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A Dim And Airy Spark

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Everything was blurry. 

Liam blinked slowly, trying to make out his surroundings. A slow, steady beat was thrumming through his body, white noise cancelling out every thought on his mind. 

A warm body pressed against his and he was hit by the most perfect scent. Lime, a sunny, frosty winter day. His cheek was pressed to soft, platinum blonde hair, while determined fingers pulled at his clothes. 

Then there was heat, his skin burning, his body restless, every fibre of his being begging for release. Only that gentle scent could sooth it. Only the touch of those fingers could ground him. 

Everything turned, Liam's stomach twisting with it, to the point that he felt sick. His limbs got heavy, his breathing ragged, and darkness engulfed him completely. There was regret running through his veins; fear, loneliness, and then a bitter longing. 

They weren't his feelings, though. He was alone in that hotel room, confused and worn-out, and those feelings weren't his. They still felt as real, still hurt and made his heart bleed with how they crashed over him. Stabbed him from behind, where he couldn’t see them coming. 

A streak of pain ripped through Liam's body and he jolted out of his sleep. Sitting up, he groaned and ran a shaking hand through his hair, adjusting to the darkness in the room. His heart was stammering in his chest, he was panting, and his skin was cold. 

Blond hair. 

Liam frowned, wondering if he had imagined it. He had never before remembered any detail about his mate, other than the memory of his scent. It was hard to tell whether it even was a memory, or if his mind was playing tricks on him. 

He didn’t know why it happened now. Liam had not dreamed of that night in a while, and he hadn't even thought too much about it anymore. For a long time, the dreams had stopped, and for a long time, Liam hadn’t been able to feel his mate through their bond. He had learned to mute the bond, had managed to ignore each emotion that had run through him. Except for heats -- he couldn’t escape those. 

That’s how he knew that his mate suppressed his heats. It had struck him several times a year in the beginning, but in the past five years, it had only happened twice every year. It had been a relief for Liam, but he was still attuned to them that he could feel them coming on. 

This didn’t happen because his mate was going into heat. There hadn’t been any signs, and it simply wasn’t scheduled for another few months. There was something else to it. 

Getting up, Liam opened the blinds, letting the bleak morning light in. A brief glance at his mobile told him that it was barely six in the morning. 

To clear his mind, he decided to take a run. Sports usually helped when he had these kinds of episodes. It gave him a feeling of wiping the page and starting fresh. 

After all, today was an important day. They would record the final version of his first single and talk through the details for the music video shoot. 

It was only a week now until promotion for the single was going to start. With that, Liam would go into the public eye, too. There were a lot of media training sessions arranged for the upcoming week. 

Leaving his flat, Liam put in his airpods, choosing some uptempo music and started jogging down the street. The morning air was crisp, his skin sensitive to the cold. He inhaled deeply and let it pierce his lungs, to override the numb pain still throbbing beneath. The pain that wasn't his, and yet, felt like an integral part of him. 

The streets were empty this morning. Some taxis were passing him, and a few people walked on the pavements with dull expressions and tired eyes, but other than that, the city was still relatively quiet. As quiet as London could ever be. 

He had just decided to take a turn soon to get back to his flat, when someone touched his back. On instinct, Liam tensed up, turning around quickly to grab the intruder's hand. 

Niall stumbled back with an expression that was half confusion and half fear. 

Liam immediately let go. "Niall. Sorry." 

Niall pointed at one of his ears, body relaxing. "I didn't see you were listening to music." 

Liam took the airpods out, slipping them into a pocket. "What are you doing here?"

"Getting coffee before uni." Niall nodded to a shop behind Liam. "They make really good breakfast smoothies, too, so I sometimes stop by when there's time to." 

Liam turned to look at the shop. "Sounds good." 

"Did you run all the way here?" Niall buried his hands in the pockets of his coat. "From your flat?" 

"Yeah, I was just about to turn around." Liam shrugged. "Couldn't sleep anymore." 

"Exciting day today?" Niall asked. 

"We're finishing up the single today," Liam replied. "It's all starting to become real now." 

Niall grinned. "Wanna join me for breakfast?" 

Liam put his hands on his thighs. "I don't have any money on me." 

"It's on me." Niall gestured to the shop. "You've really run enough, mate. It's, what? Two stops from your flat?" 

Liam looked around. "At least, yeah." 

"Time to get some food into you." Niall went ahead, opening the door. "You can invite me next time." 

Smiling, Liam followed, walking in. He had started getting cold again after he had stopped running and the warmth inside the shop hit him pleasantly. It had a shabby vibe to it. The tables and chairs were mismatched as though they had been collected from flea markets, and the walls weren’t painted. Instead the paint was crumbling, revealing patches of old wallpapers underneath. 

“You gotta try the green smoothie,” Niall said as they stood in front of the counter. “What kind of coffee do you want with that?” 

Liam scanned the menu. “Flat White.”

“Perfect.” Niall gestured to the sitting area. “Get us a table. I’ll be with you in a sec.” 

There weren’t many tables taken. Liam chose one at the window, taking the seat with his back to the room. He took out his mobile to turn off the music and saw that he had a few text messages. He replied to the ones from his sister, smiling at the pictures she had sent of his nephew. 

“That’s cute,” Niall said as he passed Liam and dropped down into the chair across from him. He set a tray down on the table with their smoothies and coffees. “Who’s the kid?” 

Liam put his mobile down. “My nephew, Ashton. He's just turned three." 

Taking one of the green smoothies, Niall set the other in front of Liam. "You see him often?"

"Not often enough," Liam shrugged, adding sugar to his coffee. "My family lives in Wolverhampton." 

Niall hummed. "Is that where you're from?" 

Liam nodded. "Not quite glamorous. Probably the ugliest town in all of England." 

"Mate, have you ever been to Plymouth?" 

"Didn't have the pleasure yet." Liam smiled. "Is it that bad?" 

"The worst." Niall laughed and gestured to Liam's smoothie. "Try it!" 

Liam did as he was told, raising his brows afterwards. He couldn't even pinpoint what exactly the thick drink tasted like. "What exactly is this?" 

"Spinach, kale, bananas and lime. Good, eh?" 

"Yeah, not bad," Liam agreed. He didn't have the heart to tell Niall that he liked his breakfast to be a bit more solid. Like eggs on avocado toast. "What's planned today? You're up early." 

Niall leaned back in his chair. "Got a long day at uni today. I've got the introductions to cultural studies this year. Hate it." 

"You hate it?" Liam frowned. 

"No one likes giving the lectures for first semesters, Liam." Niall rolled his eyes. "They just don't get it." 

"Now I feel stupid for what I've wanted to ask." 

Niall gestured with his hand. "No. Go ahead." 

"What exactly is your subject?" Liam wanted to know. 

"Well, cultural studies is about analysing how culture influences and shapes societies and individuals in society." With a smooth motion, Niall crossed his legs. Liam noticed a change in his demeanour. He suddenly appeared quite professional. "There's a lot of history, of course. Like, how did cultures evolve, and did they all start out the same? Is culture tied to aspects like geography, race,  gender - first and secondary - or language? Those are questions that are being explored." 

Liam nodded. "In order to help us understand humankind better?" 

"Right," Niall affirmed. "And that way, we're able to evolve and understand why people or societies act a certain way." 

"Sounds interesting." Liam sipped from his coffee that was still too hot. He meant it. He'd never been the academic type, but lately, it seemed a lot more interesting to him than it had when he had been younger. 

"My field, specifically, is modern culture, though." Niall shrugged a little. "History is interesting, and I certainly need it to understand recent cultural developments, but in general, it bores me a bit." 

Liam tilted his head. "What are you working on, then?" 

"Pop culture, mainly." Niall grinned as he leaned his arms on the table. "That means I'm looking at how contemporary pop culture, like music, telly, and social media shapes our culture. What kind of impact people like you have." 

"Like me?" Liam raised a brow. 

"Popstars." 

Laughing, Liam looked at his coffee. "I'm not a popstar." 

"In the making," Niall amended. 

Liam couldn't quite believe it yet. He knew that it was happening, but it all seemed a little surreal to him. He had gone through these processes before, and nothing had come of it. 

"Well, Liam," Niall said, voice cheerful. "You have to believe in yourself first before anyone else does it." 

Liam looked up at him, grateful for Niall's attempt to lighten the mood. "I've done this before you know? Sign with a label, record a single." 

Niall frowned. "Really?" 

"Yeah." Liam lifted one shoulder. "The label was shit, though. They did nothing to promote me, so nothing came off it. I was signed to them for two years, but they didn't even let me release more songs because that first one had flopped so spectacularly." 

Until Zayn and Louis had paid quite some money to buy him out of that contract. Liam hoped they'd still show that kind of commitment after the first single. 

"That's a bit shit," Niall murmured. 

"I just don't believe that this will be different until it happens, you know?" 

Niall nodded, the look on his face sincere. "I get that. But I'm sure Louis won't let you down. They're not that kind of label." 

"Well, it's not up to Louis." Liam thought of the conversation he'd had with Louis and Zayn not even a week ago, and of Zayn's cold reaction. "He only filled in for Zayn in Dublin. It's actually Zayn who's gonna work with me." 

Niall seemed to need a moment to remember Zayn. "He's cool. Even better than Louis." 

Liam laughed at that. He understood why Niall would say that. He himself could not really form an opinion on Zayn. At Liam's party last week, they hadn't exchanged a single word apart from greeting each other. Zayn had disappeared without saying goodbye, too. 

"Probably. I just…" looking for the right words, Liam finished his smoothie. "He doesn't seem to like me that much." 

"You personally?" Niall asked. 

Liam nodded. "Yeah. I think I'm the kind of alpha he truly despises." 

Niall looked affronted. "How can he despise someone like you as an alpha when his best friend is the biggest alpha dickhead on earth?" 

For a moment, Liam considered telling Niall. He had made the mistake of telling Harry, believing that as Louis' mate, he'd know about it sooner or later anyways. And he had been spectacularly off about that, too. 

"Louis' not a dickhead," he deflected instead. 

The way Niall looked at him made it clear that he saw right through it, and Liam was grateful that he didn't call Liam out on it. 

"What even happened with those two?" Liam asked. "What did Louis do?" 

All Liam knew was that Harry had texted him one day after his party that he was sorry for leaving the party without saying goodbye. Since both Louis and Zayn had disappeared without a word, too, Liam had suspected that something between Harry and Louis had happened that hadn't gone too well. Seeing Louis at the label's offices a few days later had confirmed it. Louis had looked like shit, had been snappy, and had withdrawn from any conversations that hadn't been about business. 

Niall groaned, shaking his head. "Well. It's a long story, and Harry certainly isn't innocent, either. But the short version is that Louis wanted to pay Harry for their time in Dublin. And for spending his upcoming rut with Louis." 

Liam almost choked on his coffee. "What?" 

"Yeah." Niall sighed. "Harry is furious." 

"How did Louis get the idea Harry wanted money from him?" Liam frowned. As far as he had observed it, Harry had fought Louis on paying anything for him in Dublin. 

Niall's expression changed, and Liam realised that just like he hadn't wanted to enclose everything before, Niall held something back now. 

"I thought they'd work out," Liam said instead to steer the conversation back onto safer grounds. 

Niall nodded. "To be honest, I did, too." 

Grinning, Liam tapped a finger against the tabletop. "Because you don't think so lowly of Louis as you pretend to do, after all." 

"He's an idiot." Nial rolled his eyes. "But, generally, he's a nice lad. Got the right spirit. Just tends to make really stupid decisions." 

"Maybe he'll be able to fix it." Liam smiled. "I'm quite sure they're meant to be, so." 

Niall hummed. "It's not that easy. At least Harry won't take a path that easy." 

"You both seem pretty strong-willed," Liam remarked. "That doesn't name it easy for an alpha to approach you." 

Grinning, Niall met Liam's eye. "Well, I'm not grazing the earth to make it easy for alphas. They've already got it easy enough." 

Liam laughed, feeling his chest go a little tougher with the realisation that Niall was right. "I'm curious to meet your bondmate. They'll have their hands full." 

"I just hope I'll have my hands full, too." Niall shrugged with a smile that didn't seem all that genuine. "What's your dramatic bondmate story, then?" His expression turned softer even Liam made a choked off noise. "Sorry, but it's quite clear you've bonded. No unbonded alpha would act and talk the way you do." 

Liam pressed his lips together, shrugging. "It's a long story, really. None I'm ready to share." 

Niall hummed quietly. "All right."

"But I guess, I act and talk the way I do, because losing them was the worst thing that's ever happened to me." 

"I'm sorry," Niall offered.

"I've learned to deal with it." Liam put their glasses and mugs back onto the tray. "It's been a long time." 

Silence settled between them and Liam felt heavy and drained, maybe from his run, or maybe from the memory of the dream he'd had. The connection he hadn't felt in so long that had suddenly flared up this morning. 

"I gotta get going," he said with a glance at his mobile. "Need to be at the studio at nine." 

Niall grinned, his usual cheek coming back to his expression. "Looks like even popstars work nine to five." 

Laughing, Liam got up. "Thanks for the treat, mate. Next time's on me." 

"I'll hold you to it." Nial got into his coat. "Hey, by the way. There's a pub around here that Harry and I go to most fridays. You up for it?" 

Liam pursed his lips, trying to remember what he was up to on Friday. "Sure. Text me?" 

Niall nodded as they left the shop. He waved at Liam when they parted ways. "See you Friday!" 

Waving back, Liam turned and fell back into a slow jog. Rain had started drizzling, and Liam shivered slightly. He sped up to shake the cold, but it didn’t work. Instead, the wet chill crept under his skin and into his bones, making him stumble slightly. 

Abruptly, Liam stopped, grabbing his t-shirt over his chest and bending forwards. A sudden pain stroke, seizing Liam’s whole body. He gasped, trying to get air into his lungs. His surroundings blurred, and all noises turned into a flat hissing.

The feeling passed as quickly as it had come. Liam released his breath, exhaling loudly. A hollow emptiness gaped in his chest, only a dull throbbing left as the reminder of the intense emotion that had run through Liam’s body just seconds ago. 

It hadn’t been his own. Liam had known the feeling; had gone through it so many times before. But that one hadn’t been his own. It had never been that prominent before. Palpable, strong, running deep  -- so intense Liam felt as though he could have touched it. 

Longing. The feeling had been his mate desperately longing for him. 

===

Chapter Text

"Pick up, pick up, pick up," Zayn muttered as he stepped out of his office. 

"'Lo?" Louis answered his phone after what felt like the tenth ring. 

"Where the bloody fuck are you?" Zayn demanded immediately. 

For a second, Louis was quiet, then he cursed and there was a shattering sound in the background. "I'm on my way." 

"Ten minutes, Louis." Zayn hung up and stopped in front of his secretary's desk. 

Her name was Veronica, and Louis liked to joke about how she looked like Zayn's older, slightly hotter twin. Zayn didn't see the resemblance, even though he did recognise that she was half Parkistani like Zayn himself, and she really did have an attractive face. 

"Veronica, I need you to keep Mr Cowell in check when he arrives," he asked her. "Louis's running late." 

She nodded, adjusting her glasses. "No problem, Mr Malik. He's got a bit of a weakness when it comes to flirty omegas." 

Zayn snorted out a laugh. "How odd, he never gets weak around me." 

Veronica smiled knowingly. "That's because you never flirt, Mr Malik." 

"I guess." Zayn turned around to go back to his office, and almost stumbled into someone. 

"Sorry." Liam stopped in his tracks, palms up when Zayn took another step back. 

"Liam." Zayn leaned against Veronica's desk, trying to stay casual. His heart started beating faster. "Didn't see you there." 

"I didn't mean to startle you." Liam buried his hands in his pockets. He had grown a beard over the past week, and his hair was covered by a snapback. He wore a fitted pair of jeans, as well as a light brown coat. None of all that fit together, but Zayn couldn’t help finding it attractive.

He wanted to know whether that stubble would leave burns if they kissed.

"It takes a bit more than that to startle me." Clearing his throat, Zayn crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I didn't know you'd come in today." 

Liam shrugged. "I've got another quick meeting with Eleanor and Hannah. Really just picking up contracts and stuff." 

"Ah, yes. For the music video. I forgot." Zayn managed a smile. "I'm looking forward to what they come up with." 

As if he didn't know. Of course Zayn knew that they'd inform Liam of a video shooting in Berlin next week, and that Zayn was going to be the one to accompany Liam and the video team to overlook the process. 

It was important that everything went exactly according to their plan to get Liam the best possible start. If the first single succeeded, his career would take off, and the label could reel back in what they had spent on Liam.

It was standard procedure, and yet, Zayn felt nervous about it - although that wasn't down to any doubts that Liam would deliver. 

Liam cleared his throat when the silence between them stretched. Before Zayn could rectify that, though, he pointed over his shoulder. "Guess I'll better go find them." 

Zayn nodded. "Right."

"See you." Liam tilted his upper body slightly to look past Zayn. "See you later, Veronica." 

Zayn watched him leave, only letting go of his breath when Liam closed the door of the meeting room behind himself. Tilting his head back, he suppressed a groan, taking in the lingering scent of a sunny, warm summer day, mixed with just a hint of vanilla. 

It had thrown Zayn off the first time he had smelled it barely two weeks ago. It had caused him to freeze, retreat into himself, afraid that Liam could recognise him, too. By now, it threw him off in a completely different way. 

It made his omega call out, and Zayn hadn’t yet figured out how to stop it. 

“I’ll take that back,” Veronica’s voice dragged him from the daydream that had started on Zayn’s mind. 

Zayn turned to her, lifting a brow. “Take what back?” 

“It takes a little bit more than that to startle me,” she mimicked him, a sly smirk on her face. “You do flirt.” 

“I don’t. Especially not with our artists.” Zayn turned around to avoid giving her any more to read into.

Instead of going back to his own office, he went to Louis’, closing the door behind himself. Leaning against it, Zayn closed his eyes, letting out a frustrated groan. If he didn’t learn to control himself around Liam, his secret would be out in no time. Zayn needed more time, though, since he didn’t have an idea yet how to deal with Liam knowing. 

He didn’t even know if he wanted Liam in his life in any way. As an artist Zayn worked with, or as an acquaintance? Imagining Liam as his alpha was unthinkable -- it completely exceeded Zayn's imagination. 

Taking a deep breath, Zayn pushed himself off the door and started pacing. Coming into Louis' office instead of going back to his own had been a good call. Louis' scent was thick in here, and that calmed Zayn down. 

Ever since bonding to Liam, Zayn had felt uncomfortable around other alphas; sometimes even threatened. That had never been the case for Louis. His scent had been subtle, his presence always kind and soothing to Zayn. The bond made it impossible for Zayn to feel anything beyond friendly affection for anyone but Liam, but Zayn had wished more than once that he could overcome that in some way and be with Louis. 

They had talked about how things would be easier if they had clicked on a different level a few times. Zayn had never told Louis that it wasn't just impossible because they just weren't attracted to each other like that, but because Zayn had already been tied to someone else. It hadn't been necessary, since they had always known that their bond would never exceed friendship. 

With Louis finding out about Liam, and with Harry in the picture, that had moved into the realms of unthinkable now. 

Zayn looked up when the door opened, seeing Louis rush inside. His hair was dishevelled, his shirt wrinkled and his tie messy. He had dark circles beneath his eyes and looked famished. 

"You look a mess," Zayn greeted him. 

"Tell me something I don't already know." Louis' voice was even more scratchy than usual. "I didn't sleep much." 

Zayn frowned. "Have you slept at all since?" 

Shrugging, Louis went to his desk to grab a bunch of files. "Is Cowell waiting?" 

"Veronica keeps him busy to buy us time." 

"Okay. Good." Louis took a deep breath. "Let's get it over with." 

"Louis." Zayn sighed and approached him carefully. "You gotta get a grip." 

There was anger, but Louis' eyes didn't hold the usual fire when he glared at Zayn. "I'm doing my best." 

"I know." Zayn said it softly, reaching out for Louis' tie. "Let me fix you up a bit." 

He gently adjusted the tie, fixing it around Louis' collar. Louis let his gaze drop, eyelashes throwing shadows over his cheeks. 

"Sorry," Louis mumbled. 

"I get it." Zayn rested his hands on Louis' shoulders. "If anyone gets how much it hurts, it's me. But there's no use in letting yourself go." 

"I know." Louis inhaled. 

Zayn pulled him closer. "What can I do?"

"This is quite good." Louis rested his head on Zayn's shoulder. 

"You wanna stay at mine tonight?" Zayn offered. "Maybe you can sleep then." 

Before Louis could answer, there was a knock on the door. It opened before they could pull back from each other. 

"Oh." Liam stood in the doorframe, looking a little shocked, his cheeks going red. "I'm sorry." 

Something inside Zayn bolted, and he felt a sudden pull. As if his insides rebelled against being so close to Louis when Liam was in the room. Stubbornly, Zayn stayed put. 

"What do you need, Liam?" Louis asked, squeezing Zayn's arm. He apparently could read Zayn well enough to sense that Liam's presence affected him. 

"Actually just wanted to check in on you." Liam gave a sheepish shrug. "See how you're doing." 

Louis mustered up a smile. "Thanks, I'm good." 

"You don't look good," Liam pointed out. 

That drew a short laugh from Louis. "People need to stop telling me that." 

Zayn noticed how Liam's eyes crinkled when he smiled. "Mate, you really need to do something about that nest on your head." 

"It's the least of my problems," Louis muttered. 

"Simon is your problem," Zayn reminded him, taking his eyes off Liam. "And you know what he gets like when he notices just a slight opening to attack you. You can't let him see you're vulnerable, Lou." 

Louis groaned. "I know." 

"Do you have a shirt here?" Zayn looked to the door leading to the ensuite of Louis' office. "The one you're wearing screams disaster." 

"Yeah." Louis ran his hands through his hair, trying to straighten it out. "We're late as it is." 

"Can I help in some way?" Liam asked, still standing in the doorway and looking lost. 

"Challenge his alpha a bit." Zayn went to get the shirt. "We gotta take on a particularly nasty one, and he won't even let me get a word in because I'm an omega. So we need Louis at the top of his game." 

Liam opened his mouth, a frown appearing on his face. "Why are you meeting with a dickhead like that?" 

"He's an investor," Zayn explained as he came back with the shirt. "We need his money." 

Liam didn't look happy with that answer. "You shouldn't have to do business with him." 

"Well, life's not always fair, is it?" Louis took off his shirt and handed it to Zayn. "Guess we've all learned that the hard way." 

Zayn's heart stopped for a moment and he threw Louis an apelled look. 

"That's probably true." Liam sounded thoughtful, a little hurt even, and again, something inside Zayn tugged at his insides to move closer to him. 

"I'm afraid I'm not the right person to challenge Louis, though," Liam added. 

"I don't think Liam's challenged anyone in his life." Louis buttoned up the new shirt. "Confrontations don't seem to be his kind of thing." 

"Well," Zayn said before he'd say anything else -- anything stupid. "Let's hope seeing Cowell and listening to his patriarchal bullshit will be enough to get you in the spirits." 

"We shouldn't leave Veronica to fend for herself much longer." Louis brushed his fringe out of his face and turned to Liam. "Thanks for checking in. Will I see you here before you go to Berlin next week?" 

Liam briefly glanced at Zayn with an unreadable expression. "Probably not. I wasn't sure you were maybe going to Berlin, too." 

"It's just you and Zayn." Louis seemed to catch himself just in time. "Well, and the rest of the production team." 

"Ah, okay." Liam nodded stiffly. "Good." 

It didn't look as though he found anything about that particularly good, but he smiled anyway, avoiding looking at Zayn directly. It was a bit of a stab to realise that Liam wasn't happy about the prospect of having to work with Zayn. 

Considering that Liam didn't know who Zayn really was, that meant that he apparently wasn’t very fond of Zayn, or at least didn't like being in his company. Zayn wished he could say that it didn't affect him, but it did. After all, he himself was nervous about it, too. Yet, for completely different reasons. 

"Well, we should get going." Zayn cleared his throat. "I'll see you next Tuesday, Liam." 

Liam simply nodded again before he stepped back to let them out of Louis' office. When Zayn passed him, he smelled vanilla above the usual sunny and spicy-warm scent. It apparently amplified when Liam was uncomfortable. 

It didn't change anything about Zayn's reaction to the scent. 

Forcing himself not to look up at Liam or show anything of what he felt, Zayn made for the conference room. Louis was beside him, not saying a word. 

"You'll have to tell him at one point, Zayn." 

"I know that." Pulling out a small bottle of scent neutraliser from his pocket, Zayn applied a few drops to his neck and wrists. "I'm just waiting for a good moment." 

Louis fumbled with the sleeves of his shirt, rolling them up to his elbows. "Neutralisers will work less the closer you get."

“We gotta focus on the meeting,” Zayn deflected. He stopped at the door, turning to Louis. “Are you ready? 

It was obvious that Louis looked right through him from the way he just lifted a brow, but he didn’t prod any further. “I’ll be fine.” 

Zayn nodded, opening the door to the conference room. “Let’s take him down.” 

+++

Pushing one more time, Liam groaned. His muscles ached with it, sweat running down the side of his face. He panted when he stretched his legs, pushing himself into a standing position and raising the barbell above his head. After putting it slowly back down, Liam grabbed a towel and ran it over his face and neck to dab away the sweat. 

He needed the physical exertion to clear his mind. The past few days had been exhausting in a way Liam had never experienced before. A big part of it was anxiety about his career, another was the fact that he was wary about Zayn. Liam wasn't convinced that Zayn was going to actually put in effort for him. He'd prefer working with Louis because Louis had proven an interest in making the best decisions for Liam's career. It just didn't seem like Zayn would do the same. 

And then there were those… attacks. Liam had no idea how else to describe them. It sneaked up on him every now and then, without warning. Out of nowhere it would hit him, and the connection to his mate would feel so strong that it metaphorically and sometimes literally brought him to his knees. 

There was no explanation for why that kept happening. Liam couldn't even make out a pattern, but the questions kept piling up. 

Was his mate in some kind of danger? Had something changed in his life that he suddenly needed Liam present? Was he probably actively reaching out through the bond? 

Liam had no idea why there hadn't been any connections like that throughout the past ten years, but happened so regularly now. 

Taking his water bottle, he draped the towel around his neck and made for the changing rooms to shower. His limbs were pleasantly aching, his muscles sore. Maybe that would help him fall asleep tonight. 

When he came from the shower, approaching his locker, there were a few other people in the changing room. Everyone was minding their own business, not paying Liam any attention as he opened his locker, skin still wet and only a towel covering his hips. 

“You’ll have to look up a more exclusive place,” someone said from behind Liam and his heart jumped when he recognised that voice.

Turning around, he faced Zayn, who sat on a bench, dressed in sports gear, a bag to his feet. Liam almost hadn’t recognised him at first. His usually black hair was dyed pink, but his eyes were the same. The long eyelashes, his sharp cheekbones, the slender fingers. They were all features Liam had admired before. 

“Zayn,” he said, and added the first thing that came to his mind. “Your hair is pink.” 

Zayn’s hand reached up to tuck a strand of his hair behind his ear. “Yeah. I change hair colours a lot.” 

Liam didn’t know what to say. He nodded dumbly. “It looks nice.” 

“Once the single is out, you can't go to a place like this.” Zayn got up, turning to a sprint to put away his bag. He had apparently decided to ignore Liam’s comment. “Last thing we need is your promo cycle starting with pictures of you in your birthday suit all over the internet.” 

Liam felt his cheeks flush in embarrassment. He suddenly felt overly aware of the fact that he wasn’t wearing anything but that towel covering his most private parts. 

“Not that it wouldn’t be appreciated by most,” Zayn commented, still not looking at him. “But probably not the route we wanna head in.” 

“What are you doing here?” Liam finally managed to ask.

Zayn closed the locker, slipping the key into the pocket of his jogging bottoms. “What’s it look like?” 

Liam felt his cheeks go darker. “I mean. Is this a coincidence?” 

Lifting a brow at him, Zayn left his hands in his pockets. “Do you think I’m stalking you?” 

“Just haven’t seen you here before,” Liam pointed out. 

“That sounds like a pick-up line.” Zayn smiled slightly. “I haven’t seen you here before, either.” 

Getting a little braver with the way Zayn seemed less hostile, Liam crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Maybe you just haven’t noticed me.” 

He took it as a win when Zayn’s cheeks coloured in the same way his own had before. “Believe me, I would have.” 

Something zipped through Liam’s chest, and it felt dangerously close to desire. That was more than noticing Zayn was objectively attractive, or realising that if it weren’t for Liam’s bond, Zayn would have been the kind of omega he would have liked to get to know better. 

This was something Liam hadn’t felt in a while. He kept his eyes on Zayn’s face. “You would have?” 

Averting his gaze from Liam’s, Zayn shuffled his feet. “Shut up. Not like that.” 

Like what , Liam wanted to ask, but there were too many reasons not to. It felt awfully like flirting, and Liam didn’t flirt. Clearing his throat, he decided to drop the topic. “Guess I’ll have to look into gyms, then.” 

“I’m sure Veronica has a list of exclusive anythings for our artists.” Zayn still didn’t look up. “You can ask her.” 

“Thanks.” 

For a moment, they stayed like that, and Liam became aware of how awkward the situation really was. He felt awfully aware of his nakedness when Zayn glanced at his chest, a warm feeling uncurling in his stomach. 

It was confusing because he couldn't read Zayn the way he usually read omegas. Scent was the safest way to identify whether an omega felt attracted, but with Zayn, Liam didn’t even know his scent or how it changed when he was attracted. 

Zayn’s reactions were the only indicator for how he felt, and Liam had to admit that Zayn had perfected the poker face. The few times Liam had met him, he hadn’t let on much of what he was really thinking. He had been collected and calm, and Liam had confused it for being disliked at first, but then he had realised that it was Zayn’s way of protecting his position within an alpha-dominated world. 

Zayn had to be distant and cool, keeping his emotions in check in order to be taken seriously in his job. Liam could only imagine what it was like for him to work alongside all those alphas, and how many fights he had to pick on the daily basis to be respected. 

Now, though, it seemed like Zayn was flustered in some way, and Liam had no idea how to react to that.

“All right. Good,” Zayn suddenly said, moving away. “I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

Liam watched him, holding his towel in place. “Have fun in there.”

Without turning again, Zayn rushed through the door leading to the gym. Liam watched it swing back and forth after he was gone, frowning slightly, and trying to make sense of it. No matter which way he looked at it, he just couldn’t make sense of Zayn. 

Just when he turned back around to his locker, he caught a whiff of lemons, the image of a sunny, cold winter day flashing before his eyes. The scent was gone as quickly as it had come, but the feeling that struck Liam’s chest made his knees weak. 

He sat down on the bench, a hand coming up to rest over the pain, and he bit back a groan. It had never hit him that hard before. It was like his mate was right there next to him, the feelings of despair and longing so close, Liam thought he could grab them right out of his chest alongside his own heart. 

They ebbed much sooner than the ones he had experienced before. It wasn’t a slow process, but more like a light being switched on and off. It was just gone -- the scent, the feelings, the tense air. 

He kept sitting, trying to collect himself. His chest felt hollow with the feeling gone, his heart beating out of rhythm. Whatever happened to him, it was getting worse. Liam had no idea what caused those attacks. No matter which angle he took, no matter how often he replayed it, he couldn’t find any patterns. 

Maybe him feeling guilty for being attracted to Zayn had been the cause. Maybe his body was punishing him for reacting to an omega that wasn’t his bondmate. It was possible. 

Sighing, Liam ran his hand up from his chest into his damp hair. It was the only explanation he had right now, but it didn’t explain the other times it had happened. There was just nothing like it Liam had heard of before.

There wasn’t a lot of literature on bonded mates living apart, so his research hadn’t been futile. The internet gave a lot of sources, but none of them were dealing with anything as specific as his case. 

“Shit,” he mumbled. Standing up, he weakly changed into his clothes, trying to ignore the aftermath of the attack.

Whatever it was, Liam would have to find out what the hell was going on with his body. He had to find a way to make it stop, too, because feeling his mate like that was tearing him apart in more than one way.

There had to be a way to gain back control. 

+++

"Me coming to Berlin won't change a thing." 

Zayn let his head fall back against the sofa. "It will. Honestly, Tommo, there's nothing major happening at the label next week." 

"That's the good thing about it." Louis kicked his foot out, nudging Zayn's hip. "I'll have some  time to myself." 

They sat in Louis' living room, a documentary on Britain's drug wars on, while they ate Chinese takeaway. 

"That's the least thing you need." Zayn pointed his chopsticks at Louis. "You'll drown in self pity." 

Louis glanced at the screen. "I need to pity myself." 

"You need a distraction." Zayn lifted his head again and turned his body towards Louis. "You know that." 

Contemplating Zayn’s words, Louis focused on the TV screen. He kept quiet for a bit, watching the documentary and finishing his food. Zayn glanced at him over and over, wondering what was going on in Louis’ head. 

It wasn’t always easy to understand Louis. Although they’d been friends for more than five years, there were instances when Zayn couldn’t even predict Louis’next move. He was aware that it was the exact same way the other way around, so it wasn’t something he could complain about. 

“I thought we had agreed on me not going to Berlin.” Louis put his box on the sofa table. “Something happened?” 

Zayn pursed his lips. “Nothing happened.” 

Louis just snorted. 

“I’ve run into Liam at the gym today,” Zayn let on. It wasn’t that he wanted to tell anyone, but if he had to tell anyone, Louis would always be his first choice. 

“Ah.” Louis failed to hide a smirk. 

“What’s there to grin about?” Zayn put his own box away, realising that he hadn’t been eating for the past five minutes. 

“Just.” Louis chuckled. “At the gym. That’s such a cliché. Was he sweaty, doing push-ups? Shirtless? Could you not control yourself?” 

Rolling his eyes, Zayn kicked Louis’ leg. “You’re such a brat.” 

“Enlighten me, Malik.” Louis lifted a brow. “How else did meeting Liam at the gym throw you off?” 

Zayn realised that he’d rather die than admit to Louis how affected he had been by seeing Liam come from the showers. The image of Liam’s bare chest, wet hair and hips covered by that flimsy piece of a towel had been engraved to Zayn’s mind permanently. He had almost not been able to control himself.

As soon as he had been out of sight for Liam, he had needed a moment to get his omega under control. He was bonded to Liam, there just wasn’t any way he wouldn’t react to Liam, his presence, let alone Liam’s touch. That was nothing Zayn could control in any way, and he was afraid that the moment they’d have physical contact in any way, all masks would drop, and Zayn’s cover would blow. 

“You don’t get that,” he finally said. 

Louis tilted his head. “I don’t?” 

“He’s my alpha, Louis.” Zayn felt a blush creep up his cheeks upon saying those words out loud. “I can't control my reactions to him. I can’t control my omega the way I can control it around other alphas. Not with him.” 

Louis’ expression turned serious. “That’s why you need to tell him.” 

“I can’t just tell him.” Zayn gestured at his chest. “Not after what he’s told me. I just can’t go up to him and act like the past ten years didn’t happen.” 

“I don’t think anyone expects you to act like that.” Louis frowned. 

“I just don’t know, okay?” Zayn buried his face in his hands, groaning in frustration. “I don’t know how to approach this. I don’t know how to act around him. I don’t know how to talk to him. I--- don’t know.” 

For a moment, there were only the dull voices coming from the TV, then Louis shifted closer and pulled Zayn into his arms. “I do get that, Zee.” 

A pang of guilt spread through Zayn’s chest and he sighed. “Maybe.” 

Gently patting Zayn’s back, Louis hummed. “You need to tell him before he finds out any other way.” 

“Not in Berlin, though.” Zayn pressed his lips together, resting his head against Louis’ chest. “When we’re back.” 

“Okay.” Louis kept up the soothing movement of his fingers, calming Zayn down. “We’ll come up with a plan in Berlin.” 

Pulling away, Zayn stared at Louis’ face. “You’ll come?” 

Louis shrugged, a smile tugging on his lips. “You know I’m always there when you need me.” 

Zayn felt so grateful, his chest ached with it. It was a good ache, though. Better than the one he had felt before. “Thank you, Louis. Really.” 

“I guess I’m doing it a bit for myself, too.” Louis smiled weakly. “I’d probably end up drinking myself to earth, or crawling back to his door if I stayed here.” 

“Did you hear anything from him?” Zayn left his hand resting on Louis’ arm in a comforting gesture. “Or Niall?” 

Louis laughed bitterly. “Niall’s never liked me to begin with.” 

Zayn frowned. “From what I remember he seemed to like you.” 

“He tolerated me for Harry’s sake.” With a helpless shrug, Louis bit his lip. He still looked devastated each time he said as much as Harry’s name. “Because Harry had asked him to.” 

“You fucked up.” When Louis winced, Zayn squeezed his arm. “But if they really think that lowly of you, they never took the time to properly get to know you.” 

Louis inhaled, his chets rising with it. “It was only a week, after all.” 

“And Harry should have taken more time to figure you out before calling it quits.” Shifting closer to Louis, Zayn tried to get Louis to look at him. “I get him, I do. He’s got every right to be angry -- furious even. But cutting your mate off? He has no idea what he’s doing to himself by doing that. Or to you.” 

Louis smiled weakly, glancing up at Zayn. “It’s not the same, though. We’re not bonded.” 

“But you’ve recognised each other.” Zayn shook his head. “There is no going back from that, Lou.” 

“I know.” Louis sighed. “I can feel that, too.” 

“He’ll realise that, too, and then he’ll come around.” 

“If you say so.” Louis’ eyes got a bit of their usual spak back. “Dunno if I’ve got ten years to waste, tough.” 

Zan laughed, pushing Louis halfheartedly. “That’s not funny.”

“No, I guess not.” Louis still chuckled, but caught himself a moment later. “I still haven’t made up my mind about Liam.” 

“I thought you liked him.” Zayn titled his head. 

Louis shrugged, the frown returning. “He seems like a decent guy, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s committed the worst crime. He’s bonded and left his omega. As an alpha I can’t see past that.” 

Zayn hummed, his heart dropping. It wasn’t like he ever forgot about the situation he was in, but he didn't always remember how serious it really was. He didn’t always realise that it really was his life. 

“I can’t really wrap my head around it yet that they’re the same person,” Louis continued. “That guy who’s done that to my best friend, and, well -- Liam.” 

“That’s why it’s so hard for me to tell him.” Inhaling on a shaky breath, Zayn fidgeted the strings of his jogging bottoms. “I want him close, and my omega is completely defenceless around him. But rationally I know that he’s done me wrong, and I should run as fast as I can to not give him any opportunity to repeat that.” 

Louis nodded, but his eyebrows were still knitted together. “I think he just wants to make up for what he’s done.” 

“That’s not so easy, though.” The skin beneath his fingers was still callous when Zayn touched the mark low on his neck. “Do you have any idea what it’d mean for me if he found out?” 

Blinking, Louis pulled his feet up, winding his arms around his knees. “You would have to decide whether you want to be with him or not, I guess.” 

“There is no option, Louis.” Zayn shook his head. “We’re already bonded. I would have to be with him, and I have no idea what that would mean for my life as it is now. As my alpha, he gets to have a certain power over me.” 

Louis made to speak, but Zayn cut him short before he could say anything. 

“Rarely any alphas are like you, Louis,” he said. “You wouldn’t mind your omega living a life like mine, being ambitious and competitive. Not many alphas want an omega like that. They still expect us to bow to them and do what they say. What they allow.” 

Louis groaned quietly. “If he’s like that, you can’t be with him.” 

“I already am.” Zayn felt how the reality of those words only hit him now that he’d said them out loud. “When we bonded, that decision was made. As long as he doesn’t know about me, nothing has to change. But once he does find out, I won’t have an option.” 

“We’ll figure something out.” Louis’ eyes fell to the mark that was hidden under the collar of Zayn’s t-shirt. “I won’t let him harm you again in any way.” 

Zayn smiled slightly. He knew that Louis was earnest about it, but he also knew that no one could protect him from his own alpha. He could only hope that he’d never need that kind of protection. “Liam doesn’t seem very threatening,” he pointed out. “Actually, it’s quite the contrary.” 

Louis nodded in agreement. “He doesn’t. He’s the least alpha I’ve ever met, I think.” 

“And that’s coming from you,” Zayn teased. “The least alpha personality I’ve ever met.” 

“Tell that Cowell.” Louis grinned.

“I really didn’t think you’d pull yourself together like that.” Zayn chuckled at the memory. “But I’m glad you did.” 

The TV screen suddenly turned black and both of them looked at it in surprise. 

“Guess that’s a sign,” Louis pointed out.

“Let’s go to bed.” Zayn got up and collected the takeaway boxes. “It’s late.” 

Louis yawned, nodding. He followed Zayn into the kitchen where they put the leftovers in the fridge. “You wanna stay the night?” 

“Yeah, I don’t wanna get on the tube. It’s okay, isn’t it?” Zayn closed the fridge, turning to Louis. “I’ll just stay in your guest room.” 

Louis froze, his motion stopping abruptly, but he caught himself quickly. “Of course.” 

“Louis.” Zayn crossed his arms in front of his chest. “What?” 

Louis shrugged, obviously uncomfortable under Zayn’s gaze. “You’ll have to take the one downstairs.”

It wasn’t like Zayn cared much, but he was still curious for the reason. “Why?” 

“Harry’s stayed in the one upstairs.” Louis didn’t look at him, his cheeks flushing red. “I haven’t changed anything yet.” 

Zayn needed a moment to catch on that Louis didn’t mean that it hadn’t been cleaned yet, but that he hadn’t wanted to clean it. It probably still smelled like Harry, even if he had only stayed there for a night, and Louis clung to every last bit of what he could get. 

“You’re such a softie,” Zayn teased him, smirking. 

“Shut up.” Louis pushed past him, making for the stairs. “I’m leaving at seven tomorrow. If you’re not out of bed by then, I’ll leave without you.” 

Zayn watched him disappear upstairs, still grinning to himself. As much as he enjoyed teasing Louis, he couldn’t say that he was any better. A few weeks ago, he probably wouldn’t even have understood how Louis felt about Harry’s scent. Since Liam had shown up, a lot had changed, though, and Zayn had started to understand what it really was like to be attracted to someone to the point where it physically hurt. 

If he could, he would want to have a room filled with Liam’s scent, too. 

+++

“Okay.” Niall held up his hand. “If we’re letting you join our pub quiz team, I need to know what contributions you’ll make. Where are your strengths?” 

Liam leaned back in his chair, tilting his head. That one was easy. “I’ve got some extensive Harry Potter knowledge. Books and films, actually.” 

Harry’s expression was appreciative. “That sounds good.” 

“Useful, yes.” Niall lifted his pint in a toast. “That’s enough for us. You’re in.” 

Laughing, Liam lifted his glass, too. “That was surprisingly easy.” 

The pub was packed with people, as it had been expected on a Friday night. Music played in the background and the people were crowding around the bar and tables while waiters made their way through the room to collect empty glasses and dishes. 

As promised, Liam had met up with Niall and Harry, and he had to say he enjoyed their company. When they had met in Dublin for the first time, Liam wouldn’t have been able to predict any of this, but he was happy things had turned in this direction. He could need a few more friends in London, especially since most of his close friends still lived in Birmingham. 

“Next quiz night is…” Niall turned to Harry, frowning. “Tuesday?” 

Harry nodded. He had tied his hair in a bun on top of his head, but most of it had come loose. “Tuesday.” 

“Um…” Liam pulled a face. “I can’t Tuesday.” 

“You’re proving yourself unreliable before even giving it a try?” Niall raised a brow.

“I’ll be in Berlin Tuesday to Thursday.” Liam shrugged, honestly feeling sorry about it. He would have liked to take part in one of those pub quizzes Niall and Harry had told him about. They had seemed so excited about it. 

Niall snorted. “Of course. Mr Popstar is travelling.” 

“We’ll shoot the music video,” Liam told them. 

“That must be exciting for you,” Harry said. He smiled when he leaned closer to be heard over the loud noises in the room. “Do you know what kind of video it’s gonna be?” 

Nodding, Liam set his glass back on the table. “Something simple, really. It’ll be on the rooftops, overlooking Berlin’s skyline in the sunset.” 

Liam knew what Niall was about to ask when he saw Niall glance at Harry briefly. “Is Louis going with you again?” 

“No, Zayn’s going.” Liam glanced at Harry, too, surprised to see he hadn’t even flinched at the mention of Louis. “He’s in charge now.” 

“Are you getting along with him better, then?” Niall asked. 

Liam shrugged. “I guess we’re fine?” He thought of the encounter in the gym, and how, for a moment, it had felt as though Zayn had been flirting with him. “I can’t tell if he likes me or not.” 

“Why?” Harry wanted to know. 

“He just seems cold.” Liam moved his glass between his palms. “And like he doesn’t really want to work with me.” 

Harry frowned slightly. “Maybe he just needs a bit of time to warm up to you.” 

Niall nodded in agreement. “It’s easier for Louis, isn’t it?” 

“What do you mean?” Liam tilted his head. 

Niall and Harry exchanged a look, small smiles playing around their lips. 

“He’s an alpha,” Niall started. “He can approach you head-on, and he knows that whatever he says and decides, you’ll take him seriously.” 

“I take Zayn seriously, too.” Liam frowned. 

“Zayn probably doesn’t know that yet.” Harry shrugged, his smile turning a little bitter. “He’s an omega. He can’t head into business in the same way Lou--” He cleared his throat. “An alpha can. He has to be wary of how he’ll be treated. Especially if the client is an alpha. It’s more than likely that he won’t be taken seriously.” 

Liam contemplated that for a moment. “That makes sense, yeah.” 

“As soon as he realises you’re not an alpha like that, he’ll come around,” Niall said. “I’m sure.” 

An alpha like that . Liam stared into his glass, wondering if Niall and Harry would still say the same if they knew what kind of alpha he really was. What he had done. They probably wouldn’t want anything to do with him anymore and Liam didn’t think he could resent them for that -- they’d be right.

When he lifted his head, Niall had stood up from his chair, excusing himself to go to the toilet. Liam watched him disappear in the crowd before he turned to Harry. 

“How are you holding up?” he asked. 

Harry shrugged. “I’m good.” 

Liam smiled slightly. “Excuse me for being so frank, but you don’t look it.” 

That drew a laugh from Harry. “I guess not. But I’m much better now with the distance.” 

“With the distance?” Liam drank from his pint, lifting his brows. 

“It’s easier if I don’t see him.” Harry drank from his pint, too, apparently contemplating his next words. “When we were around each other, I could… sense him so well. It was impossible to ignore, and that made it hard to keep a clear mind.” 

Liam hummed. “Is your mind clear now?” 

“Much clearer.” Harry nodded, looking up when Niall came back. “I can focus on myself. It was harder to stand by my decision when he was close. I don’t know how to explain it, but my omega was in tune with him and what he felt, so it kept rebelling. If that makes sense.” 

“It does, yeah.” Liam nodded. In some strange way, he could grasp the concept of what Harry was saying. It remained abstract, and something only bonded people could really understand, though. Which made it even stranger that Harry could report on them. “It’s strange, though, don’t you think?” 

Harry lifted a brow. “What is?” 

“Your experience is something only bonded people go through.” Liam shrugged, knowing that Harry wouldn’t like what he had to say. “And you’re not. Which… makes your connection with Louis a pretty strong one.” 

Niall jumped in when Harry’s expression turned sour. “It’s something I’ve thought about, too. There are concepts of true mates that fit the description.” 

“That is nonsense,” Harry claimed before Liam had a chance to agree and add to the theory. “Enough of that.” 

Niall glanced at Liam, pressing his lips together. It seemed like he knew not to push Harry on that matter. “Shall I get another round?” 

Their conversation drifted back to easier topics after that, and after a while, Harry relaxed again. He was back to being silly, joking and singing along when a song he liked came on. Liam was glad to see that Harry didn’t hold a grudge against Liam for breaching that topic. 

Yet, he still contemplated what Niall had said about true mates on his way back home. 

Maybe that wasn’t too far-fetched. After all, Harry had said that even though they weren’t bonded, he was able to feel Louis, and sense him in a way that influenced Harry’s rational thinking. 

True mates were so rare to find, though, that many people believed it was some kind of myth. Liam hadn’t met anyone who had any experience with true mates, let alone anyone who had met theirs. That had led him to believe that maybe, the concept really was nothing but a myth. 

Everything Harry had described fit the concept, though. In that case, it’d only make sense that he’d feel more clear-headed now that he didn’t see Louis anymore and they had brought some distance between them.

The thought made Lim stop in his tracks. 

A few drops of rain splattered down, quickly turning into a literal downpour, but Liam couldn’t move. Instead, he stood frozen, turning that last thought over in his head. 

How could he have been so blind? How could he not have realised what was going on? How could he not have identified what was happening to him, and even more so why it was happening? 

The answer to his questions had been right in front of his nose all the time. He had simply been too blind, too stupid, maybe even too scared to see it. 

There was a reason he suddenly felt his mate so much clearer than ever before. And there was a reason Liam could feel him now, all of a sudden. They must have crossed paths. It was the only possible explanation. 

Why had it taken Liam so long to realise that? 

He lifted his head, staring at the dark night sky that was pouring down on him in even darker raindrops. His clothes were already soaked, his hair matted to his head, and water was running down his arms, dripping from his cold fingertips. With the rain pouring down so constantly, everything felt motionless, like frozen in time. 

His heart, though; his heart was beating high in his throat one second, dropping to his knees the next. Liam’s head felt light and his lips numb -- his whole body was wet and cold, and yet, he felt like he was on fire. 

There was only one possible explanation. 

His mate had stepped back into Liam’s life.

===

Chapter Text

Liam rubbed his eyes and yawned, looking around. Martin, his manager stood next to him, typing something on his smartphone. He hadn’t said anything else after they had greeted each other, and Liam was grateful for that. His brain wasn’t fully functioning yet. 

Apart from how he first needed to fully wake up, Liam was also grateful for the lack of conversation because he didn’t like Martin all that much. They never really had anything to talk about apart from the business they had together. Martin was a tall and lanky guy with lines in his face that had nothing to do with his age, but all to do with the negative attitude he had towards life. Liam couldn’t grasp how he was literally always in a bad mood. 

Of course he hadn’t known he’d have to work with Martin when Liam had signed with the management company. They were doing good work overall, and Liam couldn’t complain about how they handled him as a client. He just didn’t particularly like Martin as a person. 

That was once again solidified when Zayn and Oli joined them and Martin didn’t even raise his head to look at them. 

Not that Zayn was any friendlier. While Oli wished them a good morning, Zayn had his arms crossed over his chest, the hood of his jumper pulled over his head, his face shielded from the bright overhead lights. His eyes looked small, especially since they were framed by his long, dark lashes and he seemed to be even less awake than Liam. As always, he wore scent neutraliser, which made even Oli’s scent stand out more than Zayn’s.

“Morning,” Liam said back. 

“Excited?” Oli asked, obviously much more of a morning person than any of them.

Liam nodded. “Quite. I’ve never been to Berlin, either.” 

“Berlin is great.” Oli glanced at his mobile phone. “One of Louis’ favourite cities, actually.”

“Why?” Liam asked. 

Oli winked. “Best nightlife in Europe.” He shrugged. “According to Louis. If you asked me, I’d say it’s Prague.” 

“Better than London?” Liam couldn’t imagine that any place could be better than the clubs in London. Since moving there, he had come to appreciate the diversity and vibe he had found in that city.

“I bet you’ll get to find out for yourself,” Oli replied. 

For a moment, silence settled and Liam turned his head, finding Zayn staring at him. Their eyes locked briefly before Zayn turned his body, looking away. A strange feeling zipped through Liam, making his breath catch for a moment. 

It wasn’t the first time his body showed a reaction to Zayn. He couldn’t explain where it came from or why it was happening. After all, Liam shouldn’t even be able to have reactions like that to any omegas. 

He was distracted from the thought when Louis suddenly showed up, looking just as grumpy as Zayn. He wore a baseball cap and comfortable looking sweatpants. Over his jumper, he wore a thick winter jacket that looked two sizes too big on him. 

"What are you doing here?" Liam asked in confusion. 

"I'm going with you guys, after all." Louis shrugged. "Can't really miss out on my favourite city, can I?" 

Zayn's lips quirked at that, but he covered it up by rubbing his eye. A strand of pink hair was dangling over his face and he brushed it behind his ear as he stepped a little closer to Louis. 

The real reason Louis was joining them had probably nothing to do with him liking Berlin, but him trying to escape his heartbreak over Harry. Liam couldn't really blame him for trying to take his mind off that. He just hoped that Louis wouldn't do anything reckless in Berlin. 

God knew Liam had tried that himself often enough. 

Which brought him right back to the reason he was so tired in the first place. Sleep didn't come easily these days for Liam. Whenever he slowed down his mind wandered to the revelation he'd had on Friday, trying to figure out what he had missed, where he could have crossed paths with his omega. 

It drove Liam crazy that he didn't know who it was. He had made a list of all the omegas he had met over the past weeks. Every female one he could have crossed off, and everyone else remaining just seemed unlikely to be the one. Harry, for example, was someone he had crossed off immediately. There were a few guys at the label Liam had come in contact with, but he had never felt anything. The most likely option remaining was actually Niall, but Liam was pretty sure that he would recognise his mate's scent, and Niall smelt nothing like it. 

Liam got more frustrated with the mystery of where he had met his mate, and who the bloody hell it had been with every minute passing. 

"Should we check in?" Zayn asked. 

It was the first thing he had said since arriving, and his voice sounded raspy. He had probably not spoken a word since getting out of bed. 

When they reached the gate, boarding had already started, so they joined the queue, getting their documents ready. Louis was arguing about something with Oli, gesturing wildly, while both Martin and Zayn were quietly listening. 

Liam opened his boarding pass on his mobile when someone bumped into him, making him stumble. He caught himself with a hand on Zayn's arm -- which made him stumble again from the shock he received. 

"Sorry," a woman said, pulling her son back who had been the one to push Liam. By accident, he hoped. "Kevin, watch where you're going, " she added, looking at the child. 

"It's okay," Liam mumbled, still hung up on the electricity that had run through him a second ago. 

He turned to Zayn, who was suddenly preoccupied typing a text message. Liam wanted to say something; apologise or explain, but the way Zayn had turned his body spoke volumes. He was shutting Liam out. 

And what even was there to apologise for? What was there to explain? It wasn't like Liam understood a single thing of what was going on that he could in any way convey to Zayn. Liam had no idea what had just happened, and maybe ignoring it, pretending that it just hadn't happened, was the best way to go about it. 

Pressing his lips together, and with a tight feeling in his chest, he got onto the plane. 

+++

“The camera loves his face.” 

Zayn smiled at the comment, watching on as Liam turned his body in front of the camera. The cameraman followed the move while Liam sang along to the song. The fact that he actually sang made Zayn smile more. It was something most newcomers did in the beginning. In a few years, Liam would only lip sync when recording music videos. 

“Not only the camera will,” Louis commented. He stood next to Zayn, trembling from the cold and harsh wind up on the rooftop they were filming at. 

The director, Lukas, hummed as he leaned closer to Zayn. He spoke with a heavy German accent. “You’ve got a potential superstar on your hands there.” 

Louis pulled his jacket closed over his chest. “We hope so.” 

Lukas wasn’t the first to spot Liam’s potential. Other people in the industry had commented on how Liam brought the perfect package. His voice was most important, but that alone wouldn’t sell records. He was young, but not too young,  attractive, physically fit, and on top of that likable. His eyes crinkled when he smiled and there was something incredibly soft about him, which made him especially interesting as an alpha. 

There were a lot of tough, aggressive and cool alphas in the industry, and there was no question that those sold best. However, Liam didn’t suit that image. He had an aura of gentleness -- not in a weak way, though. His appearance oozed of protection and care; someone to trust and retreat to. There was no doubt for Zayn that it would definitely sell, too. Alphas like him were rare, and thus, desirable. 

As the head of the label Zayn was thrilled with how they could market Liam to their audience. As an omega -- and more specifically Liam’s omega -- Zayn hated every single bit about it. 

Why did Liam have to be so bloody perfect all the time, anyway? It was like there was no flaw, nothing to call him out for. Even now he showcased nothing but natural talent and professionality. Seemingly effortlessly, he picked up on every instruction Lukas gave him, executing them perfectly. 

Zayn would have been bitter, if he hadn’t been so impressed. And turned on. 

“It’s a wonder he hasn’t figured it out yet,” Louis mumbled when they sat down, observing the shooting process. 

Turning to him, Zayn lifted a brow. 

“The way you stare at him says it all.” Louis smiled gently. 

“I don’t stare at him.” 

Louis snorted. He took out his mobile and held it up for Zayn, a picture of his profile on display. It had obviously been taken just moments ago. Zayn’s eyes were focused, lips slightly parted. 

“Delete that,” Zayn demanded. 

“I’ll keep it. In case I gotta blackmail you at some point.” 

“You’d never blackmail me.” Zayn reached for the mobile, but Louis pulled back and slid it into his pocket. “Louis. Don’t you dare.” 

Louis grinned and crossed his arms in front of his chest, burying deeper into his ridiculously big jacket. “An alpha like me needs insurance when working with feisty omegas like you.” 

“I’ve never been feisty, you dickhead.” Zayn punched Louis’ arm. Not hard, but hard enough to get his point across. “You are the feisty one between us.” 

Laughing, Louis tilted his head back. “I guess that’s true.” 

The music stopped and immediately, two people rushed up to Liam, one fixing his hair before brushing powder on his nose, while the other gave him new instructions. Liam looked slightly uncomfortable under the attention, his movements stiff when he tilted his head, so the makeup artist could run the brush over his chin and neck.

“One more take,” Lukas told them. “It’s sunny, so we’ll continue with the other shots around five when the sun sets.” 

“Should we go out for lunch?” Louis asked Zayn. “Or order something in?” 

“Let’s go for Kebab.” Zayn rubbed his hands together. “I saw a place nearby when we arrived.” 

Louis nodded. “Just us?” 

Zayn knew what Louis was on about. Usually, they’d tell the team, and ask who wanted to tag along. With Liam in the picture, nothing went as it usually did, though. At least not for Zayn. 

“Everyone,” Zayn replied, well aware that it would look suspicious if they were to go out to lunch by themselves today. “I can handle it.” 

Louis hummed, nodding briefly. Zayn knew what he was thinking. Louis had doubts that Zayn was doing the right thing, and he was probably right about that. After all, Zayn didn't have a single clue what he was doing himself. 

At the airport, when Liam had touched him, Zayn had been so close to losing it. His heart had almost stopped, and he had been sure that sparks had flown. Not in a metaphorical way, but literal sparks. It had been like receiving an electric shock. 

Liam had felt it, too. From the way he had reacted, had turned to Zayn afterwards, Zayn had been certain that Liam had felt the same shock. There had only been one option for Zayn to react -- pretend that nothing had happened. Fortunately, Liam had bought the act. He had probably thought he had only imagined it, or that it wasn’t anything unusual. 

Maybe Zayn wasn’t the only omega he had sparked with. 

The thought alone made Zayn’s stomach turn.

“Well done!” Lukas came back over to them. “We’ll view the material and edit the first shots.” He checked his wrist watch. “Resume filming at five.” 

Louis got up and squeezed Zayn’s arm briefly before he walked over to the team. The moment he mentioned their lunch plans, Jamie, their make-up artist, as well as Martin immediately agreed. Liam’s eyes flickered to Zayn first, looking uncertain. Zayn did his best to look casual, unassuming. 

He still exhaled in relief when Liam agreed to tag along. Why he was relieved in the first place Zayn didn’t even know. Rationally, he knew that he had more reasons to be worried, but there was something disturbing about knowing Liam was there, but not within reach for Zayn. 

Not that Zayn would reach out.

Fuck, he really was a mess. 

When no one was looking, Zayn quickly turned around to apply scent neutraliser to his neck. He added a few extra drops onto his wrists, running them together before slipping the bottle back into the pocket of his coat. 

Better safe than sorry. 

"Let's go," Louis said, as he came back. "I'm starving." 

They walked downstairs, and Jamie and Oli were chatting about good shops in Berlin, while Martin complained about the video being too tame. 

"I'm just saying we need to build a more aggressive image for Liam," he said when they entered the kebab shop. "There's no real message behind it, is there?"

Louis rolled his eyes. "What message would you like to convey?" 

"Something that's a bit more alpha, actually." Martin buried his hands in his pockets as he checked out the menu over the counter. 

"You were fine with the concept when we presented it in the meeting," Zayn pointed out as he approached the man behind the counter to order. 

Martin huffed. "I actually wasn't, but our team was. I hoped it was just a vague concept." 

"We never present our clients with just vague ideas." Louis lifted a brow at him before he turned to the counter and  ordered when Zayn had paid. 

"I think it's fine," Liam said, voice low. "It's not boring." 

"You're not really the expert, though, are you?" Martin dismissed Liam’s opinion.

"No, he's not," Zayn agreed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "We are." 

Liam turned his gaze to Zayn, something unreadable in his eyes. For a moment, Zayn was afraid Liam was going to tell him off, putting Zayn in his place for challenging an alpha. 

His heart skipped a beat when Liam's expression softened. 

"They are," he said, turning back to Martin. "And they certainly have more experience than you do.” 

"Don't know if it's so wise to have an omega make such decisions for an alpha," Martin muttered. 

Zayn was about to snap at him, but Louis touched his arm and stepped forwards. "I don't think anyone's gender defines their ability to do a good job." 

Martin stared at Louis for a few long seconds before he spoke up. "We'll see, I guess." 

"We will," Louis affirmed. 

Zayn pressed his lips together, biting his tongue when he followed Louis to one of the tables. His heart weighed heavily in his chest, and he felt like he needed to punch something. Or someone. Preferringly Martin. 

It was something Zayn was incredibly sick of. He was tired of the constant fight to prove himself in his position at the label, and he hated that it was so much easier for Louis. 

Not that Louis was less capable or professional, but he also wasn't any more of that. They were equals at the top of the label, but unfortunately, Louis was the only person who actually perceived Zayn that way. 

There were too many dickheads like Martin out there who refused to take Zayn seriously. 

"Don't listen to him," Liam said as he sat down across from Zayn. "He's clearly being unprofessional." 

Zayn looked up at him, briefly meeting Liam’s eyes. He quickly realised that it wasn't a good idea, though, and averted his gaze to the street outside the window. "He's not the first one."

"And not the last," Louis added, joining them with two bottles of water. He handed one to Zayn. 

Liam's brows knitted together, a frown adorning his handsome face. "I'm sorry." 

Zayn wanted to snap at him and tell him that being sorry wasn't enough. He wanted to tell Liam that he was at fault for picking such a shitty person as his manager in the first place. He wanted to make Liam feel guilty for letting Martin talk like that to Zayn. 

There was something about the way Liam looked at him, though. Something in his eyes, and something about his scent that told Zayn that he was sincere, and didn't mean any harm. That Martin's words were not a reflection of Liam’s views. 

"You didn't say that shit," he settled on, trying to appear unbothered. "No need to be sorry." 

Liam didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t say anymore about it when Oli and Jamie joined them at the table. Martin sat down last, taking the chair next to Louis. For him, the issue seemed to be settled, as he had already gone on to the next topic. No one but Oli paid him much attention, though, and usually Zayn would feel bad for that, but he couldn’t actually bring himself to care then. And it didn’t seem like Martin cared, either.

When Louis picked up his and Zayn’s food from the counter, Zayn caught Liam’s eye, finding him frowning. He tilted his head, opening his mouth to ask what he was on about, but Liam quickly glanced away and cleared his throat. 

A strange feeling ran through Zayn, and he wondered if Liam was onto him. 

He couldn’t. Zayn was wearing scent neutraliser and he hadn’t done or said a thing that would give him away. There wasn’t a way that Liam had caught onto him, and Zayn was careful enough to keep it that way. 

Louis came back, putting Zayn’s plate in front of him, saying something about being starved. Zayn nodded and smiled at him, pretending that nothing was bothering him. He followed Liam with his gaze when he got his own plate, eyes raking over Liam's body and taking in every detail he had memorised so clearly before. 

His big hands, his broad shoulders and slim waist, his mussed-up hair. A zip of desire ran through Zayn, but he suppressed it, focussing on his food when Liam came back and sat down. The small shop was filled with the scents of kebab, meat, sauces, and yet, all Zayn could focus on was the scent of a warm summer day, the sun, the fresh air. Warm vanilla. 

He took to breathing through his mouth instead to not let it go to his head. 

+++

There was something odd about it. 

Liam couldn’t put his finger on it, but it kept bothering him. When Zayn had said that he had nothing to be sorry about, something inside Liam had shifted. It was like there was, indeed, something to be sorry about, and as though Zayn hadn’t been honest.

It hadn’t even been a groundbreaking or major issue, and Zayn had probably not even thought of it again. For some reason, though, it just wouldn’t let go of Liam. He kept replaying the scene in his head, trying to figure out what had been wrong with that moment. 

It kept bothering Liam for no reason. There literally wasn’t a reason to be so hung up on it. It wasn't like there hadn't been a strange tension between him and Zayn ever since they had met; like Zayn hadn't been anything but disdainful towards Liam from the beginning. 

Sighing, Liam stopped pacing his hotel room. He’d have to be well-rested for the next day and the rest of the video shoot, so he should probably go to bed and just sleep it off. In the morning, he’d be over it, and everything would be back to normal. 

As normal as life had been since finding out his mate was somehow back in his life and Liam hadn’t even recognised him. 

Groaning, he grabbed his mobile and wallet to leave the room. Maybe a bit of workout in the gym would help tire Liam out enough so that he could find some sleep. 

Just when he reached the door, a strange feeling hit him. Hissing, Liam put a hand on the doorframe, bending over, as it spread through him. It tore him up from inside, zipping through every fibre of his body. Inhaling sharply, Liam closed his eyes, fisting his hand, nails digging into the skin of his palm.

His mate was calling out for him. He needed Liam close, needed Liam to affirm their bond. The feeling was so strong, there was no doubt about what it was. It was so clear and so real inside Liam as though it were his own. 

As it slowly ebbed again, Liam wondered what had happened to bring that feeling on. He had figured by now that he only felt his omega when he had a particularly strong feeling about Liam. Apparently, his mate was pretty good at suppressing them, since they didn’t happen often, and when they did, they were brief. Intense, but brief. 

Releasing his breath on a long exhale, Liam let go of the doorframe and ran his hand through his hair. The aftermath was the worst. Knowing his omega needed him, called for him, and being completely powerless was the worst feeling. Liam still didn’t know who he was, so he had no way of reaching for him and appeasing his omega. 

He left the room and took the lift to the top floor. A workout could probably help, but a drink was certified to do the trick. So instead of heading for the gym, Liam went to the hotel bar, finding it mostly empty. Only a few couples sat by the window, overlooking the city lights at night.

Liam had to take a double when he saw that one of the couples was actually Zayn and another man. They sat right at the huge window, both a drink in front of them, the stranger leaning towards Zayn. Liam almost turned to not be seen or interrupt what was going on between them when he noticed Zayn’s expression. 

He looked stricken, uncomfortable, his brows drawn together. 

Liam hesitated another second, then he went over, stopping right in front of the table as the man said, “... have to act coy, sweetheart.” From that close, Liam could tell that he was an alpha, and he didn’t have to be able to smell Zayn to know that he was uncomfortable. 

They both turned their heads at the same time, noticing Liam. The alpha looked confused, while Zayn’s eyes widened slightly.

“Sorry,” Liam said, putting on a smile. “Did you wait long?” 

Zayn blinked once, then he cleared his throat. “What took you so long?” 

Liam turned his attention to the man. “Sorry, mate. Could you move it?” 

The alpha looked Liam up and down, but then just got up wordlessly. He grabbed his jacket and muttered something under his breath before he downed his drink and left. Liam watched him go, surprised at how easy that had been. 

Zayn was still staring at him when he turned back around, and for a moment, they were just looking at each other, their gazes locked in a way that Liam had no idea how to break. He had never looked that closely at Zayn’s eyes before, so he was surprised to find how dark they were -- like coffee in the morning sun; almost black with warm and golden sprinkles reflecting off the surface. 

He snapped out of it when Zayn blinked, his lids moving rapidly, breaking the spell. 

“Thank you,” Zayn said, clearing his throat again.

Liam looked down, shaking his head. “No problem. I didn’t mean to overstep or anything, but you looked uncomfortable.” 

“I was.” Zayn took his glas, drinking from the bourbon liquid. “He wouldn’t take no for an answer.” 

“I’m sorry,” Liam said before he could think better of it. 

Zayn smiled slightly, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Are you always sorry for the things you didn’t even do?” 

Liam pressed his lips together, shrugging. “I’m sorry that it happens to you. I bet this wasn’t the first time.” 

“And won’t be the last.” Zayn put his glas back on the table. He considered Liam for a moment. “What are you doing here, anyway?” 

“I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d have a drink before going to bed.” 

The way Zayn kept looking at him, made Liam want to squirm. There was something intense in his eyes, and it was hard to tell what Zayn was thinking. Liam still didn't know if Zayn even liked him or if he had any kind of problem with Liam. 

It always felt like there was something between them, like an invisible barrier, a wall, or just some kind of unspoken boundary. 

“Why don’t you join me?” Zayn eventually asked. 

Liam blinked at him. “If you don’t mind?” 

A smile tugged on Zayn’s lips, and Liam tried not to pay too much attention to how perfectly shaped they were. “I wouldn’t offer if I did.” 

Hesitantly, Liam took the seat next to Zayn, not sure why he felt so nervous. There was something about Zayn that woke a feeling inside Liam he had never known before. It was so alien that Liam couldn’t even compare it to anything else. The only thing he knew was that while it scared Liam, it also drove him to find out more. 

He felt like there was more about Zayn; something Liam hadn’t yet seen. 

“What is it that keeps you from sleeping?” he asked after the waiter had come to take Liam’s order. 

Zayn glanced at him briefly. His lashes threw dark and long shadows over his face in the dim light of the bar. “I’m a bit of a night owl, actually.”

Liam smiled. “Somehow, I’m not surprised to hear that.” 

“You’re not?” Zayn lifted a brow and looked at him again. 

“You seem a bit mysterious, to be honest.” Liam shrugged. “Not in a bad way. just like you rather keep to yourself.” 

Zayn laughed at that. It was a clear and bright sound, and Liam realised he hadn’t heard it before. “You’re not wrong. I usually stay up late into the night, which makes me really bad with mornings, too.” 

“It seemed like that this morning.” Liam looked up at the waiter, thanking him when he brought the drink Liam had ordered. 

Zayn took his own glass and toasted silently before taking another sip. “And what is it that keeps you up?” 

For a moment, Liam considered telling Zayn the truth. He didn’t think they were at any level where Liam could tell Zayn about having an odd feeling about him without making it awkward between them. 

“Well, it was an exciting day,” he said instead. “I just want to do a good job with this, I guess. A lot is at stake.” 

Zayn hummed, swirling his glass a bit. “You did really well.” 

Liam looked at him again, stopping his motion. “What?” 

“Today. Lukas was very satisfied. You’re a bit of a natural, it seems.” Zayn downed his drink in one go. “don’t let it get to your head, though.” 

It took a moment for Liam to comprehend what Zayn had said. He cleared his throat. “Do you really take me for the cocky kind of guy?” 

Zayn huffed out a laugh. “Not really, no.” He tilted his head, eyes settling on Liam. “You are an alpha, though.” 

That made Liam relax. With a laugh, he brought his glass back to his lips. “Are all alphas cocky?” 

“Most of them.” Irritatingly enough, Zayn didn't laugh. He looked rather thoughtful instead. “You’re not like most alphas, though.” 

Liam pondered his reply for a moment. “Well, you would know.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Zayn frowned. 

“You’re not like most omegas, either, are you?’” Liam held his breath, not sure where that tension had come from. 

Their eyes met again, and just like at the airport, Liam thought that actual sparks were flying. They weren’t even touching this time, but Liam could have bet that he had seen sparks. 

“I’m not,” Zayn agreed. 

There was something in his eyes, as though they were trying to communicate something. It was like Zayn tried to say something without actually saying it. Liam narrowed his own eyes, trying to make it out, trying to pinpoint what it was Zayn was really saying. Before he had a chance to even try, Zayn broke their eye contact, though. 

“Thanks for the company,” he said, getting up from his chair. 

Once again, Liam was hit without warning. The feeling crashed onto him like a wave, a tsunami rolling over a wooden hut. There was despair, regret, anxiety. Fear . He clenched his teeth together, hoping that Zayn wouldn’t notice anything. Not trusting his voice, Liam managed a tight-lipped smile and a nod. 

Zayn cleared his throat, not even looking at Liam as he stepped away. “Good night.” 

It was like he was taking the feelings with him. The further Zayn got away, the less intense the connection to Liam’s omega got. He exhaled heavily when Zayn was out of sight, bringing a hand up to his chest. 

Those attacks had never occured so closely to each other before, and none of the others had been as intense as the one just now had been. For a moment, Liam had thought it’d rip his heart right out of his chest. He had felt the ones before clearly, too, but this one had felt especially close

Tilting his head back, Liam emptied his drink in one go, the liquid burning down his throat. He sat the glass back down on the table, next to Zayn’s. His fingers brushed the glass and again, sparks flew. Liam thought he could see them. 

Tentatively, he curled his fingers around Zayn’s glass, and just like in the morning when he had gripped Zayn’s arm, he received an electric shock. This one was tame, but it was there. Liam could still feel the warmth of Zayn’s hand. 

It hit him like a brick. 

More like a hundred bricks crashing down on him, but what was the difference? Liam gaped at the glass, quickly setting it back down. His fingers were shaking when he pulled them back, and his eyes felt dry, but he couldn’t even blink.

It was Zayn. 

How had he not considered Zayn before? He had thought of bloody Niall, even had entertained the impossibility that it could be Harry, but hadn’t even spared Zayn a thought?

Everything had pointed to Zayn from the beginning. He had felt strange around Zayn from the moment they had met. Zayn was distant, he wore scent neutraliser, all the time, and Liam had felt so strangely attracted to him despite not being able to scent him. 

His body had told him from the very first moment that Zayn was his omega, but Liam had been too blind to read all the tell-tale signs. 

With a jolt, he got up, stumbling as he noticed how weak his knees were. His body demanded to go after Zayn, to catch up to him and have him close. Finally, finally hold him close again. It was like a fire burning inside Liam’s chest, slick lava running through his veins and making him dizzy with how much he wanted Zayn. 

Pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes, Liam inhalted on a hiss, trying to get himself under control. He tried to calm his breathing down, to get a grip of himself and cool down. Everything inside him was rebelling, urging him to move and find Zayn, but Liam knew that he couldn’t give into that.

He couldn’t act on a feeling, on pure speculation. 

Rational thinking was the key in this case. Liam had to look at it rationally before acting, and examine how likely it really was that Zayn was his omega. There were a lot of incidents pointing to it, and Liam had to sort through his memories to make sense of them. 

Tonight had probably been the clearest one. He had felt it when that alpha had approached Zayn. It made sense that the feeling Liam had got in his room just before going down to the bar had been connected to Zayn’s omega calling out for his alpha when he had been approached by an alpha, and when the attention had been unwanted. 

If Liam considered Zayn as his bondmate, it made sense that he had felt so attracted to Zayn from the beginning, and it made sense why Zayn was so withdrawn from him, despite there being some undefinable tension between them. A tension Liam couldn’t have named or categorised up until this moment. 

It would also explain why Louis had been assigned to accompany Liam to Dublin, despite Zayn actually being the one in charge of Liam’s career, as well as the fact that Louis was in Berlin with them, too. If Zayn was his mate, Louis had to be in on it as well, trying to help Zayn bring a distance between them.

Lowering his hands, Liam frowned, his heart sinking to his knees. 

Zayn knew. He had to know. After all, he had been able to identify Liam’s scent from the beginning, so he must have recognised him. He had listened to Liam confess about his past, talk about his omega and how badly he needed him back in his life -- and yet, Zayn hadn’t said a thing.

That didn’t fit. 

If Zayn were his omega, he would have said something, would have revealed himself. 

Swallowing thickly, Liam sank back down onto the chair. He stared at the floor, trying to make sense of the storm of thoughts, the haze of feelings inside him, as his hands started to shake. He pressed his lips together, his shoulders feeling heavy, his throat tight.

Which reasons could Zayn have to not reveal himself? Maybe Liam was wrong, and he was so desperate to find his mate that he saw ghosts, or jumped to conclusions. Maybe he was going crazy with his obsession to find his omega and make up for his past mistakes. 

Releasing a shuddering exhale, Liam raised his hand, calling the waiter over. He ordered another drink, feeling like he’d need to drink himself into oblivion to be able to cope with his feelings. Of course that wasn’t an option, but one more drink wouldn’t kill him. And maybe it would be enough to settle him at least a little.

He had to be sensible about this. There was no use in jumping to conclusions and run after Zayn, confronting him about something Liam couldn’t even be a hundred percent sure about himself. If he turned out to be wrong about this, he couldn’t even begin to imagine how awkward things would turn between him and Zayn. 

Liam would have to put his theory to the test first, make sure that Zayn actually was the omega he had been searching for for the past ten years. 

The waiter brought the drink, and Liam downed it in one go even before the waiter had left again. The guy was staring at Liam, clearly baffled, but catching himself quickly. He cleared his throat and asked if Liam wanted another one.

Liam wanted to say no, but he found himself weak, nodding and thanking the waiter.

What was the use in pretending that he’d had any control of this situation? What was the use in pretending Liam had any idea what was happening in his life right now? He was completely powerless, maybe even making things up because he was so bloody desperate to find his mate that he probably started to see things. 

He’d have another drink, and then hit the gym after all, to try and sweat it out. To try and clear his mind and make a plan how to find out if he was simply going crazy or if he had really found his omega. 

It wasn’t like he’d find sleep tonight anyway. 

+++

“Where is Louis?” Zayn asked when Oli joined him at the table, a plate full of bacon and scrambled eggs. 

Oli shrugged. “Should be here any minute I guess. I haven’t talked to him this morning.” 

Zayn huffed, keeping his eyes on the door leading to the dining room. It only made his frustration grow, because he needed to talk to Louis, but hadn’t been able to get a hold of him. Louis had been out clubbing with Oli and a few other people from their team the night before, so he hadn’t been there when Zayn had fled the bar.

“Did he do something stupid last night?” Zayn asked, turning back to Oli.

Oli shrugged, making a vague gesture with his hand. “Not really.” 

Lifting a brow, Zayn set down his coffee cup. “What did he do?” 

“I guess he had that idea that a one-night stand would help him get over Harry.” Oli rolled his eyes. “He’s pulled an omega, but had a bit of a breakdown when the guy tried to kiss him. I took him back to the hotel afterwards. He was a right mess, really, so cut him some slack, will you?” 

Zayn sighed, pushing his hair from his face. “He can’t be messed up about this forever, Oli. Something needs to happen.” 

“Harry needs to change his mind about him, is what needs to happen,” Oli said, spreading butter on his toast. “Otherwise I don’t see a change happening.” 

“I’ll try to talk to Harry over the weekend. Maybe there’s something to be done.” Zayn picked up his own toast, taking a bite. 

Oli hummed noncommittally, focusing on his breakfast. 

A moment later, Martin joined them, and Zayn could see Liam had come into the room, too. He was at the buffet, filling up his plate. Zayn’s eyes ran over his body, taking in the bulge of his biceps in the tight t-shirt Liam wore, how much the fabric accentuated his waist. When Liam turned around, Zayn allowed himself to let his eyes drift slower, focusing on Liam’s bum for a moment. 

He really was the stereotypical alpha when it came to looks. Liam was broad and tall, well fit and muscular. He looked rough with the beard he sported right now, but his eyes gave him away. They were soft, golden amber revealing his gentle soul. If Zayn had to, he would compare them to a puppy’s, but that was something he'd never admit out loud. 

To his surprise, Liam sat down next to Zayn when he joined their table. He greeted everyone a good morning, taking the coffee pot to pour himself a cup. If Zayn hadn’t been so baffled, he would have been amused by the amount of milk Liam added. 

“Does Louis not have breakfast?” Liam asked, not even sparing Zayn a glance.

“He’s had a rough night,” Oli replied.

Frowning, Liam cut a bread roll in two halves. Then, he finally turned his attention to Zayn. “Did you sleep well?” 

“Perfect,” Zayn lied through his teeth. “You?” 

Liam just nodded, reaching for the saucer with butter. He got into Zayn’s space, his shoulder brushing Zayn’s chest. Immediately, Zayn’s pulse shot up and he quickly scrambled back as best as he could, trying to avoid any contact.

“Why don’t you just say something?” Martin asked, handing Liam the saucer. 

“Thanks.” Liam leaned back again, taking some Flora before handing it back.

Zayn exhaled quietly, cursing himself inwardly for his reaction. The scent of a fresh summer breeze was engulfing him, a hint of vanilla lingering underneath. Zayn Felt like it stuck to him immediately.

At that moment, Louis finally joined them. He sat down next to Martin, taking the coffee pot and pouring himself a cup without saying anything. Everyone else at the table was watching him, but no one said a word. 

“Don’t you wanna eat something?” Zayn asked eventually. 

Louis shrugged. He looked as bad as the first day after Harry had rejected him. To Zayn, it looked like every bit of progress Louis had made over the past week had been eliminated in the curse of one night.

Sighing, Zayn put some of his scrambled eggs on a toast and held it out to Louis. “You gotta eat something, Lou.” 

“I’m not really hungry.” Louis sipped from his coffee again. 

“What happened?” Liam asked, frowning at Louis.

Since Louis ignored him, Oli took it upon himself to answer Liam. “He tried to get over Harry last night, but that didn’t turn out as he expected.” 

“Fuck off,” Louis muttered.

Liam’s expression turned pitiful. “Let me tell you, Louis, that won’t work. It’ll only make it worse.” 

Louis rolled his eyes at him. “Spare me, Liam. Just because you’ve worked with omegas doesn’t mean you’re a know-it-all now.” 

“That’s not how I know,” Liam replied, his tone low. 

It hit Zayn entirely unprepared, and twisted his heart around, squeezing every last bit of indifference from him. Liam had tried to get over him in the same way -- he had been with other omegas. The realisation made him feel sick to his stomach. 

Louis sat too far away to give Zayn any physical comfort right now, so he had to get a grip. He couldn’t let on how much Liam’s confession affected him, and how badly he wanted to turn to Liam and just scream at him, punch him, accuse him of being the weakest for doing Zayn dirty like that --- and maybe kiss him, scent him, claim Liam back as Zayn’s. 

“Zayn.” 

Looking up at Louis, Zayn snapped out of it. Louis looked a little appalled, eyes boring into Zayn’s. 

“I’ll take that, after all,” Louis said, pointing at the toast Zayn had prepared for him. 

Zayn nodded stiffly, handing it over to Louis. He held Louis’ gaze for a moment longer, wondering if anyone else had noticed that Zayn had been in a dangerous headspace just seconds ago. Louis’ fingers brushed his and he smiled reassuringly. 

When Zayn dared looking around the table, he found that Oli wasn’t even there, but had gone to get more food, while Martin wasn’t paying him any attention, just as usual. He dared looking at Liam, founding him focused on putting avocado and eggs on his bread, not even noticing Zayn. 

Releasing a small, relieved breath, Zayn glanced up at Louis again, finding him rolling his eyes. Zayn narrowed his, kicking out his foot against Louis’ shin. 

That had been a close call, but apparently, Liam didn’t even suspect a thing. Zayn had been worried after their encounter the night before, but it seemed that it hadn’t been as much of a close call as Zayn had thought. It settled his nerves, and he felt a little lighter than he had all night. 

Still, he needed to be more careful if he didn’t want to be exposed. 

+++

"You should have come out with us last night," Oli said as he opened the door, waiting for Liam and Louis to step out after him.

Liam smiled at him, shrugging. "I didn't want to risk not being on top of my game for the shoot." 

"Sensible," Louis commented. "I like my artists being sensible." 

They had finished the video shooting this afternoon and had checked out of the hotel. Their flight back to London was in the evening, so they had a few hours to kill. 

Martin had already gone ahead to the airport, while the rest of them had decided to explore the city a little more. Liam had never been to Berlin, so he enjoyed getting to see some more of it, get an impression. 

Zayn had left to go on his own after they had been to the remains of the Berlin Wall, saying something about a shop he always went to when he was in the city. Liam had stuck to Louis and Oli, who had taken him to some part of the city where a lot of independent shops were located. 

What he'd seen of Berlin appealed to Liam. It was definitely a city he would want to come back to at some point, to see more of it. 

Louis stopped next to a window, staring at the display. Oli stopped, too, joining him. 

"Since when are you into jewelry?" Oli asked. 

Liam followed Louis' line of view, finding him stare at a pearl necklace. It looked vintage, the pearls not white, but almost grey. 

"I'm not." Louis turned away, walking ahead. 

Oli looked at Liam, shrugging. 

"It reminds him of Harry," Liam said quietly, so Louis wouldn't hear. "I think." 

"Oh." Oli pursed his lips, nodding. "That makes sense." 

They followed Louis, catching up to him as he walked into the next shop. It was a vinyl record shop, and Liam saw how both Louis and Oli immediately felt at home. 

Liam couldn't say he was into vinyl records. He had never developed that kind of love for music, even though he had always made music. It just didn’t matter to Liam which kind of material stored that music. 

Still, he enjoyed the atmosphere of the shop, looking through old records and finding some he had never heard of before. He held up a record, reading Münchener Freiheit Von Anfang An , wondering what it meant. 

"You got a thing for German music?" Louis asked as he came up next to Liam. 

"This looks proper eighties," Liam said, turning the record to look at its backside. " SOS and Oh Baby are the only ones I can read." 

"I love these shops." Louis pulled out one, too, another German record. "I love the stuff you find here." 

Liam hummed. "Have you ever taken any of these home?" 

"The German ones?" Louis nodded. "A few." 

"Are they any good?" 

Louis put the one he had pulled out back, strolling on. "Some of them. Look at this," he said then, holding up another. "The Kooks." 

Liam took it from him. "I loved that one." 

"I dare saying Naive is the best song released after 2000." Louis grinned. "I've got this one signed by the band itself on my shelf.” 

“Wow.” Liam raised his brows. “That’s quite the claim.” 

Louis laughed. “Which one’s the best song in your opinion?” 

Pondering that question, Liam pursed his lips. He kept looking through the records, seeing some he knew, but most of them he had never heard of before. “That’s tough. There are a lot of songs coming to mind.” 

“But there has to be one that stands out to you in particular.” Louis turned to him. “For whatever reason.” 

There was. There’d been one song that had stuck with Liam in a special way. The night he had met Zayn -- his mate -- was blurry to him, and there wasn’t much he remembered at all, but one thing he did remember clearly. There had been a song playing at the bar, and it was tightly connected to his mate’s scent for Liam ever since. 

“Boyz II Men, End Of The Road ,” Liam said before he could think any better of it. 

He expected Louis to laugh or joke about it, but when Liam looked at him, he didn’t look amused. There was a frown etched between his brows. 

“It’s a bit cheesy,” Liam admitted. “I know. Don’t judge me. Especially not, since you chose something as grungy as Naive .” 

Louis snorted. “ Naive is far from grungy. It’s proper Indie Brit Pop.” 

“If you say so.” Liam smiled, going on to look at more of the records. 

“Hey.” Louis followed him, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Why that song?” 

Liam shrugged. “It’s a good song, isn’t it? Should hear me sing it, really. The falsettos are sick.” 

For a moment, Louis kept watching him, not looking convinced. However, his expression cleared after a few seconds. “I can imagine.” 

“Why?” Liam dared asking. He had a feeling that there was more to Louis’ behaviour. “Why did you ask?” 

Louis averted his gaze, looking over to Oli who was in another corner of the shop. “It’s just.” He paused, shrugging again before he looked back at Liam. “It’s Zayn’s favourite song, too.”

A phone started ringing, and Liam registered Oli answering it. He couldn’t really move, couldn’t bring himself to react or say anything. 

Louis seemed to notice, so he waved his hand in a dismissive movement. “It’s an odd coincidence.” 

Liam forced himself to play along. He choked out a laugh. “Yeah. I didn’t take Zayn to be a Boyz II Men kinda guy, really.” 

“It’s the falsettos,” Louis said, turning away. 

“Lads,” Oli said from the other side of the room, saving Liam from having to keep up the conversation. “We should get to the airport.” 

“All right.” Louis hesitated for a second, looking between Oli and Liam. “Can you call a taxi, Oli? I’ll be back in five.” 

“Sure.” Oli typed away on his phone.

Liam watched Louis leave the record shop, wondering what had come to his mind, and what he had to take care of before leaving Berlin. He followed Oli outside a minute later to wait for their taxi. Louis was nowhere to be seen, until the taxi pulled up next to them. He showed up out of nowhere, and Liam didn’t think it was his place to ask where Louis had gone. 

Instead, his thoughts drifted back to the conversation they’d had in the record store. 

The song was another indicator that Zayn was his omega. After what had happened this morning, the incidences were piling up, pointing to only one possible answer. The way Zayn had reacted when Liam had pushed into his personal space, the way he had been able to feel Zayn wanting him -- Liam didn’t have a lot of doubts left.

He’d had to put on his best act to not let Zayn catch on to what Liam knew. 

Now that he was almost absolutely certain that Zayn was his mate, there was one question remaining for Liam. There was one thing he didn’t understand, that he couldn’t figure out. 

If Zayn knew that Liam was his alpha, why wasn’t he saying a bloody thing? He had to have known from the beginning, but he had decided to stay silent, and to not reveal himself to Liam. There had to be a reason for that, and Liam wasn’t sure it was his place to push Zayn into anything he didn’t want.

The decision to let Liam know should be his, so even if Liam was sure that he had found his omega in Zayn, he would wait. When Zayn was ready, he’d get to say all the things he needed to say. 

Zayn and Martin were already waiting at the airport when they arrived. There were at least five feet between them and no outsider would have guessed that they travelled together. Liam couldn’t help but smile at the dislike those two had for each other. 

When Zayn spotted him, their eyes locked for a moment, and if Liam hadn’t been completely sure before, he was then. There was some instant connection, something that Liam only ever felt when he looked into Zayn’s eyes. 

“Did you wait long?” Oli asked. 

Zayn shook his head, the moment Martin said, “What took you so long?” 

Louis said something to him as they went ahead with Oli.

“Sorry,” Liam replied, still looking at Zayn.

Rolling his eyes, Zayn crossed his arms in front of his chest. Liam thought that he looked fond, but maybe he only imagined that. “Why do you keep saying sorry for things that aren’t your fault?” 

“I don’t know.” Liam frowned to himself, going with what came to his mind first. “I just feel like I should apologise to you.” 

Zayn’s face fell, just for a split second, and then stared at him without saying a word. 

It didn’t hit Liam, didn’t come like it usually did. It was like the feeling tickled in, flowing inside Liam, calm and gentle.  He could feel Zayn, could tell what was going on inside him. He was confused, surprised, but at the same time, his omega was satisfied in some way. 

This time Liam was sure. He was sure that he wasn’t imagining things, and that he wasn’t making anything up. 

“We should go,” Zayn said, briskly walking past Liam to catch up with the others.

Liam pressed his lips together, slowly following.

He thought he could smell a hint of lemon. 

===

Chapter Text

Zayn sighed when he reached the door. 

He really had much more pressing issues than taking care of Louis' shit, but here he was. After Berlin, Louis had withdrawn from Zayn, hadn’t talked to Zayn about anything other than work, and had gone home to be by himself every night. 

He hadn't even picked a fight with Zayn over stupid contracts or investment decisions. 

Zayn didn't see that changing anytime soon. Louis had his moods, and he's always been more of a private person, but he usually opened up to his friends. He had always been a fighter, not letting a low blow get the best of him, but he didn't seem to be able to recover from this one. Zayn missed his best friend, and he couldn’t keep watching Louis go on like that. 

Determined to at least try, Zayn raised his hand and knocked. 

It took a moment, a few seconds that were enough to make Zayn start agonising over what he was about to do, then the door opened, revealing Harry on the other side. 

His hair was cut off. It was curling just above his ears now, dishevelled from sleep, curls sloppy and just a little greasy. He was dressed in jogging bottoms and a thin white t-shirt, a mug cradled in one hand. 

“Hi,” Zayn greeted, biting his bottom lip. 

Harry didn’t look happy to see him. He murmured a quiet greeting back, but didn’t invite Zayn in. It wasn’t like they even knew each other, so Harry had no reason to welcome Zayn like an old friend. He had no reason to welcome Zayn at all. At the end of the day, Zayn was Louis’ best friend, and Harry had successfully cut all ties to Louis.

Not that there had been a lot of ties in the first place. 

“Zayn!” Niall popped up out of nowhere, joining Harry at the door. He looked amused. “Did Louis send you to try change H’s mind?” 

Zayn kept his eyes on Harry. “He’d probably kill me if he knew I’m here.” 

Niall sighed, putting a hand on Harry’s arm. “Why don’t you come in first?” 

Harry looked down, pursing his lips. For a moment, they stood like that, then Harry stepped aside, making space for Zayn to walk inside. 

"Thanks," Zayn said, stepping out of his shoes. "I won't be long." 

"I've just made tea." Niall went ahead into another room, leaving Zayn with Harry. "Would you like a cup?" 

Zayn kept his eyes on Harry, feeling like he'd run if Zayn moved as much as a finger. "That'd be nice." 

"Are you guys gonna move or keep standing there?" Niall asked from the kitchen, making noises as he apparently prepared the tea. 

Harry looked at Zayn briefly, his expression not giving away what he was thinking. His brows were furrowed, his lips pursed and his eyes flickered over Zayn's face before he turned. Zayn exhaled, steeling himself as he followed Harry. 

He sat down when Niall gestured at one of the chairs and placed a cup in front of Zayn. Smiling, Zayn wound his fingers around the cup, keeping his eyes on Niall. Harry apparently did the same, since Niall looked between them nervously. 

“Do you guys want me to go?” he asked. 

“No,” Harry said the same moment Zayn replied, “Stay.” 

“I would have made him run every word you said by me afterwards, anyway.” Niall took the seat next to Harry. 

“Thought so.” Zayn cleared his throat, looking at Harry. His eyes were already on Zayn, his expression unreadable. “I won’t take up much of your time.” 

Harry crossed his arms in front of his chest. “It’s not like I wouldn’t know what you’re gonna say.”

Nodding, Zayn lowered his gaze to his cup of tea. He tried to sort through his thoughts, determining what to say. The way he sat across from Harry and Niall made it feel like an interview, an interrogation; like he was the one who had anything to lose. 

Louis owed him big time. 

“I think you did the right thing,” he eventually said when the silence had stretched too long. 

Harry’s eyes widened and Niall gasped audibly. 

“I would have done the same thing,” Zayn went on. “Louis went too far with those contracts.” 

“Then why are you here?” Harry asked, frowning. It wasn’t so hard to read his emotion now. He was confused, but also curious. The ice had been broken, which would make it easier for Zayn to pull through. 

“It’s not only that I would have done the same thing.” Sighing, Zayn shrugged, preparing for what he was about to do. “I actually did the same thing.” 

“With Louis?” There was irritation in Harry’s voice, and Zayn almost smiled at how obvious his jealousy was. 

He pressed his lips together. “With my alpha.” 

Harry just stared at him, but Niall didn’t look all that surprised. Zayn decided to focus his attention on him instead. It seemed easier. 

“I ran away, too.” 

“I didn’t run away,” Harry immediately argued. 

Niall lifted a brow, but didn’t comment on it. He kept looking at Zayn instead. “Why did you run from your alpha?” 

Zayn hooked one finger under the collar of his jumper. He hesitated, looking between Harry and Niall. “He did something far worse than what Louis’s done.” 

Slowly, he pulled down the collar, revealing the bitemark. 

“Is that…?” Harry leaned in, brows drawn together. 

Niall frowned, too, eyes darting from the mark back to Zayn’s face. 

Zayn let go of the collar. “He bonded me without my consent.” 

Harry’s face fell, and the confusion and anger was immediately replaced by sympathy. “Fuck.” 

“That honestly is another number than what Louis did.” Niall tilted his head. “I don’t think anyone can really blame you for leaving.” 

Nodding, Zayn inhaled deeply. His heart was racing with the adrenaline rushing through his veins. “No one does.” 

“Not even your alpha?” Harry asked. 

The million pounds question. Zayn would have loved to know the answer to that one, too. 

“It’s complicated,” he said instead. “But that’s not what I came to discuss.” 

“You came to tell Harry that he shouldn’t run away.” Niall crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Because you regret running away.” 

Zayn looked at him, feeling exposed, before turning to Harry. “I didn’t even give him a chance to take responsibility for what he had done. I just upped and left the first chance I got, and I haven’t seen him since.” 

“That’s not the same.” Harry shook his head. “Louis and I did have a conversation about it.” 

“Did you have a conversation, or did you accuse him without listening to him?” Zayn raised his brows. 

Harry’s lips formed a pout. “He didn’t have to say much more after setting up those contracts.” 

“Listen.” Zayn leaned in, putting his arms onto the table. “He deserved it. He deserved you getting that angry with him, and he deserved being shut down like that, too. You’re not wrong, Harry.” 

Niall smiled slightly, eyes turning to Harry, who was still stubbornly staring at his tea. 

“I was against him hiring an omega from the beginning.” Zayn rolled his eyes. “That was bound to end in a distatster.”

“Are you saying this is my fault?” Harry asked.

“You offer the service,” Zayn reminded him. 

“And he used the service.” Harry raised his chin, eyes meeting Zayn’s. “And not just mine.”

Nodding, Zayn leaned back in his chair. Then he realised what Harry was on about. “You think he’s slept with those other omegas?” 

“His house reeked of them.” Harry shrugged, but didn’t look away this time. “Of you the most, actually.” 

That drew a laugh from Zayn, but it died down when he saw that neither Harry nor Niall seemed amused. “I wear scent neutraliser. You don’t even know.” 

Rolling his eyes, Harry tugged a loose curl behind his ear. “I’m not stupid.” 

“You are,” Zayn protested.

“Mate.” Niall leaned in closer, raising a brow. “Watch it.” 

“Sorry.” Zayn sighed quietly. “My scent might be prominent in Louis’ house because we work together and I often stay there. I just did the other day, actually, and I wasn’t allowed in the upstairs guest room.” he kept his eyes firmly on Harry. “You know why.” 

Harry blushed a little, but he didn’t say anything. Niall looked at him with a frown.

“I know you signed the initial contract.” Zayn laced his fingers, tapping his thumbs against the tabletop. “I’ve helped Louis set up that contract he let all of the omegas sign.” 

He could see that Harry realised where this was going. He blinked once, eyes slowly darting away from Zayn’s face. 

“What did you sign?” Niall sounded alarmed. 

“No physical actions, like kissing, scenting, and sex.” Zayn tilted his head. “Do you really think Louis would have those omegas sign that and then sleep with them?” 

Harry’s lips formed a thin line. “I don’t know what to think of him.” 

Zayn nodded, feeling sympathy for Harry. “I know that Louis is horribly out of tune with his alpha. But he’d never take advantage like that. That’s not who he is.”

Niall scoffed. “That doesn’t change the fact that he recognised Harry as his bondmate, but yet tried to bind him by a contract.” 

“I think all of us agree -- even Louis himself -- that it was stupid.” Zayn looked at the tea he hadn’t even sipped from before he got up. “All I’m asking is for you to consider all angles and perspectives. I didn’t back then, and I have to live with the nagging what ifs now.” 

Harry bit his lip, a frown etched between his brows as he looked up at Zayn. 

“I would have appreciated someone telling me about my alpha back then.” Zayn shrugged. “Now I keep wondering if maybe he was actually a decent person who made a mistake he had probably taken responsibility for. No one told me, so I’m telling you. Louis’s my best friend, and I know he fucked it up with you big time, but I’d bet my life on him trying to make up for it. He’ll take responsibility for his mistake.” 

At the end of it, even Niall looked stunned, and Zayn wondered if he had said too much, or if he had revealed too much of himself. He closed his mouth and pushed the chair back against the table. 

“Thanks for the tea,” he mumbled before he turned to leave. At the front door, he grabbed his jacket before he put on his shoes. 

“You didn’t even drink it.” Niall joined him, leaning against the wall, hands in the pockets of his jeans. 

“Sorry.” Zayn didn’t know what else to say. 

Humming quietly, Niall watched as Zayn put on his jacket. “Harry can be quite stubborn.” 

“A match made in heaven,” Zayn commented. “Louis's the most stubborn person I know.” 

Niall glanced over his shoulder as though he was seeing if Harry listened. “That’s good. He’ll need that stubbornness if he wants to change Harry’s mind.” 

“He needs to pick himself up off the floor first.” Zayn turned when he was ready to leave. 

“Hey.” Niall reached out, touching Zayn’s arm. “Just...” 

Zayn looked at him, tilting his head. 

“We won’t tell anyone,” Niall finally said, withdrawing his hand. “Your story.”

Zayn’s hand immediately went to his neck, touching the fabric over his bite mark. “Thanks.” 

Niall simply nodded. “See you around?” 

“I guess.” Zayn glanced past Niall to the kitchen. 

They exchanged another smile, and Zayn wondered whether Niall could feel that odd connection, too. It didn’t often happen for Zayn --- had only ever really happened with Louis -- that he had felt an instant connection with another person. 

Other than Liam, of course. 

There had been a different kind of connection, an instant pull on Zayn’s heart. It had never vanished, even when he hadn’t seen Liam in ten years. He had felt drawn to a stranger, drawn to a person he had only met once. Of course the bond had intensified that connection, but it had been there from the moment their eyes had met for the first time.

Zayn could remember it well. The drum of the beat, the slow and thick rhythm, Liam’s scent. His pupils had been wide, and his skin hot. Sometimes, Zayn could still feel his fingers digging into Zayn’s flesh, burning up every inch they touched. 

It was like the connection was deeper, rawer, palpable for Zayn, now that Liam was back. 

He kept his fingers pressed to his bondmark all the way home. 

+++

Liam was jittery. 

He hadn’t slept well, and his heart weighed heavy in his chest. His eyes were sore, his neck aching from a crick he’d got from tossing and turning all night.

Something was wrong with Zayn. He knew it in his bones, could feel it in his chest. Other than the times before, Liam hadn’t had a short attack, but it had lasted all day. Something must have riled Zayn up, and he hadn’t been able to control it. 

Liam wanted -- needed -- to know that Zayn was okay. 

He was in the studio with Rita, writing songs. If the first single sold well, he’d get to release an album before the end of the year, so Liam needed to have a few songs in stock. It was hard to concentrate on that, though, when a nameless desire kept  throbbing inside of him.

“Are you okay?” Rita asked, frowning at him. “Did you even listen to what I just said?” 

“Sorry.” Liam rubbed his hands over his face, groaning. “I'm not on my best today.” 

“What’s going on?” she asked, putting a hand on his knee. 

“Just...” Shrugging, Liam leaned back against the backrest of the sofa they sat on. “I can’t concentrate.” 

Rita leaned back, too, watching Liam’s face closely. “Tell me about it, Maybe that’ll help.” 

With a sigh, Liam tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling. He’d only known Rita for a couple of weeks, but she was easy to talk to. It was probably because writing together had forced both of them to open up to each other sooner than they’d have under normal circumstances. 

No matter what Liam said, or which ideas he forwarded, she was always accepting, listening. Never judged. 

“I hurt someone,” he said, keeping his eyes on the ceiling. “I made a big mistake. A long time ago.”

“And why is it bothering you today?” Rita’s voice was quiet. 

“I met him again.” Liam blinked slowly, focusing on a dark spot, He wondered what it was and how it had come up there. “But he doesn’t know -- I mean. He recognised me, I think. But for some odd reason, he doesn’t call me out, doesn’t confront me. I don’t know what to do.” 

Rita hummed quietly. “What are your options?” 

Pondering that question, Liam drew his eyebrows together. “I can’t confront him. So I’ll have to wait for his move. He needs to have a reason for not saying anything.” 

“Maybe he’s afraid to confront you,” Rita said. “And he’s waiting for you to take the first step.” 

Liam sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. “It feels like I’ve been waiting for a lifetime.” 

“For what?” she asked. 

For you , Liam thought, with Zayn in mind. 

He opened his eyes, blinking rapidly, then he grabbed the paper and pen he had abandoned on the table in front of them. 

“What?” Rita leaned in, watching as Liam wrote down what had come to his mind.

Been waiting for a lifetime for you

Been breaking for a lifetime for you

“A lover.” Rita shifted closer. “Is this about an ex?” 

Liam stopped writing for a second, the question throwing him off. “Something like that.” 

From there, the words came easily. Rita penned in some ideas, but the text was clear on Liam’s mind. He knew exactly what he needed to say; what it was that could put into words what he felt. 

“I’m free as a bird in your cage,” Rita read along. “A cage, as in… being tied to someone?” 

Liam was about to explain when the door opened. 

“We have a release date!” Louis literally crashed into the room, the door swinging open and hitting the wall. “Only two more weeks.” 

He was followed by Zayn, who was significantly quiet in comparison. He closed the door, and leaned against the frame, eyes everywhere but on Liam.

"We'll put together a radio promotion tour for next month," Louis continued talking. "All across Britain." 

Liam knew that he should react to that. It was amazing news; something Liam had waited for so long. Yet, all he could do was stare at Zayn, who looked uncomfortable to even be in the room. His eyes were cast down, arms protectively crossed in front of his chest, and he seemed absent. 

“That’s great news!” Rita cheered, excitedly shaking Liam with a hand on his arm. 

Clearing his throat, Liam tore his eyes from Zayn to focus on her. “I--- yeah.” 

“We’ve got an instagram campaign for release day. Ads for both dash and stories.” Louis sat down next to Liam, pulling out his mobile phone. “Come on, mark the day in your calendar.” 

Something was wrong. Liam could see it in Zayn’s expression, in his stance, but he could also feel it. With Zayn so close, it was easier to reach for that bond. He wondered if Zayn could feel it when Liam did that; when he reached out through the bond. 

Zayn swallowed, his adam’s apple bobbing, and he pressed his lips together tightly. 

Before Liam knew what he was doing, he was on his feet, approaching Zayn. The moment Zayn realised, his eyes widened, and Liam hated to see the unease on Zayn’s face, knowing he was the cause for it. 

“What?” Zayn asked defensively. 

All courage left Liam, and he gestured to the door that Zayn was still leaning against. “I need a moment. Outside.” 

Zayn stared at him, and for just a split second, Liam thought he saw disappointment in his expression. Before he could be sure of it, though, Zayn stepped aside, making way for Liam. 

Without another thought, Liam stepped outside, careful not to get too close to Zayn in the process. He exhaled loudly before he buried his face in his hands to regain control. 

He couldn’t have possibly said something in front of Louis and Rita. That was not how it was supposed to go, and it would not have been fair to Zayn to expose him like that in front of them. While Liam was sure that Louis knew all about the situation, he still didn’t have to witness Liam confronting Zayn about their past. 

Not that Liam even had a right to confront Zayn. After what Liam had done to him, it was all up to Zayn to determine how this was going to go. It was his decision whether they’d even talk about it, or pretend that there was nothing there for the rest of their lives.

God, Liam really hoped Zayn wouldn’t go for that option. He needed a chance to at least try and make up for what he’d done. He needed Zayn to grant him that chance, and he needed to know why Zayn had run back then. Liam had fucked up, and he had committed an unspeakable crime, but Zayn hadn’t even given him a chance to take responsibility for it. 

Maybe Liam hadn’t deserved that, and maybe he didn’t deserve it now. 

“You okay?”

Liam jumped slightly before he turned to Louis. 

“What’s going on?” Louis asked, brows knitted together in worry. “You should be happy.” 

Liam let go of a tired laugh. He really should be, but here he was, mind occupied by the only thing he could think of lately. “Sorry. It’s a bit... much. I’m overwhelmed.” 

Louis’ expression softened. “It’s really starting now, Liam.” 

“I can’t wrap my head around it.” Liam put a hand over his chest. “It all feels a bit surreal. I needed a moment to myself.” 

“I get that.” Louis smiled, putting a hand on Liam’s shoulder. “You’re allowed to get a bit emotional over that.” 

Liam smiled back, nodding. His heart was pounding loudly, still weighing heavy, and there was no way he could turn a blind eye to those feelings and just focus on his career. Not as long as Zayn was around; and not as long as Zayn didn’t seem fine.

He went back inside with Louis, blushing when Rita cooed at him and drew him into a tight hug. From the corner of his eye, he could see Zayn glance at them, lips forming a tight line. He had a paper in his hand, eyes glued to it. 

“There’s a photoshooting in two days,” Zayn informed him, his tone unwavering. “For the website.” 

Liam nodded. “Okay.” 

“Hannah is gonna send you an email with the details.” Zayn put down the paper.

Liam followed the movement with his eyes, realising that it was his text Zayn had looked at. It wasn’t even nearly finished, just a jumbled mix of words that had yet to be reorganised in a presentable form.

A representation of Liam’s inside. 

“We’ll let you get back to work,” Zayn said with an unreadable expression.

Was he aware that those words he had just read were about him?

Liam wanted to reach out and stop him, hold his hand and spill every other word he had inside to make Zayn see -- make him understand that everything had changed. He wanted to pull Zayn close, bury his face against his neck and find that scent he’s been dreaming of the past ten years. He wanted to hold Zayn and let that bond unfold and work its magic. 

When Zayn passed him, Liam didn’t move a finger.

“See you in two days.” Zayn opened the door, leaving without another word.

Louis was right behind him, saying something that Liam didn’t even register. 

Liam didn’t turn to watch Zayn go, and he didn’t say anything to stop him. He knew that he didn’t have a right to do any of that, and for the first time since realising that Zayn was his mate, he considered the possibility that he’d never get that right back.

It seemed like Zayn had never forgiven him, and didn’t plan on ever going there. 

“What’s with him?” Rita asked when Louis and Zayn were gone again. “So cold.” 

Liam pressed his lips together, picking up the paper he had scribbled his lines on. Just like with that glass in the bar, he could faintly feel Zayn through it, little sparks prickling in his fingertips. 

“I don’t think he likes me very much,” he said in lieu of a better answer. 

Rita sighed, sitting back down on the sofa. “Well. As soon as your career is on track, he won't be around as much anymore.” 

Liam kept looking at the lines, the dark ink standing out harshly on the white paper. 

“Guess that’s true,” he replied, already dreading that day to come. 

+++

“I don’t know.” Liam turned in front of the mirror, looking over his shoulder to see his backside in the reflection.

Zayn’s eyes darted down to his bum, allowing himself to appreciate Liam’s shape for just a second before he’d get caught. He licked his lips, appreciating how nicely the pair of jeans clung to Liam’s legs, pronouncing his thighs and bum.

He turned around, submitting the image to memory, even though he wasn’t yet sure what he’d use that memory for.

“That’s not really my style, is it?” Liam asked, sounding insecure.

The stylists had dressed him up in tight jeans and a tank top, adding a heavy-looking gold chain around his neck. His hair was slicked back and he wore a pair of white trainers. 

Zayn couldn’t say he was a fan of the look, either, but it wasn’t exactly his decision or call. 

“You look good,” Jamie assured him. “You’ll make it your style.” 

Liam didn’t look convinced when he stepped in front of the camera. He sat down on a stool in front of a black background. It made his biceps stand out, and Zayn realised that Liam really fit the stereotype alpha to a t. He was broad and muscular, with narrow hips and big hands. In the photos, he would represent exactly that, because they wouldn’t showcase his gentle heart or soft voice. 

Zayn understood why their team had decided on that kind of style -- Liam’s appearance fit perfectly into it. 

“Relax,” the photographer instructed, lifting his camera.

Zayn sat down next to the monitor the photos were automatically uploaded to once they were taken, eyes set on Liam. His fingers were itching with the urge to touch him and calm him down.

Liam had been uneasy from the second he had stepped into the room. Something about the photoshoot didn’t sit right with him, making him broody. He hadn’t even acknowledged Zayn’s presence yet. 

Liam got up from the stool, putting his hands in his pockets, eyes finding the camera. His posture was a little stiff, his expression still too tense. Zayn glanced at the photos appearing on the monitor. It was even more obvious through the lense. 

It actually hurt. Zayn frowned slightly, trying to ignore the tight feeling in his chest. It hurt to see Liam like that, to be ignored, and to be incapable of doing anything about it. Zayn suppressed the feeling, eyes focusing on the pictures. 

“That’s a good one,” the photographer commented.

The picture appeared on the monitor, and Liam looked off camera, eyebrows furrowed, his features hard. His eyes had the colour of honey and amber, looking stormy against the black background.

Zayn looked up,finding Liam staring at him. His eyes were boring, intense, holding Zayn's gaze without mercy. It made Zayn’s heart stutter, stumble and lose its rhythm. He couldn’t look away.

Then it hit him; the scent of a fresh, warm summer’s day. It was what Zayn imagined the blue sky to smell like. It tickled into all of his senses, making him feel slightly dizzy. Swallowing thickly, he registered the hint of vanilla, and it was like it stuck to Zayn’s skin.

“Intense!” The photographer came over to the monitor, and a group of stylists and assistants rushed to Liam’s side.

The spell broke, and Zayn exhaled on a gasp, feeling his knees were too weak for him to stand up. He fumbled a small bottle of scent neutraliser from his pocket, quickly applying a few drops to his fingertips to subtly spread the liquid over his neck. 

“These are really good.” The photographer gestured for Liam. “You wanna see them?” 

Liam came over, briefly glancing at Zayn before he leaned in to look at his photos. His scent was thicker now, so thick that Zayn thought he could grab it. He wished he really could do that, then he’d bottle it up to have a dose whenever he needed it. 

That thought was outright creepy, and Zayn couldn’t believe his own mind had created it. 

“I look scary,” Liam commented.

Zayn had to agree to that. His gaze was so intense and dark -- like he was a wolf that had spotted his prey. Zayn didn’t like the analogy all that much, since he knew that it made him the prey. The vulnerable one. 

Liam had been looking at him. 

“Not scary.” The photographer gestured to the monitor. “Dangerous. Dark. Alpha.” 

Zayn saw Liam make a face at that, and he knew how much Liam hated being portrayed that way. He was anything but dangerous and dark. 

Clearing his throat, Zayn got up from his chair, pointedly not looking at Liam again. “I think this is going smoothly. Send us the batch of best photos until the end of the week.” 

He could feel Liam’s eyes on him, as he left the studio. That made it feel a bit like running away, like fleeing from Liam.

Maybe that was what it was. Maybe Zayn was constantly running away from Liam. 

Outside, he got into his car, pulling it onto the road. His fingers were tapping the steering wheel nervously, his heart pounding behind his ribs. Music blared from the radio and Zayn turned it down, keeping his eyes on the road, even though the London traffic was as slow as usual. 

Been breaking for a lifetime for you.

The line kept running through Zayn’s mind again and again. He couldn’t forget it, couldn’t have stopped thinking of the words ever since he had read them a few days ago. 

Liam had said it before, and technically, Zayn had known, but he hadn’t really understood. Although Liam had explained it to Zayn, and although Zayn had seen his sincerity, it hadn’t actually registered until he had read those lines.

Liam was waiting.

He hadn’t given up on Zayn, hadn’t tried to get over him and find someone new or better. All those years, he had been holding on to the bond, even though he apparently didn’t even know what Zayn looked like. 

It had probably been Liam’s way of taking responsibility for his actions. His mistake.

That caused  a sour taste in Zayn’s mouth. 

Been breaking for a lifetime for you.

Liam had been suffering. He had probably felt caged in, bonded to a faceless stranger. He was probably too correct and duteous to live his life like nothing had happened. Maybe it was just his sense of duty that kept him tied to Zayn, and it had nothing to do with their bond. After all, Liam didn’t even know who his mate was, so how could he feel emotionally connected to Zayn? 

When he got back to the office, he took the lift. Tapping nervously with one foot instead of his fingers as he waited for it to arrive. When the door opened, he came face to face with Louis, who seemed to be in a rush. 

“Oh, Zayn.” Louis stepped back when Zayn came out of the lift. “Is Liam’s photo shooting finished?” 

“They’re still shooting.” Zayn ran a hand through his hair. “I couldn’t stay.” 

Louis’ posture changed. He frowned slightly, and stepped closer, one hand coming up to Zayn’s elbow. Without a word, he guided Zayn to a quiet corner. His hand was warm, the touch gentle, but firm. 

“What’s wrong?” he asked when they were alone. 

Zayn inhaled, burying his hands in the pockets of his jacket. There were still a million thoughts running through his head; always interrupted by those lines he had read on Liam’s paper. Scribbled down hastily, the ink staining, the paper slightly creased. 

“He’s perfect.” 

Louis frowned. “What?” 

“Liam,” Zayn clarified, although he had no idea what hadn’t been clear about that statement. “He’s perfect.” 

“Zayn.” Louis’ expression turned sympathetic.

Zayn shook his head. “Don’t make fun of me. I’m serious.” 

“I’m not making fun of you.” Louis pressed his lips together, his thumb caressing over Zayn’s elbow reassuringly. “What happened?” 

“Nothing, really.” Zayn shrugged, not looking at Louis. “I just realised it today.” 

Louis hummed quietly.

“I mean…” The words were spilling now, and Zayn couldn’t hold them back. “He’s fit, and I can’t do anything about being attracted to him. But that’s not it. He is kind, and always calm, and not like anyone I’ve ever met before. You know what he said to me in Berlin?”

Of course Louis didn't. He had been too preoccupied with his own heartbreak to notice Zayn's misery. 

"He said he felt like he had to apologise to me, even if he didn't know what for," Zayn said before Louis had a chance to reply. "So he apologised." 

“You should talk to him,” Louis mumbled quietly. “You keep postponing it.” 

Zayn shrugged. “Maybe he’s just looking for me because he’s so kind?”

Tilting his head, Louis frowned slightly. “What are you on about?” 

“Maybe he’s not really feeling anything for me-- his mate.” Zayn leaned against the wall. “Maybe it’s just him feeling responsible and feeling bound by his actions.” 

Louis considered him. “There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?” 

“I’m scared to find out,” Zayn admitted quietly. It felt liberating to say it out loud. 

“I get that, Zee.” Louis squeezed his arm gently. “But isn’t it scarier to always be left in the dark? And having to hide?” 

Zayn couldn’t say which scared him more. as it was, he wanted to hide for the rest of eternity and just avoid all conflict and confrontation. 

“Where are you off to?” he asked instead of replying. 

Louis sighed, but didn’t call him out. “I’m meeting Graham to go over a few details for Logan’s new album.” 

“I have quite some paperwork to see to.” Zayn sighed heavily. “Probably best for me to lock myself in my office for a few hours.” 

“How about we make a battle plan tonight,” Louis suggested as they stepped out of the corner. “Get a bit wasted and find out what to do next?”

Zayn smiled at the offer. He could always count on Louis. “Sounds like a plan.” 

“Call it an early night.” Louis turned to the lift, pressing the button. 

“Yours?” Zayn asked as he stopped at Veronica’s desk. “Around six?” 

“Sounds good.” Louis waved at him, then disappeared into the lift. 

Zayn turned to his secretary. “Hey, Veronica. Can you write Takizawa and confirm our call on Tuesday?”

“Of course.” She replied without even looking up from her monitor as she typed.

When he reached his office, Zayn closed the door and leaned against it for a moment to close his eyes and take a deep breath. He felt drained and tired, and for the first time in years that wasn’t because of work. It was difficult to find a way to deal with that kind of exhaustion. 

Maybe burying himself in work for a few hours could cure it. Occupying himself with numbers and tables could take his mind off of his misery and make him forget for a while. 

Zayn wasn’t hopeful, but he could try.

+++

Liam took a deep breath when he lifted his hand to knock.

Today had been like ripping open a wound. He couldn’t have controlled himself when he had felt Zayn. His pain had been palpable, biting at Liam like it had tried to rip open his chest. It had even more hurt when Liam had realised that Zayn had felt that kind of pain when he’d been looking at Liam.

Something inside him had cracked, and all of his self-control had been gone in an instant. A minute longer and Liam would have dragged Zayn out of the room. 

He had only come back to his senses when Zayn had hastily turned away. The amount of scent neutraliser he had applied had been unnecessary, and probably the biggest giveaway, but Liam didn’t think that Zayn had even realised. Instead, Zayn had fled the scene as quickly as possible, without paying Liam any more attention.

It couldn’t go on like that. Whatever reason Zayn had for keeping his identity from Liam, he couldn’t keep that up forever. Liam certainly couldn’t keep going like that anymore. 

Gathering all of his courage, Liam knocked on the door to Zayn’s office. He waited a moment, then he opened the door.

His heart dropped when he found the office empty; all lights turned off. 

He couldn’t wait. If he didn’t do it tonight, he’d lose all courage and probably turn into a coward overnight, accepting his faith. If he didn’t confront Zayn that night, he probably never would.

“Veronica.” Liam stopped at her desk. “I know you’re not allowed to give out personal information. But I really need to talk to Zayn, and it can’t be done over the phone.” 

She frowned at him. Her glasses had thick rims, matching her hair colour. “Did you breach your contract?” 

Liam rolled his eyes. “Of course not. It’s something personal.”

“Oh.” Veronica’s brows shot up. “You wanna ask him on a date?”

A blush crept up his cheeks and Liam couldn’t stop it. “ Not exactly.” 

Considering him, Veronica moved a pen between her fingers. “He’s an omega. I can’t give his address to an alpha. That could be dangerous for him.”

Liam groaned, growing frustrated. “I’m aware, but---” 

“However,” Veronica interrupted him. “I happened to overhear him make plans to meet Louis at his tonight, so I’m giving you Louis’ address.” 

That wasn’t exactly what Liam had expected, but it was what he had to work with. He had already known that he’d have to deal with Louis, too, if he confronted Zayn. 

“Thanks, Veronica.” Liam blew her a kiss when she handed him a piece of paper with an address on.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m only doing this because I think Zayn deserves a good alpha.” 

Liam didn’t say anything in return, only mustered up a smile for her before he walked to the lift. If she knew that being a good alpha was only a facade for Liam, and that he had committed the worst possible crime when it came to Zayn, she probably wouldn’t have handed that address to him.

No one knew how awful of an alpha Liam really was, and it started to take its toll on him. He needed a chance to right his wrongs, and to do right by Zayn. Even if Zayn wouldn’t accept him, at least Liam could finally come clear and get rid of all the what ifs and doubts that were holding him back.

When he reached Louis’ house, he took a moment to admire how big it was. It also made him wonder why Louis needed so much space for himself. As far as Liam was aware Louis lived alone, but they had never explicitly talked about out. 

Maybe Liam was in for a surprise and Louis actually lived with a huge family, so Liam would have a number of witnesses when he would confront Zayn.

Steeling himself once more, Liam rang the doorbell. It didn’t take long before the door opened and revealed Louis who had knitted his brows together. His expression fell when he saw Liam.

“What are you doing here?” Louis asked, blocking Liam’s view to the inside. 

“I need to talk to Zayn,” Liam replied.

“Ever heard of texts? Emails? Calls?” Louis asked.

Liam pressed his lips together. He had expected that he’d have to take Louis down first before getting to Zayn. “It’s important.” 

“Well, I’m on your case just as much as Zayn.” Louis leaned his hip against the doorframe. What is it?” 

It was then that Liam realised that Louis wasn’t as usual. His eyes looked red and glassy, and his scent was tainted by something much sweeter. 

“Are you high?” Liam frowned, tilting his head.

“Get to the point, Payno.” Louis rolled his eyes. Under different circumstances, Liam would have been amused by the nickname. “I haven’t got all night.” 

Liam raised his brows, blinking a few times. “You are high.” 

Louis shrugged. “Just a bit. And I really don’t have---” 

He was interrupted by a loud crash coming from inside, followed by a yelp and then a groan. Liam’s stomach knotted up when he realised that it must have been Zayn. 

“Shit.” Louis turned abruptly, the door falling shut.

For a moment, Liam stood like frozen, staring at the door. He couldn’t hear any noises from inside, or make out in any other way what was happening. Carefully, he reached out and pressed down the handle, finding the door open.

His alpha was clawing at his chest to get inside and check on Zayn. There was no way he could just wait outside if there was a possibility that Zayn was hurt.

Walking in, Liam was hit with Louis’ scent of dak wood and fresh grass, but underneath there was something else lingering. A scent much cooler than Louis’. The entrance hall led to a sitting room, and Liam slowly approached it, following Louis’ scent.

That’s where he found them. Zayn was on the floor, a table knocked over next to him, magazines scattered, and porcelain shattered around him. Louis knelt next to him, hands on Zayn's shoulders. 

There was a cut on Zayn’s arm; nothing deep, but deep enough that a few drops of blood were running down his skin. 

Liam’s stomach turned and he couldn’t control his legs as he rushed over.

“What the fuck,” he said at the same time Louis said it, too.

“I didn’t let you in,” Louis snapped at him, protectively leaning over Zayn.

“Is he unconscious?” Liam asked, trying to get past Louis. “What the hell did you do?” 

Louis put a hand on Liam's arm to hold him back. “Just a bit of pot. And some alcohol.” 

“Just a bit,” Liam muttered. “He obviously couldn’t handle it. How could you let him do that?”

Rolling his eyes, Louis pushed him back a bit. “He’s a grown-ass man, Liam. He makes his own decisions.” 

“Bad decisions, obviously.” Liam gritted his teeth. “He’s bleeding.” 

“I’ve got it.” Louis turned to Zayn, gently shaking him. “You should leave.” 

“I’m not leaving when he’s knocked himself out and you’re too high to properly take care of him.” Liam watched on as Louis tried to get Zayn to wake up. It wasn’t easy to keep his anger at bay. 

“Like I said, he’s grown-up.” Louis pulled on Zayn’s arm, not getting him to move a bit. “This has happened before, and he didn’t need anyone to take care of him.” 

That didn’t help. It made all of Liam’s insides clench. He should have been there every time. “I’ll take care of him now.”

Zayn mumbled something inaudible. 

“You should go,” Louis insisted, not looking at him. 

“Louis.” Liam’s tone was stern as he grabbed Louis’ wrist and pulled it from Zayn’s arm. “ I’ll take care of him.” 

Louis froze, his eyes widening. He stared at Zayn, wrist still caught in Liam’s hand. Slowly, he moved his face to Liam, seeming completely sobered up. 

“You know.” Louis’ voice was barely above a whisper.

“Of course I know.” Liam furrowed his brows. “It’s an insult that you both think I’m that stupid.” 

Louis just kept staring at him, looking completely bewildered. 

With a sigh, Liam let go of Louis’ wrist. “I’m not gonna be nice about it much longer, Louis. Let me check on him.” 

Lifting his hands in a defensive gesture, Louis shifted away. 

Liam felt like he could take the first real breath in minutes when he touched Zayn’s face, gently brushing some hair from his face. Zayn sighed, apparently not unconscious, but actually asleep. That made Liam’s heart beat a little lighter, too. He checked on the cut, finding that it wasn’t deep, mostly just a scratch. 

“Do you have a sofa he can rest on?” Liam asked as he handled Zayn into a position Liam could pick him up from. 

Louis blinked at him. “Um... He’s got a room.” 

Liam snorted and lifted Zayn onto his arms, carrying him bridal style. “If I didn’t know about Harry, I’d have probably taken that the wrong way.” 

Zayn sighed contently, and before Liam could react, he nuzzled close, rubbing his cheek against Liam’s shoulder. It sent a jolt through Liam’s body, causing a satisfaction he had never felt before. 

“I’ll show you.” Louis got up from the floor and led Liam down the corridor. 

Upon opening the room, Liam was hit with a scent he had submitted to his memory a decade ago. He had only ever been able to recall it, try and recreate it from memory. In the room, however, it was thick and prominent. Like being on a frozen lake on a sunny January morning. Crisp air and fresh powder snow. An underlying hint of lemon. 

Carefully, Liam put Zayn down on the large bed. It wasn’t made, so Liam pulled the duvet that was pushed back to the foot of the bed over Zayn’s body. Immediately, Zayn curled in on himself, drawing his brows together. 

“He’ll need water,” Liam said because everything else he wanted to say was vile, and mean, and full of accusations. “And he shouldn’t sleep in his jeans.” 

“He’ll kill you if he finds out that you took off his trousers, while he was out” Louis said from the door.

Liam was sure that Zayn would kill him for even coming into that room. He had worked hard on keeping his secret from Liam. 

Unable to resist, Liam reached out again, gently caressing Zayn’s cheek. His lashes fanned out over his cheekbones, his skin was pale, and his lips slightly opened. If Liam didn’t know that he was high and drunk, he’d have said Zayn looked serene. Not even the washed out pink colour of his hair could change anything about that.

When he looked up again, he saw that Louis was gone, but the door was still wide open. Liam stole one more minute with Zayn, unable to resist the urge to stay. He wanted to crawl into bed and hold Zayn, let his hands rest over his slim waist and bury his face against Zayn’s neck to find his scent there. 

He knew that although they were bonded, none of this happened with Zayn’s consent, so he forced himself to withdraw his hand. Zayn shifted a little, apparently seeking the touch, his hand gripping the duved tightly. 

Liam quietly got up, looking back over his shoulder from the door before he closed it. When he turned, he saw Louis pace the floor, one hand on his chin in thought. He stopped when he noticed Liam.

“How long have you known?” 

Liam shrugged, burying his hands in the pockets of his coat. “A while. I was only really sure in Berlin.” 

Louis gasped. “That’s over a week.” 

“Well.” Liam glanced back at the door. “He seems to have his reasons for not saying anything. I’ve wanted to give him time.” 

Louis opened his mouth, but then closed it again. He attempted a second time, but again, remained silent. 

Smiling bitterly, Liam shook his head. “You’re not the one who should explain any of it.” 

“I’m sorry,” Louis sighed. “I have no idea what to say without saying too much.” 

“It’s fine.” Liam shrugged. “He’ll do that once he’s ready.” 

Louis ran a hand over his face. “God. I need a coffee." He pointed behind himself. “You want one?” 

Liam shook his head. “I think you should go to bed, too. Sleep it off.” 

“Maybe,” Louis admitted.

“Seriously, though.” Liam tilted his head, drawing his brows together. He felt a headache approaching. “I thought he was safe with you. But now I’m struggling to leave him alone with you.” 

Louis laughed a bit at that. “You’re a better alpha than me.” 

Rubbing a hand over his neck, Liam huffed out a snort. “If I were such a good alpha, I wouldn’t leave my omega with another one, would I?” 

“I guess.” Louis held Liam’s gaze for a moment. “You don’t have to worry.” 

With a nod, Liam walked back to the sitting room. “Don’t tell him I was here.” 

Louis hummed, following him. 

At the door, Liam hesitated. He turned to Louis again. His whole body was thrumming, rebelling against him leaving. “This is bloody hard.” 

“You could stay,” Louis offered. “Put an end to this in the morning.” 

Liam considered that for a moment. “Well. He probably had a reason to get that drunk tonight.”

Louis didn’t reply. 

“Don’t let him do it again,” Liam warned him. “Next time I’ll hold you responsible for it.”  

“I’m not the reason he gets like this,” Louis reminded him.

Liam tried to ignore the stab, but he also knew that he deserved it. At the end of the day, it was his fault that Zayn was at a point where he was that vulnerable. Ultimately, Liam had brought every bit of pain and despair upon Zayn ten years ago. 

If anyone was to blame, it was Liam. 

Without another word, he left Louis’ house, every cell of his body protesting not to leave Zayn’s side. Invisible strings pulled on his heart, tearing it up when he walked away, tying themselves to Zayn. It was as though everything inside him rebelled to keep him in place. 

But there was just no way that Liam could stay. 

+++

He had left open the curtains.

Zayn knew that he was at Louis’ when he woke up. Usually, he closed the curtains, but last night he had probably been too drunk to remember that. The light hurt his eyes when he opened them slowly, blinking rapidly. 

He had a headache, and his mouth tasted as if something had died inside him. He was sweaty, still in his clothes from the day before, and he was dying of hunger.

The mix of pot and alcohol hadn’t been a great idea. His body had never been able to handle that well, but maybe it had been exactly what Zayn had needed. It had knocked him out enough, so that he had slept a whole night through.

No dreams, no memories, no longing. 

When he got out of bed, he noticed a bruise on his arm, some dried blood over a scratch that had turned green and blue on the edges. Frowning, Zayn inspected it a little closer, but he couldn’t remember how it had happened. 

There was an unread message from Louis on his mobile. That was unusual, too.

I’m at the office to work through some contracts that need to be done before Monday. See you later x 

Zayn put the device aside and frowned to himself. He kept sitting on the edge of the bed, his body feeling heavy and abused in a way he only felt after getting wasted. However, there was another feeling. Something Zayn couldn’t put his finger on. 

He looked around the room and found everything exactly as it always was. There was a pile of his clothes on a chair by the window, the plant on the table hadn’t seen water in too long, and Louis’ scent was lingering in the air.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Zayn kept looking, but couldn’t find what was different. He brushed his fingers through his hair, and his cheek tingled with the ghost of a touch that wasn’t there. When he got up, there was a hint, just a second of vanilla in the air. It made Zayn stop in his tracks, but as soon as it had come, it was gone again. 

Yet, Zayn stayed in place a little longer, hoping it’d come back once more. 

His longing had only grown. 

===



Chapter Text

“Zayn, do you have a moment?” 

Looking up from his laptop, Zayn saw Oli at the door, a paper in his hand, his expression torn. 

“Sure.” He gestured for Oli to move closer. “Come on in.” 

Oli looked over his shoulder, then closed the door and took the seat across from Zayn. “I need your advice.” 

Zayn nodded, folding his arms on the tabletop. "What is it?" 

"It's about Louis, actually," Oli let on. 

It was impossible not to be surprised. Zayn lifted his brows and tilted his head slightly. "You need me to give you advice for something about Louis?" 

"Don't act like that's so unusual." 

It was unusual. Oli and Louis had been friends for almost twenty years, so Oli knew every little detail about Louis. In the beginning of Zayn and Louis' friendship it had been an issue several times when Oli had told Zayn off for saying or doing certain things around Louis. Zayn had never known before that he could be jealous, but the relationship Oli and Louis had had made him envious. Especially in the beginning because Zayn had never had that kind of friendship with anyone. It had taken a while for Zayn to understand that friendships couldn't be measured or compared. 

Still, Oli never needed advice for how to deal with Louis, so this had to be something serious. 

"He's actually avoiding me," Zayn replied. "Has been since yesterday morning." 

Oli frowned. "What did you do?” 

“I’m not really sure I did anything.” Zayn shrugged as he leaned back in his chair. “We got a bit wasted Wednesday night. Maybe I’ve said something stupid.” 

“About Harry?” Oli asked. 

Zayn tilted his head and pursed his lips. “Isn't everything about Harry for him these days?” 

Oli sighed. "It is. It's why I'm here." He put down the paper he had brought in front of Zayn. "I was filling away contracts and such, and noticed this." 

Zayn followed Oli’s findet pointing at one field of the contract. He groaned upon reading the data. "It's today?" 

Oli nodded. "Should I tell him?" 

"I don't know." Zayn looked up again, feeling torn. "I really don't know." 

"I just think that if he finds out that I knew about it and didn't tell him, he'll be so pissed." Oli ran a hand over his face. "But maybe he'll never find out?"

"So you thought you put me in the same spot?" Zayn got up from his chair. "Geez, thanks." 

"Sorry." Oli genuinely sounded sorry about it. 

Sighing, Zayn turned to him. "I'll tell him. I need to find out what's stuck up his ass anyway." 

Oli snorted. "At least that's not Harry." 

Rolling his eyes, Zayn laughed, too. "At least not in the literal sense." 

"Is that even possible?" Oli sobered up, looking slightly uncomfortable. "I mean, an omega--" 

"Not having that conversation with you, no." Zayn fled the room before Oli could finish that sentence. 

He only briefly knocked on Louis' office door before barging in and closing it behind himself. 

 "Okay. We gotta talk." 

Louis looked startled, but quickly caught himself. "Anything wrong?" 

"You tell me." Zayn crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Did I do anything?" 

"No?" It sounded more like a question coming out of Louis' mouth. 

"So what?" Zayn asked. "What's going on?"

Louis shook his head, but avoided directly looking at Zayn. "Nothing's going on. I'm just busy." 

"That's bullshit," Zayn called him out, stepping closer. "It's Friday, Louis. Fridays aren't busy." 

"I just don't wanna talk about it, okay?" Louis turned away, hastily sorting through documents on his desk. 

It hit Zayn, and he suddenly felt a lot lighter upon realising. Why hadn't he thought of that before? After all, there was only one reason Louis had met Harry in the first place, and Chaos had ensued in both their lives. 

"It's your rut!" Zayn threw up his hands, groaning. "I'm an idiot. Does it come on already? Did I do something on Wednesday that--" 

"My rut is in two weeks, Zayn," Louis interrupted him. "And there's nothing you could do that would put us in any awkward situation. I wouldn't ever touch you. Not even in rut." 

"Wow." Zayn arched his brows, putting a hand over his chest. "That somehow sounds pretty offensive when you say it like that." 

Louis smiled slightly. "You know how I mean it."

"I do." Zayn sat down across from Louis. "I hate when you shut me out like that." 

Closing his eyes briefly, Louis sighed. "It's just about Harry. I'm not getting over it as quickly as I thought." 

"Lou." Zayn reached out to stop Louis fidgeting the papers. "There's something I gotta tell you." 

Louis looked up at him frowning. 

"I think you'd be upset with me if you'd find out I knew about this but didn't say a word, and I don't know what you're supposed to do with that piece of information in the first place, but I think you should know anyway. Just, don't think you have to act on it, or anything? You can always--" 

"Zayn." Louis squeezed his hand, looking slightly alarmed. "What is it?" 

Zayn pressed his lips together. "It's Harry’s birthday today." 

Louis stared at him blankly. 

"You can ignore it altogether, Louis," Zayn said, just to break the silence. "It probably wouldn't be a great idea to act on it anyway." 

"It's." Louis swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing. "Today?" 

Zayn nodded. "Turning twenty-seven." 

Louis’ face fell. "What am I supposed to do now?"

"Nothing," Zayn hurried to assure him. "You don't have to do anything about it." 

"Why the bloody hell did you even tell me?" Louis ran his hands through his hair. 

Zayn sighed. "Because I knew you'd be mad at me if you found out that I knew and didn't say anything." 

Louis pulled a face, but he didn't argue. 

"You're my best friend, Louis." Zayn shrugged. "We don't keep such things from each other." 

Louis' shoulders went slack, his mouth opening slightly. He inhaled as if he was about to say something, then he got up and turned to the window behind him. “I guess we don’t.” 

A strange feeling came over Zayn. That wasn’t how Louis usually reacted. He was warm and gentle -- and he wouldn’t turn away from Zayn in a moment like that. 

“Thanks for telling me," Louis went on before Zayn had the chance to say anything. "I need a moment to think about that.” 

“What?” Zayn frowned, eyes fixed on the back of Louis’ head. 

“I just.” Louis’ voice broke and he cleared his throat. “I need to be alone for a bit.” 

Zayn got up. “Why?” 

“I need to figure out what to do,” Louis explained, but he still didn’t turn to Zayn. 

“And you don’t want my help with that?” 

Louis hated making decisions like that on his own. He always asked for Zayn’s input. There was something wrong with him, and the fact that he kept it from Zayn was like a stab to the heart. When Louis shook his head wordlessly, another stab followed. 

“Louis.” Zayn reached out, touching Louis’ arm. “What is going on? There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?” 

“No.” Louis took a sidestep, shaking Zayn’s hand off. “I don’t know what you’re on about.” 

Zayn frowned, his heart twisting with the realisation that Louis shut him out with no remorse. “Lou---” 

“Don’t you have work to do?” Louis cut him short, but the strain in his voice gave him away. 

Whatever it was, Zayn wouldn’t get it out of Louis. Not like this, at least. 

“You’re such a knothead,” Zayn muttered. He made for the door. “But fine. Shut me out. Don’t come running to me after you’ve fucked it all up again.” 

He slammed the door shut, making Veronica jump in shock. She turned to him, looking confused, but Zayn decided to ignore it. He stomped over to his office, still feeling wounded and hurt by Louis’ behaviour. 

It was another stab to his heart that Louis chose not to follow, but to remain silent and absent instead. 

+++

Liam stopped in front of Niall and Harry’s door when his mobile started ringing, searching for it in his pockets. He frowned at Louis’ caller ID before hesitantly answering the call. 

“Hi, Louis.” 

“You gotta do something about this.” The words rushed out of Louis as if he had held them in for way too long. “Listen. You need to talk to Zayn.” 

“I told you,” Liam reminded him, leaning against the wall. “I think he should be the one deciding when to have that conversation. He’s known from the beginning, but hasn’t said anything, and I think he must have a reason for that.” 

“I don’t care for his reasons.” Louis huffed out an annoyed breath. “You made me lie to him, Liam. He’s my closest friend, and I can’t even look at him anymore because I know I’m keeping something from him that I shouldn’t keep. We’re always honest with each other.” 

Liam bit his lip. “I didn’t mean for it to put a strain on your friendship.” 

“This needs to stop,” Louis said. “Today.” 

“It’s almost eight,” Liam pointed out. “I’ll see him in the office for that meeting on Thursday anyway.” 

Louis scoffed. “That’s two more days!” 

“Louis. I get it.” Liam ran a hand over his face. “I do. And I’m really sorry, but you need to let us take this at our own pace. There’s a lot at stake for me. For Zayn, too. I can’t just rush into it.” 

For a moment, Louis was quiet. “I know. But it’s hard. He thinks I hate him or summat.” 

“He doesn’t. He’s just confused,” Liam reassured him.

“How would you know?” He could hear Louis frown.

That drew a smile from Liam. “I just do, Louis.” 

“Oh, shut up.” 

“He hasn’t opened up to it yet, but I can feel him through the bond.” Liam shrugged to himself. “He’s been a bit confused and antsy today.” 

Louis sighed. “God, I hate you.” 

“I promise I’ll talk to him and make sure he knows you had no choice. That it’s my fault.” 

A groan followed. “Stop being so bloody selfless all the time. It makes me sick.” 

Liam laughed. “Takes one selfless idiot to know another, I guess.”

“I’m hanging up.” Louis cut the connection before Liam could say anymore. 

Shaking his head, Liam put his mobile away, and took a deep breath. He knew that he wasn’t fair to Louis, but as it was, Liam had to put Zayn first. Right now, his priority was to somehow win Zayn over, and Liam didn’t think that just confronting him would help that in any way. Instead, it would drive Zayn away from him, and Liam couldn’t risk that. 

Collecting himself, Liam knocked on the door and inhaled deeply. Niall opened a second later, looking cheerful as ever. 

“Come on in. We’re not quite ready.” He stepped aside and gestured for Liam to follow.

Liam stepped in, seeing Harry come from the bathroom. “Thought I was late.” 

“The quiz only starts at nine. We’re good.” Harry buttoned up a dark blue, glittery blouse. 

Looking at Niall, Liam noticed that he looked casual in dark jeans and a grey jumper in comparison. “What’s the occasion, H?” 

Harry shrugged, a mysterious smile playing around his lips. “Nothing. Just felt fancy.” 

Niall rolled his eyes. “Get over with it, Harry.” 

“What is it?” Liam asked, confused.

“Nothing,” Harry insisted as he went back to his room.

“It’s his birthday.” Niall shook his head. “And H’s the kind of person that pretends it’s nothing special, but actually wants it to be the most special.” 

Liam gaped. “Is it really?” 

Harry came back from his room, a pair of heeled boots in his hand. He smiled bashfully. “It is.” 

“Why didn’t you say anything when we agreed to meet?” Liam drew him into a tight hug. “I would have bought a present.” 

Harry laughed, hugging him back. “It’s fine. Really. It’s nothing special.” 

“See?” Niall interrupted, groaning. “So annoying.” 

“All your drinks are on me tonight,” Liam declared as he pulled back. 

“You don’t have to.” Harry shook his head. 

“What about mine?” Niall asked.

Liam grinned at him. “Is it your birthday, too?” 

“Instead of buying my drinks you could promise that we’ll win tonight’s pub quiz.” Harry bent down to put on his shoes. 

“I don’t think we’ve got any chances at that.” Liam made an apologetic face. “Believe me you’re better off with those drinks.” 

“Well.” Harry shrugged, a mischievous smirk on his lips. “I’ll take what I can get.” 

“Go, get ready.” Niall shushed him back to the bathroom. “Or we’ll never gonna leave.” When Harry was gone, he turned back around to Liam.  “Why don’t you sit down a moment? I’ll get us some beer to get started.” 

Liam took the invitation and went to the sitting room, plopping down on the sofa. The Chaser was on the TV, and Liam watched it for a moment. He pulled a cushion from behind his back to place it on the floor when his eye caught a journal, a torn paper on top of it. Leaning closer, he read the words scribbled down. 

What am I now?

What if I’m someone I don’t want around?

I’m falling again 

Falling again

Falling

What if I’m out? 

What if I’m someone you won’t talk about?  

Some lines in between were crossed, other lines marked. One was scribbled beneath, the letters bolded. Will you ever need me again? 

Liam looked up when Niall came into the room. He hastily sat back onto the sofa, but Niall had already caught on. 

“I told Harry not to leave his stuff lying around like that.” 

Liam tapped his finger against the paper. “Harry wrote this?” 

Niall nodded. “Harry writes a lot. Don’t ask about it, but I think the cheesy stuff is about Louis.” 

“Seems like it.” Liam frowned at the paper. “Hey, Harry?” he raised his voice.

Harry came into the room a second later, hands kneading through his hair. It seemed even curlier, now that he had cut it short. “Yeah?” 

“Would you like looking at a few of my texts sometime?” 

Harry blinked. “What?” 

“I’m stuck with a few of them,” Liam explained. “And I think you could give some good input. Maybe. If you’re up for it.” 

“I mean.” Harry nodded, still kneading his hands through his hair. “If you think I could help.” 

“You’ve met Rita in Dubin, haven’t you?” Liam asked, an idea forming in his head. 

“Great person” Harry commented. 

“She liked you, too.” Liam smiled, then he pointed at the paper on the table. “If you felt comfortable with that, would you like to discuss this with her, too?” 

Harry lowered his hands, blinking. “What?” 

“Actually, I’m meeting her tomorrow. You could join us if you have time.” Liam shrugged. 

“Did you read that?” Harry dashed forward, hastily gripping the paper and the journal beneath.

Liam lifted his hands in a defensive gesture. “I didn’t mean to.” 

“That’s not meant for anyone to read.” Harry clutched the journal to his chest.

“But it’s good, Harry.” Liam wasn’t sure he should push it, but he also felt that Harry didnˋt even recognise his own talent. Liam only wished he could string together words that carried the same feeling. “Rita could probably give you some advice, or you know. Hand it to the right people.” 

“You mean Harry could sell his texts? For music?” Niall asked. He sounded a lot more intrigued than Harry.

“Yeah, maybe.” Liam kept his eyes on Harry. “The text I just read would make a beautiful ballad.” 

Harry shook his head. “It’s more like poetry.” 

“Writing songs isn’t much different from writing poetry.” Taking a bottle of beer from Niall, Liam shrugged. “Just give it a thought?” 

For a moment, Harry looked torn about it. He glanced at the journal in his hands, but when he opened his mouth to reply, the doorbell rang. Exchanging a look with Niall, he left the room to go to the door.

“Did you invite someone else?” Liam asked. 

Niall shook his head and got up to follow Harry. When Liam did so, too, he was just in time to see a young man appear in the doorframe. He wore a leather jacket and a bicycle helmet. 

“Delivery for Harry Styles?” he said, checking the parcel.

Harry nodded. “That’s me.” 

“Please sign here.” 

A few seconds later, the parcel was handed to Harry and the bloke rushed off again. Harry stayed at the door, looking at the parcel in wonder. 

“Who is it from?” Niall wanted to know.

Harry turned the package around. “Doesn’t say.” 

Liam exchanged a brief glance with Niall. Apparently Niall had the same idea who that gift was from. 

“Open it!” Niall instructed, seemingly impatient to find out.

Harry carefully ripped the parcel open and revealed a long and thin black box. It looked like a jewellery box. 

Liam knew what it was without Harry having to open it. "Is there any kind of note with it?"

Harry shook his head, but when he opened the box, a folded note came into view first. 

"What does it say?" Niall crowded into Harry's space to read along over his shoulder. 

"It called your name when I saw it. Happy Birthday," Harry read out loud. 

There was no doubt anymore that it was from Louis, so Harry hesitated before he lifted the black velvety cloth, revealing the pearls. He gasped, hand starting to shake a little. 

Niall whistled in appreciation. "He hasn't learned a thing, has he?" 

"They're beautiful, though," Liam pointed out. He remembered Louis' expression when he had discovered them. "And they do fit Harry quite well." 

Harry looked up from the pearls that stood out against the black. "I can't accept them." 

Liam could tell from the look in Harry’s eyes that he loved them, and that giving them back would break his heart. He knew Harry well enough by now, though, to know that he would still do it. Harry was stubborn and proud for an omega. Maybe, especially because he was an omega. 

“He bought them in Berlin,” Liam said before he could think better of it. “So he can’t return them that easily.” 

Harry narrowed his eyes. “You saw him buy them?” 

Liam nodded. “I figured he’d probably get them for you.” 

“And you didn’t stop him?” Niall frowned. 

“I thought Harry would like them.” Liam shrugged. “And I thought it was a nice gesture.” 

Niall snorted. “I told you what he did. He’s trying to buy Harry.” 

Humming, Liam considered him. “I think it’s his alpha’s instincts, trying to care for his omega. Spoil him, you could say. It’s not easy to ignore or suppress.” 

“Sounds like you’re talking from experience,” Niall pointed out. 

“I mean…” Liam shrugged, feeling a blush creep up his neck. “I’m an alpha.” 

"I didn't ask to be spoilt or taken care of." Harry closed the box. 

"I don't get why it's such a big issue?" Liam frowned at him. "I mean. You've already admitted that you know Louis is your alpha, right?" 

Harry and Niall exchanged a strange look. 

"Niall said he wanted to pay you to spend his rut with him?" Liam glanced at the jewellery box. "How did he get that idea? I mean. There must be a reason he thought you wanted to be paid?" 

Harry's lips formed a thin line and he crossed his arms in front of his chest. Liam had clearly hit a nerve. Curiously, he prodded a little more. 

"I'm not saying you're after his money, Harry. I know you're not that kind of person." Liam turned to Niall briefly to gauge his reaction. "How did he get that impression, though?" 

For a moment, they were both quiet, but then Harry sighed and sat back down. "It's because he technically hired me." 

"Hired you?" Liam repeated, not sure what Harry was on about. "For what?" 

"For his rut." Harry didn't look up from where his eyes were glued to the floor. 

"I thought he just tried to do that?" Liam frowned, looking at Niall. 

"It’s a long story, but Louis hired several omegas to sort of test out before his rut." Niall sat down next to Harry. "Harry was just one of them." 

Liam had to process that, but he still didn't understand much. "What?" 

"I'm working for an agency that matches omegas with alphas for their ruts," Harry explained. "It's how I pay for uni." 

"Oh. Wow." Liam sank down onto the arm chair. "Then why are you so upset with him?" 

"Because he's my alpha." Harry looked up from the floor, his gaze much more fierce than Liam had thought. "And my alpha shouldn't pay me to be with him in any way." 

Liam frowned. "I don't think Louis thinks that it should be that way either. He doesn't seem like that." 

Niall laughed. "Well, Oli had the contracts ready." 

"Even though you've already started a relationship?" Liam asked. 

"We haven't exactly started a relationship." Harry shook his head. "We don't even know each other that much yet." 

"So…" Liam frowned at him. "You haven't even talked about being mates?" 

"Just… kinda?" Harry ran his hands over his thighs. "After he set up those contracts for me to sign he admitted that he recognised me as his omega. Had he said something sooner...” Shrugging, he didn’t finish the sentence.

"Okay." Liam nodded, processing what he had just learned. "So. He initially met you through hiring you, and he had no idea where you stand on being with him after Dublin, so he chose to stick to the safe route and keep you close through your business ties. If I may call it that." 

Harry seemed to consider that for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was a little wobbly. "He's called me a prostitute."

Liam bit his lip, pulling a face. "When he was angry with you?" 

"I heard him say it to Zayn," Harry explained. "That it's a problem for him that his mate is a prostitute." 

"Jealousy is a mean, scary monster.” Liam smiled a little as he saw Harry’s brows furrow in confusion. 

“Jealousy?” Niall asked. 

Liam nodded. “Just put yourself in his shoes for a second. He’s found his omega, but he knows, at least physically, that omega isn’t exclusively his. His alpha is probably furious with that, making his brain literally melt with jealousy. That makes you say things you don’t actually mean sometimes.” 

“But that’s a bit hypocritical, isn’t it?” Niall argued, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “After he’s hired a bunch of omegas week after week.” 

Liam kept his eyes trained on Harry’s face. “Did he sleep with them, too?” 

Harry’s eyes flickered to the jewellery box. “I don’t know. He didn’t tell me.” 

“But the thought alone makes you lose your mind, doesn’t it?” Liam kept his voice low. “It makes you say things or do things you don’t actually mean, doesn’t it?” 

Niall lifted his brows, looking from Harry to Liam. “Harry’s not the one who’s called anyone any derogatory names here.” 

“And I’m not saying Louis had any right to do so.” Liam shook his head slightly. “I’m just saying that maybe he didn’t even mean it.” 

It was quiet for a moment, then Harry grabbed the shoes he had put next to the sofa earlier to put them on. They almost disappeared under the flares of his maroon cord pants. “You know what?” 

Liam didn’t reply, just watched Harry closely as he got up and took the black velvet box. A hint of rain and wildflowers filled the room, so Liam held his breath. 

“If you really wanna give me something for my birthday, you can stop talking about Louis.” Harry grabbed a black coat. “And stop defending him.” 

Liam exchanged a glance with Niall, who looked a little confused himself. It seemed he had picked up on the scent, too. “I can do that. Of course.” 

“Great. We should go.” Harry left the room, not meeting Liam’s eye. 

“I’m gonna get my coat,” Niall mumbled as he got up. “Better finish that beer, mate. We’ll need a lot of pints to get him back in the spirit, I’m afraid.” 

“We should take them to go,” Liam suggested. He collected their bottles and left the sitting room to wait at the front door. 

On his way, he caught a glimpse of Harry, standing in his own room; coat and hat on. He had opened the jewellery box again and was staring at the pearls. The lights in his room were off, but Liam could still see how torn Harry felt. He could smell more than he could see it, if he was honest. 

The longing in Harry’s scent was prominent. 

“Can we leave?” Niall asked as he appeared next to Liam. 

Harry snapped the box shut and dropped it to his bed, then he joined them. “Let’s go.” 

+++

Louis was an arse. A complete knotheat of an alpha. The actual worst.

Not only was he avoiding Zayn, he also wasn’t reaching out. Usually, Louis couldn’t let anything stand between them; especially not for that long. It had been two days, and there had been nothing but radio silence from Louis. 

On top of that, he knew that Zayn tried to avoid any kind of work with Liam, and yet, Louis had switched today’s meeting with Kid Harpoon, just so Zayn would have to be at the studio instead of Louis. He had known what he was doing, and that was just vile.

Zayn would never talk to Louis again. 

When he opened the door to the studio, he was surprised that the first person he saw wasn’t Liam -- not even Rita -- but Harry. He sat on the sofa, scribbling in a notebook. Only then, Zayn saw Rita, a glass in one hand while she tapped her foot to the music. She stood at the producer’s pult, the other hand on one of the buttons. 

Liam’s voice came from the booth, filling the room. He had his eyes closed, one hand on the headphones covering his ears. It was an uptempo song, but there was urgency in the sound. Something desperate. 

No one had noticed him yet, so Zayn stayed where he was and watched on. He wondered what Harry was doing in the studio, but he guessed he would find out soon enough. 

“Been waiting for a lifetime for you,” Liam sang, hitting the notes perfectly. 

“Rita,” Harry said, brows furrowed as he got up and joined Rita at the pult. “What about, I’m free as a bird when I’m flying in your cage?” 

She gasped. “That’s so much better. That image is so good.” Pressing the button, she stopped the music and interrupted Liam. “Lee, listen.” 

Zayn lifted a brow at hearing the nickname. 

“Harry’s got a brilliant idea here.” She repeated the line to Liam.

“That’s so good.” Liam crossed something on his paper and started writing it down. “And so true,” he added quietly. 

Zayn’s heart fluttered. Who made Liam feel like he was caged in? Before his mind could spiral from that thought, Liam’s gaze snapped to him, eyes settling on Zayn. For a moment, everything froze, and Zayn’s breath caught in his throat. He blinked slowly, and his stomach tied up in knots when Liam did the same. 

“Zayn.” Rita had noticed him, too. She approached him for a hug. “I thought Louis was gonna come in today.” 

Zayn shook his head, but didn’t feel like explaining. Not that he could even explain anything. Instead, he gestured towards Harry. “What’s Harry doing here?” 

“Liam brought him in.” Rita shrugged. “To help with the texts.” 

“That’s…” Zayn scratched his chin. “Fine, I guess? But if he works on any official material, he needs to sign a few contracts.” 

“I’m just helping out a bit,” Harry said. “Nothing noteworthy.” 

“You should have him sign,” Liam advised when he came out of the singing booth. He stood a bit too close for Zayn’s comfort. Or maybe not close enough; there was an inner conflict going on over that, and Zayn tried to ignore it as best as he could. “He’s a good lyricist. And he should get recognition for that.” 

Zayn crossed his arms in front of his chest, keeping his eyes on Harry. “There’s a producer coming in today. You should show what you’ve written to him. If he thinks you’re good, too, we’ll set up a few contracts.”

“I’m doing this because it’s fun.” Harry shook his head, waving his hands. “I don’t wanna sign any contracts.” 

“Don’t I know it?” It was out before Zayn could think any better of it. He bit his tongue. “Sorry. That’s not how I meant it.” 

Harry snorted at that, and Zayn took it as a good sign. 

“it’s your creative property, Harry,” Liam reminded him. “You shouldn’t let anyone else take credit for that.” 

“Think about it.” Rita slung an arm around Harry’s waist. “And if it’s just for the money.” 

Harry frowned, leaning into her side. “What money?” 

“You’ll obviously get paid for any songs that credit you being released.” Zayn took off his jacket to put it on one of the chairs. That way he could bring some space between himself and Liam, too. “Let’s see what Thomas says today, and then we can seriously discuss it. Sounds good?” 

It drew a nod from Harry, which was enough for Zayn. 

“I thought you’d come with Tom, actually.” Rita sat down, sipping from her glass. “I’m a little nervous to meet him.” 

“No need to be,” Zayn reassured her. “He’s chill. And he should be here any minute, actually.” 

“Will you stay, too?” Liam asked, coming closer again. 

Zayn nodded, finding that he couldn’t retreat any further. He briefly glanced at Liam, finding his eyes firmly set on Zayn. His scent was strong, like a thick fog. Rita wasn’t aware, but Zayn could tell that Harry had picked up on it, too. Did Liam’s alpha react to Zayn? Was Liam aware of it? 

“Um.” Feeling panic crawl up from his stomach to his throat, Zayn swallowed thickly. “I’m gonna use the loo before he’s here.” 

Liam opened his mouth, but before he could say something, Zayn squeezed past him and fled the room. Outside, he exhaled loudly, pressing his face against his palms. He allowed himself a koment, then he fumbled out the scent neutraliser he always carried in one of his pockets and applied a few drops to his neck and wrists. 

Deciding that a few more minutes by himself wouldn’t hurt, Zayn went to the loo after all. He stared at his own reflection, pushing his hair back. The pink had long faded into a dirty blonde and his black roots were growing back. Maybe it was time for another change. 

Zayn was aware that changing his hair colour wouldn’t change a thing about his situation. But it was always worth a try.

When he came back outside, feeling a little more collected, Liam waited across from the door. Every piece Zayn had tried to collect shattered again, leaving him a mess. His hands trembled and he felt the urge to apply even more scent neutraliser. 

Liam looked up when Zayn stepped out, eyes as fierce as before. “Are you okay?” 

Zayn nodded dumbly. 

“You looked a bit panicked in there,” Liam added. He had his hands in the pockets of his jeans, staying where he was. 

Zayn had to make something up. “Just an upset stomach.” 

What a brilliant idea! He couldn’t have thought of a grosser thing to say. Now Liam was probably picturing Zayn having wind, or worse, having the shits. 

“Do you need anything?” Liam asked, not looking grossed out, at all. 

“I’m good.” Zayn gestured to the studio door. “We should go back in.” 

“All right.” Liam pressed his lips together, not moving an inch. 

Staying put as well, Zayn tried to keep his hands from shaking. He licked his lips, looking down the corridor and back to Liam. Why wasn’t he moving? What was he waiting for? 

“You can go ahead,” Liam finally said. 

Zayn almost jumped at the silence being broken. “I-- You go first. I feel uncomfortable with strange alphas walking behind me.” 

Liam’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he lowered his head and turned to walk ahead. “Am I a stranger?” 

Staying two steps behind him, Zayn cleared his throat. His heart ached with how much he hated seeing Liam like that, and with how much he wanted to reach out and touch. Hold. Reassure. 

“We don’t know each other all that well, do we?” he managed to reply.

Liam didn’t turn to him. “I guess not.” His voice was quiet. 

Zayn waited until Liam had opened the door, then walked in after him. He immediately retreated to the sofa where Rita sat, bringing a distance between himself and Liam. 

It didn’t change a thing, though His omega protested heavier than ever before, clawing at Zayn’s chest to claim Liam. His every cell called out for Liam, begging Zayn to reveal himself and let his alpha take care of him. 

Just the thought alone almost sent Zayn spiralling, his head feeling dizzy. It didn’t help that Liam couldn’t keep his eyes off him, either. He glanced over every now and again, his gaze woke. As if he saw something Zayn couldn’t hide. 

There was just no way that Liam actually knew who Zayn was. Zayn had been careful, and he was always wearing scent neutraliser. The only way Liam could recognise him was by his scent, and Zayn had made sure that Liam couldn’t scent him. 

But it seemed that Liam recognised something in Zayn, and that had to be confusing for him, since his alpha wasn’t supposed to react to any other omega than his own. Liam probably didn’t know what was happening to him, and why he was reacting to Zayn the way he did. 

When Thomas finally arrived, Liam stopped looking over every other minute. He was focused on his conversation, discussing texts and sounds. Zayn released a breath, staying in the background. 

He still couldn’t relax, though. Not as long as he was in the same room as Liam, and Liam wasn’t holding him. 

His heart dropped at the realisation, and Zayn felt like throwing up for a second. That was going to be his life from now on. He would have to live with his mate right in front of his nose; longing for him, without ever having him.

“Hey.” 

He looked up, realising that he had tuned out his surroundings when he had got lost in his head. 

Liam had crouched down in front of him, holding a mug out for Zayn. “Tea?” 

Zayn blinked at him. “What?” 

“For your stomach,” Liam explained, still holding out the mug.

“Oh. Yeah.” Zayn nodded dumply, taking the mug. He carefully avoided touching Liam’s hand when doing so. “Thanks.” 

Liam’s brows were drawn together in a worried expression. “You should go home and rest if you’re not feeling well.” 

“I’m fine.” Clearing his throat, Zayn gestured to where Rita, Harry and Thomas were discussing something. “You should get back there.” 

“I could take you home,” Liam offered, as if he hadn’t even heard what Zayn had said.

“You don’t always get the chance to work with Kid Harpoon, Liam.” Zayn managed a smile, shuffling back on the sofa a little. Liam’s scent of a sunny summer afternoon was calming. “Also. I’m not telling strange alphas where I live.”

“That’s probably wise,” Liam replied, his expression turning unreadable. He got up, taking a step back. 

“It is.” Zayn looked at the tea, heart heavy with how much that small gesture of Liam taking care of him soothed his omega. It made him greedy for more. “Thanks for the tea.” 

“No problem.” Liam stayed for another moment, his scent giving away how insecure he was. 

Zayn allowed himself to inhale that scent for a little longer when Liam finally turned around to join the other people in the room. It was like falling onto a soft cushion, and being wrapped in a warm duved; tucked in securely. 

Zayn knew he shouldn’t, but he basked in it for a moment longer. Just another second, and he’d be good without it. Liam smiled at something Rita said, eyes crinkling with it. His hair was wavy from the rain that had been falling earlier today, and his jumper looked like Zayn could live in it. 

Watching Liam, he realised that he wouldn’t be good. Zayn hadn’t been truly good in years. At least not in the way that mattered. He felt good now. Being taken care of by Liam in the most subtle way, inhaling his scent, watching him. 

Zayn wasn’t sure he could learn to live without it again.

+++

“Can we start?” Martin looked around the room, gauging everyone’s reaction. 

Liam nodded, even though he couldn’t say he cared much for anything Martin had to say. He had been pushing Liam in directions he didn’t want to go lately, and it started to become a problem. Martin seemed to have another idea of how Liam should achieve his goals, and he shut down every of Liam’s attempts to fight back. 

Apart from that, it was hard for Liam to concentrate with Zayn in the room. 

He had come in last; just a minute ago. His hair was turquoise now, the tips lighter than the roots, and he wore an off.white jumper that looked about two sizes too big on him. It set off the urge in Liam to cuddle him. The feeling was strange, since so far, he’d always felt sexual attraction around Zayn, but this was something different.

It was like their encounter yesterday had awoken Liam’s desire to take care of Zayn. He still felt sexually attracted, but he also felt like he just wanted Zayn to be fine and safe. Liam wasn’t sure how to satisfy that urge, though, since Zayn proved to be a difficult person to take care of.

“I wanna introduce some of our marketing strategies and image plans today,” Martin said, pulling Liam back to the present. He gestured to Eleanor who sat beside him. “Eleanor is going to cover how the label will connect to the strategy.” 

Liam watched Zayn put his mobile away, focusing on Martin’s PowerPoint presentation. Louis glanced at him, too, sitting closer than Liam deemed necessary, but he guessed there was nothing to worry about. Especially since Zayn hadn’t even deemed Louis a single glance since he had come into the room. 

They were probably still fighting, and Liam knew that it was his fault. 

A picture of him appeared at the wall. It showed Liam in a vest and tight jeans, hair slicked back and a broody expression on his face. 

“I think it isn’t clear yet in which direction we want to take Liam’s image,” Martin elaborated. “As his management, we think we should pronounce the traits that are most prominent in Liam’s personality. The target group is made up of mainly omegas, so his image should cater to that.” 

“Big, bad alpha?" Louis asked, seemingly unimpressed. 

Martin nodded. “You could say. We should focus on his physical appearance. Muscles, abs, a fit body. Typical alpha. His personality should match that.” 

“No brains?” Louis, again, added helpfully.

“I wouldn’t put it that way.” Martin opened the next slide, showing a table. “Simple minded. Honest, brave, a little reckless. Acting on his instinct.” 

Liam frowned. “I barely act on instinct.” 

Not anymore, at least. That one time he had acted on instinct had turned Liam’s life completely upside down. Louis seemed to think differently, as he simply raised his brows at Liam. The rest of the team didn’t even turn to Liam.

“You’ll learn to make it seem like you do.” Martin cleared his throat, pointing at the chart on the next slide. “From experience we can gather that alphas sell better when they are aggressive and fit the stereotype.” 

Liam frowned, listening to the statistics Martin referenced. It seemed like this was going in a direction Liam didn’t agree with.

“That’s why we thought we lay some ground with a few outings,” Eleanor chimed in. She clicked to the next slide that showed short profiles of three women. “During promo for the debut single, we’ll have Liam be seen with different omegas. Just short outings. A party, a dinner, maybe at Tesco’s or Starbucks. Just to get the chatter going.” 

“No,” Liam immediately interfered. “No omegas.” 

Martin rolled his eyes. “A stereotype alpha isn’t picky when it comes to omegas, Liam.”

Liam turned to Louis and Zayn. “We said no fake relationships.”

“No one’s talking about relationships, Liam,” Eleanor reassured him. “You’ll just have to be seen with them. Maybe hold their hand, or kiss them once. Nothing long-term.” 

Lemon. Liam could smell lemon, followed by snow. The intensity of it was more like a snow storm, though. It hit him like a brick wall, fuelling him on. 

Zayn was looking at his lap, jaw clenched, and his posture stiff. 

“I’m not doing that.” Liam got up from his chair. “And that’s nonnegotiable.” 

“I’m afraid your contract does not leave you any room for negotiations.” Martin got up, too. 

Liam ignored him, eyes still focused on Zayn. ”We agreed that there’d be no other omegas.” 

“Other?” Eleanor repeated, sounding alarmed.

“Zayn.” 

Zayn’s head snapped up a that, eyes glassy and wide. His lips were slightly parted, bitten red and glistening. The sight made something inside Liam snap. 

Liam rounded the table, grabbing Zayn’s arm. “You’re coming with me.” 

“What?” Zayn stuttered, stumbling when Liam dragged him along. “Stop.” 

“What the hell are you doing?” Hannah got up, too. “He said stop.”

Liam turned around, grip still firm on Zayn’s wrist as he pulled him closer. “You guys want me to act like an alpha? You can have that.” 

He caught Louis’ eye, who looked shocked, but didn’t try to stop him. Instead, he held Hannah back when she tried moving towards Liam and Zayn. Turning around, Liam tugged on Zayn’s wrist, marching down the corridor to the first empty room he could find. It was an office, as far as Liam could tell from the interior. He slammed the door closed and Zayn stumbled into him. It sent a jolt through Liam’s body and he let go, blocking the door for Zayn. 

“Are you fucking serious?” Zayn’s cheeks were flushed in anger. “You don’t get to drag me around like that.” 

“And you don’t get to sit there and let them make decisions like that over my head.” Liam crossed his arms in front of his chest to keep from reaching out. Zayn’s scent had overpowered the neutraliser, filling up the room. “You’re supposed to act in my interests.” 

Zayn huffed. “I’m supposed to act in the label’s interest. Which makes me your boss. And you better get your act together, or you’ll be kicked from the label sooner than you can even utter your but he’s an omega .” 

“Oh, fuck off.” Liam was so close to breaking, he couldn’t stop himself from stepping closer to Zayn. “As if you’re acting so rationally. You’re letting them get away with a plan like that just to spite me. You’re just looking for ways to let me suffer.” 

“Believe it or not, Liam, but my world doesn’t revolve you.” Zayn took another step back, and Liam’s body immediately followed. “I’m making business decisions for you like I do for any other of our artists. It’s not about you, it’s about the profit. Don’t you get that?” 

“Shut up, Zayn.” Liam lost it. He couldn’t listen to it any longer. He reached for Zayn’s wrist, pulling him in, so they were chest to chest. “Martin is the biggest twat on earth, so I’m not surprised he’d come up with an idea like that. And I don’t care that your team jumps on it and wants to throw me under the bus like that. I don’t care if Louis thinks it’s the right thing to do; he’s constantly mad at me anyway. But not you, Zayn.”

Zayn’s eyes glazed over, and his scent became thick, as his body went lax against Liam’s. 

Liam’s brain completely shut down, his instinct kicking in upon having Zayn so close. He finally had Zayn where Liam had wanted him for weeks. “I’m not letting my omega do that to me.”

Time stopped. Zayn stared up at Liam, his wrist caught between them. His scent changed, the subtle lemon scent becoming stronger over the scent of snow and storm. It mixed with Liam’s vanilla, making the room smell of an intoxicating combination of them. 

Liam was about to lose his mind. 

“You know.” Zayn breathed the words, as if he was being choked. “How do you know?” 

Liam couldn’t help the bitter laugh escaping him. “Are you trying to insult me?”

Zayn started trembling. 

“Zayn.” Liam pulled him even closer, winding his free arm around Zayn’s waist. “Did you honestly think I wouldn’t recognise you?”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Zayn asked, his chest expanding against Liam’s. 

“Why didn’t you ?” Liam shot back. 

Zayn shook his head, apparently not keeping up. His trembling intensified, his breathing becoming ragged. Liam gathered him in his arms, holding him closely and immediately Zayn gasped, sinking into it. 

“Calm down,” Liam mumbled. He turned them around and walked over to the table, lifting Zayn up slightly when he dragged his feet. “Don’t panic, babe.” 

Liam sat down on the table, pulling Zayn between his legs. He ran a hand up into Zayn’s hair and pulled his face close to Liam’s neck. Closing his eyes, he let calming pheromones wash over Zayn, feeling him go slack against Liam. Zayn brought up his hands, gripping Liam’s jumper tightly and nuzzling close. 

Despite the mess Liam had just created for them, he had never felt as content before. He had known that with losing Zayn all those years ago, a part of him had always been missing, but he hadn’t thought that simply holding Zayn like this would make him feel so much more complete. 

“Since when?” Zayn whispered, voice muffled against Liam’s neck. “Since when have you known?” 

“I was only really sure in Berlin.” Liam rested his hand in the nape of Zayn’s neck, squeezing slightly. “When we met at the bar.” 

Zayn didn’t say anything; he just breathed quietly. His fingers clenched and unclenched around the fabric of Liam’s jumper and he nuzzled so close, Liam felt like he tried to crawl into Liam. Gently, Liam complied, cradling Zayn even closer. 

“I can’t think.” Zayn inhaled and exhaled shakily. “I can’t think when you’re so close.” 

Liam kissed Zayn’s temple. “I’ve been waiting so long to have you this close. It’s a little overwhelming.” 

Zayn jumped when there was a knock on the door. Liam turned his body a little to shield him, but the door didn’t open. 

“Zayn?” Louis’ voice came through. “Do you need me in there?” 

“Can he come in?” Liam asked quietly. “Is that okay?” 

Zayn hesitated for a moment, then he nodded. “Yeah.” 

“Louis?” Liam called, keeping his arms around Zayn. 

The door slowly opened and Louis lifted his arm, covering his nose. “Hannah’s gonna have to air out the room. Fuck, it’s thick.” 

Liam hadn’t thought it’d affect him so much, but when Louis came inside, his alpha rebelled, as though he recognised Louis as a threat. It needed all of his willpower to stay calm. “Sorry.” 

“Is he okay?” Louis asked, gesturing to Zayn. 

“A bit out of it, I think.” Liam squeezed Zayn’s nape again, hoping it would reassure him. “Can we postpone the meeting?” 

Louis kept his eyes on Zayn. “I already told Martin to fuck off with the plan. Zayn overpowered his neutraliser and suppressentants at the mere idea of you being with another omega.” 

Zayn lifted his head, eyes glassy. “What?” 

“Your scent spiked up when Eleanor brought up the idea.” Liam brushed Zayn’s hair from his face. “I just had to get you out of there.” 

“Fuck.” Zayn groaned, swaying slightly. “I---” He blinked slowly, drawing his brows together. “I don’t feel well.” 

Alarmed, Liam stood and grabbed Zayn’s arms. “I’ll take you home.” 

“No.” Zayn shook his head, the motion slow and dragged. Like it took all of his powers to move. “I can’t think. I need to clear my head.” 

“I can take him home,” Louis offered, coming closer. 

Liam couldn’t stop the growl. He dragged Zayn closer, out of Louis’ reach -- surprising, scaring himself. He hadn’t known he was even capable of such possessive gestures. Of such alpha gestures.

“Sorry,” he immediately said, to Louis, but also to Zayn. Liam let go as if he had burnt himself, aware that Zayn would probably not appreciate that kind of behaviour. To his surprise, Zayn looked even more dazed, cheeks flushed, and his scent got stronger, calmer. Aroused.

Fuck. Liam didn’t think he could handle it. 

“Okay,” Louis said slowly. “He’s been on suppressants so long, his omega can’t handle it.” 

Zayn whined quietly, but took a step back. “I need to leave.” 

“You’re gonna drop,” Liam warned him, hands clammy with the idea. “It’s too much stress.”

“It’s just your scent.” Zayn shook his head. “I’ll be fine once it’s not so... thick anymore. Everywhere. I can’t concentrate.” 

Liam’s stomach tightened at what Zayn implied with that. “Zayn…” 

“You need to leave.” Zayn opened his mouth, breathing shallowly. “Or else I’m not gonna be able to walk out of this office.” 

“I’ll carry you,” Liam immediately offered. Everything inside him protested against leaving. 

Zayn managed a tired smile. “No one in this building is ever gonna take me serious again.” 

A clicking sound drew Liam’s attention away from Zayn. Louis had opened a window wide enough to let in fresh air. “How about,” he suggested, “you guys take this to a neutral space? Clear your minds a little to have a proper conversation.” 

Liam shook his head. “I’m not letting him out of sight. Not when he’s that vulnerable.” 

“He’s managed without your protection for the past ten years.” Louis lifted a brow. “I think he’ll manage one more hour.” 

That hit. Liam’s gaze flitted back to Zayn. “Do you want me to back off?” 

Zayn hesitated, but then he nodded. His eyes still didn’t look clear, but Liam assumed his mind was clear enough to make that decision. 

Liam hadn’t thought a simple gesture like that could hurt him so much, but it did. He swallowed thickly and fisted his hands, knowing that he didn’t have a choice. “If that’s what you want.” 

Not waiting for Zayn’s reply, Liam forced his feet to move towards the door. He wanted to stop next to Zayn and pull him in, at least scent mark him enough, so that no other alpha would get the wrong idea. That wasn’t in the cards, though. 

Even though they were bonded, and even though the secret was out now, Liam’s cards hadn’t changed. He had the worst deck, as it seemed. 

When he left the office, he saw the rest of the team quickly dash back to different rooms, and he wondered how much they had heard, or how much they had figured out. He walked to the lift, only relaxing slightly once the doors closed and the cabin moved. His stomach was still in knots, and his alpha was fighting his rational actions. 

Liam’s alpha rarely made an appearance, so he had no idea how to handle it. 

Downstairs, he went outside, the rain clearing his head a little. Zayn’s scent was still sticking to him, but it faded slightly. The realisation made him relax and panic at the same time, confusing Liam even more. He stopped in a safe distance, watching the exit and waiting for zayn to appea.

When he finally did, he was with Louis, and they got into a black car together. Liam’s eyes were glued to Zayn, taking in every detail about him. The light blue hair, the big jumper that made him seem even skinnier than he already was, his trembling hands. 

The car drove off, and Liam stayed, staring after it with a heavy heart. 

He had no idea what to do with himself. 

+++

“You knew.” 

The words left Zayn’s mouth the moment the realisation tickled in. 

He still felt dazed, as if his skull was filled with cotton, light and weightless. Liam’s scent still stuck to him, but it was subtle now, not as all-consuming and distracting. Louis’ scent was stronger in the car, and Zayn slowly felt his head clear. 

“You weren’t surprised,” he tagged on, turning his head to Louis. “You knew that Liam knew.” 

Louis pressed his lips together, nodding stiffly. He kept his eyes on the road. “He showed up the other night when you got wasted.” 

Zayn closed his eyes, remembering the morning. “I thought I could smell him when I woke up.” 

“That’s because he carried you to bed.” Louis' voice was quiet. Remorseful. 

“You left me exposed to him like that?” Zayn opened his eyes, frowning.

“He was rather mad at me -- and you.” Louis shrugged, turning left at the intersection. “Because you were that exposed around me.” 

Staying mum, Zayn turned his gaze back onto the road. Of course Liam hadn’t been happy about Zayn letting his guard down around another alpha. It wasn’t like Louis was any threat, but to Liam it had probably been hell to leave Zayn with Louis. 

“He asked me not to say anything.” Louis stopped the car when they reached Zayn’s flat. “But I knew I wouldn’t be able to lie to you, so I shut you out. I’m sorry.” 

Zayn sighed. “I get it.” 

“It was the hardest thing to do.” Louis reached over the gear stick to take Zayn’s hand. “Especially because I knew you needed me there.” 

Zayn laced their fingers and he smiled. “And because you needed me, didn’t you?” 

“I sent the pearls,” Louis simply said. “The damage’s done.” 

Zayn hummed. “I’d have advised you to do that. Giving up is not an option.” 

“Will you?” Louis asked. “Give up, that is?” 

“I don't think I could, even if I wanted to.” Zayn cleared his throat, feeling grounded by Louis’ hand in his. “We’re already bonded.” 

Nodding, Louis waited before he spoke again. “Then why send him away?” 

“I didn’t send him away,” Zayn argued. “I just needed a moment. There, I didn’t feel like myself. I was overwhelmed, and I was dizzy, and my omega had taken over. I think I’d have done or said  anything to please him.” 

“And you don’t think it’ll be the same once you see him again?” Louis frowned.

“Maybe.” Zayn shrugged. “I gotta try to meet him at eye level at least. My omega submits to him without my consent.”

Louis squeezed his hand. “I haven’t known him for long, but I don’t take him for the kind of alpha that expects you to submit. Quite the contrary, actually.” 

Zayn’s heart fluttered with hope. His biggest fear had always been that upon finding his alpha, he would force Zayn into a role he didn’t want to play. “He does.” 

“I don’t think I’d been able to walk away like he did. Not after…” Louis blushed, looking away. He didn’t finish the sentence.

“Louis.” Zayn tugged on Louis’ hand. “What?” 

Louis still didn’t look at him. “Your scent gave it all away, Zayn. You were calling out for him.” 

Zayn’s throat went dry. “You mean…” 

“I get it, okay? He’s your alpha, and they were talking about him being intimate with other omegas, so you couldn’t really control it.” Louis glanced at him. “I don’t get how he could control himself, though. Zayn, your scent was  calling out to him to claim you.” 

Zayn pressed the palm of his free hand against his face. “Fuck. That’s so embarrassing.” 

“No, come on.” Louis shook his head, thumb brushing over the back of Zayn’s hand. “You had no control over it.” 

“Liam could control it.” Zayn felt his heart pound heavily in his chest. “He could control himself.” 

“He’s a saint, honestly.” Louis tugged on Zayn’s hand. “Come on. Let’s get you inside. I’ll make you some tea, and then we’ll figure out what to do next.” 

“I wanna be with him,” Zayn said. It had been at the front of his mind, at the tip of his tongue since Liam had said the words my omega to him. 

Louis smiled. “Well, then there isn’t that much to figure out anymore, is there?” 

Zayn let go of Louis’ hand to follow him out of the car. He could still feel Liam’s hand at his nape,  could still feel the soft skin of Liam’s neck beneath his lips. Another strange beat rushed through Zayn, a rush of despair, longing and pain, making his heart stumble and his feet trip.

“Woah,” Louis caught him in front of the door, helping Zayn find his balance. “What’s going on?” 

Zayn tried to focus, but his heart beat loudly in his ears, a white noise cancelling out everything else. His limbs felt heavy and his vision went blurry. “I just need to lay down a bit. I’m dizzy.” 

“Okay, come on.” Louis helped him through the door. “Let’s get you some rest.” 

As Louis wound an arm around Zayn’s waist and helped him up the stairs, Zayn felt grateful to have him by his side. Yet, deep down, he wished it was Liam. Deep down, something pushed against Louis’ hold, as though it was wrong, calling out for Liam to take his place instead.

Ignoring it, Zayn leaned into Louis’ side, losing focus the moment he got into his flat. 

+++

Liam stared at the screen of his mobile phone. He read the words, but they didn’t actually register. Martin had sent an email, and Liam could only imagine that it was angry and spiteful, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t concentrate on what it was saying.

He didn’t actually care, either. 

With a sigh, he closed the app and turned his mobile upside down on the table top. It was still raining cats and dogs outside and the constant platter against the cafe’s windows was a soothing melody. A fitting one, too. 

Liam could feel him. Stronger than before, and much more clearly. He wondered if Zayn could feel it, too; wondered if Zayn could feel Liam’s despair, his longing, and his pain. He probably did, but decided to ignore it and shut it out. Like had shut out Liam. 

It hadn’t been how Liam had imagined any of it. He had thought the moment he’d confront Zayn, they would figure it out. He had imagined Zayn accepting him as his alpha. Of course Liam had been aware that it wouldn’t be that easy, but his hopeful heart had deceived him. That had only led him into misery. 

He should have been prepared. 

At least it wasn’t easy for Zayn, either. Liam could tell that he was struggling, too. He could feel that Zayn felt miserable, and as much as it brought a bit of satisfaction, it just made Liam feel worse because there was nothing he could do for Zayn. 

At least nothing Zayn would let him do. 

“Liam?” 

He looked up, seeing Niall and Harry approach his table. They were both soaked through, steaming mugs in their hands. 

“What are you doing here?” Niall asked as he took the chair across from Liam. 

Liam shrugged. He should be more surprised to see them, but Niall was right. The cafe was in their neighbourhood, not Liam’s. “I just kinda ended up here. It’s raining.” 

Harry sat down, too, looking a little confused. “Are you okay?” 

What was he supposed to say? He just nodded. 

“All right,” Niall said slowly. He exchanged a look with Harry, but didn’t prod the issue any further. 

Maybe some distraction was exactly what Liam needed. “Did Harry tell you how he charmed Kid Harpoon’s socks off?” 

Niall laughed at that. “He didn’t phrase it like that, but I figured that’s what happened. Is he an alpha?” 

Liam nodded. “He was an easy target.” 

Harry kicked Liam’s shin beneath the table. “He’s married and bonded. I didn’t charm anyone.” 

“Every alpha loves you,” Niall retorted, rolling his eyes. 

“You are quite likable,” Liam admitted.

“Don’t let Louis hear that.” Niall moved the mug between his palms. “He’ll probably take it the wrong way.” 

Louis. Who was probably with Zayn right now. Who got to take care of Zayn when it was Liam who should be the one to do that. So much for distraction. He cleared his throat and looked at Harry. “Speaking of. How did he react to you giving back those pearls?” 

Harry averted his gaze, suddenly overly interested in his tea. “Um. I haven’t yet.” 

“Oh.” Liam blinked, briefly looking at Niall. He had a knowing smile on his lips. “Did you decide to keep them?” 

“I just haven’t figured out how to give them back without actually having to meet him.” Harry drank from his tea, cheeks flushed. 

“So you don’t wanna give him another chance?” Liam asked. He shouldn’t care so much, but he suddenly felt sorry for Louis. Like Louis didn’t deserve what Harry did to him. It was too much. “Don’t you think you’re too harsh with him?” 

Harry’s lips formed a thin line and he shrugged. It seemed like he wasn’t so sure about his own actions anymore. 

It was Niall who spoke up instead. “Is Zayn too harsh on you, not giving you another chance?” 

“What I did was so much worse than what Louis did.” The words were heavy on his tongue. Heavy because they were true. “Zayn’s got every right to---”

His head snapped up and he stopped talking. Niall looked surprised, and Harry looked positively shocked. Liam imagined that he had to have the same expression on his own face.

“What?” Harry shrieked. 

“How did you---?” Liam clasped a hand in front of his mouth. “How the hell do you know?” 

Niall laughed nervously. “Fuck. i didn’t know. I just---” He turned to Harry. “It just seemed to fit with what Zayn told us.” 

“Zayn talked to you about me?” Liam asked.

“Zayn told us about the alpha that bonded him without his consent.” Harry leaned back in his chair as if to bring some space between them. “That was you?” 

“It just makes sense.” Niall crossed his arms on the table. “That’s why you’ve worked with omegas. You tried to relieve your guilty conscience that way.” 

Liam didn’t have it in him to fight. Not after today. He just nodded, waiting for them to turn their backs and never talk to him again. It wasn’t like Liam wouldn’t understand. He had been a fool to think everything could turn around and that he could be happy. 

That he could have Zayn.

“What’s going on?” Harry’s voice rang through to him, and he realised that he had spaced out.

A wave of pain hit him the next moment, and Liam gasped, his hand coming up to rest over his chest. “Fuck.” 

“Liam?” Niall got up to rush to his side. “Liam, what’s wrong?” 

He knew that feeling. It had never been that intense before, and it had never hit him that hard, but Liam knew it. It was burning hot, a pain that couldn’t be healed. No, that wasn’t it. It was a pain that could only be healed by one thing. 

Zayn was going into heat. 

“Fuck.” Liam fumbled for his phone, dropping it to the floor.

“Liam, you’re scaring me.” Niall grabbed his wrist. “What is going on?” 

Shaking his head, Liam tried to get a grip. He inhaled shakily, slowly gaining control back. Zayn’s pain was still throbbing inside his chest. “Zayn,” he managed to say. “He’s going into heat. It just hit me through the bond. That--- fuck. It’s my fault.” 

“What?” Harry picked up Liam’s phone. “Why is that your fault?” 

“I knew it was gonna happen, and I still let him walk away.” Liam pushed his fingers through his hair, desperate to move. To get to Zayn. If only he knew where Zayn was. “I confronted him today, and he overpowered his neutraliser and his suppressants. It was only a matter of time before he went into heat.” 

“What are you gonna do now?” Niall asked. “Does he even want you there?” 

Liam groaned. He took his mobile from Harry. “I don’t know. I gotta call Louis. Make sure he’s at least taken care of.” 

Harry’s expression turned dark, his eyes narrowing. “No.” 

If he weren’t in such pain, Liam would have laughed. “Not like that, Harry. Believe me, it’s not what I had in mind.” 

At that moment, his mobile started ringing, flashing Louis’ caller ID. Liam picked up, not waiting for what Louis had to say. “Where is he, Louis?” 

“He’s going into heat, Liam.” Louis sounded panicked, voice choked-up. “He needs you.” 

“I can’t, Louis.” Liam tilted his head back as another wave of pain rolled over him. “We haven’t discussed a thing.” 

“I don’t think there’s anything to discuss,” Louis snapped at him. “You’re fucking bonded, mate. He needs you.” 

“I know. I feel it.” Liam closed his eyes. “I don’t want him to hate me even more afterwards.” 

“Listen, Liam.” Louis breathed in audibly. “I can’t stay here for much longer. It’s just not safe for him. So make up your bloody mind,” 

“You'd never touch him,” Liam said. Harry's scent changed, spiking in something dark and rainy. “Also, Harry would kill you.” 

“Harry’s already killed me. There’s not much left for him to kick to the curb.” Louis huffed. “Don’t change the topic. Zayn’s suffering.” 

“Where is he?” Liam repeated his initial question.

Louis rushed to tell him the address, then cursed heavily. “I’ll wait outside for you. Get going.” 

After ending the call, Liam got up, feeling a little lost. “I gotta go.” 

“I can give you a ride,” Niall offered. “It seems to be urgent.” 

Liam managed a dry, humourless laugh. “You could say that.” 

Niall wasn’t a careful driver. He ignored several crosswalks, and he was constantly above the speed limit. Liam wasn’t one to complain, though, especially not when it brought him closer to Zayn with every passing minute. 

It didn’t take half as long as the tube would have taken, and Liam tensed when Louis came into sight. He was pacing the pavement, the hood of his thin sports jacket covering half his face. When Niall parked the car, he stopped in his tracks, then hurried over. 

“What took you so long?” he asked, walking ahead to the building.

“It barely took me twenty minutes.” Liam would have put up more of a fight, if he had had it in him. “How is he?” 

“You tell me.” Louis held out a key. “I’ve waited outside. This is the key to his flat. He should have enough food and water. You’ll find your way around. If you need anything, text me, and I’ll drop it off.” 

“Are you sure he wants this?” Liam asked, nervously glancing towards the door. 

Niall joined them at that moment, the car keys dangling from his fingers. “You didn’t need his consent before, did you?” 

Louis turned to him with wide eyes. He looked between Niall and Liam in confusion, mouth open. 

“He’s figured it out.” Liam huffed out a laugh. “Everyone’s figured it out but Zayn.” 

“That was a bit of a low blow,” Louis managed to say.

Niall didn’t look impressed. “Bonding an omega without his consent is, too.” 

Liam pressed his lips together. “Why did you bring me here if you think I shouldn’t go in?” 

“I know what it’s like to be in heat. It’s fucking painful.” Niall crossed his arms, shrugging lightly. “And since you’re bonded, you’re the only one who can help him. He doesn’t get to choose someone else to do it.” 

“Shut up, Niall.” Louis squeezed between them. “You don’t have a single clue what actually happened, and you don’t even know how either Zayn or Liam feel about this. It’s easy for you to judge, isn’t it?” 

Liam touched Louis’ arm, trying to hold him back. “Louis, it’s fine.” 

“No, it’s not!” Louis gestured wildly. “How dare you make assumptions about what Zayn wants? Do you even know him? You’ve seen half the picture, but act all high and mighty. I’m sick of it.” 

Liam had the feeling that it wasn’t solely about Zayn anymore, so he shut his mouth and withdrew his hand. 

“Zayn wants Liam here. Who are you to act like you’d know any better?” 

Niall was stunned into silence, blinking dumbly. Liam used their state of distraction to quietly slip away. When he looked over his shoulder as he opened the door, Niall said something but Liam couldn’t hear what it was. Closing the door behind himself, Liam was hit with Zayn’s scent full force. It was overwhelming, intoxicating and made Liam’s knees go weak. He didn’t think he’d be able to stay coherent if he stayed. For his own sake, and for Zayn, he would have to try, though.

Liam sent a prayer out into the void, wondering if it would do any good. No one could help him now; he would have to get through this on his own. He was all by himself, and it was his chance at making things right. 

No, he thought, swallowing thickly as Zayn appeared in the doorframe to the living room, looking and smelling serene. Liam wasn’t on his own. He wasn’t all by himself.

It was him and Zayn now. They were in this together. 

Breathing through his mouth, he turned around and locked the door. 

===

 

Chapter Text

Zayn was already in Liam’s space when he turned back around. 

“Liam.” Zayn barely breathed the name, arms coming around Liam’s waist as he sank against Liam’s chest, nuzzling close. He was softer and more compliant than Liam had ever seen him before. “You’re here.” 

“Hey.” Liam exhaled shakily, winding his arms around Zayn’s shoulders. “How are you feeling?” 

“Hot.” Zayn buried his nose against Liam’s collarbone. “Need you.” 

It wasn’t easy to tell how far gone Zayn already was. His scent was thick and heavy, consuming Liam completely and driving him crazy. He could smell that Zayn was wet, that the slick was already dripping out of him, but he didn’t know if that meant that Zayn couldn’t think straight anymore. Liam wished he could tell, wished he knew every detail about Zayn already to be able to react accordingly. He was scared to do the wrong thing. 

Carefully, he placed his fingers beneath Zayn’s chin, lifting it slightly. Zayn’s pupils were blown, looking almost completely black and his cheeks were flushed in a rosy colour. Liam wanted to kiss him, taste Zayn’s lips, and find out how his tongue would move against Liam’s. 

Liam had no idea how far gone Zayn was, but he himself was too far gone. That much was clear. 

"Listen, babe." He framed Zayn's face with his hands. "I'm here now. I'll take care of you."

Zayn whined, surging forwards. Before Liam could react, Zayn's lips crashed against his, claiming Liam’s in an open-mouthed, hot and wet kiss. Zayn was pressed against him from knees to chest, and Liam could feel how hard he was in his jeans as Zayn started to rub against him. The scent of lemons turned sweet and heady, and Liam found that Zayn tasted just like it. Instantly, Liam's cock was hard, reacting to his omega in his arms. Wet, eager and willing. 

It’d be easy to push Zayn against the wall and let his alpha take over. He’d push down Zayn’s pants, dip his fingers into the wetness awaiting him, find Zayn open and desperate for Liam’s knot. It’d only take one easy slide to bury himself in Zayn’s heat, lock them together, and find that spot on Zayn’s neck that Liam had claimed before. He’d sink his teeth in, right the moment when Zayn would shake apart in his arms.

With a groan, Liam brought his hand up to Zayn’s neck. He knew that he’d find that mark he had left ten years ago if he pushed down the collar of Zayn’s t-shirt. His fingers lingered over the spot, pressing down gingerly. Zayn moaned into his mouth, rutting his hips against Liam's. 

Not like this. 

Liam panted as he pushed Zayn off, just enough to bring some space between them. He couldn’t let it happen that way; in the corridor of Zayn’s flat, quick and urgent against the wall. Zayn deserved more than that and Liam wanted to give him everything he deserved this time. 

“Not here, babe.” Liam kept his hands on Zayn’s hips. “Let’s get you into bed.” 

Zayn nodded eagerly, eyes unfocused. If Liam hadn’t been sure before, he was more than certain now that Zayn was way past being coherent. He trailed behind Zayn, briefly taking in the layout of the flat.

The kitchen and living room were a combined space, and there was at least one other room besides Zayn’s bedroom and the bathroom. Liam kept that information at the back of his head when he entered Zayn’s bedroom. It was only making it harder for Liam when he was hit with Zayn’s scent. It was thick and even stronger inside the bedroom. Swallowing thickly, Liam guided Zayn to the bed, helping him lie down. 

“I’ll just prepare a few things.” He brushed his knuckles across Zayn's cheek. “I need to make sure you’ve got all you need.” 

Zayn shook his head, grabbing Liam’s wrist. “Just need you.” 

Liam couldn’t resist kissing him again. He leaned in, sealing their lips together. Zayn’s mouth opened slowly, his movements lagged and dragging. Liam tilted his head slightly, changing the angle, getting lost in the addictive taste, the alluring scents around him, as well as Zayn’s fingers making progress on unbuttoning Liam’s shirt.

“Okay, okay, okay.” Liam panted when he drew back. “Wait a sec.” 

“You said you’d take care of me.” Zayn literally pouted, the corners of his mouth drawn down. 

It was such a stark contrast to how Zayn usually presented himself, that it drew a chuckle from Liam. He couldn’t yet connect those two; couldn’t see them as the same person. Yet Liam hoped that he would get the chance to see every other side Zayn had kept from him until now, too. 

“I will,” he promised. “Just give me a few minutes, okay?” 

Zayn fell back onto his sheets with a groan, eyes closed as he started working on undressing himself. Liam forced himself to turn around and fled the room to get to the kitchen. He felt like invisible strings pulled him back towards Zayn, and concentrating on anything else seemed like the hardest thing to do.

For a moment, Liam stared blankly into the fridge, as if he couldn’t remember why he had come there. Then he grabbed a pack of cheese and several bottles of water, before he closed the fridge and got a plate where he put some of the fruit Zayn had in a bowl on the counter. 

Before he went back, he got out his mobile phone and texted Louis a list of the things he needed, asking him to drop them off the next night. Just when he had sent the text, he immediately sent another, asking for Oli to drop by instead of Louis. 

Not waiting for a reply, he went back to the bedroom, finding Zayn was only wearing his underwear anymore. It was tented by his erection and soaked through to the front. Liam almost dropped the plate, but caught himself in the last moment. His heart, however, dropped to his knees, making them go weak. 

Zayn was too busy writhing in the sheets to even notice Liam, one hand playing with his nipples, the other fisting the duvet. Liam’s eyes roamed over Zayn’s body, taking in the soft skin, the bony structure, the dip between his collarbones. The bondmark. 

“Alpha,” Zayn whispered. “Please.” 

God, Liam would lose his mind. He set down the food he had brought on the nightstand next to Zayn’s bed before he reached over to gently brush the hair from Zayn’s forehead. He was sweating, a rosy flush high on his cheeks, and his lips swollen red. 

“Where are your toys, baby?” Liam asked. “I’ll get them for you.” 

Zayn shook his head, eyes going wide. “No toys. Please. Want your knot.” 

“Soon.” Liam swallowed thickly when his hand came close to Zayn’s neck and the mark low on it. It was like it called Liam’s name, like a magnet drawing him closer. 

He withdrew his hand, fingertips burning with Zayn’s heat, to go to the wardrobe. He got some t-shirts and towels and placed them on a chair next to Zayn’s bed, then he searched the bottom of the wardrobe for Zayn’s heat toys. It didn’t take long to find what he was looking for. Liam felt a little bad for looking through Zayn’s private belongings like that, but he also knew that he didn’t have much of a choice. 

He came back with the box, placing it next to Zayn on the bed. Zayn reached for him, hands firmly wrapping around Liam’s arm. He was stronger than Liam had expected, so it took him by surprise when Zayn pulled Liam on top of himself. 

Zayn sighed happily, instantly diving into a kiss. Liam couldn’t help but kiss him back. His alpha practically purred with the feeling of Zayn’s tongue in his mouth and Zayn’s body rocking against his. They both moaned and it took all of Liam’s powers for him to catch Zayn’s wrists and pin them to the pillow next to his head. 

It didn’t stop Zayn from arching off the mattress and rubbing himself against Liam. 

Liam was so close to breaking, he had to close his eyes. He knew that he couldn’t stay. No matter what Louis had said, and no matter how much Zayn begged him right now -- they hadn’t talked about any of this, and he didn’t know if it was what Zayn really wanted. He had caused Zayn enough heartbreak and misery ten years ago; Liam wouldn’t repeat it again. 

The only thing he could do was give Zayn as much as he could and take care of him during the heat in every other way than actually sleeping with Zayn. He’d stay in the flat and make sure that Zayn was protected, make sure that he ate and drank, and clean him up when Zayn needed it. 

Inhaling through his mouth, Liam waited for Zayn to open his eyes and look at him. Zayn’s breathing was shallow, and his eyes had turned black. He licked his lips, hips circling against Liam’s. Leaning in, Liam brought his lips to Zayn’s neck, opposite of the bondmark. He knew he’d be gone for if he touched that in any way, so he licked the skin on the other side of Zayn’s neck, closing his eyes at how good it felt.

Zayn moaned again, wiggling in Liam’s hold, but not enough to pull himself free. The scent of his slick got even sweeter, and Liam knew that Zayn was fully under now. There wasn’t much time for Liam left to get away.

He released calming pheromones, scenting Zayn to leave him something soothing. Zayn was going to be in pain, and Liam knew he was the only one who could physically stop it. Since he wouldn’t do that, he wanted Zayn to have his scent to at least dull the pain as much as he could.

It completely took him by surprise when Zayn bucked his hips up and tilted his head back, releasing a deep moan. He didn’t even struggle against Liam’s hold, just arched against him as he came between them, still wearing his briefs. 

“Fuck.” Liam bit down gently, pressing down so Zayn could ride out his orgasm. He was so hard himself, every cell in his body begging him to fuck Zayn. He was supposed to do it, after all. Liam had to fight the urge to bite too hard, had to fight the urge to rip his clothes off and take what was his. 

It wasn’t his to take. Not like this. 

“Alpha.” Zayn went pilant, going lax under Liam and sighing contently. “More.”

Liam knew it was his only chance at getting out. If he didn’t get out now, he would do everything Zayn asked of him. He drew back, salvia connecting his lips and Zayn’s neck, dripping to his chin. Wiping it, he got off the bed and unbuttoned what Zayn hadn’t of his shirt before. 

Zayn was a vision. His skin was flushed, his briefs completely soaked with slick and come, and his eyes were hooded. Liam couldn’t look at him a second longer. He dropped his shirt next to Zayn and took a step back. Zayn’s brows furrowed as he rolled over and sat up. 

“I’ll be right there,” Liam promised. “I’ll take care of you.” 

Zayn didn’t seem to grasp it. His hand slid down his stomach and he started shoving down the briefs. Liam knew he couldn’t watch it -- had taken it too far already. He had taken more from Zayn than he had been allowed to. 

Like ripping a bandaid off, Liam turned around and fled the room. He closed the door behind himself and locked it up from outside, slumping against it. For a moment, there was complete silence, then there were steps before Zayn reached the door and started rattling it. 

“Liam,” he cried, banging against the door. “No. Please. I need you.”

Liam closed his eyes, sliding down the door. He buried his face in his hands, listening to Zayn beg for him to come back inside. To fuck him, To knot him. Calling him Alpha over and over again. Liam scrambled to his feet and fled to the other room, finding himself in an office. He locked that door, too before he went to the sofa in the corner and hastily opened his jeans.

It only took him three firm strokes to come, pulsing white over his own hand. Zayn’s name fell from his lips and he breathed heavily afterwards. It did nothing to kill the pain or stop the pull he felt towards Zayn’s bedroom. It did nothing but release some of the tension between his shoulders for a few seconds before it built right back up.

Even through the walls of two rooms, Liam could still hear Zayn call for him. He could feel it, too. Zayn wanted him, needed it, begged for his alpha. He called out through the bond, and Liam had never been in so much pain. 

He closed his eyes, knowing that he was in for the hardest test of his life. 

+++

Zayn woke up feeling disoriented. He recognised his own bedroom, but something felt out of place. Different.

He sat up with a groan, pushing the crusty sheets off himself. His heat toys were scattered around him, as well as several pieces of clothing. Frowning, Zayn picked them up, not recognising them as his own. He pulled one t-shirt close to his face, buried his nose in it, and immediately arousal zipped through him. It faintly smelled of Liam. Beneath Zayn’s slick and come, he could make out a meadow in the summer, sunshine and just a hint of vanilla. 

With a groan, he got out of bed, and opened the window. Cold air streamed in, making Zayn shiver. He ran a hand over his face before he opened the wardrobe to put on some clothes. 

There was still a strange feeling in his chest. A longing, a dull pain that felt like it wasn’t his own. 

When he wanted to leave his bedroom, he found the door locked. Frowning, he rattled the door, but it didn’t open. 

“What the fuck?” He rattled the door again, banging a fist against the wood. “Liam? Liam, let me out!” 

“The key’s on the floor,” he heard Liam say. He sounded muffled; far away. “I’ve slipped it under the door.”

Zayn looked down, finding the key lying close to the door. He picked it up and let himself out of the room. “Why the hell did you lock me in the bedroom?” 

The living room was empty. Zayn frowned, looking around to find Liam, but he couldn’t see him. The flat strongly smelled of him, though. 

“Liam?” 

“In your office,” Liam replied, his voice sounding closer than before. “The key’s on the floor outside.” 

Zayn approached the office, finding the key exactly like Liam had said on the floor in front of the door. Frowning, he picked it up. “What the hell did you do?” 

It took Liam a moment to speak. “Make sure I wouldn’t take advantage.”

Inhaling shakily, Zayn touched the door, fisting his hand around the key. “I'm sure I begged you to take advantage.” 

Liam didn’t reply. 

“Can I come in?” Zayn asked. 

“It’s your flat.” Liam’s voice sounded strained. 

"I'm serious." Zayn rested his forehead against the cool wood of the door. "Is it safe for me to unlock the door?" 

Liam was quiet again, and his voice almost didn't come through when he answered. "You're always safe with me." 

Biting his lip, Zayn put the key into the lock and opened it. He was hit with Liam's scent, thick and prominent. Liam himself was on the sofa, looking exhausted. His hair was dishevelled and his clothes seemed hastily put on. 

"And yet you had to lock two doors and get rid of the keys," Zayn said, stepping in. 

Liam wrung his hands together. "That was more for my safety." 

Crossing his arms in front of his chest, Zayn stayed at the door. "Was it?" 

"You got a little demanding last night," Liam explained. "I don't think I'd have been able to keep it together. I would have given in, so I had to make sure I wouldn't have a way to get to you." 

Zayn hummed. "Were you here all the time? What day is it anyway?" 

"It's Monday." Liam ran a hand over his face. "I took care of you the best I could." 

Zayn frowned. "When did you get all your clothes?" 

"I didn't. Oli dropped them off when he brought groceries." 

"Oli was in here?" Zayn's hat jumped at the mere idea of someone other than Liam being in his flat during his heat. 

"Of course not." Liam levelled him with a calm stare. "He left everything outside for me to pick up." 

Zayn still didn't have the answers he really wanted. "And how did I get your clothes?"

"I left them with you when I took care of you." Liam looked down again. 

“Took care of me how?” Zayn asked, heart beating a little faster.

Liam blushed as he shrugged one shoulder. “Do you remember anything?” 

Zayn shook his head. “Not even that you came here. When did you come here?” he immediately tagged on to ask.

“Right after it had started. Louis called me.” Liam cleared his throat, and Zayn had a feeling that he was keeping something from Zayn. “You were already quite out of it when I arrived.”

“And you?” Zayn slung his arms around his upper body. “How out of it were you?”

“We didn’t have sex, if that’s what you’re asking.” Liam briefly glanced up at him. “You kissed me, though. And I’d lie if I said it didn’t trip me up. I probably shouldn’t have, but I gave into it. I scented you, too.” 

“Just so I get this right,” Zayn repeated what Liam had just told him. “You were here the whole time. You kissed me, you touched me, and you scented me?” 

Liam closed his eyes, looking like he was in actual pain. “I’m sorry. I shouldn't have, but I thought you needed that, at least.” 

Zayn had to sit down, his knees feeling too weak to carry him. “Well, I’m sure I asked for more than that.” 

“I tried to be as clinical about it as possible.” Liam ran a hand through his hair. 

“Clinical?” Zayn raised a brow.

“I did it before,” Liam explained. “I helped omegas through their heat without sleeping with them. I thought I was prepared to do that with you, but---” He shook his head. “It was so much tougher.” 

Zayn tried to keep the jealousy flickering up inside his chest at bay. “You helped other omegas through their heats?” 

Liam nodded. “In my previous job. I fed them, changed the sheets, cleaned them up. Scented them if they needed it.” 

“And you did that with me?” 

“Yeah.” Liam shrugged again, as if it wasn’t a big deal. “Speaking of. Are you hungry? You must be starved. You didn’t eat a lot during.”

Zayn shook his head. He didn’t think he could eat anything right now. “You cooked while I was in the other room, begging for you to fuck me?” 

That finally made Liam look at him. His eyes were wide, his cheeks flushed and the shadows beneath his eyes were the only indicator that he wasn’t as unbothered as he pretended to be. 

“And you actually came into my room and you put your hands on me, but you didn’t have sex with me?” Zayn went on. “You scented me and left me your clothes, but you didn’t listen to me when I asked you to take care of me properly?” 

The scent in the room got heavier; the vanilla sweet and heady. 

“That wasn’t you asking.” Liam got up and started pacing the room. “That was your omega taking over, and I have no right to take advantage like that.” 

Zayn frowned at him. “You’re actually the only alpha who’s got that right.”

Liam stopped, turning to him. “Just because we’re bonded doesn’t mean I get to touch you like that. I didn’t have your consent, Zayn. I wouldn’t do that to you.” 

“Again.” It was out before Zayn could think better of it. 

“Again,” Liam agreed quietly. “Just because I bonded you doesn’t mean you have to bow to any of it.” 

Zayn managed a dry laugh. “Well, because you bonded me, I don’t get to choose anymore, Liam. You’re the only one I could ever ask to help me through a heat.” 

“I know.” Liam bit his lip. “We couldn’t talk about that beforehand, so I took it upon myself to make that decision for you. And I thought you’d rather spend your heat alone than have me help you through it.” 

“But I wasn't alone, was I? Why did you stay if you thought so?” Zayn asked, anger building up inside him. “You probably didn’t fuck me, Liam, and you didn’t knot me, but you still saw me at my most vulnerable, at my most exposed. What if that’s something I didn’t want you to see?” 

Liam stared at him, eyes glassy. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t leave you alone. I just--- I wanted to take care of you in some way at least.” 

"But you didn't lose the plot at least once?" Zayn got up, too, stomping closer. "You're telling me you were completely unbothered?" 

Liam gestured to his chest. "Do I look unbothered to you? Do I look like I had a few relaxing days? Are you bloody kidding me?" 

"God, Louis was right." Zayn turned around, throwing his hands in the air in frustration. "You are a fucking saint." 

"What?" Liam sounded confused. 

"What alpha is actually able to keep it in his pants around his own omega in heat?" Zayn asked, spinning around again and poking a finger against Liam's chest. "I probably got off when you were in the room, and you just folded the laundry and went out again." 

"I held and scented you afterwards, actually," Liam corrected him, looking guilty about it. 

"Oh my God!" Zayn pushed him. "Shut up, Liam! Why don't you ever fuck up?" 

Liam's face fell. "Are you really mad at me for doing the decent thing?"

"I'm mad at you for being so fucking perfect all the time," Zayn burst out, eyes locked on Liam's. "I'm mad at you for being the kind of alpha that doesn't pick fights, and for apologising even when you have nothing to apologise for. I'm mad at you for never losing your temper, and for being loyal to your omega the past ten years. And I'm mad that you don't give me a reason to hate you by even doing the fucking decent thing during my heat!" 

There was silence for a moment. Liam stared at Zayn in disbelief, and Zayn cursed himself inwardly for losing his cool like that. He didn't stand a chance from the moment he had sat down across from Liam at that table barely a month ago, and it was breaking free of him now. 

"You don't hate me," Liam said then, the words coming slowly with the realisation. "I thought you hated me." 

Zayn scoffed. "You're making it plenty hard."

Liam buried his hands in the pockets of his jogging bottoms. "I'm sorry."

"Oh, sod off." Zayn rolled his eyes. "Can't you just fuck up a bit at one single thing, so I'll have a reason to hate you?"

"The one time I fucked up lasts me for a million lifetimes, Zayn." Liam shook his head. "I promised myself I would never do you wrong again." 

Feeling deflated, Zayn let his shoulders slump. “Of course you did.” 

Liam didn’t reply, just watched Zayn with tired eyes. He looked curious, tense, and now that Zayn got a closer look at him, he could see how pale Liam was. 

He’d probably been through hell and back in the past few days. 

“I wasn’t completely honest,” Liam said then, tongue briefly licking over his bitten lips. 

“What?” Zayn laughed humourlessly. “Did you not fold the laundry?” 

It didn’t even draw a smile from Liam. “That first night. When I scented you the first time, I lost a bit of control. I may have gone overboard, and---” He shrugged. “It made you come. Technically, that means we did have sex.” 

The thought of coming apart in Liam’s arms made Zayn blush. “And after that?” 

“I left you my shirt and got out there as quick as I could.” Liam still held Zayn’s gaze. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what you’d react like. I should’ve been more careful.” 

Zayn pulled the sleeves of his jumper over his hands. “You couldn’t anticipate that from your experience with those other omegas?” 

Liam’s face fell. “I didn’t scent them like that .” 

“You scented them, though,” Zayn said, eyes tracking every emotion flitting over Liam’s face. There were a lot. Despair, regret, and confusion. Some hope, too. “Did you get them off, too?” 

“That’s not what it was like, Zayn.” Liam took a step closer. “I never touched them like I wanna touch you.” 

Zayn stayed put where he was. “And yet you could keep your hands off me just the same.” 

“You have no idea how hard that was.” Liam’s voice was just above a whisper. “Not even close.” 

“And how much longer do you want to keep that up?” Zayn asked, drawing his brows together. 

Liam smiled slightly. “As long as it takes for it to feel right.” 

That wasn’t the answer Zayn had anticipated, but he couldn’t say it surprised him. “You really are annoying.” 

“I guess.” Liam laughed quietly. “And just for the record. I did fold the laundry.” 

Zayn snorted. “Of course you did.” 

Careful to keep a distance, Liam went past Zayn. “Come on. You should eat. Why don’t you take a shower while I heat something up?” 

“You’re really just gonna pretend nothing happened, aren’t you?” Zayn followed him back into the living room, rubbing his eyes. 

“I’m not gonna stay sane otherwise.” Liam cleared his throat, and before Zayn could react, he had turned around to him, one hand coming up to rest on Zayn’s elbow as he leaned in and kissed Zayn’s temple. “Go shower. Your scent drives me crazy.” 

If it did, Liam did a good job of concealing it. 

Zayn pressed his lips together, keeping his hands wrung together to not wrap them around Liam and nuzzle in. Instead, he nodded and went to his bedroom when Liam made for the kitchen. He searched for his mobile phone, finding it dead on his nightstand. He plugged it in and turned it on, waiting for all the missed texts and messages to come in. 

There were dozens of emails from clients that Zayn ignored in favour of opening the one email he had received from Louis. It was from four days ago. 

Don’t hate me for calling Liam over. Call me when you can. Love you x 

I’m good, he typed back, and then added, believe it or not, he didn’t touch me. Thanks for calling him over though. I’ll see you tomorrow x 

Zayn sighed and put his mobile away. Looking around his bedroom, he took in the mess, the toys scattered around, as well as the crumpled sheets and Liam’s clothes thrown all over the bed. Zayn touched a shirt, gingerly running his fingers over the soft fabric, skin prickling with the memory of Liam’s lips pressing against his temple. 

With a groan, he got up from his bed and grabbed a clean change of underwear before he went to the bathroom to take a shower. The bathroom was squeaky clean, but it still got apparent that someone else than Zayn had used it throughout the past few days. There was a second toothbrush and a razor. In the shower, he found a different shampoo than his own, as well as a second body wash. 

Zayn smelled both before he used them, getting a strange feeling of comfort from using Liam’s soap. It was a childish urge, but Zayn couldn’t help but to give in to it. He lost track of time, letting the hot shower spray wash away the last traces of his heat. 

When he came back to his bedroom, he found the toys gone, the sheets stripped off his bed and a grey jumper lying on the pillow. Zayn picked it up, finding it strongly smelling of Liam. His stomach flipped with the scent. 

It was at least one size too big on him, but Zayn couldn’t say he minded it. The fabric was soft and the scent soothing for his omega that craved his alpha’s comfort after his heat. 

“Thanks for the jumper,” he said when he came to the kitchen. 

Liam looked over his shoulder, his smile looking forced. “Thought you might need that.” 

It smelled of different spices and savoury food, which made Zayn’s stomach rumble. He hadn’t realised how hungry he was until he had smelled the food. “What did you make?” 

“A stew.” Liam got two bowls from a cupboard, and Zayn noticed how well he knew his way around the kitchen already. “It’s nothing special, but easy to heat up.” 

“I’m not picky.” Zayn sat down at the table. “Thanks for cooking.” 

Liam just hummed, placing the first bowl in front of Zayn before he sat down with his own. “I hope you’ll like it.” 

They ate in silence for a bit, and Zayn was pleasantly surprised that it actually tasted good. He still got up after a minute to add some spice to his dish. Liam watched him, seeming unbothered about it, until Zayn sat down again. 

“Sorry,” Liam said, taking another spoonful.

Zayn smiled. “There you go again.” 

Liam shrugged, chewing without saying anything else. 

“It’s actually really good.” Zayn waited for Liam to properly look at him. “I just like my food a bit more spicy than you white folks. It’s always easier to add spice than to subtract it. So it’s all good.” 

“Okay.” Liam cast his eyes down again, not seeming convinced. 

Zayn frowned at him, a nervous feeling unfolding in his chest. “No. Liam.”

“It’s okay, if you don’t like it.” Liam shrugged. 

“I do like it. I told you.” Zayn reached out to touch Liam’s hand. He knew exactly what it did to Liam. It was like he could feel Liam’s disappointment. Could feel it even stronger when he touched Liam. “You took good care of me. I usually don’t get a warm meal after a heat.” 

Liam frowned at him. “Knowing that doesn’t make me feel any better.” 

It wasn’t like Zayn didn’t have a handful of solutions to that, but it also wasn’t like Zayn could suggest any of those. 

“My cooking’s actually really popular with my friends and family.” Liam finished his bowl, setting it aside. “My mum says my grilled chicken is to die for.” 

Feeling a little lighter, Zayn continued eating. “I’m not that much into cooking myself.” 

“I could--” Liam laced his fingers on top of the table. “I mean. If you wanted, I could make it for you sometime.” 

Warmth spread through Zayn. “I would like that.” 

Nodding, Liam breathed in shakily. Zayn wondered how he couldn’t have noticed Liam’s discomfort and nervousness before. He had thought Liam had been calm and collected, but now he could see all the tell-tale signs for him being tired and jumpy. 

Zayn finished in silence with Liam watching him patiently. It felt strangely domestic to sit together like that; it soothed Zayn’s omega in a way he hadn’t known before. He had thought it needed touches and scenting to feel that kind of intimacy, but sitting there in the kitchen in the dim evening light, eating together in silence, exchanging brief glances -- that felt much more intimate to Zayn than he had ever thought possible. 

He was sure that Liam felt it, too. 

Liam being Liam, he probably waited for Zayn to take the first step. Right now, Zayn knew that he wouldn’t be able to fight it. His omega drew too much comfort from having Liam around, and he was in no state to let Liam slip away. 

“Can you stay?” Zayn asked when he was finished. 

Liam exhaled loudly, which proved Zayn’s theory that he had only been waiting for Zayn to ask. “Of course.” 

“Your single release is on Friday.” Zayn put his bowl into Liam’s. “Neither of us can actually afford another day off.” 

“You definitely need another day off,” Liam said with a frown. 

The I don’t want other alphas to see you like that went unsaid. 

Zayn wasn’t keen for it himself. “I should call Louis, though. To make sure everything is set for Friday. Do you even know where you’ll be on Friday?” 

“Hannah said something about HMV in Piccadilly?” Liam took the bowls and carried them to the sink. “Then there’s the Instagram and TikTok ads that went viral today.” 

Zayn gasped. “I forgot about that. Did it gain you followers yet?” 

Liam shrugged. “I haven’t actually checked. I was-- well.” 

“We should check.” Zayn got up to fetch his mobile from his bedroom.

He didn’t come far before Liam grabbed his wrist and held him back. “You should rest, Zayn.” 

“But--” 

“No.” Liam shook his head. “I’m sure your team’s got everything under control. I’ll talk to Hannah and Eleanor tomorrow. There’s still time ‘til Friday.” 

“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously, Liam.” Zayn frowned at him. “Your entire career depends on this.” 

Liam’s grip around Zayn’s wrist tightened. “I think I've got my priorities sorted.” 

Zayn stared at him, unable to find his voice. Liam’s words hit; the implication behind them clear as day. They made Zayn’s heart pound painfully against his ribs; so hard, as though it wanted to jump out. 

He had never been anyone’s priority. 

Liam’s adam’s apple bobbed when he swallowed and let go of Zayn’s wrist. “Why don’t you find something on the telly while I clean up here?” 

Dumbly, Zayn nodded before he fled the room. His hands were trembling, and he suddenly felt much colder. Up until a minute ago, his heat had still lingered, but in an instant, it felt like it was all gone. He felt cold and drained, realising how tired he really was. His heat had taken its toll on him, but Zayn hadn’t noticed because of Liam’s presence. 

He turned on the TV, and found an old rerun of friends on ITV3, so he let that play while he curled up on the sofa. Liam came from the kitchen, but he didn’t join Zayn. Instead, he went to the bedroom, and Zayn could only guess that Liam finished cleaning the room, probably changing the sheets. Zayn listened to the noises, not having the energy to even feel embarrassed about Liam cleaning up after him. 

It would probably catch up with him in the morning. 

He’d worry about it then. 

Zayn didn’t know for how long, but he zoned out, staring blankly at the screen without actually watching the show. His mind was occupied trying to process his situation. It still felt bizarre to Zayn that Liam was in his flat in the first place, and it just got even weirder when his mind wandered back to his heat. He still couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that Liam had been there throughout all of it, and yet had been stoic enough to keep his hands off Zayn. 

No alpha Zayn had ever met would have been able to do that. 

His attention focused back on Liam when he came back into the living room, spreading a blanket over Zayn’s body. 

“Do you need anything else?” Liam asked, awkwardly standing next to the sofa. 

“Just you sitting down,” Zayn replied. And cuddle me , was what he didn’t add.

Liam sat down on the other end of the sofa, obviously still tense. Zayn couldn’t just sense it, or tell from Liam’s posture. He could actually feel it, and he wasn’t yet used to the fact that he was able to feel someone else’s feelings.

Zayn had been bonded for ten years, but he had never felt bonded. Not until tonight. 

“What’s gonna happen now?” Zayn glanced at Liam. 

Blinking slowly, Liam sank back against the cushions. He curled his fingers around Zayn’s ankle, and instantly, Zayn felt calmer. Grounded. 

“You catch up on some sleep.” Liam swerved the question. 

Zayn didn’t comment on the obvious evasion. They were probably both not in the state to have that conversation right now. “I think you need some sleep much more than I do.” 

Liam shook his head. “I’m good.”

They fell silent again, only the noises from the TV were filling the room, and something inside Zayn settled down. He felt calmer than before, with Liam’s fingers a comfortable weight over his ankle. His breathing slowed down, and Zayn slowly felt warmer, too. 

When he glanced at Liam again, Zayn found him with his head lolled to the side, eyes closed. He smiled slightly, watching Liam for a moment to take in all his features. His hair was swept back from his face, but a strand had fallen over Liam’s forehead and his lips were slightly opened. 

Zayn sat up and Liam stirred, frowning in his sleep, but he didn’t wake up. Carefully, Zayn reached out, gently brushing his fingers over Liam’s cheek before he let them linger over the smooth skin of Liam’s neck. Zayn’s pulse picked up speed when the scent of sunshine and freshly washed laundry in the summer breeze around him thickened. 

Giving in to his needs, Zayn bundled up the blanket and shifted around on the sofa so that he could nuzzle up against Liam, resting his cheek against Liam’s chest. Liam immediately adjusted to it, pulling him closer with one arm. He rested his cheek against Zayn’s hair, his chest expanding with a deep inhale. 

Zayn’s eyes fluttered closed and he felt his body become weightless, his mind finally shutting up, leaving his head blissfully empty. 

A second later, Zayn was fast asleep. 

+++

Liam blinked his eyes open to find himself in a dark room. He didn’t need to orientate himself, but knew immediately where he was. It wasn’t the room he recognised, but who it was he held. 

Zayn was curled up in Liam’s arms, face buried against Liam’s neck. He was breathing evenly, still fast asleep. Liam noticed that their legs were tangled and that Zayn’s arms were tight around Liam’s middle, while one of his hands had snuck beneath Liam’s jumper so that Zayn’s fingers rested against the small of Liam’s back.

Careful not to wake Zayn, Liam reached for his mobile to check the time. It was barely seven in the morning. He would have to show up at Hannah’s office in two hours, and there was nothing worse Liam could imagine than leaving the spot he was in right now. Over the past days, Liam had got to hold Zayn like this quite a lot. Of course liam had known that after all this, it was going to be hard to let go again, but he hadn’t thought it’d be this hard. Zayn fit against him perfectly, and the way they held each other felt like puzzle pieces slotting against each other. 

Closing his eyes, Liam stole another moment. Pressing his lips to the top of Zayn’s head, he inhaled their mixed scents. He hadn’t thought they’d work that well together, but somehow Zayn’s scent of winter and snow complimented Liam’s just fine. Beneath all that, Zayn smelled faintly of Liam’s shampoo. Liam loved the mix, and he would probably go crazy when Zayn would lose that scent, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.

With a deep inhale, Liam untangled himself from Zayn and carefully got up from the sofa. Zayn made a small protesting noise in the back of his throat, hands reaching for thin air. Liam brushed the hair from Zayn’s forehead and leaned in to kiss his temple. 

Leaving the room quietly, Liam glanced back to see Zayn was still fast asleep. He ignored his alpha protesting and went into Zayn’s office where he had stored his bag. He grabbed a change of clothes, finding that he needed to stop by his flat before going to the label’s office to change into some new clothes. If he didn’t, everyone would know just what exactly he had done over the past few days, and while his alpha seemed pretty keen on that, Liam forced himself to ignore the feeling. 

He tiptoed into the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth and change out of the clothes he had slept in. He’d leave those in Zayn’s bedroom because Zayn could probably need that kind of comfort for a little longer. 

It wasn’t like Liam didn’t know what Zayn actually needed. 

Just the thought of it made Liam’s blood run warmer, his heart rate pick up speed and his fingers tingle with the urge to touch Zayn the way Liam had wanted to touch him from the moment he had come into this flat. Liam didn’t even know how he had survived the past days -- he felt dead on his feet.

When he came back from the bathroom, he heard noises coming from the kitchen. Following them, he found Zayn at the stove, frying something in a pan. He had his back to Liam, but turned his head the moment Liam came into the room.

“Morning,” Zayn greeted him. He looked much better than the night before. His skin wasn’t as pale and his eyes didn’t look as tired. 

“Hi.” Liam walked closer, keeping his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “How are you feeling?” 

Zayn turned back to the pan. “Better than you, i guess.” 

“Wha---” 

“Not easy to keep a secret when being bonded, is it?” Zayn shrugged and opened the fridge. 

“Um.” Liam pressed his lips together, not sure how he should react. He had anticipated Zayn to feel him through the bond after figuring it out, but he hadn’t thought Zayn would feel him that clearly.

“I think I should drop by the office this morning,” he said in lieu of a better thing to say.

Zayn cracked two eggs into the pan. “I should probably go with you.” 

“You should really not.” It was out before Liam could think any better of it. “I mean…” 

“Yeah?” Zayn turned to him, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Why shouldn’t I?” 

“Oh, come on.” Liam rolled his eyes. “Your heat still lingers. It wouldn’t be safe.” 

Zayn lifted a brow. “It was safe all the other times, too.” 

Liam huffed, shaking his head. He wished Zayn would go back to being pilant and yielding. That had definitely been easier on Liam. “It’s not my place to tell you what to do.” 

For a moment, Zayn watched him intently, then he nodded. “It’s not.” 

“It’s not,” Liam agreed. 

There it was again. The big issue. The burning question. 

Zayn had asked it the night before, and Liam hadn’t been able to discuss it then, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to do it now. It didn’t matter what Liam wanted, anyway; he would do and live with whatever Zayn decided for them. It wasn’t Liam’s place to hope for any more than he had already got from Zayn, and it certainly wasn’t his place to ask for it. 

Zayn turned around and took the pan from the stove, turning it off. “Sit down.”

Liam blinked. “What?” 

“I guess I owe you breakfast at least.” Zayn got two plates and shovelled the pan’s contents onto them. He added toast to both plates before carrying them to the table. 

Frozen in place, Liam stared at him.

“Or don’t you have time for breakfast?” Zayn asked as he sat down.

Liam broke from his spell, nodding rapidly. “Um. Thanks.” 

Zayn started eating. “Did Hannah blow up your phone?” 

“She sent emails, but she didn’t call.” Liam started eating, too. The bacon was slightly burned but he didn’t comment on it. “Louis probably told her not to.” 

He wondered what else Louis had told the team. 

Zayn seemed to think about the same thing. “I’m sure she’s got a plan how to catch up on what you’ve missed. Were you scheduled for any promo?” 

Liam shook his head. “Just a few instagram lives. But we didn’t announce those.” 

“Okay.” Zayn put his fork down, eyes looking up at Liam. “I’m sorry.” 

“What?” Liam put his fork down, too. 

“I’m sorry.” Zayn kept up the eye contact. “It’s a really crucial time in your career and you’ve missed it because of me.” 

Liam shook his head. “I would do it again. You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s expected for alphas to take heat leaves for their omegas, so---” He stopped when he realised what he was saying.

Zayn pressed his lips together, but he didn’t look away. “They don’t know you have an omega.” 

“I’m sure they know by now.” Liam swallowed thickly. “Louis must have told them something . Doesn’t mean they need to know it’s you.” 

“What if they figure it out?” Zayn asked, eyes challenging Liam. 

They were too close to that issue again, and Liam’s nerves were raw to the touch. He got up from the chair, leaving the rest of his food to go cold. “Actually. I need to hurry. I gotta drop by my place before meeting Hannah.” 

Zayn didn’t immediately follow. Only when Liam had pushed everything inside his bag and came to the front door, Zayn appeared in the doorframe. He had his arms crossed and his hair was still dishevelled from sleep. There was a frown on his face, and he didn’t look happy. 

Liam knew that if he stayed any longer, it’d end in him falling to Zayn’s feet. He’d beg him to let Liam be his alpha, and Liam was too scared to be rejected and to lose face like that to stay. He knew that Zayn needed time to get used to the idea, and that Liam had to work hard to get Zayn to accept him as his alpha. 

“Lock the door, okay?” Liam put on his shoes, staying close to the door, so he wouldn’t be tempted. “And get some rest. I’ll tell Louis to call you.” 

Zayn still frowned, watching Liam in silence. 

“I can ask Oli to drop by later and bring you more groceries.” Liam licked his lips after he had put on his jacket. He slung his bag over his shoulder. “Or I could drop something off. Is there anything you need?” 

It took a moment, before Zayn replied. “Are you just gonna leave like that?” 

Liam swallowed thickly. “Make sure you lock the door behind me. I’m gonna wait for the click before I leave.” 

Zayn walked closer and Liam took a step back, hitting the door. 

“There is something I need, yeah.” Zayn blinked slowly, and Liam was scared he would ask for something Liam couldn’t refuse to give. “Can you leave me some of your clothes?” 

Liam exhaled in relief. “I’ve left the jumper I wore tonight on your bed.” 

“Thank you.” Zayn nodded, and before Liam could see it coming, he wound his arms around Liam’s neck to hug him. “Thanks for looking after me.” 

Liam closed his eyes, winding his arms around Zayn’s middle. He inhaled Zayn's scent like it was his oxygen, then he turned his head to press a kiss against Zayn’s neck and scentmark him. Just a little, because Zayn was fresh out of heat and needed it. Zayn tilted his head slightly, his chest expanding with a sigh, then he scented Liam back.

Before he knew it, Liam pulled back slightly and his cheek rested against Zayn’s as they were both breathing in quietly, calmly. Zayn nudged him gently, lips grazing over Liam’s cheek, and it felt like slow motion to Liam when he tilted his head and his lips caught Zayn’s.

It was calm and brief; just  a brush and a nip, their lips locking together and feeling each other. Then Zayn’s tongue darted out and swiped over Liam’s lips. Chasing it, Liam leaned in again and kissed Zayn properly, fingers digging into Zayn’s waist. Their tongues met and Liam yielded to let Zayn take the lead and have his way.

When he realised what he was doing, Liam pulled back, ending the kiss abruptly. His insides cramped when he noticed the prominent scent of lemons and saw how raw and slick Zayn’s lips looked. His bag fell from his shoulder, hitting the floor with a dull thud. 

“Fuck.” He pulled his hands away like he had burned himself. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have---” 

Zayn pulled him closer again. “God, take a hint, Liam.” 

The next kiss was rougher and Liam couldn’t stop himself from lifting Zayn up. His hands grabbed the back of Zayn’s thighs and Zayn wound his legs around Liam’s waist, contently sighing into the kiss. 

“I’m not gonna stop.” Liam panted as he turned them around and pressed Zayn’s back against the wall, feeling how hard Zayn was already. “If we start this now, I won’t be able to stop until I knotted you.” 

He could smell Zayn’s slick; knew it was dripping from him when Zayn groaned. “Liam.” 

“Fuck.” Liam attached his lips to Zayn’s neck, letting his tongue explore. “You smell divine. I’m going nuts with it.” 

“Just fuck me already.” Zayn ran a hand up into Liam’s hair, pulling. “Please, Alpha.” 

Swirling them around, Liam almost stumbled with the urgency to get back into Zayn’s bedroom. He managed without tripping or dropping Zayn, though, and carefully lowered Zayn onto the sheets. 

“Say that again,” Liam demanded, crawling on top of Zayn. His heart was beating high in his throat.

Zayn tilted his head slightly. “Please?” 

Groaning, Liam covered Zayn’s mouth with his, tongue diving in first. Just the memory of the word falling from Zayn’s lips almost drove him insane. He rutted against Zayn’s thigh, growing harder in the restriction of his jeans. 

Zayn pulled away after a moment, hands coming up to push against Liam’s shoulders. “You’re too slow,” he complained, and before Liam could react, Zayn had reversed their positions, straddling Liam. 

Letting Zayn rule him completely, Liam dropped his hands, drinking in the sight. Zayn’s body was slim, his skin dark and smooth when he revealed it by pulling off the jumper Liam had given him. Liam couldn’t help but press his fingertips into Zayn’s rips, tracing the lines and feeling his warmth. 

Before he could explore, though, Zayn drew back and bent down to open Liams trousers. They pulled them off in mutual efforts before they didn the same with Zayn’s bottoms. Zayn’s lips were back on Liam’s instantly, hot breath mingling with his own when Zayn started rocking against him. 

Slick dropped out of Zayn and onto Liam’s thighs; the scent filling the room, and making it hard for Liam to breathe. He choked, hands coming to grab onto Zayn’s waist. 

“Alpha,” Zayn whispered, sliding his hands between them and curling his fingers around Liam’s cock. “Need you.” 

The simple touch made Liam’s eyes roll back and he arched off the bed, groaning loudly. Zayn’s voice echoed in his head.

Alpha, Alpha. Alpha.

When he opened his eyes, he realised that it wasn’t an echo, but that it was Zayn chanting when he guided Liam’s cock inside his slick hole. He slowly sank down, mumbling nonsense, and tilting his head back.

Liam brought up one hand, gently pressing his fingers against Zayn’s bondmark. Immediately, Zayn came for the first time, covering Liam’s chest in white streaks of come. Liam rocked his hips up, burying himself in Zayn, so Zayn could ride out his orgasm. 

To Liam’s surprise, Zayn gained speed after that, starting to ride Liam in earnest, He breathed heavily and his cock still stood angry red against his stomach, even though he had just come. Liam gathered up the come on his stomach before he wrapped his fist around Zayn’s cock. Timing his strokes to Zayn’s thrusts, he felt his knot expand. 

Liam had expected his knot to pop fast, but he still felt a rush of panic at the prospect of it ending so soon. He had wanted so much more from this, but his body demanded release, demanded to do what he had been supposed to do a dozen times over the past few days alone. 

“Baby,” Liam slurred, his fist frantically flying up and down Zayn’s cock. 

Zayn’s eyes locked with his as he leaned back, using one hand as leverage on Liam’s thigh. His thrusts got more shallow, but not slower. “Knot me.”

Liam didn’t have to be told twice. He bucked up and his knot pushed past Zayn’s rim, drawing moans from both of them. Zayn kept rocking, his cock spurting another load of come over Liam’s hand and belly as he collapsed forwards. Liam wanted to cry with his orgasm, feeling like it tore him apart with how intensive it was. He felt like he was coming for ages, pulsing into Zayn’s heat, filling him up with Liam’s come. 

Zayn was panting as he shifted on top of Liam, making them both hiss when Liam’s knot tugged at Zayn’s rim. Liam pulled him closer and carefully sat up to lean against the headrest of the bed, settling Zayn in his lap. 

Liam felt satisfied, and at the same time still hungry for more. It had been too quick, too short -- way too short. Zayn had chased them both to climax, and while it had been necessary to get it out of their systems, it was nothing like Liam had imagined sleeping with Zayn. 

He wanted to explore and touch, drag it out and make Zayn come over and over again. Liam hoped he’d get the chance to do just that. 

“You really would’ve left,” Zayn pulled him from his thoughts, as he let the tip of his forefinger wander over Liam’s chest.

Liam wasn’t sure his brain was functioning properly. All of his senses were zoned in on Zayn and what he wanted to do to him. He leaned in again, catching Zayn’s lips in another filthy kiss. Zayn didn’t seem to mind as he kissed back passionately, lips eager to give. 

“I don’t think I can ever leave again after this,” Liam murmured as he drew away.

Zayn hummed, lips travelling down Liam’s chin. “God. This is so good. I never felt this good before.” 

Liam’s alpha preened with those words. He  brought a hand to Zayn’s belly, feeling it bulge when Liam came again. They both moaned with the sensation, and Zayn started rocking in Liam’s lap. 

“At least you can’t run from the conversation like this,” Zayn said as the wave passed. He framed Liam’s face with his hands, still rocking on Liam’s knot. 

“I was scared of what you’d have to say,” Liam admitted. “There is only one way I want this to go, and I wouldn’t know what to do, if it’s not the same thing you want.” 

“I think it's clear what I want, isn’t it?” Zayn smiled slightly, and Liam’s heart jumped with how beautiful he looked. Lips bitten red, a blush high on his cheeks, and his hair a complete mess. “I don’t want you to leave again.” 

The words slowly tickled into Liam’s consciousness, making his heart stumble in his chest with relief. Frowning, Liam let his fingertips stroke up Zayn’s chest. “I wasn’t the one to leave. I woke up alone with no way to find you.” 

“I panicked.” Zayn pressed his lips together and brought a hand to his bondmark. “I didn’t even know you and I certainly didn’t want to be bonded.” 

“No, I get it.” Liam curled his fingers over Zayn’s, watching his lips fall open. “I didn’t want to make it sound like I blame you. It’s entirely on me. I should have controlled myself, and there’s no excuse.” 

“I guess you’ve changed a lot.” Zayn leaned in to press a lingering kiss to Liam’s cheek. “I don’t think I’ve ever met an alpha with that much self-control.” 

Liam closed his eyes, spreading his fingers between Zayn’s shoulder blades. “It almost killed me.” 

Zayn chuckled quietly, his breath warm against Liam’s skin. “I felt a little gleeful at your misery, to be honest.” 

“Of course you did.” Liam snorted, pulling Zayn even closer. He kept his voice low. “I knew you did. And I also knew that you wanted me to fuck you last night.” 

“I wanted you to fuck me the moment you stepped into this flat.” Zayn rested his head against Liam’s shoulder. “That wasn’t much of a secret.” 

“No.” Liam let his lips wander over Zayn’s forehead and temple. “You were in heat then. That wasn’t really you wanting me. Last night, though, you did. And when we discussed that PR plan of me being seen with other omegas. Fuck, you were wet for me then, weren’t you?” 

Zayn nodded, curling his fingers against Liam’s chest. “Objectively, we should go down that route, but---” 

“We’re not going down that route.” Liam tightened his hold on Zayn. He couldn’t believe Zayn was even capable of thinking about business right now.

“I would hate it.” Zayn’s voice was muffled against Liam’s skin. “Actually…” he sat up enough to look at Liam again. “I probably wouldn’t mind if my alpha had turned out to be someone I don’t like.” 

“You think I’m perfect,” Liam teased him. “You said it last night,” 

Zayn lifted a brow. “I didn’t say that. It was me heat-talking.” 

“It wasn’t.” Liam caught Zayn’s lip in a kiss before he could protest more. “Turns out I think you’re perfect, too.” 

Chasing Liam’s mouth, Zayn deepened the kiss. He didn’t open his eyes when he pulled back afterwards. “So, are we gonna give this a shot?” 

“We are,” Liam replied. “And I’ll do everything to make it work.” 

“And…” Zayn slowly opened his eyes. “You don’t mind my position?” 

Smirking, Liam rested his hand over Zayn’s bum, squeezing one cheek. “I quite like the position you’re in right now.” 

Zayn rolled his eyes. “I mean. At the label.” 

“Why would I mind that?” Liam frowned. 

“Technically, that still makes me your boss.” Zayn shrugged, seeming hesitant to say more. 

“I think we’ve just established that I quite like you being the boss.” Liam squeezed again, his other hand resting against Zayn’s neck. “When you take the lead.”

Zayn’s eyes glazed over. “Most alphas don’t like that.” 

“Well, I’m not like most alphas.” Liam pulled Zayn closer, his knot pulsing inside Zayn’s warmth, releasing more come. 

“Fuck.” Zayn panted as his nails dug into Liam’s arms. “How can you come that much?” 

“Haven’t knotted in ten years.” Liam’s voice was slurred. He felt like his brain was switched off, every cell in his body focusing on where him and Zayn were connected. “I gotta catch up.” 

Zayn looked pleased, and Liam knew that it was down to him admitting that he hadn’t knotted another omega since bonding Zayn. “You’re not the only one who needs to do some catching up.” 

Liam let his hand glide from Zayn’s neck down to his cock, curling his fingers around it. “I guess I can help you out with that.” 

With a slick motion, Zayn pressed Liam back against the mattress. He ground his hips, making Liam’s cock twitch. In reaction, Zayn’s cock grew harder, stiffening in Liam’s hand. Liam jerked it in firm, slow strokes, rubbing his thumb over the sensitive head to draw little gasps and moans from Zayn. 

With half a mind he noticed that the room smelled of snow and sunshine, vanilla and lemon, It was the best scent Liam had ever smelled, and he couldn’t imagine he’d ever forget it. It was ingrained to his memory and engraved to his every sense. 

“Alpha,” Zayn sighed as his lips dragged over Liam’s. “Please, Alpha.” 

Liam switched their positions, one hand coming beneath Zayn’s thigh to pull him closer. His knot caught on Zayn’s rim several times, so he thrust shallowly but deep, trying to hit Zayn’s prostate. He could see it in Zayn’s face every time he did. 

With his wrist flicking, he sped up his glide on Zayn’s cock and it only took a few firm strokes before Zayn shook apart in his arms. Hot, white come streaked his upper body and belly, glistening in the dim morning light. 

Liam followed, pulsing into Zayn once more, and feeling some of his come dripping ouf. 

He collapsed onto Zayn, still holding his thigh to keep them as closely connected as possible and buried his face against Liam’s neck. Darting his tongue out, Liam licked Zayn’s bondmark, teeth slightly grazing it.

What he hadn’t expected was Zayn coming again. He arched off the mattress and his cock twitched in Liam’s hold, some more come dribbling out. Liam pulled back immediately, searching Zayn’s eyes. 

“Fuck,” Zayn choked out, panting, “That was intense.” 

Liam licked his lips. “Can I touch it again?” 

Zayn snorted. “Not sure I can come again.” 

“Whatever happened to catching up?” Liam inhaled, finding that Zayn’s scent had intensified. It was like a drug, and it was purest and most intensive right there over his bondmark. “I love making you come.” 

“You can’t make me come by kissing my bondmark for the rest of our lives.” Zayn tilted his head anyways, exposing his neck to Liam.

“The rest of our lives.” Liam smiled at that, tearing his eyes from the bondmark to look at Zayn’s face again. “I like the sound of that.” 

“I’d like the sound of I’ll make you come in a million different ways ,” Zayn said dryly, but Liam could tell from the blush on his cheeks that he felt as sentimental as Liam did.  

Letting him get away with it, Liam leaned in again, lips brushing over the bondmark. Zayn immediately went pliant, a quiet gasp falling from his lips. For what felt like eternity to Liam, he kept kissing and licking, making sure Zayn would smell like him -- completely like him. Then, he turned them back around. His knot had gone down, and he slid out of Zayn, ignoring the mess of come and slick they had left on the sheets. Shifting away from it, he pulled Zayn on top of himself, arms tightly wound around him.

Zayn hummed lowly, apparently close to sleep. “I could get used to this.” 

Liam closed his eyes, too, suddenly feeling tired. It was like every sleep before had not actually been sleep -- like he properly slept for the first time when he had held Zayn. Like this, sleep came so much easier.

“You better get used to it,” he replied quietly. “I’ll make you happy in a million different ways.” 

For a bit, Zayn was quiet, and Liam thought he had fallen asleep. Just before he drifted off himself, Zayn spoke up again, voice as quiet as before. 

“I like the sound of that, too.” 

Smiling, Liam pressed his lips against Zayn’s forehead. He knew that he shouldn’t get used to Zayn talking that sweet, but he also knew that it was a side of Zayn only he got to see. It made his heart flutter in excitement and simple happiness that he’d found Zayn and that he’d got a second chance at making Zayn happy. 

When he finally fell asleep, Liam was more content than he had ever been in his life. He could feel that it wasn’t just him, but that Zayn was content, too. It was like a steady beat, a second pulse next to his own, but feeling just as natural and part of Liam. 

Falling asleep was easy like that. 

===