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One: The first time Liam meets Zayn, he’s apprehensive, to say the least. The other boy’s so quiet, so reserved that Liam doesn’t quite know what do with himself. He’s not brave enough to just walk over and strike up a conversation like Niall does, grinning lazily and barely noticing when Zayn replies to him in a manner that can only be described as cold, less than friendly. He’s not like Louis or Harry either, who’ve draped themselves over Liam so many times over the past few days he’s struggling to remember what the concept of personal space actually is.

He’s just Liam, and Liam is awkward and hovers at the back of the couch while Zayn lies on it, earphones in and head bobbing along to the music. Liam can hear the bass line faintly if he listens hard enough, leaning in. Zayn doesn’t notice his presence, or he just doesn’t care. Either way, Liam retreats, biting his lip and wishing that he didn’t feel so offended. After all, it’s not as if Zayn’s outright mean to him. He’s just not like the others. Liam thinks that if he’s going to start comparing the world to the other boys – especially Louis, who’s so loud and doesn’t shut up no matter how much any of them complain – he’s not going to go far in life.

A few days into the competition, Zayn’s much more relaxed, sunny and bright. Liam likes him a lot better. Not that there was ever a chance of Liam not liking him, of course, because Liam likes everyone. Or so Harry tells him. Liam doesn’t really understand why that’s a bad thing.

After the first of their rehearsals, they’re all full of restless energy, knees bouncing up and down while they still hum under their breath, elated. Harry’s been grinning maniacally since they got off stage, curls flying about every time he turns his head. Louis’ jiggling his foot absent-mindedly as he plays Niall at a video game Liam doesn’t know the name of, but it looks violent, and they discover that Niall’s really competitive, if the way he’s swearing furiously is any indication.

Zayn’s the least energetic of them all, Liam thinks. Until he looks close, and then he sees that Zayn is as ecstatic as the rest of them, just so happy and content to be a part of this. It’s not noticeable to the world at large, but Liam looks, and he sees it in the way Zayn’s fingers drum on his thigh as he delves into one of his books he’d brought with him, or the way that he smiles softly whenever he glances up and catches Liam’s eye.

(Or at least, he thinks Zayn’s looking at him, but he’s never really sure. After all, Harry’s right next to him, vibrant and welcoming, so maybe that’s who he’s looking at. Liam never works up the courage to ask.)

He starts noticing things a lot more, after that. He notices Zayn opening up even more, talking to the rest of them like he’s known them all his life. He notices that Zayn really loves his family, and really misses them, face always lighting up whenever his dad or one of his sisters text him. He notices that Zayn really considers them friends now, and there’s nowhere as much distance between him and any of the boys, though Zayn’s still quiet at times. He notices that Zayn prefers to shower as soon as he gets up, because then he doesn’t have to do it later, because that gets on his nerves.

It’s then that Liam thinks he might be noticing too much, so he tones it down a bit. He focuses on the others as best as he can, noticing things about them too, but they don’t seem nearly as important.

He busies himself with anything he can to distract him from the enigma that is Zayn, who’s been moody lately. Not that Liam’s noticed that, because he is done noticing.

He’s so done noticing that he cleans his room twice, rearranges the desk and even goes to the trouble of sorting out his iTunes by genre. Genre, for God’s sake.

Niall’s the first to see, puts a reassuring hand on Liam’s shoulder and squeezes gently. He’s sure that Niall doesn’t know exactly what the matter is, but he knows something is up, and that’s enough to make Liam smile. Because it’s always him noticing other people, never the other way around. It feels nice.

When the live shows finally roll around, he’s not as attentive to anything anymore, because he simply doesn’t have enough time to be. It’s gruelling, but a relief, and he feels lighter than he has in a few days. He even joins in with Louis’ antics once or twice, earning a bemused laugh from Niall and a raised eyebrow from Zayn. Harry’s too busy trying to get someone to have sex with him on top of the grand piano to notice.

The night before the first live show, though, he’s nervous and scared, eyes wide as he stares at the television. Harry’s asleep on the other side of the couch, body curled into a ball. Louis’ conked out on the other chair, one leg hanging off the side, the other tucked into his chest. It doesn’t look comfortable. Niall had scurried off to his room a while ago, saying that he needed some rest, though the tinge of green to his cheeks suggested that might take him a while. Liam kept quiet, though, saying goodnight quietly along with the others.

Zayn’s out the back somewhere, probably trying to sneak a cigarette. The people in charge have been trying to get him to quit, saying it’s bad for the boys’ image and inane drivel like that, but Zayn manages to fly under the radar.

His sketchbook’s lying open on the table in the middle of the room. Liam leans forward – careful not to jar Harry – and picks it up, flicking through the drawings. They’re good, really good, and he’s amazed at all the detail in them. There’s a pair of Louis’ shoes drawn intricately, down to the last fleck of dirt. A necklace, done in watercolour pencils, Liam guesses. He picks up the little stick of charcoal that was lying next to the book and brings it to the page, looking around the room for inspiration.

He settles on Harry, since his brain starts acting up and he sees the way Harry’s curled in on himself, so different from the way he usually is. He’s soft lines and blurring features. Liam stares down at the page helplessly. He’d never been the best at art in school, but it couldn’t hurt to try, right?

He tries to replicate the sweeping, easy motions he watches (notices) Zayn carry out sometimes, teeth pinning down his bottom lip in concentration, tongue hanging out one side. Liam doesn’t try out the facial expression, opting for his usual furrowed brow. He’s pleased with the overall shape which looks Harry-like, leaning back to admire his work.

The charcoal’s rubbed off on his fingers, getting worse as he attempts Harry’s features. It’s too smudgy, fingerprints rubbing onto the page without Liam realising it.

“You’re leaning on the point too much. Try tilting it a bit.” Zayn says, resting his head on Liam’s shoulder. He can hear Zayn’s breath rising and falling, hitching a little when Liam sits up and knocks him accidentally, chin digging into Liam’s collarbone. He’s right there, the contact burning into Liam’s skin, and he feels clammy.

Liam does his best to follow Zayn’s instructions, letting the charcoal go squinty and trying again. Zayn laughs, the sound warm but subdued, his hand curling around Liam’s and shaping it around the charcoal. Smudges appear on his hands too, but he just shrugs when Liam points that out.

“See the way his chin’s tilted down towards his chest? You want to make sure everything’s in line like that. If you look closely, the tip of his nose goes past everything else. His feet’ll look a bit weird because you can only see one of them, but that’s that.”

Zayn moves his hand – their hands – as he talks, sketching out little guidelines for Liam to follow. And he does, blindly, but well enough, since Zayn doesn’t seem disappointed by the end of it, when a sort-of outline of Harry’s appeared on the page. He’s fuzzy but it’s recognisable.

“I couldn’t draw his face properly. The eyes, I mean.”

Zayn looks up from Harry to look at Liam, lip flicking out over his bottom lip while he nods at Liam, glancing at the page, then Harry, then Liam. Repeat cycle.

“The thing with eyes is, you’re never going to be able to draw them perfectly right away, so don’t worry about that. Just remember what I said about trying to get everything in line.” His hand moves Liam’s gracefully, putting more guidelines on the page. The charcoal’s all over the edge of Zayn’s hand now, but Liam quite likes it, how it makes his skin look gold.

Zayn lets his hand go after a few more lines (Liam refuses to acknowledge that empty feeling in the pit of his stomach) and leans back, nodding at Liam.

“Go on then. Do it.”

Liam tries as best as he can, holding the charcoal tighter in his grip and sketching Harry painstakingly. Zayn had started drawing a little of the features for him, so mainly Liam just has to fill in the body. Harry’s hoodie takes a while, and he’s cursing the stupid thing because what if it makes it seem that Zayn’s help wasn’t worth it?

If Zayn thinks he’s taking too long, though, he doesn’t mention it, chin still on Liam’s shoulder as he looks down. Liam holds it up with a flourish when he’s done.

“Brilliant.” Zayn takes it off him to look closer, smudging bits here and there to make it look better. It’s nowhere near anything Zayn could’ve drawn himself, but Liam’s proud of himself nonetheless. It’s mostly Liam’s work, Zayn insists. Liam protests weakly but then Zayn raises an eyebrow and grins and Liam’s smiling back without ever consciously making the decision to.

They stay up for a couple more episodes of whatever shitty programme Louis had put on earlier. Liam’s not paying attention, instead concentrating on Zayn and the way his laugh always starts with crinkly eyes and a lopsided grin until the sound escapes his throat, and it’s wonderful. Zayn starts nodding off at half one, eyes drooping shut. He pushes himself up with a grunt and a yawn, rubbing his eyes and looking blearily down at Liam.

“Night, Li.” He says quietly, mussing up Liam’s hair and trudging off in the opposite direction, and Liam’s done with pretending to not notice.

“I swear I can hear your heart swelling three sizes right now.” Harry’s sleepy words break the silence, amused and barely there.

“Piss off.”

Two: Fast forward a year, and they’re all over the world. Liam doesn’t think he’ll ever get sick of seeing his face on the television, or hearing his voice on the radio. It reminds him that they’ve done it, they’ve really made it.

There’s so much pressure on him though, pressure to look a certain way, act a certain way. He tries to take it all in his stride as best as he can, because a little adjustment is fine. It’s definitely a fair exchange for all of this, he thinks, so he doesn’t complain. Much.

They play so many shows that he loses track. UK, Europe, America, everywhere. There’s cameras everywhere and fans everywhere and Liam is just so, so grateful.

They’re back on the tour bus after one of their bigger shows in America, lazing about in the back room. Louis’ playing Niall at FIFA – nothing’s changed there – and Niall’s cursing loud enough that even their driver’s laughing at him. Nothing’s changed there, either.

Harry’s listening to music, thumb tapping the screen as he plays Tetris. He clacks his teeth every time he places a bad shot, groaning loudly. Zayn eventually snatches the phone off him and completes the level himself, handing it back to Harry with a wide grin. Harry stares back, wide-eyed, declaring Zayn his idol and latching on to him.

“You’re going to like me even more in a minute.” Zayn mumbles, pulling a little bag out of nowhere and chucking it in the middle of their little circle. Louis whoops when he sees it, reaching to down to inspect it, stroking his chin until Niall slaps his hand and tells him off for being a prick.


“Bag.” Zayn replies, leaning on Liam’s shoulder. They’ve gotten much closer, and Liam’s not sure how to feel about that. Well, he’s not sure how to feel about Zayn, specifically. Because Zayn has very long, feathery eyelashes and a grin that overrides Harry’s (in Liam’s humble and completely unbiased opinion) and Liam just isn’t sure how to feel about that.

Harry digs the skins out of Zayn’s bag and quickly rolls up a joint. Niall’s very vocal about how impressed he is, an arm round Harry’s shoulder as Harry’s nimble fingers work. Liam’s impressed too, but he doesn’t say so, because that would be like saying he approves of this and, well.

“You’ve got your lecturing face on.” Zayn announces, shuffling closer. Liam shifts uncomfortably.

“Just responsible.” He corrects.

“Boring.” Niall shouts. Liam shrugs, trying to keep his face from falling. He knows he seems boring to the others, but he just doesn’t want them to get in trouble or arrested or anything. Excuse him for caring.

Zayn whacks Niall on the upside of his head and wags his finger at him. Liam smiles gratefully at him. Zayn nods and lights up the joint, taking the first hit and grinning contentedly before passing it on to Harry, who’s whining childishly about being left out. Even though none of the others have had any yet, so he’s not even being excluded.

The others get loud and stupid, so Liam digs one of the consoles they’d been given by Nintendo for doing that advert, figuring he has nothing else to do. Niall and Louis are taking turns eating as much as they can while Harry claps wildly, egging them on. Zayn’s quiet and lovely in the corner, smile blissful while he watches the rest of them. He’s not doing anything out of the ordinary. The only way you could possibly tell that he was high was if you smelled it on him, Liam reckons.

He cracks open a window just in case their driver gets a whiff. He really can’t be bothered with the lecture they’d get, or the disappointed looks.

Zayn wraps his fingers around Liam’s leg when he reaches up, tugging forcefully so Liam crashes to the ground.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Zayn asks curiously, eyebrows drawn together with worry and it’s definitely not adorable. Liam refuses to think that.

“I was just opening the window.”

“Oh, right. I thought you were trying to escape or something. Don’t want you to get run over.” Zayn giggles into his hand, patting the space next to him. Liam fills it and Zayn rests his head on Liam’s shoulder, sighing happily.

“Your concern astounds me.” Liam tells him. Zayn laughs, one short, sharp sound that Liam drinks in eagerly.

“You’re weird.” Zayn responds, tracing the stitching of his jeans, fingertips soft and gliding over the material. Liam gulps.

“Thanks, I guess.”

Zayn nods, grunts when his cheek hits off Liam’s shoulder, cursing Liam’s muscles as Liam chuckles. He pouts up at Liam, lips wet from licking them so bloody often. Liam clears his throat. Zayn narrows his eyes and by the next time Liam’s blinked, he’s clambering into Liam’s lap, one leg on either side of Liam’s body, hands briefly touching the ground to hold him up. Liam’s hands automatically fly up to Zayn’s waist to keep him steady.

“I don’t think you’re boring, though. ‘M sorry he said that.” Zayn says, thumb rubbing along Liam’s jaw.

“Who?” Liam blurts, not because he’s forgotten what Niall said – he’s been mulling it over for the past hour and a half – but because Zayn being this close to him induces stupidity, apparently.

“Doesn’t matter, s’not true. You’re my favourite.” Zayn murmurs, smiling widely as though he’s just given Liam the best gift in the history of gifts. And, in a way, he has. “I do agree with him on one point, though.”

Liam’s heart sinks and there’s that feeling in his stomach again.

“You should try some.” Zayn suggests firmly, nodding. Liam rolls his eyes.

“Niall never said that.”

“Well, I’m saying it now, okay?” Zayn retorts, brushing off the technicalities with a wave of his hand. He retrieves the joint from Harry, who’s too gone to resist, handing it over without whining. Zayn put it between two fingers and takes a drag, cheeks hollowing and Liam’s really trying not to think dirty thoughts, but he’s not a saint and he’s sure that if he was Zayn could convince him otherwise.

Zayn’s leaning down towards him now, eyes meeting Liam’s briefly before they drop back down to Liam’s lips. Liam’s eyes go wide. He’s heard of shotgunning, but he doesn’t know what to do. Is it just like kissing but with more stuff? Does he really want to be high? Does he really want to kiss Zayn?

The last question’s laughable, since the answer is an obvious and unconditional yes.

Since Zayn’s jolting back and letting the smoke billow out of his mouth, Liam doesn’t have to worry about it. Zayn plants a kiss on his cheek and moves Liam’s fingers until they hold the joint properly, lifting Liam’s arm for him.

“Just let it rest there,” he instructs, tip of his finger brushing across Liam’s bottom lip, “and then just breathe in.”

Liam does what he says, choking a little bit. Zayn pats him on the back but encourages him to keep going, so he does. It doesn’t taste as bad as he thought it would. After a few drags, it doesn’t taste bad at all. Or maybe that’s because Zayn’s proud grin is fucking with Liam’s senses. Maybe.

“You should feel it here.” Zayn tells him, a hand on his chest. Liam’s breathing slower than he normally would, but maybe that’s just Zayn’s effect on him, as well.

Zayn’s fingers clasp the front of his shirt tightly, and Zayn’s eyes are big and expectant. There’s so many colours in them, swirling in front of Liam’s eyes in a jumble of caramels and golds and ambers. Liam feels briefly irritated that he’s high so quickly (because that’s embarrassing and he’ll never live it down if Niall has anything to do with it) but forgets about it when Zayn widens his eyes at Liam even more, bottom lip jutting out a bit as he waits on an answer.

Liam nods his agreement and then Zayn’s fingers are gone, and then his whole body. Liam feels cold and alone, reaching for the nearest blanket it and wrapping it around himself, though it’s nothing compared to Zayn.

Nothing ever is, he thinks miserably.

Three: A few months later and the shock of being famous has worn off a little bit. He’s still eternally gratefully, of course, don’t get him wrong, but lately Liam’s felt caged in. He’s lost himself in the work, as a result, and he’s seen the other boys looking at him worriedly when they think he’s asleep or not paying attention.

He makes sure to smile extra wide to reassure everyone that he’s okay, and it works on most people.

Zayn isn’t most people, though. So of course he knows that something’s up. Liam likes a lot about Zayn, but right now he thinks his favourite part is the fact that Zayn can comfort him without really saying anything important. He’ll ask Liam something as simple as whether he’d like butter or jam on his toast and Liam forgets about everything for the rest of the day. That’s just how it works.

Liam’s been toying with the idea of doing something unexpected these days. He’s already shaved off all his hair (and all his good looks according to Harry, but Zayn tells him he still thinks he’s hot) but it doesn’t feel like enough.

“Maybe you should start dressing up all the time. Like a grandpa, or a box of chips.” Zayn suggests one Sunday afternoon that they have off. The sun’s low in the sky, casting shadows on the room. Zayn’s lying on the carpet in the golden light, claiming it makes him hot. It makes Liam want to pin him down and suck pretty red marks onto his neck, so maybe he’s right about that.

“Or a clown.” Zayn shivers. “Scratch that, actually. No clowns or circus-related things.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Liam says sarcastically, shoving a few jelly beans into his mouth and wincing when he bites into one he doesn’t like. Zayn shuts his eyes and rests his hands on his chest, fingers interlocked.

“How about tattoos?”

“What about ‘em?”

“You should get one. They’re unexpected. Everyone will have a fit that you’ve inked your skin forever. Mission accomplished.” Zayn explains, his voice dropping ominously when he says ‘forever’. Liam snorts, tilting his head to the side.

“You’re trying to corrupt me.”

“Nah, I’m just trying to teach you the ways of the warrior.”

“Excuse me?”

“You think too much. About what other people think.”


“You shouldn’t.” Zayn tells him lazily. Liam huffs.

“It’s not such a bad idea.”

Zayn shoots up, eyes open, resting on his elbows. “Really?” He asks suspiciously. Liam shrugs.

“Yeah, why not?”

Zayn’s eyes are still narrowed until Liam grins. Then he returns it eagerly and jumps up, brainstorming ideas.

It takes a few weeks for Liam’s plan to actually go ahead, since their schedules got busier again, but he’s here at a tattoo parlour, sitting in the chair while Zayn talks to the tattoo artist. He’s got a few things in mind, but he’s got his heart set on four arrows on his arm. One for each of the boys, naturally.

The man asks him if he’s ready and Liam hesitates.

“What if the boys all hate it? What if the fans hate it? What if-”

“Liam. It doesn’t matter. It’s your tattoo, your body. Your fucking business.” Zayn says icily. Liam’s always known that Zayn was particularly protective when it came to Liam worrying about what people thought of him, but he’s never said it quite so explicitly.

“Right. Right.”

“Just let it go.”

“I’m not holding onto anything.”

Zayn rolls his eyes at the bad joke and nods at the tattoo artist. “Yeah, he’s ready.”

Zayn holds his hand while the needle pierce his skin, talking about his next tattoo idea. Something he’d drawn that he quite liked. Liam nods along and asks questions every so often, wincing when the needle pinches a little too hard.

“Wait, can I?” Zayn asks the man when he’s about to fill in Zayn’s arrow with black ink. The man raises an eyebrow.

“You’ve done this before?”

“Yeah, loads of times.” Zayn replies, referring to Harry. When they were younger, he’d let them draw on him with Sharpies. Now that they’re older, the ink’s a bit more permanent, but the sentiment remains the same.

“Alright then. Don’t press too hard unless you want to give your boy a shock. It’s just like colouring in, really.”

Liam’s breath stutters at that, especially when Zayn turns red and thanks the man.

“You’re doing really well, by the way.” Zayn says once he’s got the hang of things. Liam smiles.


“No, really. I cried the first time I got one.”


“Yeah, it stung like a bitch.”

Liam chuckles, though it hurts his heart a little bit to imagine Zayn crying. He’s seen it happen, of course, but he’s filed it away so he doesn’t have to think about it, tucked away in the back of his brain. Zayn’s tongue sticks out as he focuses, humming under his breath.

“There. Ta-da!”

Liam twists his arm to get a good look.

“It’s brilliant. Thank you so much.” He tells the tattoo artist, then Zayn, handing over money which the tattoo artist accepts with a grin and a ‘have a nice day’.

Practically as soon as they’re outside, there’s fans, and although Liam’s tattoo’s covered by the cellophane wrap thing, he’s still worried that they’ll see, that they won’t like it. Zayn’s hand comes to rest on the small of his back, and he leans in to whisper, breath tickling the shell of Liam’s ear.

“Don’t think about it, right? Your tattoo, your business. Fuck it.”

Liam nods and Zayn grins, the proper one, tongue peeking out from behind his teeth.

Four: Liam likes hotel rooms. They’re always cosy, icy cold when they need to be or blistering hot, always suited exactly for them. He likes the little snacks, peanuts and crisps. Sometimes he likes the mini bars, but that’s only when he knows he’s got a day off the next day. Otherwise, he cradles bottles of water like they’re gods and tries to will away the bastard of a headache he’s got, usually to no success.

Liam likes hotel rooms because of the beds. They’re huge and infinitely comfy and Liam has the fleeting thought more than once to buy one from whatever hotel they’re in. It provokes many an argument with Harry about the practicalities, Harry’s eyes rolling as he speaks to Liam patronisingly until Liam throws something at him to shut him up.

He likes hotel rooms for their views, most of all; when he can step out onto a balcony and see what feels like all of the world around him, the tall buildings and leafy, green parks. They go on and on, past the horizon. He likes the cities next to the sea best, when he can look out onto the endless water and just feel rooted, peaceful. All the skyscrapers are impressive, yeah, but they can make Liam feel trapped, if he isn’t careful enough.

Zayn likes hotel rooms the best when he’s arriving after a long journey, exhausted and yawning twenty-five times a minute. He likes going for a scorching hot shower that steams up the room long after he’s left it, slipping into his boxers that only just cover the curve of his arse, winking at Liam as he walks out into the bedroom, towelling his hair while Liam blushes what he’s sure is a humiliating shade of red.

Liam likes hotel rooms with Zayn more than any of the others. Niall’s too fidgety, Harry’s too fond of texting people (and therefore completely ignoring Liam) and Louis doesn’t know how to watch a film without asking questions incessantly.

Zayn is the complete opposite, staying in the same position for hours watching a film, only speaking to point out his favourite bits or whisper along quietly, voice small as he grins at the telly. Liam’s usually right there next to him, head resting on Zayn’s chest or in his lap while he plays with Liam’s hair, since it’s grown back a bit now.

“Look! It’s a mini quiff.” Zayn laughs, hands still caught in Liam’s hair. Liam smiles up at him, turning his head and accidentally brushing against Zayn’s crotch. He chokes out an apology, sitting up, elbowing Zayn in the ribs.

Zayn just laughs, hand on his injured rib, fingers spread over the taut skin when he brings his t-shirt up to look at the mark. Liam keeps apologising until Zayn puts a finger on his lips, muffling his words until they finally trail away under Zayn’s amused gaze.

“It’s like you’ve never been near a guy’s crotch before. I bet you give amazing head.” Zayn laughs, fingers cupping Liam’s cheek, which he’s pretty sure is burning. Liam bites his lip, shaking his head from side to side as Zayn tilts his.

“You haven’t? I thought…”

He trails off, mouth falling slack. Liam feels small. Yes, he’s done things with boys, but not much, and they all know that. He’s not sure whether he’s gay or bi or what, but he doesn’t need to figure it out for a long time yet. Zayn’s what he wants, he’s sure of that, so his sexuality doesn’t matter. But the way Zayn’s looking at him makes him feel inferior, almost.

Liam excuses himself, falling off the bed with a thump. His elbow clatters off the hard floor, but his embarrassment stops him from feeling it, heading into the bathroom and nearly tripping over the tiles. He struggles with the shower for a few minutes before peeling off his clothes, throwing them on the floor carelessly.

The shower’s hot to the point it almost hurts as it pelts down on Liam’s back. It’s so noisy that Liam doesn’t hear Zayn’s tentative footsteps or throat clearing until there’s a grunt of impatience and a loud knock on the door that Zayn had previously ignored.

“What?” Liam shouts over the water, straining his ears to hear the reply, something that sounds like a muffled apology. “You what?” He repeats louder.

“Oh, fuck this.” Zayn grunts impatiently and pulls the curtain back, sizing Liam up and down. Liam’s hands cover his dick on instinct as he stutters. Zayn doesn’t look away, just smirks and steps in with Liam, fully clothed.

“I said I was sorry for being an insensitive twat.”

Liam nods stiffly. “Right. Do you think you could apologise when I’m not naked?”

Zayn shrugs. “It’s not anything I’m not used to.”

“That’s not why it’s bothering me.” Liam snaps out, not meaning to. Zayn looks hurt for a split second, then resumes smirking.

“Some people just have more experience, Li, that’s all.”

Liam smiles politely and wills his dick to calm the fuck down, goddammit, but Zayn’s shirt’s gone see-through now, lean lines visible underneath the material and it’s doing things to Liam that are probably bad for his health, in the long run.

“I could help you out.” Zayn says nonchalantly, looking down at his socks and giggling when they make a squelching noise as he dances from foot to foot. Liam finds it hard to process the offer when he’s acting like that.


“Jesus, you really are deaf. Should get that checked out. I said I could help you out. Tell you how to do it.”

“Do what?” Liam says carefully, making sure that he’s not hallucinating. He wouldn’t put it past Louis to drug his soup. Really wouldn’t.

Zayn rolls his eyes. “Blowjobs, Liam. They’re an art form.”

Liam blinks another twenty times in rapid succession as Zayn drops to his knees, hands reaching out to trace Liam’s hipbone. He mouths at the skin there, tongue flicking out and teeth biting down. Liam gulps, arm grappling the bar on the wall.

“I thought you were teach-”

“Can only teach you if I show you.” Zayn replies without Liam finishing the question, returning to his hipbone for a few seconds and then moving across Liam’s stomach, just above the waistline of where his boxers would be, if he was wearing any. It doesn’t surprise Liam that Zayn manages to tease him even when he’s already naked. Zayn probably considers that an art form, too.

Zayn lowers his head further, wet hair brushing off Liam’s skin just below his stomach, and he’s so close to where Liam needs him to be, but he goes to Liam’s thigh instead, nipping bruises. Liam grunts in frustration, hand balling into a fist against the wall. Zayn smirks, looking up through his lashes, drenched in water and yet still looks beautiful – that’s the only way Liam can describe it – and the noise he makes in response to Liam’s groan is even more melodic, low in pitch and resonating.

Liam fists his hands in Zayn’s hair and pulls gently to tip Zayn’s head back, exposing the column of his throat, long and lean. Zayn swallows once, twice, and Liam sees through his confidence for the slightest second before Zayn’s worming out of his grip, gravitating back to Liam’s hip and grazing his teeth there, soothing the twinge of pain with his lips. His hands wrap round Liam’s legs, fingers dragging, nails digging, all the way up until Zayn’s grabbing Liam’s arse in his palms, squeezing hard enough for Liam to let out a gasp at the exact same time Zayn’s mouth dips lower to suck at Liam’s head.

“Oh, fuck.” Liam groans, pushing his hips forward to get Zayn to take all of him in, moaning helplessly. Zayn just shakes his head and keeps going with his plan to drive Liam to an early death, tongue flicking out every so often but not enough. Liam’s fist clenches and he leans it against the wall again, hand slipping against the wet tiles mindlessly as Zayn’s mouth opens wider to take a little more of him in. Zayn’s fingers are leaving marks on Liam’s skin, he knows, and he knows he’ll look at them for hours tomorrow, matching up fingerprints and revelling in them because they’re proof that it happened and proof that Zayn has touched Liam and that’s all he’s wanted for ages.

Zayn seems to sense that Liam’s close to begging when he breathes raggedly and bites his tongue to stop the flurry of pleads and whimpers leaving his mouth. He pulls off momentarily and Liam whines. Actually fucking whines.

“Zayn, c’mon.” He knocks him with his knee. Zayn smirks and rolls his eyes.

“You need to tease them first, make sure they’re completely focused on you, you see?”

“Yeah, I get that, okay, just. Please.”

“Awfully eager, aren’t you?” Zayn chuckles, but shifts on his knees so he’s in a more comfortable position to take all of Liam in his mouth, doing so in one swift motion that has Liam’s knees buckling. He moans unashamedly, head thrown back and eyes snapping shut. Zayn doesn’t react, just does a thing with his tongue that has Liam opening his eyes, making sure that this is really and truly the present and not a cruel dream or a really bad trip.

Liam feels the tip of his dick hit the back of Zayn’s throat, feels Zayn moan around him filthily, and changes his mind – it’s not a bad trip. Not at all.

Zayn stares up at him through drenched hair and lidded eyes and Liam really shouldn’t be finding that hot, but he does. Zayn’s cheeks are hollowed obscenely to fit around Liam. He’s always had a bit of a thing for Zayn’s cheekbones, but the way they’re so prominent now while Zayn bobs up and down has Liam’s feet cramping up and his throat ripped raw at the effort of fighting back yells. His hands search blindly for something to grip onto; in the end he settles for moving his palms over Zayn’s back, feels how Zayn shudders at the touch and sucks even harder.

Liam’s blunt nails claw at Zayn’s back as he nears the edge, gasping syllables that don’t make any sense to try and warn Zayn that he’s close, so close and -- oh.

He’s there and Zayn’s with him, working him through it while Liam spills into his mouth, back arching before slumping back onto the wall, breathless and reeling. Zayn pulls off, Liam wincing at the sudden lack of heat and how he’s slightly oversensitive, standing up and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, panting as much as Liam is.

“I reckon you should be alright with that now.” He breathes out shakily, forehead resting against Liam’s in a gesture that feels a lot more intimate than Liam expects.

“Reckon so.” Liam replies, shutting his eyes and cupping Zayn’s cheeks, thumb smoothing over the soft skin aimlessly.

Five: They’re lounging in chairs in the middle of rehearsals, watching as Louis and Niall run about and drive the crew demented while Harry leaves in the hope of finding a vending machine that has fresh orange juice. Liam highly doubted it, but he let Harry go anyway, yawning and scratching at an itch near his elbow, not particularly wanting to talk to anyone right now anyway.

Zayn’s sitting by the amps, drumming on his knees while nodding his head to whatever he’s listening to. Liam smiles in spite of himself and waves. Zayn grins goofily and waves back enthusiastically with both hands, nearly toppling over. Liam clears his throat to disguise his giggles and pushes himself up from his seat, walking over and jumping up next to Zayn, who takes out his earphones, looking at Liam expectantly.

“You okay?” Zayn asks quietly, reaching over Liam to grab the bottle of water beside him, chest leaning on Liam’s thighs as his arm grabs. Liam sighs and hands Zayn the bottle quickly; his arms are longer and he really doesn’t want to get a boner just from Zayn being near his crotch, he really doesn’t.

“Fine.” Liam shrugs, taking his own bottle and chugging down a few gulps of water, the liquid soothing his throat. Zayn raises his eyebrows and Liam smiles weakly.

His voice had cracked at a high note during one of their songs, the falsetto refusing to come out. He’d bowed his head, ashamed, pushing away the tears pinpricking his eyes. The others brushed it off, said it was no big deal. But Liam never mucks up, is always as perfect as he can be, so it is to him. He feels mediocre and disappointed; so he’s subconsciously making plans to escape rehearsals so he can wallow in self-pity, preferably through various kinds of ice cream. Maybe a takeaway.

Zayn hums under his breath and shakes his head. “Don’t worry, okay?” He tells Liam, warm hand covering Liam’s fingers until he stops fussing. “Because every little thing is gonna be alright!” Zayn sings cheesily, holding Liam’s hand up to his heart and swaying energetically. Liam chuckles quietly and Zayn looks entirely too pleased with himself.

It shouldn’t be so easy for him to cheer Liam up, make him feel like nothing else matters, but it is. And, occasionally, Liam’s grateful for it.

“You’re really good.” Liam blurts out, not knowing where the admission comes from and desperately wanting to shove it back in his mouth as soon as he says it. Zayn laughs, the sound soft and appreciative.

“So are you, Li.” Zayn replies, hand skimming over Liam’s hair, fingers toying with the lighter parts. Liam scoffs. Zayn frowns. “Why do you think you’re not?”

Liam hunches over, resting his elbows on his knees and looking away so Zayn can’t see him. “You’re all so good at what you do, like you with your riffs. They’re fucking brilliant. My ‘thing’ is supposed to be falsetto, and I can’t even do that anymore. Just.”

He breaks off, not really knowing where he’s going with the sentence, leaving it at that. Zayn tuts and pulls at Liam’s arms and legs until he’s sitting in a basket, facing him. He shakes his head. “Liam, you’re fucking brilliant. So you slipped up once? I slip up all the time. You’re amazing, okay?”

“You’re deaf.” Liam counteracts dryly, trying his best not to get wrapped up in how his tummy is doing flips from Zayn’s compliments. Or how earnest Zayn looks, like he honestly believes what he’s saying and wants Liam to, as well.

“No,” Zayn responds, “but even if I was, I’d still know you were good.”


“Am not.” Zayn sticks his tongue out playfully. “Go on, sing something for me.”

“Piss off.”

“No need for such language. C’mon.”

Liam rolls his eyes and sings a couple of lines slowly, taking extra care to get every note as close to right as he can. The final result’s alright, but he’s still mopey, even with Zayn applauding him heartily.

“Still not as good as you.”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Besides, you can do riffs, too.”

“Not like you can.”

“You’re being modest.”

“And you’re being pushy.” Liam snaps, irritated. Zayn holds up his hands, muttering that he means no harm. He grabs Liam’s hand and puts it on his stomach, holding it there, slender fingers spreading out over Liam’s. He giggles at Liam’s confused expression, then belts out a run. Liam’s face flushes when he finds it more attractive than he should, really.

“See? It’s all from there. Simple. You try.”

Liam looks at him in bewilderment. He shrugs off his nervousness and tries his best. The result sounds strangled and if there was ever a time he wanted the ground to swallow him up or to be eaten by a zombie (which has crossed his mind infrequently), the opportune moment would be now, he thinks.

Zayn hides a smile, looking down at the ground and fumbling with his fingers. Liam’s about to ask if he’s okay when Zayn reaches over and puts his hand on Liam’s stomach, seeming hesitant. Liam’s brain is questioning the logic of that – after all, Zayn has touched a lot more of Liam than this – but the way Zayn’s staring at him is clear, not hazed over with lust or desire. It feels intimate in a way that should scare Liam, but he finds himself basking in it, swallowing it up.

“Try again.” Zayn whispers. Liam starts singing and Zayn’s hand tightens on Liam’s skin, forcing Liam to sit up straighter. The sound changes instantly, going from strained to powerful. It’s raw, but not in an unpleasant way. The crew turn round to look at them, surprised.

Zayn beams at him. “Told you.” He sticks his tongue out, licking Liam’s finger playfully when Liam pokes at it, jumping down from the stage. Liam looks after him fondly, wiping his finger on his trousers and trying not to acknowledge the way he can’t actually describe what it feels like to have Zayn smile at him like that.

+One: It’s not the first time that Zayn bottoms, and it’s certainly not the first time they have sex.

It’s the first time that Liam’s ever seen Zayn so vulnerable. He knows Zayn likes to keep things to himself – it makes him feel safer, and Liam’s never had a problem with it. Zayn shows him how he feels in small ways, barely noticeable but there. He curls up to Liam late at night, legs wrapping round Liam’s, hair tousled with pouty lips that Liam can’t help but kiss. He never gets irritated with Liam, never huffs out long sighs like he does with the others.

(He rolls his eyes at least twenty times an hour, but Liam likes to put that down to Zayn’s cynicism.)

It’s not a spectacular day. It’s pretty regular, as their days go, hiding out in a hotel to avoid the fans and the paps. Liam doesn’t know what brings it on. All he knows is that they’re in the middle of watching a film when Zayn pauses it – right in the middle of a really good action sequence – and turns to face Liam, looking serious and resigned.

“You okay?” He asks tentatively. Zayn nods his head, then shakes it. He holds a finger up to tell Liam to give a minute, so Liam does, leaning back on his elbows. Zayn opens his mouth to speak but no sound comes out, no soft words or gentle teases. There’s nothing, and then there’s their lips pressed together urgently, Zayn’s hand clasping at the back of Liam’s neck.

He wraps an arm round Liam’s waist, pulling him towards him until they’re practically sealed together. Liam knows that Zayn has a way with words, a way of making them fit to whatever he needs to get across, usually in a way that has Liam’s brain short-circuiting and his throat closing up. But sometimes Zayn needs actions, because he simply doesn’t have the words to convey what he feels, it’s that intense for him.

Liam takes that as a good thing and brings Zayn closer, flipping them over so he’s straddling Zayn. Zayn pants breathily when their lips part, eyes dark.

“Fuck, Liam. I want- I mean, I lo- fuck.” He splutters out nonsensically, one hand fisting in the bedsheets as Liam mouths at his collarbone. He looks almost angry, lips moving around words that he can’t find. Liam’s heart breaks a little and he kisses him again, trying to tell Zayn that he understands, that it’s okay, even if Zayn doesn’t understand it himself.

Zayn looks down at him, expression raw with desire and longing and the something else that’s unspoken and Liam nods, helping Zayn taking his shirt off. He takes his time, moving his hands up every plane of Zayn’s body, noting how Zayn reacts with each touch, each moan and grunt.

He traces each tattoo with his tongue, Zayn becoming pliant and desperate beneath him. Liam shucks his own shirt off, batting Zayn’s hand away gently when he attempts to brush his fingers over Liam’s chest. Instead, Liam moves down until he’s hovering over Zayn’s still clothed erection, fingers hooking under the material of his trousers and pants and slipping them off effortlessly, throwing them on the floor.

Zayn exhales sharply when the fabric’s gone and Liam’s kissing and nipping at his thighs, just as Zayn had done to him that first time, as he’s done many times since then. His hips stutter when Liam’s tongue drops between his legs, licking from the head of his cock down to the base and repeating the action a few times, earning a low moan.

Liam smiles and hooks his arms underneath Zayn’s thighs so they part, Zayn complying easily. His tongue dips even lower, down to Zayn’s hole. Zayn gasps audibly when Liam’s tongue swipes over his rim, hands grabbing wildly at anything they can find. Liam reaches up and interlocks their fingers without halting his tongue. Zayn squeezes his fingers tight, the pressure turning his skin an angry red that he can’t care about because he’s so blissed out, Liam’ tongue pointing and pressing inside now, warm and wet.

Liam locates a bottle lube from somewhere – the bedside table, his suitcase, he can’t actually remember – opening it hastily and coating his fingers messily, circling them around Zayn’s hole while still flicking his tongue. Zayn whimpers and any intentions that Liam had to make this last for as long as he possible could are thrown away, destroyed by one tiny sound that has his body feeling like it’s on fire, every nerve and muscle.

He preps Zayn in a blur, unable to keep track of what he’s doing when Zayn’s begging so unashamedly for more. He works one finger, then another, then another, encouraging Zayn all the while and stroking his own erection a few times once he’s worked his way out of his trousers and boxers. Zayn keens when his clothes are all off, head thrown back when Liam crooks his fingers, mouth falling slack. Liam’s incapable of staying where he is, so he crawls up for a few moments to kiss Zayn lazily, sloppily, all tongue and teeth.

Zayn grinds down on his fingers and Liam breaks the kiss to fumble with the condom he’d grabbed along with the lube, sliding it on and shifting until he’s positioned right. Zayn wraps his legs around Liam when he’s pushing the tip in, ankles crossed as he closes his eyes in anticipation.

Zayn’s always loved the gradualness of sex. He had told Liam once that his favourite part wasn’t the sex itself, but when someone was pushing inside of him, stretching and filling. Liam had promptly attacked his neck with kisses, pushing him down into the mattress and fucking him because it was the only thing he could think about, mind fuzzy and all other thoughts abandoned.

Liam moans quietly when he’s pushed all the way in, lying there for a few minutes before Zayn’s heels dig into his back, urging him to move. He pulls out, almost all the way, then slowly pushes back in. It’s torturously slow, in truth, but he feels like it’s what Zayn needs in this moment, when he’s looking at Liam like he’s the only thing in the world worth caring about. He can see Zayn’s walls breaking down, the ones that even Liam hadn’t been able to get through before, sees them all tumbling down as they move together, Zayn’s hips pushing down in time with Liam’s thrusts.

Zayn’s still fumbling with words when Liam buries his head in the crook of his neck and kisses. He gasps in between moans, hands lifting Liam’s face to look at his when they’re both nearing the edge. He freezes and just stares.

“You can say it.” Liam says, not knowing where it comes from, entirely distracted by how tight Zayn is around him. Zayn nods eagerly and remains speechless until Liam pushes right against his prostate and he’s writhing.

“Liam, fuck, fuck, I love you.” He whispers right as Liam wraps a careless fist around him and strokes once, twice. Zayn’s orgasm overtakes him, leaving him spineless and wrapping his arms around Liam as Liam thrusts faster as he gets there too, rhythm faltering when he comes, mad grin on his lips at Zayn’s words.

He pulls out of Zayn minutes later, frowning when Zayn hisses at the emptiness, knotting the condom and throwing it in the general direction of the bin. Zayn’s looking up at him in wonder, hands returning to cup Liam’s face. He looks frightened, unsure. Liam wants to kiss that out of him, take away all his worries.

Of course, he can’t, but he can definitely try.

“I love you.” He whispers directly into Zayn’s ear, not missing Zayn’s shudder at the admission and the grin that tugs at Zayn’s lips.

“You mean that?” He asks quietly, voice wavering. Liam kisses him chastely, reassuringly.

“I’m in love with you.” Liam offers, and Zayn seems content with that. Neither of them get up to find a flannel to clean themselves up, or make any sign of wanting to move from the bed ever. Liam wraps an arm around Zayn’s shoulder and Zayn pillows his head on Liam’s chest.

It’s silent for a while, bar the sound of their uneven breaths returning to normal.

Zayn speaks up, his voice hushed. “I don’t usually like feeling like this. This bare. It makes me uncomfortable. You make it…less. I guess.”

Liam smiles to himself, flicking the lights off. “Less, you guess?”

Zayn snorts and bats at Liam’s chest harmlessly. “Shut up. You know what I mean. I’m trying to compliment you here.”

Liam stays quiet, waits for Zayn to continue.

“You make it less uncomfortable and I don’t know why. But I’m okay with it.”

Zayn finishes talking and hums to himself, smiling up at Liam fondly. Liam brushes his fingers through his hair and contemplates the meaning of life.

Well, perhaps not something as deep as that, but he does think about how maybe, just maybe, he’s taught Zayn as much as Zayn has taught him.

And that’s got to count for something.