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There was a time when they were friends. Before the gap in the gate between their yards was fixed, and they’d spend every afternoon together in each other’s backyards. When their mothers would sip coffee by the door and chat about their lives while laughing at their two boys with dirt stained jeans and smudges on their faces. When they’d wake up on the weekend and whoever was up first would run to the others house and pull open the back door because their parents were so used to them that they stopped caring a long time ago.

People grow up, though. They change. And when you’re younger there are less things to separate you. When you’re younger, what clothes you wear or music you listen to or people you hang out with does not make or break a friendship. It’s as you get older, and you start looking for ways to distinguish yourself from everyone else that these things happen. And old friendships fall apart, because the boy with the skinny jeans and the tattoos and the cigarette dangling from his fingertips does not hang out with the boy who wears his rugby uniform to school every day, who sits at the most crowded table in the cafeteria. That’s just not how the world works.

 


 

“Are you kidding me?” Liam moans, rolling over. He knows he shouldn’t sleep with his window open, but it’s still late in the September and it’s too hot to sleep with it closed.

Through the open window he can hear Kurt Cobain wailing about -- something. He doesn’t know what, because he doesn’t listen to Nirvana. It’s too depressing and rough for him.

Liam gets out of bed, looking at the alarm clock on his side table. It’s only seven. Why the fuck is he even up right now?

What else could I write? I don’t have the right. What else should I be? All apologies!” He can hear Zayn singing along with the music, somehow overpowering it despite the fact that the music is deafening.

Right. That’s why he’s up.

Liam takes a deep, calming breath, lest he pick up his track and field trophy from last year and throw it at Zayn’s widow. He moves towards his own and pulls open the curtains and leans out, looking down to spot his screen on the ground where it’s been for the last three months after Louis, the psycho, broke into his room somehow . He’s still not sure how Lou managed that.

“Turn that down!” Liam yells.

He’s not sure if he can be heard over the music. If he didn’t know that Zayn’s parents and his own parents had left for work already, he’d wonder why no one else was complaining about this. As it is, he is sadly the only one being woken up far too early by the annoying music.

Zayn’s curtains move and then the other boy leans his elbows on the sill and cocks his head to the side, waving by his ear and mouthing, “Sorry, can’t hear you.”

“I said turn it down, Zayn!” Liam screams. He figures the whole neighbourhood can hear him. Then again, they can probably hear Zayn’s music, too, so he doesn’t really care.

Zayn steps back from the window and belts along with the music, “Choking on the ashes of her enemy. In the sun; in the sun I feel as one. In the sun, in the sun !” And, because Zayn is a ridiculous and incredibly annoying person, he closes his eyes and pretends to play the drums along with it.

Liam stares at him, a severely not amused look on his face as Zayn moves around his room wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and a tank top, the tattoos covering his body clearly visible. Finally he gives up and turns around, searching around his room. He finds Louis’ football in the corner, picks it up, and moves back to the window.

Liam is not the best athlete in their school for nothing, and the ball soars through Zayn’s open window and hits him right in the back of the head. Zayn stumbles and then turns to him, eyes wide. A moment later the music turns off and the ball bounces off Liam’s window to fall into the bushes below.

“What the fuck ?” Zayn demands.

Liam smiles sweetly at him. “Can you hear me now?”

Zayn flips him off and tugs his curtains closed, but he leaves the window open. Liam moves towards his own stereo and turns it on. He doesn’t have a CD in, but he has on their town’s popular radio station, and Maroon 5’s Payphone plays loudly through the speakers. He turns it up even more, until he’s sure Zayn can hear it. A beat later a pair of rolled up socks flies through the window. Liam smirks to himself and grabs his towel before heading towards the bathroom, leaving his music loud enough to irritate his neighbour.

When he gets back to his room, towel tied around his waist, he remembers that he left his curtains open. Zayn is sitting on his window ledge -- something that has always bothered Liam, because as much as Zayn annoys him, Liam would be mildly upset it he plummeted to his death--, legs dangling, smoking a cigarette.

Liam turns down his music before going to close the curtains so he can get dressed when Zayn calls, “Giving me a show, Liam?” He brings his cigarette to his lips, which are curled up into a smirk.

Liam flushes and shuts his curtains so hard he nearly rips them off the rod. Fucking Zayn Malik and his stupid smirk and his stupid tattoos and his stupid music.

Liam gets dressed in a pair of jeans and his blue and white rugby shirt, because they’re having tryouts today and he likes to show his team pride just like everyone else. Plus, Liam’s spot on the team is secured without a doubt. Unless he manages to break his arms or legs, he’ll be on the team again this year.

When he’s dressed he heads downstairs and gets himself a glass of orange juice and puts two slices of bread in the toaster. He finds a note on the counter from his mum, as well as money for lunch. He pockets it and ignores the note, knowing that it says nothing more than have a good day at school, sweetie!  or something along those lines.

He butters his toast and eats it like that, because that’s how he likes it. When he’s done he follows it up with another glass of orange juice and then runs up the stairs to brush his teeth because he forgot to do it after his shower, and he also sprays a bit of body spray on himself. When he’s done that he has just enough time to grab his bag from the closet and his keys from the table by the door.

He leaves the house at about the same time Zayn comes out of his own, helmet tucked under his arm. Zayn salutes him on his way to his motorcycle. Liam hates that motorcycle. For one, it’s dangerous. For another, it’s annoyingly loud, and Zayn has a habit of coming in late on weeknights and waking the entire neighbourhood with the loud rumble of the engine. Why his parents let him have it, Liam has no idea.

Liam, on the other hand, has a very respectable car. It’s not exactly nice, but he paid for it by himself with the money he saved up last summer working at the sports shop downtown. It’s red and a bit rusted, but it drives well, and it was cheap.

By the time Liam’s car starts -- sometimes it takes a few turns of the key in the ignition to get it to work--, Zayn is peeling out of his driveway. Liam watches him go with a roll of his eyes. Zayn is such a cliché, with his tattoos and leather jacket and motorcycle. Honestly.

Liam stops to get coffee on the way to school, grabbing a cup of tea as well, because Louis will pay him back for it, and he tends to be horrible in the morning when he doesn’t have coffee. For some reason he can never get it for himself; Liam really doesn’t understand his friends.

Liam pulls into his parking space in the lot, the one closest to the building. It’s a coveted spot, but everyone knows that it’s Liam’s, and no one ever attempts to park there because of that fact. A few spots down he can see Zayn’s bike, as well as Zayn leaning against it, arms crossed over his chest, chatting with Harry and Perrie.

“Liam!” someone shouts when he exits his car.

Liam rolls his eyes at Louis as he runs towards him, nearly tripping because Louis is terribly uncoordinated when he’s not on the field. It doesn’t make any sense to Liam, because if you put a football in front of him suddenly he’s graceful and athletic, but Liam has also watched Louis fall down a set of stairs on more than one occasion.

“Caffeine,” Louis moans, reaching for his cup. He pulls open the tab on the lid and takes a deep sip, despite the fact that it’s burning hot, which Liam knows because his own tongue still hurts from his first sip. “Bless your everything.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Liam tells him while locking his car doors, just in case. Last year before their big game the guys from the other team had filled his car with fish. It took a month to get the smell out, but then again, Louis had snuck into their locker room and cut holes into all of their uniforms, so they get them back for that, at least. “And where’s Niall?”

Louis shrugs as they walk towards the building. “Last time I saw him he was sleeping against his locker with a bagel on his face.”

Liam frowns at him. “A bagel on his face.”

Louis grins. “Okay, so it was in his hands but I may have removed it from said hands and stuck it to his cheek using the cream cheese. Whatever. He shouldn’t be sleeping in the hallways. It’s his own fault for leaving himself so vulnerable to attack.”

Louis wasn’t kidding. When he gets to their lockers -- Niall’s to the left of his, Louis’ to the right--, Niall is on the floor, head tilted back, mouth open, fast asleep. And there is half a bagel stuck to his cheek. The other half must have fallen off, because it lays on the floor beside him, but has left a smear of cream cheese on his face.

“You’re an idiot,” Liam tells Louis. He kicks Niall gently with his foot. “Niall.”

Niall gasps awake and wipes at his cheek. The bagel falls and he kicks out at Louis, who jumps back at the last second to avoid it. “Are you kidding me?” he demands. “I was eating that!”

“You were sleeping,” Louis corrects. “And how do you know that   did it? It could have been Liam.”

Niall grumbles something and pushes himself up. “It wasn’t Liam because Liam’s not a fuckbucket.”

Louis tilts his head to the side, looking mildly impressed. “Fuckbucket,” he repeats. “I like that.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Niall tells him.

“Would you like to watch my attempts?”

Liam ignores them and pulls open his locker. He removes his bag from over his shoulder and takes out his binder, as well as a pen, which he holds in his mouth as he shoves the bag into his locker. He pulls his History textbook from his shelf and then shuts his locker again, just in time to hear the sound of a skateboard moving through the hallway.

Liam looks up to see Harry Styles moving through the crowd, people jumping out of the way for him as Zayn runs after him. Harry’s got a book in his hand, and he keeps turning and laughing at Zayn as he goes, until they’re past Liam and down the hall, and then turning out of sight.

“Fucking hot, that one,” Niall says, watching them go.

Liam freezes, eyes wide. “No, he’s really not.”

Niall shrugs. “I don’t know. The green eyes do it for me.”

Oh, he meant Harry . Liam shouldn’t be all that surprised. Niall isn’t exactly bisexual. He’s not really anything. No one can beat Niall’s ability to not give a single fuck about anything. Niall likes what he likes, doesn’t what he doesn’t, and could care less about what anyone else thought about him, or about labelling things.

“I thought you had that thing with what’s her face?” Louis says, moving towards his own locker.

Niall shrugs. “Didn’t work out,” he replies. He doesn’t open his own locker, because Niall’s locker is never touched until lunch, when he’ll grab his money from his bag. Until then, his books will stay in there unless one of their teachers forces him to fetch them. “She wanted a relationship or something. I told her I wasn’t really into that whole commitment thing. I like riding solo.”

Niall is quite possibly a douchebag. A loyal, wonderful douchebag, but a douchebag nonetheless. Liam loves him anyways. At least he’s not clinically insane like Louis.

The bell rings and they head for their class. History is the only period they all have together. Liam’s pretty sure that this was done specifically to keep them all separated, and probably for good reason.

They take their seat at the back of the class, Mark and Patrick sitting in front of them already. They’re on the rugby team with Liam and Niall. Not nearly as good as they are, but not bad.

The second they sit down, Niall places his face on the table and then falls asleep. Depending on their teacher’s mood, he’ll get away with it. Niall gets away with practically everything because, despite the fact that he never pays attention, he’s a fairly good student. If he wanted to, Liam thinks that he could be at the top of all of their classes. But Niall does the bare minimum to get by, and can’t be bothered to do anything more.

History passes in a blur of Niall’s snoring and Louis humming under his breath and balling up pieces of paper to throw at various people around the room when their teacher isn’t looking. When the bell rings, Niall startles and nearly topples out of his seat, but Liam grabs the back of his shirt to keep him up.

Louis heads off for his theatre class, and Liam stops at his locker to change his History book for his English one. He has English with Niall, thankfully, because he doubts he’d get through that class without him.

Once again they sit at the back. This time Niall makes a valiant effort to stay awake. He taps his pen against his desk in a way that would make Liam’s teeth grind if he wasn’t so used to it.

Liam flips open his binder and scribbles on the margin as Harry comes into the room. Niall sits up straighter and says, “Styles!”

Harry looks over at him, eyebrows drawing together. He sinks into a seat closer to the front of the room and gives Niall one last confused and disbelieving look before he pulls out his book.

Liam snorts. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you strike out so quickly,” he tells Niall.

Niall’s grinning, though. He shrugs and says, “Haven’t struck out yet. I’m just starting.”

The seat next to Harry stays unoccupied as the room fills up. It’s Zayn’s seat, but Zayn won’t be there for another -- Liam checks the clock-- eleven minutes. He’s not sure if Zayn keeps a set schedule, or if it’s just by accident that he turns up to every class exactly fifteen minutes late. Their teachers barely even bat an eyelash at this anymore, because they’ve tried everything and Zayn resolutely shows up late to literally every one of his classes that Liam has had with him for the last couple years.

Just as expected, their teacher starts writing on the board and Zayn is still not in class. Liam spots the stack of books on her desk and sighs, wondering what he’ll have to read this time.

“We’re going to be starting with--,” his teacher starts, and then stops when the door opens and Zayn walks in. He’s grinning sheepishly, and his cheeks are flushed, like he’d run all the way to class. “Mr. Malik. Late again.”

“Sorry about that,” Zayn says, not looking sorry at all. He moves towards his seat next to Harry and falls into it without a care in the world, like he’s not aware of the fact that he just interrupted the whole class.

“As I was saying before Mr. Malik rudely interrupted,” Mrs. Morin says with a pointed glare at Zayn, “we’re going to be starting Hamlet  today.” She writes Hamlet on the board in large, bold letters. “Is anyone familiar with it?”

Zayn leans back in his seat, arms crossed over his chest. His chair makes a noise of protestation as he tips back so the front legs lift off the ground. “ ‘For in this sleep of death what dreams may come…’,” he says loudly.

Mrs. Morin smiles brightly at him, and this is exactly why Zayn never gets in trouble. It’s honestly not fair. “Exactly ,” she says loudly. “So you are familiar with it, then.”

Zayn shrugs. “A bit, yeah.”

Liam drones out the next ten minutes of class because it’s basically just Zayn quoting chunks of text and Mrs. Morin falling all over herself, and the rest of the females in the glass swooning. This is another one of those things that would annoy him if he weren’t so used to it by now.

“I need you to do me a favour,” Niall hisses, grabbing his arm.

Liam stops scratching his pen against his paper and frowns at Niall, because those words never lead to good things. “What?” he asks warily.

“Malik still lives next door to you, right?” he asks. Liam gives him a pointed look because Niall knows damn well that Zayn still lives next door. “Brilliant. I need you to talk to him. Figure out what Harry likes.”

Liam gapes at him. “You do realize that the only words I’ve spoken to Zayn in about four years have been either, ‘Shut up’ ‘turn that down’ ‘stop changing with your window open’ or ‘can you maybe not go for motorcycle rides at two am?’”

Niall’s eyes widen and his lips form a pout. Liam groans because Niall is spectacular at the puppy dog look and stronger men have been known to crumble beneath the power of it. “What do you even mean by ‘figure out what Harry likes’ anyways?”

Niall shrugs. “Like-- if he’s straight or whatever. And what he does after school.”

Liam makes a face at him. “Why can’t you just stalk his Facebook page like a normal person?”

“Tried that, he’s got it all blocked unless you’re on his friends list, and I’m not.”

He probably should have seen that coming, to be honest. “It won’t work,” Liam tells him. “Zayn won’t tell me anything.”

Niall’s pout deepens. “Can’t you just try ?”

If it was anyone but Niall, Liam thinks. “Fine.”

Niall’s grin is so wide it looks almost painful. “You’re great, you know that?”

“Whatever,” Liam says. “Pay attention. I’d actually like to pass this class.”

 

--

 

Rugby tryouts are tiring but fun. Same as the last two years that he’s been on the team, coach first has them run around the field twice. Anyone who can’t make it is immediately cut. Then he splits them up into groups, has them play a few runs. Niall is on the opposite team during one of these games, and he knocks into Liam’s shoulder hard enough that Liam will most likely have a bruise, but he doesn’t care. He’s too caught up in the thrill of playing again to mind.

At one point the sound of a motorcycle starting up has him turning towards the fence. He watches Zayn drive by, face masked by the helmet. Niall tackles him to the ground and Liam tunes back into the game after that.

“Don’t forget what we talked about in English,” Niall says afterwards, when they’re in the locker room.

“I haven’t,” Liam assures him. He’s not looking forward to it, but he figures that it won’t be that  horrible. He’ll just quickly ask Zayn if Harry is into guys, and possibly into Niall, and then he’ll call Niall and tell him what he said, and that will be that.

Liam drives Niall home, and then heads back to his own. He’s got homework to do, and he wants to read through Hamlet so he’ll have a better understanding of it when they read through it as a class, but he knows that he’ll probably not actually do it. He always gets distracted by something and finds flimsy excuses not to do his work.

Liam parks his car, spots Zayn’s motorcycle in his lot, and then sighs and heads over there instead of home. Best to get this out of the way now, or he’ll find a reason not to, just like with his homework. Liam is fairly good at avoiding things he doesn’t want to do.

He knocks on Zayn’s door and then chews his lip as he waits. He hears someone moving around inside, and a moment later the front door opens. Zayn frowns at him for a moment before smirking and leaning against the doorframe.

“Liam,” he says, stretching out the vowels. “For what do I owe this pleasure?”

Liam narrows his eyes and notes that Zayn is only in his boxers and the t-shirt he was wearing to school today. “Do you ever wear pants?” he asks, not at all admiring the curve of Zayn’s thighs, or the fact that his boxers are white and they contrast nicely with his darker skin tone.

“Not when I’m home,” Zayn answers. “If I can’t walk around half naked even in my own home without someone judging me, then I don’t think I want to live on this planet anymore.”

Liam gives him a flat look and only barely refrains from rolling his eyes. “Anyways, I came to ask you about Harry.”

Zayn’s expression changes drastically. His eyes widen and his eyebrows raise, and his jaw clenches. “Harry,” he repeats.

“Yes,” Liam says. “I was just wondering, for Niall--,”

Zayn cuts him off with a laugh. “Please tell me Harry isn’t Horan’s flavour of the week.”

Liam glares at him. “That’s my best mate you’re talking about.”

Zayn shrugs, not caring. “He’s wasting his time,” Zayn tells Liam. “Harry has a strict no jock rule.”

“But he is into guys, then,” Liam confirms.

Zayn nods. “Harry’s open minded. Doesn’t mean Niall has a chance.”

“That’s all I needed to know,” Liam says, backing down the steps. “Thanks.”

“Wait,” Zayn says, stepping outside. Liam’s about to remind him of the fact that he’s half unclothed when he says, “If he’s really interested, I can help.”

Liam stops walking and eyes Zayn distrustfully. “Why would you do that?”

Zayn shrugs once again. He runs a hand through his hair. He does that a lot, and Liam’s always wondered how he manages to keep the quiff in place when he does that. He assumes the answer is an entire bottle of hairspray. “Because Niall’s a hell of a lot better than half of the idiots Harry usually goes after,” Zayn explains. “And he’s not so bad. Bit of a douche, but a good guy.”

“Again, that’s my best friend,” Liam points out, despite the fact that he’d had the same thought earlier in the day.

“Friday we’re having a party,” Zayn tells him, ignoring Liam’s previous comment. “Bring Niall, and Tomlinson too, if you want. Harry’ll be there.”

“Where?” Liam asks.

Zayn grins. “I’ll have to show you. If I give you directions you’ll get lost.”

“That sounds promising,” Liam says dryly. He knows that Niall and Louis will be thrilled, but Liam’s not exactly happy about the prospect of going to one of Zayn’s parties. They don’t run in the same crowds, and he has a feeling that Zayn’s idea of a party is not getting wasted at Niall’s house while listening to the top forty and drinking cheep beer out of plastic cups.

“You popular kids don’t know how to properly have a party,” Zayn says, confirming his suspicions. “It’ll be brilliant. Trust me.”

“I really don’t,” Liam says. “But-- I’ll talk to Niall.”

“You do that,” Zayn replies. He backs into his house and shuts the door closed between them without so much as a goodbye. Liam isn’t really surprised or fazed by this, though, so he just crosses over the lawn and heads into his own house.

His mum is already home, but his dad is still out. She greets him with a short, “How was school?” and doesn’t give him a chance to answer before she presses the phone against her ear again, jumping right back into conversation with whoever is on the other end.

Liam heads up to his room. He goes straight for the window and opens the curtain, letting in the light and the cool breeze from outside. Zayn’s window is open too, but he’s not inside.

When they were younger they used to stay up all night whispering to each other through their windows. Living next door to each other, with their bedrooms facing each other, used to be great. Now it’s mostly a cause for annoyance.

Honestly, Liam can’t remember why he and Zayn stopped being friends. He can’t remember what caused the fallout. Or maybe he can, because the summer when they were thirteen Liam left for three weeks to go to camp, and when he came back Zayn started smoking and hanging out with Harry, and then after that things were just different . Liam started playing sports and hanging out with Niall, who introduced him to Louis. And it was like this immediate thing. It wasn’t like they slowly stopped being friends with each other. It happened all at once, and Liam had been fairly upset about it.

Now, Liam really doesn’t care. He has better friends. Ones that aren’t going to just drop him for no reason. Plus, he and Zayn are far too different now anyways. Their friendship would have ended no matter what.

A moment later Zayn’s bedroom door opens, and he and Harry stumble inside, laughing about something. Zayn spots him and comes over to the window and shuts his curtains. Liam snorts and turns on his music so he can get some work done.

Fifteen minutes later and all he’s done is memorize the chorus to a Rihanna song that he really doesn’t care for. He gets distracted by the smell. It’s wafting in through the window, and he wrinkles his nose, trying to figure out what it is because it’s something he recognizes.

Liam gets up and moves towards his window. He finds Harry and Zayn hanging out his, passing a joint between each other.

“Honestly?” Liam asks. “I can smell that from here.”

Zayn grins at him and holds out his hand, as if offering the joint to Liam, despite the fact that there’s no possible way Liam could reach it from this far away. “Want some?”

“The only thing I want is for you to close your window,” Liam snaps.

Harry chuckles and says, “Liam’s always so fun, isn’t he?”

Liam shuts his window on their combined laughter.

He tries to get back to work after that and can’t. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and calls Niall, who answers after two rings with a loud, “Did you talk to him?”

“Yes,” Liam answers, moving around his room. He picks up the socks Zayn threw at him this morning and tosses them into the hamper. “Apparently Harry could be interested, but he also doesn’t date jocks.”

“I’m not a jock,” Niall says instantly. “What else did he say?”

Liam sighs and sinks onto his bed. “He invited us to a party.”

“A party,” Niall repeats. “Brilliant. When?”

“Friday.”

“And Harry will be there?”

“Apparently.”

“See?” Niall says, and Liam can hear his grin in his voice. “I knew that you living next door to Malik would pay off one day.”

“For you, maybe,” Liam says, narrowing his eyes at his window.

“Can’t be that bad,” Niall argues.

Liam thinks back to the past couple years. “Yeah, it can actually.”

“Oh, shit,” Niall says on the other end of the phone, “I’ve got to go. See you tomorrow in class! You’re the best!”

Liam sighs and ends the call. He looks around the room, trying to find something to do. He could call Louis, he reasons. They could go out and do something. He just doesn’t feel up to it.

In the end he heads downstairs and watches TV until his dad comes home.

 

--

 

Liam manages to sleep in the next morning because Zayn decides to not be an asshole and wake him up with his loud music. Instead he wakes up to his alarm, which is almost as annoying. He reaches over and hits it with his eyes closed, but instead of turning it off he manages to knock it to the floor.

Liam groans and rolls over, the insistent beeping making his head pound. Somehow he manages to locate the alarm, turn it off, and place it back on his bedside table with his eyes still closed. He sits up slowly and blinks them open, wondering why it feels so stuffy and warm in his room.

Oh, right, the window. He yawns and stands up, stretching as he goes, and pulls open the curtain before opening the window. Just as he does, he spots Zayn in his room. And of course he’s naked, because Zayn has an aversion to clothes, apparently.

Liam can’t help but take in the tattoo at the back of his neck, or the expanse of exposed skin. Zayn bends down to pick something up, and his eyes drop to Zayn’s ass. He bites his lip just as Zayn turns, and he drops instantly. His elbow hits the ground painfully, and he lays there for a moment on his back, on his fucking floor, willing his boner to go away. It doesn’t.

“Liam!” his mother shouts.

“Fuck,” Liam breathes. He forgot that she works later on Wednesdays.

“Time to get up!” she yells.

Liam slowly pulls himself up off the ground to find Zayn leaning out his window again. Of course that smirk is in place, and Liam knows that Zayn is aware of the fact that Liam had seen him earlier.

“Morning, neighbour,” Zayn calls happily.

“You should really learn how to use your curtains,” Liam tells him, trying to sound cool and unaffected. He prays that his cheeks aren’t red, but he figures that they are.

“Where would be the fun in that?” Zayn asks.

Liam closes his own curtains to get that stupid face out of his mind. And Niall wonders why Liam is always one step away from throwing something at Zayn.

Liam heads for the shower, shutting his door loudly so his mum knows that he’s awake. He kicks off his boxers, too aware of the fact that he’s still hard, and gets into the shower. He reaches a hand down and wraps his fingers around his erection, eyes falling closed. He braces his other hand on the wall and pumps a water slicked hand over himself, trying not to picture Zayn on his knees in front of him, lips tilted up in a smirk before he wraps them around Liam’s tip. He bites down on his lip when his orgasm washes over him, and then he finishes up his shower and towels off.

His mum made breakfast, which is egg whites and whole wheat toast because she’s been on a health kick lately. Liam doesn’t mind the healthy food, but he knows that he’ll have something greasy and terribly bad for him at lunch, which makes it that much more bearable.

He’s running a bit late. That’s what happens when you get distracted by annoying but attractive neighbours and sit down to eat and actual breakfast before school. When he gets outside, Zayn is just getting on his bike.

“You’re going to be late,” Zayn tells him.

“So are you,” Liam points out.

Zayn laughs. “Yeah, but I’m trying to be late.”

He gets on his motorcycle after that. Liam realizes a few beats later that he’s actually going to be even later if he just stands here and stares after him, so he gets into his car and decides to say screw it to the morning coffee. Louis is just going to have to deal with not having his tea for one today.

Somehow he manages to get to school a few minutes before the bell. He jogs inside, not sparing Zayn, who’s leaning against his bike again-- this time smoking on school property, because he’s an idiot--, a single glance.

Louis is waiting for him at his locker. His face lights up when he spots Liam, and then it falls when he searches Liam’s arms and sees that he doesn’t have his drink. “Oh, god,” Louis sighs dramatically. “I’m going to end up decapitating someone before lunch.”

“Sorry,” Liam says in a rush, reaching for the lock on his locker. He turns the dial and then tugs it down. “I was running late.”

“You’re never too late to get caffeinated beverages,” Louis says seriously. “Fuck this. I’m skipping first period. Niall, want anything from the coffee shop?”

“How about a bagel to make up for yesterday?” Niall asks, standing up. Once again he had been sitting in front of his locker.

“Got it,” Louis says. “I’ll bring you your coffee too, Liam. I forgive you for this. Just don’t let it happen again.”

Liam rolls his eyes and tugs his History book out of his locker. A moment later the bell rings, and he and Niall file into class.

Louis shows up to class half an hour late with coffee and a bagel. Their teacher glares at him, but he shrugs uncaringly and slides into the seat next to Liam, who is trying to work. He looks up only long enough to grab his coffee and give Louis one short, grateful glance.

“So,” Niall says, keeping his voice low so their teacher won’t hear. “We’re invited to a party on Friday.”

Louis sits up straighter and raises his eyebrows. “By who? Who’s throwing a party that I don’t know about?” Louis demands to know.

“Zayn invited us,” Niall explains.

Louis’ look of confusion grows and then he says, “Wait, Malik ? Liam’s neighbour? The one with the-- the motorcycle and the tattoos and the ridiculously clichéd leather jacket?”

“That would be the one,” Liam says dryly. “I think it’s a bad idea.”

“I agree,” Louis says instantly. “They don’t come to our parties, we don’t go to theirs. That’s just how it works.”

Niall makes an annoyed sound. “Don’t pull that stuck up shit on me, Lou. We’re going.”

“Why do you even want to go?” Louis asks, like he can’t think of a single good reason. Honestly, Louis is not a snob. Or he’s not most of the time. He can be a bit stuck up occasionally, though.

“Harry Styles,” Niall and Liam both answer at the same time.

Louis gapes at Niall and shakes his head. “Please tell me you’re not serious.”

“Okay, if you want me to lie to you,” Niall replies.

Louis groans and several people look over at them. Liam pretends to be extremely interested in his textbook. “It’s just--,” Louis looks to Liam for help. “Come on, tell him how bad of an idea this is.”

“Catastrophically,” Liam says.

“See?” Louis waves at Liam. “Voice of reason. Aren’t you always saying, ‘Louis, we should really listen to Liam. Louis, Liam said that breaking into that building is a bad idea, we should listen to him’?” Louis does a very bad impression of Niall’s accent. “What makes this suddenly different?”

“Because,” Niall snaps. “I want to go. You don’t have to come. Stay at home on Friday. Do whatever you want, Louis, but we’re going.”

Liam doesn’t remember agreeing to this, but he’s not going to argue it. There’s no point. Niall doesn’t ever really make effort with anything, but on the off chance that he does make up his mind about something, there is no changing it. If Liam doesn’t go with him, Niall will surely find a way to go anyways.

“Oh, no, I’m coming,” Louis says forcefully. “There’s no way I’m going to miss you making an ass of yourself at some hipster party.”

Niall leans back in his seat and crosses his arms behind his head. “A party’s a party, Lou.”

Louis makes a noncommittal sound and sips his drink.

Just like yesterday, when Harry walks into English class Niall calls his name and grins at him in greeting. Harry looks genuinely shocked and almost a bit hostile as he falls into his normal seat and pulls his phone out. He texts something, shoots Niall another look, and then furiously writes something else.

When Zayn walks into class, Liam drops his eyes to his textbook. Moments later a piece of paper lands on his book and he looks to Niall, who’s fallen asleep, and then frowns around the room, trying to figure out who threw a piece of bunched up paper at him. His eyes land on Zayn, who is smirking at the front of the room and jiggling his leg under his desk.

Liam unfolds the paper as Niall mutters something that sounds a lot like, “Zac Efron.”

Did you like what you saw this morning? 

Liam feels heat rise to his cheeks and he folds the note back up and shoves it in his pocket. Liam is not a blushing virgin, for fuck sake. He should not be getting this worked up over seeing Zayn naked. It’s not that big of a deal, really it’s not. Except yeah, he sort of did like what he had seen.

Liam grabs Niall’s pencil and throws it at Zayn’s head. It misses and hits his shoulder instead, but Liam is still satisfied.

At lunch Liam grabs a sandwich and a plate of chips and then heads to his table. Louis is already sitting there, deep in conversation with Jordan. Their table is mostly full, save for his and Niall’s seats. As he heads towards it he passes Zayn and Harry, who are sitting with a few of their friends. Harry is saying something and Zayn is cackling. Apparently it wasn’t supposed to be funny, because Harry glares at him and slaps his arm, which just makes Zayn laugh harder.

Liam resists the urge to dump his tray of food on Zayn’s head, if only because he’s too hungry to waste it.

He drops his tray on the table beside Louis’ and sinks into his seat, instantly reaching for his food. Louis barely looks up at him before returning to his conversation, which Liam is not paying attention to because he’s far too used to Louis and Jordan’s conversations to even want to know what’s happening there.

He’s almost finished his chips when Niall sits down. His cheeks are flushed and his eyes are bright. His chest is heaving with each breath, and his hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat. Liam frowns at him, eyebrows drawing together.

“Where were you?” he asks, pointing a chip at Niall.

Niall shakes his head. “No, not telling you.”

“If we don’t tell you, then you can’t get all disappointed father on us,” Louis adds.

Liam’s confusion turns to concern and panic. “What did you do?” he demands.

Louis and Niall both shake their heads mutely. They might bicker like siblings, but they were also a terrible combination when they decided to put their heads together. Liam doesn’t even want to think of all the shit they’ve pulled over the years.

Then again, if they did something really bad, Liam would surely hear about it. He goes back to eating, pushing his worry away, until the loudspeaker over the door to the cafeteria makes a loud booming noise. Everyone looks up at it as their principal clears his throat.

“Oh, God,” Liam moans, because he has a feeling this isn’t going to be good.

“Anyone who has an information on the whereabouts of the science room’s ball python are urged to come forth,” their principal says, and Liam bristles. “Until then, I am told to inform anyone who comes across it not to worry. The snake is a docile creature, and it is more afraid of you than you are of it. You are instructed to find the nearest faculty member if this situation occurs.”

That’s all he has to say for the room to erupt in panic. More than one female shriek pierces the room. Several people struggle to sit on top of the tables so their legs aren’t on the ground. Liam, on the other hand, barely reacts.

“Where is it?” he asks.

“Lawson’s supply closet,” Niall says casually.

“Fucker gave me detention for being late this morning,” Louis adds.

Liam sighs heavily. “I really don’t know why I associate with either of you.”

The general panic over the snake has everyone too hyped up, and his last classes of the day are spent with his teachers attempting to calm down most of the students. Liam sits there, bored, because unlike them this isn’t cause for alarm or interest. Of course, he can’t actually tell everyone to calm the hell down, or where the snake is, because then Niall and Louis will get in trouble.

By the time school ends, Liam is in a bad mood. He can’t help it. Zayn’s crawled under his skin and it makes Liam irritated, and on top of that he has the Niall and Louis situation. It’s just too much. Sometimes he just wants to get in his car, turn on the radio, and drive until he runs out of gas money and has no choice but to stop.

Louis gives Niall a ride home, so Liam’s alone in the car when he pulls out of his space and Zayn cuts him off. Liam honks loudly and Zayn turns. He can’t see Zayn’s face through the helmet, but he has a feeling that the other boys lips are tilted up.

Zayn stays there, right in the middle of the parking lot, blocking Liam’s exit. Liam honks again but Zayn makes no sign of moving any time soon. At least, not until the door to the school opens and Harry runs down the steps. He’s got a helmet tucked under his arm, and he grins at Zayn before pulling it on and slinging a leg over the back of the bike. A moment later they peel out of the lot, Harry clinging to Zayn’s back. Liam can’t help but wonder if that would be him instead of Harry, if things had went differently.

He doesn’t go home right away. He’s too annoyed, and he needs to blow off steam. Instead, he heads to the gym closest to his house and works out for a bit. He doesn’t bother with lifting weights because he doesn’t really like doing that. He spends most of his time on the treadmill, and then skips the shower afterwards. He’ll take one at home. He hates public bathrooms.

When he pulls into his parking lot, neither of his parents are home. The kitchen light is always a telltale sign of whether or not any of them are. If it’s off, no one is home. The second his mum comes home, she has a habit of turning on nearly every light in the house. The second his father comes home he heads straight for the fridge, subsequently turning the light on as he goes.

Liam gets out of the car and climbs the two steps, legs aching. He overdid it with the treadmill, apparently. His body is in that limp, cramped state it gets in when he pushes himself too far. He knows his limits, and yet that doesn’t mean he always minds them.

He gets to his room and tosses his bag on the bed before reaching behind himself and tugging at the material of his shirt, pulling it over his head with one swift movement. It’s sweaty and he shivers as the cool air in the room hits his sweat coated skin.

He turns to grab his towel from where it hangs on the chair under his desk, just in time to see Zayn gaping at him. Liam freezes and Zayn’s eyes very noticeably move down his body, just as Harry, out of sight, says, “What are you looking at?”

Liam figures that it’s not just his face that’s turning red. He’s probably doing one of those horrible full body flushes, and he grabs his towel and moves towards the door, not fast enough to miss Zayn’s, “None of your fucking business.” He also doesn’t miss the slamming of Zayn’s window, either, but he doesn’t really think about it as he heads for the bathroom.

 

--

 

He’s trying to follow along with Mrs. Morin in English when another note lands on his desk. Liam groans and lifts his eyes to Zayn, who is trying and failing to look completely innocent. Harry, beside him, is frowning and darting his eyes between Zayn and Liam. He elbows Zayn in the ribs and whispers something to him, and Zayn turns to grin at Liam before whispering something back.

Liam flips them both off and resolutely ignores the note. Or he tries to, but he cracks two minutes later and unfolds it, eyes scanning the words written in script that could be considered sloppy and sharp, but is also sort of elegant in a way.

Really starting to see the benefit of our windows facing each other. You should definitely leave the curtains open after a workout from now on.

Liam narrows his eyes and blushes at the same time. He grabs his pen and scratches out Zayn’s words before adding his own.

Don’t count on it , Liam writes, and then he scrunches up the paper so it’s a ball and he throws it at Zayn’s head. Several people look up with interest, but Liam drops his eyes back to his paper. He hears Zayn shift in his seat, and then the crinkling of the paper.

When he looks up Zayn is angling his chair so he’s half facing the front of the room and half facing Liam. He’s staring down intently down at the paper, though, eyebrows drawn together. He has the tip of his pen in his mouth, and Liam tries not to notice the way his lips wrap around the end and his cheeks hollow when he breathes in.

And then his tongue darts out and wraps around the edge, and then his lips sink farther down it. Liam shifts in his seat, very aware of the fact that he’s got a fucking boner in the middle of class, all because Zayn doesn’t know how to properly use a pen without turning the act into something worthy of a pornography movie.

Liam moves his eyes up to Zayn’s, finding the other boy watching him. He pulls the pen from between his lips and laughs, shaking his head. Liam tries to glare at him, but Zayn breaks eye contact and starts writing something on the page. Liam has a feeling it’s not something PG rated, if the look on Zayn’s face is anything to go by.

Zayn tosses the paper back to Liam, and Liam goes to grab it just as Mrs. Morin appears in front of him and snatches it from his desk. Liam sucks in a surprised breath as she moves towards the front of the room again while saying, “Honestly, boys, note passing? Do you not own cellphones?” The class laughs. “Should I read this outloud?”

More than one person makes a sound of agreement. Liam shakes his head, no, but Zayn leans back in his seat, a pleasant grin on his face. “Go ahead,” he urges.

Mrs. Morin’s eyes scan the page and then her cheeks turn an alarming shade of red. “I-- you-- detention, Zayn! And you as well, Liam. The audacity to write-- I am genuinely disappointed in the two of you.”

Niall leans forward and whispers, “What the fuck did it say?”

Liam shakes his head, bewildered. “I honestly don’t know.”

When the bell rings, signalling the end of class, Liam packs up his things and goes to leave, following behind Niall, but Mrs. Morin says, “Sit down, Mr. Payne.”

Liam sits down. He’s never really been in trouble. He tends to be on the sidelines as Louis and Niall get in trouble. Their teachers seem to get that Liam is as helpless to stop them as they always are, and he rarely gets roped into punishment with them both.

Zayn is still in his seat, and he taps his pencil against his desk. He looks relaxed and cheerful, as if he couldn’t think of a better place to be right now. Liam should be heading to his locker, grabbing his lunch money, and moving on to the cafeteria with Niall. Instead he’s in a desk still while his teachers glares at him.

“That note you two were passing around in class was very inappropriate,” Mrs. Morin says slowly. “Are you aware of this?”

“I don’t even know what it said,” Liam says defensively.

Mrs. Morin seems to contemplate these words for a moment. Finally she sighs and says, “You may go, Liam. Zayn, you may not.”

Liam may be a little smug as he leaves the room. Just a little.

On his way to his table at lunch, Harry Styles steps into his path. Liam moves to the left, and Harry steps sideways so that Liam is still blocked.

“Yes?” Liam asks, raising his eyebrows.

Harry narrows his eyes. “Why are you out when he’s still in there?” Harry demands.

Liam shrugs. “Probably because I don’t even know what he wrote on that stupid paper.”

Harry’s eyes narrow even more, and then he suddenly grins, catching Liam off guard. “I have a pretty good guess,” Harry tells him. “Probably a good thing Morin intercepted that note, actually.”

Liam goes to ask him what it said, but Harry is already walking away from him, heading to his designated table. Liam sighs and moves on towards his.

“What was that about?” Louis hisses. Niall is too busy gazing at Harry with heart eyes.

“I don’t know,” Liam says quietly.

 

--

 

Niall is hyped up all day on Friday. He barely sits still in class, and even manages to stay awake through all of them. Liam pointedly ignores Zayn as best as he can, though he’s wondering how the hell Zayn is supposed to tell him where this party is if he does so. Maybe he’s secretly hoping that Zayn will take back the invitation and they won’t have to go.

At least he has rugby to distract him. They don’t have a long practise, because the whole purpose of this one is mostly just to get the older players used to playing again, and to weed out the last of the potential new players. They play a game with the veterans on one team, and the new kids on the other. Of course Liam’s team completely destroys them because they’re not only more experienced players, but they’re all used to playing with each other, and they work well together.

Still, in the end coach has apparently decided on a few new players, and the official team will be posted on the wall just inside the front doors on Monday.

Liam tells Niall to text Louis on their way to Liam’s so he can come over. Whether they go to the party or not, they’ll all end up doing something together tonight anyways.

Zayn’s motorcycle is parked in his lot, and Niall lingers on his way into the house, like he’s expecting Zayn to come out and greet them. Not likely, Liam thinks, and he briskly moves inside his house. He still needs to shower because, unlike Niall, Liam doesn’t use the school showers.

He, Louis and Niall are so used to spending time at each others houses that Liam feels comfortable enough to head straight upstairs, grab a clean towel from the linen closet, and get in the shower. Niall will find his way to the fridge first, get a drink and a snack (if Liam’s mum doesn’t make him one first) and then he’ll be in Liam’s room by the time he’s done.

Just as expected, when Liam walks into his room ten minutes later in the clothes he’d worn to school, Niall is in his room. He’s not on the bed like he usually would be, though. He’s hanging out Liam’s window.

“What are you doing?” Liam demands.

Niall turns, a grin on his face. “Talkin’ to your neighbour.”

Liam moves towards him, and he sees Zayn in his own window, arms rested on the sill. “Just letting you know to be ready for quarter to nine.”

“So we’re still going, then,” Liam says flatly.

Niall frowns at him. “Of course we’re still going.”

Liam rolls his eyes and Zayn grins at him. Liam shuts his window and pulls the curtains closed. “Is Lou coming?”

Niall shakes his head and moves backwards to flop onto Liam’s bed. He stretches out comfortably as Liam sinks into his computer chair. “No, he told me to tell you to come pick him up when we’re ready to go,” Niall answers. “That way there’ll be one less vehicle to drive, and we’ll only need one designated driver.”

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Liam hesitates to ask. He pushes away from his computer desk, using the wheels of the chair to move around. “I mean, we’re not going to know anyone there. That’s not really our crowd.”

Niall sits up on his elbows. “Did Louis get to you?”

Liam shakes his head and rubs the back of his neck. He’s not sure why he’s dreading this so much, but he definitely is. Okay, maybe he has a slight idea, and the answer to that lives directly beside him. Zayn has been everywhere this past week, and he doesn’t like it. It makes him uneasy, because a small, stupid part of Liam misses him and longs for the time when they were close. And then another, much larger part of him seriously dislikes the boy who his best friend had become.

“Forget I said anything,” Liam says abruptly. He grins. “It’ll be great.”

“Yeah it will,” Niall agrees, falling back onto the bed. His snapback falls off his head but he doesn’t make any move to grab it. “Maybe you’ll meet someone, too. ‘bout time, really, considering the fact that you haven’t been with anyone since Danielle, and that ended almost six month ago.”

Liam closes his eyes and turns in his chair so he’s facing the wall. He doesn’t like to think about that, because it still sort of hurts. It’s not that he’d been terribly in love with Danielle. She’d been sweet and lovely, really, and she still is. They just didn’t work . Danielle always had dance class, and Liam always had rugby, and they were too busy. The only time they really spent together was at weekend parties, and then at least one of them had been fairly drunk. When they decided to break up -- a mutual thing--, it was for the best.

“Maybe,” Liam says noncommittally, because he doesn’t really plan on looking for anyone any time soon.

Niall brought a change of clothes with him since he was planning on staying the night and he had to bring his bag to school for rugby anyways, and at eight he heads to the bathroom to change. Liam looks down at himself, shrugs off his t-shirt, and pulls on a cleaner one. He could care less what he looks like because it’s not like he’s looking to impress anyone.

Liam texts Louis to let him know that they’ll be at his house by around nine, and then impatiently waits for Niall to be ready.

Niall comes into the room in an outfit that looks literally the exact same as the one he’d went into the bathroom wearing, but he smells considerably more like cologne than he had. “This good, yeah?” he asks. Liam takes in the t-shirt with the button-up undone over top of it, and the slightly baggy jeans, all topped off with his black snapback.

“You look fine,” Liam assures him.

“Really?” Niall asks, looking down at himself. “Think you’d blow me? Hypothetically speaking.”

Liam decides right then that he’s going to ask his mum if he can start going to yoga with her. He needs something calming in his life.

He leans forward in his chair and props his head up with his hand, using it to cover his eyes as he breathes deeply. “I-- yes, Niall, hypothetically speaking, I’m sure it would be a pleasure to blow you in that outfit.”

“Brilliant,” Niall says, not noticing or not caring that Liam’s words were laced with dry sarcasm. “Let’s go then.”

Liam stands up and checks to make sure that his cellphone is fully charged before the go. As soon as they get outside, Zayn’s door opens and he and Harry come out. They’re talking in a hushed whisper, and Zayn’s got a cigarette in his hand. He grabs Harry with his other hand and physically drags him across the lawn towards Liam and Niall.

“Just get in the fucking car, Harry,” Zayn snaps.

Harry glares at him but says, “Fine.” Without even looking at Niall or Liam, he gets into the backseat of Liam’s car. Niall follows suit a moment later.

“No smoking in my car,” Liam tells Zayn.

Zayn shrugs and drops his cigarette to the ground before stepping on it. He gives Liam a short grin before getting in the passenger seat. Liam squeezes his hands into fists before getting into the driver’s seat.

“I’ve got to stop and pick up Louis first,” Liam tells Zayn as he starts up the car. Of course, because his life is hell, it doesn’t start right away. He sighs and turns the key again, then pauses, and does it once more before it catches.

He would question why Zayn is in the passenger seat and his actual friend is in the back, but he knows that it’s so Zayn can give him directions. Then again, he could probably give directions from the backseat, too, but Niall is most likely pleased by these seating arrangements anyways. Too bad Liam isn’t.

“Whatever,” Zayn says easily, rolling down his window. The leans an arm out and makes a face. “I hate cars.”

I hate your motorcycle , Liam thinks. He doesn’t say it. Instead he turns up the radio, because the amount of awkwardness in the car is overwhelming. Niall seems cheery, at least.

When they pull up in front of Louis’ house the front door opens and Louis comes out. Liam taps his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. The scent of Zayn’s cologne is filling his senses, and he just really, really wants to get out of the car. Or wants them to get out of his car. One or the other, he doesn’t even care at this point.

Louis pulls open Harry’s door and then pauses. “Great, we’re all going to be crammed into the backseat,” he mutters. “Move over, Styles.”

Harry makes an annoyed sound but obliges, scooting over until he’s in the middle seat, sandwiched between Louis and Niall. The look on his face only reinforces Liam’s thought that they shouldn’t be doing this. It’s too weird. None of them are friendly. They don’t hang out for a reason , and that reason is that they’re all too different to get along.

“Head down the main street until you get to Johnson,” Zayn says, pulling Liam’s attention back to driving.

“Where are we even going?” Louis asks.

“A party,” both Zayn and Harry answer.

Louis snorts. “That cleared it up. Thank you. You’re both so helpful.”

Liam ignores them and drives. When he gets to Johnson he turns, and then Zayn says, “When you get to Kenton, go left.”

“Left,” Liam repeats. “That goes out of town.”

“Exactly.”

Liam turns left at Kenton, and not long afterwards the streetlights start to get fewer and far between, until they pass the sign that greets people driving into the city, and says farewell to those leaving. After that there’s nothing but trees on the sides of the road, the only light coming from Liam’s high beams, because it’s late enough at night that the sun has set and the moon and the stars are high in the sky.

“Turn right up here,” Zayn commands.

Liam’s gripping the steering wheel very tightly, and everyone in the car is mostly quiet except for Louis’ occasionally annoyed huff of breath. “Seriously, where are we going?”

Zayn doesn’t answer, but for some reason Liam still listens to him, turning down a road that he only manages to see because of the mailbox with the reflector at the end of it. The terrain suddenly changes, and they’re on a bumpy dirt road.

Liam hates back roads. For one, his car isn’t really equipped for them. For another, the trees seem to swoop down and bend over the car, almost caging them in. It makes him more than a little uncomfortable.

“Slow down a bit,” Zayn tells him. “We might miss the turn off.”

“What turn off?” Liam asks. He can’t see anything anywhere but trees.

“That turn off,” Zayn says with a sigh, leaning out his window a bit. “You can’t turn around, the road’s too narrow. You’re gonna have to reverse.”

Liam makes a frustrated sound and hits the gas a bit too hard. Harry nearly flies forward, but Niall puts an arm across his chest to stop him. Liam stops for a moment and collects himself before putting the car in reverse. This time he sees the turn off, and he backs past it and then turns onto it.

This road is even worse than the last one. Every pothole seems to jostle the car, and Liam nearly bites his tongue off. Suddenly the smell of burnt wood fills the car, and in the distance Liam can see smoke rising in the air.

“Where are we?” Louis demands.

“Just keep going until you’re in the field,” Zayn says, not answering Louis’ question.

They’re on a farm, Liam realizes when he gets to the field. There is at least fifteen cars parked around the barn, most of them with their lights on to illuminate it. In the distance there’s a bonfire, and music plays loudly through the vehicles that are turned on.

There’s got to be at least seventy people, Liam guesses. Shouts and singing fill the air, as well as the scent of the fire and the smell of farm, which is rich and muddy. They’re far enough out of town that the stars seem impossibly bright. Liam’s feeling of unease grows even stronger.

“No one get out of the car yet,” Zayn says as he undoes his seatbelt. “You got a pen and paper?” he asks Liam.

“Check the dashboard,” Liam tell him.

Zayn pulls open the compartment in front of him and produces a pen and paper. He quickly writes something on it and then rips the paper into pieces before shoving the pen and paper back in the compartment, closing it with a click.

“Horan, give me your hat for a moment.” He doesn’t ask, he just holds out his hand.

Niall hands over his hat and Zayn drops the papers into it, and then holds the hat out to Liam. “Take a paper and read it.”

Liam frowns but does at he’s told. His fingers find a small slip of paper, and he pulls it out of the hat and reads it. “It just says Zayn.”

Zayn groans loudly and Harry laughs. “Give me your keys, Liam.”

The others are filing out of the car except for Niall, who’s holding out his hand for his hat. Zayn dumps the slips of paper onto Liam’s floor without a care and then hands it over. Niall pulls the hat onto his head and then exits the car.

“Why do you want my keys?” Liam asks, shutting off the car. He pulls the keys out of the ignition and holds them tightly in his hand.

“Because I’m designated driver,” Zayn answers. “Unless you’d rather stay sober the whole night, by all means go ahead. I’d rather get wasted anyways.”

“You’re not driving my car,” Liam tells him.

Zayn shrugs. “Fine by me,” he says, pushing open his door. “Have fun, Liam. Don’t drink anything that doesn’t come out of a new can, and if Markus invites you inside the barn say no unless you’d like to have his tongue in your mouth.”

“Wait, Zayn--,” but Liam’s words are lost as Zayn shuts the car door between them and heads off into the crowd of people between the barn and the cars. Liam watches him go and groans.

This is not his scene at all. He doesn’t see anyone he recognizes, and he doesn’t feel comfortable knowing that so many people are getting drunk outside. It would be really easy for someone to stumble off into the woods and get lost, and Liam would feel responsible somehow, just because he was here at the time.

His friends have already wandered off somewhere, though. He can’t see Louis or Niall in the crowd, which is a bit surprising. He figured Louis would linger back, stay more on the sidelines, or even pitch a fit in the car until Liam drove him home. But then again, this is Louis. He may be stuck up and prickly, but he loves to party, and he can make friends anywhere. Even with people he’d rather not associate with.

Liam sighs and gets out of the car. It’s a bit chilly and he regrets not wearing a sweater. Zayn’s probably nice and warm in his ridiculous leather jacket, which just makes him resent Zayn even more. If he had told Liam that this party was way out in the middle of nowhere, Liam would have point blank refused to come, Niall’s mission to get in Harry’s pants be damned.

The ground is a bit wet and his feet sink into it a little. His car is parked the farthest from the building, and he heads towards the others, following the same path Zayn had just made. He pockets his keys and hesitantly makes his way into the crowd.

It’s so obvious that he doesn’t fit in here. More than a few people eye him as he looks around for his friends, and someone shouts, “Hey, Malik, you trying out for the team this year or do you just have a thing for pretty boys in athletic uniforms?”

Liam flushes and shoulders past the guy who yelled that. The lights from the cars sort of create a halo of light that reaches all the way to the barn. Not all of the cars are facing the barn, though, and two different trucks are parked backwards, one of them with a large keg in the back. That’s where he spots Niall and Louis, as well as Harry and Zayn.

“I’m Irish,” he hears Niall say over the music that pours out of several cars. They’ve all got their radios on the same station, he figures. “No one can out drink me.”

Harry’s leaning against the truck, arms crossed over his chest. He’s got an orange beanie on his head, concealing his curls, and he looks reluctantly amused, like he’s trying really hard not to smile and is failing slightly. “You want to test that?”

Niall shrugs. “Sure.”

Harry turns and reaches into the back of the truck and produces a stack of cups. “Hey, you drink you pitch in!” someone shouts from behind him.

Liam stops beside Louis, who is eying the crowd. Harry pulls a few bills out of his pocket and deposits them into one of the cups and then holds the cup out to Zayn, who pulls out money, too, and does the same. A moment later Niall adds a few bills to the cup, and then Louis reluctantly forks over money, too.

Liam is the only one who doesn’t pitch in because he’s not drinking. That is not only because he’s got to drive, but because he’s too out of his element to even consider getting drunk right now.

Zayn fills a cup with what is probably warm, flat beer, and then walks away. Liam watches him jump onto the hood of a car beside Perrie, slinging an arm over her shoulder.

“This isn’t so bad,” Louis comments. He takes a sip of the cup that Harry passed to him a moment ago. “Not the beer. It’s cheap and disgusting. Just-- I mean, it’s sort of cool, being this far out of town. Why haven’t we ever thought of this?”

“Because you popular kids don’t know how to party,” Harry supplies, much like Zayn had said to him the other day.

“Is that bonfire safe?” Liam asks abruptly, pointing to the fire in the distance. Even this far off he can see that there are more people out there, crowded around it.

“Oh, definitely,” Harry says easily. “This isn’t the first party we’ve had out here, and it’s not the last. And we’ve never burnt down the forest yet, so I’d be willing to bet that it’s pretty safe.”

Harry talks in a low, slow kind of voice that reminds Liam of smoking his first joint a few years ago with Niall and Louis, when everything seemed to be in slow motion, soft and languid. It’s sort of nice. Objectively, Liam can see why Niall’s interested. Harry’s attractive and interesting to look at, and he’s just different than their normal crowd. From the glint in his green eyes to the tattoos that peak out of the collar of his shirt, down to his skinny jeans and shoes. Different .

“Thought we were having a drinking contest,” Niall pipes up, giving Liam a slightly annoyed look, like he wasn’t happy that Liam had stolen Harry’s attention for a moment.

“Liam and I are going to go check out that fire anyways,” Louis says, grabbing Liam’s arm. “Harry, if he gets drunk and starts singing Christmas carols just put him in the backseat of Liam’s car.”

Harry frowns at eyes Niall apprehensively. Niall smiles brightly at him. “Okay,” he says, dragging out the ‘o’.

Louis drags Liam away, throwing a single look over his shoulder at Harry and Niall. “That’s not going to happen,” Louis says breezily as they walk across the field towards the fire. It gets warmer the closer they get, but the crowd near the fire also gets louder, so Liam isn’t sure if he considers this a good idea or a bad one.

“Why not?” Liam asks, frowning back at Niall and Harry, who are both chugging their cups of beer.

Louis rolls his eyes. “For one, Harry’s not interested in the slightest,” Louis explains. “And for another, the hard to get thing only keeps Niall’s attention for so long. He’ll give up soon enough and move on to someone else. Watch.”

Liam doesn’t deny it because he’s probably right.

Louis manages to find someone that they actually know. Heather is the kind of person who flits between crowds, doesn’t really hang out with one specific group. A floater, really. Louis gets her to introduce them to a few of her friends, all of which eye them warily. Liam only recognizes a handful of them from school, people he’s passed in the hallways but never really talked to.

Half an hour later and Louis is on his way to being completely plastered. One of Heather’s friends had vodka, and Louis was sipping it and chasing it with his beer, which was probably really gross, not that Liam would know from first hand experience, because he’s not that stupid.

“You good here?” Liam asks Louis, a hand on his elbow.

“’m good,” Louis agrees, nodding. “I’ll be with Heather. She’ll keep me safe, won’t you?”

“I’ve got him, Liam,” Heather assures him.

“She’s fit, yeah?” Louis whispers to him a bit too loudly.

Liam gives Heather an apologetic look, but the girl seems completely unfazed as she tugs Louis down so they can sit on a large piece of wood that’s just far enough away from the fire to be safe but also still close enough to keep them warm.

Liam walks back towards the cars by himself. The light of the fire and the light of the vehicles dims halfway but Liam just shoves his hands in his pockets and keeps walking. He spots Niall in the crowd and frowns at the beanie on his head, and then his frown deepens when he spots Harry a few feet away, talking to someone, head tilted back in a laugh, Niall’s snapback on his head. He’s wearing it backwards, and his curls are fighting to escape it.

Huh.

The music playing is too heavy and loud for his liking, so Liam turns and avoids moving through the crowd, instead opting to walk along the outer circle of the vehicles until he gets to his own. He pulls open his door and slides into the driver’s seat and then sits there for a bit, listening to the music struggling to get inside the car and mostly failing, somehow more bearable at a lower decibel.

After a few moments Liam shoves the key into he ignition and turns it, eyes on the clock, which flashes 10:47. Liam sighs and turns up the radio, the station it’s tuned to playing music that he actually likes.

The passenger door opens and Zayn practically falls into the seat. His head knocks against Liam’s shoulder and his hand falls onto Liam’s thigh before he rightens himself. Zayn’s hair is a mess and he smells like perfume, not the cologne he’d filled the car with earlier. His eyes are bright, too, and he turns to Liam with a wide grin.

“What’re you doing in here?” Zayn asks, raising his eyebrows. He leans against his door, legs spread wide, and regards Liam with a look that is equal parts mischievous and warm.

“I could ask you the same question,” Liam points out. “This is my car.”

“Yeah, but--,” Zayn waves a hand, gesturing towards the party. “Shouldn’t you be having fun?”

“Trust me, sitting in my car is closer to my idea of fun than being out there,” Liam says quietly, frowning out the windshield. He wants Zayn out of the car, to be quite honest. He wants Zayn back out of his life like he has been for the past couple of years, because he fits too easily into it and that’s not fair .

“God, you’re boring ,” Zayn sighs. Liam glares at him. “Come on, come with me.”

He’s out of the car before Liam can ask him where he wants Liam to go with him. And it’s only because he’s bored sitting alone in the car, and he’s too confused and curious not to, that he follows, pushing open his door and stepping back out onto the soft, damp ground.

Zayn drops back a step and his arm brushes against Liam’s. For one short, absurd moment, Liam wonders if Zayn is going to hold his hand. But then it passes, and he doesn’t, and Liam’s not surprised. Why would he even want that in the first place? Did he even want that in the first place? No, definitely not.

“Where are we going?” Liam asks as they move into the crowd of people. Bodies press against them on all sides, as well as the pounding music and the light from the cars. Liam feels slightly anxious and short of breath.

Zayn doesn’t answer or look at him. He just keeps shouldering past people, ignoring anyone who calls out a greeting to him (which is a lot of people, actually). Liam feels like a stupid, lost puppy following him around, but it’s either that or sink back into the crowd and make his way back to his car, and he doesn’t really want to do that.

They get to the doors of the barn, which are partially opened, allowing the light from outside in. There are quite a few people inside the barn, too, some sitting on old hay bales, others on old plastic chairs. It smells heavily like smoke, but not cigarette smoke, and almost everyone in the barn turns to look at them as they enter.

“Come on,” Zayn says, walking to the other side of the barn. He stops at a ladder and puts his hand on one of the higher rings and his foot on one of the lower ones. He gives Liam a challenging, expectant look.

Liam sighs and crosses the barn, too, the hay and dirt under his feet much softer than he’d expected. Zayn grins and climbs up the ladder. Liam can’t see what’s up there, but it’s not very high off the ground. Liam’s height and a half, maybe.

Liam wraps his hands around the ladder and pulls himself up, ignoring the way the frayed wood digs into his fingers. The ladder creaks under his weight and Liam sucks in a breath, but it’s not that far of a fall anyways.

The ladder leads to what is sort of like a loft, covered in even more hay. It’s dark up here because the light from outside struggles to filter into the room. Zayn pulls his phone out of his pocket and tosses it to the ground, falling down beside it a moment later.

The light from his phone only lights up a small fraction of the space. Liam moves towards it and sinks to the ground, too, because he doesn’t know what else he’s supposed to do. The hay is scratchy under his hands, and Liam sneezes, which makes Zayn laugh.

“Why are we up here?” Liam asks. Zayn probably can’t see his disapproving and annoyed look, but Liam hopes that his tone conveys how he feels just as sufficiently.

“Because,” Zayn answers, digging around his pocket, “you have a no smoking in your car rule, and I wanted to be somewhere private.”

Zayn produces a slightly flattened joint from his pocket, as well as a lighter. He grins at Liam and brings it to his lips before flicking the lighter. It sparks but doesn’t catch, and he flicks it again, the flame flickering from the wind blowing through the cracks in the wood that makes up the walls of the barn.

Zayn cups a hand around the flame and Liam can hear the quiet, almost inaudible sound of the paper burning as Zayn drops his hand and inhales deeply, eyes falling closed. He keeps them closed as he pulls the joint from his lips, leaving his mouth open in an ‘o’ shape. Finally he breathes out the smoke and his eyes open again, lazily blinking at Liam.

“You brought me up here so you could get high,” Liam states, eyes narrowing.

Zayn shifts so that his legs are bent, feet flat against the ground, elbows resting on his knees. The joint hangs from his fingers, a thin stream of smoke billowing up from it. “Pretty much, yeah,” Zayn answers with a shrug. “You have a problem with that?”

Liam sighs and spreads his legs out in front of himself and leans back on his hands. If he weren’t in some gross, abandoned barn, he might lay down. “I don’t even know why I’m here ,” Liam admits.

Zayn takes another hit off the joint and then says, smoke still in his mouth, voice tight, “Come here.”

Liam shakes his head. “Why?”

“Because you need to fucking relax , mate,” Zayn says, shaking his head with his lips tilted up. “Honestly, Liam, you’re eighteen, not eighty.”

“You don’t even know me,” Liam argues.

Something in Zayn’s expression goes dark, but it passes with another hit of the joint. When he pulls it from his lips he extends it to Liam, who shakes his head.

“I’m driving,” Liam reminds him.

Zayn’s eyelashes appear impossibly long in the lowlight, and the smoke clouds around him in a way that is almost eerie. “Right,” he says slowly. He pushes himself up and Liam wonders if they’re leaving, but Zayn’s phone is still on the ground so he assumes that Zayn’s coming back.

Zayn moves towards the edge of the loft and Liam goes to grab his arm and pull him back, because Zayn has a thing with dangling from heights, like out of his window, and it freaks Liam out a bit. But he drops to his stomach so that only his head and arms are hanging over the edge and says, “Harry, come take this from me.”

He hadn’t seen Harry in the room when they’d come in, but he hears the other boy’s response of, “What’re you doing up there?”

“Have you seen Liam recently?” And that’s obviously Niall.

“Harry, none of your fucking business,” Zayn answers. “And I haven’t seen Payne since he went down to the bonfire with Tomlinson.”

Zayn lets his one arm drop, and when he pulls back up the joint is gone from his fingers. He sits up and comes back over to Liam, this time sitting down directly beside him, barely any space between the two of them. The smell of the weed lingers around Zayn, and his eyelids are heavily drooped.

“Why’d you lie?” Liam asks, tilting his head to the side, as if looking at Zayn from another angle will make him less confusing.

“Because if I didn’t,” Zayn says, slinging an arm over Liam’s shoulder, “they would have come up here.”

He’s not sure if Zayn’s phone died, or if it had one of those automatic timers that put it into sleep mode after a certain amount of time, but suddenly the light it was creating disappears, leaving them in heavy shadows.

Liam goes to throw Zayn’s arm off him so he can hit the phone, use the light to guide him back to the ladder, and get out of here. But then there’s a hand on cupping his chin, tilting his head to the side. Zayn’s thumb brushes against his bottom lip before he moves it and then replaces it with his lips.

Liam sucks in a surprised breath, body tensing. His tries to grab at something, but his hands curl uselessly around the hay beneath him. Zayn’s lips are gone for only a beat, and then they’re back on his, soft, slightly slick, and Zayn’s hand falls from his face to his chest, applying just enough pressure to guide Liam back, but not to force him.

He might as well have took a hit off the joint because he feels high anyways. His head is swimming, and everything seems hyper focused, the sounds of the people in the barn below, the music outside, the scent of the hay and Zayn, and Zayn’s lips.

It’s like time freezes for a moment and they’re suspended like that, the gentle pressure of their lips pressing together, their quiet breathing. A hundred questions run through Liam’s mind, and he can’t focus on a single one.

His back hits the ground and the kiss breaks for a moment, one moment in which everything seems to start up again, the world coming back into focus, and Liam can’t help but wonder what the fuck is happening. And why he’s letting it happen. And why he likes it.

And then Zayn is straddling his waist, legs on either side of his body, and he’s dipping his head to slot their mouths together again. Answering those questions is no longer important.

Zayn’s lips part and coax Liam’s open, too, and Liam lets them, lets Zayn’s tongue brush against his, tasting of smoke and sour alcohol. His hands slide up Zayn’s back and tangle in his hair, soft at the back and a bit harder at the front from whatever product he uses.

Liam can’t even be embarrassed about the fact that he’s hard right now because Zayn is a warm, solid weight on top of him, and nothing else really matters. When Zayn grinds his hips down, just a bit, Liam lets out a soft, breathless sound into his mouth, and then without warning he’s scrambling off Liam.

Liam sits up, ears buzzing, eyes struggling to focus in the lack of light. He feels weightless and lost all of a sudden, too confused to think straight.

“You weren’t supposed to be into it,” Zayn hisses, grabbing his phone from the ground. The light flares up, and Liam can see how red and slick Zayn’s lips are. “You weren’t-- that-- fuck .”

“I don’t understand,” Liam says quietly. “I’m really, really confused.”

“You-- you ?” Zayn snaps. “I was just trying to fuck with you! You weren’t supposed to be into it!”

Liam’s eyebrows draw together as he tries to make sense of Zayn’s words, but he really can’t. He doesn’t know if that’s because they’re confusing, or if it’s because the kissing has left his head spinning too much to decipher them.

Zayn shakes his head, and he looks as lost as Liam does. He walks towards the edge of the loft, drops down so his legs are dangling off the edge, and then gives Liam one last look before he pushes off the edge and falls to the ground. Liam hears the thump of him hitting the floor below.

Liam sits there for a moment, wondering if any of that really happened. It couldn’t have, because none of it makes any sense at all. Zayn kissing him doesn’t make sense. Him liking it doesn’t make sense. Zayn’s words and then him running off doesn’t make sense.

They’re not going to make any more sense if he just sits there, though, so he pushes himself up off the hay covered ground and takes his phone out of his pocket, using the light to find his way back to the ladder. He pockets it and then starts climbing down.

Zayn’s not in the barn anymore. Neither is Niall. Liam drops his gaze to the ground as he leaves, but he still feels everyone’s eyes on him anyways.

He wants to go home. That’s all he can think on his way to the car. He just wants to go home, shower to get the grime from the barn off his skin, and the feel of Zayn against him out of his mind, and sleep. He really, really wants to sleep.

He vows to send Louis and Niall a text when he gets to the car so that they can leave. He doesn’t have to send a text to Niall though, apparently, because he pulls open the door of his car to find Niall and Harry in the backseat. Niall is on his back, and Harry is on top of him. He’s tall enough that, when he straightens up to meet Liam’s eyes, he has to duck his head. And he’s still wearing Niall’s snapback.

“Hi,” Harry says sheepishly.

Niall pushes himself up onto his elbows and pouts at Liam. “Come back in, like, fifteen minutes.”

They are both drunk, obviously. Their cheeks are too red for it to just be from the heavy make out session, and the smell of alcohol fills the car. Liam sighs and says, “Fifteen minutes and then we’re leaving.”

“I’ll text Zayn,” Harry offers, looking a little guilty. He also looks a little baffled when he drops his eyes to Niall, like he honestly has no idea how they got in this situation.

Yeah, Liam is so not sticking around for that. He shuts the door and pulls out his phone as he walks. He’s not really going anywhere, just trying to put distance between himself and the car. He tells Louis to meet them back at the car in fifteen, and then sinks to the ground. He’s too far from the barn and the bonfire, and it’s dark where he is. He’s happy about that, though, because it means that no one can see him or come and bother him.

Fifteen minutes later things still do not make sense, and Liam can’t keep replaying everything over in his mind, because it’s just making things worse. He pushes everything that happened in the last hour to the back of his mind and tries not to think about it as he heads back to the car.

Niall and Harry are in the backseat, and Louis is in the passenger seat, giggling at something. Or nothing, possibly, because he looks drunk enough that laughing at nothing is a very likely. Niall and Harry aren’t touching anymore, though. In fact, they’re sitting on opposite sides of the car. Niall is grinning out the window, and Harry is staring down at his hands. He’s not even going to ask.

“Did you tell Zayn we were leaving?” Liam asks as he pulls on his seatbelt.

“Yeah,” Harry answers, not lifting his eyes. “He said he’d be here.”

Liam makes an annoyed sound. If Zayn isn’t in the car in five minutes, he can find his own way home.

Okay, Liam would never do that. But he entertains the thought of leaving Zayn stranded and it makes him feel a lot better.

Five minutes later someone slams into the side of the car. Liam jumps, and Louis lets out an indignant squawk as his door opens. Zayn frowns down at him and says, “Oh.”

“You can have the back,” Louis says, raising his eyebrows.

Zayn sways a bit and leans heavily on the car, ducking his head down. He meets Liam’s eyes and says, “Tell him to get in the back, Li.” His words are more than a little slurred, and his use of the old nickname has Liam’s breath catching in his throat.

Harry groans and opens his door. Liam watches through Louis’ still open door as Harry grabs Zayn around the waist and then tugs him into the backseat, doing up his belt for him. Louis slams his own door with a huff and a slightly hostile look on his face.

“Ready, then?” Liam asks everyone, managing to sound as cool and calm as he can, though he doesn’t feel it at all.

Zayn leans forward in his seat, and then hot breath is tickling the back of Liam’s neck. “Ready for what?” Zayn asks, lips far too close to Liam’s skin.

Harry, thankfully, tugs Zayn back into his seat and says, “We’re good. Let’s just get this idiot home.”

“Don’t be rude,” Zayn says, frowning at Harry. “I’m sure Tomlinson’s not a complete idiot.”

“I was talking about you.”

“Oh. Are you sure?”

Liam ignores them and starts the car. Louis has managed to fall asleep in the time since Zayn opened his door, and he’s leaning against his window, mouth hanging open. Liam turns the car around and starts down the road they’d followed to get to the barn.

A hand slides over his arm and Liam tenses, nearly driving the car into a ditch, but he straightens the wheel at the last second as that hand move from his arm to his chest. Liam sucks in a breath and would throw Zayn’s hand off him, or glare at him, if he trusted himself to take his eyes off the road and his hand off the wheel. He has a feeling they’ll crash if he does either of those things, though.

“Stop groping our driver,” Harry snaps. “Honestly, Zayn.”

“If you knew what he looked like without a shirt on you’d be groping him too,” Zayn argues.

Liam chances a glance at Niall in the rear view mirror. He looks mildly amused by all of this.

“How much did you drink?” Harry asks Zayn. “When I spoke to you in the barn you seemed pretty good, and now you’re off your ass.”

Liam turns off the back road just as Zayn leans forward and says, “Do you want to know what that note said? The one that Morin confiscated?” Liam applauds his ability to use the a word like confiscated while that drunk.

“Not really,” Liam says tightly.

“Or I could give you a demonstration,” Zayn adds. “When we get home you could come over, and I could get on my knees, and--,”

Harry covers Zayn’s mouth with his hand. Liam looks over his shoulder and just catches Harry’s shocked, horrified look. “Zayn ,” he says loudly. “Fucking stop , Christ. You’re going to regret this shit in the morning.” A pause. “Did you just lick me?”

Liam turns the radio up so loudly that it wakes Louis, and assures that any further conversations will be impossible. He keeps it like that until he pulls onto his own street, and then turns it down so that he doesn’t wake his parents up.

Harry has to carry Zayn across the lawn to his house. Zayn is, apparently, unconscious. Liam watches them go and then herds Louis and Niall into the house, trying to keep them as quiet as possible.

 

--

 

Niall is somehow always fine after a good night of drinking. Louis, on the other hand, is hungover and pissy the next morning. He groans from Liam’s bed, where he and Niall had crashed, leaving Liam to sleep on he floor. Liam pulls his pillow over his head. He’s not ready to be awake yet.

“What is that noise ?” Louis demands, apparently not on board with Liam’s plan to sleep until life stops sucking.

Now that he’s pointed it out, Liam can’t not pay attention to the music coming in through the window. It’s not that loud, only because the window is closed. He has a feeling that it’s spectacularly loud over at Zayn’s, though, and whatever he’s listening to is something angry with a lot of shouting.

Liam doesn’t even move towards the window. There’s no way Zayn will hear his shouts this time. Instead, he grabs a shirt from his dresser, pulls it on, and stomps downstairs, leaving a groaning Louis and a snoring Niall behind.

He doesn’t even put shoes on. He crosses Zayn’s lawn in seconds and pounds on the door. A moment later the door opens, revealing an exhausted, stressed out Harry. He looks almost vulnerable in a pair of sweatpants and a shirt that is too big, hair a mess from sleep and eyes wide.

“I know ,” Harry says, rubbing a hand over his face. “He won’t shut it off. I’ve been trying to get him to for the last twenty minutes.”

Harry literally has to shout over the music, which is pouring out the door like a physical thing, making Liam’s head throb and he didn’t even have anything to drink last night. He can only imagine how Harry feels.

Liam pushes past Harry into the house, who questions what he’s doing, but Liam ignores him and moves up the stairs. Somehow Zayn’s house is still completely familiar to him, even though it’s been years since he was last inside. The walls are painted a different colour, and there’s a carpet covering the stairs now, but the layout is the exact same.

Zayn’s door is closed but Liam pushes it open and moves into the room without knocking. Zayn is laying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, hands folded on his stomach. He doesn’t hear Liam come into the room, apparently, because he doesn’t react at all. This gives Liam time to locate his stereo, which is a large, expensive looking thing that’s sitting on top of a desk. He examines it, finds the power button, and turns it off.

Zayn bolts upright, mouth open, and then closes it with a snap when he sees Liam.

“Keep. Your music. Down .” Liam’s feet thump against the floor on his way out of the room, and he slams the door behind himself. He passes by Harry on his way out the front door, only sparing him a short, “There you go.”

 

--

 

Liam’s window stays closed and his curtains stay shut for the next week. Zayn doesn’t throw him notes in class, and Liam refuses to look up from his work when he walks in. Not that they’re able to completely avoid each other, though, because Niall is on a mission to win Harry Styles’ heart, apparently. Or something equally ridiculous that involves a lot of time spent sitting at Harry’s table at lunch, which subsequently means sitting at Zayn’s table at lunch.

Sober Harry, apparently, has no interest in Niall whatsoever. Or so he states on Thursday between shovelling chips in his mouth. Louis refuses to sit anywhere but their normal table, but Niall had grabbed Liam’s arm and dragged him to the other side of the cafeteria, not really giving him a choice.

“It was a one time thing because you’re sort of hot and the accent is a turn on,” Harry says with a shrug. “I have a strict no jock rule though. Not since--,”

“Mason, sixth year,” Zayn supplies, smirking.

“And a no musician rule after--,”

“Lena, played at the local coffee shop, broke up with you over Chinese takeaway using the message inside the fortune cookie,” Perrie supplies.

“And no artists after--,”

“Ben,” someone whose name Liam doesn’t know sighs dreamily. “Beautiful fingers, too bad he couldn’t keep them out of his roommate’s ass.”

Harry makes an upset sound, but Zayn bursts into a fit of laughter that almost looks painful. His head tilts back, exposing the line of his throat, and his eyes squeeze closed, crinkling at the sides. Objectively, Liam has always been aware of Zayn’s attractiveness. He’s just never really paid attention to the fact that Zayn is beautiful. Not just gorgeous, or hot, but beautiful, really.

Liam shifts uncomfortably in his seat and Zayn stops laughing when Harry punches him in the arm hard enough for him to cry out. “Fucker,” Harry tell him. “So, anyways, I don’t date. At all. Too many disasters, too many heartaches. And I especially don’t date jocks.”

Niall shrugs, sips his drink, twists the cap back on, and says, “Neither do I.” He grins and pushes away from the table, taking his snapback off as he goes. He places it on Harry’s head and then walks off across the cafeteria.

Liam scrambles to follow him despite the fact that he still has a half full plate of food. He stands up but doesn’t miss the way Harry’s cheeks turn red as he pulls Niall’s hat off and twists it around before arranging it on top of his curls.

“I don’t get why you’re still trying,” Liam admits when he finds Niall at his locker, taking a new snapback out of his bag. Niall has about fifteen of them all together, a majority of which sit on a shelf in his room.

Niall shrugs and grins at Liam. “Course you don’t,” he says. “You’re the most cautious person I’ve ever met, Li. You never throw yourself into things without thinking them through first. But seriously, if you kissed him you’d get why I’m not backing down on this one. Plus, it’s a lot more fun when it actually takes effort.”

Liam really doesn’t understand Niall at all, but he lets it go.

 

--

 

It’s two in the morning, he has school the next day, and the only reason why he’s awake is because something is banging on his window. Liam groans and pulls a pillow over his head, willing the sound to stop, but it just gets more insistent. If he didn’t know that he lived on the second story, he’d swear someone was knocking on his window.

Liam throws the pillow off his head and it knocks his empty cup off his side table. It falls to the ground and Liam’s gratefully that he’d used a plastic one last night as he swings his legs out of bed.

He pulls back his curtains, not sure what he’s expecting to find, and discovers Zayn hanging out his own window, arm outstretched, using the end of a broom to knock on Liam’s. Liam opens his window and Zayn makes a surprised sound before the broom slips from his fingers and falls to the ground.

“Are you serious right now?” Liam hisses. His voice is low and rough with sleep, and he’s pretty sure this is just a really fucked up dream.

“Meet me downstairs in ten minutes,” Zayn says, a hopeful look on his face instead of the smirk.

“Why the fuck would I do that?” Liam asks. He’s too tired for this shit, too tired to be civil.

Zayn doesn’t answer. He slides his window closed and shuts his curtains, and Liam stands there for a moment, shivering a bit because of the cold air breezing in from outside, dumbstruck. With a sigh he shuts his window and climbs back into bed.

He tries to fall back asleep, he really does. He’s awake now, though, and he’s too confused and worked up to get back to sleep. When he rolls over for what feels like the hundredth time and his blanket slips off his bed in a twisted pile, he gives up and gets out of bed, checking the time. It’s only been six minutes.

He grabs a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie an pulls them on over top of his boxers and t-shirt. He stands in the middle of the room for a moment, wondering what the hell he’s doing. Does he really want to go see what Zayn wants? After what happened last time? Yes. Yes, a million times yes, because Liam is apparently a glutton for punishment and he thinks that if there’s even the slightest possibility that Zayn will explain what happened at that stupid party, or that he’ll get to feel Zayn’s lips against his again, he can’t pass that up.

Liam quietly pushes open his door, careful not to wake his parents, and then pads down the darkened hallway. The stairs creak under his weight but that can’t really be helped, and he doesn’t really care if he gets caught or not. He’s old enough that his parents won’t really be all that upset, and he could always pretend to just be getting a drink anyways. He doesn’t want to wake them and have to explain, though.

He slips on his shoes at the door and then unlocks the bolt and pulls it open. As he steps outside he realizes that the sweater is not enough, because the early morning October air seems to cut through the material of his hoodie.

It’s weird being outside at this time of night. He lives in a respectable neighbourhood, the kind where everyone’s lights are off by midnight and almost everyone is awake at six for work. The streetlights are the only brightness, and they cast shadows over the spaces between houses. It’s eerie and silent and Liam doesn’t like it.

Zayn’s front door opens and he comes out in a pair of jeans and his leather jacket, his helmet already on his head. He has another one tucked under his arm, and he heads straight for his bike, throws his legs over it, and then waits, head tilted in Liam’s direction.

Liam sighs and walks over to him and Zayn hands him the helmet but doesn’t say anything. “I’ve never ridden on a motorcycle,” Liam admits, holding the helmet in his hands.

Zayn doesn’t answer. He curls his fingers around the clutches and stares straight ahead. Liam waits another moment, and when Zayn still doesn’t do anything else he looks down at the helmet in his hands. He wasn’t lying. He’s never been on one before, and to be completely honest the idea sort of terrifies him. But then the curiosity outweighs the concern, so he tugs the helmet onto his head.

The helmet is weirdly confining, fitting snugly on his head. The visor is tinted black and it makes it seem even darker outside than it already does. Liam puts a hand on Zayn’s shoulder and swings a leg over the other side of the bike, and then puts his feet up on the little bar thing so they’re no longer on the ground, and wraps his arms around Zayn’s waist the way he’s watched Harry do countless times since Zayn got this dangerous, reckless thing.

The leather of Zayn’s jacket crinkles as the bike roars to life, and Liam sucks in a panicked breath, suddenly deciding that this is the worst idea he’s ever had in his entire life, and he’s definitely going to die.

Zayn pulls out of the driveway and somehow they don’t tip over or crash into his parent’s car on their way out. And then they’re speeding down the road, nothing but the air and the sound of the bike’s engine surrounding them. It’s horrible and thrilling and nothing at all like riding in a car. In a car you’re safe and caged in. On the motorcycle you’re dangerously exposed and free.

Liam’s fingers curl into Zayn’s stomach when they turn a corner, and he feels all of his breath whoosh out of him all at once, and he squeezes his eyes closed as his heart plummets into his stomach. But they’re fine. They’re totally fine because Zayn knows what he’s doing.

He has no idea where they’re going, but Zayn apparently does. He takes them down the main street, passing by only the occasional other car. It’s just them, the road, and the shops flying past on all sides. And Liam can see the appeal, he can. It’s-- exciting. Different. Fun. But it’s not something he could see himself doing every day. It has his stomach in knots and his heart pounding too much to be healthy.

Liam rests his head on Zayn’s shoulder and this time closes his eyes because he wants to, not because he’s too terrified to keep them open. He slides one of his hands up a bit and feels Zayn’s heartbeat under his palm, steady and rhythmic and beating possibly a bit faster than Liam thinks it would normally.

They turn again, and Liam clutches at Zayn’s chest because he feels like he’s going to fall, but he doesn’t. When he opens his eyes again he realizes they’re following the same path they’d just taken, only backwards, and then they’re turning back on their street, Zayn’s pulling into his own driveway, and the motorcycle goes silent underneath him.

Liam struggles to get off the bike, legs unsteady, and Zayn is right there, hand on his waist to keep him up. He keeps it there, too, when Liam reaches up to pull his helmet off, eyebrows drawn together.

“What was the point of that?” Liam asks.

Zayn shrugs and tugs the helmet from Liam’s hands and then walks up the walkway towards his door, pulls it open, and disappears inside. Liam gapes after him, figuring that Zayn just likes to fuck with his head. And thinking that he does a really, really good job of it.

 

--

 

They’ve got a practise after school, and Liam’s on his way to the locker room to change into his uniform when someone grabs the back of his shirt and stops him in his step. Liam turns, ready to push the person off him, when Harry releases his shirt and takes a step back, a slightly sheepish look on his face.

Liam pulls his headphones out of his ears as Harry says, “Sorry, I called your name twice and you didn’t hear me.”

The hallway isn’t exactly empty yet, people still milling about and getting things from their lockers. Harry leans against a set of them and crosses his arm, regarding Liam with a steady gaze.

“It’s fine,” Liam says after a moment. “Did you need something?”

Harry sighs and runs a hand through his hair again, and then leans forward, shakes it up a bit, and wipes it off his forehead when he straightens up. “Two things, actually,” he admits. “One’s about Niall.”

Liam moves out of the way as a group of three girls, linked at the arms, come down the hall. “What about Niall?” he asks, watching them go.

Harry seems to chew over this question for a while before he finally says, “Is he really interested in me, or is this just some sort of game?”

“A game,” Liam repeats. “What do you mean?”

“I mean like--,” Harry waves a hand around. “I don’t know, a joke. Did someone bet him that he couldn’t get into my pants or something?”

“I-- what ?” Liam asks, because he definitely couldn’t have heard right. But Harry’s cheeks turn red and he crosses his arms over his chest, eyes narrowing. Oh, so he really is serious. “Niall’s not like that,” Liam says slowly. “At all. And if you genuinely think he’s capable of that, then I’ll let him know not to waste his time anymore.”

“I was just checking,” Harry says defensively. “You never know. And it’s not like he doesn’t have a reputation.”

“So do you,” Liam points out.

Harry grins. “Yeah, exactly. Mine’s pretty accurate and well earned.”

Liam tugs at the bottom of his shirt and shifts his feet a bit. “Was that it? You just wanted to make sure that Niall wasn’t playing around with you?”

“No, actually,” Harry says, standing up a bit straighter. “I also wanted to ask you about Zayn.”

Liam takes a step back and racks his brain for a good excuse so he can duck out of the conversation. He can’t find one, unfortunately, and instead ends up just standing there in the hallway, rooted to the spot.

“I just-- I know it’s not my place to say anything,” Harry starts, looking as uncomfortable as Liam feels, “but he’s my best mate, you know? And just-- I just want you to know that it’s not a game to him, okay? He can act like it is as much as he wants, but it’s not. You got me?”

“Not really,” Liam admits, completely honest.

Harry sighs and pushes away from the locker. “Like-- I can’t even explain it because he’d skin me alive and turn me into a throw rug, but-- just-- if you’re not interested in him, don’t fuck around with him. After last time-- I--,” He cuts off abruptly and shakes his head. “Just don’t fuck him over again, Liam, okay?”

And then he walks off, leaving Liam alone in a hallway that’s not nearly as empty as he feels.

He’s never felt so out of focus before practise as he does when he gets into the locker room. He has no bloody idea what Harry was talking about. Last time? When did he fuck Zayn over? Because from where Liam was sitting, Zayn was the one who cut all ties from him without warning. Zayn was the one who stopped being his friend without any explanation at all.

When they head out to the field, Niall jogging along behind him, Liam spots Zayn and Harry in the bleachers, Zayn leaning back, head ducked, while Harry talks animatedly at him, and that just adds to Liam’s inability to focus.

“Think he’s here for me?” Niall asks, grinning and eyeing Harry.

“Probably,” Liam mumbles, eyes on the other side of the field as he starts running, doing his two laps before practise. He feels Zayn’s eyes on him the entire time.

 

--

 

It sort of becomes this weird, slightly awkward thing, their lunches. Harry and Zayn’s friends are weird at first, eying Niall and Liam distrustfully, and conversation is tense at best. But then, as the days progress and Niall refuses to eat lunch anywhere but at Harry’s side, they settle into normal, comfortable conversation, extending it to Niall occasionally. Never to Liam, but that’s because Liam spends the whole hour pushing his food around on his plate and pointedly not looking up at Zayn.

Niall, on the other hand, spends the whole period shamelessly flirting with Harry, who rolls his eyes and snorts but then ends up wearing one of Niall’s snapbacks for the rest of the day anyways, a sunny smile on his face when he pulls it on over his curls. And slowly, over the course of two weeks, Harry stops throwing Niall’s arm off his shoulder and starts leaning into his side and laughing when Niall says something ridiculous or stupid. And Louis starts sitting with them, too.

“I’m taking Harry out after the game,” Niall says in History on the first Monday of November.

Liam looks up at him, eyebrows raised. Louis literally drops his pencil on his desk. “On a date ?” he asks.

“On a date,” Niall confirms.

“You don’t date,” Liam says, frowning.

“Ever,” Louis adds.

Niall shrugs. “I don’t. But--,”

“Oh, fucking Christ,” Louis moans. “The curly haired giant has you wrapped around his finger, doesn’t he?”

Niall doesn’t look upset by this. “Have you seen his lips?” Niall asks. “And we’re into the same music and shit. I don’t know. He just doesn’t give a fuck, you know, and it’s refreshing. He’s not, like, clingy or needy or anything. It’s just-- good.”

“Huh,” Liam says, honestly shocked.

“Anyways,” Niall says, shaking his head. He tugs off his hat, runs a hand through his hair, and then returns it to his head. “I wanted to know if I could borrow your car for a few hours. Just from after the game until, like, nine. That’s it. I swear to god I won’t crash it, and I’ll owe you for life.”

Liam shrugs. “Sure.”

“Please?” Niall begs. “I’ll -- wait, seriously?”

Liam nods. “I’m too shocked at your decision to actually go on a date to say no.”

“You’re a fucking brilliant friend, you know that?” Niall says, punching his arm. “I owe you one. Seriously.”

Liam snorts and holds his keys out to Niall. Niall goes to grab them but Liam holds them out of reach for a moment. “No fucking in my backseat. I swear to God, Niall, I will kill you.”

“Promise,” Niall says immediately, reaching for the keys again.

“And don’t touch my CDs, either,” he adds.

“I won’t.”

“And no eating Italian because you get pasta sauce all over everything.”

“I won’t ,” Niall says, exasperated. “You going to give me the keys or do you want to hire a lawyer first and have me sign paperwork?”

Liam relents and hands over the keys.

Again, Zayn and Harry are in the bleachers, and Louis is sitting with them. Liam doesn’t think about that because he’s got a game to win.

And, of course, they do. Liam comes out as the top scorer on their team, and people in the stands cheer. Liam grins as his team mates slap his back and Niall pulls him into a headlock and rubs his knuckles against the short bristles of Liam’s hair.

“I still don’t get rugby,” Louis says, coming over to them with Harry and Zayn in tow.

“What’s there to get?” Niall demands. He lifts his shirt to wipe sweat off his forehead. “We were fucking awesome out there.”

“Liam was awesome,” Harry corrects. “You were average.”

“Average,” Niall repeats, raising his eyebrows playfully. “I promise you that I perform better in the bedroom than I do on the field.”

Harry snorts and rolls his eyes, but the fact that Niall’s red snapback is on his head sort of subtracts from the barely amused look on his face, proving that he’s not as above Niall’s antics as he pretends to be, or would like to be. “Are we going out or not?” he asks.

“Yeah, just let me shower and change,” Niall says. “I’ve got Liam’s car for the night.”

“Need me to drive you home?” Louis asks.

“Nah, I’ve got it,” Zayn cuts in. Liam and Louis both frown at him and he shrugs, expression blank. “We’re going to the same place anyways, and I’ve got my extra helmet with me because I drove Harry this morning.”

“You okay with that?” Louis asks.

Liam shrugs. “Sure,” he says, though he’s really not. Zayn’s barely spoken ten words to him in the last few weeks, despite the fact that they spend an hour together every day at lunch. After that night when they went for a drive, Zayn’s barely acknowledged Liam’s existence.

“I’ll wait for you in the lot,” Zayn tells him.

“Have fun with that,” Niall chuckles. “Liam refuses to use public showers.”

Zayn shrugs and says, “I like him sweaty anyways.”

“That’s disgusting,” Louis says, wrinkling his nose. “Why is everyone pairing up? Oh, god, I’m the fifth wheel. I refuse to be the fifth wheel. Fuck you all. I’m picking up a tub of ice cream on my way home.”

Louis stomps away from them and Niall laughs at his back, but Liam blushes, hoping that the colour in his cheeks can be blamed on the game he’d just played. “I’m going to go change,” Liam says abruptly. He turns on the spot, not waiting for Niall to come with him, and heads for the locker room.

He considers sucking it up and just showering in the school showers, but he can’t bring himself to do it. Instead he changes into clean clothes, splashes water on his face, and uses liberal amounts of deodorant. He sniffs himself, doesn’t smell anything off, even if he’s still slightly sweaty. Niall laughs at him for this, but Liam just flips him off.

“Think Lou was serious, though?” Niall asks as Liam passes him his bag. Niall will leave it in the car when he drops it off, that way Liam can wash his uniform tonight. “About the pairing up thing. I mean-- Zayn being into you.”

“No,” Liam answers, averting his eyes. “He’s not. Zayn just likes to play with my head.”

Niall’s expression softens a bit. “If you want I can drop you off at home before Harry and I go out. If you really don’t want to get a ride from him, I mean. I know that you two don’t really get along after that shit when you were younger.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine,” Liam assures him. “I stopped caring about that stuff a long time ago.”

“You sure?”

“Positive,” Liam lies.

Niall grins at him and slaps his back. Liam wishes him good luck on his date, which Niall says he definitely doesn’t need, and then heads out the doors. His palms are sweating and his mind is whirling as he pushes open the front doors and spots Zayn.

It’s really, really not fair. He’s leaning against his motorcycle, cigarette dangling from his fingertips (one day he’s going to get caught smoking on school property, Liam’s sure), head ducked a bit. His hair isn’t in his quiff today so it lays over his forehead, and with his leather jacket he is literally every bad boy fantasy come to life. It’s fucking ridiculous, is what it is.

Liam walks over to him and Zayn looks up, lips tilted up a ghost of his normal grin. He drops his cigarette to the ground and steps on it before grabbing his helmet and tugging it on, passing Liam’s to him right afterwards. This time Liam is slightly less hesitant as he pulls on the helmet and then climbs in behind Zayn.

He sees a few people look their way as Zayn starts the bike, and he wonders what they’re thinking. He wonders if anyone thinks it’s weird that it’s him on the back of Zayn’s bike, arms wrapped around his waist, head tucked onto his shoulder. If anyone wonders what caused this, or if anyone even cares. But he decides that he, personally, doesn’t care at all.

“Hold on,” Zayn orders over the roaring of the bike.

“What do you think I’m doing?” Liam answers with an indignant snort.

Zayn chuckles and reverses the bike and then drives slowly out of the lot before turning onto the road. Liam holds on, probably much tighter than he needs to.

Liam’s driven to and from school for the past two years. He knows every route and shortcut. Knows what roads to take when the main one was off for construction. Zayn is not taking any of those routes.

“Where are we going?” Liam shouts when they’re at a set of lights. They’re behind a van, and Liam doesn’t like this as much as he did driving on the empty road. There’s too many cars, and the motorcycle stops differently than his car does. Much more abruptly. It freaks him out.

Zayn doesn’t answer and Liam squeezes his arms around him a bit more as the light changes colour and they start moving again. There are two roads out of town, and Zayn takes the other one, on the opposite side of town from the one they’d taken when they’d went to the party. He picks up speed out here until the trees are literally flying by and Liam’s heart is in his throat.

Zayn hunches his shoulders down the faster they go, and when the road curves a bit he lets out a loud whoop that has Liam grinning in spite of the terror inside of him. Eventually Zayn slows down a bit as they come up to a familiar turn, one Liam hasn’t taken in years. It leads uphill, winding, and if Liam wasn’t already terrified, he is now.

There’s only a small railing on the side of the road here, and the drive has always freaked him out. That was in a car. Now, on the back of the motorcycle, it’s a hundred times worse. Liam closes his eyes and prays that, if Zayn does manage to kill them, it’s fast and painless.

Liam doesn’t open his eyes again until they’ve stopped. When he does he spots the familiar picnic table, the impossibly large and old tree with the drooping branches that he’d climbed a hundred times, and the edge of the cliff that gives you a view of their entire city in the distance, nothing but dark smudges for houses and pinpricks of light for streetlamps.

Zayn parks the bike and Liam gets off it, pulling off the helmet. He places it on the seat and looks around, arms wrapped around his stomach.

“Why are we here?” Liam asks softly.

Zayn pulls a pack of cigarettes out of his back pocket and tugs one out, lighting it before he shoves the pack and the lighter back into his pocket. He takes a drag and exhales before shrugging. “I don’t know. I just wanted to come here.”

Liam sighs and walks over to the picnic table. He sinks down and looks down at the old, weather worn wood. In the corner is his own name scratched into it, something that Zayn had done during the many, many times their families had come up here during the summer when they were younger. Zayn’s mum would make sandwiches, Liam’s dad would bake his double chocolate cookies, and he and Zayn would spend hours climbing that stupid tree until they got too high, and their mothers shrieked at them to come down.

Zayn sits down beside him, enveloping Liam in the smell of smoke and, underneath that, the smell of his spicy but somewhat sweet cologne that makes Liam want to inhale deeply.

“I come up here a lot,” Zayn admits.

It’s obvious that he does, now that he’s said it. There’s more engravings on the wood than Liam remembers, and there’s also a good smattering of cigarette butts on the ground, as well as empty beer cans scattered about, like someone had kicked them away to make the place look slightly less trashy.

“You and Harry,” Liam guesses.

“Yeah,” Zayn admits. He taps his fingers against the wood, eyes lowered to it. “Most of the time.”

Liam shifts a bit and his shoulder bumps against Zayn’s before he jerks away, as if touching Zayn burned him. “I just don’t get what happened,” Liam admits quietly. “Why-- why I came back that summer and you were just… gone . You wanted nothing to do with me.”

Zayn snorts and says, “It wasn’t after you left, Liam. It was before that. But I didn’t start hanging out with Harry until you were gone, so you didn’t notice it until then.”

Liam frowns but Zayn is pushing away from the table, cutting off any questions that had started to form in Liam’s mind. He paces around the table, bringing his cigarette to his lips almost as soon as he blows out the smoke from the pervious inhale.

“What was her name?” Zayn asks, not looking at Liam. “Jessica, was it?”

Liam swallows. He gets where Zayn is going now, he just doesn’t see what it has to do with them. “Jenna,” he corrects.

“Right, Jenna,” Zayn says. He grins and shakes his head, but it’s not a happy grin. “And you were just so-- perfectly fucking normal, Liam. You liked girls. And that was -- that was great. Really. I didn’t resent you for that. It was myself  that I couldn’t deal with, because I was the fucked up one, right? I mean, I was the one who fell in love with his best friend who was a guy, and you never even noticed. Never noticed the way I looked at you, or felt for you.”

Liam’s eyes widen and his breath catching in his throat. “Zayn, you --,”

“And I was just freaking out internally, right,” Zayn rants, and it’s like Liam’s not even there. He’s just talking to himself now. “Like, I was having a total fucking crisis, and all I wanted was to be able to tell you, because you were always there. You always fixed things, because that’s what you do, Liam, but I couldn’t fucking tell you , not without ruining everything. And then you left that summer, and I met Harry down at the skate park, and he was different. And he just-- he got it , you know? I never even had to tell him, he just knew, and you never did.”

Liam’s trying to follow what Zayn’s saying, he really is, but it’s not making any sense, because a world where Zayn was in love with him just doesn’t make sense at all. Zayn left him . Zayn was the one who wanted nothing to do with him . If he were truly in love with Liam, he never would have done that.

Liam voices that now, saying, “If you really did you would have given me an explanation, Zayn. Do you know how much it fucking hurt to have you just blow me off? To not talk to me anymore? To see you hanging out with new people like we didn’t even know each other?”

Zayn tosses his cigarette to the ground and grinds it into the dirt with the toe of his shoe. “It was easier to break things off myself than to let you do it down the line, when you figured it out.”

“Who said I would have?” Liam demands, anger rushing up inside of him. “You never gave me a chance.”

“Because I didn’t think there was one!” Zayn snaps. “Look at you! You’ve grown up into this perfect boy next door, Liam. You’re the school’s star athlete. You’re arguable one of the most popular guys in school. You arrive early to class and raise your hand before you answer questions. You’re polite and well behaved and, like, fucking perfect. And I’m the exact opposite of that.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” Liam says, standing up because he doesn’t like the fact that Zayn is the one standing and dominating the conversation. It makes him feel vulnerable. “All you do is confuse me, and I really can’t tell if you’re just doing this to fuck with my head or not.”

“Oh, that’s what it started as,” Zayn says, stopping his pacing. He fixes Liam with a cold look. “I just liked screwing with you, because you get all flustered and you blush and shit like that, and it was fun. And I thought it was just because you’re, you know, you . I didn’t think it was because you were actually interested . And then at that stupid fucking party you had to go and ruin everything by kissing me back.”

“I’m still lost,” Liam says softly.

Zayn sighs and moves towards him, and then he grabs Liam roughly by the sides of his face and crushes their lips together. It’s almost painful. The picnic table digs into his back and his teeth cut into his lips, but Zayn’s hands are soft but calloused and warm, and his lips are dry but full and perfect. Liam fists his hands in the front of Zayn’s shirt, pulling him closer as a low sound rips from his throat, one that is equal parts aggressive and desperate.

Zayn pulls back, eyes wide and dazed, and steps away from Liam. “See? That fucks with my head, because it doesn’t make sense .”

“What doesn’t make sense?” Liam asks, exasperated. He feels like they’re getting nowhere. Zayn keeps talking, trying to explain, and it just makes things even more complicated and confusing.

“You liking me,” Zayn says, like it’s obvious. “Or wanting me. It doesn’t-- it doesn’t make any fucking sense, Liam.”

“Join the club,” Liam spits. “You’ve been nothing but an asshole to me for years, so it really doesn’t make sense to me, either.”

“God!” Zayn shouts, tilting his head to the sky. “Why is this so fucking difficult?! 

“Because you’re making it difficult,” Liam says angrily.

“You know what?” Zayn bites out. “Just-- forget I said anything. Forget it. This whole thing was just a stupid idea anyways.”

What whole thing?” Liam asks, bewildered.

“Bringing you up here, still caring about you, it was just stupid,” Zayn tells him. “I thought that I could just erase time and get us back to two people who actually knew each other, but I can’t do that, and we don’t, and this is just pointless.”

Liam leans heavily on the table, wood biting into his hands. “Pointless,” he repeats. “You’re right. This whole thing is pointless. Take me home.”

“What?” Zayn asks, head snapping up.

“Take me home,” Liam repeats more forcefully. “I’m done here. I’d like to go home, and I can’t do that unless you take me because you’re the one who drove us all the way out here.”

Zayn’s expression goes from livid to carefully blank in the blink of an eye, and he stalks off towards his motorcycle. He pulls on his helmet, climbs onto the bike, and sits there, back rigid. Liam takes a slow breath and then follows him, doing the same.

This time he keeps his eyes open the whole way, even when the winding road makes his stomach sick and Zayn’s warmth under his hands makes him want to cry because he might be warm to the touch, but Zayn is actually cold and closed off to him.

They don’t talk when they get home. Liam shucks off the helmet, throws it at Zayn who catches it easily, and then he stomps towards his house, not looking back once.

“Were you out with Zayn?” his mum asks when he gets inside.

Liam pauses in the hallway, considers lying, and figures she’d seen them out the window. “Yes,” he admits.

His mum smiles fondly. “I’m glad,” she says. “You two used to be so close. I think it’s nice that you’re rekindling that friendship.”

Liam lets out a laugh that sounds like a sob and climbs the stairs, ignoring his mum calling after him. He shuts his door, makes sure his window and curtains are closed, and then falls onto his bed. He stares up at the ceiling for a long, long time, until the light outside the window gets dimmer, and his room is cast into shadows that seem fitting, given his mood.

His bedroom door opens without warning and Niall comes in, grinning brightly. His cheeks are flushed and he looks positively radiant.

“Thanks,” he says, tossing his keys to Liam.

“Your date went well, then,” Liam guesses.

Niall nods and sinks onto the edge of Liam’s bed. “Better than well,” he says. “We got kicked out of the movies, and then we made out in the back of your car until some old lady knocked on the window and told us to get out of there before she called the police.”

Liam smiles weakly at him, wishing he could share Niall’s bright mood. Niall must see through it, though, because he says, “What’s wrong?”

Liam shrugs. “Nothing worth talking about.”

“Does it have to do with Zayn?”

“Why would it have anything to do with Zayn?” Liam asks, scoffing.

Niall tilts his head to the side, examining Liam, and says, “Because you’ve sort of been in love with him since we were, like, thirteen, and now he’s suddenly hanging out with us all the time, and that’s got to fuck with your head a bit, you know?”

“I’m not,” Liam gasps out. “But-- it does. But I’m not. In love with him, I mean. I’m not.”

Niall snorts. “Sure thing, Li,” he says. “If you want to deny it, that’s cool. But you want to drive me home?”

“Yeah,” Liam says, nodding. He gets up and they head outside. His mind is still whirling over Niall’s claim that Liam’s been into Zayn for years keeping him from starting up a conversation.

When they get to Niall’s house, Niall puts his hand on the door but doesn’t get out. “Call me if you need to talk, yeah?”

Liam snorts. “Obviously.”

“Seriously, Liam,” he says quietly.

“Okay,” Liam agrees. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Niall nods and gets out of the car, calling, “See you tomorrow!” over his shoulder.

Liam sighs and waits until he’s inside to pull away from the house. When he gets back to his neighbourhood he notices that Zayn’s motorcycle is not parked in his lot. He tells himself he doesn’t care where Zayn went. That he doesn’t care what Zayn does, because Zayn is not his friend, or his boyfriend, or anything to him anymore, and that was Zayn’s choice .

Later that night, after he’s fallen asleep, too exhausted by the entire day to stay up any later, he hears Zayn’s motorcycle coming down the street. He looks over at his alarm clock, reading the flashing 2:17am and rolls over, trying to get back to sleep. Minutes later the sound of something hitting his window has him blinking open his eyes again, but he ignores it and, not longer after, Zayn stops trying to get his attention.

 

--

 

Niall and Louis sit at Harry’s table at lunch. Liam sits at their old table, not really paying attention to the conversations going on around him. He could care less about the party Jordan’s throwing on Friday, or about the game they have the following week against their rival school. He couldn’t care less about any of it, really.

The next day in English a piece of folded paper lands on his desk. Liam lifts his eyes to Zayn, who’s got the end of his pen in his mouth and is smiling almost hesitantly around it, a slight flush in his cheeks. Liam unfolds the page and scans the words.

I’m sorry , is all it reads. Liam scrunches up the paper in his hand and makes a show of walking to the front of the room and tossing it in the garbage.

The next day another note falls right off his desk. Niall gives him a curious look but Liam shakes his head and reaches down to grab it.

If I could find the words to convince you of how I feel, I’d ink them into my skin and wear them proudly until you believed me.

Liam snorts loudly and rolls his eyes before. Unlike yesterday he shoves the letter into his pocket instead, because he can’t make himself throw this one out for some reason. He still sees the hurt look flash across Zayn’s face when he meets his eyes for a short moment, but Liam just returns his gaze to the front of the class and ignores him.

“Could you stop throwing notes at me in class?” Liam hisses on his way out the door.

Zayn frowns and then smirks and shakes his head. “Not when you blush so pretty when I do.”

“I thought you said this was all pointless,” Liam snaps. “And leave me alone.”

To stop wanting you would be to deny the biggest part of myself . The letter is carefully folded into the shape of a heart, and this is getting really fucking ridiculous. And Liam’s, like, 90% sure that Zayn made Harry fold it for him, because Harry keeps wrinkling his nose at Zayn and laughing at him, and Zayn keeps shrugging and trying to catch Liam’s eye.

I’d like to break you apart with my tongue and put you back together, piece by piece, with nothing but my lips . Niall reads this one over his shoulder and snots loud enough that people look over at them.

“That is some cheesy shit,” Niall says.

“It’s ridiculous,” Liam answers, glaring at Zayn as he refolds the note and tucks it into his pocket.

Liam flips Zayn off when the other boy turns in his seat.

I know it’s hard to remember the people we used to be; it’s even harder to picture that you’re not here next to me.

After class Liam slams the paper down on Zayn’s desk and says, “Those are Maroon 5 lyrics.”

Zayn grins up at him, but Liam shakes his head, not returning it. “Just stop, Zayn, honestly.”

Zayn’s smiles drops and he stomps out of the room. Harry gives Liam a disappointed look and leaves with Niall’s arm around his shoulders.

I’m sorry for waiting too long to tell you. I’m sorry for never giving you an explanation. I’m sorry for wasting so much time holding things back when I could have been holding you instead. I’m sorry that it’s so much easier for me to write you shitty poetry on pieces of scrap paper then to tell you these things face to face, and I’m sorry that I broke things irreparably.

I’m sorry that these seven letters do little to make up for it. And I’ll leave you alone.

Liam leaves class with the note in his hands.

 

--

 

Liam comes home after winning one of their biggest games. Niall had cheered and ran towards the benches, throwing himself at Harry, who had struggled to catch him. Zayn had been sitting beside him the whole time, eyes on Liam, and Liam had just turned and headed to the locker room, not wanting to celebrate.

When he gets home he heads upstairs, going straight for his towel hanging off the back of his computer chair. Instead he pulls open the drawer of the desk, takes out a few slips of paper, the black permanent marker, and the roll of tape. He tugs off the lid of the marker and presses it to the page, spanning the message out over four of them, and then gather up the pages and moves towards the window.

He’s not like Zayn. He doesn’t know how to take thoughts and emotions and form them into words, so the message is lame and not enough, but he can’t help that as he tapes it up onto his window, hoping that Zayn will be able to read it from his own.

When he hears Zayn’s motorcycle in the driveway he gets up and moves towards his window and peers out the edges of the paper. A few moments later Zayn’s window opens and he stares at the message written on Liam’s. He meets Liam’s eyes shortly and then slams his window closed, curtains closing too.

Liam sighs and realizes that maybe he’d been too late, until he sees Zayn in his backyard, struggling to climb over the fence. When they were younger there was a hole in that fence, and on the weekends one of them would sneak into the others yard through it and break into the others house through the backdoor so they could wake each other up.

Liam turns and waits until his bedroom door opens. Zayn closes it softly behind himself and crosses his arms over his chest. “ ‘I’m sort of in love with you’,” he quotes “That’s the best you got, Payne?”

Liam shrugs. “Maybe.”

Zayn’s lips twitch upwards, but he says, “I’m not trying to fuck with your head, okay?”

“But you’re still doing a pretty good job of it,” Liam tells him.

“You fuck with mine too,” Zayn argues. Liam snorts. “It’s just -- we don’t really fit, you know. It won’t-- it can’t work. Not anymore. Maybe before but-- we’re different now, you know?”

“I sort of like different,” Liam says quietly.

“I sort of like you,” Zayn counters.

“I sort of love you.”

Zayn crosses the room and crowds Liam up against his window. It’s cold against his back, damp condensation soaking through his t-shirt. “You’re ridiculous,” Zayn tells him.

“I could say the same thing about you,” Liam retorts.

Zayn snorts and then kisses him, gently, hesitantly. Liam kisses him back much more roughly, like he’s trying to see how much pressure he can apply until Zayn snaps. It’s not much, apparently, because Zayn’s fingers dig into his waist and he makes a quiet, needy sound, and that’s all the incentive Liam needs to push his tongue against Zayn’s lips, asking for more. They part almost immediately, giving it to him, and Liam wonders if they could have been doing this for years if they’d both just owned up to how they felt. If they’d tried instead of letting it slip away from them.

“Since I was twelve,” Zayn says against his lips. “And it never went away. And you just kept getting hotter and hotter and it drove me insane, do you know that? I mean, honestly, Liam, you’re really fucking fit, and I sort of resent you for it.”

“Coming from the guy who wears leather jackets and smokes,” Liam says against his lips, pushing Zayn backwards. “Fuck, were you trying to kill me? Because you were doing a pretty good job of it. And then changing with the curtains open all the time. I felt like a creep but I couldn’t stop looking anyways.”

“I wanted you to,” Zayn murmurs, ducking his head into the crook of Liam’s neck as Liam guides them backwards.

“Ridiculous,” Liam says against his skin. “You’re completely ridiculous.”

“I’m okay with that if you are,” Zayn says, legs hitting the back of the bed.

“I don’t know,” Liam teases.

Zayn falls onto the bed, tugging Liam down with him. He scoots farther up, and Liam straddles his hips. Zayn’s hands slid up his back under his shirt, and his nails scratch against his skin as they slide back down before he bunches the shirt up, trying to get it off.

Liam sits up and pulls it off, and Zayn groans loudly. “Remember that note that Morin confiscated?” Zayn asks suddenly, eyes wide. They slide up Liam’s body to his eyes and Liam shivers. “I could show you what it said.”

Liam feels goosebumps break out over his skin under Zayn’s touch and his intense look. “Fuck, are you trying to ruin me?” he asks, mind whirling with possibilities of what that note could have possibly said.

“Yes,” Zayn answers honestly. He smirks up at Liam, and Liam decides that, yeah, he’s sort of in love with that smirk, and he’s okay with that.

 


 

Karen sips her coffee, phone pressed to her ear. “They just left.”

“I know, I heard Liam’s car pull out of the lot,” Trisha replies with a snort. “At least yours doesn’t drive a bloody motorcycle. Gives me a heart attack every time he gets on it.”

“Liam’s rather fond of it, too,” Karen admits. “They think they’re being sneaky, creeping out of the house in the middle of the night and getting on that thing. As if the sound of it doesn’t wake the whole neighbourhood.”

“Boys,” Trisha tsks.

“They always will be, won’t they?”

“Hopefully,” Trisha says fondly. “Though I must admit, I miss when they’d sneak into each others rooms to watch Batman. Now they do it to fool around, which I've had to give Zayn numerous lectures about.”

Their sons are a bit ridiculous, but Karen’s just happy that they’re close again.