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Zayn wakes up, startled, to someone pounding on the door to his tiny dorm room. He rolls over, facing the door as the knocking continues, this time louder. He eyes the alarm clock on the shared desk between the two beds, and he almost can't believe the luminescent 2:32am, or the fact that someone's actually pounding on his door at that time of night on a Wednesday.

Only he can believe it, since it's not the first time.

"Zayn," someone slurs from the other side of the door. "Zayn, c'mon, I forgot my key. Let me in. I know you can hear me."

He can, but he can pretend that he doesn't. Which is what he attempts to do, rolling back over to face the wall, pulling a pillow over his head. Zayn is the type of person who can sleep anywhere, at any time, and he's a deep sleeper. Which comes in handy, really, given the rooming arrangements.

Honestly, he should have known from that first day. He should have known the moment he'd shouldered into the dorm room with a heavy box slipping from his fingers, only to find that someone had already been inside. Someone who had left their stuff everywhere. There had been boxes in different states of being unpacked littering both sides of the room, not respecting the halfway line at all. There had been clothing partially folded and draped off both beds, the drawers of the dresser at the end of the right bed hanging open.

Liam Payne is a fucking asshole.

Only Zayn hadn't realized it at first, since the boy in question had stumbled into the room with his cheeks flushed and sweat glistening his forehead, and he'd said a seemingly sincere, "Sorry, sorry! I didn't think you'd be here for a while, I thought I'd have time to put my stuff away."

What he didn't realize, in that moment, was that it was only the beginning.

Now, he can't get back to sleep. Liam keeps knocking at the door and Zayn keeps trying to sleep, but he fucking can't.

With an annoyed huff, he climbs out of bed and unlocks the door. Liam stumbles inside, smelling like cheap beer and perfume. In the dull light from the hallway, he can see the red lipstick stain at Liam's neck, and he rolls his eyes.

"If you keep me up any longer," he warns, "I'm punching you in the face."

The door shuts, plunging the room into darkness. "You don't have the balls," Liam says, unconcerned. "And 'm tired anyway. Going to sleep, don't worry." He yawns and collapses on his bed hard enough that the sound of the bed frame hitting the wall cracks through the room. "Wouldn't want to screw with your precious eight hours."

Zayn glares in Liam's general direction and climbs into his own bed, pulling the pillow immediately over his head because Liam, of course, snores like a fucking lawn mower. He should really get that checked out. It's got to be some kind of condition. Or maybe he does it on purpose because he knows it irritates Zayn.

He finally does fall back asleep, to the sound of Liam's annoying breathing and with the smell of alcohol hanging heavily in the air.



"Request a new roommate," Louis suggests. "It's not that hard. I'm sure you could switch rooms."

Zayn sighs. He could, sure, but he doesn't want to. It's like they've started a war, him and Liam. He thinks it started in the second week, when he was trying to study and Liam was working out on their floor, and Zayn couldn't help but demand to know if he could do it somewhere else, and Liam had only smirked at him and turned his music on. It's a war he refuses to lose, and if he gives in and requests a room change first, he'll be waving a white flag, surrendering. He's not going to do that.

"No," he says firmly. "I'll deal with it."

Harry pulls his legs up onto the couch and tucks his feet under Zayn's legs. "Maybe you two could learn to get along," he rationalizes.

Zayn and Louis both snort at him. "They'd kill each other before they got along," Louis adds, for good measure, and Zayn agrees. "Plus, what would we do all day if we didn't have Zayn bitching about Liam? I live vicariously through his roommate drama. It's entertaining."

Zayn sticks out his tongue and turns the page of his comic, and someone changes the channel of the wall-mounted TV.

Their common room isn't all that big, just a group of couches, two tables, and a single TV. But most of the people in his dorm are pretty cool, and the room is one of Zayn's safe havens. If he's not in here, he's either at the library or the campus coffee shop. Anywhere but his room.

Just as he thinks this, his safe haven is invaded by the very bane of his existence. (Maybe that's a little dramatic, but that doesn't make it any less true.) Zayn's eyes narrow as Liam and one of his friends from the football team fall onto the couch nearest the TV. Somehow they get the remote, and Liam laughs before changing it to sports.

That's almost the extent of what Liam and his friends do all day, as far as Zayn knows. They have practise, they hog the TV to watch sports, and they get belligerently drunk at least three times a week. In fact, Zayn is, like, 90% sure that he's never seen Liam crack a book, and he's also pretty sure Liam rarely goes to class. How he even managed to get in here is beyond Zayn, but he thinks he heard someone mention something about a football scholarship.

"Some people were watching that!" Zayn calls, unable to help himself.

Louis 'oohs' as Liam leans over the back of the couch to grin at him. "Were you? Sorry about that." He turns back around and cranks the volume.

"Fucker," Zayn mutters. He stands up, comic dangling from his fingertips. "I'm going out."

He doesn't get an answer. Louis' too busy tickling Harry's sides, and Harry's squirming and giggling and trying to kick him with his socked feet. They collapse against the couch, Louis on top, Harry's legs dangling off the armrest, and Zayn rolls his eyes. They've been like that since he met them, Louis and Harry. They come from the same town, grew up together, best friends, and they'd planned to go to school together since they were sixteen. And they actually did it, which is more than most people can say, because usually friends grow up, realize they have different dreams, go their separate ways. But not Louis and Harry. They're like conjoined twins. A package deal. There's no separating the two.

Zayn bends to pick his bag up from the ground and carefully puts the comic in it before slinging it over his shoulder and heading for the stairwell. He figures he'll head for the library, do a bit of work on his paper that's due on Monday. Sure, he has a lot of time to work on it, isn't in much of a rush, but this way he should be able to get it done by Friday, and he'll have the whole weekend free.

Someone blocks the door. Zayn groans and rolls his eyes, and Liam defiantly crosses his arms over his chest. "Can you move?" Zayn snaps.

"I need you to stay out of the room until ten tonight," Liam says.

Now Zayn crosses his arms, too. "Why the fuck would I do that? I have class at eight tomorrow."

"I'm bringing someone back to the room," Liam explains. "I need you to not be there. Got it?"

Is he serious? He looks serious, but he's fucking deluded if he thinks he can keep Zayn up until past ten just because he wants to get laid. But Zayn's still pissed (and exhausted) from being woken up early this morning, so he plasters his sweetest, most genuine smile on his face. "Sure thing. I'll be in the library until then anyway."

Liam looks a little thrown by that, but he grins back at Zayn and says a cheerful, "Brilliant. Thanks," confirming Zayn's suspicions that he's never been in the library. The library closes at nine. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't stay there until ten.

When Liam's no longer blocking the exit, Zayn pushes through the door and heads down the stairs. He lights up a cigarette as he walks, a smirk playing on his lips.

The library is mostly deserted when he gets there, which is his favourite part about the library on Wednesdays. Usually the only days it's really packed are Mondays, Tuesdays and Sundays. Other than that, it's only the stragglers, the kids who are really focused on getting good grades, and the occasional student passed out at a table, probably because it's quieter in here than it would be in their dorm.

"Afternoon, Zayn," the librarian greets when he walks in.

Zayn smiles at her. "Nancy." He swipes a sucker from the bowl on her desk. There's no food allowed in the library, not even coffee (which sucks, but Zayn sees the reasoning behind it), but candy is the one exception. Nancy's always got candy on her desk, and she allows certain students to take them. Zayn is one of the lucky few.

He spends the next three hours in the back of the library, working on his paper. The few students around him seem exhausted and stressed, but Zayn isn't one of them. He maybe, secretly sort of likes the hard work. Likes being challenged. Likes the research and working his brain and putting effort into doing well. He likes the accomplished feeling when he knows he's put his heart into something and he does a good job of it.

It's about eight when he piles up his stuff and heads back to his room, paper nearly done. He just has to finish another two hundred words, type it out on his laptop and it's finished.

He tosses his bag on top of his dresser and turns on the small radio on the shelf above his bed before settling in.

At around nine the doorknob jiggles, and he hears a girl laughing, bright and feminine, before Liam says, "I can't wait to get you naked." Zayn rolls his eyes and adjusts his glasses on his face while pretending to read his comic.

The door opens, the two of them stumble in, wrapped up in each other, and then they stop dead. The girl's eyes widen, and she looks uncomfortable. Liam, on the other hand, looks livid. "What are you doing here?" he demands.

Zayn shrugs a shoulder. "What's it look like?" he asks. "I'm reading, obviously. I know that's a foreign concept to you, but it's really not that hard to understand."

"Is he going to stay?" the girl whispers, as if the room isn't the size of a shoebox, impossible to not be heard in it, no matter how you try. "I'm really not into exhibitionism."

"I'll deal with this," Liam tells her. He crosses the room and pulls the comic from Zayn's grip. "Get out."

"Don't touch my shit," Zayn counters, reaching for the comic. Liam holds it high over his head. "Or do, and I'll let out RA know that you're defacing my property and get a new roommate."

Liam growls in frustration. "You said you'd be gone!"

"You woke me up at three in the morning off your ass because you didn't have your fucking key!" Zayn says right back, standing up. "And it's my room too, you can't just kick me out of it."

Liam throws the comic at him. It doesn't hurt, obviously, but it pisses him off. "Maybe if you got a life," Liam hisses, "outside of the library and your homework, you wouldn't be such an uptight asshole about everything!"

"Oh, wow," Zayn mocks, feigning shock. "You actually know what the library is? I never would have guessed."

Liam grits his teeth, jaw clenched. Zayn grins at him, only because he knows that pisses Liam off even more. Really, he's just as pissed, vibrating with anger, but he doesn't want Liam to know that he gets to Zayn as much as he does.

"I'm just gunna go," the girl says quietly. "You two keep, uh, doing whatever this is."

Liam glares at Zayn for a beat longer before jogging after her. Their door slams behind him, and Zayn lets out a shaky breath. Maybe Louis is right. Maybe he should request a new roommate before he and Liam really do end up murdering each other in the middle of the night.




"Do you have to do that right now?"

Liam smirks from his spot on the floor. He leans back until his back is nearly hitting the floor, and then he pulls himself up to his legs, bent at the knees, keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground. He doesn't have to, since all of the school's athletes have access to the gym 24/7. He just likes to fuck with Zayn.

At least, Zayn is pretty sure that's why Liam does it. Maybe every little thing he does isn't actually intended to make Zayn's blood boil, but it does. And he's distracting. Zayn's trying to type out his essay so he can spend the rest of the night watching TV on his computer. But Liam's grunting and sweating and breathing heavy, and Zayn can't focus on copying the words from page to computer with Liam doing that shit.

He's just about to give up when someone knocks at the door. Zayn turns, fingers hovering over the keys, and Liam calls out, "Come in!" while continuing with his sit-ups, which is admittedly a little impressive, since Zayn figures he himself would be too busy wheezing to talk if he were in Liam's position. Then again, Liam's extremely in shape, which is probably a good thing because, really, he doesn't have much else going for him but his body.

The door opens, and Louis comes into the room, dressed differently than Zayn's seen him all week. That's just what Louis does. Between Monday and Friday, he refuses to shave, barely showers, and walks around in the same sweatpants days in a row with messy hair tucked under a beanie. But then, Friday night, he shaves and styles his hair and changes the worn clothes for perfectly pressed shirts and tight jeans, going from homeless to boy-next-door in a matter of hours.

"Hey," Zayn says. "What's up?"

Louis shuts the door behind him and sidesteps Liam on his way to Zayn's bed. "I've come to rescue you from the world of academics. Figured you could use a break, and I know you won't take one on your own, so hurry up. Finish whatever you're doing, and then get dressed. We're going out."

Liam snorts from the floor; Zayn ignores him. "Going out where?" he asks.

"A party," Louis admits.

"I don't go to parties," Zayn points out. He doesn't see the appeal. Last time he had, he lost Louis and Harry in the crowd, someone spilt beer on him, and he'd spent the whole night in the corner, praying one of his friends would come rescue him. Or maybe hoping someone would try to talk to him, but everyone had ignored him, as they always do.

"Because you're never invited," Liam snickers. He's moved on to doing push-ups now — one handed push-ups. Show off.

"Well he was invited tonight," Louis hisses at him. He turns to Zayn. "Ignore the side effects of steroids on your floor. Come out with us. Harry wants you to come, and no one can say no to Harry."

Zayn rolls his eyes. He doesn't want to be the only one not going, though. Doesn't want to spend tomorrow in the common room, listening to Louis moan about a hangover and Harry recount their hilarious, drunken adventures. "Home by one at the latest?" he bargains.

"Promise," Louis says, hand over his heart. "Cross my heart and hope to die."

Zayn saves his paper on the computer and shuts his laptop. Liam's foot juts out in front of him when he heads to the dresser, but he sees it before he can trip, so his kicks Liam hard in the shins and says, "Oh, sorry, didn't mean to."

Liam glares at him and gets up. "Whatever. I'm coming with you guys."

Zayn puts his glasses on top of the dresser while he changes into a clean t-shirt. He puts the glasses back on, pulls on a hat, and that's about all he's going to do to get ready.

"You're not invited," Louis is saying to Liam when he's done.

Liam scoffs. "Whose party is it?"

"Jordon from my civics class," Louis answers instantly.

"Jordan Walsh? The one with the red hair?" Liam asks. When Louis nods, he laughs and says, "Then I'm a lot more invited than either of you." He tugs on a sweater, even though he's still disgustingly sweaty. "I'm coming."

Zayn gives Louis a look, hoping he flips out like that time he'd not had enough sleep, he had a big test coming up, and the barista at the coffee shop had given him a hard time. Louis is terrifying when he wants to be, and Zayn would love to see him rip Liam a new one. Instead, all he does is bite his lip for a long moment before shrugging. "Not like we can stop him," he says, regretful. "Let's just go."

Zayn decides to ignore Liam for the rest of the night, which seems to be fairly easy. They meet up with Harry in the common room, and Liam spends the walk with his phone in hand, texting someone. And since Louis is his best friend, he treats Liam the same way. Only Harry acknowledges him, but that's because Harry's too polite for his own good.

The party is only a few streets off campus. It's not a very long walk, but Zayn wishes it had been. It's only ten, which means he's in for a long night. The house it's held at isn't very big, either, which means they'll all be packed in, right on top of each other. This suspicion is only confirmed when Louis pushes open the door, music pouring out onto the streets.

The front hallway is crowded, and they have to squeeze single file to get through. Liam is pressed up against his back, and Zayn would elbow him in the ribs if he had enough room to do so. But he doesn't, and he nearly knocks someone's drink out of their hand when he tries.

The crowd thins a bit in the living room, but the music is so loud it hurts. Zayn makes a face and fists a hand in the back of Harry's shirt so they don't get separated. No way is he letting them leave him alone this time. Not here. Not when he doesn't recognize a single person from his classes, and he can already feel a weight settling on his chest, making it harder to breathe.

Harry guides him to the kitchen while pulling a bottle of vodka from his pocket. "Best to bring your own!" he shouts over the music. "Never trust shit you drink at a party!"

Zayn is not dumb. He might not go to these things, but he's aware of the dangers of leaving your drink unattended and date rape and shit. Plus, he doesn't plan on drinking anything except maybe a can of Coke, if he can find one.

The music isn't nearly as deafening in the kitchen. It's still audible, but it's more bearable, almost pleasant, something he recognizes. He drums his fingers on the counter as Harry makes him and Louis a drink, and then presses a can of Coke into Zayn's hand. "You sure you don't want something stronger?"

Zayn looks around at the unfamiliar faces. At the group of guys arguing or talking in the corner (it's hard to tell which), and the couple tearing at each other's clothes against the opposite counter, and the single girl sitting on the floor with her back against the wall, looking close to vomiting. "Yeah, I'm positive," he says.

Half an hour later, when Louis ditches them off to dance with a friend from one of his classes, and Harry went off to smoke a joint with one of his friends ("It's organic. 's totally healthy.") Zayn yet again finds himself in the corner, alone, sipping his drink. He could try talking to people, he knows, but most of them look like they're already on their fifth or sixth drink, and being sober around drunk people is never fun. So he sinks down to the floor, legs pulled up to his chest, and plays with his phone.

"Even when he parties he's boring," Zayn hears. He looks up to find Liam not far from him, talking to his friend Niall. "Hey, Malik, you wanna have some fun?"

Zayn smiles tightly at him. "Who says I'm not already having fun?"

Niall offers him a hand up anyway. Where Louis is an asshole to Liam out of sympathy for Zayn, Niall's been nothing but nice to him since they met. Even when he hangs out in the room and he and Liam bicker, the most Niall does is chuckle at both of their insults. Other than that, he's fairly friendly, and Zayn has no idea how Liam got a best friend that nice when he's such a dick.

So Zayn takes the hand and lets Niall drag him up, and then he's being pulled into another room with a few people and a single long, rectangular table. "Need another for beer pong," Liam says loudly. "Who's up?"

"I'll play," offers a random girl. Instantly, Liam's arm goes around her waist, pulling her in, and Zayn averts his eyes in annoyance.

"You'll be on my team," Niall says to him. "Don't worry, I'm fucking awesome at beer pong."

"Wait." Zayn takes a step backwards. "I never agreed to play."

"It's probably because he doesn't know how," Liam says with a smirk.

Zayn glares at him. "I know how," he spits. It's not like it's fucking rocket science. Right? It's just — throwing a ball into a cup and then drinking or something.

"Do they teach courses in beer pong at the library?" Liam wonders. The girl in his arm giggles.

"Don't be a prick," Niall scolds. He gives Zayn a reassuring smile. "I promise it'll be fun. Or you could always go back to sitting on the floor."

Zayn chews the inside of his lip and watches Liam untangle his arm from around the girl. He grabs a pack of red plastic cups, and then he starts filling them from the honest to fucking God keg of beer in the corner. Zayn thought those were just a myth. He didn't know people actually had kegs at parties like this.

One by one, Liam places the cups on the table until there's ten on each side, organized in perfect pyramids. When he finishes, he looks up at Zayn with a challenge in his eyes.

"Okay," Zayn says. "I'll play."

"That's the spirit!" Niall claps him on the back. He steers Zayn towards the table, producing two small plastic balls from seemingly nowhere. "We play pretty simple. Basically you throw the ball, no bouncing or it's disqualified, into one of the cups on the opposing team's side. If it gets in, one of them has to drink. You get to chose which. Once we've both gone, they go and we drink. Game keeps going until one of the teams has no cups left, or someone passes out."

Because that doesn't sound ominous. "Alright," Zayn says, mouth dry.

"You guys can go first," Liam offers. "Since it's Zayn's first time, and all."

Zayn doesn't even deny it. No point. He watches as Niall stands at the edge of the table, a look of deep concentration on his face. His tongue sticks out, and he very carefully tosses the ball. It arcs over the table, landing neatly in the center cup. Someone on the other side of the room whoops, and Niall say, "Your turn."

Zayn takes the other ball from him and swaps him spots. It can't be that hard. People do this while wasted, and he's perfectly sober. He sucks in a breath, lifts his hand, and tosses the ball. It bounces off a cup and Liam reaches out to catch it before it can hit the ground, laughing as he does. "Nice one," he says. "Great aim, Zayn."

"Em, you can have that one," Niall says, nodding at the cups.

The girl takes the drink, pulls the ball out, and chugs it in one long, guzzling sip. Someone cheers again.

When Liam goes, he gets it perfectly in the cup at the right corner. The girl gets hers, too, and tells Niall to drink it, while Liam orders Zayn to take his.

Zayn wrinkles his nose as he picks up the drink and pulls out the ball. How fucking sanitary even is this? But Niall's watching him expectantly, and Liam looks like he's waiting for Zayn to chicken out, so he brings the cup to his lips and does his best to swallow the contents down in one go. They burn, it tastes like ass, and he can feel it dripping down the sides of his face. But he does it, and then he wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand.

This time, his ball lands in a cup, and he smirks while Liam drinks it. Niall wasn't lying, either, when he said he was good. He is, never missing a cup, but Zayn does, and Liam's even better than Niall. By the time he and Niall lose, Zayn's a little tipsy, but Niall looks completely unfazed. Liam's partner looks out of it.

"Another game?" Niall suggests.

"Two on one," Liam says. "Emily should probably stick to water."

The girl pouts. "What? I wanna play."

"Alex," Liam calls. A second later, a girl is at his side, and Emily plasters herself to her while Liam says, "Don't let her drink anything else, okay? She's out of it. And make sure she gets home all right. If you need cab money, let me know."

Alex nods and pulls Emily away, and Zayn blinks in surprise. That was almost… decent of Liam. Only Liam's not decent. He's a vile asshole. Zayn shakes his head and pushes that from his mind.

Somehow Liam wins again. Zayn figures it because he's feeling the effects of the alcohol by his third drink of the game, and he doesn't sink a single ball. But he keeps trying. The more he drinks, the harder he tries. Until nearly all their cups are gone and he's giggling, hand pressed to his mouth to hide it.

Liam sinks the final ball, Zayn drinks it before he can be told to, and Niall laughs at his eagerness before Zayn says, "Let's play another game. I'll be better this time," he promises.

"Don't think you'd make it through another game," Niall teases. He slings an arm over Zayn's shoulder. "Next time, and we'll kick Liam's ass."

Zayn pouts a bit. The room sways and sways, like he's on unsteady ground. He can't remember the last time he drank this much, if ever. He can't remember a lot of things, though. Like where Louis and Harry went. Or what he's even doing with Niall's arm around his shoulder, but it's warm and Niall's nice so he sighs into it. "'m drunk, I think."

"Nice observation. Liam always told me you were smart," Niall jokes.

Zayn's brow furrows at that. "He did? 'cause that sounds nice, and Liam's not nice. Not nice at all. He snores."

Niall throws his head back in a laugh, and Zayn has to join him because it sounds like fun. He only remembers that Liam's there when Liam says, "We should find his friends. I didn't think he'd be such a lightweight."

"'m not a lightweight," Zayn says, indignant.

"Yeah, you are."

Zayn flips him off and laughs at the look he gets for that. He lets himself be tugged through the room, past blurred face after blurred face. It's a little disorienting, and he doesn't like it. He clutches at Niall's hand in his, even if he can't remember when that happened. Doesn't remember Niall grabbing his hand or grabbing Niall's hand.

When they get to the living room, Zayn decides he doesn't like being drunk. He can't think straight, he can't walk straight, and the only thing keeping him from falling every few steps is Niall. He wants Louis, he thinks. Wants Harry, too, and his dimpley smile and soft words. The music is too loud, and the people shouting over it are too loud, and it's way, way too hot. So hot. He goes to tug up his shirt, but a hand wraps around his wrist, stopping him.

"Keep your clothes on," Liam mutters. "Jesus Christ."

That's probably a good idea.

They find Louis and Harry in the kitchen, Harry holding up a wasted Louis that looks possibly worse than Zayn feels.

Zayn makes a beeline for them, pulling his hand out of Niall's. He presses his and Harry's foreheads together and laughs, but he can't remember why. Something was funny, he swears it was. Maybe it's the look of shocked concern that flits over Harry's eyes. "I played beer pong," Zayn says proudly. "I sucked."

"He really did," Niall confirms.

Carefully, Harry puts a hand under his chin and tilts it up. His fingers are smooth, and Zayn closes his eyes because it feels nice. "Zayn," Harry says. "Look at me."

"Can't," Zayn admits, "my eyelids are sleeping." He struggles to open them, frustrated, and when he does Harry looks upset. "I think I'd like to go home now. I don't feel good."

Louis laughs at him, seeming to come to without warning. "Aw, our little Zayn is wasted. That's adorable. We've corrupted him, Harry."

"You didn't do shit," Zayn slurs. He's suddenly aware of it, the fact that his words are stringing together, not as coherent as he thought they'd be. "All you did was ditch me."

"We didn't ditch you," Louis says quickly. "We—"

"He was on the floor when I found him," Liam cuts in. "So you kind of did."

Zayn whirls, falling back against Harry's chest. His arms go around Zayn's waist, keeping him up. "Why are you still here?" Zayn wonders. "Why is he still here, Harry?"

Liam doesn't look offended. He just rolls his eyes and says, "I'll take him home, if you all want to stay."

"No way," Louis protests. "Not letting you take my— my drunk best friend anywhere, Liam Payne. I'll take him home. Come on, Zayn."

Zayn loops his arm with Louis', and the two of them head through the kitchen. Louis easily pushes past people with a hand extended in front of him and a haughty tilt to his chin, and the next thing Zayn knows, cool air is washing over him. He breathes deeply and lets out a loud cheer of relief.

"We should skip," Louis says, so serious, like this is the greatest idea in the world.

Zayn burps. He doesn't mean to, it just happens. "What?"

"Skip, like—" He starts doing it, and Zayn follows his movements. "We're off to see the Wizard!" Louis sings, "The wonderful…. I don't know, I'm drunk."

"I'm drunk, too," Zayn admits. "I think. Everything's spinny."

Louis nods as they pass a streetlight, and then another. "I'm probably not equipped to take you home."

"I'm probably going to throw up."

Someone grabs his arm a little tightly, and Zayn makes a sound of pain before Liam says, "Slow down. And stop shouting, do you want the cops to stop us?"

Harry appears on Louis' right, and Niall steps in behind them. Zayn and Louis stay quiet after that, but they're still stumbling and holding onto each other. At one point they nearly fall, Louis tipping sideways, pulling Zayn with him, until someone straightens them. He has no idea who it is, but he mumbles a thank you anyway.

The rest of the walk after that is kind of foggy. The next thing Zayn knows, Liam's pushing him down on his bed and ordering him to sleep. And Zayn's too tired to fight him on it.




Zayn wakes up with a pounding headache. If that were the extent of it, he could deal. But his mouth tastes foul, too, and his stomach is churning and twisting and making this gross guttural sound. There's this horrible thumping, too, that seems to jolt him every few seconds. He groans and rolls over, only to find Liam in the middle of the room, doing fucking jumping jacks.

"You're satanic," Zayn moans. "Cut it out."

Liam keeps jumping. "Why, is it bothering you?"

"Is it going to bother you when I wrap my hands around your throat?" Zayn counters. He reaches for his extra pillow, but it's fallen on the floor. It takes so much effort to grab it that he wants to cry, but he manages to get it over his head. And Liam keeps jumping. "Liam. Stop. I'm dying."

"D'you remember," Liam says conversationally, like he's not still working out. He's hardly even breathless, "that time I passed out on the floor and you woke me up to Call Me Maybe? Or that time when I'd done all those tequila shots, and you wouldn't stop clicking your damn fucking pen?"

Vaguely, yes. That's not the full list of things Zayn's done to irritate Liam when he had a hangover. That's not fair, though. Zayn doesn't ever drink; Liam's always partying. Shouldn't he get this one free pass? "Please."

"Still got — another fifteen minutes of my workout," Liam says. "You're just going to have to deal with it."

Blindly, Zayn searches on the desk beside him. His hand curls around a pencil, and he throws it in the general direction of Liam's grunting. "I hate you. Really. I honestly, truly fucking hate you."

"Mutual," Liam says. "Glad we had this talk."

The rest of the morning is spent like that. Zayn tries to sleep and not leak brain matter onto his pillows through the cracks in his skull, and Liam makes as much noise as possible. Eventually Zayn gives up and stomps out of the room with his shower bag. The warm water doesn't do nearly as much as he needs it to, but at least he doesn't smell like beer and sweat anymore.

His room is empty when he gets back. He considers trying to fall asleep, but he figures he wouldn't manage it anyway. Instead he drops his stuff off, pulls on a sweater over his t-shirt and sweats, and heads to the common room. Harry and Louis are already there, curled up on the couch in front of the TV, watching cooking shows.

"Why are you watching this?" Zayn complains. On screen, the woman adds what looks like a pound of butter to some sort of sauce. Ugh. "I don't even want to think about food."

"That's 'cause you're hungover, babe," Louis says weakly. He's got his head in Harry's lap, and Harry's petting his hair slowly. It looks nice; Zayn's a little jealous. He wants someone to pet his hair when he's hungover. "You need to eat something, though. You'll feel better if you do."

Zayn stomach growls, but bile rises in his throat when he thinks about actually eating anything. "I'm good. And I'm not going down to the dining hall."

Harry stands up, ignoring Louis' sound of protest. "I'll make you a bagel," he says. "You'll feel better Trust me."

Zayn waves him off. Maybe a bagel would be okay. His stomach doesn't exactly flip at the sound of it, and he's not about to throw up (he thinks; he very well might, but he should be okay). As soon as Harry's gone, Louis changes spots, turning so his head is now in Zayn's lap, but he's got another thing coming if he thinks Zayn's going to coddle him the way Harry does.

"You feel pretty shitty, huh?" Louis asks.

Zayn shrugs. He does, but it's more bearable now. He wishes he'd gotten another hour of sleep, though. Or that he'd put his foot down a little harder last night. He's still got to finish with his paper, and now he has to do it while feeling exhausted and vaguely nauseas. "Bit, yeah."

"How did that even happen?" Louis wonders. "You were sipping Coke, last time I checked."

Zayn shifts under him, mind whirring. It's a little foggy, but he can still remember. "Beer bong," he says quietly. "Niall and Liam asked me to play."

"How'd you manage that without the two of you leaping across the table at each other?"

Zayn flicks him on the arm and makes a face. "I don't know. I was bored. Seemed like a challenge, and I couldn't not agree to it." And maybe it had been fun. Just a little. Not worth how he feels today, though.

Harry returns with a bagel for each of them, and Zayn eats his in, like, four huge bites. He's starving suddenly, and he ends up stealing half of Louis' bagel, too, when the other boy goes green after the first bite.

He spends the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon like that, curled up on the couch, watching cooking show after cooking show because Harry's obsessed, and everyone else who comes into the room seems fairly content to watch Rachel Ray.

Zayn is feeling almost one hundred percent by the time he goes back to his room to finish his paper. Which goes straight down the drain the second he steps into the room.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," he says, eyes wide.

It's — shit, he can't even describe it, and he's been taking a creative writing class for months, so that's kind of a hard feat. But there's — fuck, what even is that? Shaving cream? covering his pillow, and Liam's pillow. There's silly string creating a web between the beds, the walls, the dressers, the desk. Hanging over their window is a jersey. Underneath the black spray paint, he can faintly make out Payne as well as Liam's number, but they've crossed it out and written 'cock sucker' (two words, written sloppily by someone who apparently has no idea how to use spray paint) in its place.

All in all, their room is fucking trashed. And Liam is so, so dead.

Only Zayn has no idea how to find him. He doesn't have Liam's phone number, and he has no idea where the guy hangs out. Which means there's nothing he can do about this, for the time being, except strip both of their beds and bring the laundry down to the laundry room. (He refuses to clean anything else up. This is Liam's problem, he can fucking deal with it.)

That, and simmer in his anger.

By the time Liam finally comes into the room, laughing at something someone in the hall said to him, Zayn's enraged. Liam's laughter dies in his throat and he freezes, gaping around the room. "What happened?" he asks.

Zayn stands up, stepping past silly string and more shaving cream on the ground. "What happened? I think you should answer that, since it's not my fucking jersey hanging on the window!"

Slowly, Liam picks his way across the room, past all the shit lying around. He tugs the jersey down and frowns at it before checking the tag. "How did they get this?" he demands. "This was in my locker!"

"That's what you're upset about?" Zayn asks. "Really? All of our shit is covered in— in shit!"

"Why are you acting like this is my fault?"

Zayn puts a hand on his hip and lifts the other one, palm side up, and waves it in the air, gesturing to the room as if to say 'Oh, I don't know, take a guess.' "Why would someone even do something like this?"

Liam winces, balling the jersey up in his hand. "I think I know why," he admits. He hastily adds, "Which doesn't make it my fault, okay? But it, uh, might be the guys from Jefferson. We kicked their asses the other day, and they weren't exactly happy about it."

Zayn blinks at him for a long, long moment. "You're telling me," he says, while pinching at the bridge of his nose, "that this is over a game of football? That our room is trashed because of a fucking game?"

"I think so, yeah," Liam admits. "It happens, pranks on the other teams and stuff. You're making a way bigger deal of this than you need to. Nothing's ruined, it's just messy. Well, nothing but my fucking jersey," he grumbles. "I'm going to have to order a new one and use my spare for now."

"And clean this up," Zayn adds. "You have to clean this up."

Liam snorts, dropping his jersey onto the bare mattress of his bed. Their laundry won't be done for another hour, or so, which sucks because Zayn honestly wants nothing more than to crawl into bed and pretend that he never woke up this morning. That everything from that point on was just a dream.

"I'm not cleaning your side of the room," Liam informs him.

"Yeah, you are," Zayn says. "It's your fault this even happened."

"No, it's not," Liam says firmly. "It's not like I asked for it."

"I did the laundry, you can do the room. That's pretty fair, considering this wouldn't have happened to me if I wasn't rooming with you."

"How do you know?" Liam argues. "I'd have silly stringed your room months ago if I didn't have to look at it."

"Just fucking clean it, Liam!" Zayn shouts, patience gone. His cheeks flush, and he can't remember the last time he was this upset. Sure, Liam pisses him off on a daily basis, but this is worse than usual.

Zayn likes his space clean, okay? He likes to be able to do his work. He likes his things organized. He likes to keep his bed made unless he's sleeping in it. Now, there's silly string covering his text books and his comics. There's a blob of shaving cream on his laptop. If there were ever a time where Zayn really lost it and finally gave in, punched Liam right in his face, it'd be today. He feels overheated with anger, breath coming out in pants.

And Liam. Fucking Liam, he says, "I'll clean my half."

Zayn pushes him. He isn't even aware he's doing it until his fingers press into Liam's shoulders. "You'll clean the whole thing."

Liam's so surprised that he actually stumbles back a step, but as soon as he's caught himself he's crowding into Zayn's personal space. He gets so close that they're almost touching, his face inches from Zayn's, and Zayn is suddenly acutely aware of the size difference. Height wise, Liam's barely bigger than him. But he's got wider shoulders, thicker arms. If it came down to it, he could kick Zayn's ass, no problem.

It's like the tension in the air is a physical thing, something stretched so tightly that it's only seconds away from snapping. And it does, when Liam leans in a bit and whispers, "What if I don't?"

The next thing he knows, Liam's got a hand around the back of his neck, pulling him in, and Zayn's got his hands gripped tightly on Liam's waist, fingers curling, nails trying to dig into flesh through his shirt. It hurts when Liam's lips meet his own. It's violent. His teeth press against his lips, and he makes a sound of pain that Liam matches with one of frustration.

Zayn's not even thinking, he's just reacting. He pushes his hands under Liam's shirt, sliding up his back, and Liam fists a hand in his hair, tugging at it until Zayn's lips part obligingly. Liam's tongue pushes into his mouth, and all Zayn can do is focus on remembering how to breathe as he tries to kiss back.

It's like Liam's trying to kiss him and hurt him, at the same time. Zayn does the same, pulling back, tugging sharply at Liam's bottom lip with his teeth until Liam hisses in a sharp breath.

"I can't believe you pushed me," Liam says, as he does just that to Zayn, pushing him back towards Zayn's own bed, never fully breaking contact.

Zayn stumbles backwards, tightly gripping the front of Liam's shirt. "You're such an " He cuts off when Liam's lips move to his neck, sucking harshly. "An ass," he gets out, shaky, weak. "You're such an asshole."

Liam shoves him down onto the bed, and Zayn goes without fighting it. "I don't think anyone," Liam starts, pausing only to climb on top of Zayn, legs on either side of Zayn's waist, "pisses me off as much as you do."

Zayn tries to take a breath, struggling with Liam's weight on top of him, but he likes it. He pulls Liam down so their chests are pressed together, and this time it's him pushing his tongue into Liam's mouth, curling around Liam's, tasting Coke and something else, something infinitely sweeter. So sweet it's dizzying.

Liam leans up, and Zayn makes an annoyed, upset sound until Liam tugs his shirt off and, oh, yeah, okay. That's — yeah. When he kisses Zayn again, Zayn's too busy running his nails over Liam's back, liking the way he arches when they dig in too much, praying that he leaves red mark in their wake.

Liam's length presses against his hip, and he groans when Liam grinds down against him, raggedly breathing into the crook of Zayn's neck. He's still on fire, anger pulsing through him, but it's almost evenly matched with arousal, at this point.

"Tug my hair one more fucking time," Zayn warns, while trying to feebly rut up against Liam, "and I swear—"

Liam does just that, and the sound Zayn makes was supposed to be annoyed, it was, only it isn't. It isn't at all. "What? Seems like you like it," Liam grunts against his skin.

He keeps tugging at Zayn's hair, but it doesn't really hurt, exactly. It sends sharp pinpricks of arousal through him, and when Liam grinds down just right against him, just enough friction between their bodies to steal the air from his lungs, he moans, "Fuck you, Liam. Fuck you."

"What do you think I'm trying to do?"

Zayn's eyes fall closed at that. Is that where this is going? Seems to be. Does he want that? Maybe he'd say no, if Liam wasn't still rolling his hips down into Zayn's, mouthing along his neck as he does. But he is, and all Zayn can think about is finding relief from the red hot coil of tension in his stomach. "Then do it," he says. "Stop dry humping me."

Liam pulls back abruptly, hovering over Zayn, propped up on his hands. He searches Zayn's eyes for a moment, and Zayn glares up at him, lips parted, panting embarrassingly. "Okay," Liam says slowly, looking almost dazed. "I— yeah, okay."

Liam leans over to the desk before Zayn can say anything. He pulls open the bottom drawer, grabbing out a pencil case, from which he produces a box of condoms and a bottle of lube. Just seeing that makes this more real, and Zayn's stomach flips but he forces it down, says, "I can't believe you've been keeping lube and condoms in a pencil case."

Lips crushing his own shut him up, and he's pretty sure that was Liam's intention. Zayn goes with it, kissing him back eagerly because he's accepted that this is happening, and he's going to fucking enjoy it until it ends and the consequences of what's happening catch up to him.

Liam undoes his jeans while Zayn sits up to tug off his shirt, and then hands are at the waistband of his own jeans, popping open the button, tugging down the zipper. He lifts his hips, and Liam looks down at him with his bottom lip between his teeth. It makes Zayn squirm. "Are you going to just sit there like that the whole time, or—?"

His boxers are tugged so quickly down his hips he's pretty sure the seams rip. After that there's no more kissing. No lingering looks or touches. Liam moves like the same heat that's burning Zayn up is coursing through his veins, and he wastes no time slicking up his fingers, pushing one into Zayn with his eyebrows drawn together in concentration. No teasing, straight to the point.

By the time the second finger stretches him open, Zayn has his head tilted back. He can't look down at Liam anymore. It's too much, the drag of his fingers, the mild pain underlying the shivers that go through him every time Liam brushes that spot inside him. It's not enough, at the same time, so he pushes down against them and tries to bunch his hands against the bare mattress, but there's nothing for him to hold onto, which might be the cause of that feeling in Zayn's stomach. It's like being on a rollercoaster; it's like that moment where you tip too far back in your chair and it hits you that you're going to fall and your stomach clenches.

"Fuck," he hisses at the third finger, and he can't tell if it's in pain or pleasure; maybe it's both, because they're blurring together in his mind.

There's no warning before Liam's fingers are gone, and Zayn would yell at him for it if he had any breath left in his lungs. He props himself up on his elbows, watches as Liam rips open the condom with difficulty, fingers still slick from the lube. Zayn takes that one moment to appreciate Liam. Sure, he hates the guy, but that doesn't stop him from being gorgeous. All that working out pays off, apparently, and the sweat shining on his skin only enhances the dips and curves, the hard muscles of his stomach and chest, the width of his shoulders, the curve of his cock, which he's sliding the condom onto, the thick coarse hair at the base.

Zayn lays his head back against the pillow.

"Are you sure?" Liam asks when he's done, leaning over Zayn once again. Zayn gives him a pointed, annoyed look. "Right. Just let me know if…" He swallows back the rest of his words and shakes his head. He moves so he's lying beside Zayn, and he orders, "Get on top of me."

Zayn has to bite back the instinctive "Don't tell me what to do," only because he feels like now is not the time. Instead he does as he's told, thighs on either side of Liam's body. One of Liam's hands grabs his hip, the other lines himself up with Zayn's hole, and Zayn lowers himself. He's taking short, aborted little breaths, eyes squeezed closed. It's been way, way too long, and for a moment it hurts more than it feels good. Until Liam's hand fits between their bodies, wrapping around his prick, giving it a few short, quick tugs.

It starts out slow, Zayn doing most of the work as Liam blinks up at him with heavily lidded eyes. But eventually Liam grunts out a moan and both of his large hands grip Zayn's hips tightly, pushing him down, and he fucks up into Zayn with abandon. Zayn collapses on top of him, head tucked into Liam's neck, breathing damply against his skin because that. That is exactly how this is supposed to be. Not slow and careful and gentle.

"You — close?" Liam whispers, lips brushing Zayn's hair.

Really? Fuck. "Shut up," he hisses, because he is. So, so fucking close, if he could just — He pushes himself up, wrapping a hand around himself. Liam bats it away seconds later, replacing it with his own, and he twists his hips a bit, the angle changing.

Zayn's nails leave indents on Liam's chest when he comes white hot between the two of them, gasping, toes curling, a shudder going through his whole body. He falls back against Liam's chest, and Liam keeps going, only slowing a fraction.

Zayn whimpers, he can't help it, not with his oversensitive cock trapped between their bodies. Liam's hands slide soothingly up his back, and his lips press to Zayn's hair again, being incredible gentle. Which is such a contrast from his teeth, threatening to break Zayn's skin when he comes, biting at Zayn's shoulder with a strangled sound.

Afterwards, there's a moment of near silence where they lie pressed together, the soft sound of their breathing the only thing in the room. Liam's hands keep rubbing at his back, and Zayn tries to collect himself, tries to tell his limp, rubbery-feeling limbs to move, but he can't just yet.

When he can, he carefully climbs off Liam, wincing as he falls onto the bed beside him. Instantly Liam crawls over him, getting off the bed. Zayn stares up at the ceiling, hears Liam moving around. Zayn's still gulping for breath when Liam says, "I'm going to take a shower," and then, just before he's out the door, "and I'm not cleaning your side of the room."

The door shuts, and Zayn's grateful when he hears Liam lock it behind himself because he does not need someone walking in on him right now. Not when he's covered in drying come, sweat (his and Liam's), lying on the bare mattress of his bed.

As the minutes tick by, it dawns on him what just happened. Bit by bit, he realizes that he just had sex. With Liam Payne. He had sex with Liam fucking Payne. How exactly did that even happen? Why had he let it happen? Why did he enjoy it to so much? Because he did. Even as he presses his fingers to the bruise Liam's mouth left on his shoulder, he can't deny that it had been good. Really good.

"Shit," he mutters, covering his eyes with his arm. "Shit."




Liam isn't in the bathroom when Zayn goes to take his shower; Liam isn't there when Zayn gets back to the room, but his side is spotlessly clean. And Zayn's grateful, even if he spends the next twenty minutes cleaning his own side of the room and getting their laundry. He's not sure what he'd say if Liam had been there. Not sure if this changes things or not, because he still hates Liam, he does. Maybe he hates Liam even more.

Everything inside of him is in turmoil. He can't sort out his thoughts or emotions. On one hand, he's shocked it happened. On the other hand, he thinks that maybe a tiny, little part of him seen it coming. Another part of him is pissed for even thinking that. And he feels angry with himself, angry with Liam, and he's regretting it already. He regrets it so much, because he can't get the way Liam had felt inside of him out of his mind; the way he'd gripped Zayn's hips and tugged at his hair. While, at the same time, he doesn't regret it at all.

Eventually he leaves the room with his laptop and his books and his paper. He can't be in there anymore.

Only he can't focus on his work. He gets to the library, sets himself up, and then he stares at the word document, fingers hovering over the keys, eyes glazed. He tries, though. Spends about an hour copying the words painstakingly slow, but he keeps misspelling things, skipping lines, missing words. There's so many words underlined in red that he gives up, shutting the laptop.

Louis and Harry aren't in the common room when he gets there, so he hikes his bag higher on his shoulder and heads for their room.

Their room is only six down from Zayn's, which is how he met them. The day after they'd moved in, the first time Zayn had the room alone since Liam walked in the door, he was unpacking, and someone had knocked at the door. He went to answer it, and the next thing he knows there's this guy sitting on his bed, telling Zayn his life story, while his friend stood in the doorway, looking both pleased and apologetic.

Apparently, or so Harry told him later, Zayn was the only one who allowed Louis through the door, which is why he's now stuck with the two of them. Louis pushed into Zayn's life without invitation, and he brought Harry along like a carry-on bag. Not that Zayn minds. Befriending the two of them is probably the only exciting thing he's done since he got here. Well, it was. He's pretty sure having sex with Liam is now on that list.

When Zayn gets to their room, he pushes the door open. They have a whiteboard on the door that Harry obsessively uses to let people know if they're in the room, out of the room, or in the room and want to be alone. Right now it reads 'COME IN!' with a sloppy smiley face beside it.

He finds the two of them stuffed on Louis' bed, a box of pizza between them. Harry's sitting with his legs neatly crossed, taking up as little room as possible. Louis is spread out, limbs everywhere, lying on his stomach while he shoves a slice of pizza in his mouth. Which is such a good representation of both of their personalities, really.

"Hungry?" Harry asks, nudging the box towards the edge of the bed. "Help yourself. My mom sent me extra cash this week."

Zayn nods mutely and takes a piece of pizza, picking off the slices of pepperoni before he takes a bite. It's not hot anymore, but it's greasy and cheesy and delicious anyway. He chews as he sinks onto Louis' bed, pulling his legs up, before asking, "Can I stay here tonight?"

"Are you going to spend the whole night bitching about whatever it is Liam did that makes you not want to stay in your own room?" Louis inquires.

Zayn looks down at his food. "No."

"Hey," Harry says softly, "you okay? Did he do something?"

"Liam always does something," Louis reminds him.

Which is true, but this time it's as much Zayn's fault as it is Liam's. "No," Zayn finds himself saying. "He, uh, didn't do anything."

"Why do you sound weird?" Louis asks. "You look weird, too."

Zayn flushes. He stuffs the pizza into his mouth to avoid answering for a moment. It doesn't taste good anymore. It's like chewy cardboard. But he can't put it off forever, and his slice of pizza is gone too quickly. He runs a hand through his hair, eyes downcast, and whispers, "I had sex with Liam."

"What was that? Couldn't hear you," Louis says.

"I had sex," Zayn repeats, "with Liam. Okay?"

When he looks up, Harry's frozen, pizza half to his mouth. Louis is gaping at him like he has two heads, and it's so fucking quiet. And he knows, if the roles were reversed, that he'd be gaping at himself, too.

"Holy shit," Louis breathes. "Holy fucking shit." He turns to Harry. "You owe me fifty bucks."

"You were betting on this happening?" Zayn demands. "Really?"

Louis shakes his head. "Don't try to turn this around. I want details. Like, explicit details."

"I just want to forget it happened," Zayn mutters.

"Ooh, it was bad, huh?" Louis says. "I knew it. All those muscles are compensating for a little dick, right? Called it."

Zayn throws his crust in Louis' direction. It hits his arm and Louis doesn't even blink, or move to throw it out, so Harry leans over him and tosses it in the pizza box with three other uneaten crusts. "You can stay," he adds. "You can have my bed. I'll sleep in Lou's."

"Yeah," Louis agrees. "No problem. You know you're always welcome here."

Zayn nods. "Thanks."

"Now, just give me a vague outline. Like, hold your hands apart. How big was it?"




The week starts with him and Liam tiptoeing around each other. Zayn stays at Louis and Harry's Saturday night, but he can't avoid his room forever. When he gets back, Liam isn't there, and he breathes out a sigh of relief before changing, putting in his headphones, and working on his paper. By the time Liam gets back, he's finished it.

Liam, for his part, treats Zayn like he's another piece of furniture. They don't look at each other; they don't speak; they don't even argue. Liam works out at the gym, Zayn doesn't play his music in the room once. On Tuesday when Liam has one of his teammates in the room, showing him something on his laptop, Zayn walks right back out instead of plunking himself down on his own bed just to irritate Liam. On Thursday when Liam leaves his sweaty clothes around the room after practise, Zayn bites his tongue instead of yelling at him.

It isn't until Friday that things go back to normal. It happens fairly easily, too. Zayn's doing his homework, Liam's throwing a ball up into the air while lying flat on his bed, and Liam randomly says, "I still don't like you. And you hit your keys too hard."

Zayn pauses, turning to him. "I still don't like you, either."

"Good." Liam throws the ball, it nearly hits the ceiling, and then he gracefully, swiftly catches it as it falls back down. "I don't want you to think that just because we, like, whatever, that I suddenly can stand you or something. Because I can't."

"Like having sex with you would change the fact that you're an asshole," Zayn spits.

Liam gets off the bed, dropping the ball to the floor. It rolls under Zayn's bed. "Go to hell, Zayn," he mutters, heading for the door. He slams it behind himself on his way out.

When he's gone, Zayn can suddenly breathe again. It's like he was holding his breath all week, hoping that what happened hadn't changed things. Because it didn't, not for him. Liam still makes his blood boil. He still wants to punch the guy. But he'd feel… guilty, maybe? If things changed for Liam. But they hadn't, he's still a dick, and Zayn likes it better this way. It's like being on even ground again. It's easier when they hate each other because he knows what to expect. This whole week has been the opposite.

Zayn grins to himself as he gets back to work.




His mom calls him on Monday, between his second and third class of the day, when he's walking to the coffee shop to get something to wake him up. He tugs his phone out of his pocket, reads her name on the screen, and hits 'talk' immediately.

"Hey, sweetie," she says brightly. "How's my genius son?"

Zayn smiles, stops to plunk himself down on a bench. He pulls his cigarettes from his bag while saying, "Hey, mom."

"Are you smoking?" she demands, just as he flicks his lighter. "I thought you quit."

Zayn groans, putting the smoke back in the pack. "I'm quitting," he corrects. "Slowly. School is stressful."

"But you're keeping up your grades, right? You're attending all your classes, not slacking off?"

"Of course," Zayn says instantly.

Like he could slack off. If he slacked off, he'd lose his scholarship, and they don't have a lot of money, his family. In fact, he's the first to go to university, or college. Hell, aside from Doniya he was the first to graduate high school. He can't afford not to bust his ass. Can't afford to slack at all, to miss classes or get behind on his work. If he loses his scholarship, he loses his future. Not just the distant one, but the immediate one. He'd lose his monthly funding, he'd lose his dorm room. He'd be so, so fucked.

And everyone would be so disappointed in him. He remembers, when he got accepted, full ride, how proud everyone had been of him. How his mom had cried and his dad had slapped his shoulder and said, "I always knew you could do it." How his parents had thrown a huge party, invited all their closest friends to brag about it. How they'd saved up for months to get him his laptop and other supplies.

He'd be disappointed in himself, too. And it would have all been for nothing. The past four years of pushing himself to exhaustion. Of giving up those years of high school where he was supposed to be a teenager. Where he was supposed to go to parties and hang out with friends and skip class to smoke weed underneath the bleachers. Years he'd instead spent doing homework. Doing extracurriculars because they looked good on applications. Years where he'd missed out on school dances and that one party he'd been invited to.

Not that he hadn't made some friends, only they were like Zayn. They worked hard, and they were too busy planning for the future to live in the now. So while he didn't sit alone at lunch, while he had someone to work on projects with in classes, to bitch about the other kids with, he didn't have someone to hang out with after school. Didn't have someone to call him in the middle of the night just to talk about their parents fighting, or their girlfriend breaking up with them.

Except for Max but, really, Zayn doesn't like to think about Max all that often. When he'd graduated, left home, he'd left that part of himself, too. It's easier this way.

"That's good, then," his mother says, her voice getting thicker. "I'm so proud of you. You know that, yes? We're all so, so proud of you."

"Mom," Zayn whines. "Don't cry, okay? I've been gone for months. I thought we talked about this. No getting emotional."

"I'm sorry," she blubbers. "I just love you, and I want the very, very best for you. You deserve that. You deserve more than that."

"I have to go," Zayn says abruptly. His own eyes burn, and the girl who walks past him gives him a funny look. "I have class. I'll talk to you soon."

"You better!" his mom says. "I love you."

"Love you. Tell the girls I said I miss them, and tell dad I love him, too."

"Will do," she promises. "Bye."

When he's got his phone in his pocket, he puts his cigarettes back in his bag and heads for the coffee shop. He still has about twenty minutes before class, which gives him enough time to wait in the always impossibly long line for a drink and maybe something to eat.

As predicted, the shop is packed. The line is to the door, and every single table is filled to the point of brimming, extra chairs pulled around the edges just to fit people in. It's the only place on campus, aside from the cafeteria, to get anything to eat or drink. Which means that, unless you have a car or a lot of time to spare, it's your only option.


He almost doesn't react to it. Unless it's Louis, or Harry, hardly anyone really talks to him. But he turns, finds Niall two people behind him in line, and hesitantly smiles. Next thing he knows, Niall's line hopping, butting in front of people to stand beside Zayn. "You just saved me, like, five minutes," he says. Behind them, people grumble about Niall jumping ahead. "Thanks."

"Uh, no problem," Zayn says, but he didn't really do anything.

Niall nods. He's got a backpack hanging off one shoulder, sunglasses on his face even though they're still inside. He's also wearing his jersey, and Zayn distantly remembers someone mentioning the game on Thursday. Or everyone, really, because sports is a big thing around here, and it's all anyone can talk about most of the time. Plus, he rooms with Liam, which means he gets an unofficial game schedule.

Around game days, Liam turns into a ball of nerves and angst. He wallows nervously around the room, working out more than he should, blasting his music until Zayn or their neighbours complain, and then he'll put in his headphones and stomp out of the room. He gets extra moody, snapping at Zayn for the most miniscule things, even ones that he's aware are stupid and petty. Like turning over in the middle of the night, or his alarm going off in the morning to wake him up for class.

"You should come," Niall says, like his train of thought is running on the same track as Zayn's. "To the game. I don't think I've ever seen you at a game."

Zayn snorts, he can't help it. "How would you even know? Hundreds of people attend those games. There's no way you'd have noticed me if I went."

"True," Niall says, "but Liam says you never go."

"Not my thing," Zayn admits. They shuffle forward a few feet. "Don't really have the time, most days. And it's not my scene. I don't really like sports."

"School pride, though!" Niall says loudly. "You gotta attend at least one game, dude. You should come Thursday. Bring your friends. Afterwards we always have a big party at Garrett's house. It's different than the last one we went to, promise. It's more laid back. The whole team goes."

Zayn makes a face. "I don't really think that—"

"Seriously," Niall says lowly. "Some people would kill for an invite to that party. You realize that, right? It's hard to get in if you're not on the team. But I want you to come."

Zayn is aware of the fact that Niall has no idea how much of a douche he sounded like, saying that. He knows it wasn't meant to be malicious or 'We're better than everyone' but it sort of was, acting like Zayn should be jumping at the opportunity just because it was a 'cool' party for 'cool' people or whatever. But Niall isn't like that, he knows. He's just… a little naive, maybe.

"I don't know," Zayn eventually says. They're almost at the counter now, and he's grateful. "I'll think about it?"

Niall grins. "You should. Let Liam know what you decide." Niall's eyebrows draw together. "Actually, don't do that. He'd probably not tell me because he hates you. Just, uh, let me know. I'll give you my number."

"That's really not—"

Niall's already pulling a pen out of his bag, grabbing Zayn's arm to scribble his number down, avoiding the tattoos there that Zayn had gotten over the past couple of years. They're the only things he's asked for in years, because he knows his parents don't have a lot of money and they can't get him concert tickets, or a car or something like some people's parents for his birthday or graduation. Instead Zayn asked for tattoos, because he likes them, likes the way they look and their permanence, and his mom's brother has a tattoo shop so he gets them done for cheap.

Though they don't exactly fit with the rest of his look, he knows. And he remembers how surprised Harry and Louis had looked when they first saw them, and Louis' "Shit, here I thought you were a nerd. Damn, cool ink."

"You don't have to," Niall adds when he's done, recapped pen safe and sound in his bag once more. "If you really don't want to, don't feel bad. But if you decide you do, just text me. Or text me whenever, for any reason."

"Okay," Zayn agrees, a little too stunned to do much more. "I — I will."

"Can I help you?" the barista asks, and Zayn rolls his sleeve back down and orders himself a coffee.




The library, more than anything, is Zayn's favourite place on campus. It might just be his favourite place in the whole world, actually. Maybe it's the books, which he's always been drawn to. Aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf of books. Or maybe it's because no one bothers him in the library. Everyone's too busy doing their own thing to talk to anyone else. And it's also the only sure fire place that Liam never, ever goes.

Which is why he nearly has a heart attack when he reaches up to grab a book, tugs it off the shelf, and turns to find Liam behind him. He looks so out of place. He's wearing his jersey today, unsurprisingly (it's like the team lives in those things during weeks that they have an upcoming game), and it's like seeing a lion in the middle of the ocean. It's like seeing a shark in the desert. It doesn't make sense.

"What are you doing here?" Zayn demands.

Liam looks uncomfortable, too. He shifts on his feet, crosses his arms over his chest, looks around. Maybe he's afraid of someone seeing him here or something. "I just —" He cuts off, running a hand through his hair. "You need to tell Niall you don't want to go to the party."

Zayn lets his arm drop to his side, book held precariously in his fingertips. "I wasn't planning on going to the stupid party anyway," he says.

"Good," Liam snaps. "I don't know why he'd even invite you. You wouldn't belong there."

Zayn raises his eyebrows, and that comment stings, just a little. But it comes from Liam so he doesn't let it bother him. "Did you really come all the way in here just to tell me that? How long did it take you to find the library, anyway?"

Liam glares at him for that. "Just text Niall and tell him you don't want to go, but don't tell him I told you to."

Zayn leans against the shelf. "And what's in it for me?"

"What's— You don't even want to go!" Liam shouts. In the distance, someone shushes him. "You don't even want to go," he repeats, quieter. "So just tell Niall that."

This isn't surprising. Liam goes from asshole to major asshole the closer he gets to a game. The fact that he went out of his way to come tell Zayn not to go the party probably has more to do with the fact that he needs an outlet for his nerves, and Zayn always seems to be it. That doesn't mean that it pisses Zayn off any less.

"Maybe I want to go, actually," Zayn says. "You know, I think I will." He leans the book on the shelf and pulls out his phone, bringing up Niall's contact. "I'll ask Niall what time I need to be ready—"

His phone is tugged out of his fingers without warning. Zayn reaches for it, but Liam holds it behind his back, his stupid bushy eyebrows furrowed together. "Why do you always have to be difficult?" he hisses.

"Give me my phone back," Zayn says carefully, going from irritated but amused to pissed in seconds. "How many times do I have to tell you not to touch my stuff?"

Liam slowly backs away from him, a grin on his face. He quickly types things out on Zayn's phone, while Zayn gapes at him. "There," he says. "I told Niall for you. You're welcome."

He tosses the phone and Zayn scrambles to catch it, and he only just manages. The thing is, Liam's an idiot. If he hadn't said anything, if he hadn't gone out of his way to make sure that Zayn didn't go, then Zayn wouldn't have. He had no intentions of going to that fucking party. He hadn't even told Louis or Harry about it because he knew they'd try to persuade him. But there's something about Liam telling him not to that makes him want to.

Which is why he presses Niall's contact and hits 'talk'. "What are you doing?" Liam asks, as Zayn brings the phone to his ear.

"Hey, Niall," he says cheerfully. "I was just—"

Fingers wrap around his wrist, slowly pulling his hand down. Zayn doesn't even fight Liam on it, not when he's this close, his eyes clouding Zayn's vision. He smells like heavy body spray, that same shit that he cakes on every morning that he actually decides to get out of bed, that gives Zayn a headache, most of the time, but right now sort of smells… good. He can hear Niall's voice through the speaker, too quiet to pick up on the words when the phone is lowered to his side.

Liam presses the button to end the call before he kisses Zayn. Just like the first time, there's nothing soft or pleasant about the kiss. It's a clang of teeth, of lips pressed hard together, rough and angry. The phone tumbles from Zayn's fingers as he reaches his hands up to fist in the back of Liam's shirt.

It hurts, the way Liam's pushing him against the bookshelf, but his hands are under Zayn's shirt almost instantly, fingertips sliding up his back, over his shoulder blades before sliding back down, skimming over his ribs. Zayn's lips part, and it gets even more violent, the way Liam tries to dominate the kiss but Zayn fights him on it, pushing his body hard against Liam's, tongue insistently curling against Liam's as his head swims, not enough oxygen getting into his lungs.

When Liam's lips move off his so he can bite along Zayn's jaw, Zayn grits out, "You can't tell me what to do, you know."

Liam bites sharply at his neck in retaliation. "You don't even want to go," he argues. "You're so fucking infuriating."

Zayn tilts his head back, giving Liam more access as his lips and teeth attack Zayn's neck. "Pretty — big word there, Liam," he gasps out. " Fuck."

Liam's fingers fumble with the button on Zayn's jeans, and it hits him like a brick, the fact that they're in the library. The fact that they're in the library and Liam (fucking Liam) is trying to get his jeans off. Succeeding, really, because he's tugging down the zipper, too, hand crawling into Zayn's boxers.

"Wait, wait," Zayn breathes. "Liam—" Liam pulls back abruptly. His cheeks are red, and his lips are puffy and parted and slick. He steps right away from Zayn as if Zayn burned him. "We're in the library," Zayn explains, for some reason regretful that Liam's no longer touching him. Weakly, he adds, "Someone could see."

He's not sure what happened, but Liam is back on him instantly, kissing Zayn again as he undoes the button on his own jeans. Liam grinds him into the shelf, hips rolling against Zayn's, the button of his jeans digging painfully into Zayn's hip but he doesn't really care. Liam's hard against him, and he's hard, too, and the only thing he does care about is the fact that they could get caught. Anyone, at any moment, could come into this aisle and see them. There'd be no denying what they're doing, and Zayn can't afford to get banned from the library, he really can't.

Only — Liam's hand is in his boxers again, and he's got a loose fist wrapped around Zayn's cock, pumping it slowly as he sucks at Zayn's collarbone. Zayn's traitorous body arches into the touch, pushing up into Liam's hand as a moan slips between his lips. He needs to stop this, he knows he does, because the first time was a bad enough idea. This… this is worse than the first time, because not only is he hooking up with Liam, which in itself is at the top of the list of 'Stupidest Things Zayn Has Ever Done', they're also in the fucking library.

So it makes no sense that Zayn pushes his hands down the back of Liam's pants, pulling them closer together while simultaneously trying to pull Liam's boxers down. Liam's hand is suddenly gone, and the elastic of Zayn's boxers snaps against his stomach until Liam pushes them down a bit, freeing his cock, doing the same to his own. He keeps a hand around Zayn's back, between the shelf and his body, to hold them together while the other grabs at Zayn's hair.

Zayn's moan tangles with Liam's when they slide together just right, but it's not good enough. He could come like this, sure, but it'll take forever, and he's frustrated enough already. It's no surprise that Liam does this to him, makes him feel crazy and so fucking heated, because it's always been like that. Only right now they're sort of channelling that rage into fucking instead of yelling at each other.

"You need to be quiet," Liam grunts. He pulls back, resting his forehead against Zayn's, fitting a hand between their bodies. He wraps it around both of them easily, and Zayn thinks that, despite his words, he wants Zayn to be loud. "Don't want someone to hear us, do you?"

"N-no," Zayn lets out, lifting a shaky hand to push his glasses back up because they're falling down his nose. When Liam speeds up, the wet sound of skin on skin loud in the very quiet library, Zayn's hand falls flat against his shoulder, fingers curling, trying to hold on because he feels like he's falling, that swooping in his stomach again. "Fuck, Liam."

Liam laughs, rough and low. "Say it again," he orders. "Moan my name again."

Zayn tries to glare at him, but Liam's thumb glides over the tip of his dick and instead he closes his eyes, head tilting back against the shelf. "Fuck you," he still gets out.

Liam pulls his hair sharply at that. "Does it bother you?" he asks, lips at Zayn's neck again. "The fact that it feels this good. That I'm the one doing this to you, and you like it so much?"

Zayn's head slams into the spine of a book, and it hurts but fuck. He can't tell if it's Liam's words or his lips that send shivers through him, but it doesn't really matter because either way they're still because of Liam. That heat in his stomach is still Liam. His gasping breaths are Liam's, his whimpering moans are Liam's; in that moment, Zayn is Liam's. And Liam knows it.

"Why are you talking?" Zayn whines. There's no other word for it. "Just — Liam."

Liam chuckles against him, but his hand speeds up its movements, Zayn pathetically rutting up into his hand, and the sound dies in his throat. Just like the first time, Liam's teeth clamp down on Zayn's shoulder when he comes. He doesn't stop, except for the slight hitch in his movements as his body shudders. He pants against Zayn's neck, and Zayn is a mess with Liam's come-slicked fingers working him over. He's not even trying to be quiet, at this point, as his hands grip the edges of the shelf and Liam's free hand comes up to cover his mouth.

That's probably a good thing, because Zayn comes seconds later, choking back an embarrassing sound that Liam's fingers muffle. Liam wipes his hand on Zayn's boxers, and Zayn would glare at him for it if he could think.

Liam smirks, does up his own jeans, and then he leans in to whisper in Zayn's ear, "You look good wrecked," and then he's sauntering down the aisle, disappearing from sight.

Zayn stares at his back before hurrying to do up his own jeans, making a face at the sticky mess Liam's made of his boxers. Fuck, now he's going to have to go change, but that's not really the biggest issue here, is it? No, the whole thing is a big issue, because he just hooked up with Liam again. And fuck if it wasn't the hottest thing to ever happen to him.

His heart is still racing, his breath is still unsteady, and he feels like his legs aren't strong enough to hold him up. But he bends down to pick up his phone, and he quickly sends a text to Niall.

Forget whatever I said. I'd love to come to the party. : )




Louis and Harry go to the game, but Zayn stays in his room. They always go to games, though. Louis is a big sports fan, and he refuses to miss any of the home games. And Harry isn't a big sports fan, but he's a big Louis fan so he goes, too. Zayn doesn't want to. He sees no point. For one, he still doesn't fully understand the game. For another, being stuffed into a hard seat with people crowded in around him, everyone shouting, is not his idea of a good time.

Plus, he has work to do. So that's what he does, when his room is blissfully empty because Liam's too busy on the field. He needs to get this done, too, because he won't have time to work on it tonight, not when he already has plans.

Fuck. Is he really going through with this? Is he really going to go to this party? It's not his scene. There won't be anyone like him there. The guys that are throwing it are the type that Zayn studiously avoids most of the time. Not to mention the fact that Liam will be there, and…. Zayn would like to avoid Liam for the rest of his life, really, because every time they look at each other Liam smirks this smug little smirk, like he knows he has Zayn. It's horrible.

It's even more horrible because he's right.

It's like — Every time they're alone together, there's that tension in the air that there always is, only it's different. It's not like the two of them waiting for the other to pick a fight, like it used to be. It's Zayn waiting, wondering when Liam's going to kiss him again, but he likes to think that he wouldn't normally let that happen. That it only has happened because he was too pissed at Liam the last two times to think rationally. Under normal, calm circumstances, when his whole body doesn't feel like it's burning with anger or something else, he thinks he'd push Liam away.

Zayn shakes his head, tucking those thoughts away. He focuses on his work instead, on reading his book for class, writing down important quotes for the paper he's supposed to write on the antagonist. Only he doesn't have much left to do. He's been working on it all week, and it's nearly done, and before long he's turning the last page.

With a sigh he gets out of his chair and heads for his dresser. He's not sure why he does it, but he finds himself using the hair gel Louis gifted to him for no reason other than "You can't just hide it under a beanie every day, Zayn," even though that's exactly what Louis does.

In tenth grade, Zayn started wearing his hair up because he thought it looked cool, and it was something he stuck with until twelfth grade when he was too busy with school, work, his part-time job, and student council to spend time making himself look better in the morning. Now he pushes it up into that style again, trying not to think about the fact that he's actually putting effort into going to this party because that makes him lame, doesn't it? Whatever.

He changes, too, out of the dirty sweats he'd crawled out of bed and to class in because he was exhausted. Lastly he slides his glasses onto his face, just because. He doesn't need them all the time. His sight isn't really that bad, but he needs them to read, and he likes them.

Their team wins the game, unsurprisingly. They always win. He knows this because of the guys running up and down the hall, whooping and cheering. In the next hour their common room will be filled, doors will be left open. That's how everyone celebrates, while Zayn usually locks his door and takes advantage of the fact that Liam will be out until late that night, getting shitfaced in celebration of the win.

Only tonight he doesn't do that. Tonight he pulls on a sweater, grabs his wallet for his I.D. and some cash in case he needs to take a cab home, and he heads for the statue of the school founder. It's just outside the science building, the closest building to the edge of campus, where he's supposed to meet Niall and the others.

It's cold out, the early November air making him pull his sweater in tighter around himself. Louis and Harry are already at the statue when he gets there, Niall leaning heavily against it. Louis has white and red paint on his cheeks, and Harry has a tiny smudge of it on his neck, like Louis had rubbed it there while putting his own paint on.

"Zayn!" Niall says loudly, and then he's engulfing Zayn in a tight hug, like that's something that they do. It's not. "Thought you might not show, man."

"I told you I would," Zayn reminds him.

"And it'll piss Liam off," Louis adds. "So you know he wouldn't miss a chance to do that."

Niall laughs. "You two are so crazy," he says. "I think you'd actually like each other if you'd stop fighting for two seconds."

"I think they'd more than like each other," Louis says slyly. Harry punches him for it, and Zayn's grateful.

Niall looks confused by that admission, so Zayn quickly asks, "Are we going now?" before Niall can question what Louis meant by that.

The four of them walk down the streets lit up by streetlights, the moon already hanging in the sky that's only just turned from navy to deep black. As they walk, Louis and Harry chat, and Niall keeps up with them easily, as if they do this all the time. Zayn's weirdly nervous. The only thing he can think about is Liam telling him not to come.

Niall wasn't lying when he said this party would be different. First, it's closer to campus, only a short two minute walk to the single family home. It's squat, one floor, and music isn't pouring onto the streets. People aren't stumbling to and from the building.

Zayn hangs back, letting Niall go in first, but Niall holds the door open for all of them, so he has no choice but to step inside.

There are no crowds this time. The hallway is mostly empty save for one couple making out against the wall. Niall leads them straight through it towards the kitchen. The kitchen, on the other hand, that is fairly crowded. There's a large kitchen table, with couples seated all around it. Guys in jerseys with girls on their laps and drinks halfway to their mouths. All of them seem to look up when the four of them walk into the room.

"Nialler!" someone shouts.

"Who the fuck is that?" someone else asks.

"What's up?" Niall says, nodding. "These are the people I told you I was inviting."

"What's up, Niall's friends?" someone says, and the others laugh. Zayn shifts uncomfortably.

"Drinks," Niall decides. "Let's get drinks. Any of you want beer, or we've got, uh, vodka, rum, gin — ew, who the fuck brought that? Shit tastes like rubbing alcohol."

"I'll have vodka and coke," Louis says. "Thanks."

Niall nods and grabs plastic cups and begins filling them with the contents from one of the many, many bottles on the counter, all of them ranging from half empty to completely empty. A cup is pressed into Zayn's hands, and he doesn't even protest it.

Afterwards, Niall leads them out of the room. "We don't hang out in the kitchen," he explains. "Jeremy and the guys stay up there all night. All they do is dry hump in the chairs. The real party's downstairs."

Now that he's said it, Zayn can feel it, the music thumping under his feet. They're guided through the house to a door that Niall opens, and finally there's the music Zayn's been waiting for, spilling out into the upstairs until Zayn shuts the door behind himself.

There's smoke everywhere, too, the smell of weed heavy in the air. At the bottom of the stairs Zayn pauses, taking a look around. There's a flat screen against one wall, a football game (of course) playing. There's a pool table, too, as well as an entire area with nothing but people dancing and a stereo system. There's only about thirty people, though, which can't even be half the amount at the other party.

That's a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because it's not as crowded. Bad, because everyone looks at them. In a larger crowd, it's easier to disappear. In a larger crowd, there's not much individuality. No one cares who you are, what you look like. The smaller the crowd, the closer people start looking.

Zayn ducks his head and sips his drink.

Eventually the party settles back down around them, and Niall loops his arm with Zayn's, pulling him through the room. There's a couch, where Liam sits with a drink in his hands, watching the TV. There's a girl beside him, one who puts her feet in his lap. Stupidly, something like annoyance rises in Zayn but he turns his head and pretends it never happened, just as Liam lifts his gaze and meets Zayn's eyes.

"See?" Niall says, elbowing him gently. "Better, right? It's not crazy in here. We're just relaxing, you know?"

"Yeah," Zayn says, throat dry. He gulps down his drink, even though it burns.

He has no idea where Harry and Louis went, though the room isn't all that big. Somehow the two of them always manage to do this, and Zayn has no idea how. They don't mean to, either, and he knows it. They get distracted by someone they know, get caught up in trying to find another drink, start chatting to people and forget all about Zayn. He doesn't fault them for it, since he figures the fact that he never comes with them to parties plays a big part in them forgetting he's there on the rare chance that he does.

Niall invites him to play pool, but Zayn begs off, using going to get a new drink as an excuse. He just — he doesn't want to be here, is the thing. Liam was right, he shouldn't have come, because he doesn't fit here. He doesn't fit with the beefy guys cheering at the game on the screen with their arms around a pretty girl's waist. He doesn't fit with the intoxicated group playing a laughable game of pool. He doesn't fit with the people dancing.

There's nowhere for Zayn here.

He starts for the stairs to get another drink, but there's a group blocking the bottom, and he doesn't feel like having to shoulder past them just to get upstairs. Instead he leans against a wall and sucks down the last drops of his drink so it looks like he's doing something as he waits for them to move.

Zayn's gaze shifts around the room, and it lands on Liam. He's on the dance floor now, some girl's back pressed against his front. He's got his chin resting on her shoulder, and a hand on her stomach, holding them tightly together. "You got me going crazy, you turn me on, turn me on," plays from the speakers as Liam's eyes meet his. That smirk spreads over his lips, and Zayn can't turn away, even as Liam's lips press to her neck and she tilts her head back. Even as his hand slides lower, dangerously close to the waistband of her skirt. And he's still holding Zayn's gaze. "If you think you're gonna get away from me you better change your mind. You're going home, you're going home with me tonight."

Zayn stomps towards the stairs. He shoulders past the group there without blinking, heading for the kitchen to get a drink, just like Niall told him to do.

Just as it had been the first time, the kitchen is pretty full. The same couples sit at the table, but now there's a group getting drinks. Zayn waits until they're done to get himself one, but as he's heading back to the basement, someone blocks his path.

"Zayn, right?" the guy asks.

"Uh, yeah," Zayn says, slow, confused. "Can I—"

"Who invited the nerd?" someone behind him asks.

Zayn's cheeks burn. It's not like this is his first time getting picked on (which is what's happening here, he has no doubt in his mind about this), but it's a little surprising. He thought that everyone had outgrown this shit after high school, but apparently it's all the same.

"Excuse me," Zayn grits, trying to move past the guy blocking his way.

The guy moves so he's still blocking Zayn's path. Behind him, someone asks, "Hey, maybe he could do my paper for Benjamin for me."

The one in front of him tugs Zayn's glasses off his face, putting them on himself. Zayn's hands curl at his sides, but he doesn't move. He's not stupid, he's been in this situation countless times. It's best to just take it and wait until he can walk away, because he doesn't feel like getting his ass kicked right now. Everyone in this room has about forty pounds on him, at the least, and they're all teammates, which means that if you fuck with one of them, chances are the others will get involved.

"How do I look?" the guy with his glasses asks. "Think I look smarter?"

"Wouldn't take much effort to accomplish that," Zayn mutters.

"What the fuck was that?"

"I said—"

"Yeah, I heard you," the guy spits. "What, you think you're better than us? Is that—"

"Fuck off, Brad," Zayn hears, just before Liam walks into the room. He looks between everyone inside for a long moment before his eyes land on Zayn, and then they're flitting on past him. "Give him the glasses back."

"Come on, Li," the guy — Brad— says. "I thought you hated this guy."

"Give him back the glasses," Liam says, calm and dangerous. "Now."

With a roll of his eyes Brad does just that. Zayn folds them and carefully hangs them from his collar instead of putting them back on. He's a little dazed as he sidesteps Brad on his way into the hallway. Did Liam just come to his rescue? Did that really just happen?

Someone grabs his arm, but he recognizes Liam's hands, obviously. They've touched practically his whole body, at this point. "Are you okay?" Liam asks, looking genuinely concerned. "They didn't, like—"

"I'm fine," Zayn says. A thank you should be tacked on there, but he can't force the words out of his mouth.

"I told you not to come," Liam says. "I told you that you shouldn't. That you don't fit here. And look what happened."

How is saying that any different than what happened in the kitchen? Zayn doesn't fit here, and all that happened in the kitchen was a few guys enforcing that, as if Zayn wasn't aware and they had to remind him where he stands in these kinds of situations. And here's Liam, doing the exact same thing.

Instead of throwing his drink at Liam, the way he wants to, he shoves it at him. Liam takes it with a confused look, and Zayn spins on his heels, heading for the door. He doesn't look back once.

Liam is one hundred percent right. He shouldn't have come.

On the way back to campus he sends Louis and Harry a text, telling them he left. He sends Niall one, too, because he owes it to the guy. It's not Niall's fault his friends and teammates are assholes. Niall was just trying to be nice, inviting him, because like Zayn thought at the time, when Niall asked him to come, Niall doesn't seem to be all that aware of social status, or the fact that some people just do not hang out with other people. That's just how it works, but that's not how it seems to work in Niall's mind.

People are still celebrating when he gets back to the dorms, even though it's a Thursday. Zayn walks past those in the hallway, walks past open doors with music spilling out, and he knows that it'll have to end soon, that someone will complain and it'll get blissfully silent. He can't wait.

When he gets to the room he locks the door and looks at himself in the mirror before messing up his hair so it looks more like it normally does, and then he shuts off the light and falls into bed.

His phone rings six times, and it buzzes across the desk with a text even more, but he doesn't bother answering it. Instead he pulls his pillow over his head and curls up facing the wall, telling himself he's not upset. Not with those assholes at the party, not with Liam being a good person for five seconds only to revert back to himself right afterwards. Not with Liam for grinding up on that girl which, for reasons beyond him, seems to stick out above all else.

It's got to be late, maybe two or three, when Liam comes into the room. He stumbles, door shutting loudly behind him, and he laughs at it before turning the lock. He bumps into his own dresser, seems to trip over nothing but his feet (that's what it sounds like, anyway) and he tosses his shoes into the corner of the room before—

He crawls into bed behind Zayn, smelling like a fucking brewery. And Zayn tenses, hand curling where it's gripping his pillow to keep it over his head. But Liam easily pulls it away from Zayn, even though he's apparently fucking plastered if he honestly thinks this is his bed.

Only he doesn't. He knows it's Zayn's bed, because he tucks Zayn's extra pillow under his head, curls up against Zayn's back, and whispers "Go back to sleep," with his lips against Zayn's neck.

"What are you doing?" Zayn asks, just as quietly. Liam's leg is thrown over his thighs, and Liam's arm is securely wrapped around his middle, the way it had been with that girl he was dancing with, pulling them close together. "Liam—"

"Shh," Liam coaxes. He lips gently graze Zayn's throat, down to where his neck meets his collarbone. "'m tired. Go to sleep."

Zayn closes his eyes, relaxes into it. He tells himself it's because he's too tired. That today was just — it was too much, and maybe it's nice not to sleep alone, for once. To feel someone else's heat warming him through. So he stays perfectly still, keeps his eyes closed, and falls asleep with Liam behind him.




He wakes up in the morning to his alarm going off and Liam groaning. And to Liam lying half on top of him. At some point in the night Zayn must have turned over, and Liam had taken advantage of that by crawling onto him, apparently. He's heavy, his limbs weighing Zayn down, and he smells like alcohol in the worst way.

"Wha—" Liam lifts his head, looks down at Zayn, and groans again. "Oh, God, I'm going to have to do the walk of shame to my own side of the bedroom," he says as he rolls over, legs falling off the bed. He stands, runs a hand through his messy hair, and looks back down at Zayn. "Why was I in your bed, anyway?"

Zayn is red and he knows it. It's a good question, really, but he doesn't know how to answer it. "You, uh, came in drunk," he starts, while Liam makes an impatient sound. "I don't know, okay?! You crawled into my fucking bed and I was too tired to kick you out."

Liam gives him an unreadable look at that. "So we didn't, you know."

"No, we didn't," Zayn says. He pushes himself up, eyes narrowed. He's in a bad mood. He's so fucking tired. And Liam's pissing him off without even doing anything today. Maybe it's just leftover anger from yesterday, bleeding into his mood for today.

"Are we going to ever talk about the times that we did?" Liam wonders.

Zayn freezes, hand halfway to his drawer. He sucks in a breath and opens it, pulling out clean clothes, and then he slams it shut. His back is still to Liam when he says lowly, "No." He doesn't want to talk about it ever. In fact, he'd love to act like it never happened. That it never happened twice, technically.

"It's just going to happen again," Liam says to his back.

Zayn turns to him, eyes narrowed. He scoffs. "Don't count on it."

Liam smirks. "You might hate me," he says, "but that doesn't mean you don't want me."

Fuck the shower. Fuck changing. Zayn grabs his backpack and heads for the door. "That's exactly what it means!" he shouts before slamming it.

He's early to his first class, but he's distracted. It's a boring class, admittedly, and he has to force himself to pay attention every day, especially given the time that the class starts. Today he just doesn't have it in him to do that. But it's not like he can skip, miss out on anything, because he doesn't know anyone in this class and has no one he could borrow notes from if he decided to bail.

And he refuses to let this thing with Liam complicate his academic life.

As he's walking to his second class of the day, bag slipping down his shoulders because they're so slumped with exhaustion, he passes a bulletin board and stops. The lime green of the flyer is what caught his eye, a startling bright contrast to the rest of the black and white ads.

Charity Art Classreads the bold headline. His eyes scan over the rest of the words quickly. Apparently it's a six-week art class held at the school between the middle of November to just before Christmas holidays, where the students are taught amateur painting, sculpting and drawing twice a week, at the end of which they'll hold an auction where a final piece by each student will be sold, all proceeds going to charity.

There isn't a number left to call, but it simply states that anyone interested is welcome at the free first day orientation on Monday in Art Room 2 in the west wing at seven.

He really doesn't have the time for something like this. There's no room on his plate for an art club, on top of everything else. But he finds himself pulling out a phone and taking a picture of the ad anyway, that way he won't forget the details. It'd be nice to do something just for himself. Something that he doesn't have to stress over. Something for fun.

He's still not sure, all through his classes, but when he heads to his room afterwards, he finds himself deterring, heading for Louis and Harry's room instead. This time the whiteboard reads Louis is out, Harry is in, and Zayn knocks quickly before pushing open the door.

Harry looks up at him from behind his laptop, which he has on his chest while he lies down against the pillows. "Hey," he says, and then he sneezes and makes a pitiful sound. "Come sit."

Zayn shuts the door and eyes him warily. "Are you sick?"

"A bit," Harry admits. He sneezes again and reaches for a tissue on the desk beside him. "Okay, a lot. I think I have the flu."

"I'm going to stay over here, then," Zayn says, sinking onto Louis' bed. "Do you, like, need anything? I could go and get you a drink or something, or—"

"Nah, it's fine," Harry assures him. "Louis' getting me soup and Advil. I'll be okay."

Zayn nods and drums his fingers on his knees. Harry pushes the laptop off him and rolls onto his side to face Zayn, and Zayn says, "So there's this, like, art class or whatever, starting on Monday, and I thought, I mean, I don't really have the money, and I'd have to eat in the dining hall for weeks instead of — whatever. But it sounds kinda cool."

"The Christmas one, right?" Harry asks. "With the auction at the end." Zayn nods. "I'll go with you, if that's what you're asking. Sounds cool."


"Yeah," Harry croaks. "As long as I'm feeling better. It's like I got hit by a train. I was fine last night, but I woke up this morning feeling dead. It's like a hangover and a cold and it really, really sucks."

Zayn gives in, moving across the room to sit beside Harry, germs be damned. He brushes Harry's slightly damp curls off his face, and Harry closes his eyes. He feels hot, like he's burning up, and he's pale except for his fever-bright cheeks. It worries Zayn, just a bit, but he knows that Louis would never let anything bad happen to Harry. Not that he can really fight illnesses, but he's pretty sure Louis would try damn hard anyway.

"'m glad we're friends," Harry whispers. "You're a good person, Zayn. 'm glad. And I think it's dumb that you're having sex with your roommate."

Zayn snorts a laugh. "Is this the fever talking?"

"Maybe," Harry admits. "It's still dumb, though." He yawns and blinks up at Zayn with bright green eyes. "The friends with benefits thing never works out."

"Good thing Liam and I were never friends," Zayn says. Not that he and Liam have any relationship with any sort of benefits. They're just two people who share a living space, who hate each other and sort of hooked up twice in the heat of the moment. That's all it was. An accident that happened twice, but won't happen again, no matter what Liam says.

"Okay, Zayn," Harry mumbles. "Okay."

Louis comes into the room before Zayn can argue it. He's got a wet cloth hanging off his arm, two bottles of water, a thing of Advil, a Styrofoam container with a lid, a spoon balanced precariously on top of it, and a chocolate bar hanging out of his mouth, wrapper still on. He makes an annoyed sound through the chocolate bar, and Zayn gets up to pull it out of his mouth and take the soup from him.

"Thank you," Louis says. "And Harry, they had no chicken noodle, but I got you cream of broccoli instead. Is that okay?"

"Better than okay," Harry says weakly, holding out his hand with his eyes closed. "That sounds perfect."

It's a lie. Zayn's only known Harry for months, but they spend a lot of time eating together. Harry hates cream of broccoli soup, and Zayn knows this for a fact because he wrinkles his nose every time Zayn eats it and refuses to touch a bite himself, even if it's the only option. But when Louis pops off the lid and holds the bowl for him while he spoons it up, he clears half the bowl in about a minute. Zayn thinks that probably has more to do with not wanting to hurt Louis' feelings than it does with how sick he is.

"I'm gonna go," Zayn says. "I think Louis' got you covered."

"Later, Zayn," Harry calls after him. Louis is too busy cooing at Harry to say goodbye. "Love you!"

"Yeah, same," Zayn says back.

Despite the fact that his best friend is sick, Zayn is in a great mood when he makes it back to his room, and even Liam's presence inside doesn't irritate him. Probably because Liam's asleep, and while the snoring is annoying, it's much easier to deal with than the sounds he makes when he's conscious.

He grabs a book from his shelf and spreads out on his bed. It's been a while since he's done a bit of casual reading, nothing for class, just for his enjoyment. Maybe some people don't like reading the same book over, but he's read this one eight times, and it's just as good every time. He loves rereading books, honestly. Likes picking up on important details he'd missed the last time. Likes revisiting old characters like old friends.

He's about one hundred pages in when someone knocks at the door. Liam, in his bed, turns over and grunts, "Get it, Zayn," before throwing an arm over his eyes. Zayn makes a face at him but bookmarks his page and heads for the door.

Louis is standing on the other side, a sheepish look on his face. "Harry wanted to know if we could borrow one of your books. He says he's too exhausted to watch a movie, and it's sort of a thing we do whenever he's sick. I read to him, he pretends to listen, he passes out. But I don't have anything in my room but my chemistry textbook, and I think I'd pass out before him if I read that."

Zayn pushes the door open wider. "Sure," he says. "Take anything on the shelf."

Louis nods and stands on Zayn's bed to reach it. He doesn't even look at the title or read the blurb on the back. He just grabs the first book he touches and tugs it down. "By the way," he adds on his way back out the door, "Harry mentioned an art club thing you two were going to do. Is there, like, a set number of people that can sign up? Or can I join too?"

"The ad didn't say," Zayn admits. "But you should come. The orientation's free, so even if it's a bust all we're wasting is like an hour or something."

"Cool," Louis says happily. "Where and when?"

"Monday in Art Room 2 at seven."

"Brilliant. Thanks." Louis pats Zayn on the shoulder before heading down the hall.

Zayn shuts and locks the door behind him, going back to his book. He gets about five pages more read before Liam grunts and flips over. Six and Liam rolls back over to the other side of his bed. Nine and Liam's making a low, keening sound in the back of his throat. Fifteen and Liam's whimpering, so Zayn slams his book shut and sits up.

"Are you jerking off over there?" he demands.

Liam gasps out, "No. I think I'm dying."

Zayn takes a good look at him. Red cheeks, puffy eyes, sweating profusely. He's got the blankets kicked off himself, and he's curled up into a pathetic-looking, muscular ball. "Shit," Zayn says. "You're sick, too?"

Liam whimpers again, but he has the energy to snap, "No, I feel fucking fantastic."

Zayn bites his lip. He looks pretty pitiful, Liam. So much so that even Zayn feels sort of bad for him. Only Liam's not his friend; Liam's not someone he even remotely likes; Liam is so, so not his problem. "That really sucks, Liam," he says apathetically, before going back to his book.

"Fuck I hate you," Liam moans. "I hate you more than I think I've ever hated someone in my entire life."

Zayn would glare at him, but that would take effort, so instead he hums his agreement and turns the page. Ten minutes later and Liam's back asleep, and Zayn stands up to stretch. Liam rolls over, but he doesn't seem to be awake, and Zayn locks the guilt inside him in a tiny box and throws away the key, refusing to let it get to him.

He leaves the room, if only to get away from the ridiculous moans of pain Liam lets out every few minutes, like clockwork. He can't go down the hall to visit Louis and Harry, though, because he figures Harry'll be trying to sleep right now. And the common room is packed with people when he gets there, so he heads down the stairs and out into the cool air.

By the time he's done with his cigarette he goes straight into the coffee shop and orders himself a drink, and then he asks for a bowl of whatever soup they have before he realizes he's doing it. He doesn't really have the money to, either. His budget is pretty tight, but…

"For here or to go?" the woman behind the counter asks.

"To go."

Zayn juggles the scalding hot container of soup and coffee all the way back to his room. Liam is still asleep, so Zayn puts them both down and shakes him awake. "Liam," he coaxes. "Liam, wake up."

Slowly Liam's eyes blink open. They're bloodshot and exhausted, and concern bubbles up inside Zayn before he can stop it. He puts a hand to Liam's forehead and winces at how hot it is, and Liam's fingers circle his wrist, holding him there for a beat before letting it drop. "Kill me," he whines. "Know you've thought about it. Just do it. I'm begging you."

Zayn rolls his eyes at the dramatics. "I got you soup," he says. "If you want it, it's on the desk."

Liam doesn't move, and Zayn goes back to his book, no longer guilty. He did his part, that's that. Liam is once again not his problem, deathly sick or not.

Eventually Liam sits up, and he grunts out a gruff, "Thanks," before eating the soup. It smells good, and Zayn's kicking himself for giving it away instead of keeping it. And for giving it to Liam specifically, because he slurps and makes annoying sounds the whole time he eats; Zayn just wants to read his damn book.

Fifteen minutes later and Liam's asking, "Do you think you could— I mean, you don't have to, but…"

Zayn groans and slams his book shut. "What do you want?"

"There's change on my dresser," Liam explains. "Do you think you could, um, get me a drink from the machine?"

Zayn hesitates, but he gets up anyway, crossing the room to gather a dollar from the coins on the dresser. "What do you want?"

"Mountain Dew," Liam answers. "You can take some money to get yourself something, too."

Zayn does. He'd paid for that soup out of his own pocket, and he doesn't feel guilty about the two bucks he snags to get himself something from the vending machine. Plus, the vending machines are on the bottom floor. That's three flights of stairs; Zayn deserves it.

He gets Liam his drink, and himself a bag of chips, before returning to the room. Liam's huddled under his blankets now, like he'd gone from burning hot to freezing cold. He holds out a shaking hand for the drink, and Zayn passes it to him. "Thanks."

"Whatever," Zayn says.

Just when he thinks that's it, that Liam's fallen back asleep, finally allowing him some peace and quiet, he hears, "Do you think you could…"

Zayn sits up. "What is it this time?" he snaps.

Liam doesn't even look sheepish. His blankets are pulled up to his chin and tucked around his neck now, and he's curled up in a ball again. "My— my sweater," he says through chattering teeth. "'s freezing in here."

Zayn crosses the room and opens the first drawer, then the second of the dresser. "Which one?" he asks. "You've got, like, ten of them."

"Any," Liam answers weakly. "I'm so cold."

Zayn grabs the thickest one he can find and tosses it in Liam's direction. "Now go to fucking sleep," he says. "Unless you want to go down to the school clinic—"

"No," Liam moans. "They'll just tell me to sleep and drink fluids. I can do that here, without having to walk fifteen minutes."

"Suit yourself," Zayn says. He goes to sit back on his bed, but at the last second he offers, just because he hopes that if Liam feels better he'll be less irritating, "I can go get you some Advil from Lou, if you want."

"Really?" Liam sounds so grateful that it makes Zayn feel like a dick. "You don't have to."

Zayn is out the door before he can respond. He heads down the hall, knocks lightly on the door because it's locked and the whiteboard now reads Harry's sick : ( . Louis opens the door seconds later, already shushing Zayn before Zayn's said anything.

"He's asleep," Louis whispers. "What do you want?"

"Advil," Zayn says. "Liam's sick, too."

Louis' soft expression morphs into a smirk. "You taking care of your boyfriend, then?"

"Just give me two, Louis," Zayn says flatly.

"Oh, alright." Louis shuts the door and disappears for a second. When he comes back he holds out the bottle, lid open, and Zayn puts out his hand so Louis can shake a few into it. When Zayn's fingers curl over the pills, Louis adds, "Mel in 209 says her roommate had the same thing two days ago. She said it'll pass by tomorrow. Let Liam know, if you want."

Zayn nods and thanks him before returning to the room. Liam is sitting up, waiting for him, and Zayn hands the pills off, not watching as he tosses them back and swallows them with a sip of his drink. "You should be better by tomorrow," Zayn says. "You and Harry aren't the only ones who've had this thing, apparently. But if you got me sick, you're going to wish this thing killed you."

"Okay," Liam mumbles. Then, quieter, "Thank you, Zayn. Really."

"Whatever," Zayn says again.

This time Liam doesn't bother him, and Zayn gets to finish his book before it's late and he's tired. Before he turns off the light, he leans over Liam and checks his forehead again. He's still asleep, and he's still sweating, but he doesn't feel as hot.

Zayn shuts off the light and gets into bed.




"We'll be meeting every Monday at seven, and every Wednesday at eight in this room," the instructor continues, and Zayn shifts in his seat, trying to get more comfortable in the plastic chair. Across from him, Louis is angled in his seat to face the woman at the front of the room, but he's not listening; Zayn can tell. He's got that distant, bored look on his face. "There is a forty dollar enrolment fee, but all of that will go towards supplies you'll be using during the duration of this class. For the class itself, I will be your supervisor, while three of my most talented students will guide you through the different mediums of art being taught in this class. If—"

The door to the room opens, and someone peeks their head in, looking a bit sheepish. "Sorry I'm late," he says. "And sorry for interrupting."

"Don't worry, Liam," the instructor says pleasantly, with a smile that's just for him. "Nice play at that last game, may I add."

A few people make sounds of agreement, and Zayn puts as much contempt into his glare as he can as Liam quickly moves towards the table that Zayn's sharing with Louis, Harry, and some girl with a nose piercing and hair longer than anyone Zayn's ever met. He slides into the chair next to Zayn with a grin, legs scraping against the floor loudly.

"—piece will be of your choosing, any piece of art using one of the three mediums taught in this class. On the nineteenth of December we'll be hosting the auction at the time of the annual staff Christmas party, and—"

"What are you doing here?" Zayn hisses, leaning close to Liam but keeping his eyes on the front of the room.

Liam shrugs. "Figured I could use an extracurricular outside of football," he says casually. "I checked and none of the classes are on days I have practise, so." Another shrug, and Zayn is honestly going to march to the back of the room where the art supplies is, grab a paint brush, and stuff it down Liam's fucking throat.

"You don't even like this shit," he argues. "How did you even hear about this?"

"You don't know what I do or don't like," Liam counters. "And you mentioned it to Louis when I was in the room."

He says it with a smirk, confirming Zayn's suspicions. He's only here to irritate Zayn. This one thing Zayn was doing to relax, was doing to enjoy himself, and of course Liam has to ruin it. Of fucking course. But he'll be damned if he doesn't fight Liam on it. He'll let it go for now, but as soon as they're out of this room, Zayn is killing him. Violent and messy. He'll take the life sentence, he doesn't even care.

For now he forces himself to relax and pay attention. But he barely hears another word the instructor says because he's too busy seething and trying not to pay attention to Liam while simultaneously noticing every time he so much as blinks. "— need to be in by Wednesday, as well as the forty dollar enrolment fee. There are only thirty spots open in this class, so the faster you get in your application, the better your chances of getting a spot. Any questions?"

A few people raise their hands, but Zayn sinks lower in his seat, possibly sulking like a child. He can't help it. And when they're told to get application forms on their way out, Zayn is one of the first ones to the front of the room, even though he had been sitting near the back. He folds the form twice and shoves it in his pocket before pushing out the door, into the hallway.

"You okay?" Louis asks when he and Harry come out of the room.

Zayn nods curtly. "I'm fine."

"Then why do you look like you're about to punch someone in the ballsack?"

Zayn crosses his arms over his chest and ignores them. "I'm fine. I'll catch up with you guys later."

Louis looks like he wants to stick around, but Harry grabs his arm and pulls him away. Zayn watches as other people filter out of the room, some in groups and pairs, some alone. Liam is the last one out the door, his application held tightly in his hand. And he walks straight past Zayn like he doesn't see him there, smirk in place.

Zayn jogs after him. "You won't even enjoy it," he says. "Come on, you're only doing it to piss me off."

Liam shrugs. "I might like it," he denies. "Who knows, maybe we'll discover a new talent of mine."

"Liam," Zayn groans angrily. "Let me have this one fucking thing. Do you really need to butt into every aspect of my life?"

"What other aspects of your life have I butted into?" Liam wonders as he shoulders open the door to get outside.

The door that nearly hits Zayn in the face, but he puts his hands out at the last second and hurries after him. "Do you even know what that word means?" he can't help but ask.

Liam gives him a look. "I'm taking the class, Zayn, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Zayn reaches out, grabbing his arm. He tugs Liam back, and Liam whirls around instantly, getting much closer than necessary. Zayn blinks at him, words dying in his throat. But then he sees the application form sticking out of Liam's pocket, so he grabs at it, ready to tear it to shreds. Only Liam's fingers wrap around his wrist, stopping him, pulling him in even closer.

"Do you know how attractive you are when you're pissed off?" Liam asks. He tilts his head, lips grazing Zayn's ear, hand sliding up his back. "Now stop arguing with me and let's get back to the room. I can't wait to get you—"

"Not happening," Zayn says. He pushes at Liam's shoulders and stalks off. "Last time was the last time. It's not fucking happening."

Liam easily keeps up with him. "Really?" he chuckles. "Why do I have a feeling that you're just saying that to make yourself feel better?"

"Fuck you," Zayn spits.

They walk like that all the way back to their dorm, Zayn stomping past everyone with his eyes narrowed and his head ducked, Liam walking proudly beside him, like he's enjoying how upset Zayn is. Zayn wants to throttle him. Wants to tackle him into the grass on his left and revel in the grunt he'd make as his back hit the hard packed dirt, and then Zayn would—

Zayn shakes his head, cutting that fantasy off as he pulls the door to their building open wide, wide enough for Liam to slip easily in behind him. Both of their feet thunder up the stairs, and Zayn wants to turn around and yell at him again, but he just keeps going. Up the stairs, onto their floor. Past people in the hallway, two of whom call out a greeting to Liam that he returns cheerfully and pleasantly.

Of course their door is unlocked, something that Liam has a habit of doing, no matter how many times Zayn nags him for it. That only adds fuel to his fire. He paces to the desk at the window as soon as he's inside, and then he whirls around as Liam locks the door.

"It's not happening," Zayn says firmly. "Okay? Not happening."

Liam shrugs from the middle of the room. "Okay."

For a moment, Zayn debates it. Goes over his options. Weighs out the pros and cons. It's a bad idea, giving in to Liam again. It's a horrible idea. It's stupid, and he'd regretted it so much the other two times. There's no way he'd even consider doing it again. Never in a million years.

Zayn stalks towards Liam, grabbing his hips. He wishes he could burn Liam with his fingertips the way Liam burns him with his existence. "Not happening," Zayn repeats while pushing up Liam's shirt. Liam's arms lift obligingly as Zayn tugs the garment off him, tossing it vaguely towards Liam's bed. "I'm not going to sleep with you again."

"Sure," Liam says. His lips go for Zayn's neck, and Zayn tilts his head back. "You keep saying that if it helps."

Zayn scratches his nails across the small of Liam's back. "Not happening," he groans. "This is— this is the last time."

"Mhm." Liam bends down, hands going to the back of Zayn's thighs, easily lifting him up. Zayn's legs automatically go around Liam's waist, and Liam adds, "Desk. Gonna fuck you on the desk, okay?"

Zayn nods. "Yeah."

Normally Zayn's laptop rests on the desk, but he'd put it away before he left. All that's on top of it now is one of his books, a pad of paper, and a single uncapped pen. Liam kicks the chair away and holds Zayn up with one hand while swiping the top of the desk clean, brushing everything to the floor like in a really bad porno.

It's not exactly gentle, the way Liam drops him heavily on top of the desk. But neither is the way Zayn claws at his back or bites at his skin when he tugs off Zayn's jeans and boxers, pushing a slicked-up finger into him. This time Liam drags it out, chuckles against Zayn's skin as he works him open slowly, Zayn feebly trying to hurry him up while biting down on the fleshy part of his palm to stop from making noises.

When Liam pushes into him, Zayn is holding himself up on the palms of his hands, legs around Liam's waist, and Liam has a hand fisted in his hair, grip just over the line of too tight. Zayn's back arches and his head falls back against nothing. When he comes it's with his sweaty back sticking to the wood of the desk, Liam's body blanketing his.

Afterwards, Liam pulls out and carefully lifts Zayn off the desk, dropping him gently onto his bed. Zayn collapses against it, too dead to the world to do much else. In the back of his mind he thinks that he should probably cover himself up, since he's lying here with his limbs spread, completely exposed, but he needs to clean himself up before he tugs the blankets over himself.

Liam tosses him a towel from across the room, and Zayn struggles to do just that. Sitting up takes effort. Moving his legs, which feel like jello, not strong enough to hold him, takes effort. Liam, on the other hand, seems fine as he pulls on his boxers, his back to Zayn.

"We should make this a thing," Liam says, conversationally, completely casually.

"We really shouldn't," Zayn grunts. "I told you, this was the last time."

Liam turns, then, and Zayn pulls his blankets over himself. "You keep saying that, but I think we both know you don't mean it. But really, we should… I mean, instead of fighting. What if we just — took our frustrations out like this? Seems to be working pretty well."

Zayn looks up at him with a frown. "You're suggesting we fuck instead of fight."

"Better than punching you in the face, I think." Liam shrugs and reaches for his shirt. "Seems like a good alternative."

"Like… friends with benefits," Zayn clarifies. "Minus the friends part."

"Exactly." Liam does up his jeans. "You think about it. I'm going out."

"Where?" Zayn asks before he can catch himself.

Liam gives him a weird look. "If that was any of your business, I would have told you," he says on his way out the door.

Across the room, Zayn's phone beeps and vibrates from the pocket of his jeans. He sits up, looking around, finding his clothes strewn about. One of his socks on Liam's bed, the other on Liam's dresser. His boxers hanging off just the end of his own bed, and jeans on the floor near his shirt. Fuck.

Slowly he crawls out of bed, gathering up his things. When he's got his boxers on, he pulls his phone out of his jeans and opens the message from Harry.

Just making sure you're ok?

Zayn sighs and sends back mostly naked and upset, but I'm fine.

The reply is almost instantaneous. Zayn can't figure out how he had enough time to write out the words told you not to fuk your roommate. Need me and lou to come cheer you up? in that short amount of time.

Zayn tells him no and then shuts off his phone. Harry's right; he did tell Zayn not to do it. And Zayn told himself not to do it. So why does doing it again sound like such a wonderful, brilliant idea?




"Nice alpaca, Louis."

Louis glares at Harry and covers his picture. "It's a dog," he hisses. "Asshole."

Zayn's pencil brushes over the page, shading more than creating rough, sharp edges. The class is, just as he'd wanted, fun. It's not exactly challenging for him, the way it is for, say, Louis, but it's still enjoyable. And it's only for an hour and a half twice a week, which isn't fucking with his schedule as much as he'd worried it would. Plus, he gets to spend the whole time at a table with Louis and Harry, laughing at Louis' failed attempts at drawing, encouraging Harry's hesitant but fairly talented works. Trying to ignore the fact that Liam's sitting right beside him.

Liam is as hopeless as Louis. He'd looked completely lost through the original instructions and the demo. He'd looked lost when the art student that was assigned to help them with this part of the class tried to help him. He's possibly worse than Louis, actually, but where Louis gets annoyed and snappish, Liam gets… pouty and frustrated.

"This is so stupid," Liam mutters.

Zayn sneers at him. "Just because you're not good at it doesn't make it stupid."

"Easy for you to say," Liam grumbles. "I can actually tell what yours is supposed to be. I'm helpless."

It's true. One hundred percent true. Even the instructor had attempted to help Liam before making a face and wandering off when she realized there was no helping him. Whatever he's drawing right now, it looks like a sort of lopsided blob with a nose. Or he thinks that's a nose. It could very well be a penis.

"I agree with Liam," Louis decides. He puts down his pencil. "Drawing is stupid. I can't wait until Monday when we start sculpting."

"It's not completely stupid," Harry argues. "I mean, not completely, right?"

Louis grabs Harry's picture from him, holding it up to his face. "Okay, not completely," he relents. "But that's because you're talented. Really talented, Harry. We're hanging this up in the room, in fact. Maybe we'll put it on the door next to the whiteboard, for everyone to appreciate."

Harry beams. Zayn looks at the picture, opens his mouth, and Louis kicks him under the table before he can say anything. Not that Zayn would say something bad. It's not a bad drawing at all. It's fairly good, for someone who walked in here with no knowledge of what they were doing. But it's not exactly good enough to warrant Louis' reaction to it.

Liam makes an annoyed sound and scratches his pencil harshly across his paper, scribbling out the practise drawings they'd been instructed to work on.

"Stop thinking so much," Zayn finds himself saying to Liam. "You're trying so hard to be perfect at it, but that's not going to just happen."

Liam looks up at him, lips parted. He shakes his head and the look disappears. "I'm terrible at it, and I'm sure you know and you're just waiting for the right time to laugh at me about it."

Why does that make him feel bad? "You are terrible," Zayn admits, and Liam's eyes narrow. "No worse than Louis, though."

"Rude," Louis says from across the table. "Factual, but rude."

That doesn't seem to help Liam, who drops his pencil onto the table. "It's humiliating," he says. "I'm not just bad, it's —"

Zayn grabs a new piece of paper and shoves it at him. "So start over." Liam gingerly takes the paper from him. "Did you honestly think you could just, like, pick up a pencil and magically be perfect at it?"

"Maybe," Liam admits. "If I'm not good at it the first time around, I probably won't ever be. I'm shit at learning things."

Zayn snorts before he can stop himself. "That's not surprising at all."

Zayn is busy focusing on his drawing of a bird (trying to replicate Harry's chest piece on his paper) to see the look on Liam's face, but he doesn't miss Liam's low, annoyed, "Right. This is just another thing that makes you better than me."

Finally Zayn looks up, but Liam's got his eyes on his own paper now, focusing with his eyebrows drawn and his bottom lip sucked into his mouth. Zayn isn't sure how to reply to that comment, so he doesn't. He goes back to drawing, Liam continues to work on his own, and Louis keeps praising Harry while making lame attempts at creating something on his own page.

Eventually the instructor comes back around. She smiles pleasantly at Harry, wrinkles her forehead at Louis' 'dog' that honestly does look more like an alpaca than anything, and then compliments Zayn's birds before moving on to Liam.

Liam, who's had his picture covered for the last twenty minutes, arm blocking Zayn from being able to see. Now, the instructor picks it up, and Liam's eyes stay on the table as she looks it over before flicking her gaze to Zayn. "The shape of his face is fairly accurate," she says. "The stubble along his jaw is a little heavy, but that's very hard to do. With a bit more practise, this could be great."

Liam goes bright red, taking the picture back from her before stuffing it hastily into his pocket. When she walks off, he pushes away from the table and heads for the door, Zayn staring after him.

"What did I miss?" Louis asks, looking between Zayn and the door.

Harry keeps drawing, but he says with a grin on his face, "Liam was secretly drawing Zayn and he didn't want anyone to know, but Malerie called him out on it and now he's stomped off because he's embarrassed." His tongue sticks out between his teeth, eyes scanning his own paper. "Do you really think this is good?"

"It's wonderful," Louis says automatically, but his eyes are on Zayn, the look on his face one Zayn doesn't fully understand.

"That's not what he's upset about," Zayn mumbles. "And he's wasn't drawing me. He's just pissy because he has a game coming up. That's how he always gets."

"Speaking of which," Louis says. "You're coming to that game with us."

"No, I'm not," Zayn says. "You know that I don't—"

"Look." Louis splays his hands flat on the table and gives Zayn this look, one that says not to argue. "He joined this stupid class for you, the least you could do is attend one of his games."

Zayn's mouth falls open. "He didn't join this class for me!" he protests.

"Please keep it down in the back," comes from the front of the room.

Zayn flushes red and lowers his voice, hissing, "He joined it to piss me off, that's all," while glaring at Louis.

"Same difference," Louis says. "Go to his game to piss him off, then. But you're going."

"I have homework," Zayn argues. "I don't have time."

"You can take a few hours out of your time at the library," Louis says, an air of finality in his words that says that Zayn will seriously regret arguing this. And that he'll drag Zayn to the game anyway, even if he doesn't want to go.

"Fine," Zayn snaps. "But I'm bringing my book with me. I'll read while you guys watch."

"Deal," Louis says happily.

"Maybe I'll drop out of school and become a street artist," Harry says, as if he hadn't heard a word of that argument. Louis and Zayn both snort at him.




One of the only days that Liam actually wakes up in the morning when Zayn does is game days. Every other day of the week, he grumbles about Zayn's "stupid fucking alarm" and tends to sleep in. Saturday is no exception to this rule, because Zayn hits his alarm, rolls over, and Liam's already out of bed, doing sit-ups.

"That's kinda hot," Zayn mumbles, mind too foggy with sleep to stop himself. He rubs at his eyes and stretches. "How are you even doing that right now?"

"Have to— keep myself— awake," Liam grunts.

Zayn blinks at him, taking in the slightly manic look on his face, hidden under the red flushed, sweat covered cheeks. "Did you sleep at all last night?"

"No," Liam says through panting breaths. "Too busy— freaking out."

"Over the game," Zayn says, just to clarify. He doesn't mean to sound judgemental about it, but it's kind of habitual, at this point. Liam makes fun of Zayn for doing his work and going to the library, Zayn makes fun of Liam for not doing his work and putting all of his focus into a stupid game.

"You wouldn't— understand, obviously." Liam glowers at him when he comes back up. Before Zayn can return the look, he lowers himself back down to the floor.

"Obviously," Zayn sneers. "Whatever. I'm going to take a shower."

"I won't be here when you get back," Liam says, still on the floor.

"I don't remember asking for your schedule," Zayn snips. He gathers his stuff for the shower and heads for the door. "You don't have to tell me every time you leave the room. But I'll see you at the game tonight."

Liam freezes, hands falling to the ground to hold himself up. "You're coming to the game?" he asks, completely emotionless.

Zayn shrugs. "Don't have a choice. Louis is pushy, and he told me I was coming with him."

"Right." Liam nods, expression still unreadable.

Zayn slips out the door, but just before it closes shut behind him, he hears a thud and looks back to see Liam lying flat against the ground, arm thrown over his face as he lets out an exhausted, stress filled groan.

When Zayn gets back to the room, he's in the exact same position, only he's fast asleep. Zayn bites the inside of his lip, considering leaving him like that. He's not Liam's babysitter, okay? But he goes over to Liam anyway and kicks him lightly in the shins. "Liam," he says. "You need to at least get in bed."

Liam's eyes open slowly, lids heavy. He reaches out a hand while yawning without covering his mouth. "Help me up?"

Zayn groans. Seriously? He puts out his hand, and then he's being tugged to the ground. Liam breaks the fall with his body, Zayn landing directly on top of him. He doesn't stay there for long, though, because Liam's turning them over easily, trapping Zayn against the floor. He slides a hand through Zayn's hair, grinning and suddenly wide awake. "You're still wet."

"I just got out of the shower," Zayn says, barely enough air in his lungs. "Now get off me. I have to get to the library. I have this group project to work on, and I can't be late."

Liam rolls his eyes. "Nothing I can do to persuade you not to go?" he asks.

"No," Zayn says with conviction. "Now get off me." He shoves at Liam's shoulders until Liam's weight disappears. He takes a halting breath and gets up, just as Liam grabs his own bag of shower stuff before stomping out of the room, slamming the door behind himself. What the fuck caused that?

Whatever. It's not Zayn's problem, whatever it is. He has to hurry to brush his hair and change before running out the door, and he doesn't have time to worry about Liam. Plus, he doesn't worry about Liam in general, whether he has time to or not. Right?


No matter how much rushing he does, somehow he's still late to the group meeting. And somehow that is only the beginning. Since he's late, the others send him off to get coffee, which makes no sense to Zayn because, like, shouldn't someone be filling him in on what he missed instead of making him miss even more? But he doesn't complain because they're right, he should have been there on time like the rest of them.

At the coffee shop the barista screws up one of the orders and he has to go back, and the line is so long that by the time he gets the new drink the others are cold. And then Zayn goes to bring the coffee into the library, but Nancy stops him with a regretful, apologetic, "Remember the rules, Zayn."

"No food or drinks," Zayn deadpans. There's no way the group he was meeting with didn't know that, so what the fuck was the point of them sending him to get the drinks?

With an annoyed sound Zayn steps back outside and texts Lisa, the only person in the group whose number he'd thought to get. She says they forgot about the drink ban, and tells him to just leave the drinks.

About twenty dollars worth of drinks, just left there on the steps outside the library, which is such a waste that it makes his hands curl into fists. And when he gets to the table at the back of the library, they're all chuckling while pretending to work. It makes Zayn want to scream, it really does, but he also feels like crying, for some absurd reason. It's like they've decided that one of them has to be the butt of the joke today, and since Zayn was late, he's it.

But they can't just exclude him from everything, not when the group project is such a big part of their final grade. So when they divvy out things for people to do, Zayn gets stuck with research, but at least they're letting him help. "We'll need that done by tomorrow when we meet up," Jason says. "The research is integral to the rest of the project. Without it, we can't move forward."

Zayn blinks at him. "You've asked me to read three different books," he says quietly. "That's not even possible."

"Make it possible, then."

Zayn opens his mouth, but the four of them give him expectant, challenging looks, like they want him to fail, for some reason. Like they want him to admit he can't do it. And while he has no idea what he did to earn this kind of treatment, he hasn't lived with Liam for months without learning how to school his anger. So he takes calming breaths, scoops up his books and the rest of the stuff he'd brought with him, and nods curtly. "I'll have it done by tomorrow."

He feels like hell when he gets back to the room. All he wants to do is sleep forever, but he can't. He has to start working now, if he wants to ever get this done. And he has to get it done tonight, if only to prove to those pricks that he can.

By the time Louis knocks on his door before bursting into the room, Zayn's head is killing him and his hand is cramped from taking notes. "What do you want?" he croaks. "'m busy."

Louis gives him a very pointed look, raising his eyebrows while he does. It takes Zayn almost a whole minute to notice the paint streaking his cheeks. The shirt he's wearing with the school colours. "The game," Louis adds, in case Zayn is too slow to remember. "The one you agreed to come to."

Zayn rubs a hand over his face. "I can't," he says. "I really, really can't, Lou."

"Why the hell not?" Louis demands. "You've known about it for days!"

"That was before I was swamped with work," Zayn snaps. "I can't. I have to read three fucking books by tomorrow at nine, and I don't even know how I'm going to manage that even if I work non-stop until then. I don't have time to go to a stupid fucking football game."

Louis blinks in surprise. "But you told Liam you'd go," he tries feebly. "He'll be disappointed."

Zayn scoffs. "He'd be happier if I didn't go," he says. "A lot happier. And how did you even know that I told him?"

"None of your business," Louis says with a grin. "Now seriously, put that shit away and get ready. We have, like, five minutes. Harry's saving our seats, and it'll take us time to get to them, and we don't want to miss the beginning."

Why couldn't he have made friends and roomed with someone more like him? He loves Louis, he honestly does, but Louis doesn't get it. Louis slacks almost as much as Liam, most of the time. He doesn't understand that Zayn can't just beg off work and do it later. It's not an option for him. "I'm not going," he says, both exhausted and apologetic. "I really can't."

Maybe it's how stressed he looks, maybe it's how exhausted he sounds, or maybe it's just Louis being a good friend, but the other boy nods slowly at Zayn, already backing out of the room. "It's fine," he says. "If you need anything, text me. And if you change your mind, we'll save you a seat."

"I won't," Zayn says, "but thanks."

Louis shuts the door behind himself, and Zayn rests his face against the open book, letting out a long, drawn out groan of frustration. As soon as that's out of the way, he lifts his head and gets back to work.

The sky outside his small window goes from a bright, cloudless blue to a darkening navy, stars already pricking the sky despite the fact that the sun is still feebly hanging in the air. Zayn finds himself staring out the window for longer than he can really afford to, but then he shakes his head and gets back to work.

Only, the longer he works the angrier he gets. Why does he always have to be the one sacrificing something? Why does he always have to give up something to focus on school and work and everything while everyone else gets to have a good time? How is that fair? And maybe he didn't even want to go to the game. Maybe he doesn't give a flying fuck about it, but it's the principle of the matter, isn't it?

And that train of thought is why Zayn finds himself slipping into an uncomfortable plastic seat, cramped between Louis and some guy that does not look happy to see him there. "You came!" Louis says happily. He slings an arm over Zayn's shoulder. "I knew you would."

"I'm going to be so fucked tomorrow because of this," Zayn admits. "But yeah, I'm here."

Louis pulls him closer, and Harry leans forward in his seat to grin at him and say, "Liam's number seventeen, in case you're wondering."

Zayn's eyes flit over the field. He has no idea what the fuck is happening, honestly, but he spots Liam in the distance, his jersey spread taut over his protective pads, the pants of his uniform hugging him tightly. Zayn hasn't ever actually seen him in full gear before but it's, uh. It's a good look on him, actually. "Why would I care?" he says anyway. "I'm not here for Liam."

"Sure you're not," Louis teases.

"I'm here because you didn't give me much of a choice," Zayn reminds him. "And I was ready to pull my hair out from my work. I needed a break."

Despite those words, he keeps his eyes on Liam the whole game. People cheer, people boo, and Zayn can't tell what makes them do one or the other. All he knows is that Liam's a red and white blur on the field at times, and at one point someone slams hard into him and everyone in the immediate area goes quiet. Zayn stands up, not exactly sure why he does, hands clenched into fists. He doesn't sit back down until Liam's back on his feet.

When the whole team converges near the benches, Liam jogs towards the group and pulls his helmet off. There are so many people in the stands, and there's no way he notices Zayn out of all of them, but he's looking in Zayn's direction, a grin on his face until Niall elbows him in the side.

At some point more than half of the people in the stands erupt in cheers, and Zayn looks around, dazed, about ready to cover his ears from the onslaught of sound. "What the fuck happened?" he yells at Louis.

"We won!"

Maybe attending football games on a regular basis isn't something Zayn's about to do, but even he has to admit that there's something… thrilling about it. He's going to have to look up online later to see what he's missing, to figure out what happened on the field below so that next time (if there's a next time) he'll feel a little more in the loop.

Getting out of the stands isn't exactly fun, though. There are so many people, everyone rushing to get out first. Louis' hands are on his shoulders, but Zayn's still having difficulty moving through the throng of people. Somehow they manage it, though, and Zayn breathes a sigh of relief when he's no longer worried about being trampled.

"So?" Louis asks. "Fun or what?"

Zayn shrugs, lips twitching. He zips his sweater up higher and says, "It's freezing out here."

"What about the game, though?" Harry asks. "Did you like it?"

Again, Zayn shrugs. "I don't really know what happened."

"Neither do I," Harry admits. "I've sat through countless games and I'm still lost."

"I've explained the game to you hundreds of times," Louis says with a frown. "How do you still not get it?"

"It's hard to listen to what you're saying when you talk about things that you like," Harry replies. "You get excited and I'm too busy watching the way you wave your hands or your eyes get all bright; it's cute."

Louis glares at him, and Zayn laughs. "If you think I'm going to forgive you for ignoring me," Louis says, "just because you called me cute, you're sadly mistaken."

"I need to get back to my room," Zayn says, before this can turn into an actual argument. Or before they can do that disgusting thing they do where they tease each other and act like there's no one else in the world but the two of them. "I've got work to do."

"Okay," Louis says, but he's got his eyes on Harry. "I think we're going to go get something to eat. If we get pizza I'll drop a slice off for you later."

"Thanks," Zayn says. "See you."

Louis and Harry barely bother waving him off. They head in the opposite direction, while Zayn heads for his dorm. Just like there always is, people are loud in the halls, celebrating and partying (even though alcohol is banned from the dorms, technically, but that doesn't ever seem to stop anyone). Zayn doesn't let it get to him as he walks down the hall, head ducked. As soon as he gets to his room, he finds his iPod and headphones, and he cranks the volume up so all he can hear is his music before he gets back to work.

Zayn figures it's well into the night when Liam comes home, since he never gets back early on game days, and it feels like he's been working for days on this stupid reading. When he looks at the alarm clock, it's only a little after ten, though. Which is really weird, but Zayn doesn't have the time to wonder why the fuck Liam's here. He doesn't have the time to even acknowledge Liam's presence; so he doesn't.

Until Liam pulls out his headphones while falling onto his bed. Zayn jumps, startled, and glares down at him. "What do you want? Why are you even here?"

Liam yawns. "Tired," he explains. "Need to sleep. Can't party tonight."

"So sleep," Zayn hisses. He goes to put his headphones back in, but Liam reaches for them again. Zayn groans, more to himself than at Liam. "I really don't have time for your shit right now, okay? I'm swamped."

Liam props himself up on his elbow. "With what?" he asks.

"This group project shit," Zayn says. "They piled on the work for me because, I don't know, they all hate me or something. I don't have time to blink right now, let alone talk with you. So if you're going to sleep, do it. But if you're going to stay awake and bug me, I swear I'll kill you."

"Okay, fine." Liam collapses against the bed, like he's actually going to leave Zayn alone. But then he asks, "Did you have fun at the game?"

"What? I— I don't know. I guess." Zayn shakes his head. "Leave me alone."

Just before he gets his headphones back in, he hears a soft, whispered, "I'm happy that you came." He doesn't have time to think about it, though. Doesn't have time to dwell on what that means, why Liam would say it. He gets back to work and forgets all about Liam Payne.




On Sunday Zayn doesn't wake up to his alarm. On Sunday Zayn wakes to someone gently shaking his shoulders, while his face is pressed against the inside of a book, bending one of the pages. It takes him a long, disoriented moment to realize who he is, where he is, who's touching him.

"Zayn," Liam says softly. "Your alarm went off half an hour ago. I don't think you meant to fall asleep."

Zayn blearily looks up at him, and then he sneezes. It's the sneeze that wakes him up. He only just has time to cover his face before it happens, and it seems to rattle his entire brain, which feels like it weighs ten times the amount it had yesterday. Yesterday, when he'd fallen asleep in the middle of his work. He remembers shutting his eyes at four for just a second and—

"No," Zayn moans. "No, no—" His eyes cut to the alarm clock, reading the blinking 9:13. "I'm late. I'm fucking late. I need to—" He jumps up, pushing Liam out of the way as he gathers his things. "Fuck, how did I fall asleep?"

"You look exhausted," Liam says gently. He puts a hand on Zayn's shoulder, stilling him. "I think you should go back to bed."

"Go back to bed," Zayn repeats. "Yeah, sure, that's exactly what I'm going to do." He rolls his eyes and flits across the room, grabbing his bag. He stuffs everything inside it. "I don't have a choice. I know that you don't give a fuck about this shit, but some of us can't just coast by because we're good at throwing a ball or something. Some of us actually have to work, Liam, okay? I know it must be fucking awesome in your world where you can just sleep in all day and not do anything, but I can't—"

Liam gets back into his bed, pulls the blankets over himself, and turns his back to Zayn without a word.

Zayn hurries to pull a hat on over his horrible-looking hair, and then he's running out the door, not sparring a single look back at Liam. When he gets to the library he's breathless and sweating, even if it's freezing outside. He only has time to lift his hand in a short wave for Nancy before he's hurrying through the room, heading for the tables at the back.

The whole group is there already, bent over books and papers and the works. Zayn skids to a halt, bag slipping off his shoulder, and they all look up at him before the first one cracks, letting out a smothered laugh. And then they're all laughing, looking at him like he's crazy.

"Christ," one of them says. "Did you really try to do all that work last night?"

"We were joking, Zayn!" another one says. "No one actually expected you to do all that."

"We thought you'd realize," Lisa adds, the only one who looks a little guilty. "Didn't think you'd actually attempt it."

Zayn blinks at them. "W-what?"

"We have until next week," Lisa explains. "You realize that, right? Yesterday we were all just exchanging numbers, really. Talking about the outline of what we were going to do. No one's started anything yet. Today's meeting was going to focus on distributing the research work, and then Tuesday we're all going to meet up and pile it together."

Zayn just — "What? But I- I was up until four because—"

"Shit, he really did! He actually tried to do it."

Slowly, Zayn collapses in a seat. The other three continue laughing at his expensive, but Lisa pats his shoulder and gives him a wide-eyed, apologetic look. "It was just a joke," she says. "Sorry if we took it too far."

But they don't seem all that sorry, really. Zayn's just too fucking exhausted to get upset over it. So instead he sinks lower in his chair and tries to pay attention to everything they say. And as soon as he can, he leaves, not saying a goodbye to any of them.

It isn't until he's back in his room, shutting his door behind himself that he cracks. He makes it to the bed, dropping his bag in the middle of the room as he goes, and then collapses onto it. He buries his head in his hands and tries to school the burning in his eyes, the lump in his throat. Fuck he feels like an idiot. Or maybe he's just so overtired that he's getting emotional. That happens, sometimes, but it doesn't really matter why it's happening. What matters is that it is happening. He's crying.


"Not right now, Liam," Zayn pleads. "Just — make fun of me later, okay?"

Zayn's bed dips, and the next thing he knows, gentle hands are rubbing circles against his back. "What happened?"

He has no idea why he does it, but he finds himself uncovering his face and answering the question. "They just — they made me feel like an idiot."

Liam's expression smoothes out into an indifferent one. "Not fun when that happens, huh?"

Now Zayn's eyes are wet and red, his voice is thick with repressed tears, and guilt churns his stomach. "Liam, I'm—"

"Don't apologize when you don't mean it," Liam says roughly. He gets off the bed, and Zayn shivers, wishing those hands were still rubbing his back. "I have to— I need to go."

"Go where?"

"Anywhere but here," Liam says, barely audible, before he leaves the room.

Zayn stares at the closed door, trying to sort out how he feels. But he can't, and he's too tired, so he pulls his blankets in around him and prays for sleep to come before he can dwell on everything that's happened today.




The weeks leading up to the holidays are sort of stressful for everyone, even Liam, apparently. Harry has even taken to spending as much time in the library as Zayn, and they're not the only ones. It's more packed during the weeks leading up to exams and the holidays than it has been all year. Twice, even Louis slumps into a chair at their table, and on one single occasion, so does Liam.

Zayn and Liam also fuck. A lot. It's like they've just silently agreed to Liam's suggestion to hook up instead of fight, which isn't exactly a good idea. The bad thing (or maybe it's a good one, but Zayn refuses to think of it that way just yet) about it is that they both know how to push each other's buttons so easily. They know how to rile each other up, how to get the other going. And it's like they do it on purpose now. It's like they irritate each other just so they can have an excuse to rip each other's clothes off. Once it's because Zayn turns his pages too loudly as he reads; another time it's because Liam left the door unlocked. They're not even valid excuses, at this point. They just rip into each other for the dumbest things, and it inevitably ends with both of them sweating and panting and naked.

Which isn't exactly helping with Zayn's stress, because he spends more time naked with Liam than he can really afford to.

The only time that any of them seem to relax their shoulders, in fact, is in the art class. They move on from drawing to sculpting, and it's fun. It's ridiculous, too. Zayn leaves every day with clay caked under his fingernails, and even having Liam there doesn't bring him down. Not when he's the most helpless artist Zayn's ever met.

Drawing definitely wasn't Liam's thing, but neither is sculpting. It's almost comical, how bad he is. Only Zayn pities him, a little. And he finds himself offering to help with the sculpting, though he doesn't know why. Liam shows him what he's trying to do, and Zayn tries to show him what he does wrong.

Except Zayn is kind of helpless with the sculpting too, admittedly. "That looks worse than it did when I started," Liam teased one of the times Zayn tried to help. "What even is that?"

"You said it was supposed to be a squirrel," Zayn had argued. "It looks like a squirrel!"

"It looks like a penis," Louis had snickered. "And I would know, since I'm actually trying to sculpt a penis."

"Mine looks like a penis, too," Harry added. "But that's because it's supposed to be a banana."

"You've ruined my whole sculpture, Zayn," Liam joked. He'd pinched Zayn's side, too, and Zayn had squealed like a little girl before swatting his hand away.

"Look at them flirting," Louis had cooed. "Aw."

After that, Zayn stopped offering his help. And they eventually moved on from sculpting to painting. Unsurprisingly, Liam is just as terrible at painting as he was at everything else. Zayn, on the other hand, is great at painting. Well, not great. But he's better at it than everyone else sitting with him. Harry's bout of artistic talented is apparently limited to drawing; Louis had given up attempting to do good at any of this in the second week; Liam gets more paint on himself and the table than he does on his canvas, and what he does get on his canvas is just a mess. It sort of looks like a child did it, actually.

Before Zayn knows it, the art classes are coming to an end. In the last official class, the instructor stands at the front of the room and thanks them all for attending, and then explains what will happen next. "You have until Tuesday to complete a single showcase piece. You're free to use any of the mediums we've used in this class. On Tuesday morning we'll all meet here, each of you with your completed piece, and we'll set up a small gallery for everyone attending the Christmas party, which you all are invited to. Later in the evening, well give guests a chance to bid on your pieces. You're allowed to bid, as well, for any work that doesn't belong to you. Afterwards, the person whose piece brought in the most money will get a small prize. Any questions?"

Louis raises his hand, and she nods for him to go on. "What kind of prize are we talking here? Like money, or is it a five-dollar gift certificate for the school cafeteria?"

"That's a good question, Louis." She smiles brightly at all of them. "The prize will be two coupons for a free movie, popcorn, drink and candy at the local movie theatre, as well as a gift basket of goodies. Any other questions?"

A few people raise their hands, but Zayn tunes them out, too busy looking out the window. Snow falls in fat, wet flakes outside, and he smiles. He might hate the cold, and the winter, but he can't deny that it's pretty, the snow. As long as he's looking at it from the warmth of the indoors.

"Have you decided what you want to do?" Liam whispers to him.

Zayn blinks, pulling his gaze from the window. "Painting," he answers automatically. "I think."

"Painting of what?" Liam pushes.

Zayn thinks on it. He's had a vague idea for weeks, but he's not fully sure why. It's not even a good idea. It's so dumb, but he can't get it out of his head. "Our room, I think," he says, because he knows that he won't be able to do anything else. Not with the way it's been nagging at him since he first thought of it.

"Our room," Liam repeats. "Huh."

"What about you?"

Liam shrugs. "No idea," he says. "I'm sort of terrible at it all, you know? Either way it's going to be bad."

"You're not—" Liam gives him a pointed look, and he cuts himself off. "Okay, you're horrible."

Liam doesn't even look offended. He just shrugs and brushes it off, probably because they both know it's true, and there's no point arguing with that.




On the Monday before the Christmas party, Zayn comes into their room to find it completely trashed. It's not like it had been that time the guys from the other team broke in and left silly string and shaving cream everywhere, though. It's a more controlled mess.

There's a lumpy clay thing on Liam's dresser. There are balls of bunched up paper thrown around the room. And there's newspaper covering every inch of the floor between the ends of their beds and the door. Newspaper that's topped with about ten different bottles of paint, three different paintbrushes, a single large canvas, and a defeated-looking Liam.

"What are you doing?" Zayn asks. "What did you do to our room?"

Liam looks up at him with wide brown eyes. "I can't do anything," he says. "I can't— I have to have this done by tomorrow and it's going to look like a five-year-old made it."

Zayn shuts the door, trying not to look as surprised as he feels. "You're still working on your piece for the show tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow," Liam groans. "God, I'm so fucked."

"Um." Zayn picks his way through the room, past Liam's mess. He drops his bag on his bed and sits on the edge of it. "What are you trying to do, exactly?"

Liam sighs. He pushes a hand through his hair and gestures at his dresser. "I tried sculpting again, but that was — that's just not happening. So I tried drawing, but it's almost as bad. So now I'm on my last chance: painting. Only I was just as bad at painting as I was at everything else, if you remember."

"Vividly," Zayn admits.

Liam glares at him. "So now what am I supposed to do? I've got to get this done so it can dry, and I only have one chance. If I screw it up, I don't have another canvas."

Zayn chews the inside of his lip. His own piece for the show is in the art room, where he'd left it. It's been done for two days now, and he's sort of proud of it. Proud of the contrast he'd captured between his and Liam's sides of the room. The difference between Liam's wall, with the poster of Jessica Alba and shelf with the sports trophy and the football sitting on it. With his messy clothes hanging off the edge of his unmade bed, and his bright red comforter. Contrasting with Zayn's plain black comforter and his immaculately made bed. With Zayn's shelf of books and comics, and the lack of clothes left around.

And then, the focus of the painting, the desk. With Zayn's work on it, but one of Liam's shirts hanging off the back of the chair, which is pulled out and not neatly tucked in. He likes it, the way the desk is the only shared item in the whole room, and the way they both had their own ways of staking claim to it.

He hadn't struggled much with it, but Liam's clearly struggling with his own. "What are you trying to paint?" Zayn asks him.

Liam shrugs. "I don't know. Does it even matter? Remember when I tried to paint that bowl of fruit? It looked like I'd done it with my fingers."

It had. It was a bunch of lopsided, colourful blobs, all sitting inside of one big, colourful blob. It was the worst of the class, hands down, and Zayn had laughed at it until Liam flushed red, and then he'd stopped because he felt like an asshole. It hadn't looked at all like the bowl of fruit that Liam had used as inspiration, though. And he has a point; it had sort of looked like a child made it.

"Maybe that's your problem," Zayn says slowly. "Maybe it's because you're trying too hard to replicate something."

Liam makes a face. "So what do you suggest I do, then? Just wing it?"

"No." Zayn shakes his head and slides off the bed to sit beside Liam on the newspaper. "I just — it doesn't have to look like something, you know? You keep trying to draw or paint or make a specific thing, but art doesn't always work that way. Sometimes you just have to feel, you know? Just do it and not worry about the end product, and it might turn out a million times better if you do."

Liam looks lost. "I have no idea what you even just said."

Zayn rolls his eyes and reaches for a paint brush and the red paint. He dumps a bit of red paint onto the newspaper beside him, dips the brush in it, and hands it over to Liam. "Just paint with it, don't think about it."

"You want me to just paint," Liam clarifies. "With nothing in mind. No guidelines."

Zayn nods. "Make a mess of it. Who cares. Just paint however you want. Use whatever colours you want. Use your hands, if you want. If you're trying to make it look like a mess, no one can judge you when it does because that's the point."

He has a feeling that the more he talks, the more confused Liam gets. But he watches as Liam hesitantly brings the red-tipped paintbrush to the canvas, and then he brushes a long, diagonal red swipe over it. When he's done, he looks back up at Zayn. "Now what?"

"Can I help?" Zayn asks. Liam nods, so he uncaps the blue and the green and the yellow, too, pouring a bit of each colour onto the newspaper so they can use them, and then he grabs his own brush. "Just paint, Liam."

Liam paints, and Zayn helps. Zayn sticks to the darker colours, like the navy blue and the burgundy and the rusted orange. Liam sticks to the bright yellows and the grassy greens. Zayn slides his brush carelessly over the canvas, colours swirling with Liam's. Liam uses careful, hesitant strokes. Until Zayn grabs his paintbrush by the bristles and flicks them back, splattering bright red all over the painting.

"You just—"

"Yep," Zayn says happily. "I told you, it doesn't matter. Just do whatever you think is going to look nice, and if it doesn't, well, who cares?"

Liam looks delighted by this. He dips his brush in the yellow and sprays it everywhere, and then he uses a clean brush to swirl together different parts of the painting until the colours mix and mingle. When there's no more white left on the canvas, Zayn drops his brush and grins down at it.

"Huh," Liam says.

"Huh," Zayn says.

It's kind of… interesting. It's not exactly nice, but it's not exactly bad. It's a mess, though. But maybe in a kind of abstract way that someone will find really interesting. That people will interpret as meaningful and deep because that's what people do with art, even if the artist never meant for it to be interpreted that way. The changing of colours works, though. And so does the way that they'd both taken such different approaches to it, because it's like half of the painting is fighting with the other half, one side all bright, happy, the other darker.

"I like it," Zayn decides.

"So do I," Liam admits. He carefully picks up the painting, leaning it against his dresser so it can dry. And then he falls back onto the newspaper next to Zayn, scoops up a bit of green paint, and wipes it along Zayn's jaw.

Zayn gasps, hand coming up to touch the side of his face. The paint is cold, and his fingertips come back green. Which means that actually happened. Liam just wiped paint on him. "What the fuck was that for?"

Liam laughs and leans back so he's resting on his hands. "You should see your face," he gets out through the laughter. "You look so— and the green—"

Zayn dips his entire hand in the red paint, and then he wipes it across Liam's shirt. "You should see your face," he mocks.

Liam gapes at him. "I didn't get it on your clothes!" he says heatedly. "This isn't going to come out!"

"You started it," Zayn reminds him. "Don't start something you can't finish next time, Liam."

That was probably the wrong thing to say. Liam sits up, hands sliding through the red and green and yellow paint until his entire palms are covered, and then he slaps his hands down on Zayn's thighs. When he lifts them, there are perfect, rainbow-coloured handprints in their wake, discolouring the thighs of Zayn's jeans.

"You're so dead," Zayn warns, making a beeline for the nearest bottle of paint. Only Liam gets to it first, and he pops the lid before dumping the entire bottle on Zayn. It slides down his shoulder, some gets in his hair, and his clothes are ruined. There's no way he's getting this out. "Liam!"

"'s a good colour on you," Liam smirks. "I like the blue."

Zayn tackles him back against the newspaper. Liam's stronger than him, though, and it's only a matter of seconds before he's being turned over, his back smearing in the paint covering the newspaper. Liam balances on top of him, easily holding all his weight so he doesn't crush Zayn, and he smiles. It's no longer a smirk; it's not teasing, or spiteful. It's just a bright, incredibly happy smile.

Zayn can feel that smile when Liam kisses him. It's gentle, soft, Liam's lips ghosting over his own. Liam's eyes are closed, too, his lashes brushing Zayn's cheeks. And Zayn goes with it, tilting his head to the side, parting his lips. There's no heat, though. There's no anger or anything else burning through him. There's just a pleasant, simmering warmth that makes his toes curl when Liam's tongue licks carefully into his mouth.

When Liam pulls back, his eyes dart between Zayn's for a moment before he goes back in, a little bolder in the way he pushes his lips against Zayn's, but never getting to that hurtful, almost violent stage that they always do. There's no hair pulling or scratching or shoving at each other. Liam's hand comes up to cup Zayn's jaw, thumb sliding over the green paint that covers his stubble.

Zayn pushes his hips up against Liam's, wanting them to move this along, if that's where it's going. He whines lowly, too, in case Liam doesn't get the message, and Liam pulls back, but only for a second.

This time his lips move to Zayn's jaw, the side without the paint. His teeth graze over it, but it's still more of a gentle sting than the normal rough, sharp bites he gets. "God, you're so…" Liam trails off in favour of kissing Zayn's neck.

"Annoying?" Zayn supplies. "Or — I think it's usually infuriating, the word you use."

"Mm." One of Liam's hands slip under his shirt. "I think the word I was looking for is beautiful, actually."

Zayn tries to pull back, but there's nowhere for him to go. His head hits the newspaper-covered floor with a thunk, and the pain of it feels like being doused in ice water while you're asleep. It wakes him up, clears away the fog in his mind. Liam is still kissing away at Zayn's neck, making content little noises. When he comes back up to Zayn's lips, there's blue paint on his chin now from where he'd poured it all over Zayn's shoulders.

"What?" Liam asks. "You look—"

Zayn shakes his head. He can't think past the word 'beautiful' echoing over and over in his mind. Did Liam really say that? No, he couldn't have. That wouldn't make sense. That's not what this is about. It's not about them liking each other. It's not even about them being attracted to each other (which they have to be, he knows, on some level, but still); it's always been about the fact that they piss each other off. Which is why there's always the hair tugging, the biting, the scratching. The gentle touches and soft brush of Liam's lips is throwing him off. It makes him feel unbalanced.

Liam kisses him again, and Zayn slides paint-covered hands up his back. He wants the shirt off, wants to decorate Liam's skin in an array of colours, so he fists his hands in Liam's shirt and tugs until it's gone, and Liam's kissing him again. Zayn stretches out his hand, searching for a bottle of paint. He dumps the contents out onto the newspaper and dips his hand in it before bringing it to Liam's back.

"Could we — do you think that you could — I mean, maybe we could switch it up this time," Liam stutters out, cheeks as red as the paint that Zayn's smudging against his shoulders.

Zayn frowns, moves his eyes to his hands, draws a tiny happy face on Liam's skin just because he can. "What was that, babe?"

Liam tucks his head into the crook of Zayn's neck, the one without paint there (for now, but he has a feeling that paint will coat both him and Liam by the time they're done with this). "Want you to fuck me this time," Liam mumbles. "Okay?"

Zayn shudders under him. He never thought Liam would ask for that, honestly. They've got a certain routine down. After the fighting, and the discarding of clothes, Liam lays him down on whatever surface he likes (his bed, Zayn's bed, the desk twice which makes doing his work hard because it's all he can think about when he's sitting at it) and fucks him, and that's just how they do it. "I've never, like…" Zayn trails off, embarrassed. He doesn't want to admit to Liam that he's never topped before, that he's afraid of being bad at it. "You should just—"

"Want you to," Liam moans. "Please."

Zayn closes his eyes and breathes, a little overwhelmed. He wants to, too, though. God, he wants to. Sometimes it's all he dreams about, fucking Liam. When he's not dreaming about Liam fucking him, that is. "I've got paint all over my hands," he says anyway.

"Go clean them," Liam urges, pulling back to give Zayn a serious look with too many emotions. Way too many emotions. "But leave the rest of it. I like it."

"Okay," Zayn says slowly. "You just— wait here, then."

Liam nods and rolls off him. Zayn scrambles to his feet, nearly running to the door. He almost trips, catches himself, and pulls it shut behind him before he can check if Liam noticed or not.

His head is spinning the whole way to the bathroom. He rushes to clean the swirls of paint off his hands, some of it dry but most of it still wet. When he's done he takes a look in the mirror. There's green on his face, blue on his neck, red and yellow and green on his clothes. He looks like he rolled around in a bunch of paint which, to be fair, is exactly what happened.

It's better to think about the state of his clothes than what's about to happen in the room, though, because if he thinks about it he'll get nervous. He doesn't want to get nervous. That's the upside to sleeping with someone you hate. When it's with someone you like, you worry about it. You worry about whether or not it'll be good for them. Worry if they'll hate the way your thighs look naked, or if they'll wrinkle their nose at the less desirable parts of your body. If they'll hate the way you kiss, or the way you touch them. You worry about not being good enough because all you want to do is please them. But sex with someone you can't stand is so much easier, because if they don't like something about you, who the fuck cares? You're not trying to please them. You're just trying to get off.

And that's what it's been with Liam, just the two of them needing an outlet, and using each other. Or that's what it's supposed to be, right? Zayn can't handle it being anything else.

When he gets back to the room, Liam is completely naked, still lying on the floor. Just like Zayn, he's covered in different colours. It mingles with his tanned, toned skin, and Zayn takes a soft breath as he shuts the door, admiring him. He can't help it. He gets to touch that, is the thing. He gets to kiss Liam and run his fingertips over the planes of his stomach, over his delicious thighs. He gets to scratch his nails into Liam's back and bite at that ridiculously plump bottom lip of his. And he's never, until this point, realized how lucky he is.

"Hurry up," Liam whines. "Why are you just standing there?"

"Right, sorry." Zayn scurries towards the desk, stepping over knocked over bottles of paint and Liam's body. He pulls open the bottom drawer, grabs Liam's stash of lube and condoms, and then he hesitates. What's he supposed to do here? Where does he start?

"Why am I the only one naked?" Liam wonders, arching an eyebrow.

That's as good a place as any, Zayn thinks. He drops the lube and condom onto one of the only places without paint, and then he strips off his jeans and his shirt, while Liam blinks up at him with his lip caught between his teeth. His eyes rake down Zayn's body when Zayn slips off his boxers, too, and then he leans forward, dragging paint-covered hands over Zayn's skin.

"I think I'd be a great artist," he says, hands slipping between Zayn's thighs but never going too high, "if I could always paint like this, instead of on a canvas."

"Are we going to fuck on the floor, then?" Zayn asks, trying to sound less shaken by the way Liam's touching him than he is.

It feels — intimate. This hasn't ever felt intimate before. Fuck, Liam's pounded into him on multiple occasions without it feeling intimate. So how is him just… touching Zayn lightly so much more than that?

"Yeah," Liam says thickly. "On the floor."

Zayn drops to his knees, and it's not exactly comfortable, being on the floor. But every time one of them shifts, paint gets everywhere and Zayn likes it, even if it's not practical.

Liam pulls him into another kiss, fitting Zayn easily between his spread legs. The paint on Zayn's thighs spreads to Liam, getting caught in the hairs that cover both of their legs. They're a mess, the two of them, and Zayn thinks it's more than just the paint. This whole thing is a mess, what they're doing.

"Come on," Liam urges, smacking at his back. "Hurry up."

Zayn kisses him, just because, while feeling around blindly for the lube. He finds it, fumbling with the lid, and slicks up his fingers as he moves down Liam's chest, kissing the whole way because… that's how he'd like it, right? Maybe he never gets it like that, never gets someone's lips tasting every inch of his skin (not just with Liam, but with— no, he's not thinking about that right now), but that's how he'd like it, if he got to dictate how these things went every time.

There's a moment of hesitance when he slides his slicked fingers between Liam's cheeks, but Liam's panting, looking down at him expectantly, and he pushes it away. Even if he knows, deep down, that something's changing here, right now. Maybe not in this exact moment, but if they continue with this, something will break. That precarious balance they've had will tip towards one side, and he's not sure what that means. Not sure what will happen. All Zayn knows is that something will happen.

He pushes one of his fingers into Liam anyway. He's tight, clenching around the digit. Zayn looks into his eyes, worried that he did something wrong, but then Liam lets out a low moan and rocks his hips down, and Zayn takes that as a sign to keep going. It's a little fumbled, not as rushed and easy as it is when Liam does it to him. Liam's always been quiet in bed, even when Zayn's moaning and whimpering; right now, though, he's got his head tipped back and he's being so loud, moaning, encouraging Zayn every step of the way.

He looks beautiful like this, Liam. Paint-covered, sweat-blanketed skin. Eyes squeezed closed, lips open in a silent moan. Stomach muscles clenched, fingers curling against the newspaper. Thighs spread wide, trembling on either side of Zayn every so often. Two of Zayn's fingers slowly pushing and pulling in and out of him; his length neglected, curving up towards his stomach, hard and almost painful looking.

Zayn carefully curls his fingers, tries to find that spot inside of Liam. He knows when he does, watches Liam's jaw go slack and his whole body shake. "G-god," Liam moans. "Do that again."

Zayn tries to, and when he succeeds Liam falls heavily back against the newspaper. Zayn has to reach a hand down, wrap a tight hand around himself to relieve the pressure because he feels like he's going to burst and he hasn't even gotten inside Liam yet.

Liam's so pliant under him, too. Zayn is never like that. Zayn's bossy and bitchy, whining when Liam takes too long, complaining when he doesn't hurry up, trying to dictate how Liam fucks him because that's just how he is. Liam, on the other hand, just takes it when Zayn slows down, scissoring his fingers, dragging them out slowly. He keens when Zayn speeds up, stretching him with another finger, going with whatever Zayn gives him and moaning shamelessly the whole time.

"Are you good?" Zayn asks. If things were different, if this weren't about getting each other off as fast as possible so they can clean up, get dressed, pretend like it never happened (the way they always do), and if Zayn wasn't so desperate to fuck Liam right this second, he thinks he'd like to see how long it'd take to get Liam to come like this. Or how long until Liam finally reverted back to his normal self and took over, pushing Zayn onto his back and riding him.

"Get up here," Liam says instead of answering the question. Zayn grabs the condom, first. There's difficulty with opening it, and he's so fucking nervous that he has trouble getting it on, too. But he manages, and then he crawls up Liam's body, fit perfectly between his legs. He opens his mouth, but Liam talks before he can. "I know what you're about to say, and I'll let you know if you hurt me."

"Okay." Zayn kisses his forehead before he pushes in, but then he freezes, eyes widening. That's not something they do, is it? They don't kiss each other like that. They kiss each other like they want to hurt one another. Like they want to leave bruises from their lips and draw blood with their teeth. Kissing Liam on the forehead is… gentle, off. It's not how they do this. "Sorry—"

"For what?" Liam asks.

For kissing you like this means something. But he can't say that, so instead he shakes his head. He lines himself up with Liam's body, and Liam's legs go around his waist. Liam gets a pinched look on his face when Zayn pushes into him, but he never tells Zayn to stop, so Zayn keeps going, bottoming out in one smooth glide.

They lie there like that for a long moment, both of them trying to calm down. When Zayn thinks he can move without ending this whole thing in a matter of about, oh, two seconds, and Liam no longer looks like he's going to cry, Zayn slowly moves his hips back. Liam's so fucking tight, clenching around Zayn, his legs like a vice, too.

When Zayn's confident he's not hurting Liam, or screwing this up, he gets bolder. Moves a little faster, thrusts in a little harder. Liam tugs at his hair, pulls him down into a sloppy kiss. Zayn angles his hips differently, and Liam's free hand reaches for nothing as he lets out this sound that puts the most beautiful instruments to shame.

His eyes go wide, too, but he's looking beside them. Zayn turns his head, sweaty hair falling over his forehead. They're closer to the dresser than Zayn thought, and Liam's hand had slid against the still drying painting. Zayn can perfectly see where Liam's fingers hit the painting, and the trail of where they'd dragged over it before slipping off.

"Fuck," he moans.

"I don't care," Liam assures him, sounding almost frantic. "I don't care, just—"

Zayn nods hastily, hands gripping Liam's thighs. He blankets Liam's body with his own, lips finding Liam's neck as he fucks into him, no longer trying to find the right rhythm, no longer thinking about anything but how fucking good this feels and how good Liam sounds underneath him.

Liam comes before Zayn can pull up and get a hand around him, like he was planning on doing. It's so unexpected, the way he shudders and tightens almost painfully around Zayn, that Zayn comes only seconds later, trying to find something to hold onto. He can't, though, so he instead bites down on Liam's shoulder the way Liam always does to him as his orgasm pulses through him.

Zayn slowly pulls out of Liam, still worried about hurting him. When things are reversed, this is where Liam would get up and walk away from him, throw out the condom and get dressed. Zayn can't. Instead he flops onto the ground next to Liam, whose chest is rising and falling rapidly.

They're both still catching their breath when Liam's hand grabs his own. He twines their fingers together, squeezing lightly. It's too much.

Zayn sits up fast, Liam's hand releasing his own instantly. The next ten minutes are so awkward. The two of them cleaning up their bodies, and then Zayn getting dressed while Liam cleans up the newspapers. Zayn can't stay to watch that, not when Liam's still mostly naked, save for his boxers.

"I need a shower," he says. Excuses, really. "There's paint everywhere. I'll, um, be back later."

Liam waves him off. "I'll still be cleaning when you get back, so."

Zayn nods and slips out the door. He can't meet anyone's eyes on the way to the bathroom, and he doesn't look at himself in the mirror this time. He just strips off his clothes and gets under the hot water, letting it wash away the paint and sweat and Liam.

The issue, of course, isn't that he had sex with Liam. Even switching it up, reversing the roles, isn't the problem, because he thinks it shouldn't matter, really, who fucks who. It's still sex that's supposed to not mean anything.

And that's the problem. It's not supposed to mean anything. There aren't supposed to be… feelings. But there are. There are. They threaten to strangle Zayn, cutting off his airways. He leans against the tiles of the shower wall, trying to force them away, trying to think past them. He can't.

It's impossible to control your feelings. You can tell yourself you don't have them; you can pretend, put on a mask of indifference and tell the world that they're not there, but they are. It's impossible to escape them, no matter how desperately you wish to.

"Fuck," Zayn groans. He tugs at his hair, but that only makes him think of Liam doing it. Which only makes him think of Liam's lips gently pressed against his own. Of Liam calling him beautiful. Of Liam, Liam, Liam. He can't get the guy out of his head, but that's nothing new. Liam's always been like that, always forced himself into Zayn's thoughts, only those thoughts are supposed to be laced with hatred.

So why aren't they anymore?




Zayn leaves for home a little earlier than he'd planned. Technically all his exams are done, but he was planning on leaving Friday, since that was the day Louis and Harry were both heading home. But when he wakes up Tuesday morning, not exactly early but not late, since they don't have to be in the art room for another few hours, to find paint still caked under his nails, he can't breathe.

And when Liam gets up a little later, after Zayn's showered and dressed for the day, and he says, "Hey, do you think I could talk to you tonight? After the auction?" Zayn feels like he's being suffocated. Like Liam's wrapped those hands of his, with the long, thick fingers, tightly around Zayn's throat.

"Talk about what?" Zayn asks, careful to keep his tone neutral.

Liam shrugs. "Just something. I'll get your number off Niall and text you."

Zayn goes to protest, but there's really no reason to, is there? Not one, aside from the heavy weight on Zayn's chest. "Okay."

Liam nods and Zayn grabs his iPod and turns it up so he can pretend to ignore Liam until they have to be in the art room to set up their stuff. But Zayn's never been very good at ignoring Liam, and now is no exception. Especially when he gets out of bed, completely naked. There's still a bit of paint on certain parts of his skin, little swatches, reminders of what happened. He heads for his dresser, and Zayn bites his lip, pointedly not looking at his ass except— okay, he does. Fuck.

Slowly, Liam pulls on his boxers. He does it deliberately, tugging them up his legs with a little twist of those hips. Zayn's eyes narrow, his head cocking to the side, and Liam reaches for a pair of jeans, does the same thing, buttoning them painstakingly slow. He forgoes the shirt, heading back for his bed once he's done. He falls onto it, grabbing his phone from on top of the desk, and then he lies there like that, propped up on his side, looking fucking ridiculous.

Ridiculously attractive, but Zayn doesn't want to think about that. So he gets out of bed, leaving his headphones on, and leaves the room.

Louis and Harry are still asleep when Zayn gets to their room. Louis answers the door in one of Harry's shirts (he thinks, but the two of them share so often it's nearly impossible to tell) and a pair of boxers, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "What?" he sighs. "What do you want? It's too early for me to like you right now. Come back later."

Zayn pushes into the room anyway. Harry is half awake in bed, rubbing at his eyes like Louis had. Only he tries to smile weakly at Harry, which Louis hadn't bothered, and he also doesn't kick Zayn out. So Zayn crawls into bed beside him, getting right under the blankets and everything.

Harry's bed smells like him; like that cologne he wears every day, but also distinctly like cinnamon rolls (weird, but delicious). Zayn tucks his head against Harry's chest and breathes it in while Harry rubs at his back, not even asking what he's doing, which is why Zayn had come here for him, not Louis. Louis would ask; Harry just comforts automatically and lets him work it out on his own.

"I shouldn't have slept with my roommate," Zayn groans against him.

"You definitely shouldn't have," Harry agrees.

"I think I like him." Zayn pulls back, looking up at Harry with pleading eyes, begging Harry to tell him that's not true; Zayn can't like Liam. Nope. Impossible. Incomprehensible.

But Harry only nods sympathetically. "We know."

"How did this happen?" Zayn wonders. "How did I let this happen?"

"I don't think you had much say in it," Louis says from the other bed. "He's kind of great, when you get to know him, Zayn. And he's fucking gorgeous. Like, straight out of GQ material."

"You're not helping," Zayn grumbles. "And I hate him, remember? I hate him. I'm afraid to not hate him. What happens if I don't hate him? Then what?"

"You're already fucking," Louis points out. "You're halfway there."

"Halfway to what?"

"A relationship."

Zayn gets out of Harry's bed and stumbles towards the door. A relationship with Liam. God, he can't even think about that. Not even if — no. He can't. It can't happen. It can't work. And Zayn's feelings possibly changing doesn't mean that Liam's have. Why would his? What does Zayn have to offer him except sex, really?


"Don't leave," Harry calls after him. "Zayn—!"

Zayn shuts the door and almost goes back to his room, but instead he heads down the hall, opting to go outside and smoke a cigarette until they have to go to the art room. And while he's at it, he calls Doniya and asks her to come pick him up earlier. She's not supposed to pick him up until Friday, but he needs to go home now.

"I can be there at about nine," she says. "That okay?"

Zayn winces. That means he still has to go to the Christmas party, but he can duck out early, at least. "Yeah, that's fine. Thanks."

"You okay?" She sounds a little hesitant, like she's worried he might get angry with her for asking.

They've always had a tough-love relationship, him and Don. With his other sisters, he's extremely protective of them. He loves them more than life itself. But with her, he's always been the dorky little brother, and she's always been the bitch of an older sister that had annoying friends and never let him watch what TV shows he wanted. But he still loves her, and her him. They just don't really worry about each other the same way they do their other siblings.

"I'm fine," Zayn says. "I just want to get home."

"Okay." She doesn't push it, and he knew she wouldn't. "But don't take, like, forever to pack your shit, okay. I'm not turning back six times because you forgot to bring a book that you needed to study or some shit like that."

Zayn grins. "I won't."

"Okay, good. Later."

He feels slightly better after that conversation, but there's still this gnawing inside of him. These emotions that nag at him, demanding to be felt. He doesn't want to feel them, or anything. He wants to go back to when he and Liam just hated each other. Before the sex, because sex eventually leads to feelings, doesn't it? This always happens in these kinds of situations. One person starts to get the wrong idea, starts to feel more than they should, and it all comes crashing down.

But then he remembers the way Liam's lips and hands feel on his body, and he can't find it in himself to truly regret any of it.




Zayn is a little late to the art room, but he'd planned it that way. Everyone else is inside, and they're already setting up. Mrs. Kensington ("Call me Malerie, please," she'd said to them at the beginning of the class) comes over to him as soon as he steps through the door.

"You should really think about taking my class next year, Zayn," she says to him. "You're very talented, if a little rough around the edges."

"Thanks," Zayn mumbles, eyes on Liam already. He's on the other side of the room, trying to put his painting on one of the display tables.

"I especially love the contrast," she continues, unaware of his discomfort. "How personal you made it. The miniscule details of the lives of both you and your roommate."

"Thanks," he says again.

"It's very similar to Liam's work, actually," she adds.

Zayn frowns. "It is?" he asks, because the two look nothing alike. Not at all.

But she nods, serious. "The contrasting sides that meet in the middle. Of course, his is abstract and yours is a little more literal, but still. It's very interesting to see the way the two of you work together."

"Um." Zayn runs a hand through his hair. He doesn't want to talk about this. "Should I go, like, set up my painting now?"

"Yes, of course!" she says quickly. "Beside Liam's, I think they'd look nice beside each other. But really consider what I said about taking my class, Zayn. I'd love to have you."

"I will," he promises, if only to get out of there.

Zayn gets his painting from the back of the room, where he'd left it to dry days ago. It looks just as he remembers, like an exact replica of their room from a few weeks ago, with his signature scribbled in the bottom right corner in white paint. He carefully carries it over to the display table where Liam's still standing, peering down at his own work.

They fucked up Liam's painting last night with their antics, but… it looks better, in Zayn's opinion. Even if it brings heat to his cheeks, remembering exactly how that handprint-shaped smudge got there. Zayn places his down beside it, and he really doesn't see how they look similar, but whatever. He's not the art teacher, so.

"Yours looks brilliant," Liam says, peering down at Zayn's painting. "Really great. Mine looks like —"

"Thanks," Zayn says for the third time in, like, five minutes, just before he walks away, heading for Louis and Harry.

Harry's final piece is a drawing of Louis. It's more cartoonish than anything, but Zayn likes it a lot. "Nice," he says. "It's really good, Harry."

"Look who it's of," Louis scoffs. "Of course it's good. Me and my perfectly chiselled jaw take full credit for this masterpiece."

"Where's your piece?" Zayn asks him.

Louis grins. "I thought you'd never ask." He grabs Zayn's arm and drags him off to a table littered with sculptures. "Guess which is mine. I call it — A Midnight Escape."

"It's a sculpture of an ass," Zayn deadpans. "In a thong."

"God, I'm so talented," Louis mutters.

Zayn snorts and rolls his eyes. "You're insane," he corrects. "But, uh, before you drag everyone over here to appreciate… that, I just wanted to let you know that I'm leaving tonight."

Louis gapes at him. "I thought you weren't leaving until Friday!"

"Change of plans." Zayn shrugs. "My sister's busy that day, so she asked if it was okay if she came to get me tonight." He doesn't mean to lie, it's just easier than admitting that he's really running away because he can't handle being in his own head right now, and he hopes that'll be easier when he gets home.

Louis hugs him tightly. "I'll miss you," he says. "I can't believe you're bailing early. But you call me on my birthday, promise?"


"Now go tell Harry. The kid's ridiculously attached to you, he's not going to take it well. I'm not doing it for you."

Louis wasn't kidding. Harry looks like a wounded animal, all sad eyes and "Why can't you stay until Friday like we planned? We were going to watch Christmas movies in the common room, and I was going to make us a special microwave dinner."

"We can do that when we get back," Zayn offers. "Even if Christmas has passed."

Harry frowns for a moment, and then a wide grin spreads over his face. "Yeah, alright. Sounds like a plan. Gonna miss you, though."

"I'm gonna miss you guys, too," Zayn says honestly.

"Have you told Liam?" Harry asks, and Zayn takes that back immediately. Maybe he won't miss Harry, not if he asks questions like that.

"No," he says flatly. "Why would I?"

Harry shrugs. "Dunno. Seemed like a reasonable question until you got that mass murderer look on your face."

"Liam's not my friend," Zayn reminds him. "He won't care when I leave, and it's none of his business either way."

"Okay," Harry says, lifting his hands defensively. "I'll have to remember not to ask you about Liam anymore. Apparently it's a touchy subject now."

"It's always been a touchy subject," Louis reminds him. "Only now instead of bitching about the guy, he gets all panicked, like a caged animal."

Zayn glares at them both, but he doesn't protest when Harry's arm goes around his waist. He doesn't protest when Louis' goes around his shoulders. He doesn't protest when the two of them guide him from the room, laughing and making promises to buy Zayn lunch to make up for it. He does look over his shoulder though, just once, to find Liam staring after them, a lost look on his face.




The entire art room is different for the Christmas party. After they'd left, someone had come in and strung up lights all around the room. They cast it in a soft glow, while another set lines each of the display tables to illuminate the showcased pieces. There's also row after row of plastic chairs set up for the auction, just in the middle of the room, enough space between them and the tables to give everyone room to walk around and see what they've created.

Zayn is exhausted. After lunch, Louis and Harry had dragged him back to the dorms to get dressed. Zayn had been forcefully put into one of Louis' white button-ups and a pair of his own dress pants, and they'd left him to do his hair with promises to do painful things if he left it messy and down like he always does.

And he's a little nervous. As people stream into the room, dressed in red and white and black and green, everyone colour-coordinated with the holidays, Zayn's stomach starts to do flips. People move around the room, regarding all the pieces. Zayn watches people stop and look down at his own, but he can't keep doing that because he's trying to figure out what their faces mean, if they like it or hate it, and it's making him anxious. So he makes a beeline for the door, heading for the refreshments room just across the hall.

Of course Liam is inside. He's in a full suit, unlike Zayn. His hair is styled, he's cleanly shaven, and he looks years younger. And good. He looks good.

"Chocolate-covered strawberries," he says, holding one between his fingers. "Want one?"

"Sure," Zayn says. He reaches for the plate of them, but Liam's holding the one in his fingers up to Zayn's mouth. Suddenly they don't seem as appetizing as they had literally seconds ago. But he bites it anyway, cracking through the chocolate shell to get to the juicy berry underneath. "'s good."

Liam's gaze darkens, eyes falling to Zayn's lips. "Yeah." He shakes his head quickly, like he's clearing his mind. "Is everyone in there, then? Have they done the auction yet?"

"I think they will in a few minutes," Zayn admits. "That's why I'm in here."

Liam nods. "Nervous, too?"

"A bit."

"Come on," Liam says, nodding towards the door. "Let's just go. Get it over with. Plus, you're going to get the highest bid, you know."

"I'm not," Zayn says flatly. "Other people did way better than I did."

"Just take the damn compliment," Liam teases. "But if you don't want to go, I'll let you know how it went."

Zayn shakes his head, now. "No, I'm coming." He snags one more chocolate covered-strawberry and follows Liam to the other room. Louis and Harry are inside now, sitting at the very back, talking to each other. Zayn goes towards them, sinking into a free seat. Liam sits beside him instantly. "When are they starting?"

"Five more minutes," Harry answers.

Zayn nods and swallows.

Five minutes pass awfully fast. Everyone settles into their seats, and Mrs. Kensington goes to the front of the room. And then it begins.

The first piece sells for fifty dollars. The second for thirty. The third for one hundred and thirty. Harry's drawing of Louis goes for sixty bucks, to Louis. Louis' ass sculpture goes for a whopping one hundred and twenty.

When Zayn's painting comes up, Mrs. Kensington actually bids on it. He didn't even know she was allowed to. And she wins, too, the painting going for one hundred and forty-five dollars. The highest so far. Pride swells inside of him, and Liam and Louis both elbow him excitedly.

Liam's painting comes up, and Liam nervously shifts in his seat. So many people bid on it, and the number just keeps rising and rising and rising, until a balding man buys it for a total of two hundred and twenty dollars.

Annoyance goes through Zayn. Not at Liam's painting outbidding his own (and everyone else's), but at the fact that some man is going to take it home. Someone who has no idea how that smudged handprint got there. Someone who has no idea how it was made, what it represents. Zayn wants it. Zayn wants to outbid him, wants to take it home and keep it for himself. But he doesn't have enough money, and Mrs. Kensington says "Sold!" and the painting is gone.

"Did that just happen?" Liam asks afterwards, after all of the pieces have been sold. "Did— did someone really pay two hundred fucking dollars for my painting?"

"Seems that Liam's been holding out on us," Louis says. "And here I was under the impression that you were worse at art than a first grader."

Zayn tries to think of something to say, something to compliment Liam, but his phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out, reads over the text from Doniya, and nearly splits his face with a grin because finally. "I have to go," he says, already out of his seat.

"Where?" Liam calls after him, but Zayn's already at the door.

He'd hugged Harry and Louis goodbye earlier, warned them that he'd have to duck out early, so it's not like he needs to linger behind. He heads straight for his room, not looking back once. When he gets there, he quickly packs up everything he needs at home, mostly just a few integral pieces of his wardrobe and a book or two, and then he leaves, shutting off the light and locking the door behind him.




Everyone files slowly out of the room after the auction. Liam gets up, too, following behind Louis and Harry, both bent together, whispering excitedly. Liam still isn't sure if they're dating. He thought they were, but the more time he spends with them, the less sure he is. He's never seen them kiss, or hold hands, but they act like they're dating.


He turns, eyebrows raised, to find Mrs. Kensington looking at him expectantly, and then he remembers. "Oh, right." He quickly heads over to her, and she hands him the leftover money from the three hundred dollars he'd given her to bid on Zayn's piece. "Thank you."

"I still don't fully understand why you couldn't bid yourself, but it wasn't a bother," she says with a wave her hand. "You can take your painting whenever you'd like."

"Is it okay if I leave it here until Thursday?" He doesn't want to bring it back to the room and have Zayn realize that he'd bought it. That'd defeat the whole purpose of having her bid for him. "I leave then, and this way I don't have to keep it in my room."

"Of course, dear."

"Thank you," Liam adds once more.

This time she only waves him off, moving on to talk to someone else. Liam pockets his money and leaves, heading for his room.

It's thankfully empty when he gets there. That's what he'd planned, so he's grateful, even if it puts him off every time he comes home and Zayn's bed is unoccupied, or he's not sitting at the desk. Not that Zayn has to wait for Liam to come home like some obedient puppy, or his stay at home boyfriend or something, but whenever he is there when Liam gets back, it makes something warm bubble up inside of him.

He's a little nervous as he moves about the room, hanging up the Christmas lights he'd borrowed from the art room, ones that weren't needed for decoration. He also turns on the stereo, just a bit of soft music in the background, one of Zayn's CDs that he listens to a lot (and he knows Zayn hates it when Liam touches his stuff, but he thinks it might be okay, just this once). When he plugs in the lights and shuts off the overhead one, the room is cast in soft, glowing light. It looks romantic, or something. Not that Liam's good at romance, but he's trying and that has to count for something, right?

When he's done he takes out his phone, flitting through to his last contact. He'd gotten Zayn's number off Niall weeks ago, not that he's used it. Niall still teases him about it, and Liam's stopped arguing with him over it because Niall's teasing is justified.

Remember how I asked to talk? Can u come to the room? It's liam btw he sends, hands shaking just a bit. He's not going to get too excited over this, though. That'd be lame. But he does busy himself with pulling Zayn's gift out of his dresser, holding it tightly in his hands.

It's not an expensive gift. It's just one of those lights that you stick on the top of your books so you can read in the dark. Liam figured it'd make his life easier, since he and Zayn constantly fight over Zayn keeping the light on to do work while Liam tries to sleep. And it didn't seem like an extravagant gift, either. Like something that he'd spent weeks picking out (even if he actually did).

Fifteen minutes pass without a reply or Zayn coming into the room, and Liam starts worrying his lip between his teeth. Twenty minutes, and he starts pacing the room.

Forty-five minutes later and he gets a short text that reads Sorry, I can't. My sister came to pick me up. I'm on my way home. Happy holidays.

Liam slowly blinks down at the screen. And then he gets up, tossing Zayn's present into the bottom drawer of the desk before he tears down the lights and crawls into bed, refusing to be upset about this. He should have known something like this would happen. Liam's always so stupid; Zayn knows it, and he knows it, too. Why would this be any different?




Being at home, for Zayn, is like being able to breathe again. Even if the ride home hadn't been exactly pleasant. Four hours alone in a car with Doniya and her shitty music and her texting so much that Zayn confiscates her phone because that's illegal and dangerous isn't ideal for anyone. But as soon as he's home, his mother hugs him and it makes up for the rest of it.

He also gets to sleep. No matter how comfortable he gets in his dorm room, it's just not the same as being in his bed. Having an entire room to himself. No Liam snoring beside him. Blissfully, happily, wonderfully, completely alone. He can't imagine anything better.

That's what he tells himself, at least, but that first night, even though he doesn't get home until about one in the morning, he lies awake for what feels like hours, the silence in the room unbearable.

"How did your exams go?" his mother asks at breakfast.

Zayn yawns and sips his coffee, infinitely better than the stuff they serve at the coffee shop on campus. "Better than I thought. Still stressed over them, but I think I did alright."

"Of course you did," she says, with the kind of proud, sincere conviction that only a mother can manage. "And how are your friends? The two you told me about."

"Crazy," Zayn says, smiling into his coffee. "But good. Maybe they'll come visit this summer."

"I'd love that." Probably because Zayn's never really brought anyone home, ever. Except Max, once or twice, but they always snuck in, and he never wanted to meet Zayn's family, no matter how many times Zayn begged him. Which, looking back on it, isn't all that surprising.

Just as he always does, Zayn refuses to allow that train of thought to go any farther. He cuts off the tracks, hits the breaks on it, and forgets that Max ever flitted across his mind.

"And what about your roommate?" his mother continues. "Are you two finally settling your differences?"

If settling their differences means fucking the hatred out of each other until Zayn accidentally started to develop feelings for Liam, feelings that he still doesn't want to dwell on because they make him sick to his stomach, then yeah. They settled their differences, all right. "Something like that," Zayn mutters.

"I'm glad to hear it," his mom says. "And I'm glad you're home."

"Me too," Zayn admits. "Really glad."

He and his mom are always the first up, but it isn't long before his sisters are trampling down the stairs, rubbing sleep from their bleary eyes. His father is already at work, but he'll be back later in the day. And the four of them spend the morning and afternoon first eating breakfast, then doing a bit of grocery shopping (Zayn offers to go, just to get out of the house and have something to do), and then Safaa drags him away to show him some of her work from class.

The night is spent in the kitchen, helping his mom cook, and then at the table, having a big family dinner the way they always do. Afterwards Zayn's dad invites him to watch sports, and Zayn asks him to explain football to him (which he does, but Zayn's still mostly lost).

When he gets to bed that night, he lies awake for hours, until eventually he pulls out one of his books. When he falls asleep, it's with the lights on and the book open on his chest.




On Christmas Eve Zayn calls Louis, like he promised. Louis is a little drunk, though, and he spends the entire six-minute conversation giggling with his sisters and telling Zayn how much he loves him, and how glad he is that they're friends, and how he didn't think he'd ever become such good friends with someone from school but he's happy that he did. Zayn spends the conversation mostly making noncommittal sounds and picking at his pinky nail.

He calls Harry, too, for good measure, just to wish him a merry Christmas. Of course, Harry's actually with Louis, which Zayn hadn't realized, and he's just as off his ass, so Zayn ends that conversation early.

He flicks through his contacts afterwards, deciding to send Niall a short happy holidays to which he gets a reply of you too! :D that makes Zayn wonder if he's the only one sober right now.

If he weren't sober, he'd have an excuse for what he does next. But he is, and it's with a clear mind that he opens his text messages, finds the one from Liam, and calls him.

The ringing makes him jump, as if someone else had pressed 'talk' and he wasn't expecting it. By the second ring Zayn starts wishing it'll go to voicemail. By the third he's panicking. By the fourth he's ready to hang up, even if he figures Liam has caller I.D. and will know it was him.


Zayn winces, blinking up at his ceiling. His mouth feels dry, his tongue feels heavy, and it's with difficulty that he gets out, "Hi."

He thinks, dazedly, that Liam's hung up on him. Seconds tick by without a word, but finally Liam says, "What do you want, Zayn?" and he sounds just as he always does when Zayn's annoying him. Short, sharp, angry. As ridiculous as it is, Zayn was almost hoping Liam would be happy he called. But obviously that's far from the case.

"I'm not sure," Zayn admits. "I just — I thought I'd call. Wish you a merry Christmas, or something."

Again, Liam takes forever to reply. "It's not Christmas until tomorrow."

"Right, yeah, I know. I just—"

"I really don't understand why you'd even call me," Liam barrels on, completely ignoring him. "We're not friends, Zayn. We never were, so I don't get what you're trying to do here."

Zayn blinks, hurt ringing through him. But it doesn't take much for him to push it down, channel anger instead. "Of course we're not," Zayn sneers. "Fuck you, Liam, I thought I'd call just to see if—" On the other side of the line, Zayn hears something smash. Immediately he goes from pissed off to concerned. "Are you okay?"

"Shit," Liam groans. He hears movement, Liam's shaky breathing, the sound of loud footsteps hurrying down a set of stairs. "I asked you guys to give me two minutes!"

"But Liam," someone whines, "you promised you'd make gingerbread houses with us. We wanna make 'em now."

Zayn frowns at his ceiling. "Is that — I didn't know you have younger siblings."

"I don't," Liam says. "I'm — Jessie, the icing goes on the— just let me finish this phone call, please?"

"Talk on the phone and make gingerbread houses," someone else says. "Please Liam. We've been waitin' forever."

"And a'terwards we wanna play dress up again," a third kid says.

Liam groans. "I'm not putting makeup on again, though. I'm still trying to get the eye shadow off."

"But the princess has to wear eye shadow!"

"If I agree to wear the eye shadow, can I finish my conversation first?" Liam asks.

There's a beat of silence before a chorus of, "Okay."

Liam sighs in relief. "Sorry about that."

"Princess?" Zayn snorts. "Liam, do you have some interesting hobbies that I don't know about?"

"Ha, ha," Liam says dryly. "I'm babysitting. My parents and their friends go to this big Christmas Eve party every year, and I'm always stuck babysitting for everyone."

"You're trying to tell me," Zayn says slowly, "that you, Liam Payne, the school's running receiver—"

"Running back," Liam corrects. "I'm the running back. There's no such thing as a running receiver."

"I really don't care," Zayn says. "But you're telling me that you actually spend your Christmas Eve making gingerbread houses and letting little kids dress you up as a princess?" He can't help but laugh. "Is there a tiara involved?"

"I'll have you know," Liam says stiffly, "that the tiara is a crucial part of the whole ensemble, Zayn."

"Oh, my God," Zayn chuckles. "I want pictures."

"Not happening."

"Okay, fair enough." He finds himself smiling stupidly up at his ceiling, for some reason. It's just — he hadn't thought Liam would be like that. He didn't think Liam would be good with kids and it's … surprising, in a good way. "I still can't believe this is actually how you spend your Christmas Eve."

"And New Year's Eve," Liam admits. "I'm always stuck babysitting."

That's — "No way," Zayn says. "No way do you give up your New Year's Eve to babysit."

"I always do," Liam says, completely serious. "Have since I was about thirteen. My parents have a lot of friends with kids, and they figure it's easier to just dump them all off on me at the house than to get individual babysitters. And I really don't mind."

"But what about, like, your friends and shit? Don't they wonder why you can't come to their parties?"

"Considering all of them live hours away, no."


"I don't really, um, get invited to many parties around here," Liam says quietly.

"Why not?"

Liam groans. "I was really lame growing up, okay? And I'm from a small town. People don't really forget that stuff around here. So I don't really have many friends back home to invite me to parties, which is why I don't mind babysitting. If I wasn't, I'd probably spend the night watching Iron Man or something. Are you happy?"

That doesn't make any sense, in Zayn's mind. Liam's extremely popular at school. Everyone knows who he is, because he's on the team, and because he goes to all the big parties. He can't imagine a Liam with no friends, who doesn't get invited to any, who spends his nights watching Superhero movies or babysitting instead of getting shitfaced and grinding on whatever pretty girl catches his attention that night.

"That doesn't make any sense, honestly," Zayn says out loud.

"That's why I like school," Liam admits. "It was a fresh start for me. Everyone got to know me for me, not as that dorky kid who used to eat lunch alone that everyone called teacher's pet because he liked to do his homework and didn't like to get in trouble."

"I— wow," Zayn breathes. He never once considered that maybe Liam's life was completely different to the one Zayn gets to see. That maybe there was a different person lying underneath the one Zayn shares a room with. "But—"

In the background, on the other line, Zayn hears muffled sounds that get louder and louder, until finally he can make out a chant of, "Gin-ger-bread! Gin-ger-bread!"

"I have to go," Liam says. "They're about to riot."

"Right. Um."

"See you," Liam says before he can finish. He hangs up seconds later, not waiting for Zayn to say goodbye.

Afterwards, Zayn stares up at the ceiling for a long while, phone still pressed to his ear, as if he expects Liam to magically come back on. Obviously he doesn't, and eventually Zayn puts the phone away and gets out of bed.

He heads downstairs, if only for something to do. It's too early for him to sleep, but he's too tired to read. So instead he curls up on the couch and watches TV with his family until his parents send his sisters to bed, and then they follow not much later, leaving Zayn alone with the TV.

He watches three Christmas movies, including The Grinch (the live-action one) and some movie where a little girl befriends a reindeer. When his eyes feel too heavy to keep open, he trudges up the stairs. Just before he falls into bed, he grabs his phone and checks to see if anyone messaged him (which is dumb, he knows, because no one ever does, really, not even Louis and Harry).

There's a single unread message, and he opens it. It's a picture message from Liam. He's got pink lipstick on his lips, heavy blush on his cheeks, fake eyelashes and a lot of eye shadow on. And on top of his head sits a tiara that's way too small for his him. The picture comes with a caption that simply reads told u it's an important part of the costume.

Zayn smothers a laugh, lest he wake someone up, and shuts off his phone.




While the break was nice, it's just that: a break. Eventually he has to pack up and head back to school, but he's not dreading it as much as he thought he would. In fact, there's a small part of him, no matter how much he denies it, that's… looking forward to it. Not just getting back to class, or seeing Louis and Harry. There's a part of him that can't wait to get back to his room. To flop onto his bed and maybe find Liam in his own.

His room is empty when he gets there, though. Liam hasn't been back yet, apparently, because there's a staleness in the air that says it hasn't been touched in days. Zayn flicks on the light, tosses his bag onto the bed, and cracks the window with effort. The snow on the ledge and the ice on the glass makes it difficult, but he manages to get it open an inch or two, and he leaves it like that, even if the air that drifts through is freezing. He'll shut it later.

Louis and Harry aren't getting back until later tonight, so Zayn busies himself with putting his stuff away, and then he goes about cleaning the room, even Liam's side. The guy across the hall, Jeremy, has a broom that Zayn borrows, and he sweeps under both beds (finding a few questionable things under Liam's), and then he makes both of them again because Liam doesn't make his bed right, and it still looks messy. He gathers up all the extra pens and pencils he'd found under Liam's bed, some of them his own, some not. He's pretty sure he's never actually seen Liam touch a pencil or pen, so it's a bit confusing to find that many loose around the room when they're not his own, but whatever.

He opens the bottom drawer of the desk, going to put the pencils and pens in the pencil case, but he stops when he finds a wrapped present inside. It's not very big, and the wrapping job is horrendous. He almost slams the drawer shut, because this is such an invasion of privacy, but then his eyes land on the little sticker at the top with Zayn scribbled on it.

Carefully, Zayn pulls it out, dropping the pens and pencils loosely into the drawer. He nudges it shut with his foot and sinks onto Liam's bed, looking down at the package in his hands. Experimentally, he shakes it. Nothing happens. It feels like plastic, possibly, underneath the wrapping paper. And it gets weirdly bulbous in some spots.

Liam bought him a gift. Liam got him a Christmas present.

Zayn doesn't know what to do with that information. He can't figure out why Liam would do that because, from what Zayn knows, Liam doesn't like him. But apparently he does, enough to get him a gift. Zayn hadn't even considered getting Liam one. Does that make him an ass? No, he doesn't think so. This is so out of the blue, he never could have seen it coming. In fact, if he wasn't holding the present right at this moment, he wouldn't believe it.

The door to the room opens, and Zayn looks up sharply. Liam steps inside, duffle bag slung over one shoulder. His eyes slowly fall to the present in Zayn's hand, and he drops the bag with a thump, crossing the room in seconds. He tugs it out of Zayn's fingertips, heat rising to his cheeks.

"Is that— did you really get me something?" Zayn asks, wide-eyed and flustered. Too shocked to school that tone in his voice.

"No," Liam spits. His face goes from a mask of embarrassment to one of anger. "You always tell me not to go through your shit. Don't go through mine."

"I wasn't—"

"Then how did you find this?" Liam demands.

"I was cleaning," Zayn defends weakly. "I didn't mean to find it."

Liam's eyebrows draw together. He turns the gift over and over in his fingers before dropping it in Zayn's lap. "Whatever, have it. I meant to give it to you on the night of the Christmas party, but you'd left."

Guilt threatens to strangle him. "I didn't know," Zayn says. "I—"

"Don't worry about it," Liam says. "It's— it's not even for you, really. It's for me. You're always pissing me off, leaving the lights on when I'm trying to sleep, so I figured this would make my life easier. If you actually use it, but — whatever."

Methodically, Zayn peels away the wrapping paper. Underneath he finds a one of those lights that you clip onto books and things, for late night reading and the such. He's gotten more than one of these from his parents, actually, but they were always cheap. This doesn't look that cheap.

And it's not the best gift in the world, but it's still— "Thank you," Zayn says, trying to sound as genuine as he can because he means it. He clears his throat. "But I, um, didn't, like… I didn't get you anything."

"Whatever," Liam says again. "That's not all I wanted to talk to you about that night."

Zayn blinks up at him. Just like the day with the paint, Zayn can feel it, the change that's about to happen. It's not a literal thing, it's this gut twisting feeling. "What is it?"

Liam looks awkward, one of his hands running through his hair. "We can't do — we can't hook up anymore."

It's like Liam's punched him in the stomach, only he's too far away from Zayn for that to be possible. "Why not?" he asks, calm and collected. He's proud of himself for that.

"I don't think my girlfriend would appreciate it much if I was fucking my roommate," Liam says flatly. "Now d'you think you could get off my bed?"

"Girlfriend." Zayn bunches up the wrapping paper and clutches it and the gift tightly in his hands as he stands up. "When did that happen?"

"Recently," Liam says vaguely. "Not that it's any of your business."

Zayn winces at the tone in his voice, but then he reverts back to himself. Before he ever considered that maybe he might like Liam. Before he ever stopped looking at Liam as someone he hated and started looking at him as something else. "Like I give a shit about your relationships," he scoffs.

"Figured you wouldn't," Liam says with a shrug. "Just thought I'd let you know."

"It's not like I ever initiated that shit anyways," Zayn finds himself saying. He hurts, is the thing. He didn't see any of this coming, and the emotional whiplash from the last couple minutes is taking its toll. Fuck, five minutes ago he was blindingly happy (if not a bit confused) because Liam had cared enough to get him a gift. And now he feels this horrible, sinking in his stomach because Liam doesn't need him anymore. He's got someone else. And he wants to hurt Liam right back. "It was always you, wasn't it? Like, you always kissed me first. You're the one who always started it. I just went along with it because—" He cuts off with a shrug, not sure how to finish that.

"You're right." Liam's face is a blank, emotionless mask. "It was always me initiating it. So I guess it doesn't matter to you if I call it off."

"Not one bit."

"Didn't think it would." Liam crosses the room, kicks his own bag out of the way, and storms out the door.

Zayn is so, completely confused. But he doesn't want to care. No, he doesn't care. Liam's done with him, and you know what? Zayn is done with Liam. He's fucking done. He can't believe there was ever even a second where he might have wanted — no. Never again. Liam can go to hell. Zayn doesn't need him, anyway.




Things go back to normal. Not the way they had been before the holidays, but the way they'd been during the first couple weeks of school. Zayn goes back to hating Liam for every single thing he does, and Liam goes back to hating every single thing Zayn does. Every time one of them opens their mouth in the room, the other snaps at them for it. Every time Liam's stuff crosses the halfway line in their room, Zayn throws a fit. Every time Zayn is in the room when Liam gets there, Liam sneers and walks back out.

And it's better this way.

"— see why he can't just clean up his fucking shit," Zayn grumbles. "Like, is it that hard to pick up a sock every once in a while?"

"Ask Louis." Harry smirks. "If he didn't have me, his room would be trashed."

"'s true," Louis agrees. "Harry's my guardian angel."

"Do you think I'm being unreasonable, though?" Zayn asks, ignoring them. "Like, isn't is completely within the line to get pissed off because he's a slob?"

"Depends," Louis answers. "Are you naggy about it? Or do you politely ask him to maybe clean his stuff up once in a while?" Zayn makes a face at him, the answer to that pretty fucking obvious. "Then you can't really blame him. And you realize he probably does it just to piss you off, right?"

"Yeah, I'm aware." Liam does a lot of shit just to piss him off. And vice versa.

"You've really made a mess of things," Louis tells him. "Haven't you?"

"Yeah, I'm aware."

Suddenly, without warning, Zayn has two pairs of arms wrapping around him. Louis squeezes him tightly, Harry's hand rubs at his back, and it's nice, even if he can't breathe. Warm and comforting. What did he do to deserve these two? He's really not sure.


Both of them release him just as suddenly as they'd hugged him. Zayn looks up, frowning when he finds Niall standing in front of the couch the three of them are occupying. "Yeah?"

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Niall has his hands stuffed deeply in the pockets of a sweater, and he's got a pinched look on his face. It's such a contrast to how he normally looks, all sunny smiles and bright openness. Now he's cold and closed off.

"Um." Zayn looks between Louis and Harry for a moment before shrugging. "Sure."

"Alone," Niall adds.

Zayn shrugs again and gets off the couch, following Niall through the common room, out into the stairwell. Niall leans against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, and Zayn stands there a little awkwardly. A girl from one of his classes hurries up the stairs, pausing when she passes them before continuing on her way.

"I like you," Niall says. "You know that, right? I think you're a good guy, Zayn."

"Uh, thank you." Zayn frowns and shifts a little awkwardly on his feet. "I like you too."

"So then maybe you could tell me what the fuck is going on with you and Liam," Niall says angrily. "Maybe. Because I'm pretty damn confused, and I hate seeing him upset."

Zayn takes a step back in surprise. "What?"

"Don't play dumb, okay? I know you two were sleeping together."

Zayn swallows. He told Louis and Harry, so it's no surprise that Liam told Niall. He had every right to, right? As much of a right as Zayn had telling his friends. "We're not anymore, though," Zayn says quickly.

"I know that." He can tell Niall's patience is wearing thin; he's tapping his foot impatiently against the ground, arms tightening around his middle. "What I wanna know is why. And what you did, because he won't talk to me about it, but he's been pretty fucked up the last couple weeks. Ever since we got back from break."

"He's the one who called it off," Zayn says, more than a little defensive. Why does he get the feeling that Niall blames him for this? And Niall's wrong, too, because Liam's been fine the last couple of weeks. More than fine, really.

Hell, every time Liam's in the room, he seems pretty freaking peachy to Zayn. Especially considering he's usually got his girlfriend with him. Which Zayn refuses to get jealous about. He's not jealous about it. Even those times when he walks in and Liam's got his shirt off and she's groping him and— Zayn doesn't care.

Only he does. And what's even worse is that she's nice. She's sweet and polite to Zayn, and she always offers to leave when he comes into the room, because she respects that it's Zayn's room as much as it is Liam's. And Zayn honestly fucking likes her, but he wishes he didn't. He wishes he could hate her.

"There's no way he did that," Niall says firmly. "Liam wouldn't call it off. He liked you too much."

Those words shouldn't twist his insides with hope and a bit of longing, but they do. So he squashes it and says, "Yeah, well, he did."

"That doesn't make any sense." Niall looks sincerely baffled. "Why would he do that?"

"Beats me." Zayn shrugs, reaching for the door. "And I really don't care either way. Can I go now?"

Niall doesn't seem to hear him. He's too busy pulling out his phone, pressing buttons quickly. Zayn takes that as his cue to go.

When he gets back to the couch, Louis and Harry give him questioning looks. Zayn shakes them off and sinks onto the couch between them. "He just wanted to know what happened between Liam and I."

"So would we, actually," Louis says.

So would Zayn. "Yeah, well." He says it with finality, end of conversation.

Louis and Harry won't stop looking at him after that, though. Looking at him like he's something fragile that's close to cracking into hundreds of irreparable pieces. Zayn can't stand it.

"I've got homework," he says abruptly. "I probably shouldn't put it off any longer. I'll see you guys later."

"Are you sure you don't want to stay?" Harry asks. "Criminal Minds is on next."

Zayn shakes his head. He loves that show, but what he'd love more is to be alone. "I'm okay. Next time, alright?"

Because Zayn has the worst luck (and roommate), the room is occupied when he gets there. He pushes open the door without knocking, and he finds Liam and his girlfriend on the bed, her straddling him. Zayn's heart sinks into his stomach, and he's frozen, for a moment. It's not the first time this has happened, and he figures it won't be the last. But Liam's meeting his eyes over her shoulder as she kisses along his jaw and neck, his lips parting in a silent moan.

It's more than just jealousy. It's this crushing, horrible pain in his chest because he never even got what she has. He never really had Liam. Sure, they fucked, but that's not the same as a relationship. That doesn't mean anything. Sex doesn't mean anything when you can't hold the person afterwards. When you can't kiss each other just because, without needing to progress things into something more.

As quietly as he can, Zayn backs away and shuts the door, feeling a burning in his eyes. He only gets halfway down the hall before Liam comes out of the room, calling his name.

Zayn turns, finding Liam shirtless and panting, standing in the middle of the hallway. "What?" Zayn demands. He prays he doesn't sound as upset as he feels, because that war that he and Liam started so many months ago is still going. The battle's different, but the opposing sides are the same. And Zayn refuses to let Liam beat him. Refuses to admit defeat. Stand down.

"Do you ever knock?" Liam shouts at him. "God, you have the worst timing!"

"Sorry, but not everyone lives on your schedule, Liam!" Zayn shouts back. He wipes at his eyes as discreetly as he can, but the burning tears now feel like they're from frustration more than anything.

The door next to Zayn opens, and the guy from the room next to theirs peeks his head out. "Great," he mumbles. "The guys next door are fighting again."

"At least they're not fucking again," someone else in the room, hidden by the door, replies.

Zayn goes bright red, his hands clenching into fists. And, just because he can, he stomps down the hall, ducking past Liam and into his room. He flops onto the bed, completely ignoring the pretty girl lying in Liam's, looking a bit lost, like she's not quite sure what happened.

"What are you doing?" Liam demands.

Zayn shrugs. "Lying in my bed, obviously."

"I have company over," Liam hisses.

"Really? I didn't notice."

"Zayn," Liam groans. "Fuck off, honestly."

Zayn sits up, extending his hand to the girl on the bed. "You know, I don't think we've ever been formally introduced," he says, because they haven't. They've spoken, him and her, but it was always in passing, nothing but a few pleasantries. "I'm Zayn, by the way."

The girl takes his hand and laughs. "I know that. D'you know how often this one talks about you?" she jerks her thumb at Liam, who's as red as Zayn had been in the hallway, only Zayn had been that colour out of embarrassment; Liam looks livid. Like a volcano that's about to explode and kill hundreds of civilians.

"Don't encourage him," Liam says. "And Zayn, get the fuck out of here."

"I think I'd like to stay," Zayn says cheerfully. It's an act, though. He still feels sick, upset, jealous, but it's easier to deal with that when he knows he's making Liam feel terrible right back.

"That's fine," Liam's girlfriend says. "I have to go, anyway. I promised my roommate we'd do dinner." She gets up, pressing a kiss to Liam's cheek that leaves sticky lip gloss in its wake. "I'll call you later, okay?"

"You don't have to leave," Liam says quietly. "Just ignore him. I do."

"It was nice talking with you, Zayn!" she calls over her shoulder.

Liam locks the door behind her and stays turned to it for a long, long time. When he finally turns back around, he's got this look on his face that actually terrifies Zayn, for a moment. He and Liam fight a lot, but Zayn's never actually thought that Liam would hit him. For just a second, though, he thinks it might happen. He thinks one of them has actually pushed the other too far, tipped them over the edge.

Liam crosses the room, and his hand fists in the front of Zayn's shirt. Zayn closes his eyes, waiting for it, but Liam tugs him to his feet first. And then… nothing.

Zayn blinks open his eyes, a little thrown off. "What are you—?"

"I'm not initiating it this time," Liam states. "If you want it, you do it."

"You're not— you're not going to hit me?" Zayn asks, surprised.

Liam's intense look morphs into one of complete disbelief. "No," he gasps. "God, no, Zayn. Never. Fuck, I'd never— I wouldn't. Okay? I'd never, ever lay a hand on you like that. You might make me want to rip out my own hair and scream and throw things, but I'd… I wouldn't."

He wouldn't, and Zayn feels like an ass for even thinking that he would. "Okay. I shouldn't have assumed that you would."

"You shouldn't have," Liam agrees, obviously annoyed. His forehead rests against Zayn's, a hand sliding into Zayn's hair, and Zayn missed that. Missed the way Liam tugs at the strands until it almost hurts, but never crosses that line on purpose. Seems to only do it when they're caught up in the thick of things, because for some reason he's always careful with Zayn even when he's being rough. "You're the most frustrating person I've ever met."

"Same, but — the other way around." Zayn has obviously benefited so much from higher education.

"Shut up and kiss me," Liam pleads.

Zayn's gaze drop to Liam's lip, but he notices the smudged lip gloss on his cheek. "You have a girlfriend, Liam."

"I'll feel guilty about it later."

So Zayn kisses him. Kisses him the way he wants to, the way they should have been kissing before. It's not a rough press of lips, it's gentle, hesitant and unsure. If this is happening, Zayn's going to do it the way he wants to. Because Liam's already called it off once, and he's sure as fuck going to get his fill while he has the chance.

Liam's lips part, and Zayn slips his tongue into Liam's mouth, gently brushing it against Liam's. And all he can taste is this sickeningly sweet, artificial strawberry flavour. "You taste like her," he groans, pulling back. His eyes narrow, and he shouldn't have said that, shouldn't have let Liam know how much that bothers him, but it does.

Liam pulls him back in, hand pressed firmly against the small of Zayn's back. "So kiss me until I don't," he challenges. "Kiss me until I taste like you."

Zayn pushes hard against him, hands holding onto Liam's shoulders to keep him steady. He licks into Liam's mouth until that sweet strawberry flavour isn't so powerful. Until his head swims and Liam's tugging at his hair, no longer just sliding his hands through it. Until they're both breathless and Zayn's hard in his jeans, trying to push them towards the bed because he likes kissing Liam — no, loves it— but he wants more.

Liam steers them in the other direction, dropping them heavily onto Zayn's bed. Zayn has only enough time to move up a bit, get more comfortable, before Liam kisses him. It's not them kissing each other. It's Liam kissing him, like he knows exactly how Zayn's mind works. Knows exactly how to move his lips and his tongue to drive Zayn crazy. Sloppy and thorough and perfect.

It's been weeks. Weeks of them wasting time, when they could have been doing this instead. They were so, so stupid. How could they have ever thought stopping this would be a good idea?

Liam's lips move from his own, trailing down his jaw to his neck like they always do. Zayn's hands move up and down Liam's back, fingertips kneading into flesh, loving how warm and soft Liam's skin always is. But Liam's lips are still moving downwards. He bites at Zayn's collarbone, pulls down the neck of his t-shirt to kiss the center of his chest, over the tattoo.

"Shirt off," Liam mumbles. He pulls back, resting heavily on top of Zayn, towering over him. "Get it off, Zayn."

"R-right." Zayn nods and pushes himself up, trying to pull his own shirt off with unsteady hands. Liam gets impatient, pulling it off for him, and then it's gone and Liam's kissing his chest again, sending sparks through him with nothing but a whisper of those lips. "Fuck, Liam."

Liam moves lower, teeth scraping, tongue dragging over Zayn's skin, like he can't get enough of it. He undoes the button on Zayn's jeans, tugs them down in one easy pull because Zayn's hips lift obligingly, and then Liam's teeth are nipping at his hipbone, his chin pushing Zayn's boxers down a little farther. That heavy feeling settles on his chest, making it hard to breathe, but it's for a completely different reason. It's because Liam's looking up at him with wide eyes, finger hooked under the waistband of Zayn's boxers, pulling them down, down, down.

"Liam," Zayn says roughly.

Liam smirks up at him, lips on Zayn's inner thigh. "This okay?"

That is possibly the stupidest question in the entire fucking world, Zayn thinks. "Yeah, 's okay," he says.

Liam nods, stubble burning against Zayn's thighs, which sends jolts straight to his prick. He want to fist a hand in Liam's hair, wants to push Liam towards that spot where Zayn needs him, but he's happy to wait. Happy for anything Liam gives him, at this point.

Zayn's always sort of distantly thought that Liam's lips were obscene. They're pink and plump and they thin when he smiles. He hadn't taken a lot of time to really consider how they'd look wrapped around his cock, and he's not prepared for the sight of it when Liam's tongue snakes out, gently gliding over the tip before he's wrapping that mouth around it, one hand wrapped around the shaft to hold him steady. And it's — it's overwhelming, pink spread tightly around him, Liam's eyes looking huge as they blink innocently up at him, the warm wetness of Liam's mouth, the drag of Liam's tongue.

Zayn isn't sure where he's allowed to touch. Can he grab at Liam's hair? Drag his thumb along Liam's cheek? Trace the stretch of his mouth? He doesn't know, so he fists his hands in the sheets instead and tries his best not to push up into Liam's mouth.

Zayn takes back every single bad thing he ever said about Liam in his entire life. The man's a gift. He's brilliant. Heavenly. He does this thing where his lips tighten around the head and his tongue swirls around it while he moans, and Zayn entire body shudders, mouth opening and closing in a silent, breathless gasp.

"What— what about you, though?" Zayn forces himself to ask, if only because this isn't how they do things. They never focus on one of them. It's always both of them, struggling to get themselves off as quickly as possible. Right now, this is just Liam, all of his attention on making Zayn feel good. And he's fucking succeeding.

The only response Zayn gets to that is Liam's mouth sliding farther down him until he's hitting the back of Liam's throat. When he slides back up, his hand replaces where his mouth once was, and he works on doing that tongue thing again while jerking Zayn with a quick, spit slicked hand. And Zayn shatters. That's what it feels like. It's not the normal tightening in his stomach just before he comes, and a wave of released tension and relief when he does. It's like Liam's torn him apart into ragged, broken little pieces. He doesn't even get a chance to pull Liam off him before he comes down Liam's throat, vision darkening, head spinning.

There's a moment or two where Zayn loses himself in the sensation, in the way Liam struggles to swallow him down, lips still wrapped firmly around him. But it gets to be too much, after a while. So much so that Zayn whines, reaching down to push Liam off him. But Liam keeps swirling his tongue, Zayn feels overheated, and he wonders if he's going to black out when Liam finally pulls off him.

Which doesn't really help the situation, honestly, because his lips are puffy and red and slick and — "Fucking Christ," Zayn moans. He grabs Liam's arm. "C'mon, let me—"

Liam shakes his head. "I'm good," he says, kissing Zayn gently, sweetly, despite the fact that Zayn can taste himself in it, bitter and salty. When Liam pulls back, he falls onto the side of the bed so he's lying parallel to Zayn. "Why do I get the feeling that I just gave you your first blowjob?"

That was not at all what he expected Liam to say. Zayn goes red, reaching for his boxers. He tugs them over himself and refuses to meet Liam's eyes.

"Oh my god," Liam says. "Seriously?" He pauses, eyes getting so much wider. "Wait, shit, were you— was I your first? I mean, not just with this but… with everything?"

"You didn't take my virginity, Liam, calm down," Zayn grinds out. "Fuck."

"But then…" Liam's fingers dance over Zayn's stomach, scratching lightly every once in a while. "Then how've you never had a blowjob before?"

Zayn doesn't really want to talk about this. And he has no idea why they're still touching, because they don't do this. They don't do the whole post-sex cuddling and talking thing. "My ex didn't — he didn't do that," he finds himself answering anyway.

"Didn't do that," Liam repeats. "What, you mean he didn't suck cock?"

And he laughs at that, but Zayn just turns his head, looking away from him because yes, that's exactly what he meant.

"Wait." Liam props himself up, hovering just over Zayn, eyebrows drawn together. "Please tell me you weren't with one of those guys, Zayn. Come on."

"One of those guys," Zayn says. "What does that even mean?"

"You know what I mean," Liam insists. "The type that — it's all about them. The type that doesn't care about you, all they care about is themselves, about getting themselves off, and afterwards they come up with an excuse not to return the favour. The type that use you. You realize that's what it is, right? Using you to get off and that's it. You deserve better than that. You—"

"You mean someone like you," Zayn snaps. He climbs off the bed, reaching for his jeans. "That's exactly what you do, so don't sit there all high and mighty like you're better than him." He buttons his jeans expertly fast, locating his shirt where it hangs off Liam's bed seconds later. "Because this?" Zayn waves a hand between them. "This is the exact same thing. So fuck you, Liam."

Zayn almost runs from the room. His blood is rushing in his ears, making everything sound hollow. He ignores Liam calling after him this time, speed walks down the hall with his head ducked because he can't handle this.

And deep down, Zayn knows that what he said to Liam was right. Subconsciously, maybe that's why he's always hated Liam. He's so much like Max it's crazy.

Now that he's apparently letting that train of thought continue down the tracks, it runs away from him, keeps going until Zayn has no control over it anymore. He falls onto a bench outside and lights up a cigarette as he remembers a scene just like this, back in school, when he was in the eleventh grade. After school, actually. He was waiting for the bus to go home, and so was Max, and Max was smoking even though he was still in his rugby uniform. His golden blonde hair was a mess, as it always was, and he'd smiled at Zayn and offered him a drag.

And Zayn had taken it, if only because… he wanted to impress Max, for some reason. Wanted to seem cool.

The next day, Max had been there again. And the next. And on the fourth day Max invited him to hang out at his house, and Zayn had agreed because no one ever wanted to hang out with him after school, and here was the captain of the rugby team, the most attractive guy in school, giving Zayn the time of day.

Max's parents hadn't been home, and they'd spent the next three hours kissing. Zayn had never been kissed, before that, and he'd been worried about being bad at it, but Max promised that he was doing it right. Which is why it was a little off to Zayn that they never did it again, the kissing thing. They did other stuff, though. Max taught Zayn how to give a hand job in that bed. And then under the bleachers at the school, he'd taught Zayn how to go down on him. And in Zayn's bed, when his parents weren't home, they'd had sex.

They never talked at school, though. In the hallways Max acted like Zayn didn't exist. Would hang out with his friends and sometimes tease Zayn because that's what they'd do. And he had a girlfriend, Naomi, who was all pretty red hair and long legs, and he kissed her all the time, freely and in front of everyone. He never did that with Zayn.

He never did anything with Zayn, though, except hook up with him when no one else was around. And when people were around, Zayn wasn't good enough to know him. Every time Zayn asked him about it, asked why they couldn't eat lunch together, or why Zayn couldn't introduce him to his parents, all Max ever did was roll his eyes until, finally, Zayn stopped asking.

Maybe that's why it was so easy to fall into this thing with Liam, because it was like history repeating itself. Hell, Liam and Max even looked similar, with their wide shoulders and tan skin and toned bodies.

"Fuck," Zayn says to himself.




Honestly, Zayn isn't eavesdropping. Really, he's not. He was just coming back to the room for a moment to grab a book he needed before he returned to the library, where he'd even left things on the table with the intention of returning. Only he goes to push open the door without knocking (he refuses to knock on the door to his own room, under any circumstance), and he hears the raised voices inside, and….

They're fighting. They're loud. He doesn't have to lean his head against the door to hear the distinct words they're saying. Which is why he doesn't feel that bad about it. If it was a conversation they were trying to keep private, they wouldn't be arguing so loud. (He still does feel guilty about it, though, but he can't seem to stop himself.)

"— it is!" The voice is female; it has to be Liam's girlfriend, even if he's never heard her talk in a voice that was anything but sweet and soft. "Just tell me who the hell it is!"

"It won't make a difference," Liam reasons. "Telling you who it was —"

"Was," she repeats, cutting him off. "You're using past tense, Liam, but we both know it isn't. God, I can see it right now on your face. Who the hell is she? An ex-girlfriend? Is that it? You still have feelings for her, don't you?"

"It's not an ex-girlfriend," Liam says lowly, and Zayn does have to lean in to hear it. But he pulls back immediately, wincing at his own actions. "I promise you, Sarah—"

"Don't lie to me, Liam," she snaps. "Just be honest with me for five seconds, that's all I'm asking of you!"

"It's complicated."

"Complicated," she repeats, and Zayn knows Liam's fucked up now. "People always say that, but it's not! Cheating isn't complicated! It's not something that just happens. It's not an accident, Liam! It's a bad choice. A mistake. A huge mistake, but it's not a fucking accident. It's not something uncontrollable. It's not that complicated to keep your body parts to yourself!"

"I know that," Liam insists. "That's why I told you. You deserved to know."

"What I deserve is a boyfriend that doesn't cheat on me, actually," she spits.

Zayn hears footsteps heading for the door, and he jumps back, eyes wide. Shit. He pulls the hood of his sweater over his head and starts walking in the opposite direction, head ducked just in case.

"And stay away from me!" he hears behind him, just before a door slams.

Zayn slowly walks down the hall. He can hear her going in the opposite direction, but when the footsteps are distant and no longer within hearing distance, he stops. Should he give Liam his space? Or should he go get his stuff? He really needs that book, he thinks, and maybe a part of him wants to make sure Liam's okay. Even if he's still pissed at Liam about yesterday. Even if he's done his best to avoid looking Liam in the eyes since all of that went down.

Zayn turns on the spot and heads back to the room. He pushes inside, only to find Liam sitting on Zayn's bed, head in his hands. He looks up when Zayn shuts the door softly behind himself, and his eyes are wet and red-rimmed.

"I, um, came to get my book," Zayn mumbles. "I can come back later, or—"

"No, it's fine." Liam gets off his bed. "I'm fine," he adds.

"I didn't ask," is out of his mouth before he can stop it. It's automatic, a reflexive response. He hates himself as soon as the words are out there, and Liam actually flinches at them, as if Zayn had slapped him.

"No, you didn't," Liam says, gruff, voice thick. "Why would you care, right?"

Zayn leans up to grab his book from the shelf, and then he stands there, just at the end of his bed, book hanging at his side. He wants to apologize, but then, at the same time, he doesn't. What he really wants, most of all, is to not care. Because if this had happened three months ago, he wouldn't. He wouldn't give a shit if he walked into the room to find Liam almost crying. He would have just walked back out without giving it a single thought. But now— now he wants to wrap his arms around Liam. Wants to rub Liam's back until he no longer look so broken and defeated.

And it's Zayn's fault, partially, why he looks like that. It takes two people to cheat on someone, and Zayn had as much a part in it as Liam did. "I'm—"

Liam shakes his head, and the words die in Zayn's throat. Slowly, Liam picks his way across the room, over the mess on his own side, over to Zayn's spotless side. Zayn steps back, for some reason, until he hits the edge of his dresser, but Liam keeps coming until he's trapping Zayn against it.

It's rough again, whatever gentleness they'd shared the last two times gone when Liam's lips crash down against his own. And Zayn goes with it, for awhile. Just as it's instinctive to snap at Liam, kissing him back is an automatic response to Liam's lips brushing his own.

But Liam's girlfriend just dumped him, and Zayn has no doubt that that is exactly why this is happening. That Zayn's going to be Liam's rebound, for now. Until he finds someone else again, and then he'll leave Zayn in the cold once more. And Zayn is sick. He's sick of never being good enough for anyone. Sick of always being a dirty secret, never someone's first choice. Never the one they want to hold hands with, or curl up and watch movies with, or go to dinner with. Zayn's always the one they want behind closed doors, but Zayn doesn't want that anymore.

He pushes Liam away from him. "No," he says firmly. "You can't just do that anymore."

Liam shuffles back a step, and then another. He wipes at his mouth, eyes on the ground. "Zayn." It sounds like a plea, but a plea for what?

"I can't do this," Zayn says. "You can't keep kissing me whenever you want. You can't keep — fucking with my head. I'm done. Okay? I'm done."


Zayn walks away. Just like he had to with Max. Because if not, this would continue on for God knows how long. Until he was shattered beyond repair, all at the hands of Liam. And he can't handle that. He can't do that to himself. No matter how much he wants to go back and kiss Liam and act like it's okay, it's not. It's not.

On his way out of the dorm, he stops at Louis and Harry's door. They're not in, so he grabs the marker hanging from the whiteboard and writes In the library. Need you. — Z

Zayn walks straight past the front desk when he gets to the library. He doesn't have it in him to nod a greeting to Nancy, like he normally does. Instead he heads for the back, for the table that he's practically claimed as his own. A few tables down, a girl is asleep with her head in a book, but he's alone aside from her and the books.

Louis and Harry don't get there for a while, but when they do it's with snacks and…"Niall?"

"We were hangin' out," Niall says with a shrug. He sits in the seat right beside Zayn. "I'm really good at cheering people up, so I figured I'd come."

"I don't think you want to cheer me up," Zayn admits. "It's got to do with Liam."

"Course it does." Niall shrugs again, stealing a chip from the bag that Louis snuck in (which Zayn will give him shit for later, when he feels better) and popping it in his mouth. "When Liam's crying on my shoulder, it's always over you. And I figure it's the same the other way around."

Zayn frowns. "When was Liam crying?"

"Well, not crying," Niall corrects. "He doesn't cry. He just, like, takes a lot of deep breaths and rubs at his eyes. He's too manly for tears or some shit. I don't know. All I do know is I've never seen such a fucked up relationship in my life, to be honest."

"Same," Louis puts in. "You two are the biggest mess."

"I hate to agree," Harry says, "but it's kind of the truth."

"It wasn't a relationship," Zayn denies. "And whatever it was— I called it off this time. Liam didn't have to. After last night… that was the last time. I'm done with it."

"Last night?" Louis demands. "What happened last night? Why wasn't I informed immediately?"

"Uh, Zayn came in when Liam was with his girlfriend, wouldn't leave, and it ended with Liam blowing Zayn. And then Liam said something, Zayn stormed out, or— I don't know, I kinda tune out whatever he says when he mentions Zayn's name anymore," Niall says sheepishly. "Sorry, dude, no offence to you. But there's only so many times I can hear I hate him, Niall. He's so attractive and smart and down to earth and he looks so hot in his glasses but I really hate him."

Zayn blinks in surprise. He snatches the bag of chips away from Niall when he reaches for it casually, as if what he just said wasn't a big deal. "He said that?" he demands. "Liam — he said those things?"

"Uh, yeah." Niall snatches the chips back. "The guy, like, worships you, dude. Not that he'd admit it, but."

No way. "That's not true."

"Sure it's not," Niall says. He rolls his eyes. "'s like talking to a brick wall of denial with both of you."

"It really is," Louis says. "They're so oblivious to their own feelings."

"I'm right here," Zayn reminds him.

Louis throws a chip at him. "I know. Get a clue."

Zayn ignores him. And he thinks Niall has it twisted. Liam doesn't think that way of him. Zayn would know.

"So, are you two dating?" Niall ask Louis and Harry.

The two of them exchange a look before bursting into laughter. Zayn tunes them out, too busy wondering about Liam, and what Niall said. And thinking that Niall's so, so wrong, but how much he wishes Niall was right.




Just like he did at the beginning of the year, Zayn avoids his room as much as possible. He spends all his free time in Louis and Harry's room or in the common room, and he puts in so much time at the library that he might as well live in there. But that's only because Liam is constantly in the room. Every time Zayn opens the door, Liam sits up in bed, mouth open, words about to come out. So Zayn backs out and shuts the door and hurries away.

He can't deal with it, is the thing. He doesn't want to know what Liam has to say. He doesn't want to listen to Niall trying to defend him (which he does constantly, now that he's apparently become great friends with Louis and Harry, always there to put in his two cents about the relationship that isn't really a relationship). Zayn wants to spend the next few months focusing on school work and nothing else. Liam does not fit into that schedule.

Nor does the box of chocolates he finds on his bed one afternoon. Liam, for once, isn't around. The room is blissfully empty, and Zayn was planning on taking advantage of that by going on his laptop to catch up on a few episodes of TV shows before he went to bed. But his eyes fall to the bed, and he frowns.

He slowly moves towards it, kicking Liam's messy shit out of the way. It's a small box, completely black except the red bow. He frowns, picks it up, and tugs the bow until it comes undone. There's no letter, no card. Just a few pieces of chocolate inside. Before he can stop himself, he takes one out and places it on his tongue.

Expensive, he thinks. It's not hard to tell the difference between cheap chocolate and the stuff that costs a little more, and this stuff is good. Rich and creamy, melting and coating his tongue.

Carefully, Zayn puts the lid back on, stashes the box in the top drawer of the desk, and then he falls onto his bed, pulling out his laptop. An hour, and an episode of Shameless later, the door opens. Zayn pauses the show, eyes lifting to Liam.

"Hey," Liam says pleasantly.

"Did you leave those chocolates on my bed?" Zayn demands.

Liam blinks, a frown tugging at his lips. "Maybe."


Liam shrugs and pulls open his dresser drawer. He riffles through it, pulling out clothes, and then he gathers up his stuff for the shower. Distantly, Zayn notices the sweat covering his skin, and he figures Liam was at the gym. If Zayn runs away to the library, Liam's escape is in the gym. He rarely even works out on their floor anymore.

Just before he's out the door, Liam hangs back and asks, "Did you like them?"

Zayn presses play on his show and ignores the question.



"You could have just told him you didn't," Niall points out. "You didn't have to ignore him."

Something Zayn's learning quickly about Niall, in the short time that he's pushed his way into the threesome of Zayn, Louis and Harry, is that he isn't as naive as Zayn thought. In fact, Niall seems possibly more aware of anything than any of them, sees straight through all the bullshit. And he hasn't been afraid to call Zayn out on it, unfortunately. Not that Zayn doesn't like the guy, because he does. A lot. But he likes living in his happy little world of denial a lot more.

"What was I supposed to say, though?" he demands. He's on the floor of Harry and Louis' room, Harry and Louis on Harry's bed playing a word puzzle, Niall sprawled out on Louis' bed with a bag of chips. Zayn wonders, distantly, why Niall isn't with Liam. Liam's probably missing his best friend, right about now, and it almost makes Zayn want to snap at Niall for abandoning him. But he has a feeling there's a reason Niall's with them and not Liam, and he isn't about to ask what it is, so he lets it go.

"Uh, thank you, maybe?" Niall suggests. "'s the polite thing to do, man."

"I don't even know why he gave me the damn things," Zayn grumbles.

It's been fucking with his head all week. The (now empty, Zayn couldn't control himself) box still sits in his drawer of the desk, and every day, at some point, he'll open the drawer, see it, and it will confuse him all over again. What's Liam playing at? What kind of game is this? Psychological warfare? Is he pissed at Zayn for pushing him away, so now he's pretending to be all nice just to screw with Zayn for it?

"Because he's in love with you, dumbass."

"Dumbass!" Louis says loudly. "Three down, two across."

"I'm pretty sure the word dumbass isn't used in crosswords," Harry says patiently. "I think the word is dumping."

Zayn ignores them in favour of blinking confusedly up at Niall. "Why would you say that?"

"Say what?" Niall asks.

"That Liam's— that he—" Zayn waves a hand, unable to repeat those words.

"In love with you," Niall finishes. "Because he is, maybe? I mean, Zayn, come on. The guy broke up with his girlfriend for you."

"No." Zayn shakes his head firmly. "She dumped him because he cheated on her."

"With you," Niall reminds him. "But that's not why it happened. He told her after he broke up with her, because she asked him why it wasn't working out, and he said he'd been with someone else and he couldn't see himself being able to stay away from them, and he couldn't be with her if he wasn't being faithful."

Zayn rubs at his temples. This is all too much. It's just — it's way too much. "That's not true," he denies.

"Yeah, it is." Because it seems to be Niall's goal, apparently, to not let Zayn live in peace. "Also, poetry or flowers?"

This whole conversation is making Zayn's head hurt. "What?"

"If someone wanted to get you something, would you rather have poetry or flowers?" Niall elaborates.

"I— I have no idea," Zayn says. "Poetry? I don't — where did that even come from?"

Niall shrugs and stuffs his face to keep from answering, and Louis snickers from the other side of the room. Harry looks between the three of them with an upset look on his face, but he drops his eyes back to the crossword puzzle before Zayn can ask him what that look means.

Zayn pushes that weird question aside in favour of thinking about what else Niall said. About Liam possibly… but, like, he can't be. Right? Liam can't be in love with him because— why would he be, really? Zayn's been nothing but an ass to him, ever. And even if he were nice to Liam, Zayn doesn't really have much to offer anyone. Especially not someone like Liam, attractive and popular. Who could have his pick of much better candidates for his love. But —

Whatever. Zayn's not thinking about it anymore; if he does, he'll drive himself crazy. So he reverts back into his Cave of Denial, where he'll happily live his days until the school year is over. And then, next year, he'll make sure that his roommate is not Liam, and he'll never, ever have to see Liam again. It'll be wonderful, he thinks, and if his stomach twists at the thought of doing that, well, he'll happily deny it.




Niall's question makes sense when Zayn goes to his room after being in the library all afternoon the next day. The first thing he notices, upon entering the room, is that their wastebasket is full of balled up papers, which is weird enough. But then his eyes fall on his bed, on the neat black envelope, sealed with a single chocolate.

Zayn groans. He pops the chocolate into his mouth and breaks the seal on the envelope, pulling out the thick parchment inside. The writing on it is kind of sloppy, admittedly, but it looks like it'd been carefully written down, probably more than once, guessing by the state of their garbage bin.

This is not what I intended. I may have failed but I have loved you from the start, Zayn reads, eyes skimming over the slanted words. I know you don't think that I am trying, I know you're wearing thin down to the core. But hold your breath….

He reads it over three times, eyebrows drawn together. And then he reads it once more, for good measure, before putting the 'poem' back in the envelope and pulling out his laptop. He types the words in, and he shakes his head. He knew it. They're song lyrics. It's not even a plagiarised poem, they're fucking song lyrics. Jesus Christ, really?

He snorts to himself. And while he still has no idea what Liam's trying to do, he's not going to just ignore him this time.

It's almost an hour later when Liam comes into the room, once again sweaty after a workout. He shuts the door behind himself and bites his lip, eyes moving from the envelope on the desk to Zayn's face, his cheeks going red.

"What the hell even was that?" Zayn asks him.

Liam licks his lips. "Um."

"Those were Secondhand Serenade lyrics," Zayn states.

Liam rubs his neck, wincing. "I was hoping you wouldn't notice."

Zayn shuts his laptop and stands up. Liam takes a step back, moving away from him. "What are you trying to do, Liam? Putting cheesy song lyrics in envelopes and giving me chocolates and shit."

"I tried writing poetry myself," Liam admits, stammering a bit. "Niall said it'd be better than flowers, but I'm as shitty at writing as I am at drawing, apparently, and— it didn't work. So I thought maybe… but obviously you figured it out."

"But why would you even bother?" Zayn demands. "I don't get it."

"Like— like it said, I'm trying," Liam explains. "I'm trying to—"

"Well cut it out," Zayn snaps. "It's creepy."

He leaves the room, but not before he sees the wounded look on Liam's face. But he closes the door on it, too confused to do anything else. Too confused by everything he feels, and everything Liam's doing. He lights up a cigarette on his way to the coffee shop, and he texts Louis and Harry, asking them where they are, begging them to come meet him.

Only there's no consolatory party this time. When he explains what happened this time, Harry slaps his arm hard enough that it stings. "You're an asshole," he says. "You better not have actually said that to him."

Zayn gapes at him for it. "What? But—"

"No," Harry says. "You know, through this entire thing you've been acting like Liam's the only one who's done wrong. And I'm not saying he hasn't, because he has. You've both fucked with each other a lot, and you've both done and said some pretty shitty things. But you don't own up to it, Zayn. You act like you're a victim, and Liam's here to make your life hell when, in reality, you've done as much as him."

Both Zayn and Louis look at him in surprise. Zayn's mouth feels dry, and he's possibly going to throw up the sandwich he'd had for lunch. "Harry—"

"Don't," Harry says, and Zayn has no idea where this side of him came from. He didn't know Harry was capable of looking like that, fierce and angry, lips a thin, tight line. And he definitely didn't think Harry would ever get like that with him. "You know what you both need to do? Before anything? You need to fucking apologize to each other."

And with that he stomps away from the bench they were all sitting at, heading in the direction of their dorm. Zayn is too numb to call after him, or follow him. He feels sick and cold and tears are prickling his eyes. But he deserves it, doesn't he?

Harry's right, Zayn knows it. He's been a complete ass to Liam this whole time. And he's been aware of it, he has, but — maybe he does need to own up to it. And maybe, in some weird, confusing way, that's what Liam's trying to do. Maybe he's trying to apologize for all of this shit that's happened.

"I need to go," Zayn mutters. "Sorry, Lou."

Louis looks up from his phone. "You really are a dick, you know."


"Liam's with Niall. You won't find him in the room."

"How d'you know that?" Zayn asks.

Louis holds up the phone. "It's this wonderful new invention, texting. Niall told me that Liam just got to his room, and apparently he's cursing your name to the heavens, babe. He's pissed at you."

Zayn chews his lip. The thing is, he knows himself too well to think that he'll still be willing to apologize later. Knows that he'll over think it, come up with excuses not to. Knows that he'll chicken out and run from this all like he's been trying to do for weeks now, ever since that night with the paint when he realized that he couldn't keep emotions out of it anymore.

"Can you— can you ask him to send Liam to the room?" Zayn asks, soft and hesitant, not fully sure, even now, that he wants to do this.

Louis' fingers blur over the keys, and a second later his phone beeps with a new message. "Niall says he likes you but right now you can go fuck yourself," Louis relays. He types out another message. "Now Niall says that Liam says that he doesn't want to talk to you." More typing. "Okay, now Niall says that he's trying to convince Liam, but Liam is ignoring him. And he also—"

Zayn snatches the phone from his hand and presses call. He waits a beat, as it rings, wondering if Niall will even answer, but Niall picks up seconds later with a snapped, "Liam doesn't want to talk to him, okay?"

Zayn sucks in a breath. "Can you put Liam on?"

Silence. Then, "I'm not sure if that's a good idea. He doesn't want to talk to you, and I don't blame him."

Zayn swallows his pride. "Please."

There's rustling on the other end, a heated conversation that he can't hear because Niall must be covering the receiver. Silence falls for a moment, before more rustling and finally Liam's voice, thick and quiet, "What do you want?"

"Can you meet me in the room?" Zayn asks. "To talk. Please."

"Talk about what? What's there to talk about, at this point, Zayn? Really? Because I don't see any reason why I should anymore, and I don't see any reason why you'd even want to."

"Please," Zayn says again. That's it, nothing else.

"Okay," Liam sighs. "I'll be there in a minute."

"And if you're an ass to him again Zayn I swear I'll—" The call ends, cutting off Niall in the background. Zayn hands the phone back to Louis.

"He's meeting you, then?" Louis questions.

Zayn nods. "He said he would, anyway. He might not. I wouldn't blame him if he didn't."

Louis stands up, resting his hand on Zayn's shoulder. "You're welcome to stay at ours if things go bad, okay? Even if Harry yelled at you, we're here for you."

"Yeah, I know," Zayn says. "Thanks."

Louis waves him off. "Anytime. Now I'm gonna go get some pizza. Your relationship drama is exhausting."

The walk to his dorm is far shorter than Zayn had hoped it would be. His hands may be shaking, just a bit, as he pulls open the door to their floor. And he gets halfway down the hall to their room before panic sets in. What if Liam doesn't want to hear him out? What if he just yells at Zayn instead? Or, what if Zayn can't think of the right words to say? What if it all comes out as a jumbled mess and he only makes things worse?

Fuck it. He pushes open the door anyway. And Liam's not there.

Zayn chews his lip, looking around, as if Liam could be hiding somewhere. But unless he's under the beds, he's not. So Zayn sits down at the desk, turned to face the door, and he waits. And the longer he waits, the more nervous he gets, until he's ready to jump out of the chair and leave the room.

Liam comes in before he can. He's wearing a thick hoodie and sweatpants, and Zayn's pretty sure half of that belongs to Niall. Liam softly shuts the door behind himself and leans against it, head ducked. He looks — he looks hurt, is what he looks. Like what Zayn said to him earlier had truly, deeply wounded him.

So Zayn sucks it up, closes his eyes, and says a sincere, genuine, "I'm sorry."

When he opens his eyes, Liam's still got his head ducked, but his gaze meets Zayn's. His brown eyes are narrowed and distrustful. "For what, exactly?"

Zayn squirms. "Um. A lot of things?"

Liam nods. "You should be."

"Yeah, but so should you," Zayn points out.

Liam nods again, pushing away from the wall. His feet drag across the floor on the way to his bed, like he's too tired to fully lift them. He falls onto it, leaning forward to put his head in his hands. Zayn doesn't bother him, figures Liam needs a moment and lets him have it. When he finally lifts his head again, he says, "I was trying to win you over. With the chocolates, and the…." He waves a hand.

"Song lyrics," Zayn supplies. Once more, Liam silently nods his confirmation. "I thought you were fucking with me, that's why I reacted that way. But Niall said you weren't, and Harry yelled at me, and—"

"Harry yelled at you?" Liam looks completely shocked.

"Right? I didn't see it coming, either." Zayn slides a hand through his hair. "He told me I should apologize, too."

Liam stiffens, expression going blank. "So that's why you're doing it, then," he says coldly. "Because Harry told you to."

Zayn is out of the chair in seconds. He kneels in front of Liam, hands hesitantly resting on his thighs, in case Liam doesn't want to be touched. But Liam doesn't push him away, so he takes that as encouragement. "That's not why I'm apologizing," he says lowly. "I mean, that's why I'm doing it now, but that's — I'm not saying it just because Harry told me I should. I'm saying it because I mean it."

Liam snorts, disbelieving. "Right."

"Liam," Zayn pleads.

"What are you sorry for, then?" Liam asks. He's sitting with his back straight, hands clenched on the bed at his sides, eyes on the wall above Zayn's head. "If you mean it, then what are you sorry for? Specifically?"

Zayn chews the inside of his lip. It makes him sick, how many things could fill in the blank here. So, so many options that it's really no wonder Liam hates him. Maybe Zayn was justified in his hatred for Liam, too, but that doesn't make it okay. They'd both fucked up, as Harry said. "For not thanking you for the chocolates," he decides, going with the last offence first. "And the song lyrics. Even if it was cheesy as hell."

Liam groans. "Can we just pretend that never happened, please? God, that's almost as bad as the Christmas party when I set up the lights and got your present and you never showed up. You make me do a lot of embarrassing things, apparently."

"The lights?" Zayn asks, completely lost.

Liam's face flushes. "I, uh, borrowed a few Christmas lights from the party and hung them up. I thought it'd be romantic."

"And I didn't show up," Zayn states.

"And you didn't show up," Liam repeats. "I felt like an idiot. It — it was definitely one of the lower points of my life. Here I was, ready to spill my heart out to you, and you didn't even show. Like, I could have handled the rejection just fine. I don't expect you to feel things for me just because I feel them for you. But you didn't even come, and I realized afterwards that I was stupid to think that you would."

Zayn can picture it, his eyes going out of focus. Liam setting up lights around the room, nervously jiggling his leg as he waited for Zayn to show up. And then Zayn, sitting in the car, looking down at the message and leaving it for almost an hour, until he was far away from the school and from Liam, before telling him that he'd left. Had Liam sat there the whole time, waiting for an answer?

"I'm sorry for that, too," Zayn says. "Fuck, Liam, I didn't know."

"'s fine," Liam assures him. "I'm over it."

Zayn inhales deeply, resting his head on Liam's thigh. "I'm sorry for a lot of other things, too. Like treating you like you're stupid, because you're not. Or looking down on you for getting so into football and working out."

"I'm sorry for making fun of you for actually working hard," Liam counters. "And for those times that I hit snooze on your alarm so you were late for class."

Zayn lifts his head, looking up sharply. "You what?"

Liam chuckles sheepishly. "It was only a handful of times," he defends. "Only because you'd really pissed me off, and your alarm is annoying."

Zayn stands up, pushing at Liam's shoulders. Liam falls back on the bed, a big, silly grin on his face. "I can't believe you did that," Zayn says, sounding as scandalized as he feels. How many days did he have to run to class because of Liam? How many times did he wake up confused, thinking maybe he'd hit the snooze button himself? And all that time, it was Liam. "Prick!"

Liam reaches out, wrapping a hand around Zayn's wrist. He searches Zayn's face for a moment, unsure, and then his smile smoothes out again and he tugs Zayn down on top of him. "I'm sorry for that time I hid your glasses for an hour, too," he adds.

"You—" Zayn glares at him. Or, he tries. It's hard when Liam looks so… blindingly happy, all of a sudden. "Fucker," he says, but it's not harsh at all. "I'm sorry for that time I locked you out of the room for six hours and pretended to be asleep when you forgot your keys."

Liam's eyes widen. "You were awake?!"

"Maybe," Zayn admits. "We really enjoy fucking with each other, huh?"

"Yeah." Liam's voice gets softer, and the smile morphs into a serious look. He rolls them over until Zayn falls off him, landing on his back, legs dangling off the side of Liam's bed. Liam props himself up over him, and Zayn can't do anything but look up into his eyes, stomach clenched tightly. "I'm sorry I fell for you. I know that we probably weren't supposed to have feelings, or whatever, not that we ever really discussed it, but— I'm sorry I screwed everything up by falling for you."

Maybe Niall wasn't wrong, Zayn realizes. Because the way Liam looks at him, more than his words, is what makes him believe that maybe it's true. That maybe Liam really does have feelings for him. "What if I don't want you to be sorry for that?" he whispers. He clears his throat. "Or what if I'm sorry for doing the same thing?"

Liam's eyes drop to Zayn's lips for a moment. "I'm sorry for kissing you."

Zayn snorts before he can stop himself. "Which time?"

Liam's lips press against his own, and Zayn's eyes widen in surprise, for a moment, before he lets them fall closed. Liam kisses him slow and thorough, gently coaxing Zayn's mouth open. And then he pulls back, unexpectedly. Zayn pushes himself up, trying to capture Liam's lips again, but Liam shakes his head and smiles. "That time."

Zayn groans, grabbing at the front of Liam's shirt to pull him back down. "Can we stop apologizing?" he begs. "Can we move on to the part where we just admit that we don't hate each other anymore?"

Liam raises his eyebrows. "I still hate you," he says. "You get up at insane hours of the morning, and you go to bed earlier than my eighty-year-old grandpa. You hit your keys on the keyboard way too hard. You do that annoying thing where you tap your pen on the desk while you think. You're a neat freak. You—"

"You snore," Zayn says. "And you're a slob. Plus, you watch sports, like, constantly. It's ridiculous."

"Nothing wrong with sports," Liam argues. "And you do that pretentious thing where you correct people when they use 'who' instead of 'whom' even though you do it all the time yourself."

"Once," Zayn says. "I corrected you once. And you never lock the fucking door, even though I've told you a million times—"

"You're naggy." Liam grins, chin tilted defiantly. "You're worse than my mother."

"You always work out when I'm studying."

"You're always studying. And you hog the desk like it's yours, but it's ours."

"You constantly touch my stuff."

"You always flop onto your bed."

"You get pissy on game days."

"You always slam the door."

"So do you!" Zayn says, indignant. "All the time!"

Liam's eyebrows draw together. "I'm running out of things that you do that piss me off." He chews his lip. "You look cute in your classes."

"You look hot when you're sweaty," Zayn admits.

"I like your hair when you don't brush it after you've showered and it gets all messy."

"I think it's sweet that you let those kids put makeup on you just because it made them happy, even if you looked ridiculous."

"I think it's brilliant that you're not afraid to like what you like. That you don't care if other people think it's dorky or nerdy to like reading or comic books, or spending time in the library."

"I like that you didn't quit the art class, just because you were bad at it. I would've given up, but you never did, no matter how frustrated you got. And I liked your painting. I liked painting with you," Zayn admits.

Liam closes his eyes tightly. "I bought your painting," he confesses.

Zayn freezes. "What?"

Liam nods. "I made Mrs. Kensington bid for me. I gave her the money. I wanted it, but I didn't want you to know because I hadn't told you how I felt yet, and I thought it might scare you off."

"Liam," Zayn breathes. His chest feels tight, and there's a sinking feeling in his stomach, but for once it feels like a good thing. "You paid over a hundred dollars for that!"

All Liam does is shrug, like he doesn't care. "I liked it."

"I like you." Nothing else. Plain and simple. The honest truth.

Liam's free hand tangles in Zayn's hair, and he nods slowly while gently tugging his fingers through the strands. "I like you, too. More than like."

"I'm sorry that I screwed up your chance to tell me that sooner," Zayn says, eyes on his own hands, slowly tracing patterns on Liam's forearm, outlining the tattoo there and filling it in with the tips of his fingers.

"I'm sorry that I honestly thought calling this off and seeing someone else would work," Liam says right back. "Because it didn't. Not at all."

Zayn smiles faintly up at him. "So we're back to apologizing, then?"

"We have a lot to apologize for."

"That's true," Zayn says. "But I'd rather kiss you instead."

Liam grins, leaning down until his lips are almost touching Zayn's. Zayn sits up the rest of the way, hand resting on the back of Liam's neck. Until Liam kisses him, hands pushing down his shoulders so he's lying flat against the bed, giving Liam room to crawl on top of him. Zayn's hands move up his back as his lips part, and he can feel Liam smiling into the kiss, can feel himself doing the same.

"Wait." Liam pulls back just an inch, and Zayn's gaze moves to his slick pink lips. Why did they stop kissing, exactly? That's a bad idea. They should kiss, like, always. "Does this mean we can't fight with each other anymore? Because I kind of enjoyed the fighting."

"And the angry sex?" Zayn smirks.

"That," Liam says, words whispering against Zayn's jaw, "I definitely enjoyed."

Zayn shivers, shifting under Liam a bit. "I don't think we'd be able to stop fighting with each other even if we wanted to."

"Good." And then Liam writes the word out on Zayn's neck with just the tip of his tongue, and goosebumps break out along Zayn's skin. "One more thing." Zayn groans at him. "Can we maybe do more than just, um, have sex with each other, though?"

Zayn props himself up on one hand. "Like what?"

Liam shrugs, not meeting his eyes. "I don't know. Go out, maybe. Kiss without it leading to sex. Date."

"Are you asking me to be your boyfriend?" Zayn teases, because it's easier to joke than to get his hopes up or let Liam know just how giddy those words make him. Ridiculously giddy, actually, and warm. It's embarrassing, but he can't help it.

"Can't you go easy on me just this once?" Liam whines. "Why do I have to ask you?"

Zayn rolls his eyes. "Fine. Liam, will you be my boyfriend?"


Zayn snorts out a laugh, slapping at Liam's shoulder. "Asshole."

Liam leans down so they're almost kissing again. "I do want that, though. I want to be able to hold hands with you. I want to be able to curl up with you on the couch in the common room while we watch my shitty sports shows and you complain the entire time. I want to sit with you in the library and watch you study and distract you until you threaten to kick me out, even though you wouldn't really do it. I want to sleep with you. Not sex, just sleeping." He pauses, taking a shaky breath. "I want it all, Zayn."

And Zayn's never had that. Never had anyone want that with him. But he wants that, too. Wants to pull Liam into every part of his life, even if they argue sometimes. Even if they shout at each other and get angry. He wants there to be happy moments, too, when they're not fighting. When they're just happily wrapped up in each other. He wants that.

"One condition," he says.


"You start cleaning your side of the room, Liam," Zayn says firmly. "Or it's not happening."




"I think I liked it better when all you watched was sports," Zayn grumbles.

Liam shushes him. "The chick with the dragon eggs is talking. She's my favourite."

Introducing Liam to Game of Thrones was, apparently, a bad idea. All he's done the last three days is marathon episode after episode, after borrowing the first season box set off the guy across the hall. And they're not the only ones, apparently, because the entire common room is full of people, some piled onto the floor, some piled onto the couch next to them, all of them avidly watching the screen.

"Fucking Christ," Zayn mutters.

"Babe." Liam pulls him in closer, lips finding Zayn's forehead easily. "I love you, you know I do. But if you don't shut up—"

Zayn grins, tilting his head up, and Liam's focus leaves the show for the first time in what feels like days. "What if I don't?" he whispers.

Liam's gaze darkens, eyes narrowing slightly. Zayn smirks at him, knowing he's won before Liam's even realized it. And then, next thing he knows, Liam's standing up, stomping past people spread out on the floor. Zayn hurries after him, but Liam ignores him all the way back to their room.

Until they're inside it, and then he pushes Zayn up against the door, lips going to his neck instantly. "One episode," he growls. "You were the one who wanted me to watch it in the first place!"

"Yeah, but I didn't— I didn't expect you to— Fuck, I can't think when you do that, you know that," Zayn groans. "But I didn't want you to ignore me. I didn't think you'd even like it!"

"I watched it for you!" Liam pushes up Zayn's shirt, and Zayn lifts his arms to get it off. "I can't believe we're really arguing about his right now."

"I've already seen them all, like, six times," Zayn says. "I was bored."

"I can't watch it and entertain you at the same time," Liam points out, hands dropping to Zayn's jeans, now. "God, you're needy, you know that?"

"Don't call me needy," Zayn snaps, annoyance slipping into his tone. "I'm not needy."

"Really fucking needy," Liam says, nipping at his collarbone.

"Fuck you," Zayn says, hands fisting in Liam's hair to keep him there.

"Mhm," Liam agrees. "Desk?"

"Yeah. But don't push all my shit onto the floor this time."

Liam picks him up easily, and Zayn automatically wraps his arms and legs around Liam to keep himself up. "What do you want me to do, then?" Liam demands. "Neatly put everything away before I fuck you?" Before Zayn can answer that, Liam smirks and brushes his arm over the desk, knocking everything to the ground, including an empty coffee cup, pencils, pens, a notebook, and a half eaten chocolate bar. "Oops."

"You're cleaning that later," Zayn says, just before his back hits the top of the desk a little roughly. Liam kisses him to make up for it. "Or so help me—"

Liam kisses him to shut him up, but later, when they're done and he's caught his breath again, they'll revisit this conversation. And maybe have a new one about not trashing the room just to have sex, since Zayn is somehow always the one cleaning it up afterwards.

Liam's lips move off his, down Zayn's chest slowly. "If I blow you first, do I still have to clean it up?"

Zayn debates that for a moment. "No," he decides.

Liam grins, tugging down Zayn's jeans easily, his boxers following almost immediately. And then he pulls Zayn's legs up so they're over his shoulders, since he has nowhere else to put them, really, unless he lets them dangle uncomfortably off the desk. And there's no way Zayn's ever going to be able to study at this desk again, because he knows that he'll not be able to think of anything else but this every time he sits here.

"Love you," Liam mumbles against his thigh.

Zayn grins, reaching down to tangle a hand in Liam's hair. "Stop talking."