Zayn is humming something when Liam enters the shop. It's smooth and melodic, and the little jangle of the bell is terribly discordant.
Liam hums along, then sings a few words. Zayn stops what he was doing and stops humming, too, giving Liam a flat look.
"That was Drake, right?" Liam knows it was Drake, because once Zayn hummed something that Liam recognised off the radio and it turned out to be Drake and Liam promptly went home and downloaded every Drake song he could get his hands on. "I love Drake," he says hopefully.
Zayn stays quiet and and turns his attention back to the window display he's perfecting.
Liam is the weekend manager of the high street Poundland, while he does his BTEC in Music Technology at the sixth-form college in the week. Being a Poundland, it's not exact normal practice for them to have elaborate window displays – if there were a scale of shops that deserve elaborate window displays, Selfridges would top the list, and Liam is hard-pressed to think of a shop lower in the list than Poundland. At least it's a chain. Perhaps one of those tiny corner shops that still sell milk for less than a pound for a four-pinter, maybe they'd be at the bottom. Anyway. The point is, Zayn's a bit of an artistic genius – Liam doesn't think this is a biased observation, it's practically objective fact – and his uncle owns the shop and lets Zayn create whatever he wants in the windows long as he doesn't infringe on the household goods aisle. So they are a Poundland with incredible window displays. At least they stand out.
Currently, Zayn is working on something sort of – gothic, maybe, Liam isn't exactly sure of the artistic influences, but he's sure they are many and complex. There is a lot of black and some very anguished-looking faces and a generous smattering of blood.
"Do you need anything?" says Zayn, smearing red paint over the face of a broken child's doll. It's a bit scary. And sexy. Liam swallows.
"Oh," he says hurriedly. "I just. I like this month's display. October, like, it fits, it's. It reminds me of – um. Like, death."
Zayn carries on smearing, then shoots Liam a sideways glance. "That's the point," he says.
"Oh," says Liam. "Well, okay, I'm just going t--"
"Do you--" says Zayn, talking over Liam, then stopping.
Liam shuts up and raises his eyebrows hopefully at Zayn. They stare at each other in only slightly excruciating silence for a while.
"Do I--?" prompts Liam.
"Never mind," says Zayn, and goes back to smearing.
"Okay," says Liam. "I'm just going to, you know. Shop opens soon," he says brightly, and scurries off to the till.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Zayn lean forward and rest his forehead against the glass of the window. Liam himself feels somewhat like dropping his own head down onto the register when he reaches the till.
Still, he thinks to himself as he starts cashing in, look on the bright side. Zayn almost sort of actually nearly reciprocated conversation with him. Progress.
It's quite a horrible day – it's always busy, but it's half term and even though it shouldn't make a difference – it's still a Saturday – it's like the kids are drugged on the joy of being off school for a week, and it's frankly chaos. On top of the general sense of mayhem, someone drops a basket containing both a bottle of shampoo and a bag of flour, both of which explode, and Jade is busy on the till so Liam has to clean it up before it sets like bubbly concrete; there seems to be a never ending parade of screaming babies in buggies narrow enough to fit down the aisles but wide enough to keep knocking stuff off the shelves; and Liam argues for nearly half an hour with a man who wants to return over twenty-five quid's worth of items.
"But that must be, like, twenty-odd items. Because you're a pound shop," says Louis at lunch.
"Yes," says Liam tiredly.
"I didn't think you could return stuff at a pound shop," says Niall.
"It's like, mate, whatever it is, you bought it for a pound. It's gonna be shit. No offence," Niall added, hurriedly.
"None taken," says Liam, picking dejectedly at his Greggs baguette.
"Cheer up," says Louis. "At least you made it through another morning alive."
"He's not a serial killer psychopath," says Liam immediately.
"Mate, I walked by there on my way to work this morning, and he was crouched in the window like, drawing on this big piece of black paper, drawing this skeleton stabbing someone, and he was laughing like a demented Bond villain," says Niall, leaning forward with his eyebrows drawn together, all concern.
"No he wasn't," says Liam straight away. He's barely even seen Zayn smile, he can't imagine demented cackling.
"Well, no," says Niall, leaning back. "But he was drawing a skeleton."
"It's for his October display," argues Liam. "It's a seasonal theme."
"What's the theme?" asks Louis "Cold blooded murder?"
"Death," says Liam, "but shut up. Zayn's like, deep. It's meaningful."
"Oh my god," says Louis, as Niall does his own rather impressive demented cackling. "You are so gone. It's pathetic. It's wonderful." He leans obnoxiously into Liam's space and pinches his cheeks. "Look at our little Leemo, all grown up and falling in love with serial killers."
"You looove him, you want to maaarry him, you want to have his baaabies," Niall contributes.
"Oh my god, shut up, that wouldn't even work," wails Liam, shoving Louis's hand away. "He's not a serial killer, I'm not in love with him, and he doesn't even like me, so it's all pointless anyway."
"Aw, Liam," says Louis, and Niall gives him a surprisingly nice sideways hug on the bench.
"Don't worry about it," says Niall. "I am completely sure he does not hate you at all."
"What do you know?" asks Liam, perking up, despite Louis's snort from his other side, because he knows Niall knows Harry who works at the antiques shop around the corner from the Footlocker that Niall and Louis work at, and that Harry knows Zayn from school where they both do A Levels.
"Eh," says Niall, infuriatingly unhelpful. "I dunno anything, mate, but I am sure he doesn't hate you like you like to imagine in your mopiest moments. He's just, like. A bit hard to know, Harry says."
"I struggled enough making friends with you lot," says Liam despairingly, "and you pretty much handheld me through it. I've got no chance. We'll just be confused by and awkward at each other and totally fail to have conversation with each other for the rest of time."
"Don't fret," says Louis, rubbing a comforting hand up and down Liam's arm. "Something will shake itself out. And me and Niall'll be here to support you and take the mickey out of you all the way through."
"That's not a comfort," says Liam, though it sort of is.
Liam usually goes to the shop after his last period at college on Fridays, to help Mr Malik cash up from the week and prepare stock for the weekend. This Friday is particularly important, though, as there's a shop audit happening the next week and Mr Malik is panicking over it. Liam's hopeless at the accounts stuff, so he doesn't expect to be any help with that, but while Mr Malik's head is stuck in the books, the stock needs inventorying and putting out, and when Liam walks in, it looks like it hasn't been done all bloody week.
Mr Malik - call me Raj, Liam, please, I feel like a bloody teacher when you say that, he says every time, but Liam still feels weird calling grown ups by their first name - is surrounded by paperwork when Liam gets in. He finishes it off about 7pm, and is all ready to help Liam with the mountain of stuff, at which point an alarm on his phone reminds him of his daughter's parents' evening.
"Forget me bloody head," he says, shaking his head. "Liam, I have to go - are you okay--"
Liam nods and smiles and says he's fine finishing off here himself, yes, he'll lock up, no, he doesn't mind; which is how he finds himself still stocking shelves in a pound shop at ten to midnight on a Friday night. It's a good thing he's never really pretended to be cool.
Liam nearly jumps out of his bloody skin when he hears the front door jiggle, and he grabs the nearest thing to him as a weapon, which turns out to be a roll of polka dot wrapping paper. He holds it anyway. Perhaps it will be, like a deterrent. He doesn't think he could actually go through with whacking someone with a baseball bat, anyway.
"Hello?" he calls out, inching towards the door, gasping when it opens, then startling over in an entirely new way when Zayn walks in, looking up and stopping in the doorway when he sees Liam.
"Oh," he says. "What are you doing here?"
"Stocking. Er, Mr Malik has the audit thing, then parents' evening, so there was, like, a lot of stuff. I'm nearly done, sorry," says Liam, faintly confused as to why he's apologising, but something about Zayn just makes him want to, like, apologise for existing so messily near his perfection.
"Mr--"? says Zayn, eyebrows drawing together. "Oh, Uncle Raj." Then his eyes flicker. "You planning on wrapping me to death with that?"
"What?" says Liam, then, "Oh," when Zayn points to the roll of wrapping paper Liam's still holding up like an idiot. He drops it immediately, and it bounces with a hollow noise, then rolls under a shelf. Liam belatedly realises Zayn had made a joke - a joke! To Liam! - and laughs, possibly a bit too loudly; but the corner of Zayn's mouth quirks in what looks enough like amusement (but could be annoyance, but Liam is an optimist) so Liam decides to take it as a win.
"So, um," he says, trailing off. "Why are you here at nearly midnight? On Friday the thirteenth, ooh," he says, wiggling his fingers a bit.
Zayn blinks at him. "Got a thing," he says, gesturing to the big box he's carrying under his arm. "For my display, like."
"Oh, okay, cool," says Liam. "Well, um, I'll let you get on with it. I'm nearly done, so. I'll leave you be soon."
"Mmm," says Zayn, noncommittally.
Liam is pretty much done in a few minutes, and he's fishing out the roll of wrapping paper which has rolled under the shelf right by the windows.
He grabs it, then peers over at what Zayn is doing, unable to help himself. Zayn said actual words to him earlier. He made a joke. Liam can totally start a normal conversation with him.
"What," he says, then clears his throat. "Whatcha doing?"
Zayn's crouching in front of the box he'd brought in, brushing dust off the lid. He looks up at Liam for a long moment, biting his lip, possibly deciding if Liam is worth hearing about his artistry.
"Got this box," he says, "from Harry's shop. On loan, like. It's an old music box, apparently. Thought it would look sick in the middle of the display."
"Yeah!" says Liam enthusiastically. "That sounds amazing! Can I--"
See, he means to say, but as he steps forward, he trips, and drops the roll of wrapping paper to steady himself on the window. The roll drops onto the box and knocks the old metal clasp on the front open, and the lid creaks up.
A broken, bent figurine of a ballerina folds up, and there's a moment of silence, Liam holding his breath for some reason, before the ballerina starts to turn and a tinny, plinky-plonky tune starts to play. In the same moment, Liam can faintly hear the bells of the clock tower in the town centre tolling midnight.
"Phew," he says, relieved he didn't break the possibly priceless antique (he's not sure Harry's shop deals with the priceless end of antiques, but you never know).
"Um," says Zayn, still looking at the box.
Liam steps over and crouches next to Zayn. Zayn smells lovely. "What--?"
The bells are still going, and now Liam can see what Zayn was um-ing at. The box seems to be glowing - no, definitely is glowing, getting brighter and brighter like there's an energy saving lightbulb inside it, until it gets so bright it's painful, and it's warm, too, beaming into Liam's face like sunshine until he can't see anything but white. He feels dizzy, weird, like he can't work out what way up he is, and there's a sudden loud BANG - and he's lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling, the glow and the warmth gone.
The shop is cold and dark and silent, now; Liam's ears are ringing like crazy and his head aches so badly.
He sits up gingerly, head spinning.
"Zayn?" he says, "are you--"
But as soon as he even says the word Zayn, it's like, it's like he's going to just be sick if he doesn't find him straightaway, stomach twisting up in agony, and he needs Zayn, like, right now, some crazy impulse that goes way beyond his usual general pathetic moping. He's about to just fling himself around helplessly until he find him, when a warm weight crashes into him and everything goes still.
It's Zayn, practically in his lap, and Liam should probably be both happy and alarmed by that, but for a long blissful moment all he can feel is relief, his headache smoothed away, his ears quiet, his nausea totally gone, and a general sense of peace settles over his skin.
After a couple of moments, though, he opens his eyes again and properly registers the fact that Zayn is curled in his lap, face pressed into his neck, and Liam can feel, oh my god, the tiny delicate brush of his eyelashes, and the heat of his breath, and - wow. Butterflies start to dance the samba in his tummy, which is much more pleasant that the nausea, but still somewhat intense.
Zay seems to register their position at the same moment, because he pulls his head back, says, "Um, what - sorry, fuck," and quickly clambers away, putting a few feet of distance between he and Liam and not meeting his eyes.
"What, no, no no, that's no good," says Liam nonsensically, reaching out for Zayn, because he has no idea what is happening but he does know that as soon as Zayn moved away the headache came back, and he can't think straight with the pounding in his temples.
Zayn winces and presses the heel of his hand to his forehead. "What the fuck?" he says. He looks at Liam, eyes squinted almost all the way shut. "What happened? What - ow."
He sounds so plaintive, through the haze of pain, and that's, just, that's terrible, Zayn should never sound like that, so Liam gives in to his instinct and crawls over to Zayn, reaches out to grab Zayn's hand in his.
It's instantaneous, again – the second his skin touches Zayn's, the headache and the stomach pain goes away, and Liam feels wonderful.
Zayn drops his hand from his forehead and stares down at their clasped hands. "What the fuck," he says again.
It's not the most surprising or horrible reaction Liam had ever imagined to him and Zayn holding hands, but it's definitely not top of the list.
"I, um," says Liam, cheeks burning, but determined not to let go, because it hurt last time, and Liam isn't generally the world's biggest fan of unnecessary pain. Which Louis would say is blatantly untrue seeing as he continues to mope uselessly over Zayn without doing any-bloody-thing about it, but Louis can shut the fuck up, because ha! Liam is now holding Zayn's hand. Sort of. "I don't know. But you, er, you feel it as well, right? It hurts--"
"--When we aren't touching," finishes Zayn slowly, frowning and still not looking at Liam, tension in his hand like he wants to pull it away. "That's - weird." He finally glances up at Liam. "Test it again?"
"Oh," says Liam, not really wanting to let go, for more than one reason, but he supposes that might be sensible. "Okay."
His hand is still clumsily wrapped around Zayn's so he pulls it up til their hands are held in mid air between them, and he slowly loosens his fingers. For a moment after his skin completely leaves Zayn's, it's fine, then there's a pressure behind his eyes, then agonising pain zings through his head and his stomach twists. Zayn gasps at the same moment he does, and their hands clasps again quickly, fingers interlocking this time.
"Well," says Liam. "This is - odd."
"This is ridiculous," says Zayn. "What is going on?"
Then he looks at the music box. "Can't believe I'm saying this, like, but. I'm thinking. Maybe the music box was, like. Cursed?"
Liam wants to laugh, but he can't really give a more rational explanation, so he just makes a weird cough laugh hybrid. "Cursed? Like, you know, Harry Potter?"
"You read Harry Potter?"
Liam blushes. "I saw the films."
Zayn shrugs. "Um, yeah, I suppose. I mean, mate, I didn't ever believe in shit like that, but it was all, like, glowy and weird, and something exploded or something, and now -- well." He wiggles Liam's hand around a bit.
"Yeah," Liam says, nodding enthusiastically. "Yeah, you're really clever, I bet it was cursed."
Zayn shoots a look at him. "Thanks?"
Liam wants to cover his face with his hands, but one of them is somewhat otherwise engaged. At least he's being forced into actual conversation with Zayn, though he's both terrified and thrilled at the thought this might, like, go on a while.
"So, I mean," he says, trying to be practical. That will impress Zayn. "We're - we have to be touching or it really hurts. Does it have to be skin?"
Zayn raises his eyebrows and tilts his head. He looks a bit like a puppy. A hot puppy. Liam blinks.
"Huh," Zayn says. "I dunno." He uses his free hand to tug his sleeve up over his wrist on his joined hand, then says to Liam, "Let go, then hold me round the wrist, like--"
Liam does, and it's better than not touching at all, but not as good as skin to skin. The headache creeps in much slower and duller, fizzing ominously round the back of the eyes.
"Huh," says Zayn. "Better, but not like--" He wriggles his wrist til Liam lets go, then drops down to take Liam's hand again. Liam's heart flops over sadly in his chest at how casually and readily Zayn does it.
"So," he says awkwardly, not quite wanting to bring it up but it's midnight and he's tired and his shift at the shop starts at nine-thirty am tomorrow morning. "What, er. What are going to do?"
Zayn bites his lip, then looks at the music box. The ballerina has stopped turning, and it's silent and dark and looks totally normal – just a small carved dark wooden box with a faded red velvet inside, cracked and warped mirror, and sad little ballerina. Zayn closes the lid and latches the clasp. "This had something to do with it," he says. "Definitely." He hesitates, then looks at Liam, finger resting on the clasp again.
Liam shrugs. "Might as well," he says. "What's the worst that could happen?"
Zayn gives him a sardonic look, and shakes their joined hands a bit, and Liam blushes again, but Zayn looks back to the box and does it anyway, flips the clasp open and lets the lid creak up.
The ballerina pops ups, the little melody plays, and it's itchingly familiar to Liam – doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo – but there's no glowing light, no warmth, no explosion, nothing at all, seemingly. They wait til the ballerina has creaked to a halt and the music petered out, then look at each other and shrug. They let go at the same time – but it's like before, pain thudding into his head almost instantly, and Zayn's hand is twining firmly with his again, Zayn shaking his head. "No change," he says.
Liam sternly tells himself not to be glad. No gladness. Some weird cursed music box forcing Zayn to be physically dependent on his touch is not romantic.
"So we need to find another – um, like. Curse breaker?" Liam tries, and bites back a smile when Zayn nods seriously.
"Yes, exactly. There'll be a counterspell, or something. I'll go to Harry's--" he says, acting as if to stand up, and Liam scrambles up with him, but then tugs on Zayn's hand to stop him haring off to an antique shop at midnight.
"Now?" says Liam doubtfully. "It's midnight, and I'm so tired I'm gonna fall asleep where I stand soon, and I have a shift here in like nine hours."
Zayn frowns. "Can't you, like, skive it? This is more important."
"Um," said Liam, feeling a bit ridiculous, but, "not – not really? Saturday cover is really difficult anyway, Cher's on holiday, it's just me and Jade, and Mr Malik will have a heart attack if I don't show up."
Zayn stares at him, for long enough Liam can feel himself go red. "Huh," he says eventually. "I - okay. I don't know how we're gonna work that if this is still happening tomorrow, but. Yeah. Raj doesn't deal with stress well, dad says." Then he looks away, looking awkward for possibly the first time Liam's seen. "I - what about, um. What about tonight."
"What about – oh," says Liam, realising instantly what Zayn means. If they can't let go of touching each other, they can't exactly trot off to their respective homes and respective beds. "Oh."
"Yeah, oh," says Zayn, running a hand through his hair. "My house is closer, but, like – god, if my mum thinks I've sneaked a boy home without permission again, she'll kill me." He winces straight away, looks back at Liam then cuts his eyes away. "Um."
There was a lot to process in that sentence. Boy, sneak, again?
"But your parents sort of know me," says Liam idiotically, because there is still a part of his brain that is processing the rest, and he is worried he will be absolutely speechless when it puts together all the fact and comes up with the conclusion that Zayn likes boys!!! Oh, there it is.
"Well, yeah, but they'll – she'll still think – sorry, I," says Zayn, genuinely flustered and frowning and tensing his fingers in Liam's like he's going to pull them away, pain be buggered.
Liam finally realises that maybe he thinks Liam is going to be horrified or something that he's stuck to a gay guy, so he says, quickly, because there are apparently words in there fleeing his mouth without permission, "It's okay, I'm gay, too," and then shuts his mouth with what may have been an audible clack of his teeth.
"Oh," says Zayn, after an awful pause, staring at Liam, who's staring back. "Oh? Oh - I didn't - um? That's – I. That's cool."
The staring reaches some odd point of critical mass and they both jerk their eyes away, staring randomly around the shop, anywhere but at each other or their joined hands. Liam has never been more confused, delighted, hopeful, horrified, awkward, pleased and mortified in his entire life. Today has been incredibly long. He's really, really tired.
"I can tell my mum I'm having a sleepover!" he says, a brainwave hitting him. "She, um, she gets." This is embarrassing, but everything about tonight is embarrassing, including the way his hand is slipping around in Zayn's a bit with how sweaty it's getting, so Liam barrels on. "She gets a bit worried about me having friends, cause, like, secondary school was, like, a bit shit, sometimes? So she'll be so happy I'm bringing someone home for a sleepover she won't question the fact that I'm a bit too old for sleepovers and the fact it's gone midnight."
Zayn's face goes through a complicated series of expressions, none of which Liam can read, and settles on mostly neutral, which is to say, unfairly attractive.
"Okay," he says. "And tomorrow I'll come to work with you and we'll - figure this out. Don't think Uncle Raj will be too excited to have you working your shift if I have to be holding your hand the whole time."
Liam's mum is predictably excitable about Liam bring a mate home for a sleepover when he rings her - Liam says they got talking about comics and didn't realise it was getting so late, and Zayn gives him a funny look.
They've missed the last bus, so they have to get a taxi back to Liam's, but they still have to walk through the town centre and to the taxi rank holding hands; there are drunk people stumbling around, and a few people Liam recognises from secondary school also waiting for a taxi, and, god, people keep looking at them, as if two guys holding hands is still something new and shocking these days. Liam keeps taking deep, steadying breaths, and Zayn is sticking his chin out defiantly, like he's daring someone to say something. Liam hopes they don't, partly because it would be awful, but partly because he doesn't quite know how a fistfight would go if he can't let go of Zayn's hand.
No-one does, so they stand there waiting for a taxi, just, holding hands, like they're boyfriends, Liam's heart pounding fast and hard. This is both more and less scary than he ever thought it might be, just coming out to anyone who looks at him, people who made his life miserable when he was in school, something he used to be terrified they'd find out; and it's a bit crap that it's not because Zayn really is his boyfriend, but he can't even resent it too much, because, like, Zayn's fingers are slipped comfortably in between his and his shoulder is nudging Liam's, and he's saying under his breath, "People need to fucking get over themselves," and Liam can pretend for a minute.
At home, they look at each other as they stop outside Liam's house, and Liam realises in a rush the flaw in his plan. He looks panicked down at their hands. "I, um-- I'm not, you know, to my mum, yet, I can't."
Zayn shakes his head. "S'okay," he says. "We'll work it out." He's being far too nice considering Liam said he had a great plan and now can't work out how to get past his mum.
"We'll just let go," says Zayn, "and put, like, our elbows together, should be enough, right? Then you can pretend you're really tired and we can just go straight to bed."
Liam yawns without even realIsing he's going to, covering his mouth with his other hand and feeling his eyes disappear into his scrunched up face. "I am really tired," he says. Zayn is looking at him without saying anything. "What?"
"Nothing," says Zayn. "Good, fine. Let's, you know. Try this."
Liam lets them in with his keys, trying to keep quiet, hoping maybe his mum's gone to bed already; but she's always been a bit of a night owl and she's still pottering around the kitchen which they have to go through. Liam takes a deep breath and drops Zayn's hand, and goes into the kitchen.
At first there's nothing, as Liam gives his mum a hug and she greets Zayn brightly, and Liam gets a jolt of - what must be relief - thinking that the curse is over; but then the pressure starts behind his eyes, slower than before, but definitely there.
"Yeah, we know each other from school, Zayn's doing, um, A Levels, in--"
"Art, Music and English," says Zayn. "We got talking in the library, we thought it'd be fun to have a sleepover, like." He sounds faintly incredulous as he says it, like he can't believe any mum would buy her eighteen year old son having a sleepover with anyone, but she just looks delighted, and squeezes Zayn's shoulder. "Oh, I'm glad," she says. "That sounds fun. I know it's late, boys, but do you want anything to eat? I'm sure I can--"
The headache is getting worse, and Liam has to blink quickly to stop his vision from swimming. Zayn's rubbing little circles on his temple, and he shuffles over to Liam, pressing his elbow subtly against Liam's. It doesn't help much, both wearing coats, but it sort of stops it getting worse too quickly.
"Oh, no, no, we already had something to eat," says Liam, stomach turning at the thought of food. "We're knackered, really, gonna go to bed, if that's alright?"
"Oh, yes," says his mum. "I can set up the camp bed in your room for you--"
"Oh no, honestly, I can do that, it's fine, don't want to put you out," he says hurriedly, feeling a bit dizzy. "We're just - gonna--"
He and Zayn stumble quickly out of the kitchen, and Liam's mum, bless her, definitely is giving them a look, and Liam possibly should be worried that she's going to want to have a Talk, and his plan to come out confidently and calmly to them when he has a hot cool boyfriend all ready to show off may be derailed somewhat. But right now all he can think of is getting to touch Zayn again, and they hurry up the stairs, the open door of the kitchen glowing at the bottom; Liam grabs Zayn's hand recklessly halfway up, the relief electrifying, and when they barrel into his room, he swings Zayn around with the hold he has on his hand and into a hug, which Zayn returns, free arm gripping firm over Liam's back and face pressed into Liam's neck again.
Liam's headache drains away like water, and he feels Zayn sigh against him, and for a moment he just lets himself feel it all, Zayn's slim body pressed against his, the smell of him, leather and a hint of cigarette smoke and citrusy hair wax.
Then Zayn tenses up a bit, and they both step back at the same moment, eyes not quite meeting, hands still joined.
"So, um," says Zayn, and coughs a bit. "It wasn't, like. For a few minutes it wasn't too bad, right?"
"Yeah," said Liam. A brainwave hits him. "Maybe, like! Maybe if we touch for a long time, we build up, like, an immunity, a bit? So it takes longer to hurt."
Zayn's nodding, again, and Liam feels warm in his stomach. He knows Zayn is really clever, so to have him act like Liam said something worth listening to is brilliant.
"That makes a lot of sense, actually." His mouth quirks up as Liam grins. "Like, storing up the resistance, or something."
"Cool," says Liam.
Then Zayn looks around the room. "So, um. How--?"
"Oh, I," says Liam. "Well, I mean, I can get the camp bed out, and we can - you can have my bed, and I can have the camp bed, and we can like - keeps our hands together over the gap - tie them, um," says Liam stopping and blushing immediately because he's pretty sure he just accidentally suggested bondge to Zayn Malik.
Zayn doesn't seem to notice, is shaking his head. "Nah, mate, like. That sounds so uncomfortable - we should - I mean," he stumbles to a stop. "If you don't mind - the bed--" He waves a hand vaguely at it.
"Oh, no, yes, that would be better," says Liam, nodding like it's all a practical consideration, like he doesn't want to remove some vital organs in the sheer overwhelmingness of the thought of sharing a bed with Zayn.
"Okay," says Liam.
"Okay," says Zayn.
Getting undressed for bed is terrible. They have to keep letting go to tug off shoes and whatnot then grabbing back at each other, and taking his jeans off with Zayn a foot away is excruciating, his heart going so hard he's worried he might pass out. He thinks don't get hard to himself so much he's worried he will accidentally say it; mostly he's so mortified that it isn't a problem, but seeing Zayn peel off his narrow black jeans, the stark black of his boxer briefs and the narrow smooth length of his thigh, Liam has to stare fixedly at the wall and think about - nothing, anything, everything that isn't Zayn's long legs right, like, there.
They keep their t shirts on, barefoot and bare legged in Liam's bedroom, holding hands and looking awkwardly at each other.
It's surreal, standing in a scene Liam has imagined before hundreds of times, having it translated from imagination to reality, but also totally different in the most important way.
"Sorry," he says, suddenly.
Zayn frowns at him. "For what?"
"For um, this," says Liam, wobbling their hands. "This isn't exactly how you planned to spend your Friday night, is it?"
"Um, well," says Zayn, shrugging. "Not like it's your fault, is it? You had better things to do than be stuck to me, so."
Liam can't think of a single one, but he's very aware that this would definitely not be something Zayn chose; that if Zayn can hardly bring himself to make conversation with Liam, he wouldn't choose to spend hours with him, let alone hours holding his hand, and Liam's not stupid enough to think this means anything to Zayn; but maybe, you know, once they do fix it, they could, like. Talk. They could be friends at least, that would be lovely. He nods.
"Well, sorry, anyway. I bet we'll get it fixed tomorrow. This can't last forever. If magic in real life is anything like in the films, there will be some really simple solution that we need to have pointed out to us by some helpful other character, or we both realise in the same, like, you know. Ping! Lightbulb moment," he says.
Zayn laughs, an actual laugh. "If only like real life were like films," he says.
Liam raises his eyebrows. "Mate, this isn't anything like real life in my experience. This is magic. It happened like a fantasy film, so it'll get fixed like a fantasy film," he says. "Only hopefully without, you know, anyone dying or haring off on year-long quests."
Zayn looks up at him. "I like your optimism. Maybe." Then he looks at the bed, and nods determinedly. "Let's get some sleep. Dead on me feet over here, too."
It's not as awkward as it could be, them both clambering into the bed. It's a double, because his mum makes no secret of the fact this is becoming the guest room the second he moves out proper, and has got the bed ready for it; it's a blessing, or maybe the opposite, now, giving them room to lie on their backs with plenty of room between them for their joined hands to lie limply on the mattress between them.
Liam turns off the bedside lamp. "Night, Zayn," he says, blinking up into the darkness. Zayn. Who's in his bed.
"Good night, Liam." Zayn gives his hand a little squeeze and Liam's heart wobbles in his chest.
Liam lies there in the dark. And lies there. He can hear his clock ticking, hear his mum going to bed, hear Zayn breathing next to him, and he can't sleep. His skin feels itchy and weird, restless, and he's so bloody tired, his eye are burning, but he can't just nod off, too aware of Zayn right there, the heat of their hands clasped together.
Zayn says "Um," so quietly Liam nearly misses it. He turns his head in the darkness, sees the slight gleam of Zayn's eyes open, looking at him.
"Yeah?" he whispers.
"Can you sleep?"
"No," says Liam, still whispering.
Zayn's quiet a minute, then his hand squeezes Liam's a bit. "I think - not to be, like weird, but. I think it would help a bit if we, well, like."
Zayn's turning on his side towards Liam a bit, and Liam justs wants to snuggle right into his warmth, but he doesn't want to just leap on Zayn if Zayn is about to say '..went and got some hot chocolate.'
"If we?" he prompts, hoping his voice isn't shaking.
"Get a bit, um, closer, like. The - curse, whatever - it should. Calm us down, maybe, if we were touching a bit more, help us sleep."
"Sounds," says Liam, and his voice gives out. "Sounds good."
He starts to shuffle towards Zayn, heart in his throat, before realising he can't, he absolutelyn can't snuggle face to face with him. Something will just go ping in his brain having Zayn in his arms and his face right there, he'll either scream in his face or kiss him, and he can't decide which would be more disastrous.
So he turns over, slowly, wriggles backwards, keeping his hand in Zayn's, until suddenly Zyan lets go. Liam's heart stops for a moment, until Zayn grabs it again, with his other hand, whispering, "More comfortable, like," and he's right. This way, Liam can pull Zayn's arm right around him, bring their intertwined fingers up to his chest, Zayn's arm warm against his ribs, Zayn cuddling in close behind him.
Zayn's chest against his back, the warm gust of Zayn's breath on the back of his neck; Liam feels like he's existing outside his own body, in this big hazy warm cloud of bliss.
Zayn's fingers flatten slightly against Liam's chest, and Liam sighs. Zayn can probably feel the heavy thudding beats of his heart, but Liam doesn't care, can't care about anything else right now.
"Night," Zayn breathes out quietly, sending goosebumps prickling wildly down Liam's back. He slowly rests his forehead against the back of Liam's neck, and an extra zing of happiness goes through Liam at the skin to skin contact, and it doesn't even matter to Liam if it's just the feeling or the curse, he just feels so lovely, all the way through. Within three breaths, he's asleep.
Liam wakes up slow and happy, a few minutes before his alarm. He's actually smiling in his sleep. Zayn is snoring into his shoulder, hand still holding Liam's against his chest, and it takes Liam a long, slow, warm moment to realise this is not him waking up in a fantasy, but in fact real life; and another slightly confused moment after that to remember why this is happening.
It should dampen his joy a little bit, and maybe it does, but Liam feels so good - like after a really good workout, or after winning something, something warming him from inside.
His alarm goes off, then, an obnoxious shrill beeping, and he slams it off quickly. Zayn starts awake behind him, snorting adorably, and for a lovely moment he presses in close like he wants Liam to hide him from the day, making a cute little grumbly noise; before he clearly also remembers where he is and who he's snuggling against, and pulls back a bit. Liam sighs, and turns over a little bit, putting some space between them, letting their joined hands fall down onto the mattress again.
"Um, morning, " he says, quietly. "Sleep okay?"
Zayn blinks at him. He is absolutely unfair in the morning, all big eyes and eyelashes and slow blinks and pillow-creased face, squished into Liam's pillow.
"Er," he says, voice rough, "yeah, actually. Really, uh, really well." He looks around Liam's bedroom. "Nice room," he says, staring at the Iron Man poster has next to the door.
Liam goes red. He doesn't know if Zayn is making fun of him or not. "Thanks."
Zayn looks at him. "Really, mate. Tony Stark is sick." He grins, all easy and natural, and for all that Liam's hardly ever seen him smile it seems so at home on his face.
Liam grins right back. "Right?"
They just smile at each other for a minute, in the faint grey early morning light, way less awkward than Liam would have expected considering they spent a whole night cuddling, before Liam remembers he has a shift starting in less than an hour.
They test their resistance - they feel fine when they stop touching, Zayn suggesting with a sceptical eyebrow that it fixed itself overnight. Liam has a shower, and by the end, he's starting to feel it, that pressure behind his eyes, the promise of a headache lurking. He gets dressed quickly in the bathroom, and shrugs at Zayn when he goes back into his bedroom, where Zayn immediately reaches out a hand for him.
"Starting to feel it," says Zayn apologetically.
"Yeah. Wasn't that easy, I suppose," says Liam, shrugging.
"We'll work it out," says Zayn, confidently.
It's easy enough to keep apart as they quickly eat breakfast, knees pressed together as Liam's mum spreads marmalade on toast for them, but they have to hold hands on the bus into town. It feels even more real and scary doing it in daylight, still getting funny little looks from people, but Zayn nudges his shoulder and says, "Ignore 'em, some people forget what bloody century we're in," and it's easy to.
Outside the shop, they let go, and Liam unlocks it, starts getting the shop ready for opening while Zayn skulks around, poking at the shelves. Jade comes in after a minute, stops when she sees Zayn, and looks between them.
Then she says, "Y'alreet, pet, haven't seen yous around in ages! Didn't know you could be awake at this time!" and gives Zayn a big hug, while he grins easily at her.
Liam wants to stamp his foot. Even Jade managed to make friends with Zayn; what's so wrong with him that Zayn never even wanted to talk to him, until he was literally magically forced to?
"Yeah, I dunno, just wanted to do some work on the display, like," he says, then punches her gently on the arm when she laughs.
"Window display, for the love of," she says. "This is Poundland, pet, not Selfridges."
"Everyone has to start somewhere," says Liam, surprising himself, going red when Jade looks at him.
"Well," she says, "True. Reckon even Banksy started in his mam's back garden!"
She and Zayn both laugh, and Liam doesn't know what she's talking about but smiles along anyway. Zayn walks past the till a few minutes later, as the first customers start coming in, and squeezes the back of Liam's neck, and Liam think it's in thanks, first, before realising it's probably just the curse; just topping up their immunity, or whatever.
It's fine, at first; it takes about twenty minutes for the pressure to become a headache, and Liam can deal with headaches. He usually ends up with a headache after a shift at the shop, anyway, so he's just getting a headstart on himself, he reasons. But he can only really take a break every couple of hours, and it gets busy enough quickly enough that Zayn can't keep coming past the till for a brush of hands or a touch to the back of Liam's neck, and it gets awful very rapidly.
Zayn pushes past the queue rudely, ignoring the mutters and glares, leans in close enough to push his nose into the side of Liam's head, even just that touch giving Liam a welcome reprieve, and says, "I'm in the back." There's a strain in his voice that Liam can completely understand.
As soon as Zayn pulls away and stalks to the back, it's like it gets worse than it ever has been, his stomach cramping hard and his head swimming in pain, dots starting to dance in the corner of his vision. He's in the middle of ringing up a trolleyful of items when he gets a rolling surge of nausea so awful he absolutely can't finish.
"Jade," he says, urgently, voice sounding like it's coming down a tunnel, echoey and weird. He can't faint. If he faints, he can't get to Zayn. "Jade, please, I need--"
He steadies himself on the side of the till.
He hears Jade say something, no idea what, but it's enough that she's there; he stumbles away from the till, praying his body remembers the way to the stock room in back, because he can't see anything, the black dots now clouded over everything. He nearly bumps into the door, but Zayn's right there, tugging him through the door and kicking it shut, and pulling Liam in. Liam's right hand tangles with Zayn's left, and their other arms go tight around their backs, landing in the backs of each other's necks, cheeks pressed together, skin contact maximised.
Zayn's breathing heavily against him, and Liam realises he is too, like he's just run a bloody marathon.
"That," he whispers, after a few blissful moments, then swallows, "that was horrible. Let's. Let's not do that again."
Zayn nods without pulling back, cheek shifting against Liam's, the rasp of his stubble making a little noise that makes a little part of Liam flop over and die inside.
After a couple of minutes, he steps back a bit, hand still holding Liam's tightly. "I think," he says, slowly, "we need to go to Harry's."
Jade opens the door to the stock room then, gives Liam a funny look. "You okay, Li? Thought you were about to conk out on me."
"Yeah," says Liam, realising belatedly he's still holding Zayn's hand, but thinking it would probably look more awkward if he yanked it away now, and Zayn's making no move to; and he doesn't want to, anyway, does not want to feel that headache again. "I'm not feeling very well. Can I take my lunch early?"
Jade raises her eyebrows, but, bless her, just says, "Yeah, course, love. You can take the whole afternoon off sick, you looked pale as a bloody ghost out there. Jesy owes me about a million favours, I can drag her out of bed."
"Thanks," says Liam fervently, and Zayn squeezes her shoulder as they pass, still holding hands, Jade still not saying anything. Liam is going to buy her flowers once - well. Once this is over.
Zayn had battled past fractious children and harassed mums and dads to scoop up the music box under his arm, and they'd escaped the hell of Poundland on a Saturday to the calm, quiet, dusty inside of Styles Antiques.
Harry doesn't own the antique shop, exactly, his mum and stepdad do, but it's so quiet it pretty much runs itself, and Harry lounging around on a moth-eaten old chaise longue - which he favours over standing behind the till - can only help it. Liam is fairly sure it can't break anything close to even, but he's also fairly sure that Harry's family don't mind.
Luckily, but unsurprisingly, no-one else is inside the shop, just Harry fiddling with a gramophone that keeps making ominous crackling noises.
"Harry," says Zayn sternly, and Harry turns round, hair bouncing.
"Yes?" he says, then, "Oh," when he sees Liam and Zayn's joined hands. His smile widens impossibly. "Congratu--"
"Shut up and listen a minute, Haz!" snaps Zayn.
Liam winces. "Sorry, Harry," he says, "but you do need to listen to us. Something kind of weird is happening and we, um, we think you might. Be able to help?"
Harry looks terribly confused.
Zayn glances at Liam, and says, "I'm gonna let go a minute, okay?"
Liam nods, and Harry's confused face reaches new remarkable heights. Zayn uses both hands to grab the music box, which is fairly heavy, and holds it out to Harry, who just looks at it.
"Oh - take it, fuck's sake!" says Zayn, and Harry does, quickly.
"What?" he says. "Do you not want this any more?"
Zayn takes Liam's hand again, and shakes his head. "That thing you gave me is cursed, Harry."
"I - what?"
"Cursed!" says Liam, loudly. "Magical, evil, put a curse on us."
"We opened the box," says Zayn, "or rather, Liam accidentally knocked it open--"
"Sorry," says Liam, feeling a bit stupid.
Zayn shrugs, the motion tugging at Liam's hand. "And when it was open, it was, like, glowing, and warm, and there was this like, bang, and now--"
He waves their joined hands together in demonstration.
"And now you're-- in love with Liam?" tries Harry.
"No, oh my god," says Liam quickly, wanting to die. "It's, like, we have to be touching each other, or it really hurts. If we let go--"
He looks at Zayn - who looks flustered and embarrassed, and Liam wants to smack Harry - and raises his eyebrows questioningly. Zayn nods, and they let go.
"There's, like, this pressure, right in my sinuses," says Zayn, rubbing at his forehead.
"And then it becomes a headache," says Liam, biting his lip as the pain starts. "Ah--"
"And then I feel really sick, like I'm just gonna vom," says Zayn, sounding breathless.
"And it's awful, I can't stand it, and then as soon as we touch again--"
Zayn's hand is reaching for his already and Liam grabs it gratefully, and they both sigh in relief.
"As soon as we touch," finishes Zayn, "it all goes away."
Harry is staring literally open mouthed at them, then shuts his mouth and puts his hand to his chin thoughtfully. "Hmmm."
"You believe us, don't you?" says Liam hopefully.
Harry blinks. "What? Of course I do. I knew there was something magical about this shop. How else does it make any money when literally no-one buys anything?"
Liam blinks. "Fair point."
"So--?" says Harry.
"So, what?" says Zayn.
"So what do you want me to do it about it?" says Harry, waving his arms around.
"Fix it!" bursts out Liam. This is starting to get a bit old. He'd never have thought that holding Zayn's hand could get old, but the novelty's wearing off a bit and it's getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the only way Zayn will ever hold his hand is because of a curse forcing him to. "We have, like, lives to get back to. I can't even do my job, god knows how we'd do college next week."
"Oh, right," says Harry. "How - how am I supposed to fix it?"
"Harry," says Zayn, with admirable patience. "I got the music box from your shop. If anyone will be able to help, you will. Like. Who'd you get it from? Does it have any matching pieces?"
"Okay," says Harry, slowly. "But I need back up."
Louis pulls the chaise longue into a emptier corner of the shop and drags three old chests around it, and sits Zayn and Liam down on it bossily, then Niall, Harry and Louis all sit on the chests, like a judging panel.
"I feel like I'm in an interview," says Liam with a nervous laugh, and Zayn smiles at him. Liam really hopes that, at least, might continue after all this. It would be a bit sad, to go back to how it was.
Louis is giving him a very sharp look and Niall looks like he's on the verge of hysterical laughter, but neither of them say anything. Liam is both very relieved and very nervous that they are here. They know enough about him to make this terribly embarrassing, but it's also kind of wonderful to have them here, to actually share this with someone, so he doesn't feel like he's in some weird shared fever dream. Especially people who know how excruciating this must've been for him.
"So," says Louis,all businesslike, while Harry looks like he's trying to chew on his hair. Possibly he should have brought Louis in the minute it happened. "Niall and I are sacrificing our lunch break for this, so let's be sensible. Methodical. All the stuff I never bothered with at school. Take me through it again."
Niall keeps looking at Liam and Zayn's joined hands and giving him 'eh? eh? eh!' eyebrows, while Liam is trying to give him 'please for the love of god shut up' eyebrows right back.
Zayn frowns at him. "Y'alright?" he mutters.
Liam stops making faces at Niall. "Yeah," he says. He's suddenly knackered. He shakes his head. "Right," he says, to Louis. "Last night, I knocked the music box open by accident--"
"How by accident?" says Louis.
"Um. I dropped a roll of wrapping paper on it," says Liam.
"One of a kind," marvels Niall.
Zayn coughs, though it sounds suspiciously like he's covering up a laugh. He picks up the story. "It opened, and the music started playing, and we both, like, kneeled in front of it, like, and it got brighter and warmer then it went bang, and then I woke up on the floor with this killer headache that wouldn't go away til we, well, you know. Touched."
Louis nods thoughtfully. "And what were you thinking when it happened?"
Liam goes red immediately. He can't even remember exactly what it was he was thinking, but it was probably something stupid about how nice Zayn smelled. "Why?" he says.
"Because!" says Louis. "This is magic! It has a reason! We need to know everything!"
"I don't see what bloody difference it makes," says Zayn, sounding surprisingly defensive. "Like, I can't remember, I was probably just hoping he hadn't broken it or something."
"No, Louis has a point," says Niall, looking both sympathetic and very amused. Liam wants to whack him. With that bloody fated roll of wrapping paper, preferably. It would make a great noise on his stupid head. "Like, maybe it was trying to help you, or tell you something, you know?"
Niall is being so unsubtle, eyebrows going again, and Liam can only hope Zayn is just confused. He rubs a hand over his face. "I have no idea what I was thinking," he says. "So this is pointless. Let's move on."
Louis huffs. "Fine. Has the music box done anything else? Is there anything in it that might help?"
Zayn shakes his head. "We tried opening it again, I've looked all through it, there's nothing helpful."
"Maybe there's another object in here that can reverse it," says Liam, hopefully. "Do you have any more music boxes?"
Harry shakes his head. "No. The old lady that brought it in only had that one thing." His eyes widen. "I bet it was her, I always thought she was a witch!"
Louis perks up. "Can you give her a ring? Maybe she knows the counterspell?"
Harry shakes his head sadly. "She died last year."
Liam's shoulders drop and Zayn makes a disappointed noise.
"It's okay, though!" says Harry. "She was always really nice. If she was a witch, she was a good witch. I bet it's, like. Benevolent magic."
Liam doesn't know what benevolent means, but Zayn makes a sceptical noise. "The pounding headache and stomach cramps and dizziness didn't feel very fucking benevolent to me, mate."
Harry's mouth turns down at the corners. "I think it is, though. Like, it might hurt, but she would have meant well! Like Louis said, maybe it was so it could help you. Maybe there was something you could learn, or find out."
Harry is looking intently at Zayn, and Louis and Niall are nudging each other and looking intently at Liam, and Liam is suddenly, unbelievably fed up.
"But why?" he says loudly. "Why stick us together? We hardly even know each other, we aren't friends," he says, feeling a bit stupid, but he's felt bloody stupid since this happened and he's done with it, now. It's embarrassing, how much he likes Zayn and how nice and awful this has been, just, how much this has been for him because he likes Zayn so much, fancies him rotten, and Zayn probably doesn't even care, is just waiting for this to be over. And the others keep looking at him like it's funny or pathetic and Liam just wants to be not pathetic for once. "Zayn would rather be stuck to anyone else in the world, it's a massive waste of his time - of our time--"
Zayn's head snaps around to look at him so quickly Harry actually gasps like he's scared for Zayn's health. "Wait, what?" says Zayn.
Liam juts his chin forward. "It's okay, I know you don't like me very much and this is probably the stupidest thing that's ever happened to you, and I just want to fix it, so let's--"
"Liam," says Zayn, firmly. "What?"
"You don't, um," says Liam, starting to feel a bit wrongfooted. "You don't - like. You don't talk to me, and you talk to everyone else. I mean, it's fine, not everyone has to, has to like everyone, but it makes this so pointless, and I'm tired of feeling like, like an idiot, and--"
"You're not an idiot," says Zayn quickly. "Wow, Liam, you are not an idiot. I think, like, I think I am. If, like, I made you think didn't like you?"
Liam stops. Talking, but also possibly breathing. "You, um. You don't...not like me?"
Out of the corner of his eye he can see Harry, Louis and Niall carefully melt away into the rest of the shop, leaving Zayn and Liam somewhat private in their corner, but he can't really think about anything but the sheepish look on Zayn's face.
"I thought - well. I thought you didn't like me."
Liam blinks. "I - what?"
Zayn squeezes his hand. "Exactly! I thought, like. You never seemed to want to say anything to me and I felt like I was getting in your way all the time, and you probably thought I was like, ridiculous for doing art when you were trying to work. And I, um. I sort of hated that? I wanted you to like me and I didn't know why you didn't so - maybe, maybe that's why you thought I didn't like you."
It feels like Liam's world has been messily tipped over then put carefully back into place and everyone's acting like it's the same but all the furniture is strewn on its side. Zayn thought Liam didn't like him? Zayn wanted Liam to like him?
"I'm--" Liam starts, then swallows. "I think, like. I think, same with me? I - I do like you. I wanted you to like me, but I kept getting it all wrong."
Zayn grins, a soft little smile with his tongue pressed up behind his teeth. "I suppose - I just didn't know you, you know? I thought you were some workaholic who thought I was just some annoyance, getting in the way. Now I know you're not, you're actually really kind, and funny, and a bit geeky, like me, and I never knew that."
Liam nods. "No, yeah! I thought you were all, like. Standoffish. But you're really nice, and you like comics, and just because you don't talk constantly doesn't mean you don't have things to say - I'm sort of, you know, used to the Louis version of friendship, where he talks at you until you give in," Liam admits. "I'm not very good at this."
"So, like," says Zayn, slowly. "Maybe the curse did help? Like. It got us to communicate. Because I always wanted to talk to you and I messed it up every time I tried to. I liked you too much, and you ended up thinking I didn't like you at all."
Liam's heart does a little wobble in his chest, because, well, liked you too much, but there is more than one way to like someone. "Maybe it's fixed, then," he says, quietly, looking at their hands. "Maybe now we - talked, we communicated, we know we're - we can be, like. Um. Friends. Maybe the curse is lifted."
Zayn pauses, glancing up at Liam. "Maybe," he says.
They lift their hands up again, and slowly pull them apart. Liam's skin feels cold everywhere he was touching Zayn.
At first, there's nothing, and even though it's always fine at first, Liam thinks wildly, with disappointment stupidly, irrationally heavy in his stomach, it worked, it's over. But then, just like before - the feeling starts in his head, going sharp and piercing quickly and painfully.
"Ow," he says plaintively, and Zayn grabs onto him again quickly, shaking his head. "Nope."
Liam's heart is going crazy, pounding so hard and fast he feels a bit sick, and he doesn't know why, because it should be a bad thing, right? They worked out what the problem was, maybe, and it's still not fixed, and he has no idea what to do next.
"Um," says Zayn, rubbing his free hand on his leg, then, "Um," again, glancing at Liam then away again.
"What?" says Liam, whispering for no reason he can think of.
"Maybe," says Zayn, then blows out a breath. "Maybe it needs - a bit more. Maybe it needs--" He looks at Liam, and he's suddenly really close. "Maybe it needs me to do this."
And he leans in and kisses Liam, so softly Liam hardly registers it's happened until Zayn has pulled away.
His eyebrows are all pulled together, and he says, "Um. Sorry. Sorry if I--"
Liam closes his eyes and tips forward frantically and kisses Zayn again, cutting him off.
Zayn's lips are warm and real under his, a million times more exciting than any fantasy he's had about it, making his belly dip hotly like he just missed a step; they stay still for a moment, lips pressed together, until Zayn brings his free hand up to cup Liam's jaw, his touch gentle and wonderful, and tilts his head, until they're kissing properly. Liam feels dizzy, and opens his mouth a little bit, feeling reckless and alive, and Zayn kisses him harder, the snog going all proper and wet, little teasing flicks of Zayn's tongue against his own.
Liam tries to pull away after a moment, because he has so much he wants to say, suddenly, words crowding in his throat, but Zayn makes a grumpy noise and tugs him back in; and when, a few minutes later, Zayn tries to break the kiss, Liam is far too caught up in how incredible it feels when Zayn's tongue slips slowly alongside his own, and winds his free hand around the back of Zayn's neck to keep him in close. He doesn't know how long they kiss for until they both eventually stop, hands still entwined, foreheads resting together.
"I've wanted to do that for so long," says Zayn, and Liam nearly laughs right in his face because, well. He never thought Zayn would be the one saying that.
"Me too," he admits. "Embarrassingly long, mate."
Zayn grins at him, mouth all red and well kissed and his eyes all close and lovely and looking right at Liam. "We have been total planks, haven't we?"
"Yep," Liam agrees happily. "The plankiest."
Zayn laughs, and Liam can feel the gust of it on his damp mouth, and it's so mad that this just happened. He can't stop smiling.
"Thank god for cursed old music boxes," he says, then sits up a bit, letting go of Zayn's neck to point at him. "Told you it would end like a film!"
"'Cept it's more like a rom-com than a fantasy film," Zayn points out, squeezing Liam's hand. "Not that I'm complaining."
"Hey, so," said Liam. "I suppose, um." He lifts their hands up. "We should, like, test it?"
Zayn nods. "Alright. Let go."
Neither of them let go.
Zayn grins, and Liam laughs.
"Okay, okay," says Liam. "On three."
They count, and let go on three, both hands held up in the air between them. Liam doesn't feel anything. He's still buzzing all over from the rush of kissing Zayn, and letting go of his hand makes no difference. He waits, and there's nothing. No pressure, no headache, even after a full minute has passed and his arm aches a bit from holding his hand up.
"Anything?" he says.
Zayn shrugs and grabs his hand again.
"Oh!" says Liam. "Did you feel it? I didn't--"
"Nah," says Zayn. "Just wanted to hold your hand, innit?"
When they walk out into the main area of the shop holding hands, Harry is hovering by the till and Louis and Niall are arguing over what looks like an old half-broken guitar.
"Oh dear," says Harry, looking at their hands. "Didn't you fix it?"
Louis and Niall whip around and stare.
"What?" says Zayn, casually. "Oh, this?" he says, lifting his and Liam's hands a bit. "Oh, no, yeah, we fixed it. "
"So why the hands?" says Niall curiously, while Louis's eyes narrow.
Liam shrugs, though he's sure his massive uncontrollable smile is giving it away. "'Cause we want to."
"You little-" says Louis, squeaky with delight, and bounds over for a high five while Niall wraps himself around Liam's side and squeezes, at the same time Harry is giving Zayn a triumphant high five on his other side.
"Think our friends are more pleased than we are," says Liam, rubbing his thumb over the back of Zayn's hand.
Zayn laughs, gives fist bumps to Niall and Louis, and says, "Nah, no way. Don't think that's possible."
"Aww," says Niall.
"This is gross," says Louis. "I regret it happening immediately."
"I knew magic was real," says Harry, happily.