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It’s not that there is a lack of crime in his city. Living in a place this big, there is always someone to slap handcuffs on and haul into the station. It’s just that it’s usually petty crime. Not that Liam wants someone to commit murder or something. There’s just something troublesome about bringing in another misguided teenager for spray painting the side of a building, or sneaking into their parent’s liquor cabinet and drinking somewhere as stupid as one of the local parks in the middle of the night. Sure, he wants to help those kids out, but he doubts that cuffing them and tossing them in a cell until their parents pick them up is doing much good. It might scare them, but a month or two later and they’re back at that same building, tagging it again, or passed out on that same stretch of grass, abandoned by their friends who took off running at the sound of sirens.

Liam does love his job, though. He’s wanted to be a police officer ever since he was six years old and a few guys from the force came into his little school and gave a speech on safety and when to call 911 and stranger danger — the works. There had been something so admirable about the badges that were stitched to their uniforms; something so noble about the way they all stood straight with their chins tilted and serious expressions. And then, when he was eight years old and that man broke into his house when his dad was away, and it was just him and his mum, he remembers how safe he’d felt the moment the policeman had put a hand on his shoulder and said, “You’re okay, son, don’t worry.” He’s never wanted anything else.

But again, the job was a lot less fulfilling than he’d thought it’d be. It doesn’t help that, behind closed doors, there are a lot of men and women on the force that aren’t noble or admirable or inspirational. Just because you wear the badge, does not mean you deserve to, Liam thinks. Not that he’d ever say it, not out loud to anyone, at least, except maybe Niall when he’s had a few too many at the pub. He can’t get it out of his mind, though, the way that Malley had kicked that teenage boy while he was down and later claimed that he’d been resisting and putting up a fight, and therefore he’d had no choice. He couldn’t turn a blind eye to it, either, and while he’d had a talk about it with his supervisor, nothing had ever been done.

With a sigh, Liam leans back in his seat and rubs a hand over his face. At least he’s working alone today. Some days he’s stuck with a partner. Their force is big, and it’s not uncommon for him to be stuck with Jasmine one day, and then Jordan or Patrick the next. On some blissful, peaceful days, he gets to be alone. Those are the days when he enjoys waking up to go to work. Those are the days when he doesn’t sigh while buttoning up his uniform and sliding into the driver’s seat of the cruiser.

He’s just settling in, just relaxing for another forty minute break with nothing to do, when his walkie-talkie starts making noise, and then a familiar voice comes in clearly, informing him of a break in on Martin street.

Liam frowns and picks up the talkie, bringing it to his mouth. “Martin street?” he repeats. “Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure, yeah,” Harry says on the other end. “You’re needed A.S.A.P., Payne.”

Liam puts the walkie-talkie away and grabs his hat from where it lays on the unoccupied seat behind him, slipping it on his head. And then he’s switching on the sirens and pulling away from the curb, heading left, taking the quickest path to the familiar street, all the while a frown stays put on his face.

His city has quite a few upscale neighbourhoods, but Martin street is possibly the most prestigious. Willfellow Homes is a gated community with a total of three streets and exactly thirty-two sprawling, impossibly big houses. On top of the security at the gates of the community, most houses are also separately gated, and each and every one has some sort of high end security system of their own (Liam knows this because every couple of months they’re called in to test out said security systems to assure the safety of those living inside). Because of this, there hasn’t been a break-in in that neighbourhood in about six years, and even then the perpetrator had been caught immediately. There aren’t many people stupid or desperate enough to try breaking in there.

The gates are opened for him immediately as he approaches the entrance to the community. There’s a police cruiser parked just inside the gates, and he spots Roman in his car, scribbling something down on his notepad. Liam drives straight past him, but he offers an unreturned wave because Roman is one of the good ones.

Just as he’d thought, the actual house that he’s being called to is gated as well. The gates are wide open, though, and there’s a police car already parked right out front of the large house. Liam parks behind it, makes sure he has all the necessary things (notepad, pen, badge, hat) and then double checks on his gun, just to be sure. Liam has only been on the Armed Unit for a total of three years, and in that time he’s only had to pull that gun on six occasions, and he’s only fired it with intent once.

He doesn’t bother knocking on the front door. It’s as wide open as the gate had been, and he can see the footprints of his fellow officers scuffing up what were probably immaculately clean floors just a few hours ago. He follows them, winding his way into the house until he’s in a spacious kitchen.

“Finally here, Payne,” Jordan hisses, eyes narrowed. He’s got a cup of coffee in his hands, and he’s not paying any attention to the victims at all.

At least Max is, he rationalizes. “And you said that only someone with the code could get into the safe?” he’s asking, eyes wide and dropping to his notepad every couple seconds as he scribbles things down.

The owners of the house are a middle aged couple. The wife is small and pale with a lot of wispy brown hair that’s greying in spots. Her eyes are red and she’s clutching a handkerchief in one hand, her husband’s arm in the other. Her husband does not look at all shaken. He looks furious, face red, hands fisted at his sides.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” the man spits. “No one can get into that safe! Not even Margaret has the code. I’m telling you, it’s impossible.”

Liam steps up to Max’s side, pulling out his own notepad. “Where did you purchase the safe?” Liam inquires. “Was it specialty made? Is there any possible way that someone from the company who made it could have something to do with this?”

The man turns to him and sizes Liam up, beady grey eyes narrowed. “Now there’s a question,” he sneers. “These two’ve just been asking me the same things over and over again. But the thing is, officer—,”

“Payne,” Liam supplies.

“Officer Payne,” the man repeats. “The thing is, I built that safe myself when I built this house from the ground up when I twenty-seven years old. There’s not a single person in this world aside from myself that should be able to get inside it. I’ve never even opened it with anyone else in the room.”

“Can you show it to me?” Liam asks abruptly, dropping his hands the side.

The man looks hesitant, but his wife nods and, together, they lead Liam through the house to a small office with a single window. As clichéd as it is, he really has a safe hidden behind the probably expensive piece of artwork that hangs behind the mahogany desk in the room.

“Don’t touch it,” Liam says quickly. “You could further disturb the evidence.”

Both the man and his wife freeze. Liam moves around the room, taking everything in. “They didn’t come in through the window, then.”

“The front door,” the wife says in a quiet voice. “They had our security key as well. Walked right in like they owned the place, apparently. Only reason I woke up was the sound.”

Liam pauses, halfway to pulling open the curtain. “The sound?”

“Motorcycle,” she continues, eyes wide. “Dreadful things, yes? The neighbour boy had one before he moved out. Woke me up every time he started that thing, nearly gave me a heart attack or two.”

“And this motorcycle was driving by, or—?”

“It was right out front!” she says excitedly. “Right outside my window! Didn’t make it over to it to see the thing, mind, but I heard it. And don’t tell me I was hearing things, I know what I heard. And I know that— that whoever broke in and took—,”

“What did they take?” Max asks, walking into the room. “You haven’t been exactly clear on that.”

The couple had looked furious and frightened at first, but now they both look sheepish and scolded. “He’s terribly paranoid,” the wife says. “Doesn’t trust banks much, and—,”

“I always wanted to be sure that I kept a certain percentage of our money in the house, in case of emergencies,” the man says defensively. “You never know, what with the banking systems in this country, and—,”

“How much?” Max demands.

“Sixty thousand in cash,” the man says after a moment.

Everyone is shocked into silence for a long time. He can see Jordan eying the safe considering, probably wondering how he managed to fit that much in there. Liam, on the other hand, is still at the window. This time he does pull back the curtain, and he surveys the yard in front of him. There’s not much back there, really. A few trees, and then the high, brick walls that surround the property.

“Huh,” Liam says, frowning. “Can you two stay here with them for a moment?”

“Where’re you going, Payne?” Jordan demands.

Liam shakes his head and makes his way through the house. He heads for his car and digs around in the back until he finds what he’s looking for, and then he walks around the house, heading for the back wall. He easily finds what he’d spotted through the window, flapping in the distance. This close up, he realizes it’s a piece of black fabric. Grabbing it, he rips it from where it was stuck to the wall, and then looks over the surrounding area.

There’s a boot print on top of the wall, he finds when he climbs on top of it. He figured as much, though, which is why he brings the binoculars he’d grabbed from his trunk and lifts them to his eyes. They’re not the greatest, but they do the job. He has a clear view of the window, and he can see inside since he left the curtain open. There’s the couple, leaning against the wall, clinging to each other. And Max, talking into his portable walkie-talkie. And then Jordan, riffling through things without any respect for the fact that he could be touching serious evidence. Does he not realize how severe this case is? With that kind of money on the line, this isn’t just some petty break-in where a robber stole a flat screen television.

He pulls out his own walkie-talkie and flicks over to the right station before saying, “Max, can you ask him to head to the safe for me?”

He sees Max jump at his voice, and seconds later his own is coming over Liam’s talkie. “Can you repeat that?”

“Ask the man to move towards the safe. Tell him to pretend to open it, but not to actually touch it,” Liam instructs.

He watches as Max makes a confused face, but he relays the message. The man steps up to the safe, looking around awkwardly, and then lifts his hand and pretends to turn the dials without really touching it. Liam narrows his eyes. The numbers on the dial are large (he has a feeling that has something to do with the age of the owner, and the fact that he hadn’t been wearing any glasses — his sight probably isn’t the best) and, if his binoculars were just a bit better, he has no doubt that someone could easily make out the numbers from this distance.

That, coupled with the fabric and the boot print, is enough to prove what Liam had already been assuming. Whoever did this, they were smart, and they’d planned it out. This wasn’t some quick break in. This was a carefully crafted heist. Something that had taken days to figure out, at least. And he has a feeling that catching them will not be as easy as everyone else probably assumes.

 

 

He turns in late that night after a long time spent in the station. He was taken off the case almost immediately. The Cormac’s (the name of the couple who’s house had been broke into) were rich enough and important enough, and the amount of money taken was large enough that a special agents unit was brought in to take over, though they had chatted with Liam for a good while before they’d started their own investigation, listening to his information about the ripped fabric (which they’d confiscated) as well as the rest of it.

Liam isn’t really upset about any of that, to be honest. His job is to get criminals off the street. It’s not to dust for fingerprints or find pieces of hair follicle on the ground at the scene. He’d done what he could and that was that. He just hated the grueling amount of paperwork he had to do, and the fact that the couple — the Cormac’s, he reminds himself— had specifically asked for him to stick around for a few hours because apparently Liam’s presences was reassuring, if not at all helpful, therefore leaving Liam to just stand there uselessly while other people did their jobs far better than he’d been able to.

He’s just lying down, ready to turn off the lamp on the bedside table when his cellphone vibrates loudly, rattling against the wood of the table. Liam looks at it, debating not answering. It’s probably just Niall, asking him if he wants to come get a drink and distract him from work. Or it’s Harry, asking him to help him distract Niall from work. He doesn’t have the energy for that right now, though. He’s exhausted, and he has to get up tomorrow at six and do that all over again. Still, he grabs it anyways. It could be important.

It’s not Niall or Harry. In fact, the text is from a blocked number. (Liam wasn’t even aware that blocking cell numbers in a text was possible, if he’s being honest.)

You know, I doubt they would have found that piece of my shirt if you hadn’t gotten to it first — Z, the text says.

Liam shivers and sits up so fast that it puts off his balance. He nearly trips as he climbs out of bed, reaching for the baseball bat that leans against the wall by his bed as a precaution. It’s slightly paranoid, yes, but he actually does play baseball sometimes, and home safety is something he preaches nearly every day, so he thinks it’s excusable.

He doesn’t even have his fingers curled around the handle when the next text comes in.

You’re cute, but far too smart for you own good, Officer Payne. Next time, don’t try so hard, babe. Make this easier on us both. — Z

Liam sinks onto his bed, bat forgotten momentarily. Just to see, he hits reply to text. He doesn’t expect it to work, since the number is blocked, but it does. With shaky fingers, he types out a short Who is this? How did you get this number? and waits.

The next text is almost immediate, and he’s not sure what he was expecting, but it was probably exactly what he got.

Like I’m actually going to answer that. Nice try, though, officer.— Z

Liam doesn’t bother responding this time. Instead he brings up Harry’s contact and hits the talk button, impatiently tapping his socked foot on the ground as he waits. Harry thankfully picks up, and he actually sounds sober, which is a plus.

“Liam!” he says brightly. “Just on time to come get shitfaced with me. Are you calling to ask me to pick you up?”

“No,” Liam says, eying the window a few feet from his bed.

His curtains are thin, and he realizes that whoever sent those texts could easily be watching him right now, if they’d managed to get the code for that safe all the way from the wall on the other side of the property. He gets up quickly, tugging them fully closed, and prays that no one is watching him.

“Can you trace a blocked number from a text?” he asks, ignoring whatever Harry had just said, which probably had more to do with Liam coming out with him, and also probably a bit of teasing about Liam needing to get laid and relax.

“Sure,” Harry says. “If I had the phone, I mean, and—,”

“I’ll bring it to you tomorrow before I come into work.”

Harry groans loudly. “That’s, like, five am. No way, Li.”

“It’s important,” Liam hisses. “Someone’s been—,”

“Sending you nudes?” Harry asks. “Send some back, don’t be a chicken shit.”

“It’s not that,” Liam says darkly. “I’ll show you tomorrow.”

There must be something in his voice, because Harry stops teasing and agrees to look at Liam’s phone. Liam thanks him and hangs up after warning him not to get too drunk tonight, and then he falls back into bed. He doesn’t manage to get to sleep until far into the night, though, and he spends most of his time staring at the covered window, wondering if someone is on the other side, staring back.

 

 

Harry can’t do anything with the phone. Apparently he tried to track the number, but the phone was disposable, not registered to any specific name, and it didn’t have a tracking device. In essence, there is nothing he can do to locate the person who sent the texts.

Of course, he mentions it to his supervisor, but no one seems to make a big deal of it. Prank calls aren’t something that anyone around here tends to take too seriously, and even Liam probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelash, under normal circumstances. These don’t feel like normal circumstances, though.

But since there’s nothing he can do about it, he pushes it from his mind. He doesn’t get any more texts, and he doesn’t send any. Doing so would be pointless. Whoever he’s dealing with, they’re far too smart to be caught over a few texts. He won’t get any information that could help the case— the case that he isn’t even on anymore.

He reminds himself of this every time he hears a motorcycle. He’s never been quite so aware of how many there are in this town, but now that he is, there are so many. It’s like everywhere he turns, there’s a motorcycle, and any single one could be driven by the thief and he can’t do anything about it because it’s not like he can just pull someone over for owning a certain kind of vehicle.

He’s stopping for coffee (picking one up for Harry, too, because he’s got to stop by the station) when a motorcycle actually pulls up next to where he’s parked. The traffic is slow, and the driver is just idling there, impatiently drumming his fingers on the handles of the bike when he looks over at Liam. He’s wearing a heavy black leather jacket, tight black jeans, and a clunky kind of black helmet that completely covers his face. It faces Liam for a long while, and Liam just stares back, eyebrows drawn together.

At the last second, the visor of the helmet is lifted, and Liam is met with a pair of brown eyes, crinkling a bit in what he bets is an amused sort of smile. And then traffic is moving again, the man is flipping the visor back down, and he’s speeding off (not really, or Liam would have an excuse to pull him over, which he would jump on, for reasons unknown to him) down the road, disappearing around the corner.

Liam gets a text a few minutes later that consists of nothing but a ;) - Z

 

 

He slams the cup down on Harry’s desk, causing the other boy to jump. Or man, technically, but Liam’s known Harry since he was actually a boy, and he doesn’t look much different. Taller, maybe, more filled out. Same childlike smile that is somehow both innocent and not, at the same time, dimples still appearing in his healthily flushed cheeks. Hard to think of him as a man, in Liam’s opinion.

“What the hell?” Harry demands, jumping back. “You nearly threw that at me!”

“I need you to do me another favour,” Liam says without apologizing. “I need you to look up every person in this city with a registered motorcycle licence. Can you do that for me?”

Harry cocks his head to the side. “Legally, no,” he says. “Not without a reason, or permission from boss man, but… I could accidentally look at the list and accidentally relay the information to you, as long as you don’t mention it to anyone else. I do need an explanation, though.”

Liam sighs and relays what happened to Harry, who takes the phone and looks at the short text for a long time. “He signs it with a ‘z’,” Harry says slowly.

“Exactly,” Liam says, slapping his hand on the table much the way he had with the cup. “It’s either a first name or last name initial, right? How many people do you think drive motorcycles in this city with a name like that?”

“Give me a few hours so I don’t get caught, and I’ll answer that question,” Harry tells him. “Now go, you have an actual job to do. This isn’t it.”

Liam nods, admitting this. Harry’s not being harsh; in fact, if Harry thought that Liam could live with himself, slacking off to follow some stranger on a motorcycle, he’d be all for Liam taking a few risks. Harry knows him too well, though, and he knows that Liam would look back on this and regret it if he did something stupid. So he takes his own coffee, finishes it, and then gets back to work.

 

 

“Six,” Harry says. A folder falls onto the bar in front of him, which has Liam scrambling to hide it and Niall running over to them, curiosity evident in his eyes. “There are six matches.”

“We can’t do this here,” Liam says quickly, looking around. “Harry—,”

“You can use the backroom,” Niall says while wiping down a glass. “I expect details, though.”

Liam goes to say no, but Harry shrugs as if to say why not? What could it hurt?

A lot of things, Liam thinks. For one, this isn’t even technically legal. He and Harry could both get in trouble — possibly fired, even— for this. But it is just Niall. Liam trusts him with his life, so in the end he nods his head and follows Harry to the back of the bar, and then into the small office that is, for now, unoccupied.

Liam pulls open the folder, muttering, “I can’t believe there’s six. Seriously, how is that possible?”

“More ‘Z’ last names than we thought, apparently,” Harry says.

“Right,” Liam groans.

He flips through each page inside the folder. There’s a small, black and white, slightly blurred picture of a licence on each page, along with the name and the person’s information. Liam examines them all, but not one has the eyes he was looking for. Only two have their eye colour listed as brown or hazel, and one of them is about forty, while the other one’s eyes are wider and more doe like, not sharp and heavily lashed like those Liam remembers.

“Nothing,” he says, shaking his head. “None of these are right.”

Harry slaps his shoulder “Probably for the best, Li.”

Liam nods. “Yeah,” he admits. “You’re right.”

“Always am,” he says brightly. “Now get drunk with me. I deserve it after risking my ass for that, don’t you think?”

Liam chews his lip. “You’re not going to let me say no, are you?”

“Nope!” He grabs Liam’s arm. “I’ll even pay, if it’s any consolation.”

And, well, Liam can’t really argue with that.

 

 

“It’s an obsession,” Harry says while Liam downs his fourth —fifth? He’s not sure— drink. “You know how Liam gets. Too devoted to his damn job. Thinks he’s gotta save the world.”

Niall laughs, throwing back his head. Liam doesn’t see what’s so funny. Is there really anything wrong with wanting to do a little good in the world? Is there really something wrong about wanting to help people? He doesn’t think so.

“He’ll catch him,” Niall says with absolute conviction. “They get those forensic pricks to do all the behind the scenes, but you know it’ll be Liam who gets the cuffs on him.”

His phone vibrates against his thigh as Harry makes an agreeing sound. Liam pulls it out, narrowing his eyes to try and focus them enough to read the text.

If you promised not to arrest me, I’d let you use the handcuffs any time. — Z

Liam looks up sharply, eying everyone around him. There are several guys close enough with the right build — thin, but wide-ish shoulders— and the right eye colour, but none that he can see that have the exact same eyes. He’s pretty positive he’d recognize them.

“Look,” Liam says, passing his phone to Harry. He leans his elbows on the bar while Harry reads over the text, regretting the amount he’s had to drink already. “I’m supposed to just let this go? He’s harassing me.”

Harry laughs and presses a few buttons, and then he hands his phone back to Liam, who instantly reads what Harry sent.

Send dick pics ;)

Liam shoves him and Harry nearly topples off his stool, which only makes Niall laugh again, the sound of it nearly drowned out by the thumping of the music. “You realize this means he’s here, right?” Liam adds, in case they didn’t clue into this.

“Shit,” Harry says, confirming Liam’s suspicions. “You’re right.” He looks around and then moves his gaze back to Liam. “How’re you sure this is the guy that stole the sixty-thousand from the Cormac’s anyways? Are you sure it’s really him?”

Liam nods solemnly. He’s sure. And there’s not a God damn thing he can do about it, which is really starting to irritate him. Maybe if he got this ‘Z’ to admit to it through text, he could show it to his supervisor again. An actual confession would mean that someone would have to listen to him, right?

For now, though, Liam is just going to have another drink and try to forget about all of this.

 

 

He’s sitting at home on a Sunday night, watching the news because that’s what he does. Not really, but the Walking Dead season ended recently, and he has nothing better to do. Even Harry doesn’t go to the bar on a Sunday, and unless he wants to go over to his and watch whatever shitty romantic comedy Harry is into that month for the third time, this is the best he’s got.

Sometimes he thinks it’s sort of lonely. His parents live a few towns over, and he doesn’t see them as often as he’d liked. Outside of Harry and Niall, he really doesn’t have any friends. He doesn’t hang out with any of the guys on the force very often, either, and he hasn’t had a date in over a year. Not many people want to date a cop, apparently. Something about the badge is intimidating, or maybe it’s the fact that it’s sort of a dangerous job, and no one really wants to get involved with someone who could actually head to work one day and not come back (though Liam rarely thinks like this; it’s not that dangerous, in his opinion).

He should get a dog, he muses. Or a cat, but he’s really not a cat person. They’re too bristly, too picky. But a dog would need a lot more attention, and Liam’s not sure if he’d be able to offer enough, and he’d hate to be one of those people that has an animal they can’t really take care of. A whole house to himself is a bit much, though, even if it is only a small, slightly rundown two-bedroom, one story affair.

—morning an anonymous philanthropist donated an astounding forty thousand pounds to local group home. Nancy Albert at the scene of Albert’s House, where the residences are said to be quite overwhelmed. Nancy, how’re things over there?

Liam focuses back into the news at once, surprised. The screen focuses in on a pretty girl with perfectly styled red hair, and then an older women with less perfect brown hair, clutching a small child’s hand. Her eyes are red rimmed, tears tracks running down her face.

We just— we can’t believe it,” the woman says. “Last week we were close to being shut down. The house isn’t in proper shape to be lived in by so many people at this point, and — and now…,” She breaks off to let out a sob. “I have no idea who you are, but whoever— whoever did this for us, we thank you.

The news anchor brings her microphone back to her own mouth. “I’ve been told that not all of the donation was in cash. Do you care to elaborate on this statement?

The woman, still holding the child, laughs and waves a hand. Two older boys, probably thirteen or so, step into the frame. They’re both grinning widely, and the reporter holds out her microphone to them. “It was like Christmas,” one of them says. “There was a new bike waiting downstairs for each of us, and the old television in the living room’s been replaced. I don’t thing we’ve ever had anything this nice before.

There you have it, folks,” the reporter finishes up. “Someone out there has done a wonderful thing, and I think I can speak on behalf of the entire community when I say thank you for your generosity. Maria, back to you.”

Liam takes a deep breath, heart hurting for some reason. His mother’s always said that he’s too empathetic. He was never one of those kids that cried at sad movies, but give him a happy ending where there’s smiles and good things all around, and suddenly he’s got tears in his eyes. That’s why superhero movies are his favourite. No matter what, through all of it, the hero always saves the day. There’s always a happy ending. That’s just how they work, and Liam wishes the real world were like that, but that’s not always the case.

Reaching for his drink, Liam stops and grabs his phone instead when it beeps quietly. Harry always laughs at him for still using the default ringers on it, but then Liam still laughs at Harry for having a specific ring tone for everyone (Liam’s happens to be Ludacris’ Move Bitch, though he has no idea why).

Watching the news? — Z

Liam’s not even surprised by this point. In fact, he was almost anticipating the next text, not that he’d mention it to anyone, especially not Harry because Harry would never let it go.

How did you know that? Liam sends back, shifting in his seat. His curtains are open right now, so he moves towards them and tugs them shut. He doesn’t like this at all, this constant feeling of someone watching him. It makes him uneasy.

I don’t actually spend all my time stalking you, I hope you realize. That was one time, and I was bored and curious. I was just hoping that you happened to be watching tonight. —Z

Liam rereads the text twice, and then finally sends, I might have been. What’s it to you?

The next text takes quite a while to come in, which is unprecedented. Every time they’ve conversed, Z was always quick to reply, almost impossibly so.

Maybe I’m just hoping that you’ll see my side of things and forgive me for tomorrow. —Z

Liam’s heart is hammering in his chest now. tomorrow? he sends, and he can’t sit still while waiting for a reply. A reply that never comes. Liam sits up until two in the morning waiting for it, but it never comes in. Again, he wonders what the hell he should do right now, but in the end he can’t really do anything. Tomorrow, he vows, he’ll bring this up with his supervisor again, even if Jacobson is getting irritated with him. He’s just trying to do his job, right?

 

 

Except Liam barely gets into work the next day before he’s rushed out on a call, heading for the other side of town. His heart is in his stomach through the whole drive, and that fact actually makes it easy to ignore Jordan in the seat next to him, snapping things at Liam every few seconds for not driving fast enough.

They’re not at a house this time. Instead, they’re at a business. Just like with the Cormac’s, though, there’s been another safe robbery. The money count is a bit lower this time (fifteen thousand, which is still an incredible amount, though nothing compared to the last case), but the man he’s dealing with is far more volatile.

“—your damn job,” he snaps at Liam as he investigates the room the safe is in. “I already told you, he was driving a motorcycle, in all black, wearing a leather jacket and—,”

“And that narrows it down to almost every single person in this city with a motorcycle,” Liam sighs, turning around. “You don’t know the licence plate numbers? Do you have any outdoor security? I thought I saw cameras on my way in here.”

“Those cameras haven’t worked for eight year,” the man spits. “Do you know how much security like that costs? Not to mention the fact that I’d have to pay someone to watch the tapes and make sure no one was breaking in here, which is your job, officer.”

Liam refuses to get riled up, but Jordan’s looking more than a little annoyed as he riffles through the room, grabbing random things. “I’m very sorry, sir,” Liam tells the man. “We’ll have our best agents on this, I assure you.”

“Damn well better,” the man mutters. “Can’t even feel secure in my own damn office. What’s this world coming to?”

“Hey, Payne,” Jordan says, pulling his attention away from the angry man. He’s holding up a large envelope, waving it around a bit. “This has your name on it.”

“What?” Liam asks, stepping forward to grab it. “Where’d you get this?”

“Never seen that before in my life,” the business man tells him. “I didn’t bring that in here, and I’m the only one who’s been in this room, except for that son of a bitch that—,”

Liam tunes him out, opting to open the envelope instead. He finds a collection of newspaper clippings inside, and he pulls them out, placing them on the desk in front of him. The first one is dated only a few weeks ago, days before the break in at the Cormac’s.

Local group home condemned by city. Residents were given a two month notice to evacuate the building. “It’s a sad day,” says Alexander Cormac, the local inspector who had given Albert’s House their condemnation. “I wish there was something I could have done, but sadly I just inspect these things. The city can’t really afford to be putting money into fixing things like this right now. There are more important issues at hand.” The sixteen residences of Albert’s House are now working to find the children placed in the home new suitable living quarters.

Liam drops the clipping and grabs the next one, scanning it quickly.

Yesterday afternoon the jury sided with local contractor, Alex Cormac, in the case involving John Benjamin. Benjamin, 16, was riding his bicycle late at night on Thursday the tenth when he was hit by Cormac, who claims that Benjamin had flown out in front of him, not giving him a chance to hit his breaks. Benjamin was requesting that Cormac be forced to pay his medical bills, but… continues on page 7.

He didn’t include page seven, but it wasn’t really necessary, was it? Liam doesn’t have to read the other pages to know what this is. This is the thief— Z—’s way of telling Liam that maybe, just maybe, Cormac had deserved it. While Liam doesn’t think justice works that way, while he doesn’t condone thievery in any way, he can’t help but feel almost smug about what happened. It’s quite obvious, now, exactly who donated that money to the group home. He also has no doubt that, if he were to go investigate, a certain John Benjamin had probably come into a fair amount of money recently.

“What is it?” Jordan demands, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

Liam shakes his head and places the clippings back in the envelope. “You can ask Jacobson when we get back to the station,” he says, which makes Jordan’s face go red, but there’s really nothing he can do about it.

 

 

Unsurprisingly, Jacobson is finally starting to take Liam seriously. He has no idea if this has anything to do with him, though, or if it has to do with the fact that the forensics unit had not managed to come up with anything from either of the two crime scenes. He hopes it’s because of him, but he seriously doubts it.

They take the folder and his phone, though, confiscating the second one as evidence, which only makes Liam annoyed because he sort of needs his cellphone, and maybe they wouldn’t have to take it for evidence if someone would have just listened to him the first three times he brought it up. But of course he doesn’t say this, because he’d like to keep his job and he knows that it’s necessary. So he goes out and gets a pay-as-you-go, cheap replacement phone until he gets his old one back.

At least he’s distracted. He’s allowed on the case once again, and he’s brought into the discussion on all of the information they currently have— which isn’t much, admittedly. In fact, Liam’s gathered far more than anyone else.

“You’re not going to catch him with evidence found at one of the scenes,” Liam says finally, while they go over the same pieces of evidence for the fifteenth time. “He’s too smart to leave anything behind.”

“So what do you expect we do?” asks one of the other officers. He’s much older than Liam, and he’s in a different unit so Liam doesn’t recognize him by name. Not that he’d want to, he decides. Liam doesn’t get along well with assholes, and there’s something about this guy that just screams asshole. “Just let him go? Really? What’re they teaching the grunts these days?”

Liam ignores him. “We’ve got to figure out where he’s going to strike next, not try to figure out who he is from where he’s already hit. He doesn’t leave evidence. In fact, he’s sort of brilliant. But he’s got a pattern.”

“What kind of pattern?” Jacobson asks, giving Liam his full attention.

Liam grabs the news paper clipping, and then pulls out a few of his own. He spreads them out on the table. “Think about it,” he says. “First he takes the sixty thousand from Cormac, and what does he do with it? Gives forty of it to the group home that, just a month or so before, Cormac had condemned. And then we’ve also contacted Benjamin, the teenage boy who was hit by, and then tried to sue, Cormac one night while riding his bike, and he was given a generous amount of money from an anonymous benefactor as well. It’s really not hard to put the pieces together.”

“All that only adds up to fifty-five thousand,” someone points out. “Not all of it’s accounted for.”

Liam nods. He’s already thought about that. “Obviously he keeps some of it,” Liam explains. “A small percentage.”

He holds up the newer clippings, the ones he’d cut himself. All of them have to do with the business man they’d dealt with the other day, who was currently up on charges for not paying child support to his three children after the mother left him (each article hints at spousal abuse, but none of them could confirm it).

“I called his ex wife yesterday,” Liam tells everyone. “She went to get the paper two days ago and found nine thousand pounds, in bills, in her mailbox. Though it’s unconfirmed, everyone’s fairly certain that she left him because he was abusing her.”

“Where’s the other six thousand?” someone demands.

“Cara Peterson,” Liam says. “She filed for a restraining order against Holton about a year ago only days after being admitted to the hospital for severe wounds to her head and ribs. Same thing. Opened her mailbox and found four grand inside.”

Everyone’s quiet. Finally someone speaks up, another person Liam doesn’t recognize. “So this guy,” he says, scratching at his chin while he thinks out his words, “is an abusive asshole, and our thief is stealing from him and paying off the people he’s wronged?”

“Looks like it,” Liam says flatly. “Unless someone’s got another idea.”

Everyone grunts disagreement, and Liam grins.

“So we have a motive, then,” someone says while shuffling a few papers. “Now we just have to figure out where he’s going to strike next, and we’ll catch this son of a bitch.”

Jacobson pats Liam on the back and sends him out to get coffee for everyone. He doesn’t even mind, not when he knows, at least, that he’s helping. That’s why he got into this in the first place, right? To help people. Not to make people think he was a hero, not to get appreciation.

When he gets back with the coffee, everyone is hurrying around the room. Liam steps back, trying not to get bumped into, lest he spill the drinks in his hands, but someone takes them from him and pushes him towards the door with a rushed, “Him again. This time on Johnson. The law firm. Only employees in the building at the time claim they heard a motorcycle not long before their boss returned to find his safe empty.”

Liam nods, taking this in, and then he’s on the move, getting to his car, pausing only long enough to let another officers, one who’d spoken earlier, into the passenger seat. The drive is mostly silent, except for the guy asking Liam the occasional question, the final one being, “Why did that envelope have your name on it? Why’s he risking everything by giving that to you?”

Liam doesn’t answer immediately, but when he does it’s with a completely honest, “I really don’t know.”

Z is an extremely wanted criminal, at this point, and when they pull up to the law firm, there are already four other cruisers parked along the street, as well as a single unmarked car. Liam gets out, the other officer following behind him, and he’s waved into the building by Maya, a woman from his own unit that he gets on fairly well with, most of the time.

Liam is led to a small office at the end of the hall on the third floor. Other officers are already converged inside, but they actually move out of the way for Liam, which is surprising.

“No envelope this time,” someone says to him.

Liam looks around the room, realizing this is true. There isn’t one in plain sight, but he has a feeling there’s one here anyways. “Do you keep folders in this room?” Liam asks the only man in a business suit, obviously the owner of the safe that had been broken into.

The man frowns and nods, heading for the filling cabinet near the door. “I keep all of my cases—,”

“I’m looking for a specific one,” Liam says, moving towards it. Thankfully each folder is labelled and they’re in alphabetical order. He quickly finds the ‘P’s, and there’s a single envelope stuck between two folders that he pulls out.

“Why wouldn’t he leave it on the desk like last time?” someone asks.

Liam has an idea, though he’s not saying it out loud. Z undoubtedly knows that Liam told everyone else about the last folder, so he knows that Liam won’t be the only one who’s looking for it, and he probably knows that Liam might not even get to it at all, so he didn’t leave it out in the open.

Why Liam understands this guy so much, he has no idea. It makes him uneasy. He’s a criminal, and the fact that Liam feels weirdly connected to him is wrong. The fact that Liam might even think his actions are sort of, kind of, maybe justified is even worse.

Back turned to everyone else, Liam opens the envelope, finding the expected news paper clippings inside. But Liam had already found all the ones for the last case himself, and these ones are instead for this case. Liam’s eyes scan the words of the first few articles, stomach twisting at what he finds. He hands them off the officer to his left, who takes them and passes them around. Honestly, Liam is sort of upset that Z had only taken this guy for twenty thousand.

The last clipping is different. All of the others had been articles on Martin Quinn, the owner of the law firm. This one— this one is not. Liam carefully slips it into his sleeve and turns around. “Those were all of them,” he says, praying he doesn’t look guilty. He’s a shit liar, Harry always tells him as much.

No one is paying him attention anymore. Instead they’re all passing around the clippings and eying Martin warily. All of the clippings state that he was never convicted of anything, but Liam has a feeling that money had a big part in that. And if he really was guilty of those crimes that he’d gotten acquitted for, then there is not a single part of Liam that feels bad for this man at all. In fact, it’s taking everything in him not to slap a pair of handcuffs on Martin’s wrist and haul him into the station.

 

 

As soon as he’s home, Liam pulls out his laptop and extracts the hidden clipping from his pocket, where he’d put it as soon as he was out of sight. He’s not even sure why he did that, exactly. Right now he is holding possibly the only piece of evidence that could help them convict this guy, who has now stolen over a hundred thousand pounds from various different people in two months. And he’s not told anyone about it.

He scans the article again, but it doesn’t say much. It only talks about a convicted felon (only a last name — Connors— listed) who spent four years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. A crime that he claimed another man, Jeremy Ivan, committed. While it was eventually revealed that Connors did not, in fact, commit the crime, the other man ended up getting away with only a small fine, serving no jail time. Connors was never compensated for the four years of his life that he lost because of this.

Liam opens google and types in Jeremy Ivan. The amount of hits he gets is tremendous, and none of them are very helpful, so he adds the name of his city to the end of the search and tries again. This one works better.

There are many posts about the trial between him and Connors, but nothing really about Ivan himself. He spends most of the night searching Jeremy Ivan, but in the end he doesn’t find what he’s looking for. Ivan is apparently extremely wealthy, but he retired six years ago and he doesn’t own a business. The only place for Z to strike would be his home, but an address isn’t listed.

Eventually Liam gives in and calls Harry.

“Don’t kill me,” is the first thing he says.

“Killing a cop,” Harry says slowly. “Yeah, I’d rather not do that, so how about you just try not to give me a reason to.”

Liam makes an annoyed sound but doesn’t deem that worth of acknowledgment. “I need you to break the rules again.”

Harry groans. “Liam, come on, you know I —,”

“Nothing major,” Liam promises. “I need an address. That’s it.”

A long, drawn out sigh is all he gets in response.

“Jeremy Ivan,” he says quickly. “I need to know where he lives. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, Harry, you know that. Just— just try for me. Or don’t. If you think you’re going to get in trouble, I’ll figure something out myself.”

“I’m looking right now,” Harry tells him. “I don’t need access to any files. There’s this thing called the internet—,”

“I tried that already.”

“Yeah, but that’s you,” Harry replies. “You’re a lost cause when it comes to technology. This is my thing. Give me, like, two minutes, I just— yeah, I— there. 276 Prince Crescent.”

Liam gapes at nothing in particular for a few moments, before he finally says, “Thank you.”

“Don’t do anything stupid, Liam,” Harry warns. “Promise me.”

“I won’t,” Liam assures him.

“You’re lying.”

“I’m a shit liar.”

“You definitely are.”

“Are you going to stop me?” he wonders.

“I don’t even know what you’re going to do,” Harry points out. “But— no, I’m not going to stop you. If anyone asks, though, I don’t even know you.” He lets out another sigh. “Damn it, Liam, what have you gotten yourself into?”

Not for the first time today, Liam says, “I really don’t know.”

 

 

He gets up early the next day so he has extra time to get ready. He showers, shaves, double checks to make sure he put on deodorant, and then he spends the rest of his morning making breakfast, eating it, and worrying. Worrying about what’s going to happen today. Worrying about nothing happening today. Worrying about getting caught and getting fired. Or maybe getting killed even, who knows. Z is, after all, a notorious criminal at this point, and while Liam seriously doubts that he’s capable of anything violent or dangerous, he can’t help but still consider something like that happening.

Before he leaves, he grabs the extra bottle of mace from the bottom drawer of his bedside table and pockets it, just in case, and then he takes a deep breath and heads out for work. He gets a text halfway there, but he can’t check it until he’s parked, and he’s chewing his bottom lip the whole time he has to wait to check it.

It has to be Harry, he knows. It has to be. And that in itself is worrying enough, because Harry does not converse this early in the morning if he can help it. There is a part of him, though, that considers who else it might be, and that makes waiting to find out nearly impossible.

When he pulls his phone out of his pocket, he finds a short text from a blocked number that says nothing but 12:30 this afternoon. There is no tag at the end, like there usually is. That’s it.

Liam sends back Okay.

He wishes the text hadn’t come in until later in the day, because he’s stuck spending the next five hours doing nothing but watching the clock. Technically he should be doing paperwork, but he can’t focus enough to read the black, typed out words on the white pages, everything turning into an unreadable grey blur.

He drinks far too much coffee to try and make himself more alert, but all it does is make him jittery and possibly more unfocused, something that Harry comments on when he ducks in to see him. Liam waves off his worries and pretends to get back to work until Harry leaves. If he stays, he’ll see right through Liam, and Liam can’t have someone stopping him.

Finally the clock reads 11:30, and he gets out of his seat, stretching first. He pulls down his shirt afterwards and heads for the door, trying to seem as nonchalant as possible.

“Just taking my lunch a bit early,” he says easily as he makes his way towards the door. “Pretty hungry, you know. And I’m just doing paperwork anyways, so…. I’ll be back soon.”

Everyone goes back to their work, completely ignoring him, so Liam slips out the door and into his cruiser. He doesn’t need a map, since he knows this city like the back of his hand, but he double checks the address he has listed on the piece of paper in his pocket.

He’s a bit early, so he parks down the street. This is a bad thing because it just gives him even more time to second guess himself. When he does get out of the car, he goes through his normal routine, but this time he second checks his handcuffs instead. It’s not the gun he’s going to be using.

Liam slowly walks down the street, reading each house number until he gets to 276. He pauses in the driveway, looking around, but he doesn’t see a motorcycle anywhere on the street. There’s not a car in the driveway either, though there is a sizable garage. It could be parked inside, he rationalizes, which is why he approaches the door and knocks first.

He barely touches his knuckles to the door before it’s opening. Someone else isn’t opening it, either. It just wasn’t closed tightly, and all it took was a bit of pressure for it to fall open.

“Hello?” Liam calls. He winces at the way his voice echoes through the front hallway. “Um, police?” He rubs a hand over his short hair. “Shit. Um. I’m coming in!”

What am I doing? Liam wonders. He still takes a hesitant step inside, though. And then another. And another. No one comes out to stop him. In fact, he’s fairly certain that there’s not a single person in this entire, admittedly huge, house.

He checks every room, finding the living room and kitchen and then the door to the basement. When no one pops out and asks him what the fuck he’s doing, he tries upstairs. The first room is a bedroom, the second is a bathroom, but the third is an office.

“I wouldn’t go in there,” someone says from behind him.

Liam jumps, startled, and whirls, reaching for the mace in his pocket instead of the gun in the holster. At the other end of the hallway, closer to the stairs (and the only exit that Liam’s aware of), stands the same guy from the motorcycle. Liam knows it’s him. Same jacket, same everything. The only visible difference is the fact that he’s wearing one of those clichéd ski masks that covers most of his face, except his eyes and his mouth — a mouth that Liam definitely does not spend any longer looking at than necessary.

He wonders if it’s as obvious as it feels, his panicked nerves. Licking his lips, he tries to calm his racing heart and focus on breathing evenly. “Are we really doing the whole—,” Liam waves to his face, “— clichéd ski mask thing?”

This earns him a laugh. Z rocks back on his heels and grins widely through the stupid mask, shaking his head. “That’s the best you’ve got, Officer Payne?”

Liam stiffens. “It’s Liam,” he tells Z. “Not— not Officer Payne right now.”

“I know your name,” Z says easily, rolling those eyes that have sort of haunted Liam for weeks. “I know a lot more about you than you think, I bet.”

“That’s creepy,” Liam informs him.

Z rolls his eyes again. “I told you I don’t stalk you,” he says. “I’m just smart, and cautious, and you’ve been my biggest obstacle since this whole thing started.”

Liam crosses his arms over his chest, very discreetly reaching a hand towards his bet, where the handcuffs hang. “Really,” he says, voice flat. “Why is that?”

Z shrugs. “Several reasons. You’re not the smartest person, but you’re clever. You understand people. And you do this for a reason. Everyone else — everyone else does it for money, or fame, you know? They find a case like the ones you’ve been dealing with lately, and they only want to take them on because there’s a bonus in it for them, or their name will be written in bold on the front of next week’s newspaper. But you—,” he pauses, cocking his head to the side. “No, you do it because you genuinely like helping people. The others’ll give up after a while. No amount of money or fame is worth that much of their effort. They’ll play hero another day, apologize to everyone I’ve stolen from, tell them there’s nothing they can do.”

He takes a step down the hall, closer to Liam, and Liam instinctively takes one back until he remembers why he’s here. He stands his ground, waiting as Z gets closer.

“Not you, though,” he says, voice low. “You don’t want to play the hero, Liam Payne. You just want to help people. You have morals, don’t you? And you won’t back down, because you’re fighting for something. Sure, something as pathetic and impossible as proving to the world that there is still good out there, but that’s still something. It’s the ones who are fighting for something that you have to worry about.”

Liam pretends to be as unfazed by this as he can, but it’s hard because it’s spot on. It’s something that he’s thought more than once himself. Maybe not that last part, but the rest of it. It freaks him out that this person knows this about him, has managed to crack Liam open and sift through everything he found inside, tucking away important pieces of information that benefited him.

“What about you?” Liam asks, a defensive tone to his voice. “Playing Robin Hood and vigilante. You’re going about it the wrong way, and I think you know that, but in the end you’re doing exactly what I’m doing.”

Now it’s his turn to say, “Really. And what’s that?”

“Helping people.” Liam takes a step forward as he talks. “Those who deserve it.” Another step. He can pick out the lighter flecks of colour in those brown eyes now, reflecting the low-light of the overhead light. “You’re fighting for something, you’re just fighting in the wrong way.”

Z smirks at him. “You don’t know me, Liam.”

Liam smirks right back. “You don’t know me, either,” he says, reaching out to grab the thin wrist he can just see peeking out of the sleeve of Z’s leather jacket.

At the last second, Z jumps backwards, away from Liam. He twists, turning towards the stairs, and grabs the banister with what Liam now notices is a glove covered hand. Not any kind off glove. The kind that doctors use, or dentists. “Better than you think, Liam,” Z calls over his shoulder. “And I’d be careful. Your prints are all over this house, and poor Jeremy just lost the ten thousand he’s had in his safe, and the fifteen he’d stuffed in his mattress.”

Liam stares after him for a long moment before coming back to his senses and bolting down the stairs. The front door closes between them, and Liam grabs the handle, pulling it open. And Z is just— gone. He stands there in the threshold for a moment, and soon enough the sound of a motorcycle starting up a street over reaches his ears. Even if he were to run, he’d never make it there in time. This is further proven a moment later when the rumbling of the engine starts to get more distant, and then it disappears altogether.

He stands there in the doorway for a long time before letting out a self loathing, annoyed, “Fuck.”

 

 

By the time Jeremy Ivan comes home, finds his money missing, and calls the police, Liam is already back at the station, nervously awaiting the call. He’s not sent out with the rest of the team, though. Instead he’s sent on another call, another break-in on the other side of town. This one is different. An alarm system went off, and Z would never be stupid enough to do that.

When Liam pulls up to the house, he expects someone else to already be there, another officer. He’s alone, though. Everyone else is, apparently, too busy with the Jeremy Ivan case. This one is in one of the more run down parts of town. It’s a modest sized house, and Liam wonders why anyone would even bother breaking in here. He has no idea what they took, or if they even took anything, actually, because they didn’t get a call from the residences. They got a call from the neighbours who claimed that they had seen someone moving around the house that didn’t match the description of the owners, who should both be at work at the moment.

Liam knocks hard on the front door, but he doesn’t get an answer. There isn’t a car in the driveway, so he assumes that no one is home, but the door is unlocked. He barely touches his knuckles to the door and it’s opening wide.

Stepping inside the house, Liam feels cold. There’s something wrong. He doesn’t know how he knows it, he just does. Someone is in this house. Someone that shouldn’t be. There’s a disturbance in the atmosphere, something distinctly off.

Pulling his gun from his holster, Liam flicks off the safety and takes slow steps into the house. Just like at Jeremy Ivan’s, there’s nothing on the first floor, so he makes his way up the stairs, wincing at the way his footsteps seem to echo through the house.

It’s as he’s pushing open the first door on the left that he hears someone behind him. He turns, gun raised, but before he can level it at the person behind him, his mouth is falling open in surprise.

There’s a body laying on the floor, unconscious. There’s a large metal pipe in the man’s hand, and it slipped out of his grip when he fell, making a loud clanking noise before it rolled a bit of a way away from the body. And standing above him, a gun in his own hand, turned around so the butt of it is facing Liam, is Z.

Liam gapes at him as Z nudges his toe against the man on the floor. “Prick,” he mutters. “Someone’s gonna have a killer headache when they wake up.”

“What— what are you doing here?” Liam demands, lowering his gun.

Z looks up at him, grinning. He’s got that stupid mask on still, but Liam can still see the way his lips tilt up and his eyes flash with amusement. “I may have a police scanner,” he admits. “Might have heard them call you in, and when I realized they were sending you here alone, I figured I’d check it out. Just to be sure.”

Okay, so that’s one question answered, but he’s got a lot more. “You’ve got a gun,” he starts with. “Do you even have a licence for that thing?”

Z laughs. “You’re such a boy scout, Liam. You should be thanking me. This joker was seconds away from splattering your brain on the wall, you realize.”

No, he really hadn’t, actually. Now that he’s said it, he realizes it’s true, though. “Why?” Liam asks. “Why would you help me?”

“Because this game of cat and mouse would be a lot less fun if someone killed my mouse, now wouldn’t it?” Z says. He gives Liam one last blinding smile before ducking into one of the bedrooms.

Liam’s brain starts working again, and he runs after Z, pushing into the room. It’s empty. The window is wide open, though, so he moves towards it, leaning on the sill as he looks down. It’s a far drop, but Z’s not laying on the ground, hurt. He’s just gone.

Pulling his walkie-talkie out, Liam squeezes his eyes closed, wondering how he let this guy get away again. “I’m going to need an ambulance,” Liam says into the talkie. And a head examination, apparently, because Liam is seriously losing it.

 

 

The next week is a hectic one. The paperwork he has to file out for the last case he was on is extensive, not to mention the fact that he’s questioned about the new Z-related case. Apparently officers scoured the building, but he didn’t leave an envelope this time. Liam knows this, mostly because the envelope was on his dresser at home, accompanied by a small brown paper bag that contained a single peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, which may just be Liam’s favourite, though he’s fairly sure that not even Harry knows that about him, which is almost as unnerving as the fact that Z has no progressed to breaking into his house, too.

Just like last time, the clippings are for this case, with a single one that’s not. And just like last time, Liam does his research, finds out what he needs to, and keeps the information to himself while he waits for the text telling him when to go. Except he doesn’t get one all week, so he tries to focus on his job again, the way he had before any of this started, when he was proud of himself for what he did. Right now, he’s nothing but disappointed.

He could have caught Z if he wanted, he thinks. He could have shared more information with everyone else, including the current location of Z’s next mark, which Liam has written on the notepad beside his computer and hasn’t told anyone, not even Harry. This is his life now, apparently. He’s keeping a criminal’s secrets, even from his best friend, who’s known almost every single thing about Liam since he was about eleven years old.

It gets worse that Tuesday when he’s sitting in his office, going over more paperwork, and a text comes in. Liam pulls out his phone, not needing to worry about anyone scolding him for being on it at work since his door is closed.

I need a favour. —Z

Liam snorts out loud before covering his mouth and looking around, not that anyone was there to hear it. He quickly types out, No way. Are you serious? and sends it before dropping his phone onto his desk and promising himself that he’s going to just ignore the texts from now on. He’s getting too entwined in this case, and it’s obviously doing bad things to him.

The next text comes in and he does just that, easily ignoring it. For exactly seven minutes before he cracks.

You owe me. I saved your life.— Z

Liam’s eyes narrow as he types out, I didn’t ask you to, and I’m not aiding a criminal.

The next text is nothing but an address and a time.

 

 

Liam looks around in confusion. He’s parked outside what appears to be a hairdressers and a diner. He was expecting a rundown old house in the middle of nowhere, and this is what he gets? This is where Z wants to meet him?

And he didn’t say where to go, either. He didn’t say go inside, or give any further instructions. He just gave the address and time. He’s about five minutes early, and he’s not sure if he should wait in the car or enter the diner and wait for Z to meet him inside. Or maybe he should call Harry and have him dispatch another car to the diner for when Z arrives.

He’s not going to do that, though. Even if he had the chance, he wouldn’t. And he doesn’t have a chance, because his passenger door is open and a masked figure is sliding in beside him and saying, “Drive.”

And fuck, Liam drives without even hesitating.

He feels a hand at his belt, but he’s too busy trying not to hit the car in front of him to stop them, and when he looks over at his passenger, Z’s got his handcuffs in his lap. “Precaution,” he explains, giving Liam a lopsided smile. “I doubt you’re going to arrest me but, you know, I don’t really like wearing handcuffs unless it’s in bed.”

Liam makes a face at him. “Give me those back.”

“No,” he says defiantly. “Unless you’d like me to put them on you.” He waggles his eyebrows. “What do you say, Payne? Want to know what it’s like to be the one locked up?”

“Stop that,” Liam snaps. “And where am I going? You just said to drive.”

Z shrugs. “Wherever you want to go.” He pauses. “But don’t be a smartass and take me to the station.”

Liam’s eyes narrow as he grips the steering wheel too tightly. “I should. I should lock the doors, and—,”

“And you won’t,” Z finishes for him. “We both know you won’t, so let’s not make an ass out of ourselves and pretend like there’s even a chance of that happening, okay?”

Liam takes a sharp left, and then a right, and then he’s following the familiar path to the station. He’s about five minutes away when the body next to his tenses, and then Z is reaching for the door, trying to push it open, but Liam’s already locked it.

“I still have a gun, you know,” he’s reminded, but Z’s voice is shaky.

“So shoot me,” Liam tells him. “We both know you won’t, so let’s not make an ass out of ourselves and pretend like there’s even a chance of that happening,” he mocks.

“Liam—,”

He hits the breaks so hard that Z flies forward, hands bracing on the dashboard. “That’s what you get for not wearing a seatbelt. I could fine you for that.”

They’re just down the street from the station, and Liam can see the front doors clearly from where he’s sitting. And he’s just parking here, not moving forward, because like he’d thought earlier, he is so fucked.

Z is breathing heavily, eyes wide. He turns to Liam, mouth agape, and just stares for a long time. “I honestly thought you were— I thought—,”

“What do you want from me?” Liam snaps, cutting him off. “Why me? Why are you doing this?”

Almost as quickly as the terrified, vulnerable expression had crossed the uncovered parts of Z’s face, his cocky, teasing one is back. “I want a lot of things from you, Liam Payne, several of which would no doubt having you blushing again,” he says. “And why you? Because you’re fun to pay with. And why I’m doing this is none of your fucking business, babe.”

Liam raises his eyebrows, a steely look crossing his face. He turns the keys in the ignition, threateningly presses down on the gas a bit, and says, “You really want to push me right now?”

Z sighs. “Okay, okay.” He scratches at his head through the ski mask. “I’m in trouble.”

Liam waits for more, but that’s it. And then he finds himself laughing, loud enough that the sound fills the small vehicle. “Are you serious? You’re aware of how much money you’ve stolen in the last couple months, right? Of course you’re in trouble. You’re a wanted criminal, you idiot.”

He might find this hilarious, but Z does not, apparently. “It’s not the police I’m in trouble with,” he spits. “Well, not only the police. They’re not a concern. If I really thought anyone on the force was smart enough to catch me, maybe I would be, but they’re all morons who—,” He cuts himself off.

Liam blinks, trying to school the wounded look on his face that has no right to be there. He doesn’t care what this criminal thinks of him. He doesn’t give a shit. And yet he does. He does, and he hates that, and again, he is so fucked.

“Hey,” Z says softly, a hand on Liam’s shoulder. “I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking about the rest of them.”

“Whatever,” Liam says, shoving him off. “You’ve got two minutes. When that two minutes is up, either you’re out of my car, or I’m relocking the doors and driving down the street to the station. Got it?”

Z searches his eyes for a moment, but in the end he nods. “Fine,” he says. “Anyways, I need your help. I—,”

“Is it drugs?” Liam asks before he can finish. “Is that what this whole thing is about? Is it drugs?”

Z makes a surprised sound and stares at Liam in shock. And then his eyes narrow dangerous and he says, “Fuck, you really think highly of me, don’t you?”

Liam doesn’t wilt under the intensity of his anger, which seems to almost vibrate Z’s entire body. “Why should I? Look at what you’ve been doing.”

“You’re right,” Z says slowly, nodding. “No, you’re right. I just thought that— but I was wrong. Go fuck yourself, Liam.”

He hadn’t expected that reaction. He honestly thought that drugs made the most sense. Because it did. It’s not uncommon for someone to get in trouble with drugs and then turn to crime to pay off their debts. Sure, he’s never seen it happen on such a high scale, not with that kind of money involved, but still. Yet Z seems genuinely offended by him even assuming this, and he’s reaching for the door handle, pushing open the door.

Liam grabs his arm at the last second and pulls him back in before hitting the automatic locks again. “I’m sorry,” he says quickly. “I just— I assumed. It seemed like the most logical answer.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not,” Z grits out. “And fuck you for even thinking that.”

Liam runs a hand over his face while letting out a long breath. “Just tell me what you want and I’ll consider it.”

He looks like he wants to say no now. He looks like he’s regretting even asking for Liam’s help. Still, he sighs and says, “I dropped something really important at Ivan’s the other night. I need you to get it for me. I promised I wouldn't lose it, and now I did and I need it back.”

Liam makes a surprised sound. “What? I—,”

“Please,” Z begs. “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. But— but it is, and I need it back, and I can’t go get it myself. That bastard hasn’t left the house in days, and I need it. You have a reason to be there. Just go to his door, tell him you need to take another statement or something, or you need to look at evidence. He’ll believe you, you’ve got one of those faces.”

“What if I’m busy?” Liam asks, raising his eyebrows.

Z give him a not-amused look. “You’re not,” he says with conviction. “You have the next two days off.”

“Have I told you how creepy your stalking is?” Liam shakes his head. “Because it is. It really is.”

“I can live with that,” Z says with a shrug. “But I can’t live without my ring. I need it.”

“A ring,” Liam repeats. “All this for a ring? You realize I could get in a lot of trouble, right? Abusing my privileges as a police officer if anyone finds out that I went there without a reason. Aiding a criminal. I could lose my job, I….”

Z nods so he trails off. “No, I get it,” he says. “I shouldn’t have even put you in this situation in the first place. I’m sorry.”

And then he’s out of the car, jogging down the street and disappearing around the corner. Once he’s out of sight, Liam turns the key in the ignition and heads back to work, not doubt in his mind that tomorrow as soon as he’s off, he’ll be heading over to pay Jeremy Ivan another visit.

 

 

The ring is not in the office, but Liam didn’t expect it to be. If it had been, someone would have found it while they were looking for evidence. It’s got to be somewhere else, and Liam does not doubt that Z had scoured the whole house before he’d taken off with the money. How else would he have found the cash in the mattress?

So Liam claims to have been sent to survey the house again. Jeremy is not at all welcoming. He wants his money back, though, so he leaves Liam to it while he sulks in the living room, muttering about the fact that the, “Damn police in this city have no idea how to do their fucking jobs.”

Surprisingly enough, the ring is in the kitchen, just under the fridge. Liam pulls it out, slips it into his pocket, and then pretends to be searching the rest of the house. He tells Jeremy that he has all he needs, and they’ll contact him as soon as they have any new information, and then he gets out of there as quickly as he can.

He waits until he’s home, and then he sends Z a text telling him he’s got the ring. He also tells him to come get it. He knows where Liam lives, it won’t be a problem.

Liam’s in bed, close to falling asleep, when he hears his bedroom window slide open. He schools his breathing, forces himself not to react, and tries not to blink open his eyes, no matter how badly he wants to. He can’t afford to screw this up, not this time.

He hears footsteps nearing his bed, stopping at the bedside table, where he knows the ring lays because he left it there on purpose. Just close enough to the bed.

Waiting a moment, Liam listens, wondering why he hasn’t grabbed the ring yet. And then a finger gently traces his eyebrows, and then his cheeks. Gentle, soft, barely touching him. When they brush against his lips, Liam can’t help it; he bolts upright, eyes wide.

“Knew you weren’t sleeping,” Z tells him. “But nice try.”

“What were you—?,”

“Night, Li,” he says, snatching the ring from the bedside table. Liam can barely see him, dressed in all black in the lightless room, but he can just see Z’s outline in the moonlight filtering in through the open window. The open window that he climbs onto and then drops from, leaving Liam once again to stare after him.

“What the fuck is wrong with me?” Liam wonders out loud, pulling the handcuffs that he’d been hiding in his bed with every intention of wrapping them around Z’s wrist as soon as he reached for the ring. Except he’d had another opportunity and he’d just… let it pass him by.

 

 

Harry drags him out the next night without listening to any of Liam’s protestations. He keeps a firm grip on Liam’s arm from the time both of their shifts ends, until they’re in the car, and then from the time they get out of the car until they’re in the bar and Harry’s shoving him onto a stool.

“Something’s going on with you,” Harry states, eyes narrowed. “You’re not telling me anything, and that’s fine. You don’t have to. But whatever the hell it is, Liam, it’s eating at you. You look like shit. When was the last time you got a whole night’s sleep?”

Liam groans. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not,” Niall says from behind the bar. “He’s right. You look like shit, mate.”

“Is this an intervention?” Liam snaps. “Is that what’s happening here?”

“No,” Niall and Harry both say. Harry adds, “We’re just concerned, Li. We care about you.”

“I’m fine,” Liam repeats. Neither of them look convinced. “Alright, I’ll be fine when they finally catch him. Happy?”

“Him,” Niall says, eyebrows drawn together over his blue eyes. “Him who?”

“That’s what this is about?” Harry asks, falling onto his own stool. “That guy, the one who was texting you—,”

“Is texting me,” Liam corrects. He winces. “Meeting up with me, too, maybe.”

Harry gapes at him, and then a hand slaps his shoulder hard enough that the sound of it reaches his ears over that of the music. “You are not,” he says. “Liam, tell me you’re not. That’s— dangerous, not to mention stupid, and you could get in so much trouble, and— shit.

“I know,” Liam admits. “Okay? I know. And— I’ve let him go. Every time, I’ve just— let him go. I don’t know why. I can’t— I just can’t do it. I get a chance, and I don’t take it because it feels wrong.”

“Wrong,” Niall says. “Wrong how?”

Liam squirms in his seat, the two of them looking at him far too intently. He wants to snap on Harry and ask Niall why he’s not doing his damn job, and don’t they have something better to do than bother him? But he doesn’t.

“I don’t really know.” He runs a hand over his hair. “It’s like— I’m used to dealing with bad people, but he’s not.”

“Liam,” Harry says gently. “He’s stolen over a hundred thousand—,”

“I’m aware,” Liam says, tone dry. “Thanks. I think what he’s doing is bad, I’m not stupid. I just don’t think that he is. I think there’s a reason for all of it.”

“They’re gonna catch him eventually,” Niall puts in. “You might see it that way, but I doubt anyone else will.”

Liam nods. “I know. And I’m looking forward to that day, because this whole thing is making me crazy. I wish I’d ever gotten involved.”

“Okay, that’s it!” Harry say loudly. He stands up. “No more. No more texting him, no more meeting him. Promise me, Liam, or I will tell Jacobson.”

“You wouldn’t.”

Harry’s firm look dissolves. “Okay, I wouldn’t, but still. You can’t keep doing this. Promise me.”

Liam chews his lip for a long time, but finally he nods. “I promise.”

“Good.” Harry tugs him out of his seat. “Now we need to get you laid. Seriously. It’ll take your mind off everything.”

“Sex isn’t the answer to everything,” Liam says, but it’s not his first time making this argument, and Niall and Harry both just scoff at him.

Still, Liam allows Harry to pull him onto the dance floor. He wishes he’d had a bit to drink beforehand, since he’d feel much better if he were looser, more uninhibited. It’s fun anyways, though. Harry is the kind of person that it’s hard not to be in a good mood around. He’s just too damn sunny and cheerful all the time.

At some point, Harry starts eying a girl with long red hair, and he takes a step away from Liam so it doesn’t look like they’re together or anything. The girl looks back at him, and Harry grins. Before he can ditch Liam off, someone taps Liam’s shoulder.

He turns, meeting a pair of light brown eyes, obscured by a pair of thick framed glasses. He takes a step backward while checking out the rest of him. Dark hair falling into his face in a messy way that was probably deliberate. Tight black t-shirt clinging to a pair of wiry arms, each of them decorated in ink. He’s smiling, too, faintly, close mouthed.

Someone grabs his shoulders, but he doesn’t need to turn around to know it’s Harry. The smell of his cologne is a giveaway, as is the way his curly hair tickles the back of Liam’s neck. “He’s hot,” Harry says in his ear. “Go for it.”

Liam ignores him because the guy is opening his mouth, shouting to be heard over the music, asking, “Care to dance?”

Harry shoves him forward while yelling, “He’d love to!”

“Brilliant,” the guy mouths before his lips spread back into that grin. He circles a hand around Liam’s wrist and guides him through the crowd, away from Harry. When they’re in a less crowded spot, a bit farther away from the source of the music, he says, “Just a warning, I’m a shit dancer.”

Liam chuckles. “Maybe you should have just offered to get me a drink, then,” he says. “I’m Liam, by the way.”

“Liam,” the guy repeats. “Suits you.”

“Thanks,” Liam says awkwardly. He raises his eyebrows expectantly, but he doesn’t get anything in turn. “And you are?”

The guy shakes his head and puts a hand on Liam’s waist. “I don’t give my name out to strangers.”

“But you dance with them,” Liam states.

“Only if they’re attractive.”

Liam brushes that line off but he lets the guy lead the dance. Hands are tight on his waist, music is echoing in his ears, sweat is dripping down his lower back as he moves his hips to the beat, his own hands on the strangers shoulders until he moves closer. Liam moves his hands up the guy’s neck, cupping the back of it with one hand, fisting the other in his thick hair. It’s soft to the touch, but if he tugs his fingers get caught in the tangles.

The song changes abruptly to something faster paced, lights flashing. He watches the way the blues and greens and reds spread across the cheekbones of the man in front of him, making him look ethereal, almost. Liam knows beauty when he sees it, and he can’t help but appreciate it when it’s right in front of him, grinding its hips against his own.

It’s over sooner than he’d like. Another guy comes up to them, this one a bit shorter than Liam with blue eyes filled with enough mischief to give Niall’s a run for their money, and that’s saying something.

“What are you doing?” he snaps, and Liam releases the guy he’s dancing with, looking between the two of them because it’s quiet obvious they know each other. “Are you stupid?”

“Louis,” the guy groans. “Go away.”

Liam takes a step back, then another, but both of them turn to him. The guy he’d been dancing with looks regretful, but the other looks annoyed. Liam licks his lips nervously, praying that he didn’t just dance with someone’s boyfriend. He’d feel like an ass, even if he couldn’t have possibly known.

“One more dance,” the darker haired one begs of his companion. “Then we’ll go.”

The shorter one narrows his eyes but he sighs and nods. “Digging your own grave, though. I warned you.” Then he’s moving through the crowd, disappearing.

“Sorry about that,” the guy tells him. “Louis’ a bit overprotective.”

Liam nods slowly. “He’s not your boyfriend though, right?”

“Definitely not,” the guy promises, grabbing Liam’s hand. “One more dance? To make up for the interrupted one?”

Liam debates saying no, he does, but when was the last time someone this attractive showed any interest in him? Answer: Never. “Okay,” he agrees. “One.”

Liam steps forward, waiting for those hands to find his waist again. Instead the guy turns, back facing Liam, and tugs Liam’s hand so it’s on his stomach. Liam tries not to make a surprised sound, but even if he does, the music is too loud for anyone to hear it, at least.

For someone who claims to be a shit dancer, the things he’s doing with his hips is incredible. Liam tries to shut his brain off for a moment and just enjoy this. Tries not to think about anything else but the faint smell of cologne around him, the warm body pressed against his front, the filthy way that denim clad ass is now grinding against his crotch.

When the song ends, his partner turns and grabs Liam’s hand once more. He brings it to his lips, kisses the top of it and says, “Thanks for the dance, Officer Payne,” and then he’s gone.

Liam is still dazed enough from the dance that it takes some time for those words to sink in, and then he’s pushing through the crowd, heading for the door. He just gets outside, cold air assaulting his sweaty skin, in time to hear a motorcycle start up somewhere down the street.

Harry finds him leaning against the wall outside fifteen minutes later when he stumbles outside with a glazed look on his face. “Hey,” he says, bumping his shoulder with Liam’s. “Was wondering where you went.”

“Sorry,” Liam tells him. “I needed some air.”

“What happened to that gorgeous thing you were dancing with?” Harry inquires.

Liam bites his tongue and forces himself to wait until he can answer without giving anything away. “Had a boyfriend,” Liam lies.

Harry gives him a sympathetic look. “Shit, Li. I’m sorry.”

“Not a big deal. I’m going to get a cab and head home, though, if that’s okay.”

He’s not allowed to leave without a hug, but after Harry’s effectively knocked the breath out of him, he lets Liam go. Grateful, Liam calls a cab, waiting in the same spot until it pulls up out front. He climbs in, gives the driver his address, and presses his temple against the cool window the whole ride.

As he’s unlocking his door, his phone buzzes. He pulls it out while pushing open the door, kicking it shut behind him as he reads, You’re a fairly good dancer, Officer. —Z

Liam glares down at the phone and refuses to reply to that. He’s just playing with Liam now. He wasn’t kidding when he’d said their relationship was a game of cat and mouse, nor was he wrong about Liam being the mouse. And Z is the cat, batting him around, stepping on his tail, never quite going in for the kill.

He climbs the stairs to his room and flicks on the light. It’s too hot in the house, and he moves towards the window, pushing it open and leaving it like that for the first time in -- in months, really. When cold air is finally blowing into his room, he sinks onto his bed and looks down at his phone, turning it over and over in his fingers.

When it buzzes in his hands, he nearly drops it. He catches it at the last second, though, and then reads the new text.

If you’re going to just sit there staring at my text but not answering, you could at least do it without your shirt on. ;) — Z

Liam looks up sharply at the window. He can’t see anything from this far off, but his bedroom does face the backyard that leads into the woods. It would be painfully easy to hide back there, especially if one were wearing all black.

Are you watching me?! Liam sends while standing up. He approaches the window warily and leans his head out, trying to spot some kind of movement. The light from his room illuminates part of the yard, as does that from the moon and the stars. It’s still too dark, though.

Take off your shirt and maybe I’ll answer that. — Z

Liam furiously types out, I will if you tell me your name. He’s not sure what spurred him into sending that, but he can’t take it back now. And he’s desperate to know, he is. He feels like Z knows practically everything about him, while Liam knows barely anything about him, other than the fact that he’s an incredibly skilled, intelligent criminal who is also a stalker.

Babe, you’re gonna have to do a lot more than take off your shirt if you want my name. — Z

Liam makes a frustrated sound and considers throwing his phone out the window. Instead he slams his window closed and goes to tug the curtain shut, too, but then his phone is ringing. Not beeping, ringing.

He answers and lifts it to his ear, not saying anything. On the other side, someone breathes for a moment, waiting for him to talk, but when he realizes Liam’s not going to, Z says, “You’re mad at me.”

Liam lets out a disbelieving laugh. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you insane?”

“Liam,” Z says, sounding fondly exasperated, like he has any right to be. “Calm down. Relax. Lay down.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Liam snaps at him.

Z chuckles. “Liam, come on. Just sit down. Okay?”

Stupidly enough, he does. “Happy?”

“Extremely.” There’s a bit of shuffling on the other end, and Liam hears a lighter flick. “So, tonight was kind of unfair to you, but I couldn’t help it.”

“It’s not a game,” Liam says softly. “Do you understand that? This is my life, and I’m risking everything even just— even just talking to you, let alone letting you go every time I see you.”

“You need to unwind, Liam,” Z informs him. “You’re not going to get caught, and neither am I. Too smart for that, remember.”

“Everyone says that, but you will,” Liam tells him. “Just don’t bring me down with you, that’s all I’m asking.”

He imagines the eye roll that probably earned him. “Take off your shirt,” he’s told again.

“No,” Liam says. “Why?”

“I told you,” he says back. “You need to relax, Liam. Take off your shirt.”

“What’s in it for me?” Liam questions.

“A,” Z answers.

Liam frowns. “A?”

“Second letter of my name.”

Liam tugs off his shirt. “This is blackmail,” he adds afterwards.

“No, it’s bargaining,” Z corrects. “There’s a difference.”

“Blackmail,” Liam argues. “You’ve got something I want, and you’re using it against me.”

“Whatever,” Z says. “We both know I’m not actually going to tell you my name, Liam. But forget about that for a minute, yeah? You can’t tell me you didn’t have fun dancing with me.”

“I didn’t,” Liam denies.

Z snorts. “So that wasn’t your cock that was pressing against my ass, then?”

He has a feeling he’s doing a full body blush, and he throws an arm over his face and groans in embarrassment. “No, it wasn’t, and I’m hanging up on you.”

“You won’t hang up,” Z teases. “If you were going to, you would have already.”

Liam angrily tugs at a loose thread on his comforter. “You said you were going to help me relax, but all you’re doing is pissing me off.”

“Right, sorry,” Z says. “Okay, lay down.”

Liam lays down. “Why am I lying down?”

“Are you comfortable? He asks, ignoring the question.

“No.”

“Then get comfortable.”

Liam shifts, bunching up a pillow behind his head and stretches out on his bed, closing his eyes. “Okay.”

“Unbutton your jeans.”

“Un— no, I’m not going to do that,” Liam blurts, indignant. “I’m not.” In fact, he really is going to hang up. “You’re insane, you’re going to get arrested, and I’m hanging up on you.”

Z clucks his tongue in annoyance and Liam unbuttons his jeans. “There you go,” he says. “Unzip them, too, Liam.”

Bottom lip caught between his teeth, Liam does just that, trying hard not to think about the way he’d felt pressed against Liam’s front, or the warmth of his lips on Liam’s skin, fleetingly, just before he’d disappeared. “Now what?” He realizes his voice is barely above whisper, but he can’t help it.

“Kick them off.” He kicks them off. “Settle back again, get comfortable. Keep those boring black boxers you’re wearing on, but touch yourself through them.”

Liam lets out a surprised breath, and he goes to ask how he knows what Liam’s wearing, but then he darts a look to the window, remembers that he left the curtains open, and he swallows thickly. He doesn’t do things like this. Not with strangers, not with people he’s been in relationships with. Harry calls him boring, but Liam doesn’t think so. He just doesn’t mind having a vanilla sex life, as Harry calls it. And fuck, he doesn’t even know this guy’s name.

Cheeks no doubt red, Liam gingerly puts a hand on his own thigh, and then he slowly moves it upwards, not sure if he’s really going to do this or not. But he does, and he’s not even surprised when he finds himself nearly erect already. It doesn’t take long to get all the way there, either, and soon enough he’s gripping himself through his boxers, almost forgetting the fact that he’s got his cellphone pressed to his ear.

“Take them off, too,” Z orders, reminding him that, yeah, he’s still there. He should feel embarrassed, and he does, but he obeys anyways. “Fuck, you just— sorry.” He takes a shaky breath. “Touch yourself, Liam.”

He kicks off his boxers, and it’s a lot colder in the room now. He tries not to think about that, though. Or the fact that he’s never really spread out on his bed like this, completely naked before. The rest of it he has, though, and this time he hesitates less before wrapping a hand around himself. He slowly fists himself, eyes falling closed so he can think about just this and not whether or not he’s embarrassed or insane for going along with this.

“You know,” Z says conversationally, “I really would like to take advantage of those handcuffs. Your bed would be perfect, too, because it’s got those posts. We’d need two pairs, though, ‘cause I’d want to tie up both your hands, but I’d leave your legs free so I could bend them and spread them the way I want.” He pauses. “Are you still touching yourself, Liam?”

He stops and then nods before breathing out, possibly too quiet to be heard, “Yeah.”

“You sound fucked out already, babe,” he’s told. “But anyways. I think I’d like you on top, eventually. You look like you could lift me up against the wall, stretch me open and fuck me right there, just like that, but I’d like to fuck you first, watch that calm armour you wear break down. I think I’d like to break you, Liam. Would you like that?”

Liam slows his hand on his cock and brushes his thumb over the tip, groaning as he spreads his precome over it. That’s the only answer Z gets, too, as Liam tightens his grip afterwards, moving faster, spreading his legs a bit, bending them at the knees.

“I’d take care of you, though,” he adds as an afterthought. “I sort of regret not finding out how you’d look when I swallowed you down today. I bet I could have, huh? If Lou hadn’t shown up, I bet I could have dragged you into the bathroom and gotten on my knees in one of the stalls, and you would have let me blow you right there. You’d probably fist a hand and bring it to your mouth to muffle your sounds, and you’d be worried about someone walking in on us, but you wouldn’t tell me to stop no matter what.”

Liam bites his bottom lip and his hip jerk up a bit, almost fucking his own fist. He can’t help it, and he can’t help but picture what Z’s saying, either, because he probably would have. And Liam sort of wishes he had, sort of wishes he knew exactly how Z would look with those lips of his spread around Liam. He’d probably smirk up at him, too, and Liam has a feeling that he’s the type who likes hair pulling.

“Fuck, okay,” Z says, and his voice is much rougher than it had been when they’d first got on the phone. “Hold the phone between your shoulder and your ear, and lift your freehand to your mouth. Have you ever fingered yourself before?”

Making a choked sound, Liam shakes his head. “I—,”

“You have,” Z guesses. “Not often though, right, because you get embarrassed about it. You shouldn’t. I bet you look perfect like that. Fuck, never mind, we’ll do that next time. Need to be there for that. Take your hand off your cock instead.”

Liam blinks rapidly. “But—,”

“I’ll hang up if you don’t,” he warns, and Liam reluctantly releases himself. His breathing is heavy, and he can’t think past the throbbing ache and need to get off. He was close, too. “Tell me how you feel.”

He feels hot, and desperate, and underneath that is the embarrassment and the confusion, but mostly— mostly—, “I just — I just want to come.”

Z lets out a moan at that, and Liam’s dick twitches. He digs his fingernails into his thighs a Z says, “Yeah. Yeah, okay. Go on, babe.”

He does, hand blurring over his cock, stomach muscles tightening. At the last second he gasps out, “Name. I need your name. Z—,”

“Zayn,” he says. “It’s— Zayn.”

“Zayn,” Liam repeats. He doesn’t mean to stretch it out like that, doesn’t mean to have it come out as a pleading moan, but it does as his toes curl and his heart thuds and his breath hitches and he comes over his hand, orgasm washing over him.

His brain short circuits for a moment, and there’s nothing but the sound of his and Zayn’s breathing in the entire world. Until finally the fog clears and he hears a train go by on the other side of the phone. Liam blinks open his eyes, frowning. There aren’t any train tracks anywhere near where he lives, so wherever Zayn is, it’s far away.

And he’s got a name. He knows who Zayn is now, and Zayn seems to realize this, because he lets out a quiet, “Shit,” and then hangs up.

Liam lays there for a long time, not moving, gasping for breath. When he feels more like himself again, he sits up, letting the significance of everything that just happened sink in. He just let a serious criminal he hardly knows talk him through an orgasm, and on top of that, he now has all the information he needs to take him in. How many people in their town are named Zayn? He has feeling there’s only one, and he has no idea what he’s going to do with that information.

 

 

When he gets to work the next day, he goes straight to Harry’s office, even though he’s supposed to be out on Regan Lane, checking the speed of traffic, handing out tickets to anyone who’s speeding. He should have left as soon as he got in, but he can’t yet.

“Zayn,” he says as a way of greeting.

Harry looks up at him. “Huh?”

“His name,” Liam says. “It’s Zayn.”

Harry frowns at him for a moment before turning to his computer and typing furiously. A moment later he says, “Zayn Malik. Twenty- five, lives on Prince street. Criminal record— spotless, except for one instance of assault a few years ago, but he was apparently acquitted.” He lifts his eyes to Liam. “Now what?”

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

“Do you have enough to get a warrant?” Harry asks. “Do you have enough proof to take him in?”

Liam debates this for a moment. “Can you find his motorcycle licence, and the bike registered to his name?”

Harry nods and his fingers blur over the keyboard again. “2007 black Harley, registered to his name three years ago, and he got his licence not long before that in another town, which is why he didn’t come up in my original search.”

“That could be enough,” Liam says quietly. “Might not be, though. Enough to get a warrant, maybe. We could search the house. If we found any of the money, we could probably get him, but he never keeps it for long, so that’s not likely. He researches this all beforehand, though. He never goes in without knowing the setup of the house, or everything he needs to about the residences to justify what he does.”

“He’s organized,” Harry adds. “Think about it; he times everything perfectly. He executes it all perfectly. There’s no way he just randomly flips through the newspaper and thinks, ‘Yep, this is the one’ and then checks out their house and then breaks in. He’s probably got an office, or at least a filing cabinet or something. No— a computer with all his research on it.”

Liam’s lips tilt up in a grin. “And a police scanner. Told me himself.”

“That’s enough to take him in,” Harry says. “That’s illegal in itself.”

“I know.”

“So,” Harry says slowly. “What are we going to do?”

“I’m going to go talk to him,” Liam decides. “See if I can get in his house. I want to be sure that there’s enough to take him in before we get a warrant. If not, then the whole thing could be pointless. He — I think he trusts me right now. He’s, um, been sending my other clippings, ones I didn’t give the others. He’s been telling me ahead of time where he’s going to strike.”

Harry gives him a disbelieving look. “Are you serious?”

Liam nods sheepishly. “I— I don’t know why I didn’t tell anyone, so don’t even ask. The fact is, I didn’t. But if there’s nothing at his house that we can use against him, we can always just wait until he tips me off again, and then we can be waiting for him. If we just rush the place, he’ll stop confiding in me, and we might never catch him.”

Running a hand through his curls, Harry gives him a considering look. “Do you really want to, though?”

“Want to what?”

“Catch him,” Harry says. “Do you really want to?”

Stomach twisting, hands sweating, fingers shaking, Liam nods and says, “Yeah, I do.”

 

 

Zayn strikes again. He’s on his break, eating a sandwich at his desk when the call comes in, and then he’s rushed out the door while still chewing his last bite. This time Harry accompanies him, which doesn’t happen very often. Harry’s more of a behind-the-scenes officer. Still, he’s extremely grateful for Harry’s presence when they pull up in front of the house, because his breath whooshes out of him and he’s left to sit there in shock.

“He didn’t,” Harry says, voicing Liam’s thoughts. “Fuck, I thought he was smarter than that.”

Liam gets out of the car, feeling numb as, with Harry beside him, he makes his way into the mayor’s house.

The mayor of their city has always been sort of an asshole, in Liam’s opinion, and that has not changed today, apparently. He’s furiously yelling at two of Liam’s coworkers when he walks in, and another two are standing in the background, looking like they want to sink into the wallpaper.

You,” he snaps when Liam comes in. He steps away from the other officers and slaps a folder against Liam’s chest. “You’re Payne?”

Liam nods slowly. “Yes, sir.”

He sneers at Liam. “I’m starting to think it’s a little fishy,” he says while slapping a folder against Liam’s chest. “No one’s smart enough to get away with this. They’d need help, inside help. And then I find this on my desk. A folder addressed to you, and this guy here—,” he jerks a thumb over his shoulder to one of the other officers, “says that it’s not the first time. Says that he keeps leaving these for you. I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not so coincidental. Maybe you’re not as innocent as you’d like everyone to believe.”

The room goes quiet, and Liam stiffens. Harry’s the one who speaks up for him, though, and he grits out an angry, “Liam’s the best officer on the force. The fact that you’d even consider—,”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Mayor Loren snaps. “I’m talking to him, because I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that one person has managed to break into my damn home and steal seventy thousand fucking pounds from me when he should have been caught months ago!”

Swallowing, Liam takes the folder from his hands and says, “Do you mind if I look through this?”

The mayor laughs. “Be my guest. But you’ve got a deadline now, Payne,” he says. “I want this guy behind bars by the 21st, or I’m going to see to it that the force starts investigating a little closer to home, and if you have anything to hide, they’ll find it. And you’ll be sorry. Understood?”

“Understood,” Liam says quietly.

By the time they get out of there, Harry is thrumming with anger and Liam feels like he’s going to throw up. They don’t find anything, obviously; nothing to incriminate Zayn, or point a finger in his direction. To make things worse, more than one of his fellow officers is eying him like he’s guilty, and Liam figures that he probably looks it, too, because he sort of is, isn’t he? He’s been withholding evidence. He knows who Zayn is and he’s not told anyone but Harry.

He’s just too fucking tired to deal with this.

He nearly has an accident on the drive home. He was planning on going to Zayn’s, he really was, but he hadn’t expected today to be so hard on him, and he’d barely slept at all last night.. He’ll do it tomorrow. That’s what he was promising himself when someone says, from the backseat, “You must be pretty distracted today, officer Payne. You should always check your backseat before getting into your car.”

Liam swerves dangerously to the left, and the car behind him honks loudly. Liam quickly straightens himself, and then he looks in the rear view mirror, narrowing his eyes at Zayn’s grin. His heart is possibly attempting to climb out of his chest, and Zayn is smiling. He’s single-handedly ruining Liam’s whole life while barely even trying, too, and the anger that bubbles up in Liam is unexpected but strong.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Liam demands, darting looks between Zayn and the road. “What are you doing?”

“I’ve come to bargain with you,” Zayn explains while leaning forward so his head is in the spot between the seats. “But maybe we should talk when you’re not, you know, driving a vehicle and therefore holding both of our lives in your admittedly attractive hands?”

Liam gapes at him, but he obeys, keeping his eyes on the road as he turns in another direction, changing his destination. He doesn’t look in the mirror again until he’s on Prince Street, and the he only does so to watch Zayn’s eyes widen in surprise.

“So you know where I live, then,” Zayn says when Liam pulls up in front of the right apartment building.

“You realize that you broke into my car, right? That’s illegal,” Liam informs him. “I could actually arrest you for that.”

Zayn rolls his eyes as if Liam’s being dramatic. “You realize there are actually tutorials on how to break into cars on Youtube, right? Should something that novice really be considered illegal? I think I’d actually be ashamed if that’s what I went down for.”

Liam raises his eyebrows and makes a considering face before he gets out of the car, slams the door, pulls open Zayn’s and tugs him from the vehicle. He ignores the surprised gasp that comes out of Zayn’s mouth as he easily turns Zayn so he’s facing away from and shoves him none too gently against the side of the car, fitting a leg between both of his to keep him secured.

“What are you—,”

“Your smart mouth,” Liam says while pulling out his cuffs, “is really starting to piss me off.”

“You can’t arrest me for that, though,” Zayn protests.

Liam hums and yanks both of Zayn’s arms back and holds both of his wrists in one hand while opening the handcuffs, and then he fits them onto the wrists in his hand and shuts them, keeping them loose enough that the metal won’t bite into his skin. “I’d cuff your mouth shut, too, if I could.”

“Liam,” Zayn says tensely. “Get them off. Now.”

“I’m sick of you acting like you have the upper hand here.” He grabs Zayn’s shoulders and pulls him away from the car, and then starts steering him towards the building. “Because you don’t, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“Fuck you,” Zayn spits. “Your power trip isn’t funny.”

Pulling them to an abrupt stop, Liam grazes his lips just over Zayn’s neck. “I’d shut up if I were you,” he says.

Zayn sucks in a breath and shudders. Satisfaction rings through Liam. It’s sort of nice to be the one playing with Zayn for a chance, instead of the other way around. He’s sick of Zayn laughing at him and teasing him. If this is what it takes to get him to stop treating Liam like a joke, this is what he’s going to do.

Zayn’s building isn’t the nicest. It’s in one of the lower-class parts of town, and there are scattered beer bottles and cigarette butts littering the lawn. Liam opens the door and guides Zayn, who stumbles with every step, through it and then locates the door that leads to the stairwell. It takes a bit of effort to get them up it, and Zayn makes annoyed sounds the whole time, but he’s listening and staying quiet, at least.

He remembers the exact address Harry had given him, and when they get to the fifth floor, he moves down the hall until he gets to the door with the number 502 above it and then shoves a hand into Zayn’s front pocket, extracting his keys. Zayn stands there the whole time, mouth hanging open.

Inside, Liam hesitates, frowning. He wasn’t expecting much, but this is definitely less than that. With the amount of money Zayn should have, even after giving away most of it, he expected something a little nicer. Instead what he finds is a small, dingy apartment with one large room, only a counter separating the kitchen from the living room, which apparently serves as a bedroom, too, because the couch is a futon that’s currently folded down with a pillow and blanket messily laying on it.

A shoulder knocks into his, hard, and he stumbles backwards, hitting the door with a thump. He raises his hands defensively, but before he can shove Zayn away, lip are on his. Teeth sink into his bottom lip and tug, and he can feel the warmth of Zayn’s body pressed completely against his front. He doesn’t move, too stunned, but when Zayn’s mouth forcefully tries to push his open, he lets it. His tongue curls against Liam’s, tasting of coffee and smoke and, weirdly enough, berries. It’s intoxicating.

Almost as quickly as it started, the kiss breaks and Zayn smirks at him. “Just reminding you that I do have the upper hand here, actually.”

Liam makes a sound low in his throat and shoves Zayn into the wall beside the door, pushing his body against him instantly, much like Zayn had just done to him, but a bit more aggressively. “Are you always this much of an asshole?” he demands, touching their foreheads together. “Or is that part of your personality reserved for me only?”

“Are you always this forceful, officer?” Zayn counters. “Because I’m pretty sure you’re abusing your privileges right now.”

He bites sharply at Zayn’s neck for that, and Zayn gasps before tilting his chin up, giving Liam more room to graze his teeth over the skin there. “You think you’re so smart, don’t you?”

Chuckling, Zayn grinds his hips forward. “Pretty smart, yeah.”

Splaying a hand on the wall beside Zayn’s head, Liam grabs his hip with the other and roughly pulls it forward until one of Zayn’s legs is between his own. Zayn instantly ruts against him, shamelessly biting his bottom lip as he does so. Liam takes a moment to remind himself of what he’s doing. All he has to do is look down at what he’s wearing (still in his uniform from work) to clear his mind. He’s a police officer, dry humping a highly wanted felon. He can justify that if he tells himself he’s doing it for a reason.

“How do you do it?” Liam asks between the kisses that he’s peppering along Zayn’s neck. “Perfectly, every time, without getting caught. How do you do it?”

“You said it yourself,” Zayn answers breathlessly. “I’m smart.”

Liam bites his tongue to hold back the annoyed reply that bubbles up in him. “Yeah, but I mean— you’ve got to do planning. Research.”

“Course I do,” he admits. “Come on, Liam, take these things off. Want to touch you. Come on.”

Ignoring him, Liam runs a finger up the front of Zayn’s jeans, just over the zipper. “Tell me first.”

“What happened to morals, Payne?” Zayn asks, trying to sound as unaffected as possible, though his voice cracks and he tilts his head back against the wall. “Are you really trying to use sex to get me to talk?”

Hooking his fingers into the loops of Zayn’s jeans, Liam steps backwards and keeps moving through the small room until they’re at the bed, and then he pushes on Zayn’s shoulder until he sinks down onto it, which he does with a confused look on his face. Then Liam puts a hand on Zayn’s shoulder to steady himself as he slowly drops to his knees. He licks his lips for added affect, and Zayn’s eyes go wide as he looks down at him.

“Okay,” he says shakily. “Okay, alright. I— I get a friend to do the research for me, and then— and then I— you might want to stop licking your lips if you want me to answer, because that’s really fucking distracting, Liam.” He stops and gives Zayn an expectant look. “And then I take a few days to scout the house, memorize their schedule, get whatever security codes I need.”

Trying not to let his surprise show, Liam mouths at Zayn’s cock through his jeans to further distract him, just in case his poker face doesn’t work. But he is surprised. He thought Zayn worked alone, but of course he doesn’t. Of course he has help. Maybe— maybe Liam could figure out who they are and take them down instead, and pray that they give up Zayn’s name for him, that way he doesn’t have to. It’d take away the weirdly guilty feeling that he gets every time he considers actually arresting Zayn himself.

“Didn’t think you’d have a partner,” Liam admits, eyes on his hands, which are busy undoing the button on Zayn’s jeans. “I mean, you seem like the lone wolf type. Didn’t think you’d trust anyone enough to risk letting them in on it.”

Zayn hisses in a breath when Liam gets his jeans undone and palms him through his boxers. “I— I trust him,” he manages to get out, voice unsteady. “I’d trust him with my life and he— fuck— he’s good at what he does.”

“What’s his name?” Liam asks casually, tugging Zayn’s pants down as he does so. Zayn’s ass lifts off the bed to help, fully on board with this, apparently.

“Not happening, Liam,” Zayn says. “I’m not giving him up, so don’t bother.”

There’s conviction in his tone, but his eyes are wary and pleading, like he wants Liam to stop the assault because he knows he’s going to lose . Liam will— for now, he decides, but that’s only because he spots the bulge in Zayn’s jeans, which are laying on the floor beside him. Trying not to look to pleased by the wide-eyed look Zayn gives him, Liam pulls the phone out of the empty pants and presses the ‘on’ button.

“Password protected,” Zayn tells him. “Good luck figuring that out.”

Liam frowns down at it and then says, as confidently as he can, “I don’t need to. You’re going to tell it to me.”

He puts both of his hands on Zayn’s knees, and then he moves them up slowly, sliding under the loose material of his boxers. He keeps going as high up as he can, and then he drags his nails against the sensitive skin there when he pulls back. Zayn’s skin marks surprisingly easy, and he leans down to run his tongue over the angry red marks that now litter his thighs.

Zayn squirms and the sound of metal clanking together fills the room as he tries to get the handcuffs off, a frustrated look on his face. Liam tries not to look too smug about that, but he sort of can’t help it. It’s nice to watch the amour that Zayn wears crack slowly, and he thinks that this might be the closest to Zayn than he’s ever been. Not the boy with the mask and the leather jacket; not the one with the glasses and the sky-high hair.

“Please,” he blurts, eyebrows bunching together, looking like he’s almost in pain. “Babe— Liam, please.”

Liam rolls his eyes, like this is such a hardship, and pulls down his boxers next. Again, Zayn’s hips lift off the bed to help, and then Liam’s tossing the piece of clothing away, not really watching where it goes. (Although it really can’t go all that far, given the size of the flat.)

Unsurprisingly, Zayn is already hard, his cock flushed and curving towards his stomach. Liam wraps a hand around it, bracing the other on Zayn’s thigh, and then he asks himself if he’s really going to do this. Zayn makes a pathetic sound and shakes the handcuffs again, answering for him: He definitely is.

Liam slowly strokes him for a moment until Zayn’s hips are jerking up, trying to get him to go faster. Leaning forward, Liam presses his lips against the tattoo on Zayn’s hip that he can just see peeking out of the bottom of his shit. He moves them across Zayn’s stomach to mimic the action on the other hip, breath splaying against Zayn’s skin.

“Fuck,” Zayn groans. “Stop teasing me and do it.”

He pushes Zayn’s legs apart, just enough to comfortably fit himself between them, and Zayn tilts his head back, eyes falling closed. There’s something in his posture, both slumped and tense, that tells Liam he’s desperate for it, but at the same time he’s having issues being this vulnerable.

It’s that look that breaks his resolve, and he thumbs over the head of Zayn’s cock, spreading what precome he finds there as, slowly, deliberately, he lowers his mouth and ghosts his lips up Zayn’s length. When he gets to the head, he slides his hand back down to steady Zayn’s cock as he stops dragging it out and wraps his lips around the crown. When he looks up, he finds Zayn’s eyes on him, mouth slack, looking almost dumbstruck.

There’s a sheen of sweat on Zayn’s hairline and above his top lip, and his breathing is heavy enough that Liam can see the way his chest moves with each halting breath. He’s not quite sure if he’s even good at this, but when he curls his tongue around the head and pumps the shaft quickly with a tightly fisted hand, the reluctant sound that seems to be wrenched from Zayn’s parted lips makes him think that maybe he is.

He doesn’t lower his lips, though, and Zayn tries to push up into them, tries to get Liam to go farther down on him. All Liam has to do is put a hand on Zayn’s hip and he can’t, though, and the frustrated sounds he makes are coming out almost as often as the pleased ones.

God,” Zayn bites out. “You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?”

Liam grunts in reply and moves the hand from Zayn’s hip and then the one from around his cock, but he keeps his lips around it. Blinking down at him, it takes Zayn a minute to get it, and then he’s easing his hips up, coaxing his dick farther into Liam’s mouth at a startlingly gentle pace, like he’s doing his best not to give Liam more than he thinks he can take. That isn’t much at first, but the longer he nudges against Liam’s throat, the more relaxed it gets, and then he’s squeezing his eyes closed and asking in a fucked out voice, “Can you take all of me? Think you could, Li?’

Wrapping a hand around him again, Liam pulls off, flattening his tongue to drag it along the underside as he goes. He doesn’t bother to wipe his mouth off as looks up at Zayn and says a simple, “Yeah, probably.”

Zayn’s face falls into that almost pained expression again. “Fuck,” he says tightly. “You should see yourself right now; lips red, still in that fucking uniform. You’ve got the face of an angel but the mouth of a devil, has anyone ever told you that?”

Having no idea how to reply to that, Liam swallows him down again, being as sloppy as possible. When he pulls back up, Zayn’s dick is slick with saliva and his eyes look almost black as he looks down at Liam with an intensity that makes him shiver. His own cock, hard in his jeans, feebly twitches. Then he’s going down, down, down again, and Zayn’s careful not to thrust up into his mouth at all. Breathing through his nose, he manages to deep throat almost all of him.

“Fucking perfect,” he hears Zayn mutter, but he’s too busy blinking back the tears that burn his eyes.

A voice in the back of his mind reminds him of why he’s doing this, so he moves back up and then alternates between sliding his mouth up and down Zayn as fast as he can, teasingly swirling his tongue over the head, and then taking him as far into his mouth as possible. It isn’t long before Zayn’s letting out one last, unsteady breath and saying, “Babe, I’m— fuck, Liam, I—,”

Liam pulls off him abruptly. Normally this is the part where he either keeps going and swallows down whatever Zayn offers, or he’d jerk him off until he came over Liam’s fingers. Instead, he leans back so he’s resting on his palms, far away from Zayn, stretching his legs out in front of himself in the picture of comfort.

“What— what are you—?” And then realization flashes in Zayn’s eyes and he shakes his head, chest heaving. “No, Liam. No. Come on. Fuck, please. So close. Please, I’m begging, what more do you want from me?”

He tries to get out of the handcuffs against in desperation, and he’s still shaking his head. He lets out a low, filthy moan, and Liam figures that, if it were humanly possible, Zayn would have broken the handcuffs by now with the force in which he’s struggling against their restraints.

“Give me the password,” Liam bargains.

Zayn glares at him. “Fuck you.”

Liam leans forward again, but all he does is trail a finger over the inside of Zayn’s thigh. His cock looks painfully hard where it juts up from a tangle of a dark curls, and there’s absolutely nothing Zayn can do about that.

“How long do you think it would take to drive you crazy?” Liam wonders. “If I kept you like this, only touching you enough to keep you hard, but never letting you come.”

Zayn whimpers, and Liam’s hand barely brushes the tip of his cock before he’s saying, “9301. It’s 9301, now let me come you sadistic bastard.”

Smiling happily, Liam licks a stripe up his cock once more to slick the way, and then he pumps Zayn quickly, the slap of wet skin on skin the loudest thing in the room, aside from Zayn’s chants of, “Thank you. Thank you. Fuck, thank you.”

Liam bites Zayn’s hip — because he can— and says, “Come.” He does a moment later, holding his breath, face scrunched up. Liam gently kisses his lips, and Zayn allows it as he rides out his orgasm.

“Do you have something I can use to clean you up with?” he asks, standing up and looking around.

Zayn gives him an exhausted, hazy look. “I’ll do it myself when you uncuff me.”

Liam gives him a fond look and heads for the only door in the flat, finding the bathroom. He locates a towel, wets it a bit, and then cleans his hand first before bringing it out to Zayn and wiping him down, too. Then he helps Zayn back into his boxers and says, “See you later, Zayn.”

“What? Where are you going?” he demands as Liam heads for the door. “You can’t leave! I’m still cuffed!”

Liam gives him a cocky smile. “I’ll send the key home with Louis after we meet up.”

Zayn makes a startled sound. “How did you know—?”

“You’ve only got four contacts, and three of them are female,” Liam explains. “You said your partner was male. And if that wasn’t enough to tell me that it’s him, the look on your face right now is.”

Mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, Zayn stands there, arms still trapped behind his back, and gapes at Liam until he’s out the door. As he’s shutting it behind himself, he hears a weak, pleading, “Don’t, Liam. Just don’t.”

He ignores it.

Zayn somehow gets his apartment door open, and he jogs after Liam, who doesn’t stop on his way to the car even though Zayn manages to get into the car, too, by turning around and bending down awkwardly to hook his fingers under the handle. He’s still in just his boxers, which would be funny if not for the look on his face.

“What?” Liam asks, raising his eyebrows. “Thought you trusted this guy. Afraid that he’s going to give you up?”

“Start the car.” He ignores the question and turns his back to Liam. “And take off the fucking handcuffs.”

His voice is low and there’s a dangerous quality to it. Liam falters and, with a sigh, does as he’s told. He watches as Zayn flexes his fingers, and he feels bad about the red mark that now cover his wrists. He tries to take Zayn’s hand to examine them, or kiss them better, or something, but Zayn glares at him, making it very clear that he’s not allowed to.

“Now drive.”

The car is quiet after that, silence only broken when Zayn barks directions at him. The end up in what is considered one of the worst neighbourhoods in town. It’s not that there’s a lot of crime there (no more than there is in the rest of the city, really), but the houses are all older and run down, the lawns haven’t been green in years, and the city rarely makes sure the parks are clean.

“Just park here,” Zayn instructs. Liam does as he’s told, stopping the car in front of a run down two story house. There’s a porch, but the paint is chipping and one of the steps is caved in. There’s a surprisingly new, expensive looking van in the driveway, though. “Give me five minutes.”

“Where are you going?” Liam asks, leaning forward to get a better look out the windshield. “Who lives here?”

Zayn doesn’t answer as he gets out of the car. Liam watches him head up the walk, carefully avoid the broken step when he takes the stairs, and then he walks inside the house without knocking. Liam just sits there, too confused to do anything else.

True to his word, Zayn comes back out five minutes later, this time in a pair of jeans. He shuts the door behind himself, but it opens again instantly and a small figure throws herself at Zayn’s back until he stops and untangles her arms from around him. There’s a grin on his face as he lifts her up (even though she’s really not that young, maybe twelve or so, Liam guesses) and carries her back to the house, saying something the whole time as she pouts and crosses her arms over her chest.

Zayn slides into the passenger seat once he’s deposited her in the house. “Okay,” he says. “Let’s go.”

“Go where?” Liam asks, not starting the car.

Zayn’s lips curl unpleasantly and he turns to look out the window, away from Liam. “The station. I’ll turn myself in, as long as you promise to keep Louis out of this.”

“Zayn—,”

“No, Liam,” he says angrily. “If you want to end this so badly, then we’ll end it. But you keep him the fuck out of it, yeah?”

Liam ignores him and takes the keys completely out of the ignition now. Whoever lives in the house Zayn just entered, they’re peaking out of the curtain, watching them. He can’t make out a face or any defining features, though.

“Why do you do it?” Liam asks finally. He turns to Zayn, a genuinely confused look on his face. “I don’t get it. You know it’s wrong, and you can’t tell me otherwise. That’s why you always make sure that you go after the worst kind of people. That’s why you only take from those that you can make excuses for, convince yourself they deserve it because you need to justify your actions. And you live in a shitty apartment, Zayn. Where’s all the money going? You give most of it away, but you keep some. Enough that you shouldn’t be struggling that badly. What do you do with it?”

“Half of it goes to Louis,” Zayn answers softly. “His mum’s a single parent, and she’s got too many kids to handle. He helps her out as best as he can, tries to make things easier on her.”

“And the rest?”

“My sisters,” Zayn admits. “I mean, fuck, you’re looking at half of it right now,” he says, waving at the van. “My — my, uh, my mum died. Six months ago. Dad passed away when I was seven. My sister’s legal guardian of the girls, but she was barely making enough to get them by. She worked all the time, too, so my younger sister, she was stuck babysitting Safaa all the time instead of living her life the way she should be.”

He smirks at Liam but it’s wrong, not the normal one he usually gets. “I was at medical school at the time. Still should be, and I plan on going back eventually, I just couldn’t let them struggle so badly. But without a diploma, I’m not qualified for anything, really, no matter how smart I am, so I was working a shitty job at this pizza place, right, and this guy walks in. Total douchebag, and Louis— he’s the reason I even got the job, and we had a shift together— mentioned that he recognized the guy. Apparently he was in the paper or something. And he’s on the phone, going on about the fact that he always keeps a couple thousand at home, just in case, and I just thought— why not?”

“Why not take it,” Liam guesses.

“Exactly,” Zayn says. “Fuck, exactly. It wasn’t fair that we had nothing, and some of the scummiest people in the fucking world get everything. And what’s fifty thousand to someone who’s got ten times that much in the bank and a million dollar house to boot?”

“Why give almost all of it away, then?” Liam can’t help but question. “Why not keep it all for you guys?”

Zayn shrugs. “Because there’s a lot of people in the same or similar situations, and maybe I’m just sick and fucking tired of watching people struggle. Maybe you’re not the only one with a hero complex, Liam. I just go about it in a different way.”

Running a hand over his face Liam lets out a long breath. It does little to clear his head. “You need to stop,” he gets out after a minute. “Zayn, you need to stop.”

“I know,” Zayn admits. “And I plan on it.”

“When?”

“Two more houses,” Zayn says. “Fifteen thousand more, and I’ll have fifty saved up. That’s enough for me to go back and finish school and still support them. And then I’m going back to school at the end of summer.”

Liam shakes his head. “Not good enough. You need to stop now. Do you realize what you’ve done? What you did today?”

Zayn’s eyes narrow. “You can’t tell me that bastard didn’t deserve it. Do you know what charges he was up against, Liam? Are you aware of what he did?”

“I—,”

“Drunk driving,” Zayn says. “And it wasn’t his first offence, either. The kid he killed was eleven, and he got out of the charges somehow, and the family didn’t get anything from him. Not a fucking thing. He walked away with a clean fucking slate.”

“He’s the mayor, Zayn!”

“Just because someone’s in a position of power, does not mean they should be exempt from the law,” Zayn says darkly.

“Yeah, no, I agree,” Liam says. “I do. But fuck. He’s not going to stop. Not until they catch you. You can’t afford to do it again. I can’t afford for you to do it again.”

“What’d you have to lose in any of this?’

“My job,” Liam admits. “Seems that you leaving me those envelopes has got people talking. They think I’m helping you.”

Zayn tenses visibly. “They can’t,” he insists. “They— no. No, I didn’t— I didn’t mean for that to happen. Shit.” He grabs Liam’s thigh tightly. “I’ll fix this. Trust me, I will.”

“Just stop,” Liam tells him. “That’s the only way you can.”

“I can’t,” he says regretfully. “I’m sorry, Liam, but I can’t.”

Liam hands Zayn his phone and says, very quietly, “Then get out of my car. And stop texting me. And I don’t want to, you know I don’t want to, but if I find you at a crime scene again, Zayn, I will arrest you. That’s just the way it has to be.”

After searching his eyes for a moment, Zayn nods. He leans forward and presses a kiss to Liam’s cheek. “Okay,” he says. “I really am sorry for dragging you into this whole thing in the first place, though. Guess you’re just too attractive for your own good, officer.”

Liam stares resolutely out the window until he’s gone, and once his door shuts behind him, Liam pulls away from the curb. He heads home, changes into normal clothes, and then he calls Harry and, together, they go see Niall. By the time Liam gets home that night, he’s admitted everything to the two of them and he’s drunk enough that Harry has to carry him into the house.

But that was really it. Zayn doesn’t text him again. At the next crime scene, there’s another envelope, but this one’s got another officer’s name on it. He’s not stupid, he knows what Zayn’s doing. Trying to get the attention off Liam, but it doesn’t really work.

On the 22nd, Liam hands over his new phone, and he’s also subjected to an office search. He’s taken off the case, too, and he hears his coworkers whispering when they think he can’t hear. Everyone’s waiting for him to get fired, and Liam sort of is, too.

He gets called into Jacobson’s office a few days later, and he’s panicking. He knows he hasn’t done anything that they can catch him for, most likely. All he’d really done in the first place is withhold evidence, and he knows that no one can prove it. Still, this kind of incident is enough to get him kicked off the force. If it goes public enough, Jacobson wouldn’t have any choice. When Liam first started working here, there was this one officer who was accused of being a big part of the local drug cartel. While nothing was ever proven, and he was never arrested for it, the investigation was widespread enough that the press got hold of it, and not long after he was let go.

“Sit, Payne,” Jacobson orders when he enters the room. He carefully removes his glasses and folds them before placing them on the table. “Don’t look so scared, I’m not gonna fire you.”

Liam lets out a shaky breath and tries to smile at that, but he can’t. Instead he sits, like he was instructed.

“You’re a good officer, Liam,” Jacobson starts. “Have been since the day you started here. You do your job and you do it well. Got quite a reputation for that, too. Did you know that?”

Liam shakes his head. “No, not really.”

“Well, you do,” Jacobson says. “But recent events— I can’t just let something like this slide by, you realize.”

“I do.”

“So we’ve got to do something about it,” he says. “Any ideas?”

Again, Liam shakes his head. “No, sir.”

Jacobson sighs and folds his hands on the table. “I have a suggestion. I know you might not listen to it, because you’re quite fond of Styles and you two seem to be inseparable, but— there’s an opening on the force in the next town over.”

Liam frowns. The next town over is only about a half an hour drive away, but it’s smaller. Liam drives through it every time he goes to visit his parents. “What about it?”

“I want you to take it,” Jacobson says. “I’ve already talked to a friend of mine from over there. The paperwork could be done quickly, you could be transferred by June.” He pauses. “I’m not asking you, Liam. I know that you had nothing to do with any of those robberies, you’re too smart for that. But the evidence is incriminating, and I’ve got to do something. Higher-ups would have my ass if I didn’t.”

“But—,”

“Two years,” Jacobson says. “Then you can apply to transfer back, and I’ll accept right away. We just need to catch this guy first, or wait for it to all blow over. Two years isn’t that long, and I think you’d like it. You’d get a permanent partner. Pays even better, actually. Shorter hours, or longer, if you wanted them.”

“Can I think about it?” Liam asks.

Jacobson nods. “I suggest you do, Liam. You’re a good kid. You’ll do what’s right.”

Liam nods and stands up. He heads for the door but then turns back around. “Thank you.”

He gets a smile for that. “Get out of here, Payne. You’re still on the clock for another hour.”

Liam returns the smile, even if it is weak, and then gets back to work. It’s hard to get back to doing paperwork, though. Fifteen minutes after he’s sitting at his desk, Harry ducks his head inside and says, “Your boy,” and nothing else.

Liam nods in response and goes back to work, a small part of him worrying. That’s a first. He hadn’t worried any of the other times, but now he is. Worried that Zayn’ll get caught. Worried that this’ll be the time that he slips up because everyone slips up eventually, even him.

His shift ends before they get back, but Harry drops by and lets him know that Zayn’s fine, and then he smirks and adds, “Guy’s too smart for his own good. I’m almost impressed. Almost.”

He can’t help but grin fondly at that. “He definitely is.”

Harry nods and shoves his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “If you take the job, you’ll still come visit all the time, right?”

Liam looks up, startled. “How’d you know about that?”

Snorting, Harry pulls out his cellphone and turns it pointedly in his hands. “You’re not the only one that that stalker texts, just so you know.” He frowns. “I don’t get hit on, though. Am I not attractive enough to get hit on by genius thief’s? Why not?”

“I have no idea how the hell he found out about that,” Liam says. “I was just told today.”

“Told you, he’s too smart for his own good,” Harry says. “But are you going to? Take the job, I mean.”

Liam shrugs and sinks down onto the too soft cushions of his couch. It’s always irritated him. Getting off of it is always this huge task that takes a lot of effort. “I’m not sure,” he admits. “Maybe. I don’t really have a choice.”

Harry hugs him tightly. “It’s only half an hour away, right?” He says it like it’s no big deal, but his eyes are kind of wet. Harry’s always been the easily emotional type.

“Right,” Liam says. “I could come drink with you at the bar every night if I wanted.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Harry promises.

And just like that, Liam’s sort of made up his mind. Like he said, he really doesn’t have much of a choice, and like Harry said, it’s not that far, right? And maybe it would be nice to get a change of scenery and to work somewhere that people aren’t always eying him sideways. He might even like it. He might even like it better.

The next day he steps into Jacobson’s office and agrees to the transfer.

 

 

He’s been packing slowly as the days go by, not needing to rush things. It’s not like he has all that much stuff anyways. It’s weird to see everything he owns packed up in far too few boxes, though. It’s weird to watch his belongings disappear from the living room to watch the house get more and more impersonal as time progresses. Harry’d come by to visit one day and spotted the boxes, and since then he’s refused to step foot in Liam’s house again. He’s taking this harder than Liam, possibly. Niall, on the other hand, has actually offered to help, and a friend of his works with a moving company and he said he could get Liam a discount.

After work a few days before he’s set to leave, he comes home to find all of his boxes moved. He’s been leaving them in the living room, piled behind the couch. Now they’re not there.

He moves slowly through the house, and he finds all of his boxes piled high in the kitchen. He knows it wasn’t Harry because, again, Harry refuses to step inside his house. Niall wouldn’t come in without Liam being home. Unless he’d somehow done all this in his sleep and then forgot about it, someone’s obviously been in his house.

He hears a thump upstairs and he realizes that no, someone hadn’t been in his house. Someone is still in his house.

Looking around for something to use as a weapon, all he can find is a knife, and he really doesn’t fancy stabbing someone. Instead he pulls open the box nearest him that’s labelled 'shelf 'stuff 'and locates his track trophy that he’d earned a few years ago. He flips it upside down, holding the small figure in running gear in his hand, the base pointed away from him because it’s heavy and made out of metal.

As quietly as he can, Liam makes his way up the stairs. He hears another thump coming from the direction of his bedroom, and he tiptoes down the hallway. When he gets to his door, he curls his freehand around the handle, takes a deep breath, and then flings it open.

He should have known, he thinks a second later when he finds Zayn sprawled out on his bed, arms crossed behind head, looking more than comfortable. His leather jacket is open and the shirt he’s wearing underneath has a low enough collar that all Liam can do for a moment is try to make out the tattoos that are scattered over his chest and his collarbone.

“Seriously?” he asks, lowering the trophy. “I could have killed you.”

“Death by trophy,” Zayn says. “That would have been tragic.”

Sighing, Liam places the trophy on his dresser and then crosses his arms over his chest. “Can I help you, or did you just come to redecorate?”

Zayn sits up and crosses his legs, a grin spreading over his face. “Did that just to fuck with you, if we’re being honest.”

“Thanks for that,” Liam says sarcastically. “Again, can I help you?”

“You can, actually.” The grin on his face falters, revealing a nervous look. He bunches up Liam’s comforter and says, “My sister’s making a big dinner tomorrow. I was wondering if you wanted to come.”

He doesn’t mean to look so surprised, and he would have tried to stop himself if he could have anticipated the annoyed, hurt look that flits across Zayn’s face. Before he can say anything, Zayn’s getting off the bed and heading for the window.

“Forget about it,” he says. “Figured you wouldn’t want to anyways.”

“No, wait—,” Liam moves forward quickly and grabs his arm. “You didn’t even give me time to answer.”

Zayn turns, eyes narrowed. This close, his eyelashes are incredibly long; it’s distracting. “Your face answered for you.”

“I want to,” Liam says firmly. “I’d like to, I mean. I— yeah. I’ll come.”

Now it’s Zayn’s turn to look surprised. “Really?”

“Really.”

Grin back in place, Zayn swings a leg over his windowsill. “Great. You remember where they live, right? Be there by six. If you bring ice cream, they’ll love you.”

And then he drops out the window. Liam leans out it, spotting Zayn on the ground, brushing his hands off. “You could have just used the door, you know,” he calls.

Zayn tilts his head up and grins. “Where’s the fun in that?”

Liam shakes his head and watches him cross the yard and then disappear into the woods behind his house. A minute later he hears the motorcycle starting up and he finally closes his window and makes his way back downstairs. He’s got to move his boxes again. He probably should have forced Zayn to stay and help him, but he’s not annoyed. Not really.

 

 

He straightens his shirt as he gets out of the car. He wasn’t sure what to wear. Was a t-shirt too casual? Was a dress shirt too formal? In the end he opted for jeans, a t-shirt, and a blazer over the t-shirt. Casual and formal. Right? Ugh, this is why he doesn’t do things like this.

The two bags in his arms are surprisingly heavy, and he’s aware that he went overboard. Zayn hadn’t specified, though. He’d just said to bring ice cream. Liam went to the store, and he looked at all the different kinds, and then floundered and ended up buying one of everything they had available. He hopes their freezer is big.

Zayn’s motorcycle is in the lot, parked behind the van. Liam takes a moment to appreciate it, all sleek and black. He’s only seen Zayn on it once, but he’d looked good on it. It suits him.

He carefully avoids the broken step as he climbs the stairs, and then he raises his hand to knock on the door. Before he can, it’s pulled open and there stands a young girl with wide eyes and a mischievous smile.

“Who’re you?” she asks, putting a hand on her hip.

“Um, I’m Liam,” he says awkwardly, trying to smile without seeming, like, creepy. “Is Zayn here?”

“Are you his boyfriend?” the girl demands.

Someone grabs her from behind and lifts her off the ground before pushing her out of sight. Zayn fixes his shirt afterwards and gives Liam a welcoming grin that makes Liam think he has no idea what she’d just said, but the flush in his cheeks says otherwise.

“You can come in, you know,” Zayn adds. “Unless you’d like to just stand outside.”

“Right.” Liam steps into the house and closes the door behind himself. “I brought ice cream, like you said.”

Zayn laughs and then drops his eyes to Liam’s bags, and the sound cuts off abruptly. “Christ, did you buy the whole store?”

“Sort of,” he admits. “You didn’t say a specific kind, and I didn’t know what to get. Figured it be better to just get everything than risk getting only one kind and having everyone hate it.”

“God, you’re adorable,” Zayn says, shaking his head. He tugs one of the bags from Liam’s hands and says, “Just leave your shoes on.”

Liam follows him into the kitchen. While the house looks rundown from outside, it’s surprisingly nice inside. The walls look recently painted (if the faint chemical smell that hangs in the air is any indication), it’s immaculately clean, and the furniture looks brand new.

The smell of cooking vegetables is heavy in the air, and Liam can’t remember the last time he ate a home cooked meal. He’s not hopeless in the kitchen; he’s a fairly good cook, actually, there’s just no point to cook a whole meal for just him, so he tends to either pick something up, pop something in the microwave, or make a sandwich. Whatever’s being cooked in this house smells so good it makes his mouth water.

There’s an older girl at the stove, pushing things around with a wooden spoon. A slightly younger one sits at the table, phone pressed to her ear, and she doesn’t look up when they walk in. The one from the door is by the stove, too, attempting to steal things from the pan, though her hands are slapped away every time she gets too close.

Zayn coughs loudly and they all look at him, and then three pairs of eyes slide to Liam. He tries not to shift uncomfortably and attempts to look happy to be there. (Which he really is, okay, he just doesn’t do things like this.)

“This is Liam,” Zayn says, putting a hand on Liam’s shoulder. “Liam, this gremlin is Safaa, the one on the phone is Waliyha, and the one who’s going to be giving you food poisoning is Doniya.”

“Nice to meet you,” Liam says honestly.

“Can’t believe you’re dating a cop,” Doniya mutters, but she smiles at Liam to soften her words. “Actually, I can’t believe you’re dating anyone. Is Liam aware of how much of a dork you are?”

“So they are boyfriends?” Safaa asks.

“Liam brought ice cream!” Zayn says loudly, holding up one of the bags. “Enough to put us all in sugar comas. Let’s talk about that instead.”

Safaa’s eyes widen and she turns to Doniya, who shakes her head firmly and says, “Not until after dinner.” Zayn, on the other hand, is already pulling bowls out of a cupboard.

“Just sit,” he adds to Liam, who nods and takes a seat, a genuine, not-forced smile slipping onto his face when Safaa and Zayn both ignore Doniya’s firm no and get a bowl of ice cream. He offers Liam one, too, but he shakes his head, no. He actually has no idea how he’s going to eat anything today because his stomach is sort of flip-flopping and churning nervously.

There’s a lot of comfortable, familial banter as Doniya scolds Zayn, and the girls all tease him, and Zayn attempts to give Safaa everything in the world despite whatever Doniya says.

Finally food is being plated, and Liam offers to help but that is shot down immediately, and then he’s cooed at by Doniya and Waliyha.

“He’s so nice,” Waliyha says. “And fit, too.”

“Is Zayn paying you?” Doniya asks him. “Did he trick you into this?”

“We’re not dating,” Zayn snaps. Everyone looks at him, including Liam, and he’s a deep shade of red. “What? We’re not. I never said we were.”

“Not in so many words,” Doniya argues. “But you pretty much did, actually.”

Don’t be embarrassing when Liam gets here,” Waliyha mocks, making her voice higher pitched. “I want him to like me. I’d like to adopt babies with him and I’d also like to use his handcuffs and handcuff him to my bed and—,”

“Not in front of Safaa!” Doniya hisses.

“I never said any of that,” Zayn adds. “I swear.”

Doniya seems to take pity on Zayn because she cuts off the rest of the teasing by serving dinner. A plate is pushed in front of Liam, brimming with roasted vegetables and chicken and a buttered bun. Zayn sits beside him, and his plate is the same, without the meat.

“Vegetarian,” he explains. “Since I was twenty.”

“He got a job at the butchers,” Doniya explains. “Hasn’t been the same since.”

Zayn winces and forks up a potato. Liam does the same, and it’s good. It’s all good, not just the food. Conversation ranges from what Safaa did at school today to Waliyha begging Zayn to lend her the motorcycle to Doniya asking Liam questions about his job. Inevitably the conversation goes back to teasing Zayn, though.

“Forty seven comic books, last time I checked,” Waliyha is saying, making a face at Zayn. “He’s got them hidden in a box, too, like dirty magazines because he knows how much of a loser is, and he doesn’t want anyone else to.”

“Shut up,” Zayn says tightly. “Or I’ll tell Doniya what I caught you and Mark doing last Tuesday, when she was at work and Safaa was at Lou’s.”

“You wouldn’t,” she says, mouth falling open.

“What, exactly, did you do with Mark last Tuesday?” Doniya demands.

A hand grabs his thigh, and Zayn gives him a sideways look, eyebrows raised. Liam returns it with one of his own, and Zayn looks at him for a long time before his lips quirk up and he says, “D’you mind if I actually go and show Liam those comic books?”

The girls are too busy arguing and Safaa’s too busy sneaking a carton of ice cream from the freezer, so no one answers. Zayn shrugs and gets up, waiting for Liam to do the same. He clears his dishes first, and Zayn’s, too, which seems to amuse Zayn to no end because there’s a smile on his face the entire time.

He leads Liam up the stairs, which creak under their feet but are covered with a newish looking carpet. There’s four doors at the top, and Zayn turns into the first one.

The walls are painted a deep, navy blue, but painting them was mostly pointless because nearly every inch of the room is covered in posters and sketches. He spots a Batman one that was actually on his wall back at his parents house, and had been since it came out.

The room is messy, and it looks lived in. The bed isn’t made, there’s clothes scattered on the ground, and the room doesn’t have that stale, never touched smell that most do when no one stays in them. He gets an explanation for this a moment later when Zayn says, “I stay here a few times a week to help out. Don works the midnight shift sometimes.”

There’s one Zayn, the one he’s known since the beginning, snarky and too smart for his own good, who says everything like it’s a sexual innuendo and smirks instead of smiles. And then there’s the Zayn from tonight, who had blushed at his sisters teasing and laughed throatily when Safaa said something funny and kept darting glances at Liam when he thought Liam wasn’t looking. And he likes both of them, if he’s being honest. Far more than he should, more than he’d like to, but there it is.

“I was promised comic books,” Liam says. “That better not have been a lie. I happen to love comics.”

“It wasn’t a lie,” Zayn says, kneeling by the bed. He pulls out two large, lidded boxes. He carefully removes the lids and, as promised, reveals a comic book collection that has Liam jealous.

“You really are a dork,” Liam tells him. “I like it.”

Zayn sits on the bed with his legs crossed while Liam sits on the floor and sorts through them. He feels like a teenager all over again, sitting in his own room, reading comic books while Harry sat on the bed and texted whatever girl or guy he was into that week. (Not that Harry was extremely promiscuous, he just had a lot of love to give, Liam always thought, and he tried to spread it to as many people as he possibly could.) Light catches the necklace at his throat, and Zayn fidgets, twisting the pendant in his hand.

Looking closer, Liam realizes that it’s actually the ring he’d gotten back from that house so many days ago. “Why don’t you wear it on your finger?” he asks.

“What?” Zayn asks. He drops his eyes to the ring that he was playing with. He releases it and it falls against his chest. “Oh. It’s too big. I was wearing it on my hand the day I lost it because my chain broke.”

“Where’d you get it?” Liam inquires, interested in even the smallest details of Zayn’s life, for some reason. He’s filing each one to memory, like the fact that he doesn’t eat meat and he likes strawberry ice cream best and he laughs the loudest at the worst jokes.

“It was my dad’s,” he explains, eyes on the ring still instead of Liam’s. “When he passed, my mum was going to throw it out. She couldn’t keep looking at it, not without crying every time. It was his wedding ring. She threw it in the garbage one day, but I watched her do it and when she left I sort of fished it out and I’ve had it ever since. She seen me wearing it one day, and there was a lot of tears and then she made me promise I wouldn't ever lose it, so I've always been really careful with it.”

“I really am sorry about your parents, no matter how insignificant it sounds,” Liam says softly.

Zayn nods. “So am I,” he says. “But whatever, shit happens. Everyone’s got a sob story, Liam. Some chose to wear theirs on their sleeves, but others don’t. That’s just life. You’ve got to learn to live with it.”

Liam nods and puts the lids back on the boxes before sliding them back under the bed. Zayn pats the spot beside him and Liam sits there. The bed is comfortable, just firm enough, the way he likes it. He hates too cushy furniture.

“How long until you leave?” Zayn questions after a moment of silence.

Liam’s lips quirk into a smile. “Like you don’t already know.”

“I don’t, actually,” he says honestly. “Haven’t been keeping tabs on you lately. You told me to leave you alone, and that’s what I was doing.”

“Until you broke into my house.”

“Had to say goodbye,” Zayn justifies. “Couldn’t just let you go.”

“I’m glad you didn’t. Glad you invited me tonight, too.”

“So you don’t think my family’s crazy?”

Liam chuckles. “I never said that. I think everyone’s family is sort of crazy, though.”

“Fair enough.”

Drumming his fingers on his knees, not meeting Zayn’s eyes, Liam asks, “Did you really tell them we were dating?”

“No,” Zayn says quickly, sounding choked. “I didn’t. Not that— not that I wouldn’t— I mean, I would. If you were staying, if things were different, I’d consider it. You’re ridiculously attractive, Liam Payne. And I may have an authority kink, and the police uniform does it for me.”

Liam snorts a laugh, but he agrees with Zayn. If things were different, Liam would want that, too. Or maybe he still does anyways, but everything’s been so complicated. He wonders what would have happened if they’d met under normal circumstances. He wonders if Zayn would have even given him a second look, and then he wonders if he would have had the guts to approach Zayn at all. Probably not, he thinks realistically.

“Things are going to be different, though,” Zayn adds. He pulls his legs up to his chest and rests his chin on his knees. “I’m going back to school in a few months, you’re moving and transferring forces.”

Liam grunts in response. “That’s true.”

“You are going to be only half an hour away,” he continues. “That’s not very far, and we both have vehicles.”

“That’s also true.”

“I guess it just depends on whether we want to try,” he finishes. “Do you?”

“Do you?” Liam counters.

Zayn shakes his head and then, without warning, he moves forward and presses his lips against Liam’s. “People can write books about us,” Zayn says when he pulls back. “The thief that stole the heart of the policeman that vowed to take him down. They could make a lifetime movie about it and everything.”

Liam licks his lips, faintly tasting the ice cream that Zayn had had for dessert (on top of the bowl he’d had before dinner). “You really are a dork,” he muses. “And the leather jacket isn’t fooling anyone. You’re not as badass as you’d like to be.”

“How was that even remotely romantic?” Liam hears someone whispers, followed by, “I’m twelve, how should I know?”

Rolling his eyes, Zayn gets off the bed and, as quietly as he can, makes his way to the door. He pulls it open and Waliyha stumbles over the threshold, and Safaa bursts into a fit of giggles.

“Really?” Zayn demands. “Really?”

Waliyha catches herself and tilts her chin defiantly. “I was just going to ask if I could borrow the bike to go to the mall with my friends.”

“Definitely not,” Zayn says instantly. Her expression falls and he follows up with, “But Liam and I’ll drive you, if he doesn’t mind.”

Liam get up and nods. “I don’t mind.”

“I like him,” Waliyha decides. “Zayn, you should keep him around.”

Zayn hums in response to this, but, as they’re making their way down the stairs, he puts a hand on the small of his Liam’s back and says, quietly so only Liam can hear, “I may just do that.”

 


 

 

Epilogue

 

The first thing Liam does to christen his new desk (he doesn’t have an office anymore, sadly, but he doesn’t mind all that much) is take the framed picture out of his box and place it on his desk. Before, he hadn’t had any pictures. This one he wants front and center.

Harry’s behind the camera, and you can tell, too, because a piece of his ridiculous hair is obscuring part of the lens. In the center of the photograph is Zayn’s friend, Louis, almost completely buried in sand, with Niall and Safaa beside him, trying to get the rest of him covered. In the distance you can see Waliyha sleeping with a pair of sunglasses on her face, and Doniya sipping a can of Pepsi. To the left, a little closer than the girls, is the tangle of limbs that is Liam and Zayn. Harry had said he was taking a picture, and the first thing Zayn did was roll Liam onto his back and kiss him. There’s another version of this photograph, taken only a few seconds later, where Zayn is leaning above him and Liam’s tilting his head back to grin at the camera, but he likes this one best.

Someone knocks on the short wall that separates his desk from the one next to it, and he looks up, finding Harry leaning against it. “Good to have you back, Payne,” he says, a smile brightening his face.

“Good to be back,” Liam says.

“You say that now,” Harry tells him. “Just you wait. I give it an hour before you’re wishing you were back in that small town where the only thing you had to worry about was someone’s cow wondering onto someone else’s property.”

It wasn’t that bad. In fact, Liam had taken to the smaller town force instantly. It was different than things were here. There was more of a sense of community, and he’d genuinely liked nearly all of his coworkers, and things were just… easier. But he didn’t take this job because he wanted easy. He took this job because he wanted to help people and, admittedly, he didn’t do much of that there. Harry’s right; work had always been slow paced, and he was lucky if he did more than sit at the station all day.

“We’ll see,” Liam says finally. “Until then, d’you mind getting me a coffee?”

Harry makes a face at him. “Been back two minutes and you’re already bossing me around. You’ve got two feet and a heartbeat, get your own coffee.”

Liam flips him off. “I was expecting a welcome back party, and I didn’t get that. The least you could do is get me a coffee.”

“The least I could do is go back to my own desk and sit on my ass,” Harry argues. He runs a hand through his hair, rolls his eyes, and then says, “Oh, fine. Whatever. Only because I’m getting one for myself.”

Liam grins at him. Harry goes to leave, but before he does, Liam says, “I really did miss working with you, though.”

“Don’t make me cry,” Harry says firmly. “Prick.”

Laughing, Liam goes back to setting up his desk. Harry comes back not much later with two cups of coffee, which they sip while Harry tells him that they do have a welcome back surprise party planned for him later tonight at the bar, and then he scolds Liam for ruining the surprise by making him feel guilty about not having a bigger home coming.

Eventually Liam gets in his cruiser to start his next shift, and it’s only ten minutes after he’s started the thing that the call comes in on the radio. Someone triggered the security alarm at a house on Weller street. Liam’s the only officer dispatched to the scene, mostly because security breaches like that in that part of town are usually just the home owners putting in the wrong code by accident, setting the alarm off automatically. More often than not, Liam heads to those houses and finds a sheepish looking man or woman inside who profusely apologizes to him.

Except that’s not what he finds at all. He pulls up in front of the house to find the front door partially ajar. Liam grabs his radio and calls for back up, remembering what happened last time in a situation like this. Then, being as cautious as possible, Liam pulls out his gun and enters the house, calling, “Police!” the way he was taught to.

No one answers, unsurprisingly, and Liam makes his way slowly through the house. Nothing seems out of place in the living room, so he makes his way towards the back, heading into the kitchen.

“I was going to surprise you,” someone says from behind him, “but I’m sort of scared to startle you with that thing in your hands.”

Liam turns, gun raised, and then lowers it a second later when Zayn grins at him from where’s he’s sitting on the counter, snacking on an apple.

“Fuck,” Liam lets out. “I could have shot you.”

Zayn gracefully jumps off the counter and places the half eaten apple on it. “You wouldn’t have. You’re an ask questions first, shoot later kind of guy.”

He flicks the safety on and puts his gun back in his holster as Zayn approaches him. Thin, wiry arms wrap around his neck and Zayn leans in, lips ghosting against hi jaw. “What are you doing here?” Liam asks a beat later, coming back to his sense.

Zayn chuckles. “Well, see,” he starts while carding his hands through Liam’s short hair, “I have this insanely attractive boyfriend that works far too much, and I didn’t want to wait until he got off work to see him.”

“So you broke into a house,” Liam states, flabbergasted. “Zayn, come on. You can’t be serious.”

“It’s not like I took anything,” Zayn argues. “’cept an apple. Old habits die hard, I guess.”

“I can’t believe you,” Liam says honestly. “You can’t just break into people’s houses to get my attention.”

Groaning, Zayn drags his teeth against Liam’s neck and crowds him against the wall. “But I’ve been thinking about you all day,” he whines. “And you look so fit in your uniform.” He grins his hips against Liam’s while sucking on his collarbone in a way that Liam knows will leave a mark. “Can’t you let me have fun, just this once?”

Wrapping his arms around Zayn’s waist, Liam shakes his head. “Back-up will be here any minute.”

Zayn sighs at that. “Fine, fine,” he says. He kisses Liam, slow and teasingly, grinding a leg against Liam’s crotch. “Come see me after you get off work, though. Before you let Styles drag you to the bar for your surprise party.”

“None of you seem to understand the surprise part of surprise party,” Liam mutters. “And you’re insane, you really are. You need to go before someone else gets here.”

“I’m going,” Zayn says with a roll of his eyes. He kisses Liam once again, this time gently, chaste, and then, with a wink, he’s disappearing out the back door.

He hears the motorcycle start up down the street, and he shakes his head in amusement. He should be surprised, or maybe even upset, but he’s not.

When back-up arrives, Liam heads outside and tells them that it was a false alarm, the house is empty. They look more than a little annoyed, but it doesn’t phase Liam as he gets back in his car.

He’s just reaching for his lunch when his phone vibrates in his pocket. He pulls it out, scanning the words quickly. It’s short, and he’s got about fifteen duplicates of it saved on his phone, but it still makes him smile anyways.

Love you, Li— Z