The first nights Liam shares a bed with Zayn are at the bungalow, when they all give up on sleeping in separate bedrooms and drag their mattresses into the den. Liam hasn’t slept so close to anybody in years, not since he and Andy turned twelve and Andy decided they needed separate beds during sleepovers. On a mattress on the floor of the den in Harry Styles’ stepdad’s bungalow, Liam curls up between Harry and Zayn and tucks his hands into his armpits to make sure he doesn’t sprawl around in his sleep and cuddle anybody on accident. Liam doesn’t -- he doesn’t want to mess things up, and he could, so easily, because he doesn’t know what the rules are. There’s a line somewhere, between being mates with someone and being needy and clingy and creepy and gay, and he doesn’t know where it is, so he crosses his arms over his chest and tucks his hands into his armpits and tries to sort of curl himself around his knees.
Behind him, Harry is draped carelessly over about six different pillows of varying shapes and sizes, and has squirmed close enough that Liam can feel Harry’s warm breath on his back, even through the fabric of his shirt. Liam props himself on one elbow a little, just enough to peer back over his shoulder. Harry is out cold, his face peaceful and his curls tumbling everywhere, and Louis is pressed up against him tightly enough for them to share a blanket. Louis has an arm slung over Harry’s waist and Harry’s taken possession of it, tangling their fingers together and tucking their entwined hands up under his chin.
Liam wants -- he wants -- but he can’t possibly be allowed. Harry’s different from any boy Liam’s ever met before, he and Louis and Niall all are. They reach out for people and pull them close and Liam doesn’t know how they do it. How do they know when it’s okay to touch other people? Aren’t they afraid of being shrugged away or snarled at or hit?
When Liam settles back down, he finds that Zayn’s awake, just barely, peering drowsily at Liam from under ridiculously thick lashes. “Y’alright?” he murmurs.
“Yeah, I’m alright,” Liam says, folding himself up again.
On Zayn’s other side, Niall is entirely hidden under a mountain of blankets. Zayn himself is bundled up like a butterfly in a cocoon, and now he liberates a corner of one of the quilts covering him, wiggles minutely closer to Liam, and drapes the loose quilt corner over Liam’s hunched shoulder. “Gotta keep you warm, Liam,” he says. Half-asleep, he barely pronounces his consonants at all. “Y’can’t sleep when you’re too cold.”
“Thanks,” Liam says. Now he’s afraid to move because the quilt might slip off and then he’ll have to fumble with it, and he doesn’t like being laughed at for his clumsiness, but he’s grateful all the same. Zayn is smiling at him like he doesn’t mind the odd intimacy that’s settled between the both of them under the shared quilt.
“Go to sleep, Liam,” Zayn says gently. “Worry in the morning.”
“Night,” Liam says.
Zayn closes his eyes. “Sweet dreams.”
Liam doesn’t know if his dreams are sweet, exactly, but they’re -- not bad. He dreams of the sound of wings, and the feeling of downy feathers brushing his face, and a sense of being sheltered, like when he and Andy were young enough to make a fort out of Liam’s mum’s spare bedsheets and sleep in it together.
When he wakes up, he’s still safely contained, folded into himself the way he went to sleep, and Zayn has rolled up against him in the night. He’s nose-to-nose with Liam now, having somehow thieved a good half of Liam’s pillow, and he’s got a hand on Liam’s waist under their shared quilt. Liam doesn’t mind -- in fact it’s so good to be this close to somebody that it sort of makes his stomach hurt and his fingers ache with the desire to reach out -- but he doesn’t understand, either, and he’s afraid of what Zayn will do when he wakes up and finds out he’s holding onto Liam, instead of whomever he was dreaming about.
“When I said ‘worry in the morning’,” Zayn drawls grumpily, muffled by Liam’s pillow, “I didn’t mean this early, Liam.” Zayn hasn’t bothered to open his eyes. He pets Liam’s side, a heavy stroke down from his ribs, and ends it with an affectionate pat to the rise of his hip.
“Is this… okay?” Liam asks.
“Next time we better brush our teeth before bed,” Zayn says. “Your breath is rank. But yeah, it’s good. Stop worrying.”
On Zayn’s other side, the pile of blankets makes some unhappy movements, and from within it Niall’s voice complains, “Why are we awake?”
“We’re not,” Zayn says. “Everybody go back to sleep.”
Liam wakes up much later to find he’s done as he’s told. Zayn is still sharing his pillow, but is lying on his back now with Niall and all of Niall's blankets tucked up under one arm, and is propping a heavy-looking book on his chest with the other. When he turns to offer Liam a dreamy smile, their noses brush. “Better?” Zayn asks, and Liam nods.
He dreams of wings for the rest of the nights at the bungalow.