Zayn’s taking so long, is the thing.
Liam’s already got his snowpants on. He’s got his hat and his cool goggles that his mum bought him and his gloves, too. He’s all dressed and ready and waiting and, “Are you almost ready?” he asks. He can’t stop his legs from bouncing against the carpeted floor and his mouth is stretching too wide from the smile on his face.
“This is going to be amazing,” Liam says. He can see the snow still coming down when he peeks out the window, not willing to let his gaze stray too far from Zayn. “We can make snow angels and a snowman and maybe have a snowball fight too. It’s going to be amazing, Zayn, are you ready yet?”
Zayn’s got one shoe on. His hat’s slipping down over his eyes and the laces of his right shoe just won’t go. “No,” he mutters. “’m not ready yet, just go on.”
Liam shakes his head. It’s a bit hard to move around in his snowpants, big as they are, but he manages. He feels a bit like a penguin when he wobbles over to Zayn, taking the left boot and tilting it towards Zayn’s foot. “In ya go,” he says. “’s like a choo choo train.”
“It’s not a train, Liam, it’s my foot.” Zayn bats Liam’s hand away, shoving his foot in the boot and grimacing at the untied laces. “Go outside, bet everyone’s looking for you.”
Liam shrugs. He’s getting a bit warm, sitting in here with all these clothes on when the cold and the snow and everyone else is outside. “Don’t wanna go without you.”
Zayn grumbles, holding out his foot and kicking Liam light on the shin. “Go on, then. Tie my shoes, Mum.”
“I’d make a good mum,” Liam says. He’s talking nonsense now, but Zayn’s doing that wrinkly thing with his nose, laughing in that way that makes Liam warm. “I’d cook you breakfast. Like, eggs on toast and all that. And I’d wash your clothes with that flowery stuff my mum uses and you’d smell like that all the time. Like a flower.”
Zayn snorts, reaching his hand out to pat Liam fondly on his cheek. “We’re not even allowed to use the stove, you silly boy.”
“For pretend, Zayn,” Liam whines. He’s got Zayn’s laces all done up now, tied tight and firm just like Ruth taught him. “We’re pretending that I can cook you all your favorite things for breakfast and pack your lunch and tuck you in at night and--”
Zayn interrupts him with loud, wet kisses all over Liam’s face. He keeps going til Liam’s red-faced and gasping, curled up on the floor and his belly hurting from laughing so hard.
“Stop, stop,” he manages. “’m gonna have an accident if you keep that up.”
Zayn lets out this ridiculous cackle at that. He’s like a kitten sometimes, Liam thinks. He looks so angry when he laughs and Liam just wants to pet him, ruffle his hair until his smile settles into something calmer.
“I’d take a picture of that,” Zayn says decisively. He’s an awful friend sometimes, when he’s got that glint in his eye (“He’s like a big cat,” Liam’s mum says. “Poised and ready to strike.” But she always strokes Zayn’s head when she says it, hands him a cookie and smiles when he does). He puckers his lips again, like he’s ready to start pecking Liam some more.
Liam groans and rolls up to his feet, extending a hand down to help Zayn. “C’mon, I wanna play, Zayn.”
“’m coming, ’m coming,” Zayn mumbles. He adjusts his hat and pats his pockets to check for his gloves. “Have you seen my--”
“I’ve got them.” Liam says, holding up Zayn’s pair of Hulk gloves. (Liam’s got Batman, and after school they’ll run out in Liam’s backyard and pretend to be superheroes until their fingers go numb and Liam’s mum calls them inside for a snack.) “You always drop them, you know.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Zayn says, slinging his arm ‘round Liam’s shoulder and smiling all stupid and big, “when I’ve got you to pick them up.”
Liam sighs and leads Zayn outside, their gloved hands linked and clasped tight together.
Liam and Zayn are six and they are best friends.
Zayn’s sitting in the nurse's office when Liam finds him. He glares when Liam sighs, crosses his arms and shakes his head defiantly.
“I won’t apologize, Liam,” he says. “I just won’t.”
Liam huffs. Zayn’s holding ice to his knuckles, and Liam takes it from him and holds the ice himself. “You can’t just hit people, you know.”
“Yes, I can,” Zayn tells him. He’s still got this mulish look on his face, his mouth all twisted up and he’s utterly ridiculous. Stupid, even. “I can hit anyone that’s mean to you.”
“You can do no such thing,” Liam replies. He’s not really paying attention to the conversation anymore, more concerned with Zayn’s swollen knuckles and the phone call he can hear through the door with the nurse and Zayn’s parents. “You’re going to be in loads of trouble. Like, loads.”
“Don’t care,” Zayn says, but his lip trembles a bit, and he looks like a little kid like this, all fake bravado and blind loyalty. “It was worth it.”
Liam smiles. It’s small, because he feels awful that Zayn’s going to be in trouble over this, over him. But he smiles anyway, because the look on everyone’s face when Zayn reared his arm back and punched someone was incredible. It was incredible and stupid and Liam couldn’t ask for a better best friend, he couldn’t.
Zayn looks up at Liam, his big eyes even wider than usual and his hair flopped messy over his face. “You’re not mad at me, are you?”
“’m not mad,” Liam tells him. “You can’t do it again though. Promise.”
Zayn shakes his head. “I’m gonna hit everyone that’s mean to you, I swear I will.”
“You won’t,” Liam says. “Promise.”
Zayn slides his gaze away, glaring at the wall and the floor and the ceiling and anywhere but Liam. He’s going to be in so much trouble and Liam won’t let him get in any more.
“Promise,” he says again.
“Okay,” Zayn mutters. “I promise, you wanker.”
Liam snorts, settling the ice back over Zayn’s knuckles and allowing himself a bigger smile. “Don’t let anyone hear you say that.”
“Can’t get any worse, can it?” Zayn mumbles. He sits up straight when the nurse walks back in, body coiled tight and expectant. “Have you talked to my parents?”
Yes, she says. They’re very disappointed, she says. But Liam’s done listening, because Zayn’s eyebrows have gone all furrowed and his jaw is clenched and Liam won’t let him cry, he just won’t.
“Hey,” he murmurs. “As soon as your parents say it’s okay we’re gonna go camping in my backyard, okay? Just like we always wanted to do. We’re gonna eat s’mores and tell ghost stories and sleep in a tent and make a campfire--”
“Your mum would kill us if we tried that,” Zayn murmurs, but his face has settled into something more calm and less likely to burst into tears. “I’d kill you if you tried that.”
Liam shrugs. “We can microwave the s’mores, then.”
“Liam, you’re so weird, you know that?”
Liam doesn’t care, because he’s got the greatest friend in the world and he can’t imagine having anyone else.
Zayn finds Liam the next time, holed up in the last stall in the loo with his sandwich in his lap.
He wraps on the door twice, timid and hesitant. “Li? You okay?”
No. Nothing is okay and everyone is awful and Liam wants nothing more than for all these people to go somewhere far, far away. Preferably Mars.
“Can I come in?” Zayn’s bent over now, his head peering under the door and his face going red from the effort. “Open the door.”
Liam shakes his head. His eyes are wet and his breaths are too shaky and he feels stupid and he refuses to let Zayn see him like this. “Go ‘way,” he mumbles. “I’m fine.”
Zayn huffs, and then he’s on his stomach, sliding under the door and twisting himself up until he’s sat in front of Liam, clothes getting dirty from the bathroom floor.
“Oh my god, get up,” Liam tells him. “D’ya know how many germs are down there?”
Zayn shrugs. He holds his hand out for half of Liam’s sandwich, same as always, grimacing when he sees it’s peanut butter. “You know I hate peanut butter.”
“We were all out of jam,” Liam says, apologetic. “Get off the floor, please.”
“Nope.” Zayn eats his half anyway, because that’s just what they do. “I won’t get up until you come back to the cafeteria with me.”
Liam’s sandwich feels stuck in his throat. He swallows hard, pain flaring up and he clenches his hands so hard he feels his nails dig into his palms. “I can’t. I just.” He won’t cry anymore, he simply won’t. “I wish I was stronger than them. They wouldn’t tease me anymore if I was.”
Zayn’s hand is warm on Liam’s thigh, firm and reassuring and constant. “That’s ridiculous. You already are stronger than all of those jerks. You’re the strongest person I know.”
“You have to say that,” Liam points out, sniffling a bit and wiping his eyes. “You’re my best friend.”
Zayn sighs. He moves forward so his head rests on Liam’s legs, both of them cramped up in this little stall in the boy’s loo. “Wouldn’t want to be anyone else, Li.”
Liam and Zayn are twelve and it feels like it’s just them against the world, sometimes. But that’s okay for now. It’s okay.
Liam is eighteen when he gets to know how Zayn tastes.
It’s awkward at first. They’re both a bit gangly and shy and half-hidden under the superhero covers on Liam’s bed. They’ve been this close before, been snuggled up tight with their legs intertwined, and the smell of soap behind Zayn’s ears and his shampoo fresh in his wet, sticking strands.
But this. Zayn’s mouth against Liam’s neck, that’s new. So is the way Liam’s fingers curl over Zayn’s hip, grip unrelenting and pressing hard enough to press bruises.
Zayn’s mouth is moving, soft and wet against Liam’s skin and it feels like he’s saying something, and Liam knows it probably sounds like goodbye. Probably sounds like a promise of keeping in touch and staying close and we’ll be fine, Li, we’re always fine because that’s what Zayn had told him earlier and Liam is clinging to it.
Touching Zayn seems like something dangerous now, something desperate and fleeting and Liam is glad for their cover of darkness. He’s glad for the fact that he doesn’t have the chance to memorize every expression on his face when Liam moves his fingers down, dips his fingertips under the waistband of Zayn’s pyjamas.
“This okay?” he whispers. He thinks he might be shaking, thinks they might have been leading up to this for what feels like forever and Liam wishes it didn’t feel so much like the first and last time. “Are you sure?”
There’s only a sliver of moonlight peeking through Liam’s curtains, but it’s enough to see Zayn’s nod, the way his fingers move nimble and quick to slide his sleep pants down. “Yeah, yeah c’mon,” he mumbles, and he’s less hesitant than Liam, braver than Liam, always has been, it feels like. “Please, c’mon, Li.”
Liam tugs at his own bottoms, slips his sleep pants over his ankles and snag his socks off too. They’re both already shirtless, hesitant and jittery and nervous, fumbling touches over bare skin now. Liam lets out a soft huff of breath when Zayn presses harder, trails his fingers light over Liam’s cock, looks up for confirmation.
Liam wishes he had the light now. He wishes he could see every expression on Zayn’s face, could see his fingers wrapped loose and not enough around Liam’s cock, could see Zayn’s wet hair sticking a bit to his forehead and his tattoos stretching over his moving muscles.
Liam can only nod, because Zayn’s barely touching him but he is touching him, fingers curling and stroking and Liam is helpless to it really. “Yeah, yeah, it’s good.” Which, okay.
Zayn starts getting a little firmer with his hand, and Liam thinks he can see his smile hidden somewhere in the shadows, thinks he can feel Zayn’s heartbeat matching up with his own. That’s how they’ve always been, how Liam hopes they always will be.
“Can we do more?”
Liam always seems to want more when it comes to Zayn. Wants more of his time and his attention and his conversation and his hands, right now. His hands and his fingers and his mouth, bitten pink from nerves and arousal and holding back the word neither of them really want to say, the word both of them refuse to say.
Zayn laughs suddenly. It’s quiet, a bit breathless and awed and it matches what Liam’s feeling exactly. “I know everything about you but I don’t know where you keep your, you know.”
His buries his face in Liam’s neck and Liam wants to keep him here, wants to unpack both their bags and hideaway under these covers and keep everyone else away.
Like they did when they were younger and they’d take each other hands and follow wherever, it didn’t matter.
“In the drawer,” Liam murmurs. “Shove over, I’ll get it.”
Zayn shakes his head, already sliding over in the bed and reaching an arm out to dig around in the drawer. “Don’t wanna let you go yet,” he says and Liam thinks he might mean scared to let you go because that’s the only thing going around in Liam’s head, at least.
Zayn presses the bottle in Liam’s palm and it feels unbearably heavy, like expectations and endings and the best and worst thing Liam’s ever had, all wrapped in one. He kisses Zayn once, shaky and chaste and seeking reassurance all at once.
“You want me, right?” Zayn asks.
His voice is hushed and his accent heavy and familiar and Liam wants to hear it stretched thin. Wants to hear it dropped low and pulled loose and lazy and slow with pleasure. Wants to hear how Zayn sounds with Liam’s fingers in him, with Liam’s cock in him, with his back bowed and his legs pulled up to his chest.
Liam nips him in retaliation, his teeth biting into the skin stretched over his collarbones, leaves marks and a promise and a signature almost. Leaves a bit of himself marked up on Zayn where people can see.
“‘Course I do,” is all he says though. Because it has to be obvious in his trembling hands and the careful way he lubes his fingers up, generous and a little awed when he pushes in and feels Zayn’s heat, feels the tightness and the slight intake of breath.
The way Zayn’s whole body moves with it. Shaking and hot and breakable, almost. Breakable with the careful way he squeezes his eyes shut and grips the sheets, his mouth raw and head thrown back against the pillows.
“Move,” he manages, and Liam obliges, is helpless to do anything but what Zayn asks.
He keeps his face close to Zayn. His heart is thumping too fast, too loud and buzzing in his ears, but Liam leans close so their chests are almost touching, close enough to make out Zayn’s clenched jaw, his dazed eyes.
“Okay?” Liam murmurs, and it’s buried somewhere in Zayn’s neck, mumbled into the smoke and soap embedded into Zayn’s skin. “You okay?”
Zayn nods. “More,” he says. He wiggles a bit, pushes down against Liam’s fingers and huffs out a shaky breath. “C’mon, Li, more, I can take it.”
Two fingers is easy after that. Zayn fucks down on them, arches his back and digs his nails into Liam’s skin. Three is easier, with Zayn nodding dazedly and Liam pressing three in, deeper and harder until Zayn’s gasping and trying to keep quiet so Liam’s mum doesn’t hear.
“Fuck, c’mon, Li,” he whines, digs his heels in the mattress, makes Liam work for every press of his fingers inside Zayn. Makes Liam hold him down, a palm over his belly so he keeps still and stops wriggling. “Fuck.”
The bed’s a mess. All rumpled sheets and spilt lube and two interconnected boys, bodies held tight and close together for fear of ever letting go lest one of them never comes back. Liam crooks his fingers and Zayn chokes a bit, his face pink and his chest flushed to match. He’s gorgeous like this, fucking down on Liam’s fingers, his cock hard and leaking and he’s practically begging to be touched, Zayn is.
With the way he’s biting down on his lip, with the way his hips push up. God, Liam wants to mark him, bruise him, wants to ink his name among Zayn’s tattoos so everyone knows who he belongs to, who he’s always belonged to, who Liam belong to, as well, really.
That’s improper though, or something like that. It’s improper and it’s unreasonable and it’s unnecessary, because Liam and Zayn will always be LiamandZayn, no matter how many miles they put between them. Liam believes that, has to believe that, because he’s never known anything else but this.
He wraps a few fingers around Zayn’s cock, pulls a few strangled sounds from Zayn’s throat, watches his eyes flutter shut, his stomach clench. “You’re gorgeous like this, you know,” Liam says. “Always thought you were gorgeous.”
Zayn laughs, scratchy and broken and breathless. “Not the time for being polite, Li,” he grits out. “Just fuckin’ make me come, yeah?”
Liam smile, fights to hide it as he strokes a little harder, presses his fingers a little deeper. It’s like a dance, like this, but Liam’s clumsy and uncoordinated but Zayn says, “C’mon, don’t stop,” so he doesn’t, just keeps moving and watches Zayn’s face. Watches his eyes and his mouth and the little jerks of his body as he comes, his mouth open and he’s trembling and amazing and, “Fuck, Li, fuck” until he’s too sensitive and bucking away from Liam’s probing fingers.
Zayn’s breathing harsh and loud in the quiet of Liam’s dark room. His grin is easy, slow and lazy and sated and Liam’s close enough to be able to see it, make out the crinkles next to Zayn’s eyes and the curve of his mouth.
“C’mon, you now,” Zayn says.
He scoots back, gives Liam room and it’s both of them, hands ‘round Liam, rough and clumsy over his cock. Liam’s already too riled up from watching Zayn, from feeling the heat of his body pressed too close and the way he shook, all flushed and pretty and Liam’s, underneath it all.
It doesn’t take him long before he’s murmuring Zayn’s name, before he’s cursing and coming and trembling. Holding tight to Zayn and letting his breath come back, both of them sticky and too warm and fragile, little boys too caught up in each other.
Liam’s half asleep when he feels Zayn wriggling out from underneath, bare feet padding down the hall and Liam can vaguely hear the tap running. Zayn comes back with a warm rag, runs it slow over the both of them before he drops it and snuggles in close next to Liam.
He still smells like smoke and soap, like smoke and soap and sex and Zayn. Liam clasps their fingers together and inhales, breathes in the scent and commits it to memory so he won’t ever lose it. Won’t ever have to wonder what Zayn smells like because he’ll always know. He’ll always have this, Zayn’s wet hair tickling his nose and his thighs pressed against Liam’s and their hearts beating in time, LiamandZayn, same as always.
Like it always will be.
It’s the bright sun and nerves that wakes Liam up too early the next morning. In the harsh light he can see his bags all packed, stacked up by his bedroom door and taunting him a bit, reminding him that he can’t stay in bed all day. Can’t stay wrapped up with Zayn all day, not anymore.
It’s just university, Liam thinks, but it feels like forever, feels like a goodbye that he doesn’t want to say, won’t say.
Zayn shifts on the bed and Liam tightens his grip around him, holds him like they won’t ever have to let go and maybe they won’t, if Liam wishes hard enough.
But they will, and they do, eventually. Liam lets go and Zayn lets him, and it’s some sort of goodbye, whether they want to admit it or not.
Liam and Zayn are eighteen and they’re on their own, for now.
The flat is still near empty, just packed up boxes and a mattress and takeout containers strewn across the counters.
Zayn’s pictures are tucked away in a corner, covered to prevent dust and scratches and Liam’s clumsy feet. They might hang them in the living room, once they’re properly framed, once they can afford the fancy frames that Zayn’s art deserves.
Liam’s textbooks are tossed on the kitchen table, sat next to an empty container of fried rice and Liam’s frantically scribbled notes from the night before, covered in ink smudges and question marks and increasing signs of boredom. Becoming an EMT is hard and Liam has no motivation when Zayn’s not around, doing his own work in his sketchbook or teasing Liam with promises of what’s to come if he actually finishes studying.
The flat is basically empty besides all that, but it’s new and it’s theirs and they’ll fill it up eventually, with photos and knick knacks and art and maybe a dog, at some point. Something small and loud to wake Zayn up every morning so Liam doesn’t have to.
For now though, it’s a Sunday morning and the sun is streaming through the bare blinds and Liam blinks awake, a bit groggy and disoriented and too warm. Zayn’s wrapped tight around him, spiky hair peeking over the comforter, tangled up and rumpled.
Liam slips out slow, careful not to jostle the bed too hard, hissing quietly when his feet touch the cold wood floor and goosebumps rise up on his arms. They don’t have any heat yet, their pockets still a bit too empty but that’s alright, because during the night they’ve got each other to keep warm. Got limbs and body heat and tangled up fingers clasped tight so neither of them can slip away during the night.
Liam tries to warm up while the kettle boils. Zayn’s hoodies are too small on him, but they smell nice, so he slips one on anyway, conscious of the tightness around his chest and how the arms don’t quite reach his wrists. It smells like stale smoke and strong soap and something that warms Liam up a bit, makes him forget the chill at his feet, nipping at the bottoms of his toes.
He makes two cups out of habit, ingrained by now, his own cup filled with sugar and cream and Zayn’s just black, bitter and strong and cringeworthy, in Liam’s opinion. He leaves it on the stove though, so it’ll keep heat and taste alright by the time Zayn pulls himself out of bed to face the cold.
The source of the chill is outside, the white on the sidewalk, covering the trees and the cars and the grass, just enough to have some fun, Liam thinks. He’s barely thinking before he’s setting his tea down and scrambling back down the hallway toward the bedroom, taking a jumping leap and landing heavy on the sleeping figure still burrowed deep in the bed.
“Wake up, grump,” Liam says. The inevitability of going out in the snow has him relentless and rowdy now, the cause of his poking fingers in Zayn’s ribs and the smile too wide across his face. “Come on Zayn, you’ve gotta wake up.”
There’s grumbling a bit, Zayn’s body stirring irritably from slumber and he’s got one eye peeking at Liam.
“’s too early,” he says. It’s scratchy and rough and it makes Liam smile, the idea of Zayn still being so adverse to waking up when normal people do. “Get off me.”
“I’ll do no such thing,” Liam tells him. He’s not above dragging Zayn out of bed at this point, because there’s snow on the ground and he’s itching to make a snowman or something, too excited to throw snow in Zayn’s face and watch his nose wrinkle up and his quiff droop. “Get up, please.”
“Fucking hell, Liam,” Zayn whines, but he gets up, slow and lazy. Cat-like, Liam thinks. He’s like a cat, always has been. “’m gonna get breakfast for this, right?”
Liam shakes his head, lifts off Zayn and starts going through their cramped closet for warm clothes. “Later,” he promises. “We’re going to play in the snow first.”
Zayn is soft and pliant as Liam shoves a jumper on him, one with sleeves that goes past his hands and the collar dips a bit but it’ll keep him warm, probably. And it’ll look nice coming off later. Definitely. He lets Liam button him all up and he waits patiently while Liam dresses himself, lays sleepy-eyed on the bed and tries to stay awake.
“You’re like a little kid, y’know,” he mumbles. He’s half-buried in the pillows, looks silly with all his layers on but still snuggled up and cozy. “Like you’ve never seen snow before.”
“It’s been ages,” Liam replies. “And it’s our first snow in this flat. This is an occasion.”
Zayn snorts. Liam doesn’t have to turn around to know he’s rolling his eyes, has got his face all twisted up like it does when he’s teasing. “It’s an occasion,” he repeats, voice high and mocking and still too sleep-slow. “You’re gonna turn into snow one day.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Liam starts, but Zayn’s already throwing one of the pillows at him, hits him square in the face with it. “Arsehole.”
Liam ignores him, instead digging around in the bottom of the closet, grinning when he finds their snow boots near the back, dusty and unworn for a while now.
“C’mon then,” he says. “Put your shoes on so we can go play.”
Zayn sighs but he sits up, grumbling as he tries to shove a foot in his boot. “I don’t think these fit me anymore,” he complains. “How long’s it been since it’s snowed?”
“Think you’re a bit old for a growth spurt,” Liam tells him. “They’re just shoes, Zayn, honestly.”
Zayn glares, shoves his boot in Liam’s chest and grins at the grimace Liam gives him. “You do it then, Mum.”
Liam holds the boot out, pushing Zayn’s foot in and concentrating on getting the laces right. “You know, my mum used to tell me getting these on was just like a--”
“Choo choo train,” Zayn cuts in. “I know, Liam. It’s not though. It’s my foot.”
They’re finally ready, after Liam has forced Zayn into a hat that’ll keep his ears warm and Liam’s dug around a bit for his earmuffs. They’re halfway to the door when Zayn stops, hands shoved in his pockets and he frowns.
“Have you seen my gloves? I swore I left them in here.”
Liam sighs. He pulls an extra pair from the top of the hall cupboard, still new and unworn. “You know, you’ve got to stop leaving yours around.”
“No I don’t,” Zayn tells him. “You always make sure I have some.”
“Spoiled,” Liam says. “You’re a spoiled brat.”
Zayn sighs, exaggerated and teasing. “Come on, Li,” he says. “I want to go get all cold and wet in the snow.”
Liam rolls his eyes and leads them outside, their gloved fingers clasped together too tight and not letting go.
Liam and Zayn are six years old and best friends. They’re twelve years old and it’s just them, it seems. Young and vulnerable and facing the world together. Liam and Zayn are eighteen and saying goodbye. But not for good. And never for too long.
Liam and Zayn are twenty-four and they’re still all those things. But now they’re in love now, too.