“’M hungry,” Zayn says, tossing his book onto the coffee table with a thunk and rubbing a hand over his tired eyes. His stomach rumbles loudly as if to punctuate his words.
“Make some food, then,” Louis replies from where he’s sprawled out on the living room floor. He’d given up on studying a while ago and has spent the past hour or so watching cute animal videos on his laptop. At least, Zayn hopes that’s what he’s been watching. There had been a lot of barking and Louis making cooing noises at the screen. It could have been some really weird porn, but Louis has the decency to not watch porn in the same room as Zayn. Probably. Maybe.
Zayn makes a mental note to have another talk with Louis about boundaries, just in case.
“Don’t wanna cook,” he complains as his stomach growls again.
Louis snorts. Zayn interprets that to mean that Louis won’t be cooking either. An unsurprising turn of events, and exactly what Zayn was hoping for.
“We could order out,” he offers casually.
Finally looking away from his laptop screen, Louis narrows his eyes at Zayn. “Let me guess,” he says. “You’re in the mood for pizza.”
“What,” Zayn snaps defensively. “Is there something wrong with pizza? Is it too common for your bourgeois taste? Are you some kind of food snob? Are you a foodie, Louis?” It’s possible he’s being a bit too defensive. The best offense is a good defense, though. Or maybe it’s the other way around? Whatever.
It doesn’t matter anyway, because Louis just laughs in his face. “Mate, I have eaten literally nothing but Cheez-Its today. It’s cute how easy it is to wind you up, though. Is pizza a sore subject for you? Or maybe there’s something else on your mind.” He leers suggestively.
“Whatever,” Zayn huffs. “Forget it. I’ll eat leftovers. Never talk to me again.”
Tapping his index finger on his chin, Louis pretends to be thinking deeply. Zayn can tell he’s just pretending, because Louis has never had a deep thought in his life. “Leftovers, huh? It’s a good thing you’re always in the mood for pizza, because I’m pretty sure there’s plenty in the fridge. You know, from the last time we ordered pizza. I remember it like yesterday, actually. Probably because it was yesterday.”
“It’s taco pizza. You know that doesn’t keep.” It’s a weak argument, Zayn knows. But he also knows Louis. He plays his trump card with a flourish. “The lettuce gets soggy.”
Louis’ brow furrows at the mention of the l-word. Zayn can scent the impending victory. “I don’t know why anyone ever thought it was a good idea to ruin a perfectly good pizza with lettuce. It’s a leaf.”
“An abomination,” Zayn agrees. “We should throw it out, forget it ever existed, restock with a fresh, leaf-free pizza.”
“Or we could order Chinese,” Louis says and laughs gleefully at the dark look Zayn shoots him. “Oh right, I nearly forgot! How could you possibly woo your favorite delivery boy if we don’t order from Tony’s Pizza?”
“Shut up. Maybe I just really like Tony’s.”
Louis just rolls his eyes. “We’re going to run out of rent money before you even get his last name. You’re so pathetic, words can’t even describe it.”
Zayn helpfully doesn’t point out that Louis just used words to describe it, but only because Louis already has his phone out to dial Tony’s.
“I’m getting us a Hawaiian,” he informs Zayn. Zayn groans, because eww, pineapples and pizza do not mix, but Louis already has his mobile pressed to his ear.
“Yeah, I’d like to place an order for delivery… Harry! Honestly, I’m flattered that you recognized my voice… it’s a compulsion, really. Why? What’s the normal amount of pizzas people order in a week?... Huh. Maybe it’s the customer service, then… oh, cheeky! Tell me, what are you wearing?”
Louis settles back against the couch, mobile cradled between his shoulder and ear, and Zayn gets up to make more tea. Half the reason Louis always caves and agrees to pizza is because more often than not, Harry’s the one manning the phones. Zayn’s not really sure how Harry still has a job – he once spoke on the phone with Louis for twenty minutes and it wasn’t until Louis hung up that he realized he’d forgotten to place an actual order.
If you ask Zayn, it’s wildly unfair that Louis takes the piss about his tiny, little, miniscule, baby crush on the pizza delivery guy, but won’t ask Harry for his number. Louis had once explained that what he and Harry have is special, an unbreakable bond forged through mutual respect and a compatible talking style, a bond that would be shattered beyond repair if Harry turned out to be a twat in real life.
Zayn thinks he’s got a tenuous grasp on the English language, but so far his efforts to reason with Louis have been ineffective.
The kettle’s just started to whistle when Louis wanders into the kitchen. “Pizza’s on its way!” he announces. His smile turns sly when he adds, “and Harry promised to send Niall.”
Zayn nearly drops his mug. “What? Oh my god, Louis. What did you say to him? You can’t just. Oh my god. I’m going to kill you.”
Louis does not take Zayn’s threat seriously. In fact, he’s doubled over, wheezing pathetically. Zayn wishes he had an inhaler, just so he could refuse to give it to Louis. “Bro, you should see the color of your face right now.” Louis gasps out between giggles. “You look like a baboon’s arse.”
Zayn doesn’t throw the boiling tea kettle at Louis, but only just. Louis is lucky Zayn’s got a gentle heart.
They’ve just settled back onto the couch and flipped on the telly, dropping all pretenses of studying, when the doorbell buzzes. Louis looks at Zayn expectantly, but Zayn feels frozen in his seat.
“What if it’s him?” he asks Louis a bit desperately. He can feel his heart pounding against his ribcage. He might be having a heart attack.
“It had better be, or Harry’s a dirty liar.” Louis grouses.
“Louis. I think you should answer the door. I’m – I’m feeling poorly.”
“You giant baby. Get off this couch, get your arse to the door, and when you give him the money, ask for his fucking number.”
Zayn takes a deep breath. “Okay. Okay. I can do that.”
“Go get ‘em, tiger,” Louis shakes his hands like he’s holding invisible pom-poms.
With one last deep, fortifying breath, Zayn clambers off the couch and walks on only slightly shaky legs to the door. He clutches a wad of money in one hand and reaches out with the other to turn the doorknob.
When the door creaks open with a whine, Zayn feels disappointment and relief roll over him in a crushing wave. Harry, as it turns out, is a dirty liar, because a tall bloke with dark hair and an apologetic smile is standing there, pizza in hand.
“Sorry,” the guy says, and even his eyebrows look like they’re apologizing. “Niall wanted to come, but we’re swamped tonight and he had to take out another order.”
“Um,” Zayn says, because his brain kind of stopped working at the words Niall wanted to come.
He’s saved from further embarrassment over his stuttering tongue when Louis bounds over, slinging an arm over Zayn’s shoulders.
“Liam, is it?” he asks, flicking the nametag clipped to Liam’s shirt. “You’ll take our regrets back to Niall, won’t you? Let him know how disappointed we are he couldn’t make it? He’s our very favorite, you know.”
Liam nods eagerly. “I know,” he says, his eyes sliding to Zayn. Zayn crosses his arms self-consciously and hopes his stubble covers the worst of his blush. He wonders if every employee at Tony’s knows about his crush on Niall. He wonders what the chances are a bolt of lightning will strike him dead at this exact moment. Probably pretty slim. Unlucky, that.
It’s not until Louis gently tugs the crumpled notes out of his hand that Zayn realizes Liam is still standing expectantly in their doorway, piping hot pizza in his arms. Louis takes the box from Liam and shoves it into Zayn’s hands, handing over the money with a charming, if slightly manic, smile.
Liam beams at them a moment longer. “Oh!” he exclaims, “I almost forgot. You’re Louis, yeah?” he directs the question unerringly to Lou. Zayn doesn’t want to know how they got onto a first-name basis with the pizza delivery guy. Well. A pizza delivery guy who isn’t Niall. His life is an actual joke.
“Yes,” Louis says suspiciously.
Liam digs a slip of paper out of his pocket and hands it over to Louis. “Harry said to give you this.” With a final little wave, he turns to leave, both Zayn and Louis staring after him with twin looks of surprise on their faces.
“What is it?” Zayn asks as Louis turns the paper over in his hands, carefully unfolding it and gently smoothing out the creases.
Louis doesn’t answer, but Zayn can easily make out the smudged writing over his shoulder.
It’s a phone number.
It started like this.
Zayn and Louis had been flatmates for a few months, had finally worked through that somewhat awkward initial stage of living together, syncing up their idiosyncrasies.
(Zayn had learned the hard way to always lock the bathroom door when he took a shower, or Louis would wander in to take a piss and flush the toilet, only to run away a minute later, cackling madly when Zayn shouted at the sudden burst of cold water. Louis, for his part, had woken Zayn up exactly once before his alarm was set to go off. It had taken hours for the red hand mark to fade from his cheek.)
Right from the start, Louis had been adamant that he didn’t cook. Zayn had sweet-talked him into cooking mac-n-cheese once, because honestly, how hard was it to fuck up mac-n-cheese?
Not very, it turns out. Louis managed to set off the smoke alarm a record three times in the span of five minutes. They had to throw the pan out, because even after soaking it in soapy water for three days straight, they couldn’t scrap the blackened hunk that used to be noodles off.
Louis had suggested ordering pizza from the local pizzeria around the block from their flat and then spent ten minutes flirting with the guy taking their order. “His name is Harry and he’s an Aquarius,” he announced smugly after hanging up.
“Did ya order a pizza or sign up for a dating service?”
Louis had refused to get off the couch when the doorbell rang (Harry wasn’t a delivery driver, so he didn’t see the point), so it was Zayn that trudged over to the door, opening it with the now familiar creak. It was Zayn’s breath that caught in his throat when his eyes drank in the sight of a sunny grin and bright blue eyes glinting joyfully in the lamplight.
It was Zayn’s heart that skipped a beat at the Irish lilt as the boy cheerfully informed him of the price. He handed over the money wordlessly, mouth suddenly dry and tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth.
The boy slid the pizza into Zayn’s hands, shooting him one last bright smile and a polite “have a nice night!”
And, like, it wasn’t as if Zayn believed in love at first sight, or soul mates, or any of that romantic drivel.
He just didn’t realize blue came in that shade, is all.
They ordered pizza again the next week. And the week after. There wasn’t a week they didn’t order pizza, actually.
Zayn learned the boy’s name was Niall and that his eyes could look almost green, depending on how the light hit them. He memorized the sound of Niall’s laugh, the way his cheek would dimple on one side when he smiled big, the callouses on his fingertips that would brush fleetingly against Zayn’s hand.
And quickly realized that he was in way over his head.
Louis refuses to call Harry.
“I can’t do it, Zayn. I can’t.”
Zayn doesn’t respond. It will only encourage him. Besides, Zayn’s pretty sure Louis has nothing new to add. He’s been more or less repeating himself for the past three days, going in circles and driving Zayn up the wall.
“What if he’s got a unibrow? Or terrible acne? What if – oh god, what if he’s actually a 40 year old man?”
“Then you’re shallow, still shallow, and – okay, I’ll give you the last one. Unless you’re into older men.”
“Older rich men, maybe,” Louis huffs. “Not 40 year old dudes who work at a pizza place.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out.”
“Zayn. You haven’t been listening to me. It will ruin everything. Harry cannot possibly live up to my expectations. Do you want to break my heart? Do you want to explain to my mother why she has to bury her only son?”
Methodically turning the page of his book, Zayn doesn’t look up from the text when he replies, “So you’re going to die because Harry might hypothetically have a few spots?”
Louis flops down onto the couch, knocking Zayn’s book off his lap with his foot. “I’m going to die of a broken heart, you miserable twat. Love is a fallacy.”
Zayn snorts. “Swallowed a dictionary, have you?”
“Comfort me,” Louis demands, holding open his arms. Even as he’s rolling his eyes, Zayn reaches for Louis, pulling him into a hug. Louis wriggles about like an ornery puppy until he’s comfortable, sagging into Zayn’s side with a sigh. Absentmindedly, Zayn runs a hand up and down Louis’ back.
“Let’s get Chinese tonight,” Louis eventually mumbles into his neck.
“Yeah,” Zayn sighs. “Sounds good, bro.”
They manage to go two whole weeks without ordering pizza. Not that Zayn’s even noticed, or anything. He’s been busy with schoolwork, okay, his professors have been piling on papers and projects as the end of the semester nears. Tony’s unique blend of thick cheese and dripping grease has barely even crossed his mind. He totally hasn’t fallen asleep picturing eyes bluer than the sky, remembering the electric jolt of fingers brushing as he exchanges wrinkled notes for smooth cardboard.
He hasn’t spent hours on Facebook, either, stalking through profiles looking for a familiar smile. Hasn’t stared at a profile picture of a snap-back clad head, bent over a guitar so his face is hidden, fingers resting on the strings, wondering just how common the name Niall actually is.
It’s a relief when Louis comes home after a late class, barging through the door and throwing his coat and scarf onto the floor like a one person tornado and announces, “Fuck it. I want pizza. Tony’s?”
“Oh my god, yes,” Zayn groans.
“I’ll answer the door if you order,” Louis bargains.
Zayn firmly reminds himself that he’s not pining. He’s not. “Deal.”
Louis fucks off to his bedroom to do whatever it is that Louis does and Zayn pulls out his mobile to order. Louis needn’t have worried; it’s not even Harry that answers the phone. A minute later Zayn’s got their order placed. Amazing how less time it takes when you don’t spend fifteen minutes flirting first.
Zayn pounds on Louis’ door to announce the pizza has been ordered and that he’s going to take a quick shower. Louis’ mumbled reply is muffled by the door, so Zayn just shrugs before heading to the bathroom. It’ll be a good twenty minutes at least before the pizza arrives, so he takes his time, letting the hot water pound down on his sore muscles, washing away the tension from the late nights he’s spent in the library this week, revising until he thought his eyes would roll right out of his head.
It’s not until the spray of water starts to cool down that Zayn turns the knobs off, stepping out of the shower and roughly toweling himself dry. He wraps it around his waist for the short walk back to his room, hair still damp and dripping beads of water down his spine.
He’s steps away from his bedroom door when the doorbell chimes. “Louis!” he yells. “Pizza’s here!”
Louis pokes his tousled head out of his room, mobile pressed to his ear. “It’s my mum,” he mouths, pointing to the mobile, as if Zayn needs it spelled out. He shoots Zayn this ridiculous pouty look, like he thinks Zayn is going to answer the door if he pokes his lip out far enough.
“I’m fucking naked,” Zayn hisses, pointing to the towel clinging to his skinny hips, because apparently Louis does need it spelled out.
The doorbell chimes again, echoing around the flat, and Louis pulls a silly face before clicking his bedroom door shut. Zayn stares at it in disbelief until someone starts pounding on the door.
“Fuck,” Zayn groans. “I’m coming!” he shouts towards the door, praying that it’s Liam, that it’s a neighbor, that it's literally anyone besides Niall.
Zayn must have been praying to the wrong god, because a pair of wide blue eyes meet his when he swings the door open.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Niall says and promptly drops the pizza box. He immediately bends down to pick up, repeating, “shit, shit I’m sorry, fuck, sorry, sorry.”
“I was in the shower,” Zayn offers weakly, tightening his grip on the towel.
“Were you now,” Niall says, his voice a bit high and breathy. He’s still kneeling on the ground at Zayn’s feet, eyes fixed firmly on the pizza box he’s now got clenched in his hands. After a minute he looks up, his eyes skidding recklessly over Zayn’s bare chest. When he finally meets Zayn’s gaze, a blush immediately blooms over his cheeks.
Great. Zayn has managed to humiliate both of them. Well done.
“Here,” Zayn says roughly, shoving a wadded pile of notes at Niall. Niall reaches out on instinct to grab them, nearly dropping the pizza again. With a start, he jerks to his feet, pushing the pizza into Zayn’s waiting hands.
“Sorry for…” he trails off, waving his hand vaguely at the air between them. He refuses to meet Zayn’s eyes, but his face flames even redder.
“Don’t worry about it,” Zayn says tersely and shuts the door in Niall’s stupid face.
Suddenly, he’s not so hungry after all. He deposits the pizza onto the kitchen counter before retreating to his bedroom.
He doesn’t come out the rest of the night.
It takes Louis three days and five drinks to coax the full story out of Zayn. Instead of apologizing for ruining Zayn’s life and groveling at his feet, though, Louis just tips his head back and cackles loudly.
“That’s what you’ve been moping about? That you made him blush and drop an entire pizza? Shit, mate, I think I did you a favor.”
Zayn cannot believe this. “I cannot believe this. He was mortified. He couldn’t even look at me. He probably hates me. Fuck.” With a moan, Zayn lets his head drop into the crook of his elbow, ignoring how sticky and gross the bar is.
“Bro. You know I love you, but you’re being a bloody idiot.”
“’M not,” Zayn mumbles into his arm.
“Yes, you are,” Louis says, but not unkindly. “Think about it this way: what would you do if you saw Niall in just a towel?”
“Mmmpf,” Zayn grunts, because he’s not willing to concede that maybe Louis is starting to make sense.
“I’d wager you’d be blushing. Probably trip over your own tongue.”
With no small effort, Zayn raises his head. “Lou, he wouldn’t look at me. Couldn’t stand the sight of me.”
Louis sips daintily at his straw. “Wouldn’t look at you, or wouldn’t look you in the eye?”
“Well…” Zayn hedges. “He may have. I mean. I may have been ogled.”
There’s a sputtering sound as Louis chokes on his drink. “Ogled? That’s the word you’re going to go with?”
“What?” Zayn snipes. “It was like he was, like, undressing me with his eyes. Only, you know.”
It’s pretty dim in this hole-in-the-wall pub Louis has dragged them to, but Zayn can still see the mirth dancing in Louis’ eyes. “Only you were already undressed. You slag.”
“Shut up.” And because Louis has never listened to instruction in his life, Zayn is quick to follow it up with, “anyway, what’s up with you and Harry? Have you called him yet?”
Louis abruptly snaps his mouth closed. “Our love is like the Titanic, okay? It’s a tragedy and I don’t want to talk about it.”
Nodding understandingly, Zayn agrees, “Sure, sure. You’re the iceberg, right?”
“Oi!” Louis protests. “I am Jack, all right. Harry is my Rose and I’m bailing before he pushes me off the door. ‘Never let go,’ my ass.” He keeps his tone light, joking, but Zayn’s learned a thing or two in the years they’ve been friends.
Leaning into his space, Zayn says in a quiet voice. “Call him, Lou. You miss talking to him. Your face lights up whenever you do. You couldn’t hate him even if he had four nipples.”
“Could too,” Louis argues, but the way he thoughtfully runs his fingertip over the dark screen of his mobile tells a different story.
“We’re a mess, aren’t we?”
Louis smiles. “Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Zayn is one paper away from the end of the semester. It’s a ten page monster on a subject he doesn’t give two fucks about, but all he has to do is finish up the bibliography, email it to his professor, and then he is free to enjoy the winter hols.
Louis has been conspicuously absent from their flat the past few days, ostensibly in the library “studying.” Zayn’s not actually sure how much studying a drama major needs to do, but he doesn’t complain because it’s remarkably easier to study without Louis’ larger than life presence distracting him.
He’s fixing the spacing between his citations when his mobile buzzes on the coffee table. Eyes still fixed on the laptop screen, he reaches for the mobile, thumbing the unlock code with muscle memory.
u home right now?
It’s a text from Louis.
He tosses the mobile onto the couch next to him, determined to finish up tonight so he doesn’t have to worry about it tomorrow morning.
A minute later it vibrates again.
u were right about harry. ps. whatever happens i love u xx
pps. his last name is horan. ur welcome
Zayn stares down at the screen until it fades to black, dread coiling in his gut. He thumbs the unlock code again, brings up Louis’ name in his contact list and hits dial. It rings two, three, four times before his voicemail kicks in.
“What the fuck, Lou. Call me back,” he growls after the beep before hanging up. He tries to turn back to his paper, but his concentration is shot. He can’t keep his gaze from flicking back to his mobile, sitting still and silent on the cushion beside him.
With a sigh of resignation, he finally gives up. He can finish up the last of his citations tomorrow, when his eyelids don’t feel like sandpaper and he’s had the chance to throttle Louis. Groaning, he slumps back into the couch, closing his eyes with relief.
Not a minute later the doorbell chimes, startling him from his doze. Zayn’s eyes fly immediately to his mobile, but there are no new messages.
He gets up from the couch grudgingly, padding on bare feet to the front door. He has a feeling Louis is behind this, whatever this is, and his stomach is roiling with apprehension.
Cautiously, Zayn opens the door.
Niall is standing there, a small but genuine smile on his face and a pizza in his hands.
It takes Zayn a minute to process the situation. “I didn’t order a pizza,” he finally says.
Running a nervous hand over the back of his neck, Niall clears his throat. “It’s, um, it’s on the house, actually. A loyal customer reward.”
Zayn raises a brow at that. “You deliver free pizzas to loyal customers? Just show up on their doorsteps with no warning?” Shut up, his brain is telling him. Niall is at your door why are you arguing with him you idiot.
“Not all of them.” He offers the pizza to Zayn with a hopeful smile. That’s when Zayn notices the string of numbers scrawled across the top of the box in sharpie.
“Oh,” he breathes. “Is that…?”
Niall bites at his lower lip as Zayn tentatively takes the pizza from him. “I was, um. Hoping you’d call me?”
When Zayn looks up, he sees a faint blush staining Niall’s cheeks. His eyes, though, are trained steadily on Zayn’s like an endless blue ocean. Zayn feels a bit like he’s drowning.
“Yeah. I could. Definitely, definitely call you.” It’s more or less an actual sentence. Good enough for Niall, at any rate, what with the way he’s beaming sunnily at Zayn.
“There’s just one other thing,” Niall says, almost shyly. His gaze drops to Zayn’s mouth, just for a second, and he shuffles forward a bit until the pizza box is pressing into Zayn’s stomach, preventing him from moving any closer.
Zayn unconsciously licks his lips and sees the way Niall’s eyes track the movement of his tongue. Then Niall is leaning forward, pressing his mouth to Zayn’s in a chaste kiss, pulling back before Zayn can really register what’s happening.
It takes him a minute to catch his breath, but then he’s ordering Niall. “Do that again.”
Niall laughs, his nose wrinkling adorably, but he leans again, this time catching the corner of Zayn’s mouth. “I could come back when I get off,” he offers. “Kiss you proper.”
“Yeah,” Zayn agrees breathlessly. “Please.”
Niall’s grin is so bright it could rival the sun and Zayn’s reluctant to close the door. It’s barely clicked shut when the sound of rapping knuckles prompts him to tear it back open.
“I um, I’m actually off right now.” Niall’s got his Tony’s cap crushed in his hand and has a horrible case of hat hair. Zayn finds it hopelessly endearing. “This was my last delivery.”
Zayn can’t help the smile that steals across his face. “Was it, now?”
Zayn is delighted to learn that Niall’s blush can spread all the way down the chest. He likes the feel of the sprinkling of hair there, too.
Best of all, he loves the color of Niall’s eyes in the first light of morning. It’s a shade of blue he could get used to.