts the plate on the side table and then tugs at Liam’s shirt impatiently.

“Don’t know why you wear those stupid things,” Zayn comments as he kisses down Liam’s chest. “Shirts. It’s a crime against humanity, to be honest.”

Liam snorts but then Zayn licks just below his bellybutton, and any laughter dies in his throat. “I’ve got to get back to work,” Liam gets out, fingers curling in Zayn’s hair.

“Ten more minutes,” Zayn says, fingers moving to the button on Liam’s jeans. He looks up at Liam with wide, hopeful eyes, and fuck that’s so not fair. He kisses Liam’s stomach again before repeating, “Ten more minutes.”

“Fuck it,” Liam says, nodding. “Ten more minutes. That’s it.”

Zayn’s just got the button of his jeans undone when someone knocks at the door. “Zayn,” someone calls. Someone that both Liam and Zayn recognize, because Liam scrambles off the bed in seconds, and Zayn’s eyes are like saucers now. He waves towards the bathroom and Liam nods, ducking inside and shutting the door.

He puts the lid of the toilet down and sits on it after doing his jeans back up, just in time to hear Zayn’s dad come into the room.

“Your mother told me to come over here and tell you that…,” Malik trails off.

“That what?” Zayn asks. He sounds guilty to Liam, but that could just be because he’s sort of freaking out a little bit.

“Who’s work shirt is that?” Malik asks.

Liam freezes, holding his breath. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

Zayn sounds cool and calm when he starts to answer with, “It’s--,”

The door to the bathroom opens and Malik raises his eyebrows. He looks at Liam for a long, long moment, and Liam’s waiting for the inevitable, “Get off my resort.” Instead, he says, “Would you like to join us in the room, Mr. Payne?”

Liam swallows and nods. Zayn’s dad usually calls him by his first name, and that makes it even more obvious that they’re definitely, definitely in trouble. It doesn’t help that Zayn passes him his shirt with a barely suppressed grin on his face, like this is all sort of amusing.

“It’ll be fine,” Zayn says quietly.

“Sir,” Liam says after he’s dressed, “I’m so sorry. I --,”

“Calm down, Liam,” Malik says. He’s shaking his head. “You do realize that the rule is not to date guests, yes?”

Liam’s heart stops in his chest and Zayn grabs his hand and squeezes. “Um, yes. I am aware of that. And--,”

“The only thing you’re getting in trouble for right now is the fact that you’re supposed to be working,” Malik tells him. He turns to Zayn. “Don’t be a bad influence on him. This is a good one, Zayn.”

Zayn nods. “I know.”

“Get back to work, Liam,” Malik tells him. “Don’t make plans on Saturday. We’ll all have dinner and I’ll get a nice, long explanation for this. Okay?”

“Um, right. Yes. Sounds-- nice,” Liam says weakly. “I’ll just -- work. Now. Okay. Bye.”

He waves awkwardly to them on his way out and then collapses against the wall beside the door. What the hell just happened? Why was he not jobless right now? It couldn’t possibly be that easy, could it? He couldn’t really have this wonderful thing in his life and not lose something to balance it out, right? Things -- things didn’t just work like that for him.

Malik doesn’t come back out and tell him he was just joking, though, and Liam starts to breathe easier.

 

--

 

“I’m really happy for you,” Harry says dryly. He’s stabbing at his chicken breast with his knife far more aggressively than necessary. “Seriously. I am.”

Liam frowns down at Harry’s chicken, wondering if that knife would go in his hand if he pointed out that it was already dead. He doesn’t want to make Harry’s mood worse, though, not when he already feels bad for blurting the whole embarrassing, still unbelievable story to Harry. Harry genuinely is happy for him, but Liam knows that it’s just making him miss Louis more.

“I talked to everyone about the party,” Liam says, hoping that will make a difference. Eleanor and Niall aren’t even sitting with them, but are instead halfway across the room with Jess and Jake. “Everything’s pretty much ready to go. Jake is running into town after dinner to get the alcohol.”

“Awesome,” Harry says, punctuation the word with another jab of his knife.

Liam sighs and pries the knife from Harry’s fingers. “Come on, Harry.”

Harry opens his mouth, probably to snap something at Liam, when the door to the room opens, and Liam looks up.

“Harry fucking Styles!”

Louis is standing in the doorway. He’s wearing a giant, puffy coat, his cheeks are red, and his hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat. Liam just stares at him in shock, but so does Harry, who’s mouth has fallen open.

Louis starts toward them but someone says, “This is an employee only room.”

“Sit down,” Louis snaps at whoever said it. “I have a curly haired fucking asshole to kill.”

Louis slams his hands down on their table. Liam figures he should probably do something, he just can’t. He’s too shocked right now to even move.

“I was in Switzerland,” Louis says loudly, and every single person in the room is staring at them, “and I was supposed to be skiing with my friends, drinking hot chocolate by the fire, just having an all around good fucking time. And you know what? I couldn’t. I couldn’t fucking enjoy myself because I didn’t say goodbye to you, and this is so fucking bullshit because I didn’t mean to fall in love with you, but I did anyways, and now I can’t get your stupid curly hair and your stupid green eyes out of my fucking mind.”

Harry comes to faster than Liam, and he stands up, hands balled to fists at his sides. He takes a step towards Louis and shoves him. “You should have said goodbye!”

Louis grabs Harry roughly by the face, pulling him in. “I should have said I love you, too. But I was freaked out, okay?”

“Next time you give me a fair warning,” Harry says angrily.

“Promise.”

Harry nods, and then they’re kissing. It looks violent. Louis grabs at Harry’s hair and ends up stepping backwards until he hits the edge of the breakfast table -- which is thankfully cleared during the rest of the day --, and then Harry grabs the back of Louis’ legs and lifts him up until he’s sitting on it.

Everyone is just watching this happen in stunned silence until, finally, someone says quietly, “We put bagels there.”

After that, Harry drags Louis out of the room. A few people wolf-whistle, and Niall throws food at their backs when they go. Liam just finishes eating his dinner, feeling like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. Sure, things aren’t exactly fixed yet. He has a feeling Harry is still definitely pissed at Louis, but he’s here, and--

Where the fuck is he staying? His parents aren’t in the bungalow anymore. There’s a family of four staying there, some rich lawyer that Niall said was an asshole. Maybe Louis was going to drive back home tonight, which meant he probably wouldn’t be able to stay for all of the party. The party that sort of seemed redundant, at this point, given the circumstances.

It’s not until he gets back to work that he realizes Zayn knew this was going to happen. He must have spoken to Louis or something, because he definitely knew. Liam isn’t sure if he wants to throw things at him or kiss him for keeping it from him.

By the time the party starts, Liam is more than ready for bed. Today has just been too much, first with Zayn’s dad, and then the Louis and Harry thing, which would probably become just as infamous as the ‘Louis and Harry Incident’. He really just wants to go upstairs to bed, but he knows that he can’t, because Harry specifically asked him not to head back to the room until after midnight because he plans on ditching the party in an hour to spend time with Louis.

Liam yawns deeply and stretches just as a pair of arms go around his waist. “You look exhausted, Wonderboy.”

Liam sighs against him without thinking. “I am,” he admits. “Too much in one day. Which I’m sure you know all about.”

“I might have had a heads up,” Zayn admits. He’s stepping forward, guiding Liam towards the bonfire. “You know I had a big, elaborate dinner planned for us tonight. For our first date.”

Liam stops walking and Zayn presses insistently against his back. “You had a date planned?”

“Yeah,” Zayn says, refusing to remove his arms from Liam’s middle, making it impossible for Liam to turn around to face him. “Candlelit dinner on the beach. It was going to be cheesy as fuck.”

“I’m sorry,” Liam says quietly.

“For what?” Zayn asks against his neck. He starts walking forward again, and Liam gives in.

“For cancelling.”

“Don’t be,” Zayn tells him. “We’re still having our candlelit beach date. Our candle just happens to be a hell of a lot bigger. Now sit, I’ll get us stuff to make s’mores.”

Liam sits down on a long piece of wood near Jess. She smiles at him and scoots down a bit, leaning forward to look in the direction Zayn just went. “Good job with that one,” she says when she straightens back up. “He’s right in love with you, isn’t he?”

Liam raises his eyebrows, surprised. “I-- what?”

Jess laughs and puts a hand on his thigh. “You’re both adorable. About time to see you getting some, too. Didn’t think you had it in you.” She uses her hand on his thigh to stand up. “Now, I’m going to see if Jake’ll save me from this couple fest. Later, Liam.”

Zayn’s back the second she’s gone, and he sits beside Liam, eyes narrowed at her back. “Who’s that?”

Liam frowns at him. “Do you really not know the name of your parent’s employees?”

“Not all of them,” Zayn answers, shoving a marshmallow onto the end of a stick. “You two looked pretty friendly.”

It takes Liam a minute to really get it, to understand the annoyed set to Zayn’s mouth, and the cool, indifferent tone in his voice. When he does get it, he says, “You realize I’m, like, one hundred percent into guys, right?”

Zayn shrugs and sticks his marshmallow into the fire. "So is she."

“You’re really jealous,” Liam says, sounding far too pleased by this. He can’t help it, though.

Zayn’s marshmallow is on fire, but he doesn’t look alarmed. “I am,” he agrees, pulling his stick back. He moves it close to Liam and orders for him to, “Blow.”

When the flame goes out, Zayn picks up one of the graham crackers he has balanced on his thigh, adds a piece of chocolate from a chocolate bar Liam didn’t know he had, and then uses another graham cracker to trap the marshmallow, which he slides off the stick. He hands it to Liam, who waits a moment before biting it.

As he’s chewing he sees Harry and Louis heading up to the resort and sighs. “Looks like my room is going to be occupied tonight.”

“Stay in mine,” Zayn suggests while burning another marshmallow. He lets the flame lick at it for a beat longer and then blows it out himself and makes another s’more, which he eats himself. “If you want.”

“Okay,” Liam agrees, because he can’t see any reason not to. Not that he’s trying really hard to find one. He finishes his s’more and wipes his hands on his pants. “Let’s go up now, yeah?”

Zayn laughs. “One s’more does not equal a date, Liam. We have to have at least three.”

Liam shakes his head fondly. “Are you a s’more expert, then?”

“Course,” Zayn answers while burning yet another marshmallow. “You’re supposed to burn them,” he adds, probably because of the look on Liam’s face. “It adds flavour.”

Liam’s tired, and he does want to get up to bed, but he’s not really in that much of a hurry to go even after they’ve both eaten four s’mores. Zayn takes his hand and they just sit there for a bit, Liam’s head on Zayn’s shoulder, watching as the fire continues to burn high and bright.

It’s just-- nice. Relaxing, simple. It’s not quiet -- there’s far too many people around, drinking and shouting-- but Liam likes it. He’s going to miss this place once summer ends. He’s also cursing himself for both him and Zayn waiting so long to do this. They could have spent the whole summer having nights like this.

When Liam yawns again, Zayn gets up and uses the hand holding Liam’s to pull him up, too. Liam waves goodbye to Eleanor and Niall, and tries to wave goodbye to Jess and Jake, but looking at the way Jake is eating Jess’s face, he doubts either of them notice him.

By the time they get to the room, Liam is ready to pass out. Zayn gets him a pair of sweatpants and he doesn’t even bother ducking into the bathroom to change. He just shucks off his shoes and jeans and pulls the pants on. After Zayn gives him a hopeful, eyebrow raises look, Liam rolls his eyes and adds his shirt to his pile of discarded clothing before climbing into bed.

Zayn hits the lights and follows him in, and Liam wants to stay up with him, he does, but he’s so tired. Zayn doesn’t seem to mind, though. He just pulls Liam into him so Liam’s using his chest as a pillow, and he brushes his hands over Liam’s short hair until Liam’s eyes fall closed of their own accord.

 

--

 

When Liam wakes up he knows it’s early. He doesn’t know how he knows, he just does. All it takes is opening his eyes to face the alarm clock on the bedside table to confirm this. It’s only half-past five in the morning.

Liam sighs and remembers where he is, and who’s arm is around his waist. And who’s body is curled against his back. Zayn’s bed smells like him: a mixture of sharp cologne and the vanilla shampoo the resort gives out to guests. It’s intoxicating, in the best way, and Liam breathes deeply for a moment until the body behind his moves a bit.

Zayn tightens his grip on Liam’s back and grinds his hips forward, making it very apparent that he’s awake. Liam is still in that tired, groggy state that’s just nice and warm. He presses back against Zayn a bit as Zayn’s lips find his neck and his hand moves down Liam’s waist.

“What time is it?’ Zayn asks sleepily. His voice is rougher than usual, just over a whisper.

“Half-past five,” Liam admits.

“Fuck,” Zayn breathes against his neck. “Too early. Not getting up yet, unless…”

He doesn’t finish his sentence with words, but he grinds against Liam’s ass again, and he doesn’t really have to. Liam considers turning over, but he figures his breath doesn’t smell the best at the moment.

“I need to brush my teeth.”

“You’re not allowed to leave the bed,” Zayn tells him. “You’re grounded to the bed until-- at least seven. Those are the rules.”

“Who’s rules?”

“Not mine,” Zayn tells him. “They’re the bed’s rules. I just follow them.”

Liam snorts a laugh and rolls over. Zayn blinks slowly at him and he’s smiling one of those smiles that are only possible just after someone’s woken up-- soft and almost childlike because they’re so genuine. Liam says fuck it to brushing his teeth and kisses Zayn, closed mouthed.

Zayn cups the back of his neck and pulls Liam back in for more, scratching his nails against Liam’s scalp. He parts his own lips and Liam follows, until Zayn is kissing him, long and slow and languid, like they have all the time in the world. They don’t, but an hour and a half is plenty of time, really.

Liam moves his hand down Zayn’s side, over the ridges of his ribs until he gets to the waistband of Zayn’s sweatpants. He slides his fingers under them, cupping Zayn’s ass, pulling their groins closer together. Zayn lets out a pleased sound between their lips and Liam works on pushing the material of his pants down. After a moment of struggling, Zayn breaks the kiss with a chuckle so he can kick them off, and then he tugs at Liam’s pants, too, until Liam lifts his hips enough for Zayn to get them off.

“These too,” Zayn says softly, pulling at the band of Liam’s boxers so it snaps back against his skin.

“You’re pushy,” Liam tells him.

“Just horny,” Zayn counters.

“That’s romantic,” Liam says, but he pulls off his boxers, too, wondering why it’s so easy to be naked with Zayn and not feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. It’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that Zayn looks at him like he couldn’t find a single flaw if he tried.

Zayn doesn’t reply, but he pulls them back together, kissing Liam again. Their hips move forward, cocks sliding together. Liam lets out a soft moan into the kiss and Zayn pulls back. Liam watches as Zayn brings his hand to his mouth and licks a stripe from palm to fingers and then reaches a hand between them to wrap his fingers around both of them together.

Liam lets his eyes fall closed as Zayn gets them off, his bottom lip caught between his teeth. The room is quiet save for their breathing, and Liam reaches up to fist a hand in Zayn’s hair.

He opens his eyes and meets Zayn’s gaze. His pupils are blown wide, and his lips are parted. Liam feels the warmth in his body settle in his stomach and he tugs on Zayn’s hair a bit. Zayn tightens his grip on them, fisting them faster, and Liam sucks in a harsh breath. Zayn holds his gaze the whole time, as that familiar tightening in his groin uncoils and he comes over Zayn’s fingers.

Zayn strokes him through it until it’s too much for Liam and he makes a quiet, whimpering sound. Zayn releases him and continues to fists himself. Liam’s eyes drop and he watches the way Zayn’s hand moves over his cock, slicked by Liam’s come, and lets out another quiet sound and covers Zayn’s hand with his own until Zayn pulls his hand back.

“Faster, Li,” Zayn says, eyes falling closed. Liam complies, liking this far more than what could be considered healthy. Likes the feel of Zayn in his hand, and the way Zayn’s eyes are squeezes closed, and the way his mouth opens in a wider ‘o’ when Liam moves his hand, palm sliding over the head.

He watches the way Zayn’s stomach muscles tighten and his eyes fly open just before he comes, biting down hard on his lip. After a moment or so, Zayn sits up and grabs his sweatpants from beside the bed and wipes his hand on them before offering them to Liam. Liam does the same, even though it’s not the most cleanly thing ever.

He doesn’t complain when Zayn pulls him in until they’re pressed together again, still a bit sticky. He doesn’t complain because Zayn’s bed is warm and Zayn’s arm is around his back and their chests are pressed together. He doesn’t complain because it’s too perfect to bother.

 

--

 

Liam ends up being late to work. He and Zayn don’t wake back up until after eight, at which point Liam jumped out of bed, scrambling to find his clothes, and darted into the bathroom to take a quick shower. He’s out in under two minutes, and Zayn is still in bed, watching him fondly.

“I’m late,” Liam hisses, shaking his head. “Your stupid bed rule.”

“Call in sick,” Zayn suggests. He folds his arms behind his head and grins.

“I can’t call in sick when my boss could literally come upstairs and see that I’m fine,” Liam points out.

Zayn pouts. “Workaholic. Should I expect the rest of our lives to be like this?”

Liam pauses in bending down to find his socks and looks at Zayn while he’s still bent down, level with the bed. The way he said it made it sound like he was planning on this being a thing that lasted for a long, long time, and that made Liam feel warm all over again.

“Probably,” Liam says instead of crawling back into bed beside Zayn like he wants to.

“I guess I can live with that,” Zayn sighs. “See you at the pool tonight?”

Liam frowns at him. “I thought we were done with lessons.”

“Who said that?”

“Your ability to swim quite well?”

Zayn shakes his head. “I can’t remember how to do it. In fact, you’re going to have to teach me all over again, so you might want to be there at nine.”

Liam pulls on his shirt. “I’ll be there.”

Mary crosses her arms over her chest when Liam runs into the kitchen to grab something to eat. She points a spatula at him and says, “Don’t think Jess didn’t tell me exactly who you ran off with last night.”

Liam’s cheeks flush as he grabs a bagel. “Jess is a bloody liar.”

“I heard that!” Jess shouts from somewhere in the kitchen.

Mary smiles and shakes her head. “You’re lucky we’re all so fond of you. Now gets your ass to work.”

Liam grins and nods, bagel between his teeth, as he heads out the door. It’s too hard to be annoyed at the excessive amounts of cleaning he has to do -- someone threw a party in one the rooms apparently, or so he assumes by the glitter covering the mattress and the eight (???????) condom wrappers he picks up off the floor-- when he started out his morning so good. Sure, he was late, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t good.

He passes Harry in the hallway at Outlook and Harry is smiling brightly. He figures the smile on his own face matches Harry’s, and then he figures that they’re both smiling like that for the same reason, and he gets mildly uncomfortable. Harry seems to come to the same realization, too, because his nose wrinkles up.

“Have a fun night with Louis?” Liam asks anyways.

Harry grins sweetly at him. “Definitely. Your headboard makes less noise than mine.”

Liam throws a dirty towel at him.

Eleanor gives him an extremely suggestive look as she hands over the keys. “That boy better be getting his money worth,” she says, shaking her head as Liam starts up the stairs to his room.

He should have knocked on the door, but then again, this is his room. He sees far more of Louis than he ever would have liked to. Louis makes a surprised sound and pulls the covers up over his head. Harry, on the other hand, looks smug.

“I’m just getting my swim trunks,” Liam says quickly. “And I’m glad you’re not in my bed.”

“We were last night,” Louis says from under the covers. “Love you, Liam!”

Liam rolls his eyes. “And where was Niall last night?”

Harry shrugs. “Probably with Eleanor, doing the exact same thing you and Zayn were doing.”

Liam raises his eyebrows. “I really doubt that he and Eleanor were doing the exact same thing Zayn and I were doing.”

Harry frowns at him. “Butt stuff,” he guesses, nodding solemnly.

“What?” Louis asks, peeking his head out of the covers.

Liam is laughing too hard to tell Harry that, no, there wasn’t ‘butt stuff’. He’s still laughing when he shuts the door behind himself, and halfway down the stairs. He’s still grinning by the time he reaches the pool, and Zayn throws his cigarette to the ground and stomps on it.

“You look happy,” he comments, raising his eyebrows.

Liam shrug an unlocks the door. “I am.”

“Was Louis with Harry in your room?” Zayn asks as they walk towards the locker room.

“Yeah,” Liam confirms.

“What were those two doing?”

Liam’s grin widens. “Butt stuff.”

Zayn frowns at him. “What stuff?”

Liam shakes his head. “You’re honestly better off not knowing. But I suggest never becoming friends with Harry. He’s an idiot.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Zayn tells him.

When they’re dressed, Zayn heads towards the deep end of the pool. “Can we jump in?” he asks.

Liam shrugs and heads over to him, and Zayn wraps his arms around Liam’s waist and kisses him quickly. “Ready?” he asks.

Liam’s back is facing the pool, and he feels a moment of not just hesitation, but also fear. Zayn’s holding onto him, though, and he knows he’ll be fine. “Yeah.”

“One,” Zayn says, stepping forward. Liam steps back. “Two.” Another step. “I love you.”

They fall into the pool.

 


 

Epilogue

Liam heads back to his room with Harry after spending an hour and a half in the library studying for his exam. He’s tired and studied out, to be honest. He doesn’t want to look at another textbook for at least a week, but that’s not exactly a realistic dream.

Harry is both the greatest and worst roommate ever. He cleans up Liam’s side of the room all the time, and he never complains when he comes home to find Liam not alone in bed. But then he has a bad habit of listening to music loudly while studying, which is why Liam spends so much time in the library.

“Hey,” Harry says, closing his book. “Want to get dinner?”

Liam shakes his head. “Can’t,” he says, throwing his books on his bed. He heads to his dressers. “Got plans.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Of course you do. Everyone has plans but me.”

“Louis’ will be here this weekend,” Liam points out.

“That’s two days away,” Harry argues.

“You have serious separation issues,” Liam tells him.

Harry shrugs. “Don’t judge me for the way that I am.”

Liam snorts and heads for the door. “I’ll be back in about an hour. Try not to be here.”

Liam heads into the locker room, twisting the dial on his lock. When he pulls the door open he finds a familiar bag hanging inside and hangs up his clothes beside it after getting dressed.

Just after five is the best time to use the school’s pool, since most people are having dinner. There’s a few people inside still, though, but they’re mostly in the deep end. Liam doesn’t care about those people at all. He cares about the beautiful boy floating on his back in the shallow end with a soft smile on his face.

From here, he can just make out the edge of the Deathly Hallows symbol tattooed between Zayn’s thigh, the one he got on a dare when he was fourteen and had just finished reading the Harry Potter series. Liam had teased him endlessly about the thing until Zayn pointed out Liam’s Batman belt. So they were both big dorks. Liam could live with that.

Liam gets in and swims over to him, but Zayn doesn’t open his eyes. He probably doesn’t realize who it is, but he does when Liam puts a hand under his back. His eyes blink open and Liam grins down at him before kissing his lips and falling onto his back, too. They probably look weird, and everyone else in the pool is probably wondering what the hell there doing, but Liam doesn’t give a shit.

He takes Zayn’s hand and Zayn tells him about his day, and promises to bring Liam by the studio soon to see the painting he’s working on. Liam just hums in contentment and lets Zayn talk as they float around the pool, connected by their hands.