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i'll be good in bed (but i'll be bad to you)

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Liam is in love.

Liam is in love with the way her long, raven colored hair waterfalls across her bare shoulders. The sharp way her collarbone stands against her skin, and the delicate look of her limbs, disguising the strength they own. He is in love with the slender fingers she teases across the ink covering her chest, and the way she sucks in that purpling bottom lip between her teeth.

He is in love with the eyelashes that span across her cheekbones as her eyes flutter shut, and her eyes especially, a golden brown that usually shines bright with energy, but right now they are dark and hungry, playful in a way that makes arousal burn in his lower belly in anticipation.

He is in love with the red staining her cheeks, the shyness across her features like she wants Liam to think she is innocent, even though he knows better. Like he won’t remember how she likes to rile him up at inappropriate times, in public with dirty words whispered against his ear, getting him to the point where he drags her off somewhere not private enough because she is always so loud, even though this thing between the two of them is secret.

She teases her fingers lower, sliding over a slick nipple, swollen and a shade of brown that contrasts with the paler tan skin of her chest, and he is in love with that too – the heavy curve of her breasts, how soft they feel in the palm of his hands and the way her nipple perks at the slightest touch. He leans forward, kissing between them before traveling down to her navel because he is in love with that too –

Her stomach, framed with ink along the sides that he could spend days tending to, taught muscles stretching across her ribcage and the swell of belly around her bellybutton. Her hips, cradled in his palms and the expert way she knows how to move them. Her thighs, so soft and strong, tanned and currently marked with mouth shaped bruises. And between them, where he craves to be at the moment –

“Liam,” she breathes, nails digging in his shoulders to drag him back up her body. She looks at him through those long eyelashes, tongue flicking to taste her lower lip like she is thinking about her promise early, when they had been in the back of the auditorium during some presentation for their class he hadn’t paid any attention to -

This is so boring, babe. I can’t stop thinking about tasting you, feeling you down my throat like the other night -

He is in love with the sound of her laugh, her girlish giggle that becomes breathy and overwhelmed when he teases, which he has never quite managed to perfect it like her. And the sound of his name rolling off her tongue, fuck – he is in love with that too.

Liam loves how willing she is to let him guide the pace, and how gentle she can be even though that is still quite new to them, because before she used to whine for harder every time Liam strokes were too soft, too gentle. But he also loves how aggressive she can get, taking over and pressing him into the mattress, telling him how good he is or showing him how to do it better.

Liam loves everything about her. Fuck, Liam is just completely in love with Zayn.

Her chin tilts easy when he nuzzles his nose under jaw, exposing the length of her neck. He grazes his teeth against her skin, making her shiver underneath him, before he pulls it into his mouth, remembering her same warning from the beginning of this thing they are doing, no marks.

His cock drags against her abdomen, glossing the skin of her navel with streaks of precome as her fingers dig into his hips to pull him down closer. He rolls his hips gently, feeling hers move in sync. He feels the tense of the muscles of her stomach when he smoothes his hand roughly up her side to cup her breast, the way the sigh rolling across her tongue is shattered and soft.

“Come on,” she huffs out, that neediness she only lets him see sometimes coming out. Zayn will never beg too much for him to get on with it, because he can’t resist her for too long or she’ll take it into her own hands.

Liam pushes up, pressing an elbow to the mattress by her head as he cups the back of her thigh, pulling her leg around his waist. “Yeah?” He teases, nudging her lips apart with his own. “Been thinkin’ about my cock all day, have you?”

“Came twice this morning,” she admits without shame, reaching between them to wrap those slender fingers around him with an experimental tug before she reaches for the condom waiting beside them. “Thinking about you.”

Liam groans roughly, forcing his tongue past her lips to kiss her deeply. She is quick to respond, sucking on his tongue in a way that makes arousal curl down his spine.

She strokes him gently, teasing herself when she bucks her hips up against him. It has been a couple days since they have seen each other outside of class, due to one thing or another, and he practically ran to the entrance of his dorm when she said she was on her way over.

“Then you don’t even need me,” Liam breathes, fingers tangling into the hair at the top of her head as her practiced fingers roll the rubber down his length.

Zayn snorts, giving him a pointed look. “Idiot, it feels better with you,” she admits, a shy grin on her lips.

“Better than anyone else too?” Liam asks, nudging his hips forward so his cock presses between her folds. She huffs out, those dark eyes scanning his face like she knows he is thinking about seeing her yesterday after practice, sitting half on Tyler’s lap, that flirty smile on her lips and those slender fingers trailing across his chest, and the way that made jealousy flare in Liam’s chest

“Maybe. Heard Tyler’s real good at givin’ head. Really knows how to eat a –“

He cuts her off with a growl rumbling in his chest, lips crushing against hers as he pushes his hips forward. Liam still is careful, despite the energy buzzing through him, urging him to be rough like maybe that is what she was aiming for by saying that. He works his cock into her slowly, focusing on the hiccupped moans in her throat.

Liam’s fingers are rough though, where they tangle in her hair, tugging some so her head tilts and she gasps out before he bites at her skin, screaming fuck it to her stupid warning –

But he doesn’t really, he never truly does and he rolls an apologetic tongue over the imprint of teeth his mouth has left behind. She digs her nails into his shoulders in retaliation and Liam strokes a little harder, their slap of skin a little louder, angrier.

“Fuck,” Zayn gasps, hand sliding to the back of the thigh not wrapped around Liam’s waist to pull it up towards her chest like she needs him deeper -

She rolls her hips back against him, each thrust being met with a hitched off moan that jolts pleasure through him. He is in love with how loud she gets, and how quiet she can be – when they go slow, her hips rocking down against him expertly, because he has never quite met anyone that can ride a cock quite like her. The way she manages to seem so composed, keeping her moans in and whispering let me make you feel good against the shell of his ear.

Zayn moves her hand to cup Liam’s jaw, thumb reaching out to drag against his bottom lip before she replaces it with her own lips. At least the warning doesn’t apply to those, and they always end up purpled and swollen by the time Zayn rolls out of his bed to wrap them around the butt of a cigarette. Because he could spend hours kissing her, sucking on her bottom lip and licking behind her teeth until that shiver runs down her spine like it always does.

“Come on, Leeyum,” she whines, lips moving against his. She drags her hand back to his spine, nails scratching roughly at his skin until they are skating over the curve of his ass, biting into his skin and urging his hips to move faster.

He is in love with how comfortable she makes him feel too, always down to try anything, without judgment, only encouragement. How she stretched him that one time after she mentioned how some guys are into that, and Liam flushed because maybe he was, and how her fingers worked into him with a confidence and comfort that he hadn’t ever experienced himself until then.

And how she knows that sometimes he needs those small words of encouragement, to soothe the nerves he gets when he is with her – even still, because he doesn’t understand why she wastes a second of her time with him because he is dull compared to the way she shines.

The bed bangs against the wall with the force of their movements, that slick sound of sex mixing in with breathy grunts and huffed out moans filling the room in a way Liam will have to apologize for later, if his roommate is on the other side of the wall.

Liam loves how she loses control when she is close, the way she clenches around him, the stagger of her hips, the quake of her thighs. The way her back arches off the bed and her mouth falls open around a silent moan. That red creeps across her chest, warming up her neck, and the muscles along her belly flex, over and over –

“Fuck,” she moans out, a rough choked sound leaving her lips that makes him fuck into her a little more desperately, chasing his own release.

He loves how soft her fingers are in his hair right before he comes, a gesture that has somehow come to be a silent signal that Zayn will be staying the night, because when she doesn’t do it she is gone before Liam can drag himself out of bed to chase after her.

And those are his favorite moments, the ones he is most in love with. When Zayn crawls back into bed after her cigarette, letting Liam settle into the post-sex calm with his arms wrapped around her smaller frame. Or the other way, with Zayn’s chest pressed against his back, and delicate fingers tracing shapes along his chest, those meaningless touches that are so rare coming from her.

Liam comes with his teeth biting into Zayn’s lower lip, fingers slipping from her thighs but she tightens them around his waist, clenching around him as he grinds deep, milking the rest of his orgasm out of him.

Zayn giggles breathily, chasing Liam’s lips when he pushes up, those fingers in his hair pulling him back down. She doesn’t let him go, keeping him nestled inside of her even as he softens.

“Definitely better than anyone,” Zayn teases, eyes bright when she finally loosens her hold for him to pull out, both of them letting out a sharp breath as he does.

Liam pulls back on his knees, feeling the warmth in his chest increase when her eyes rake down his body, giving him that same look that started this in the first place. He pulls the condom off, flicking it towards the trash can before he leans back over her, lips going straight to her forehead, because meaningless touches are common coming from him.

From the moment he first laid eyes on her – he swears being in love with her would be his fate. When she walked into their Intro to Psychology class their first year, chin tilted up, shoulders back. He hadn’t been able to pay attention, too busy trying to remember how to breathe as he watched the way she scribbled everything the teacher said down, fingers on her other hand absentmindedly twirling through her hair.

It was two years later when they first spoke, Zayn coming up to him at some party before the summer with a flirty smile that made his nerves overload. I’ve been waiting for you to come up to me and introduce yourself –

“Need a cig,” Zayn says, rolling away from him. They aren’t allowed to smoke in the dorm, but Zayn makes herself comfortable on the sill of the wide window, the cool air from outside prickling goosebumps across Liam’s skin even from where he stays on the bed.

Liam groans, chucking the shirt that lies on the floor by his bed at her to cover up because even though they are on the ninth floor, there is a short school building across the parking lot underneath them and Liam has no idea how much they can see – he just knows he doesn’t want them too.

He loves how confident and uncaring she is though, unafraid to do as she pleases. Liam has always admired how she is able to shrug it all off with a smile and ease, when Liam has been struggling to try and do the same for as long as he can remembers.

She slides her arms through the cotton shirt, cigarette dangling between her lips with eyes latched onto him. He pads over, not bothering to put clothes on as he sits beside her, pushing her fingers away to do up the buttons himself, an excuse to touch her again.

Zayn wiggles her brow, moving the cigarette to press it between Liam’s lips. He lets his eyes flutter shut as he inhales. Zayn cups a hand around the back of his neck, guiding the cigarette to the window screen and bringing their lips together before he can exhale. It’s a lazy calm they have settled in and he grins against her lips.

Liam lets the smoke out between Zayn’s parted lips, feeling them form into a matching grin. She is beautiful, with her hair a bit messy around her head, bangs sticking to her forehead and eyes heavy but still so dark and playful.

“So this Tyler guy,” Liam starts, watching as Zayn flicks ashes into the little makeshift ashtray she had made. She rolls her eyes, sending him an annoyed look instead of responding.

“Jealous?”

“Yeah, a bit,” he admits, feeling his cheeks warm at the confession. They aren’t – anything, really, friends with benefits, maybe, but Liam has learned to hate the term. And Zayn has said before Tyler and her aren’t anything either, only friends without the benefits, and Liam has no reason to feel jealous, other than the fact that he is in love with her and he does.

Zayn grins cockily around the butt, quirking up a brow. “Want me all to yourself?”

“You know I do,” Liam says, sliding his palm down her arm to pull her a bit closer, hoping she will slide into his lap.

Zayn makes a face, eyes widening slightly like she hadn’t expected for him to respond so seriously. Her expression turns into something a little softer, maybe even regretful before she stubs out her cigarette and climbs from the window sill.

“Fancy a kip and then I can make good on my promise earlier?”

Liam grins, taking the hand she reaches out towards him and lets her drag him to the bed, the conversation ending just as easily as it always does. He is used to it, the way she diverts the conversation when it nears the danger zone – Liam talking about what he feels for her.

Liam settles into the mattress behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist to slide a palm to her chest. He is completely in love with Zayn, even if she doesn’t feel the same.

++

Liam stays in bed, a book on the history of psychology in his lap going ignored even though he has to read it by Monday. Instead his eyes linger on Zayn’s bare back, watching the way her delicate fingers work through strands of ink colored hair to tug them into a messy bun at the top of her head. A pair of his joggers hang loosely off her hips, and if he looks hard enough he can still make out the finger shaped bruises popping from out from underneath the band of them.

The planes of her back are still holding onto that summer sun they will lose in the next few months. The knobs of her spine press against her skin, and he remembers how delicate he had thought she was the first time they were together, how fragile she felt underneath him. But those wiry arms are surprisingly strong, and half the time now, Liam feels like the weak one.

“Like what you see?” she teases, looking at him through the mirror. She leans forward, sliding a finger under her eyelid, where her make up smudged some. He grins back with a nod, dragging fingers through his hair because yeah - he really does.

The sky outside is a swirl of golds and a hint of pink as the sun falls below the horizon, starting to take the last of the light from Liam’s room because neither one of them bothered to flick on the lights when they woke up from their nap. Even though he had attempted to read while she slept.

Zayn turns away from the mirror, tip toeing back to the bed before crawling onto it. He moves the book to the side, sliding his legs down flat so she can straddle him. Her fingers tease along his chest and she grins when she looks down at him.

“Free comic book day tomorrow at that little shop downtown. Ya down?”

There is a brightness in her eyes, an eager smile tugging at her lips and Liam reaches up, careful not to mess up her hair as he slides his fingers against her scalp, because he craves to know what it is like to have the sun in the palm of his hands.

“’Course. Wanna stay the night? We can go in the morning.”

She pouts some. “Jade’s party tonight, remember?”

No, he hadn’t. The only reason he goes out most times is to be around her, or because Niall drags him to parties, needing a wingman for a reason Liam is still yet to understand – he is perfectly capable of pulling on his own. “Oh yeah.”

“Are you going? It’s at O’Malley’s?” She raises her brows, teeth nudging at her swollen bottom lip. “The boys are probably going.”

Liam shrugs non-committedly. “I might stop through.”

Zayn rolls her eyes, shaking her head some when she dips down and pecks his lips. “C’mon. If you come, I’ll spend the night tomorrow and help you with that book you haven’t even bothered trying to read.”

He chuckles at her disapproving look, letting his hands fall to his sides when she climbs off of him, his eyes staying on her. There are a few of her clothes in his drawer, and hung up in his closet, where she digs through them.

Zayn takes one of his shirts though, a smaller, blocky red and black plaid shirt he has had for years that she slips her arms through. It is big on her, hanging off her shoulders, but she still looks good in it. She looks good in anything, really. Especially his clothes, and for some reason that seems to be her favorite one.

“It would be good for you to go out, babe,” she starts, a genuine look on her face. “You’ve been so busy with school and football. Take a break, let yourself be distracted for five minutes.”

Liam climbs off the bed, wanting to wrap his arms around her and drag her back into it, because that is the kind of break he needs – and usually takes. He could stay all day there with her, even if they weren’t doing anything. And he isn’t sure what she means by being distracted, she is usually the thing at the front of his mind -

“I s’pose. Meet you there?” he asks as he grabs the shower caddy sat at the bottom of his closet. He kisses her softly, nuzzling his nose against hers when he pulls away because it always makes her frown adorably, because even though he is pretty sure she hates affection, sometimes he thinks she needs it.

Zayn pats his ass when he pads off, a teasing grin on her face when he looks over his shoulder at her. “Wear something ugly so I don’t have to spend the whole night keeping girls off of you.”

“Jealous?” Liam calls, walking a little faster because his heart picks up too quickly at the thought of that.

Liam takes a quick shower, frowning when he scrubs off the scent of Zayn’s perfume from his skin and replaces it with the basic clean scent of his soap. And after like an hour of deciding what to wear, he settles with a white t-shirt over black jeans, and a brown and black varsity jacket to go over it, because it is starting to get cold once the sun sets, and he will have to walk back. And he has no clue if it is something ugly, but it is basic compared to what Zayn will probably wear, so hopefully that is what she means.

“Payno,” Niall says, clasping Liam on the back when he finds his best mate outside of the bar. “I knew you’d show up.”

“Yeah?” Liam asks, quirking up a brow at his best mate. Niall hadn’t reminded him about the party when he saw him earlier and Liam hadn’t told him he was coming.

“Zayn’s here,” Niall says with a grin and a shrug like that explains everything. It does, and Liam feels his cheeks grow hot.

“Oh yeah.”

Niall is the only one that knows about the extent of Zayn and his non-relationship. And he isn’t judgmental, due to the fact that he is probably the biggest slag on campus. At least Liam can commit to one person to be fuck about with. (Not that he’s judging Niall either. They’re just different, always have been.)

He used to tease Liam about his crush, and how whenever Liam was caught looking at her, he was probably going over ways to court her. Because Liam is a proper romantic –

“She looks real good, mate. If you hadn’t already –“

“Don’t,” Liam warns without humor, shoving Niall lightly in the chest as he walks past him. Niall follows behind, cackling.

“I’m joking. Well, not really. But in a sense, yes.”

Liam ignores him, handing the bouncer his I.D. before stepping into the loud crowd. There are a lot of people here, a little over a hundred maybe, but the bar is large enough to fit more. There are a few tables on the side, but most of the space between the two bars is empty, allowing for people to crowd together and dance under the loud music and dimmed lights.

He spots her easily despite the crowd, on the dancefloor pressed between Jade and Ally. There is a wide smile on her face, teeth flashing white as she sings loudly to the music, hips working back against Jade’s. Her hair is still in the bun, neater now with the loose strands tucked away and he knows they will just fall back out and frame her face later on. The white crop top she wears hugs her breasts, and only a sliver of stomach is revealed between the bottom and the top of her high-waisted jeans. Zayn had called them acid wash when she bought them, whatever that means.

“Shots,” Niall yells over the music, nudging Liam in the back towards the bar once he passed the bouncer. “Drool later.”

The bartender comes right over to them when they step up to the counter, lip trapped between his teeth and a grin on his face that makes his dimples stand out when he turns his attention to Niall and Liam groans internally, knowing that look.

“Hey babe, two shots of your strongest,” Niall says, a gross grin on his own face. He wags his brow some, eyes trailing down the bartender’s body in the most obvious fashion.

“You mean drool now?” Liam says loudly over the music once the bartender is gone. Niall shrugs, no shame on his face.

“Doesn’t have a gag reflex,” Niall tells him and Liam groans, eyes clenching shut and shaking his head because he knows Niall will keep going if he doesn’t stop him.

“Oh c’mon,” Niall complains. “It’s not like you haven’t ever told him how well Zayn can take a cock down her throat.”

“I haven’t,” Liam balks, cheeks flaming. He has told Niall a lot about Zayn, but it’s usually Liam embarrassing himself while going on and on about how beautiful Zayn is –

“Well, I wish you would,” Niall says seriously, turning to the bartender when he slides two thin glasses towards them.

The liquid burns his throat, making Liam’s eyes clench shut and he shakes his head like that will do anything to rid the taste on his tongue. He glares at Niall, giving the shot glass back to the bartender.

“Something not as strong, please,” Liam says over Niall’s laughter. There may even be a line of sweat on his brow now because wow – “That was disgusting.”

“Stick with beer,” Tom says, coming up to them. “Over whatever Niall makes you try.”

“I should have known better,” Liam chuckles.

Tom claps Niall on the shoulder. “Your liver is going to crash and burn one day, mate –“

Liam can’t help the way he tunes them out and his eyes go back to the crowd to look for her. He does it whenever he knows she is around – he can’t help it.

Her lips wrap around the tip of the bottle, head tilting back as she sips it. She giggles, nose scrunching and eyes squinting at something Jade is saying. He watches the way Jade’s finger points in his direction and he turns his attention back to Niall, who holds the new shot the bartender slid their way.

This one still burns, but it isn’t as disgusting as whatever Niall ordered for him before. He goes with Tom’s advice, ordering a beer instead of another shot. He feels the need to get wasted, but he doesn’t want to be hungover when he goes to the comic book store tomorrow.

“Jade is definitely taken,” Tom says to Michael, who joins them with a few of the other footie boys. “But go ‘head, try it. But if you get your ass handed to you by that no neck havin’ bloke she is always with, go for it.”

Michael shakes his head adamantly, a serious expression on his face that they all get whenever they talk about who they plan on pulling. “They aren’t dating. That’s like her cousin, or whatever.”

Tom frowns before his head falls back and he laughs loudly. “Still bro,” he says through his laugh. “He may still kick your ass.”

Liam frowns at them, because they do this every time they go out. And maybe Liam is a little judgmental now, because he doesn’t see the appeal of plotting to get someone to go home with you and then spending the whole night doing so, but it could be because he is too nervous to ever try it. If Zayn hadn’t come up to him that one day, he would probably never have approached her, only have looked and lusted over from afar.

(And Liam is thankful she did come up to him, even though he had been embarrassing after they danced with flushed cheeks and a too eager response when she whispered d’you wanna get outta here in his ear.)

“Camila is single,” Niall pipes in, indicating a pretty girl that sits at one of the tables. “Doesn’t have any scary cousins.”

“How would you know that –“ Michael goes to say, but Liam focuses on Tom’s addition to the conversation instead.

“What about Zayn? I don’t think her and that skinny bloke she is always with are serious? Unless he’s got two girls, ‘cause he is always with that one blond chick too. But I mean, unlikely -“

Niall’s face falls instantly at the mention of Zayn, not even looking at Liam, who stiffens considerably. “Good luck with that. Zayn’s too smart for you. But here try it.”

He waves his hand like he is beckoning someone over and Liam follows Niall’s eye sight, going red when he spots Zayn making her way over, a flush on her skin and strands of hair starting to fall around her face.

“Hey boys,” she says, sliding between Tom and Michael easily to get to the bar. She slides her empty bottle on the counter, half of her body rubbing against Liam’s as she waves over the bartender. “Why aren’t any of you dancing? Not much fun just standing here. Probably talking about who you are going to try and bring home tonight?”

She looks at the boys, eyes pointed like she knows they are going to lie. And they do, under laughs and guilty faces.

“Y’would have better luck doing that if you actually went near the girls,” Zayn teases, rolling her eyes some.

Liam can smell her perfume, and she wears those floral plugs in her ears that for some reason he loves so much. No reason, really, other than she wears them all the time and now he can’t even look at the pink flowers lining the sidewalk outside of his dorm without thinking about her.

If the boys respond, he is unaware, because Liam swears, tunnel vision is a real phenomenon. And it is amazing to him that he has managed to keep this a secret from anyone, with the way he reacts whenever she comes around.

“Thanks Harry,” she says to the bartender as he hands her another beer. She looks up at Liam through her eyelashes, lips pulling into a grin that he wants to groan at, because he knows that grin – the one that she wears when she teases the worst. “Who are you thinking about bringing back –“

“Does Jade date that beefy bloke?” Tom blurts, laughing when Michael punches him in the shoulder. Tom tucks his chin into his chest, as if to mime the fact that he has no neck.

Zayn frowns, brows pushing together when she looks away from Liam and at Tom. “That’s her cousin.”

“Told you!”

“What about –“

Zayn sighs, turning back to him. She looks her fingers at his belt loop, tugging him gently so his back comes off of the bar. “C’mon Liam, these guys are boring, yeah? And I know you don’t mind a little dancing.”

Liam flushes, following after her with a hand going to her waist, ignoring the whooping sound behind him that is most likely Niall. He has embarrassed himself numerous amounts of times with his attempts at dancing, and thankfully he had been too drunk to remember.

Zayn hadn’t minded reminding him though, through a fit of giggles and kisses pressed to his warm cheeks and a promise that he hadn’t been so embarrassing that first time they danced together.

She tugs him through the crowd easily, an excited smile covering her lips when a club mix of one of her favorite songs comes on, one that sometimes he catches her sing under her breath sometimes, but the moment she notices him she goes quiet and red cheeked and shoves him and his fond grin away with a fuck off.

Zayn presses her chest to Liam’s, an arm snaking around his shoulders. Her eyes are bright, a little dazed over, and she lowers to them to his lips, before pulling them back to his eyes with a smirk. He can’t help the way he drags his tongue across his bottom one, an invitation for her to close the space between them whenever she deems necessary.

You make it look like it’s magic, cause I see nobody, nobody but you you you -

Liam plants a firm hand at her lower back, keeping her pressed close as she works her hips against his, biting around a grin like she knows Liam will get worked up easily. The music is too loud for him to be heard, but he knows if he tells her how beautiful she is, the words will come out choked because he swears, she is a fucking queen at rolling her hips just right against his.

I love when you call unexpected, ‘cause I hate when the moment’s expected –

Her head tips back, exposing the length of her neck as she sips from the bottle, teasing Liam with the dark of her eyes and the way her lips wrap around the tip. His own goes forgotten in his fist, pressed to her hip as he holds her close.

Liam wants to kiss along her throat, and he wonders if he could – since the dance floor is dark enough that maybe Zayn will let him, but he doesn’t risk it – doesn’t risk her pulling away, because he enjoys being able to press against her like this around so many people, even if half of them are cocked and unaware of them.

She spreads her legs some more and Liam dips his knees, rubbing his fingers up her spine until they play with the lip of her jeans and she turns, planting her back to Liam’s chest.

He goes with it, hooking his chin over her shoulder and running a hand against her belly as he rolls his hips against her bum, feeling the way she works back against him. Sweat collects at his neck as they pick up the pace as the climax of the song comes, and he wishes he forewent the damn varsity jacket.

“’Cause girl you’re perfect,” he sings along against her ear when she reaches back to cup a hand around his neck. He doesn’t know if she can hear, but she presses harder against him, head tilting back to rest on his shoulder some.

You know our love would be tragic -

He feels drunk, from the alcohol, but mostly from the way her body feels against his. The scent of her shampoo, the perfume still lingering on her skin. He nuzzles his nose, trying to savor the way she smells, and waiting for her to push him off some, but she doesn’t, only pulls him closer like she wants to know how close to the edge he will dance, or if he will break fist, and drag her off to the bathroom like she always promises.

On that lonely night, you said it wouldn’t be love, but we felt the rush –

Jade enters his vision, a laugh lining her smile as she steps in front of Zayn. Zayn lets go of his neck to wrap around Jade’s shoulders, her hips working forward instead of back but Liam keeps his hands firm on her, taking her head pressed to his shoulder as a cue to stay.

“Happy birthday,” he yells over the music, trying to ease the tension in his body with a distraction because Zayn always gets him so worked up – so easily.

“Thank you! Liam, right?” Jade inquires. She doesn’t wait for a response before she is leaning over Zayn to press a kiss to his cheek. He can smell the heavy scent of alcohol on her lips, the reason for her friendly behavior most likely. He has known her for a few yeaars, but not really – he can count the amount of times they have had a conversation on one hand, with three fingers unneeded, and two for the times she was probably too drunk to remember.

“Been celebrating all day?”

She wiggles her eyebrows as she nods. “I did,” she yells over the muisc. “Do you mind if I steal my best friend for a mo?”

The words are slurred too much and it takes him a second before he understands and he nods, letting his hold on Zayn go and missing her warmth the moment she slinks away from him, throwing a grin over her shoulder as Jade pulls her off.

He chugs down the contents of his bottle, starting to warm from the heat that covers the dance floor. The boys have sprinkled amongst the crowd so he makes his way to the bathroom first, to splash cold water on his cheeks to cool him off and hopefully to will off his half hard cock.

Niall is back at the bar when he comes out, hair a wreck from fingers working through it, and cheeks and ears burning red, signaling he is on his way to being wasted. He leans over the counter, saying something to the bartender that Liam doesn’t want to hear because he has that shit eating grin on his face again.

“I think I’m in love,” Niall sighs loudly when Liam comes next to him and the bartender slinks off. Liam can’t help the laugh that bubbles past his lips, because he can’t remember the last time Niall said he so much as liked another person, let alone dared to use the forbidden L word.

“Sucks,” Niall goes on, but he is still smiling. Liam nods in agreement, eyes finding Zayn the moment she walks back inside with Jade -

And Tyler.

“It does,” Liam nods.

They look good together, like they are part of the same group, with Tyler’s body covered in tattoos he doesn’t really understand the meaning of, but to each their own. His style – Liam isn’t really sure what the name of it is, but it’s unique like Zayn’s. And unlike Liam, who is bland in comparison. Liam is basketball shorts and plain t-shirts with their school team printed on the front. Basic, footie guy.

And Zayn, she is a surprise each day. An arrange of colorful patterns, loose jeans and thick boots. Or leather jackets and all black, plaid shirts and sweatpants, floral dresses that do little to hide the soft skin of her inner thighs. An array of tattoos and stretched earlobes. And when they first met she had a few more piercings, a septum and one in her eyebrow, both which she took out for her internship last year.

And he is in love with every version of her.

“Oi,” Niall says, thumping him on the chest with a cold bottle. “Drink more, drool later.”

Liam snorts, taking the bottle into his hand. “Fine, as long as you don’t try to tell me about that bloke’s dick again.”

“No promises,” Niall says, wiggling his eyebrows.

 

The alcohol helps in keeping his attention away from Zayn and on the rowdiness of the boys. They are loud over the music, a bit obnoxiously drunk, but Liam is feeling it too so it doesn’t bother him much.

It does feel good to be distracted, but it is ruined each time Zayn’s name leaves Tom’s lips. Liam distances himself from him, but it’s like his senses increase the moment Zayn’s name is mentioned, and it seems that Tom is a bit addicted to talking to her and it is pissing him off.  

“I probably could get her to come home with me without even trying.”

Michael snorts. “Nobody is that easy, mate.”

Tom nods like he is serious about how true this is. “She’s a right slag, mate. Don’t even have to take her home, could get her in the bathroom. Maybe a quick blo-“

“Shut up,” Liam grunts out roughly. Niall laughs nervously, looking between Tom and him. Tom’s eyes widen, hands going up slightly even though they all know Liam is the least aggressive person in their group. “You sound stupid. ‘So n so is easy, that’s gross. Maybe I should take her home.’ Fuck off.”

Tom gapes at him, lips starting to quirk up at the corners, which just adds to Liam’s aggravation. This is why listening to them talking about pulling girls irritates Liam the most. He doesn’t even know Zayn, let alone know about her sex life. “Bro, m’just sayin’. Girls who put themselves out there like that are practically begging for d-“

“And I’m jus’ sayin’,” Liam interrupts, shoving him in the chest more roughly than he should. Tom stumbles, that cocky grin quickly slipping from his face. “Shut the fuck up.”

Niall presses a hand to his chest, saying something that Liam can’t hear. The anger, the alcohol, it all makes it hard to articulate the thoughts in his head, they are just so stupid.

He shoves away, turning from them, but not missing Tom calling after him. “Maybe you should have a go, loosen up a bit-”

“Shove off, Tom,” Niall says loudly, but Liam walks away, not wanting to take the bait and get kicked out. Or have a problem on the team. He likes Tom, most of the time. But he is a dick head.

Liam goes outside to cool off, bumming a smoke from someone leaning against the wall. He hates feeling angry, and is pretty good at never letting himself lash out.

Zayn is flirty by nature, he thinks. Not a tease, and even if she was purposefully teasing anyone other than him, Tom should still keep his fucking mouth shut. Niall is the biggest slag in the school and people actually know about his sex life because he is loud about it, and no one gives him shit, because it’s no one’s business.

Liam is considering going inside and telling Niall he is leaving when the door to the bar opens and Zayn walks out, stumbling slightly and Liam is right there, reaching to grab her elbow to steady her. Her eyes widen, and he doesn’t miss the way they are red rimmed and watery.

“Thought you left,” she says, sliding a hand against his chest and twisting her fingers into his shirt some. “Niall –“ She hiccups, covering her mouth before she continues. “Said you left.”

“I’m going to,” Liam tells her, handing her the cigarette because he hadn’t really wanted it and most of it had burned away as he paced around the sidewalk. The smoke reminds him of Zayn, and that is always a comfort –

She drops it, hiccupping again as she tries to stub it out but Liam does it for her, keeping a hold on her just in case as he toes the bud into the sidewalk. “Can I come to yours with you?”

“’Course,” he says softly, shrugging off his varsity jacket even though her skin feels hot to the touch. Her cheeks are flushed, her bangs a bit sweaty and sticking to her forehead. “Can you walk okay?”

“Mhm,” she hums, but he slides an arm around her shoulders anyway. She settles into his side, sliding an arm around his lower back.

“Ye gonna tell me what’s wrong?” Liam asks quietly as they walk off, pulling Zayn closer to him.

“No,” she hiccups. “Jus’ drank too much.”

“You can tell me,” Liam offers, a little hesitantly because he doesn’t want to push it too much if she really doesn’t want to talk about it. She just rests her head against his shoulder, shaking her head some.

“Jus’ wanna sleep with you.”

Her eyes are heavy when they get back to the room, and she falls back against the bed once Liam guides her to it. He works on her sandals, frustrated because they are seriously complicated and he is a bit tipsy so his fingers fumble over the straps and it takes much too long of a time to finally get them off. Zayn giggles at him tiredly, a lazy grin on her lips as she watches him.

“Budge up,” he says softly once the shoes are off. He cups her sides to reposition her on the bed so her head lies on the pillows. “Want to change into a pair of trackies or summat?“

Zayn shakes her head, brows pushing together but her eyes remain closed. “Too hot,” she mumbles.

It is a slow process, helping her out of the varsity jacket and her jeans, which has three buttons and stick to her hips. She sighs when they are finally off, curling on her side to pull her knees closer to her chest.

“Cuddle me, please,” Zayn says so softly Liam thinks he is hearing things. Her eyes are closed, eye brows pushed together and lips pouted out.

When he settles beside her, changed into a pair of trackies, because it is definitely freezing in his room, her soft snores are already filling the room. He brushes the hair from her face, loose strands stuck to her cheek. He slides his arms around her thin frame, slipping his fingers under her arm to rest against her chest.

There used to be a time, when they first started spending a lot of time together, that it hurt him that she never opened up, especially when there was something clearly wrong. He used to take it personal, and as much as he still hates it, he figured maybe she just needs someone who won’t push her into talking, but is patient enough to wait for when she is finally ready to.

And if she needs Liam to feel better, without explanation, then he will be there for her.

++

When Liam wakes, Zayn is no longer beside him. Her shoes rest on the floor where he had thrown them, beside her jeans. A dull ache pounds under his temples and he groans, rubbing at them. He is too dizzy to get up and get a bottle of water from his mini fridge, so he sucks it up and deals with the dry, gross taste in his mouth so he can fall back asleep.

Zayn tip toes back into the room a few minutes later, careful as she shuts the door like she doesn’t want to wake Liam. She smiles softly when she sees he is though and she walks over to the fridge, producing two small bottles of water.

“I borrowed your tooth brush,” she whispers because it fits the lazy feel of the morning. “I’ll get you a new one, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it,” Liam mumbles back, taking the water when she passes it to him. He gulps it down before placing the empty container on the nightstand.

Zayn settles against him, cheek resting on his chest next to where her palm lays flat. She wears a pair of his red basketball shorts, and maybe even a pair of his socks because they seem familiar and bunch up loosely around her ankles. She throws a leg over him, nudging it between his.

“I know I said I wanted to go to free comic book day, but can we please just lay in bed for a while?”

“Sure,” Liam hums, reaching up to card his fingers through her hair. He could stay like this forever, really, and he will probably fall asleep again anyway, because his eyes feel heavier than his limbs.

“Were you planning on bringing someone home last night?” She continues, voice soft. “I’m sorry if I ruined that for you.”

“No,” he says honestly, letting his eyes fall shut when she goes quiet for a long moment. His fingers slow where they drag against her scalp, and he tries to stay awake, because the vulnerability in her voice tells him this is important –

“No? No one caught your eye?”

“My eye has already been caught,” Liam mumbles, voice heavy with the sleep he is trying to push away. “Brought home the only girl I wanted to.”

Zayn snorts, fingers tickling up his chest. “Can I tell you something?”

Liam forces his eyelids apart, humming out his response.

“You looked fit last night babe,” she says through a laugh. “You always do, I mean, but I was afraid –“

She goes quiet, her fingers dragging against the cotton of his shirt. He waits, moving his fingers again through her hair to wake himself up.

“I thought you would take me seriously when I say that I don’t care if you fuck about with anyone else.”

He remembers when she had said that, a few months ago after she had found out that a classmate of his, and a friend of hers, had asked him out on a date. He had apologized, worried he had upset Zayn but she had laughed, shrugging and assuring she really didn’t care if he did. They were friends with benefits, and since then that term makes his stomach twist painfully.

Liam slides his hand to her jaw, tilting her chin so she looks up at him. The angle is a bit awkward when he moves his head down, stiff in his neck but he presses their lips together anyway.

“I do take you seriously, but that doesn’t mean I want to fuck about with anyone else. Told you that.”

Zayn smiles softly, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. She nods, resting her cheek back to Liam’s chest. “Go to sleep babe. We can talk about it later.”

“I’m awake now though,” he insists, even though his limbs still feel heavy and sleep is still just a grasp away. “Is that why you were upset last night? Because you thought I left with someone?”

Zayn stiffens against him and it is a long moment before she is dragging herself away to straddle his hips. She plants her elbows by his head, face blank. “No, but I am still happy you brought me home.”

Liam rests his hands at the small of her back. “Then what had you so upset?”

She shakes her head, leaning down to kiss him. “Since you brought me home last night and didn’t get any, how about I make it up to you now?”

Liam hesitates, wanting to persist in asking her what was wrong until she tells him, but he knows Zayn well enough to know that she is serious about not wanting to talk about it with the way she diverts the topic and uses sex as a tool to do so.

“I can go slow like you like,” she whispers against his jaw. She nudges her hips against his as if to demonstrate, and the groan in his throat betrays him. “You can make me up like I know you always want to so you can have everyone know I’m yours.”

She breathes the words against his ear and he shivers, fingers flexing against his skin because she is using his weaknesses against him. He watches the knowing grin appear on her lips when she pulls back, hips working down against him as she nudges up the hem of his t-shirt.

“I can?” He clarifies, leaning upwards with an arm snaking around her lower back. He nuzzles against her throat, running a tongue against her skin and she nods. Her fingers snake through the hairs at the back of his head, pressing him forward to urge him on.

Liam sucks gently below her jaw, teeth tugging at her skin and she hisses out a moan, pressing him closer to continue.

“As many as you want,” Zayn whispers.

Liam rolls his tongue over the bruised skin, pulling away to look at her face, the way her eyes are blown out and she nods, knowing that he wants to make sure she means it.

He wants to know what changed, but he doesn’t want her to take it back, so he latches his lips to a new patch of skin, over and over until she is pulling off the crop top eagerly to allow him to move them down her chest.

“Okay, okay,” she huffs out, pressing on his shoulders and he pulls away, tilting his head for a kiss on the lips and she giggles, pecking him quickly. “Get a condom, babe.”

He does as she says, reaching into his nightstand as she quickly rolls off the bed and yanks off the shorts.

She takes it slow as promised, sucking bruises along his throat as she works her hips gently down his cock, moaning shamelessly where her teeth press into his skin when he holds her and grinds deep. It has been a long time since fucked like this, and it makes his chest expand because it feels a lot more like making love –

 

A few hours later, after a quick kip and Zayn convincing him to get out of the bed with a shared shower, they are at the comic book store. It is quite crowded, but Liam doesn’t really recognize anyone. He still feels a bit sluggish and Zayn practically drags him from table to table.

Zayn has a stack of comics in her arm, fingers linking with Liam’s as she tugs him to the back of the store, where she snatches up more comics without even looking at the titles. He can’t help the fond on his face, because she is so excited, eyes bright and that energy he loves surrounding her.

“Could you – real quick –“ She starts, handing over the stack in her arm that Liam takes. She readjusts the snapback on her head, biting her bottom lip before she is pressing up on her tip toes. He frowns at her when her hands cup his cheeks, and she nuzzles their noses.

He snorts out a laugh, lips falling open but immediately snapping back shut when he feels Zayn press their lips together.

“What’s that for?” Liam asks when she pulls away, handing her back the stack of comics. “Not that I’m complaining, like –“

Zayn shrugs, one shoulder jerking up, and that smile still on her face. “Felt like it.”

Liam warms, the smile on his face growing as she walks off, practically bouncing on the balls of her feet. He can still feel her lips lingering on his, and he isn’t sure why it feels so different, but it does.

That smile slips from his face when he catches up with her and he finds her talking to Tyler, and some guy with a messy mohawk that is a shocking red color. Tyler is holding a stack of flyers in one hand, the other reaching to pinch an obscene looking mark on Zayn’s neck, and Liam’s heart picks up quickly.

He doesn’t mean to put a possessive hand on her lower back when he comes up from behind, Tyler’s eyes finding him, but he does, and Tyler grins at him.

“Hey, Liam right?”

Liam hesitates before he nods. He glances uncomfortably when Tyler holds his hand out to him, a neon green colored flyer with bold, bulky letters printed on it between his fingers. Zayn tenses some, teeth working against her bottom lip as she looks at Liam.

“The café on campus is hosting an event for student performers if you’re interested in coming, or performing. I’m not sure how into that jocks are, but it’s free, and there will be free food.”

Liam narrows his eyes some, unsure what Tyler meant by that because he said it so casually, like it couldn’t be interpreted offensively. Liam takes the flyer though, because Zayn’s eyes are on him, and he doesn’t want to be rude to her – whatever. “Sounds alright.”

“Cool. Josh and I are performing. We’re trying to get Zaynie here to join us – sick on the triangle y’know, but her only response so far is to shove Josh’s drumsticks up our asses. Rude one she is, I tell you.”

Zayn’s cheeks tint with pink, glancing at Liam again quickly before she speaks, her eyes narrowing at the two other boys. “I told you I would cheer on from the sides – but we have to go. See ya later, Ty? Josh?”

Both of them nod, and Tyler holds his hand out to Liam, who ignores it to nod in Tyler’s direction instead as Zayn cups his elbow and guides him away.

“So he is in a band,” Liam says as Zayn shoves him out of the comic book store’s entrance. “Can he sing or like –“

“Yeah,” Zayn says quickly. She squints at him for a moment, face considering before she says, “You should perform.”

Liam points to himself in disbelief. “And do what? Us jock types –“

“Shut up,” Zayn snaps, letting her hand fall form his elbow. “You have a nice voice.”

“When have you ever heard me sing?”

Liam’s mum used to tell him all the time he had a nice voice, but she was the only one he had ever sung around – and that was a rarity, because she heard him once and practically threatened him with grounding to sing at his aunt’s fiftieth birthday party.

Amusement crosses Zayn’s features when she knocks their shoulders together. “Last year? That cabin party we went to? You thought it would be cute to sing Grind With Me when you had me upstairs in that bedroom with that scary boar head thing on the wall?”

Liam flushes, letting out a nervous laugh. That had been a complete accident, because of the nerves he had at the time. It was his first time going down on Zayn (and the boar head was seriously scary).

“I’m not sure that really counts as singing,” Liam says, linking their fingers when Zayn slides her hand around his to pull him to a fast food burger joint across the street.

“Okay,” Zayn follows easily. “What about that time you and Niall sang Rock Your Body together at Louis’ summer house?”

Zayn raises a brow, waiting for his response as she tugs him inside but he can’t think of one. He can only think about how embarrassed he is, because he hadn’t known she had been there for that. He had been drunk practically that whole day, thanks to Louis and Niall -

“That doesn’t count either. I was so drunk, I don’t even remember it.” He had only seen the video Louis showed him the next day.

“Which shows how good you are, because even wasted you sounded almost exactly like Justin Timberlake,” she says before turning to the counter to order. She places the comics on the counter and Liam takes them, putting them into the drawstring bag around her shoulders in order to get away with not responding, because now she is just trying to fuel his ego.

“Well, at least come,” Zayn sighs, turning around to rest against the counter. She pouts her lips some, hands flattening against his stomach for only a moment before they drop. He wants to move closer, trap her body between the counter and his own.

“Why would I do that?” Liam says, a bit harsher than he means to. He can’t stop thinking about Tyler – and how perfect he is for Zayn. He is in a band. Of course.

Zayn frowns at him, reaching up to pinch a sore mark under his jaw as if she knows what he is thinking. “Because I’m really excited about it,” she starts, just as harsh at first but her face softens. “And I thought maybe you’d like it.”

Liam softens at that, not caring about what her reaction will be when he reaches out for her – he just hopes it is as comforting for as it is for him. He rubs a thumb against her jaw, sliding his hand down to cover his palm over her marked up throat before taking a step forward. “I’ll go, babe.”

She brightens up instantly. “Yeah? If you have an awful time, I’ll go to one of your games or summat in return.”

Liam shoots her an offended look, but he still grins. “That’s a bit rude, innit?”

“I would say I hate sports, Li,” she starts, that teasing grin making itself home on her lips as she slides her hand back against his stomach. “But look how nicely they treat you.”

Liam snorts, reaching for the tray that is slid on the counter behind her, a burger each for them and a massive bag of chips on it that Zayn probably intends on keeping to herself. “Thought you liked seeing me get all sweaty? A game is perfect for that.”

“Only when it’s me making you sweaty,” she says lowly, fingers tickling against his lower back as she follows after him to their table.

It is nice after that, spending time with Zayn. They spend a lot of time together normally, but it’s usually holed up in his room, for a school function or around a large group of people like the night before, but even then they don’t interact much.

He isn’t sure what rules apply here, how much touching is okay or too much – because he could touch Zayn nonstop all day, but he wouldn’t if it makes her uncomfortable and he doesn’t want to risk it. But it’s still nice, and that smile that he wears just for Zayn comes back, permanently stretching into his cheeks.

And she surprises him, reaching over the table to sit at to link their fingers, pressing a kiss to the corner of his lips when she drags him into the record shop, keeping an arm around his lower back when they walk back to campus (even though it falls away the moment they actually get onto campus.

Even if the day goes by too quickly, he doesn’t mind. Because she comes back to his dorm with him, stretching out across his bed and grabbing that book he forgot he had to read already. Here in his bedroom, he is more comfortable with knowing what to do – what Zayn is comfortable and not comfortable with.

(Or he did – he is still a bit shocked that she let him actually leave a mark, let alone quite a few -)

“You have to read this whole thing?” She says, turning her nose up and pinching the thickness of the book.

“No,” Liam chuckles, settling beside her. She rolls onto her stomach, flipping through the pages. “I just have to read chapter two and three.”

Zayn shoots him a look that reminds him of his mother whenever she found out he was skipping class to kick around at the park. “How long have you had? A long time?”

Liam flushes, rolling to his side and propping himself up on his elbow. It was assigned three weeks ago. “Maybe.”

“Well c’mon then. Pay attention, yeah?” Zayn gives him a serious look that he nods in response to, even if he doesn’t actually intend on it because his mind is already starting to wander off.

“If it is difficult to account for the sudden appearance and vigor of psychology in Greece, it is almost as difficult to explain the dormancy that overtook it after Aristotle –“

Liam tries to pay attention as she reads, but he focuses too much on her voice sounds, soft and slow, rather than the actual words she says. He is distracted by the warmth of her skin, when he runs a thumb against the exposed area of her lower back. He slips his fingers under her shirt, moving them up the knobs of her spine –

“Pay attention,” Zayn scolds, but her voice is soft and tainted with amusement.

“I am,” he tells her without conviction, leaning forward to scrape his lips against her bare shoulder. His fingers slip under the strap of her bra and he drags his hand back down, resting at the dip in her spine.

Zayn huffs out, a grin on her lips before she starts again. “Theophrastus’ other works have been deservedly forgotten –“

His mind wanders off, to last semester, and late nights in the library with Zayn next to him reading softly, nudging him awake every so often with gentle fingers against his scruff and whispered promises for later, if he finished all his review questions. And how he ended up giving up after only two questions, favoring his lips on Zayn’s neck instead of reciting the strengths and weaknesses of within subject experimental designs.

Liam scrapes his nails gently under the band of Zayn’s jeans, listening to the way her voice gets a little tighter, but she keeps reading, even when he moves them a little farther and feels the edge of her panties, the one she keeps in his top drawer for nights she actually stays. It wasn’t something they had discussed, she had just asked if she could leave them there one day. After that, his room slowly filled with her belongings. He isn’t sure what it means, really -

“Liam,” Zayn says, clicking her teeth in disapproval. “How do you expect to get your GPA up if you can’t focus for like ten minutes?”

“You’re distracting,” Liam hums, sliding his palm back up her spine. The cotton shirt she wears is soft against the top of his hand. Also one of his, that he used to wear to practice before it started to smell too much like her and became distracting. “And it’s been like two hours.”

Zayn puts the book down, rolling to her side. “We are finishing this tonight,” she says, voice low as his palm flattens between her shoulder blades and he pulls her closer. There is a disapproving look on her face, but it looks too forced to be honest. “And it’s really only been three pages, babe.”

“Mhm,” Liam hums distractedly before he kisses her. She sighs into it, lips parting against his. Thankfully, because he has been wanting to kiss her all day – properly, even though the quick pecks followed by flushed cheeks made his heart beat a little too fast and he hadn’t realized just how much he had wanted those too.

He presses her back, hands moving the cotton up her sides as her fingers trace up his jaw. She moans softly, legs spreading for him to fit between.

“Been wanting to kiss you all day,” Liam tells her before he can stop himself. He sucks softly at a bruise on her throat, fingers pressing under the wire of her bra.

“Yeah? More than you already have?” Zayn says with a hiss in her voice, arching into his touch when his fingers push the thicker material over her breast.

Liam chuckles softly. “Never enough, babe.”

“Where do you want to kiss me then?”

Liam moves his lips to her collar bone, tongue rolling under the collar of her shirt to taste the unexposed skin. “Everywhere.”

He pushes her shirt up more, tongue latching onto the ink that sits over the curve of her breasts. He remembers when she got the wings and lips, near the end of junior year, clutching onto Liam’s hand even though she swore it didn’t hurt any.

She leans up, fingers going behind her back and he attaches his lips to hers again, sucking softly on her bottom lip.

“Then go on,” she sighs, falling back against the mattress. He nods jerkily, ducking his head down to roll his tongue over one of her nipples, which starts to perk and harden under his touch. His fingers shuck up the other side of her bra, easier now that it is unstrapped, palm rolling over her gently.

Liam moves down her tummy, lips a bit harsher against her skin until her fingers grip into his hair, warning him. He rolls an apologetic tongue over the distressed skin, already starting to bruise above her navel –

“Sorry,” he mumbles, because she hadn’t said it was okay to leave a mark this time. He slides his hands up her inner thighs to work thick fingers against the button of her jeans.

“S’fine,” she says quickly, lifting her hips once he has gotten them undone. “It’s fine. Keep kissing me like you want.”

The words always sit heavy on the tip of his tongue whenever he is with her, but he licks them off against her skin, along her inner thigh once he has shucked her jeans completely off. Beautiful, I’m in love with you -

“Could spend all day kissing you,” Liam says out loud instead, moving up her thighs, because that is something he is more comfortable in admitting. She breathes out heavily, hand moving to cup his cheek. She just holds him, not urging him to move like she normally does. He isn’t sure what she means by kissing her the way he wants to, he doesn’t know where to start, actually.

“You can,” she says, voice wavering some. He peers up at her, taking in her flushed cheeks. Her nervous smile turns into something more teasing, eyes darkening. “You’re pretty good with that tongue of yours.”

Liam grins in response, even though he hadn’t meant his words to be sexual. He understands though, with his tongue teasing along the band of her panties, it’s going to seem sexual.

“Maybe I will,” he says, hooking a finger around the band and tugging slightly. “Take you out somewhere nice, just to spend the whole time kissing you around a bunch of people –“

He mouths at the newly exposed skin, at the patch of hair revealed as he tugs the material lower. He feels foolish, wanting so desperately for the chance to kiss her around other people, when he knows he should be happy he gets to kiss her at all. Even if it has to be kept a secret.

But he has always wanted more, the chance of taking her out, making her feel good in a way that really doesn’t have anything to do with sex. Linking their fingers in public, kissing her without worry. Asking her to be his, so he no longer has to worry about if there is anything behind the flirting that goes on with other guys. Well, with Tyler, mostly.

So everyone can know I’m yours -

But also letting her know that he is completely hers, even though he has been hers for a while. He just isn’t sure she truly understands that.

“Drag me to the bathroom –“ she starts, but Liam shakes his head, biting gently at her sensitive skin before he moves back up her torso, letting go of her underwear.

“Or just kissing you to kiss you,” Liam corrects gently, keeping his lips on her stomach and his eyes down because looking into her eyes makes him feel overwhelmed when he even hints at how he feels out loud. “With no other purpose than to just kiss you. Be around you, make you feel loved.”

“Liam,” she warns, and Liam glances up then, watching as the snapback falls off her head as she rests her head against the pillow. Her shirt and bra are hunched up under her armpits and he can see the flushed skin between her breasts before he covers it with his lips.

Liam drags his fingers down as he moves his body up, her thighs rolling forward as if chasing the friction his fingers can give.

“Go on a date with me,” he says, hovering his lips over hers. The words come out more desperate than he intends, tainted with a hint of the ache he feels. “Instead of coming to one of my games. Just go on a date with me.”

“What?” She balks, brows pushing together.

He pushes his fingers under the pulled down band, teasing down further. “Let me take you out. Somewhere nice. Like on a proper date.”

Zayn makes a noise of frustration, bucking her hips up. She shutters when he finally moves his fingers to rub against her clit, eyes fluttering shut. She is so wet that Liam groans, wishing he had stayed lower to lose himself in the heat, the taste -

“Can’t seem like that awful of an idea,” he says, voice lowering as he tries to hide the insecurity in it. He adds pressure to his fingers, just slightly, circling her clit and sliding between her lips to tease at her hole.

She cups his cheeks, giving him a hard look before she presses their lips together even harder. It makes his chest ache, a tightness grips at his throat and he pulls away roughly, hiding his face in the curve of her neck because he swears there was a slight shake to her head before she kissed him.

Liam drags his hand up her stomach, trying to fight the urge to push away because he doesn’t want to make her feel bad, but it’s too strong really. It’s either he leaves and hurts her feelings, or stays and lets his heart keep breaking, because he thought maybe there was a change in her behavior lately for a reason, but maybe that was just her way of satiating his need to feel loved by her, even if it wasn’t genuine -

And the thought hits him unexpectedly, making him groan some and there is no way Zayn couldn’t hear the broken way it sounded, but her fingers still drag down his torso like she is pretending it was a good kind of groan -

Her fingers are just pushing under the waistband of his jeans when he finally pushes away and tries to fall back onto his calves, unable to keep it together, but those slender fingers catch at the waistband, tugging him back.

“Stop, Zayn,” Liam says, pulling away rougher this time. He feels frustrated, irritated, and that tightness in his throat is expanding.

Zayn goes rigid, hand falling away and confusion covering her face. “Liam, I thought –“

“I don’t – I don’t want to anymore, yeah? I’m just gonna -”

Liam rolls off the bed without finishing, practically running to grab his shower caddy and the towel that hangs from his closet door knob and leaves her in the room so he doesn’t have to look at the broken look on her face any longer.

 

The water is scalding, burning against his skin and he grits his teeth, hoping it washes away the tightness in his chest. His cock stands erect, heavy between his legs and he clenches his fists not to touch himself, because he feels the tears prickling at the back of his eyelids and he really doesn’t want to have a sob wank in the shower.

He wraps the towel around his waist when he gets out, cursing at himself for not thinking about this properly before he left, but he just reacted – he couldn’t handle the ache he felt.

Liam knew what he was getting himself into when they started messing around, he knew she would be the one he would fall completely head over heels for. He thought he could handle it, or maybe he just wanted to be with her so bad that he convinced himself he could handle it, but right now he feels like he is being shoved towards definitely not handling it and completely falling apart.

Zayn sits on the windowsill when he enters the room, eyes finding him the moment he walks in. She has changed into his plaid shirt again like she always does without an explanation on why she likes it so much, and her hair is now pulled into a high ponytail. She watches him as he pads over to his drawer, pulling out a clean pair of briefs.

“I didn’t know if you wanted me to stay or leave,” she whispers quietly, voice thick with smoke. He pulls on a plain white shirt, tensing when he hears her speak.

“What do you want to do?” It is a loaded question, meaning a lot more than just stay or leave right now -

“Stay,” she says easily, tilting her head some. “But not if you don’t want me around.”

“Always want you around,” Liam tells her, because he can’t help the need to comfort her over himself. He pads over to her, cupping her cheeks and tilting her head so she has to look up at him. The need to touch her is always overpowering, and it isn’t any different know, even though Liam feels like it could possibly make him feel worse.

He is addicted, in the worst way. Completely fucked.

“Even if you probably hate me right now?”

Liam grins slightly, and it probably looks strangled or sadistic because Zayn flinches. “Could never hate you. That’s probably the problem, innit? Love you too much.”

The only reaction he gets is Zayn’s eyes widening barely noticeably before she turns her head away, bringing the end of the cigarette to her lips. Liam isn’t surprised by the reaction much, he knows that she must know – how obvious it must be because he does everything in her power to make her feel loved. And she has always had control over her reactions, not letting herself express too much.

But it doesn’t make it feel any better.

“You probably shouldn’t,” she says softly after a moment, still not looking at him. She takes a long inhale, face scrunching together and Liam drags his thumb across her skin, wishing he could erase the pain that etches her features because he doesn’t understand.

“I can think of a million reasons why I should,” Liam tells her easily, tilting her chin some but she still won’t look at him. “You know I can treat you good, if you just give me –“

“No, Liam,” Zayn says firmly and the words cut through him, worse than anything else she has said.

He lets his hands fall away from her, moving away to fall back onto the bed that smells too much like the mix of the two of them.

And it goes quiet, with just the sound of the campus life outside and Zayn moving around some, but he doesn’t turn to look, and when the silence is finally broken he flinches, tightening his grip around the pillow he holds.

“When you said you didn’t want to anymore, did you mean at the current moment or indefinitely?”

He hadn’t given it much thought when he said it – he had just needed to get away from her at the moment, but now that she needs clarification, he isn’t sure. Because he wants her anyway he can have her, but at the same time it hurts too much. And he wants to be patient, for her, but it hurts too much. “I don’t know.”

“Okay,” she drags off and Liam can’t tell if her voice is thick because of the smoke or something else.

She joins him a few minutes later, curling around his back and nudging him to rest back against her chest and she pulls the book in front of them. It is hard to pay attention, and he ends up falling asleep to Epicurus and his concubine, trying to follow Zayn’s finger over the words since he considered sexual pleasure relatively harmless if one did not fall in love –

++

“Liam! Liam!”

Liam slows, breathing heavily as he turns to the voice calling after him. His heart pounds against his ears, sweat trickling down the sides of his face and he jogs in place not to lose his momentum.

Tom jogs up to him, a look of hesitation on his face. There isn’t practice today, but there are a few of his teammates running around the track around him, and other students who usually frequent the track.

“I um, I’m sorry for pissin’ you off, Friday,” he starts, grimacing somewhat. “It was just banter man, like – but, I’m sorry ‘cause I didn’t realize it was annoying you.”

Liam waves him off. “S’cool.”

Tom gives him a doubtful look. “You sure? I’ve seen you get mad like once in the last four years, and that was because that ref kicked Lou out of the game for no reason.”

Liam nods, stilling the movement of his feet. He had gotten up early for a run to clear his mind – of Zayn, who is probably still fast asleep under his blankets. And he doesn’t want to talk about it with Tom.

“Listen, if it’s about Zayn –“

He claps Tom on the shoulder, feeling that irritation and every other bad emotion he had been trying to jog off snap. “It is, actually. D’you know her? It’s easy for you to call her a slag just because that’s what you heard, but you don’t know her so I’m confused on why you feel so entitled to have that as an opinion?”

Tom’s mouth falls open for a moment, his brows pushing together in confusion. “You’ve heard the shit about her –“

“Yeah,” Liam says tightly, letting his hand fall. “The shit that you lads say.”

That confused look stays on Tom’s face like he clearly doesn’t understand and Liam kind of wants to punch it off. It’s nothing new, he has heard comments about Zayn before – but they were all superficial, based off what she was wearing or if she was even ten feet near a guy. It has always bothered him.

“Look man, like I said. I’m sorry. I didn’t know ya’ll were that close.”

Liam glares at him, shaking his head before he turns on his heel and jogs off – not wanting to waste any more of his breath on Tom if he seriously isn’t going to get the point. Tom calls after him, but he ignores it, running around the track until he feels like his legs might break off underneath him.

Zayn is in the center of his bed when he enters, the comforters huddled around her hips and her arms hidden underneath the pillow she sleeps on. He doesn’t want to wake her, doesn’t want her to leave, even though he knows they are going to have to discuss it eventually. The only choice for them is ending whatever they have going on, really, unless she wants to explain to him why she is so unwilling to let this be anything more, or open up to him – just explain something.

Because Liam does believes she cares, and maybe feels something for him. There are little moments, more often than not when she touches him like maybe she does, or makes little comments – like fretting over him being with someone else, or worrying over him when he is stressed, comforting him when he doesn’t ask for it.

Liam leans over her, gentle fingers brushing her bangs aside before he presses his lips to her forehead. It has to happen just – just not yet.

Zayn’s face crumples, the crinkle between her eyebrows deepening as she frowns. “Wake me up properly,” she mumbles, voice heavy with sleep.

Liam grins, unable to help himself as he adds some of his weight to the bed. He nuzzles his nose against her jaw, gently brushing his lips across her skin. He is addicted, his senses overloaded every time he is near her. Just a moment around her makes him want to forget the ache in his chest and just enjoy how good it always feels in the moment.

“You stink,” she mumbles as she rolls over some. There is a playfulness hidden in her heavy eyes, in her smile as she wets her lips, a dart of pink wiping away the effect of the dry air.

“So does your breath,” Liam teases back, hovering his lips over hers. It doesn’t, at all actually and she narrows her eyes at him like she knows.

“You’re rude, get away from me,” Zayn says, moving to roll away but Liam presses his lips to hers before she can. She stops trying to move, instead reaches to slide her fingers through the short hair at the back of his head and hold him there. It is lazy, lips dragging over each other instead of speaking words that need to be said.

But those words slip away from the front of his mind when a low moan vibrates softly in Zayn’s throat.

“Come on,” Zayn mumbles against his lips, eyes widening some and a hesitant look in them. She pushes up, until he is sitting on the edge of the bed. She slides onto his lap easily, hands settling on his chest. There is something soft about her expression, vulnerable, regretful like she knows how badly she hurt him the night before, another reason that tells Liam maybe she does feel something for him. “Let me apologize, for last night.”

Liam plants his hands to her hips, tilting his head up to watch her. “You don’t have to apologize.”

She makes a jerky movement with her head. It is strange, seeing her like this, uncertain and nervous. He smoothes his hands up her spine, slipping underneath the material of his shirt, to comfort her. Because it’s true, she doesn’t have to apologize if she doesn’t love him back. It’s his fault he fell in the first place -

“Just let me make it up to you, yeah?” Zayn goes on, nudging her lips back against his. She rocks her hips down gently. “Make you feel good?”

“You don’t have to do that,” Liam insists, not wanting her to think she ever has to do something like that.

“Want to,” Zayn says, that more familiar teasing tone sliding into her voice. She flicks her tongue out, sliding against Liam’s bottom lip and he parts them, succumbing to her touch like he always does. “Always want to.”

Her teeth catch at his bottom lip, tugging on it gently and he groans, pulling her until her chest presses against his own. He dips his fingers under her collar, sliding his fingers until the shirt pushes past her shoulders and she takes this as a go ahead, grinning some before she kisses him properly, harder and with more of that confidence he is used to her having.

Liam tangles his fingers in her hair, tugging some until loose strands fall from where they are pinned at the top of her head. She rolls her hips, fingers chasing down the damp material sticking to his shoulders. She wraps her fingers in it, tugging some until Liam pulls their lips part apart to let her pull it off of him.

“Love your shoulders,” Zayn whispers, ducking her head down to press her lips to his right one. Her fingers tickle against his stomach, scratching up the smatter of hair from his navel to his chest. “Love those abs of yours.”

Liam bites around his smile, chest heavy from the word love as he leans back some to watch her, and give her room to touch more. She bends down more, pressing her lips under his collarbone. “Your chest.”

Zayn’s hand slides around his shoulder, pushing him until he is flat on the bed. He adjusts, bucking her up some to be more comfortable and she grins, rolling her hips down against him again. A groan rumbles in his chest, feeling his prick pushing out drops of precome against the material it strains against.

She looks lovely on top of him, the plaid shirt hanging off her arms, revealing her bare collarbones and lower. It is only buttoned enough to cover her breasts, but where it opens on the bottom he can see her belly, and the ruby red belly button that she wears.

He loves the way his fingers look pressing into the thick of her thighs, spreading them as she rolls against him again. How obscene his cock looks under his shorts, under where Zayn rubs down against him.

“I love your lips,” Zayn continues, bending down to hover her lips over his. “What you can do with them.”

Liam huffs out, reaching between them to unbutton the few buttons on the shirt. She climbs off of him, wiggling out of the shirt with dark eyes. There is something else in them that he can’t read, but he ignores it – trying to enjoy her instead, because it could be the last time, and he needs a good moment to hold onto.

He moves to chase after her lips but she shakes her head, that grin on her lips as she climbs off the bed. Arousal curls in his belly when he realizes, spreading his legs as she stands between them. He scooches forward as she falls to her knees, and he goes to cup her jaw, bringing their lips together as her fingers snag on the start of his shorts.

“Your kisses,” she murmurs when he pulls back some, cheeks reddening. Zayn looks at him for a moment, eyes big before she tugs on his shorts and he lifts his hips up, allowing her to slip them down his thighs. His cock springs free, curving towards his stomach and he bites on his cheek, resisting the urge to get a hand around himself.

“Your thighs, strong,” she continues, smoothing her palms against the sides of them. Liam feels like he is going to burst from the compliments and he closes his eyes shut. Zayn has always complimented him during sex, but there is something different about it now – the soft way in which she says it, like maybe she really means it and isn’t just saying it because she has a dirty mouth, but because she knows Liam needs to hear it.

Zayn looks up at him, eyes dark as she tilts her head and breathes over his cock. “This too,” she says without shame and Liam huffs out a laugh, tangling gentle fingers into her hair.

She keeps her eyes trained on him as she flattens her tongue out and the moan gets stuck in his throat in anticipation before she runs it along the underside of his cock. Zayn’s hand moves up his thigh, curling around the base, sliding up his length. She watches him as her thumb moves along the head before pulling the extra skin down. He watches her, the way those soft lips wrap around the tip –

Zayn groans, eyes fluttering shut as she slides more of him against his tongue, lips straining obscenely against his width. She pulls back, lips wrapping around the head and suckling softly. He tightens his fingers in her hair when she pulls off so he can see the spit pushing past her lips and running down his length.

He remembers the first time she went down on him, and how overwhelmed he had been that he still gets embarrassed when he thinks about it. She hadn’t teased when he came too quickly, just peppered kisses up his stomach and straddled his hips, winding him up for round two.

“This okay?” She asks, pumping him slowly.

“Yeah, Zayn – fuck,” he groans as she wraps her lips back around him. He doesn’t keep in the moans as he slides down her throat, wanting her to know that yeah – it is really fucking okay.

And it shouldn’t be, this really isn’t what they should be doing right now, but it is definitely okay.

Zayn pushes up on her knees, moving so she can take more of him and he moans roughly, fingers sliding to her jaw, running a thumb over her cheek. He forces his hips to stay down as her nose nuzzles into the coarse hair at the base of his cock, feeling the vibration of her moan against him. He is close already – always pushed to the edge quickly when he is with her.

She slides back, breathing in through her nose before she moves back down, picking up a slow rhythm that Liam grinds his hips too, feeling that curl of pleasure build rapidly. She knows – cupping his hip and digging her nails until he thrusts forward. He presses his palm against her jaw roughly, pulling her forward and she moans again to tell him it’s okay, tongue sliding against the underside of his cock.

Zayn pulls off with a slick sound as the muscles in his thighs jump and she works her hand over him quickly, eyes finding his as he huffs out a harsh breath, curling forward as he tries not to bite his fingers too roughly into her skin.

“Gonna come babe?” She huffs out roughly, voice hoarse and low. He nods jerkily, bucking his hips up into her fist.

“Where?” She quirks a brow, tongue flicking out to slide against the slit. “Down my throat? Across my lips – chest?”

Liam closes his eyes, moaning roughly. They have been messing around for about a year and a half and he still gets overwhelmed by how dirty her mouth is.

His response is a choked out moan, his only warning before he comes. She grins, parting her lips around the tip, tongue flicking out to catch his spunk as it streaks out of the tip. It is messy and obscene the way it covers her lips and slides down her chin and he groans roughly, tugging on her jaw to pull her up.

Liam cringes for a moment when his mouth fills with his own bitter taste, but he needs to kiss her. Her fingers pump out the rest of his orgasm and he shivers, parting his lips to let her tongue explore his mouth like he actually doesn’t really mind the taste.

Zayn climbs up him, pushing him back until he is lying flat against the mattress again. He tangles his fingers in her hair, hissing at the way she straddles his hips and grinds against his softening cock.

When his fingers trail down her spine, tickling under the start of her panties she pulls off, shaking her head. Her expression is soft when she runs a finger against his jaw. “No, babe. Just – like, kiss me to kiss me, yeah?”

Liam hesitates, feeling that familiar tug in his chest before he nods, pulling her back down to do just that.

They kiss like that for a while, slow and without purpose, but it doesn’t stay that way and Liam should have known, no matter how hard he tries to will away his hardening cock. They don’t pull apart, don’t slip away from the sheets to talk, but spend their last day together rolling around them, limbs tangled, tiring each other out until Liam falls asleep with Zayn’s arms wrapped around him and an empty bed in the morning.

++

“Dude, I know you love her or whatever, so don’t take this the wrong way but she sounds like a right bitch.”

Liam punches Niall in the shoulder hard, glaring at him. “She isn’t.”

Niall rubs his shoulder, frowning as he chews his food. “I’ve always thought she was kind of a bitch. But she’s definitely a bitch for leading you on like that.”

“She isn’t,” Liam insists, throwing his burger onto his plate because his stomach feels sick now. They are at the student center on campus, after practice, and he thought it would be a good idea to vent to Niall. It wasn’t. “She made it clear this was just messin’ around, nothin’ more.”

Niall snorts, plopping a fry into his mouth. “Well then she’s kind of an asshole for ignoring you every time you try and talk about how you feel.”

“She isn’t,” Liam says frustratedly. He groans, placing his face in his palms. This is all getting to him way more than he should, and he definitely shouldn’t be snapping at Niall when Niall is really just being a good mate. “It was just weird. Sunday was the only time I’ve really ever openly expressed how I feel, but I didn’t push to talk about it more than that because she was uncomfortable and I didn’t want to make her more uncomfortable. She’s not an asshole if I’m making her uncomfortable. And she’s not an asshole for not wanting to go on a date with me.”

“But you’re uncomfortable too, mate. Just push her into talking about it once, ‘cause walkin’ around it continuously is just going to hurt you in the long run, and I’m sure she cares about you in some way. It’s hard not to love you after spending one minute with you, you guys have been goin’ for like a year now or summat.”

Liam nods, a grin tugging at his lips that Niall immediately glares at. “Awe, Nialler. I love you too, bro.”

“Shut it,” Niall snaps, throwing a fry at him. He nods his head behind Liam. “You think she’s got the same problem with that skinny guy?”

“Tyler?” Liam asks, looking over his shoulder. Tyler and his red headed friend are far in the back, another stack of flyers on the table between them. He turns back, shrugging. “We don’t talk about them much.”

“Why not? Seems like a reasonable post-sex topic.”

Liam frowns, flushing some because post-sex is usually the only time they do talk about them, because Zayn seems to love to tease him about Tyler pre-sex. “Zayn and I do a lot more than just fuck about, Niall.”

“Like what?” Niall raises a brow, a disbelieving look on his face. “And way to divert the conversation.”

Liam ignores the last part. “We just chill, a lot. Read, play video games -study, y’know. She’s like a straight A student, she works hard to get those grades –“

“Then how come your GPA is so low?” Niall interrupts with a laugh. He dodges the fist that Liam throws at him, falling off his seat some.

“I hate you,” Liam starts, but half of it is cut off by a voice beside him saying, “Hey, Liam?”

Tyler stands there, a friendly smile on his face but Liam hates it. “I was just wondering if you were coming Wednesday? Zayn is pretty nervous about it and I wanted to make sure she wasn’t convincing you not to come.”

Liam glances at Niall quickly, mouth falling open as he shrugs. “I – I mean, yeah, I can come. I don’t know why she is nervous –“

Tyler shrugs, unaffected by Liam’s clear discomfort. “That’s Zayn, I guess. She said you can sing, have you thought about performing? You can sign up when you get there –“

Niall barks out a laugh that he quickly covers with a hand over his lips, making Liam flush. “I – she talked about me?”

“Yeah, all the time, dude.” Tyler fumbles in his pocket, pulling out a phone. “Here, let me get your number and I’ll text you the website we made so you can check out some of the acts that have already signed up, yeah? See if it’s your thing.”

“Uh, oh – um, okay.” Liam rattles off his number, keeping his eyes away from Niall because it looks as if his face is going to break off with how red it is becoming as he tries to hold in his laughter.

“And you can come too, if you’re free,” Tyler adds, glancing at Niall. “Um –“

“Niall,” Niall introduces, holding out his hand immediately. “Liam’s best mate. Sworn to protect him from arsebuckets that –“

“Niall,” Liam blurts, face reddening even more. He glares at Niall in warning, but Niall only glares at Tyler some more. It could be intimidating to Tyler, but Liam knows better – Niall is a ball of sunshine that is almost as unthreatening as him.

“Right – nice to meet you.” Tyler gives him a look like Niall’s the strange one, before turning back to Liam. “Anyway, Liam, check the website out. Let me know if you have any questions, yeah? And don’t let Zayn convince you not to come.”

Liam nods, wanting Tyler to walk away. He doesn’t mention the fact that Zayn actually asked him to come, because he doesn’t want to talk to the guy any more than he has to. It’s probably unfair on his part, because Tyler seems nice.

And he isn’t sure how his invite still stands since Zayn snuck out of his room after their non-conversation and avoiding their problems the day before.

“What a prick,” Niall says, shaking his head as he goes back to his food. Liam just looks at him, knowing that he is probably only saying that for his sake.

“Are you being sarcastic?” Liam asks, sliding the rest of his food onto Niall’s plate, because he really isn’t feeling up to eating any more after that.

“No,” Niall assures. “He clearly knows you and Zayn have a thing, which makes him a prick.”

“I know Zayn and him have a thing, am I prick?” Liam asks, furrowing his brows.

“No, because you said you don’t know,” Niall clarifies, frowning at him. “Because you won’t fucking ask her.”

“Right, got it,” Liam sighs, falling back into his chair. He doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.

 

Liam doesn’t see Zayn that day or the next, only in passing by when they are going to class and during the one class they have together. She doesn’t answer his text messages, so when he watches her leave class, he resists the urge to stop and talk to her because she clearly doesn’t want him to.

Zayn has a habit of shutting down even harder every time she opens up, which Liam thinks she had been trying to do with the small compliments the day before. And if she is ignoring him because she knows she hurt his feelings, well, this really isn’t making up for it -

The night before Tyler’s show, he settles onto his bed with his laptop, looking up the website Tyler had sent him. There is a variety of acts – singers, bands, poets, groups of people he can’t figure out what they do. He ignores most of them, clicking on a video with Tyler in the icon.

It is nothing like he has heard before, and he can’t quite put a genre to it but it is really fucking good. It is sad, but the beat is happy, ranging from slow to something that is edging towards screamo, which he jumps at because it is so sudden. He clicks out, disappointed because he had hoped for it to be shit, and searches down more until he sees her, under a red asterisk that says new addition -

In the icon Zayn is holding a microphone, eyes closed and so close that it looks as if she is putting everything in her into the microphone. He clicks the play button without hesitation, and the icon disappears, replaced by Zayn sitting in front of a microphone, plucking nervously at her fingers.

He thinks he can remember the day this must have been filmed, because she has her hair curled in big ringlets and wears a dark, red colored dress that Liam remembers her only wearing once. He remembers how soft it was, and how he hadn’t hesitated pulling it off the moment she had walked into his room.

“Hello,” Zayn starts, and there is a nervous hint to her voice as she looks into the camera. “I’m Zayn Malik, and I’ll be doing a mash-up cover of the Weeknd’s Earned It and Where You Belong for my audition.”

Liam frowns in confusion, not remembering her auditioning for anything. She had been a ball of energy that day, but she always is. But it could have been nervous energy, and it makes him hurt worse because he isn’t someone she feels comfortable to share things with, clearly. He didn’t even know she sang let alone had an audition for something with singing.

Zayn clears her throat before she wraps those slender fingers around the microphone, eyes falling shut as the music starts to play. He can’t tell where she is from the background, but it kind of looks like one of the art rooms in the Art Building on campus.

“I feel the blood rushin’ throughout your body –“

Liam’s breath hitches. Her voice is lovely already, smooth and sultry and her brows wrinkle as she sings like she is putting as much feeling as she can into each word that flows past her lips.

“I’m always numb to the topic of loving –“

There is a flush covering her cheeks that Liam can see, even given the quality of the video. He feels like his chest is going to explode, because he didn’t think it was possible to fall any more in love with this girl.

“I’m so used to being used –“

Liam closes his eyes, focusing on the sound of her voice and the way it riffs off into a higher note. Her voice is beautiful, like her and he should have expected that. She huffs out a nervous laugh when it is over, and there is someone in the background that tells her she did a good job before it goes quiet, and Liam blinks his eyes back open to look at the icon.

He closes his laptop, moving it to the side of the bed before he lays back and covers his face with his arms, trying to control his breathing because as beautiful as Zayn sounded, he could hear the hurt in the way she sang and it hurts him because he doesn’t know why.

++

The morning of the show, Zayn finally texts him, telling him he doesn’t actually have to come if he doesn’t want to, but they should hang out later. He feels bad, ignoring her, but he is in the same room when he gets the text, in the student center, a few tables over as he tries to read the next chapter of that god forsaken book, and she doesn’t even notice him even though she is the only thing he can seem to focus on.

She sits at a table with Tyler, going over something spread out on the table between them. He is too aware of the amount of times her fingers slide against his forearm, or the way she laughs like pure happiness is pouring out of her. It makes his chest ache, and he ends up throwing the book into his backpack and leaving, going to the library instead.

He plans on not going to the show, but he ends up there anyway, standing as far back as he can be. He doesn’t see Zayn, but he spots Tyler and his friend, setting up a microphone on the stage. There are a shit ton of people there already, some he recognizes and some he doesn’t. Niall said he would come, but Liam hadn’t waited for him when he left practice. There hadn’t really been a question in his mind about whether or not he was going to go, because he craves being around Zayn and he knew he would bring himself here, no matter how hard he tried not to.

When he finally spots Zayn, it is right before the show is about to start. She stands in the front, eyeing the crowd with a nervous look on her face. She looks beautiful, with her hair down and flowing over a plaid shirt that Liam knows too well, because it is his, the same one she always knicks from him. It is unbuttoned, revealing the black crop top she wears underneath, and her jeans are baggy against her hips with blocky boots that she always wears when she wears the baggy jeans.

Tyler comes up from behind her, hand sliding along her back as he whispers something in her ear. She nods, giving him a smile but Liam can see there isn’t anything other than nerves behind it.

Tyler jumps on the stage, introducing the first act, who is some poet that graduated a few years ago and Liam tunes it out – unable to stop looking at Zayn.

She texts him, a few times, and he ignores it, until he sees her shoving the phone into her pocket with her teeth biting angrily into her bottom lip. Her fingers are fidgety, rubbing against each other and her jeans, sliding through her hair and twirling it.

Niall surprises him then, shoving his shoulder against Liam’s with a grin on his lips.

“Are you performing?”

“No,” Liam says, frowning at him. He hadn’t given it much thought really, just shrugged the suggestion off. It really hadn’t been an option, and he doesn’t even know why he is here, because he is starting to feel a bit creepy watching Zayn.

“Shame, you have a nice voice mate. You remember that one time at Lou’s house–“

Liam turns away from him as Tyler takes the stage again and says the one name he hasn’t been able to get out of his brain.

“Here is my good friend, Zaynie Malik!”

Zayn hops onto the stage, those slender fingers wrapping around the microphone to ease off the shake in them. “It’s just Zayn,” she corrects, flicking off Tyler as he hops off the stage.

She adjusts the microphone, and even though they are far apart, Liam can see the nervous way she gulps down. “Um, even though he is an arse who refuses to call me by my name, I’d like to thank Tyler for helping me come up with this mashup cover at the last minute. I recognize a few people in the crowd who have said amazing things on my Youtube, and as you know, I like to make mashups with lyrics that represent how I feel so um – here we go.”

The music starts to play a beat Liam doesn’t recognize, but he is attentive to Zayn, who closes her eyes as she starts to sing, unable to see him where he stands in the back.

“Is it bad that I never made love, I never did it –“

Her voice is quiet, whispered into the microphone like she is still nervous. He recognizes the lyrics, but she sings them slowly like a ballad, and the beat is different from the original song, but becoming more familiar.

“I’ll be your bad girl, I’ll prove it to you. Can’t promise that – I’ll be good to you –“

“Dude,” Niall says, nudging his arm, voice quiet like he is afraid of interrupting the silence that has taken over the crowd. “She can sing.”

Liam nods in agreement, not looking at his best mate because Zayn is captivating, beautiful, even though she looks pained.

“But I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to be the reason why –“

Her voice hitches, becoming louder and he hears that same raw emotion in her voice that he always wished for when he tried to get her to talk about how she feels.

“Every time I walk out the door, I see him die a little more inside –“

Her eyes open, and she tilts her head, lips pressed close to the microphone. It’s a strange mash up, but she does it well. “’Cause I have some issues, I won’t commit –“

“Damn, that’s rough,” Niall murmurs. Liam can see him grimacing from the corner of his eye. Zayn said she takes lyrics based on how she feels -

“I’ll be good in bed, but I’ll be bad to you –“

Liam feels sick to his stomach, the words she sings tugging at his chest. He doesn’t know if they are for him, or for someone else, but it hurts him either way. He takes a long look at her, watching the way the beat picks up and she sings like she is putting all of herself into it without any strain.

When she finishes, she clutches the microphone, huffing into it with an overwhelmed look on her face as people clap. Liam doesn’t, because he is too busy winding through the crowd, making his way to the front as Zayn disappears out of the side door in a rush, not seeing him.

He can see the shake in her fingers, the way her face is red and the lights reflect off the tears slipping down her cheeks. She makes a frustrated noise when she flicks the lighter over and over to no avail. Zayn’s eyes fall shut the moment the flame finally ignites.

“I didn’t know you sing,” Liam says, stupidly. He should be complimenting her, or something, but it’s the first thought at the front of his mind.

Zayn flinches, eyes finding him and she turns away from him quickly. He watches her hand go up to her face and he follows her movements, getting in front of her and circling his fingers around her wrist to pull her hand away from where they wipe at the tears.

“Why didn’t tell me you were coming?”

Liam gives her a hard look, not budging on the topic change. He points towards the building, trying to keep his voice soft and non-accusing but he isn’t sure it works well. “All those people in there know you sing, and I didn’t.”

“Not a big deal, Li-“

“It is,” Liam interrupts.

She shoots him the same hard look that he is giving her. “Well, there is a lot of shit you don’t know about me Liam, don’t act surprised.”

“Because you didn’t tell me, not because I wasn’t willing to listen,” Liam says stubbornly, feeling that frustration build inside of him.

Zayn looks away from him, and he reaches out, cupping her jaw to make her look at him. She doesn’t try to push him off, but gives him a tired look. He swipes his thumbs under her eyes, collecting the tears that continue to slide there and she flinches, letting her eyes fall shut.

“Why can’t you just tell me what’s going through your head?” Liam says softly, moving closer to her. “Shit, I mean do it in song lyrics if that is how you like to express your thoughts.”

Zayn huffs out a sad laugh, flicking her cigarette away. “Don’t be cute when I’m mad at you.”

Liam furrows his brows, letting his hands fall away from her. “Why are you mad at me?”

She looks away again and this time he doesn’t pull her back because if she is mad at him, he doesn’t want to make her angrier. He can’t believe telling her how he feels would make her angry. Yeah, maybe he didn’t do it in the best fashion –

“Because you make me feel things I don’t want to.”

Liam stares at her for a moment, trying to figure out what she means by that but he has no clue. “I would understand better if you elaborated and then I’ll er – try not to make you feel them.”

Zayn snorts, rolling her eyes and she turns to him, reaching out to tug him closer by the lapels of his jacket. “It’s kind of too late for that.”

Liam waits, taking a step closer, an attempt at feeding the need to wrap his arms around her.

She tilts her head, lips quirking up some. “D’you remember when we first met?

“Yes,” Liam says quickly. Her hair had been curly, and she wore this black and white patterned skirt that hugged her waist and rode high up the thigh when they danced. He remembers the deep red lipstick she wore, and how he hadn’t wanted to wipe it from his neck the next morning. “Can’t forget it. I had wanted to talk to you for a long time.”

Zayn grins slightly, the corner of her lips quirking up only a smidgen and he isn’t sure if he should look away, to make her more comfortable or not.

“But you hadn’t. You always looked like you were going to like, come up to me and drop some cheesy line to get into my pants or summat, but you never did. And that’s why I went up to you –“

“And dropped some cheesy line to get into mine?”

That grin pushes high into her cheeks. “Yeah, well, you’re fit. And super polite, like you looked so flustered and kept your hands on my hips like you were afraid of being rude and putting them anywhere else when we were dancing.”

“I was,” Liam admits.

Zayn nods, sliding her fingers down his arms to link them with his. “You had on those Batman boxers, remember?”

Liam flushes, still embarrassed by that even though Zayn has knicked those same boxers from him numerous amounts of times since then. “Yeah, I remember.”

She takes a step forward, glancing at him before she rests her cheek to his chest. Liam doesn’t push her off, instead rests his chin at the top of her head as it goes silent, only the muffled sound of the music from inside the café filling the air.

“I thought going up to you and flirting would make this guy I was seeing at the time jealous, but it really made me just like you more than him.” Zayn pauses for a long moment, squeezing his fingers. “I didn’t plan on inviting you to my dorm or anything, I don’t want you to think I was doing that to make him jealous. I genuinely forgot about him.”

Liam doesn’t respond because he isn’t sure what to say, or want to interrupt if this is important regarding what is going on between them now. He presses his lips into her hair, letting go of her fingers and rubbing his palms up her arms so he can wrap them around her smaller shoulders. Her arms snake around his back and she presses closer –

“That’s what I do, Liam. I like to tease, I like to have sex. I don’t like dating and feelings and affection, and you deserve someone who can do that for you.”

Liam feels cold when she pulls her arms away from him and takes a step back, looking at him for a long moment with a determined look on her face, like she is trying desperately to fight the tears he can see bubbling past her eyelids.

 “I’m only asking to understand, not for you to change anything,” he starts, biting on his lip until he feels blood because there is a pressure building in his throat that he wants to keep away so she won’t shut down and stop talking if she thinks she is hurting him.

Zayn doesn’t seem to hear him. “You deserve someone who you don’t have to fight for when they get called a slag, or someone who actually isn’t a slag –“

“You’re not,” Liam interrupts quickly, face crumpling at her. Everything she is saying is wrong. She is good with affection, always showing it to him, like two seconds ago when she wrapped her arms around him, or this weekend, when they were downtown for free comic book day. And she is good with feelings, always in tune to his and reaching out to comfort him. And Liam doesn’t care if he has to fight with the whole football team –

Zayn pulls out another cigarette and Liam thinks he sees her fingers trembling some as she brings it to her lips. He wants to do this somewhere else instead of outside the café where people have been trickling out slowly as they have talked, but he is afraid to do anything the way it has gotten so tense around them.

“I know you think I’m not. Camila told me how upset you got at the bar,” she goes on, voice soft. She doesn’t look at him for a long beat, keeping her eyes on her toes as she inhales the smoke. Liam wonders if that is why she had been so upset that night. “But I am, you just don’t think so because it’s you who I am shagging.”

Liam shakes his head adamantly. “You could fuck this whole school Zayn and I still wouldn’t let people talk shit about you. Is that why you think I shouldn't love you? Because that doesn't change anything.” I just want you to be mine.

Zayn smiles softly around the butt of her cigarette, stepping forward to press her palm to her cheek. “See Liam, you deserve someone who is just as good to you as you are to me. Someone who can be yours and you can take on dates and can love you the way you love them -”

She hesitates, letting her hand fall away, her teeth working quickly at her bottom lip as her voice breaks off some at the last word. Liam’s chest is already tightening, heart beating faster because of a slight panic as he sees the regret cross her features and he knows what’s coming, the answer to the most important thing he needs to understand. Do you love me too -

“And that’s not me, Liam.”

Chapter Text

Zayn is in love.

She is in love with those warm brown eyes, always kind and bright, even when there is a hint of something else in them – nerves, hesitancy, hurt. It was the first thing she had noticed about him, how they always seemed to linger on her whenever they were near each other.

And the way they crinkle at the corners when he laughs, which he does so easily and she is never sure if it is because she is funny or not, but it makes her chest tight every time, the sound warming through her and making her feel something so unfamiliar, like pure happiness -

And his lips, god she is in love with the ruddy color of them, which darkens into something more obscene whenever he traps the lower one between his teeth for too long. Or presses them against hers, because she can’t help the way she kisses like she means to bruise.

Zayn loves the gentle way he drags those full lips across her skin, and how he always feels the need to explore every inch whenever they strip their clothes off. And how sometimes he loses that politeness she is so fond of, kissing her too roughly or biting her too harshly, but always running a tongue over the blossoming mark he leaves behind as an apology.

She is in love with the sharp of his jaw, matted with a blond brown scruff, and the way it contrasts with his round, always red cheeks. Zayn could spend days teasing her teeth against it, just to hear those whimpers he lets out every time she does. She could waste all of her time doing everything in her power to make those cheeks flush so beautifully, even though it’s so easy that she wouldn’t really have to try.

Zayn is in love with how strong he is, the wiry muscles he had when they first met a bit more developed now, his chest wider – broader. Yet he never uses that strength he owns against her, always gentle and careful like she is made of glass and he is too afraid to break her. Even when she pushes and teases, trying to get him to be a little rough or a little possessive, he never does. Usually she hates when people touch her like she is theirs, but when it comes to him – she wants him to, because it’s true.

But he is strong other than just the thick muscles that cling to his bones, but how he is able to deal with the shit she puts him through with a soft, patient smile and those always bright eyes, like maybe he loves her regardless of it.

Zayn sighs, sitting on her bed, knees propped up and a card in her hand that is half the size of normal ones, that she got last year with a box of books she hadn’t realized anyone paid attention to her wanting – but she should have known he would. It is opened, and she traces the scribbled writing underneath the generic Christmas message typed out in the middle. Happy Christmas babe, I’ll miss you over break - Love your Liam x

Zayn is completely in love with Liam and she hates it.

She hates the way he touches her for no reason, like he is trying to trace his thoughts against her skin, trying to get her to acknowledge them but she always ignores it. She hates the way he is so willing to do as she pleases, no matter how temperamental she can be – jumping from I just want to be next to you to I just want to fuck, from I don’t care if you see someone else to it would break my heart if you did. Liam complies without any hesitation, and never asks for anything in return.

And the one time he did, Zayn hates the broken look that had taken over his face when she had told him no. But he had changed it up, after a year and a half, voicing those feelings he had been quietly begging her to understand through his touches and looks out loud, asking her out on a date and trying to turn this casual thing between them into something more.

Zayn groans, biting the inside of her cheek to keep that swell in her chest at bay because she hates that she keeps lying to herself too. It has been something more for quite some time now but she refuses to let herself be greedy –

There is a knock at her door, right before Jade pokes her head in. Her hair is in a messy bun at the top of her head, and she is already clad in the Minnie Mouse pajamas that hang off her frail limbs. “Hey, how’d it go tonight?”

Zayn quickly slides the card under her pillow where she had retrieved it from when she got home, shrugging some. “Alright?”

Jade frowns at her, stepping inside Zayn’s small room and closing the door behind her. Zayn moves over instantly, pressing closer into her body pillow to allow room for Jade on her bed. Zayn still wears her clothes from the show, having craved for the comfort of her bed too strongly to waste time undressing. She had practically ran away from Liam outside of the cafe because the look on his face made her chest feel hollow.

“I bet you killed it and everyone was in awe,” Jade starts genuinely, sliding on top of the sheets beside her. “So why do you look like you tripped and smashed your face on the stage and everyone laughed?”

Zayn grins slightly, nestling further down the bed. She hesitates as Jade runs fingers against her forehead to push her bangs aside. She doesn’t open up to many people, including Jade, but probably Jade the most – if not Liam, but she knows Liam can’t see how much she does try sometimes.

“I um – d’you know Liam Payne?”

Jade’s frown tugs down further, her head arching back some like she is surprised and confused at the same time. “Um Li – oh, y’mean Niall’s quiet friend? Always looks at you like you are the definition of an angel on Earth?”

Zayn shoves her slightly as Jade wiggles her eyebrows, her throat tightening from the guilt that floods through her. “He does not, but yeah – him.”

Jade scooches down beside her, giving her that grin she wears whenever she takes the piss. “You fancy him, don’t you?”

Zayn shakes her head, even though the reason she had brought him up anyway was because she was going to tell Jade about them.

“Okay, a bit,” she quickly corrects herself, feeling her cheeks warm like she is in Year 11 again and just starting to crush on Danny and whispering about it during her sleepovers with Jade. “How’d you know?”

“You look at him the same way,” Jade says softly, a knowing grin on her lips.

“Fuck off,” Zayn says, scooching closer to her. “I do not.”

“Yeah, you definitely do, babe. What happened to ‘he’s lame, Jade. Look how awkward he is –‘

She chuckles from embarrassment, remembering when she had said that at the cabin party with the scary boar head because Jade was talking to her about this fit boy she was going to try and dance with, and when Jade pointed to Liam who stood looking uncomfortable with a drink in his hand in the living room with the others, the jealousy that curled around Zayn’s stomach made her sick.

“I didn’t want you to dance with him,” Zayn admits shyly, ducking her head to look away from Jade. Normally Zayn tries to ignore Liam’s eyes on her at parties, as not to spill the secret between them two of them, but between Jade’s comment and how fit Liam looked that night (easily too, in as simple white shirt and light colored jeans with brown boots), she ended up tugging him away from his friends and sneaking him upstairs.

“But that was like a year – oh, oh.”

Zayn tilts her head to look at Jade, who is wide eyed and alarmed, her mouth falling open around a smile and Zayn kind of wants to kick her out because she isn’t in the mood for anything remotely happy at the moment.

“Oh my god, how come I haven’t figured out this sooner,” she exclaims, voice filled with equal amusement and shock. “That’s who you’ve been seeing!”

“What?” Zayn snaps, furrowing her brows at her best friend.

“D’you remember? You kept disappearing for hours and coming back to the room super late so I thought you were always off shagging Tyler but you insisted you weren’t, but you wouldn’t tell me who. It’s Liam, isn’t it?”

Zayn considers taking this all back and kicking Jade out so she can keep Liam to herself, because she doesn’t quite like sharing it, but she nods anyway, reaching underneath her pillow hopefully unsuspiciously to graze her fingers over the card.

Jade looks at her for a long moment, the amusement slipping away from her face and into something softer and reminds Zayn why she hates opening up to people, but she kind of needs the comfort that she gets from Jade sometimes. “I heard he is a really nice guy, babe. Why do you look like he stomped all over your heart?”

Zayn shakes her head, biting on her tongue because she has cried enough for the night, but apparently the tears pushing at her eyelids don’t think so.

“What did he do Zayn? I swear to –“

She shakes her head a little more roughly, pushing closer to Jade so she can hide her face against her chest, because it is always easier to speak on how she feels like that. “Nothing, Jade. He treats me better than anyone ever has and I treat him like shit.”

She wants to run to his dorm now, and feel his strong arms wrap around her because she loves how small and protected she feels pressed into his chest. When he sleeps, she lets herself bask in the feeling, the warmth, and let herself believe for a small moment that maybe she does deserve it.

But Zayn knows he will open the door and let her climb into his bed, and he will look hurt but stay silent, and Zayn has to stop doing that to him –

“I doubt that,” Jade says softly, carding her fingers through Zayn’s hair. Zayn thinks she says it just because she has to as her best friend, because Jade knows how easily Zayn breaks things off with guys and how uncaring she usually is about it. Jade just doesn’t know why.

Jade knows she wasted half of Year 11 craving time spent with Danny, but not that their hanging out usually lasted about thirty minutes, with Danny kicking her out or leaving her house practically the moment he pulled out of her -

Or how she thought it was okay, because she thought the words whispered to her when he fucked her were words of endearment, affection, not just something to rile him up. And how they finally ended it with a you’re a good lay, Zayn but nothing more than that -

And Jade knows that Zayn hooked up with Andrew at some party the next school year, but not that when he wanted to hang out a few days later, he really meant he wanted to touch her like he was entitled to – like her telling him not to meant she was a tease, because he already has which means clearly that he can whenever he wants to, according to him.

And as much as he had upset her with the possessive way in which he touched her, it hadn’t hurt as much as the fucking slag snapped at her as he left just because she didn’t want him to touch her.

Again and again, Zayn can’t count the amount of times someone has made her feel like her worth settled between her legs, and if she flirted or teased, that meant she had to take it further. Or if she took it further, she was a slag –

But not Liam – never Liam. Liam, who always looks so overwhelmed the moment he touches her, and seems to store every time she ever showed discomfort into his memory. Which probably confuses him, because Zayn switches up often from touch me like this, to don’t do that

And Liam is always so patient with her, despite it all. They would work perfectly with their non-relationship with Liam’s patience for her changes, if they had only kept feelings out of it, because she doesn’t deserve the amount of love Liam is capable of giving to someone.

Because even though you’re a good lay nothing else, made her shut herself in her room for hours and broke her heart for the first time, at least Danny had been honest with her. Not that Liam isn’t, but he is blinded by his apparent feelings for her, the ones she just doesn’t get. And she feels bad, being so awful to him but he needs to realize that Liam is just like her in Year 11, confusing their relationship with love, confusing her touches as something more affectionate -

She doesn’t know how to put all her feelings in the pads of her fingers and imprint them into Liam’s skin, and that is the only way he should be touched.

“He told me he loved me and I basically told him I didn’t feel the same way.”

Zayn turns then, wanting to put her back towards Jade so she can’t see the way Zayn’s expression is probably mirroring Liam’s from earlier. And the first time she admits it out loud, she wants to pretend she is saying it to herself.

“Don’t beat yourself up over that, Zayn. It would be worse if you lied and said you did –“

“I did lie,” Zayn interrupts softly, clutching onto her body pillow and pressing her chin into it to muffle the croak in her voice.

There is a quiet moment where Jade doesn’t say anything, but then the sad, oh, Zayn is whispered against her neck and there are thin arms wrapping around her from behind. “Why do you always do this to yourself?”

It isn’t judgmental, but filled with concern, and Zayn doesn’t say that she doesn’t always do this to herself. Because as much as she thinks she cuts people off because she is unworthy of love, no one but Liam has actually tried to show her otherwise -

++

Zayn covers her hands in the sleeves of her hoodie, wishing she had brought something thicker to wear but she hadn’t realized how cool the air would be. She hides in the shade in her normal spot, underneath the trees with a notebook balanced on her lap that goes forgotten, even though she had promised Tyler that she would work on finishing the lyrics he had started.

She watches Liam jog backwards, bringing the collar of his blue and yellow jersey up to wipe the sweat pooling at his forehead. His face is flushed, she can see even from here the way it glows. His face turns into something harder, maybe even a bit angry if she knows that is never a possibility, when he yells and points to another player Zayn thinks is named Tom or Tim.

The one he has been fighting with, she knows. Well, at least according to Camila, who Zayn had overheard telling Ally that it had gotten so bad that the coach had come between them, and almost suspended Tom from today’s game. 

Zayn turns up her music, toning out the crowd’s cheers. Liam’s jersey stretches across his back, the material dented by his shoulder blades, and clings to his waist. She considers moving closer, like she always does, to get a better view of him.  But like always, she stays rooted in her spot.

She has been to every game this semester, hidden in the same spot because if Liam knew she was there maybe he would think it means something. And every game the last season, the fall semester of last year, because the whole summer before Zayn hadn’t been able stop thinking about fit, shy Liam no last name, who she had hooked up with a few times before her sophomore year ended.

But Leigh-Anne had mentioned Liam Payne taking over Louis’ spot as football captain, and she snuck down to the first game to see if it was her Liam, and has been to every one since.

No more sucker for love, she probably duck it because –

Zayn slides the notebook off her lap, to rest her elbows on her knees. It is torture, listening to this damn song when Liam’s smile peeks out against his lips. When she had picked lyrics out of this song and mashed them up with ones from Unfaithful, she had cried and cried, because she had been unaware of how true they really were for her. That’s why she loves music so much, because her thoughts and feelings are confusing, hard to explain, but she will find the right lyric and it will stick to her, and be the exact words she wishes she could find on her own to say.

I’ll be good in bed, but I’ll be bad to you –

She sighs, turning down the music some and switching off to something happier. The game is only half way through, and she wants to stay for the whole thing because Liam always shines so bright when they win.

“What are you doing here?”

Zayn jolts, nearly falling from the stump she sits on. Niall is walking up to her, fingers shoved deep into his pockets and a scowl on his face that ruins his normal cheerful look. She remembers Liam telling her how Niall has always been by his side, protective like a big brother – a brother Liam always wished he had until Niall came around.

“Watchin’ the game,” she starts, snapping the words at him because she refuses to be shy or nervous around someone she doesn’t know.

“You should probably go before Liam sees you,” Niall goes on, words tight and unfriendly. He jerks his head like ‘get out of here’ but Zayn stays where she is, stubborn – “He is pretty adamant that you’re not, but I think you’re kind of a bitch and he doesn’t deserve that so you should probably fuck off ‘cause he is in a good mood today.”

Zayn wants to protest still, but that feeling of guilt that is starting to feel too familiar settles through her and she collects her things as Niall watches her, like he is making sure she actually leaves. She is used to being called names, so the bitch goes through one ear and out of the other, but the last part doesn’t, because Niall says it as if he Liam been in a good mood the other days.

And that’s her fault.

“I don’t want to upset him, so don’t tell him I was here, okay?”

Niall’s hard look softens some, but not really. “I wouldn’t.”

 

Zayn goes back to her room, sitting on the floor by her desk with the notepad balancing on her knees again. The music blasts from her room, and she will probably get noise complaints from the RA or the people that live around her, because they always complain, but the music helps drown out all of Zayn’s thoughts, so she needs it.

And don’t take this personal, but you’re the worst. You know what you’ve done to me –

She scribbles the words down quickly, a beat already in her head as she nods along.

And although it hurts, I know I just can’t keep runnin’ away –

The feeling wraps around her heart and fills her chest. She can’t be sure of the exact moment she fell in love with Liam, or when she decided that she didn’t deserve him. It feels like it has been since they first met, when he stuttered out a nervous, “Oh, I’m Liam.”

His hair had been pushed up into a tiny fauxhawk, and he had been wearing a light blue button up with the collar button missing, the same shirt she ended up slipping on for her post sex cigarette. His cheeks had been so flushed, eyes falling closed with every nervous chuckle and Zayn had felt completely enamored by him.

Or maybe it was the first time he called her beautiful, after they reconnected the next semester after they met. With lips at the knobs of her spine and words overwhelmed like he couldn’t believe how beautiful she really was. They weren’t words to rile him up, like with Danny, or the other guys who said it just because they needed somewhere to put their cock. It wasn’t even said because Liam wanted to compliment her, it was said because Liam genuinely thought so. And as confident as Zayn is, she hadn’t known how badly she needed someone to tell her that, like that –

Every moment made her fall in love with Liam, but she thinks the moment she realized it was when she was climbing out of his bed and those strong arms wrapped back around her, his voice sleepy when he asked her to stay, because I think I’ll sleep better with you here –

Zayn had disappeared two weeks after that, trying to get herself away from him before she caught feelings but two shitty weeks of missing Liam told her she already had.

++

Liam’s hair is flat against his scalp, the rest hidden under a black snapback, the brim hiding his face some. He wears a white Adidas shirt and gray joggers and looks absolutely knackered. He shuffles past Zayn towards his seat, and Zayn doesn’t take offense to the fact that he hadn’t acknowledged her. It would be selfish of her to expect him to, and she has skipped this class the only time they have had it since the last time they talked.

She keeps her eyes away, trying to ignore the way her heart picks up. Sometime early in last semester, their time together had gone from a few times a week to nearly every day, unless one of them was really busy. She isn’t sure how it happened, really, maybe because they found other things to do than just fuck about – like Liam’s comic book collection, his absolute inability to play video games as well as he claims he can, school and his obsession with Zayn having an iPod still, because that’s what an iPhone is for –

Zayn smiles at the memory, remembering how she has scoffed at him at how an iPhone couldn’t hold the amount of music she had, but an 160GB could and then she spent hours going through songs and telling Liam just why she liked them. It was stupid, silly things but Liam listened like they were the most important.

She knew how much she missed him before when they spent more than a few days apart, always craving just to be around that constant joy that surrounded him, but she hadn’t realized she would miss it this badly. But before she knew she could eventually sneak out to go see him, now she isn’t so sure –

“The reading,” Dr. E starts, clapping her hands in front of her. She always has a smug look on her face, and Zayn has never really liked her, but there hadn’t been any other professors teaching this course. (Unfortunately for Liam, because Dr. E is one of the hardest professors in the Psychology department, and Liam had already failed this class once, which is why he had asked Zayn to take it with him). “Let’s start with Robert.”

Dr. E turns her back to them, scribbling the different terms they were supposed to match each story up with on the board. “Tell me which one Robert experienced?”

She scans the crowd, because no one ever raises their hand in her class but instead drops their eyes to their desks and scrunches their faces like they are thinking really hard. Except Liam, whose eyes are half shut, chin propped on his arms that are folded on top of his desk, like he is struggling to stay awake.

“Mr. Payne,” Dr. E calls, a grin on her face. Zayn groans internally, because that’s another reason Zayn can’t stand her – she always seems to pick on Liam. Zayn knows it’s personal, because there are only ten boys in the whole major, and Dr. E likes to complain in the first of every class about how she can’t stand men taking over the higher paying positions of Psychology professions, even though there are so few of them. “Can you tell us which Robert fits under?”

Liam jerks, eyes widening but they are still heavy with sleep. He scratches at his scruff, thicker than it was last Wednesday when she had last seen him (up close at least). He doesn’t know, Zayn can tell because a slight panic crosses his features and his voice is hesitant when he speaks, eyes searching the terms on the board.

“Er - external attribution error?”

Dr. E clicks her teeth disapprovingly, shaking her head like she has never been more exhausted ever. “Mr. Payne I know school isn’t as exciting as football, but if you can’t put this class in the top of your priorities, you aren’t going to graduate.”

Zayn only glances at Liam for a moment, face falling and a jerky nod like he understands because he is so polite, before she is raising her hand.

Dr. E’s face brightens. “Ah, Ms. Malik, I’m sure you actually did the reading.”

She nods, giving the professor a tight smile. “I did, and it’s internal attribution error, which – pardon me, Dr. E, but you just did that with Liam.”

The professor’s smile falters some, and Zayn doesn’t wait for her to continue before she starts to explain. She is uncaring about the nervous chatter around her, the way her professor’s eyes get more and more narrower as she talks.

“You’ve assumed that the reason Liam doesn’t know the answer to the question is because he doesn’t care about the class, or cares about football more. So you’ve attributed his behavior to an internal cause, when it could be because he has something going on in his life that is disrupting his sleep, or doesn’t understand the information, which could be because you are never available during your office hours to explain things that may be confusing.”

The classroom goes scary quiet, but it is true for the most part. Dr. E is never available to meet with students even though she is supposed to be, though Liam really hasn’t tried – just always goes to Zayn when he needs help. And Zayn is sure Liam actually hadn’t read, but Zayn isn’t going to let this professor embarrass him in front of the whole class.

Liam had told her once, after failing an exam and getting rid of his stress with Zayn’s body trapped between him and the mattress, that he felt stupid most of the time and how much he hated it.

“You’re correct, Ms. Malik, but the differences between external and internal are not that difficult –“

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re the professor right?” Zayn should stop, but anger and protectiveness is bubbling inside of her and she just can’t stop. She used to get into fights all the time before university, because she never could be quiet or stop while she was a head. “So it should be easy for you to understand.”

Zayn can practically feel the way the professor’s glare stabs through her. “Is that all Ms. Malik?”

She nods, smiling sweetly at her. “Yes m’am.”

It is tense after that, no one wanting to answer any questions the professor sends their way even more so than usual. Zayn glances at Liam a few times over her shoulder. He manages to keep his eyes open, but he stares down at the packet they had to read this weekend, tapping his pencil gently against his desk, a look on his face that Zayn can’t quite read but considers maybe she doesn’t want to.

Dr. E keeps her after class to give her some half ass apology that Zayn tells her to give to Liam instead and Zayn only feels kind of bad when Dr. E hands her an Honors award ceremony invitation with a “I’m very proud of you.” Because it doesn’t change the fact that she was out of line with Liam.

“Zayn!”

Nerves erupt in her stomach at that familiar voice and she turns, a few doors down from their classroom. Liam is pushing a foot against the wall he leans against like a momentum to start walking towards her, a nervous smile tugging at his lips and anxious fingers sliding across the strap of his backpack.

She wants to kiss him and tug him into the bathroom on the other side of the hallway from them and imprint her apologies onto his skin, and assure him he was one of the most brilliant people she knows.

Liam cups the back of his neck, a sheepish look on his face. “I um – thank you for that. You uh, didn’t have to do that. I actually didn’t read the homework because of football.”

Zayn shrugs, admiring the flush in Liam’s cheeks. “I figured as much. But she’s an arse to you all the time instead of helping you understand when you don’t.”

Liam nods, taking a step closer. “I’m quite like, shit at this. Picked the wrong major, I guess.”

She tightens her fingers into a fist so she doesn’t reach out and cup his jaw like she needs to. She shakes her head adamantly, because he isn’t. “You’re quite brilliant, actually.  It just takes you time to understand things. Which is fine, I’ve told you that before.”

Liam’s smile seems genuine, but still nervous as he readjusts his hat, flipping it so it sits backwards on his head. There are dark circles under his eyes and Zayn wants to know why. “I um – that’s why I was wondering if like, you could still help me? We have the outline of our paper due Friday and I’m stuck. I swear I have been trying, but been distracted y’know.”

Liam shrugs awkwardly and Zayn feels like she needs to take a sharp breath, but her expression hardens into the one she is so comfortable wearing - blank. The second time Liam asks her for something and she has to say no. “I don’t think –“

Liam interrupts quickly, cheeks flushing such a deep red that Zayn is struggling not to touch his face and embrace the warmth of his skin. “I’m fine, by the way. Like, I want us to be friends because it really sucks without you. I just wanted to know the truth ‘bout how you feel, and now I do so it’s all cool. Like – don’t um, worry about that. I’m sorry for mucking up what we had, s’not your fault you don’t feel the same or whatever, but I’d like for us to go back to normal or like – I mean just friends without the um. Whatever you want, I just rather have you in my life than like not -”

“Yeah okay,” she responds, giving him an awkward nod just so he will stop talking. He talks fast normally, but now his words are rushed and she isn’t sure she understood half of them, and she isn’t too sure he is breathing as he talks either. Because she feels like she forgot how to breathe. “Don’t like, y’know, apologize. You didn’t muck anything up. Don’t ever apologize for how you feel.”

She reaches out to tickle her fingers against his arm, needing him to understand that he really shouldn’t apologize and to hopefully ease the situation some. The only reason she was going to say no was because she didn’t want it to hurt him if they still were friends.

An easy grin covers her lips, the flirty one she is used to but she hopes he knows her words are genuine. “And I miss you too.”

Liam’s face brightens instantly, that tired look still in his eyes but they shine with the same happiness that seems to stick to him always. “Great so um, text me when you’re free or whatever. I don’t have much going on. Jus’ football, but same time y’know -”

Zayn bites on her bottom lip. She hates that Liam makes her feel so nervous. That she doesn’t know how to interact with him, because that had never been a problem before. She could always be herself, even if her normal self was shitty. “How about now? Since we’re both free –“

Liam bites around his grin, nodding some. “Yeah, okay.”

They go to the library, and it is awkward. Zayn doesn’t know how to act around him anymore, and she wonders if this was what he felt like every time they were together, aware of everything he does to not make her uncomfortable, because she overthinks every movement, every word she says. Liam looks relaxed though, eyes latched onto her as she pulls out their textbook and it makes her cheeks warm.

“So um, how are you?” Liam asks as Zayn slides her fingers through the index trying to find the topic scribbled at the top of Liam’s assignment sheet. Milgrim. Zayn groans internally to herself, remembering when Dr. E asked Liam what he thought about his social experiment and Liam had responded with a that’s really fucked up, which of course hadn’t been an acceptable response according to their professor.

But it was really fucked up, and Liam had gone off about it all day, even when they were tangled in bed together, because he couldn’t understand how people could just keep hurting other people (or at least, think they were hurting other people since the electrical jolts being sent to the ‘hurt’ person when they didn’t answer a question properly were faked) just because someone higher up told them to.

“Um, okay,” Zayn starts, keeping her eyes on the textbook and shrugging some. “What about you?”

“Better now.”

Zayn looks up at him and he gives her a soft smile and she doesn’t hesitate in reaching out to rub a thumb against his jaw like she always does when he gets that vulnerable look on his face. “Good.”

Zayn starts reading, making sure Liam listens, but she isn’t so sure he is paying attention. She makes him read some, hearing the tired drawl in his voice before she tells him, promises him they can do this another day but he needs sleep.

“Promise?” Liam asks again and it reminds her of the first time they slept together, when she had promised to call him and there had been this hopeful but insecure look on his face, like he thought maybe she was lying. She had been, at the time. She didn’t know he would linger in her thoughts for the week after that.

“I promise, Liam.”

Liam reaches out, dragging a thumb across her jaw, eyes going wide when he pulls his hand back like he realized what he did. He flushes before he gives her an awkward wave and leaves her alone in the library.

 

It is like that the next few weeks. They spend most of the time in the library, just studying and it is always a bit awkward at first, but it settles into somewhat of normalcy – even though it’s not normal for Zayn to want to touch Liam and not be able to. She slips up sometimes, and she prays that it doesn’t hurt Liam. He doesn’t seem to mind, and Zayn considers maybe Liam is okay with the fact that Zayn doesn’t love him back.

And she hates that most of all.

He isn’t doing it on purpose, she knows, being so cute (all the fucking time), but it is hard for Zayn to think he isn’t aware of exactly how mad it drives her, especially when he gets a knowing smile on his lips.

“I just –“ Liam groans, putting his face in his hands. Zayn rubs her fingers up his back, letting him have his moment because he has been studying for his exam practically all day. He has taken breaks to do other things, but other homework, and it seems like he just can’t catch up on it. “None of it is sticking.”

Liam pulls away from his hands, lips pouting out. There are bags under his eyes again, and it seems like they are there more often than not lately. Zayn reaches out, pushing the hair stuck to his forehead away. She remembers when he shaved it off and how much she loved that, but she loves how soft it is now, longer and flipped over and falling into his face some.

“Take a break, pick it back up this weekend,” she offers softly.

“Can’t,” Liam sighs, nudging into her hand and she takes the hint, sliding her palm down to rest against his cheek. She remembers how she used to struggle with touching him so softly, but she had wanted to try, because sometimes he looks like he really needs it. “I’m busier this weekend than this week.”

Zayn swipes a thumb at the high of his cheek bone. “You should sleep, Liam.”

“Can’t do that either,” he says with a sheepish smile, turning to look back down at the page of key terms he is trying to memorize. “And Niall wants me to go some party in my dorm building tonight to get my mind off of um - things.”

“Fuck that, sleep is more important,” she says roughly, frowning at him.

Liam lifts up the paper, a glint of a smile on his lips even though his voice sounds as tired as he looked a moment ago. “I won’t be sleeping anyway if I can’t remember these fucking terms.”

Zayn sighs in defeat, taking the paper from him to read them off. He watches her, something warm taking over his grin and it makes her flush. He always looks at her like that, with a fondness that darkens sometimes when she strips off and teases. But the fondness is still always present.

There was one time last year, when Zayn scattered compliments across his chest with harsh breaths and Liam had been so overwhelmed, flushing when he said, “I still don’t get why you would want to be with someone like me.”

That’s how he has always looked at her, and still does when they sneak off to the back of the library like they are still secret, but this time the secret is one that Zayn keeps to herself, and doesn’t share with Liam. One she is feeling the urge over and over to tell him.

He looks like he can’t believe he could get even a moment with her, but Zayn thinks she is the lucky one, after everything.

++

The music plays too loudly, the lights too bright and there are way too many people in this small dorm. It’s bigger than her own, but not big enough to fit the amount of people inside of it. Zayn is having a shit time, really, and she hadn’t wanted to come in the first place but Jade insisted to get her out of this Liam funk, as Jade called it, and she remembered Liam might actually be here so she played along as if she changed her mind about not being in the mood.

Zayn can’t help the way she searches for him, eyes lingering back towards where the football guys are standing. Niall’s got his fingers in Harry’s hair, laughing at something, and the others are probably talking about pulling girls like they always do, because they point around sometimes and laugh. She has always hated it, the way they plan and plot to pull girls like that is their sole reason for coming out. But she tries not to judge, because before Liam that had been her, except she really hadn’t needed to plot to bring anyone home.

“Invite Tyler,” Jade yells in her ear, slinging an arm around her shoulders. “To help distract you or summat.”

Zayn frowns at her. She has told Jade a million times her and Tyler aren’t anything but friends. “That’s what I have alcohol for,” she grunts out, holding up her cup for Jade to see. Jade rolls her eyes, even though she is a hypocrite because she is the biggest drinker here when it comes to parties at least, Zayn is sure.

“Go talk to one of them,” Jade says, nudging her head towards the group of guys Zayn keeps looking at because she is hoping to find Liam. She points to them, and Zayn’s fingers curl around her wrist to tug her hand down abruptly, because Jade sucks at being discreet.

“Those are Liam’s friends,” Zayn tells her. She isn’t that fucked up.

Jade makes a face like oops, but her eyes slide away from Zayn and she grimaces even more. “I have to learn to stop pointing.”

Walking up to them is Tim or Tom from the football team. His plaid shirt is buttoned to the neck, and he wears dark colored skinny jeans that bunch up at the top of his sneakers. “Hey, Zayn right?”

Zayn nods, taking a sip of her drink. Tim Tom’s eyes rake visibly down her body and she wishes she had worn jeans instead of a skirt when his eyes linger on her legs for too long. She is used to the stares, and she knows they are going to happen from the way she dresses, but sometimes it makes her too uncomfortable.

She used to crave them, the stares and the looks that made her feel good, but ever since Liam, the only eyes she wants on her are his.

“I’m Tom,” he introduces with a smile that is too familiar to her but on a different face. Jade touches her back some, whispering something like I’ll be back in her ear, before she leaves them, giggling softly. His voice slurs, thick from the alcohol in his cup, as he continues. “I always see you ‘round, thought I’d introduce myself.”

“Is that all you plan to do?” Zayn asks, quirking up a brow. Her voice is filled with annoyance because she kind of wants him to leave really, because if he has been fighting with Liam than she wants nothing to do with him.

Tom rubs a hand at the back of his neck, laughing slightly, completely unaware of the fact that Zayn doesn’t want to talk to him. “Depends what you’re down to do.”

She narrows her eyes some, tilting her head to take in his cocky expression. “Not much,” she says simply, giving him a smile that her father used to tell her was too cold to be on such a lovely face.

“That’s not what I heard,” he says, taking a step closer. There is amusement in his smile and Zayn’s irritation grows. “Heard you’re quite the fuck.”

It clicks then, why Liam has been fighting with him. Camila had said someone was calling her a slag, and Liam had gotten angry, but she hadn’t clarified who. And Liam hadn’t denied it, when Zayn said he shouldn’t be defending her from that, so she knows there is some truth in Camila’s story.

“I heard you almost got kicked off the football team,” Zayn shoots back, tilting her head and giving him a considerate look. “I could go upstairs and get Liam to make it actually happens this time. He seems like quite the teddy bear, but I wouldn’t want to be the one who finds out the amount of force those arms of his can pack into a punch.”

Tom’s smile slips away but he doesn’t back off. They always get like this, the guys who come up to her, taking on an aggression that always grows stronger because Zayn doesn’t know how to back down when irritated. “No need to be a bitch. I’m just wondering if what they say about you is true. ‘Cause I’d like–“

The rest of his words are cut off when a hand grabs his shoulders and tugs him a step back away from Zayn abruptly. Niall’s mouth is set into a hard line when he pops up from behind Tom, annoyance set in his features.

“Fuck off, Tom. Is that really your chat up line? Bloody shit, man.”

“We were just talking,” Tom says, yanking his arm from Niall’s grip, a defense in his tone and that aggression quickly slipping away and being replaced by wide eyes and a hesitancy to take on Niall.

“No, we weren’t,” Zayn corrects with a clipped tone, throwing back the rest of the contents in her cup. She puts the cup on the table, hiccupping like she always does when she drinks. “Those rumors are true, I am quite an excellent fuck. And Niall was right, your chat up lines are shit mate, but good luck with that, yeah? Maybe when your hand stops working you’ll switch it up a bit.”

Zayn shrugs past them, plucking up a bottle from the table by the door before she leaves the dorm room. She needs a cigarette, but instead of going outside, she goes up the stairs to her favorite smoke spot, hoping Liam is awake.

Because really she just needs Liam.

She doesn’t wait long for the door to open after she knocks. Liam is wearing only joggers, hanging low on his hips and really – only joggers. She keeps her eyes from trailing down the bulge of muscles of his abdomen, that V that dips under the band of his joggers that she has spent not enough time mapping out with her tongue.

His brows push together in concern, and he steps back, letting her in without asking what she is doing there. Liam is always like that, never pushing her but there if she needs him. It always reminded her of her father, who used to wipe her tears and tell her it would be okay even if he didn’t know what it was.

“Sorry,” Zayn mumbles. “Need a smoke.”

Liam nods, taking the drink from her and planting a hand on her lower back to steady her. She isn’t really that drunk, but her head spins because she just wants to kiss Liam, touch Liam, climb on top of Liam and express how she feels in the only way she knows how to.

“Everything okay?”

Zayn shakes her head, pushing into Liam’s room and going straight to her favorite window, where the cold air bites against her hot skin. “That Tom guy is a total arse and I’d say I want you to kick his ass, but I love how nice you are and that would ruin that.”

“What did he do?” Liam says roughly, brows pushing together in concern as he sits next to her. She lights up with shaky fingers, another distraction she has learned to lean on when she needs one.

It is awkward the way she sits, wanting to pull her legs onto the window sill but her skirt is too tight wrapped around her thighs. It is more comfortable, to press her knees to her chest with tight arms around them like she used to, just to ease that ache rattling in her chest. She doesn’t care about Tom’s words, or what he thinks mostly, just that he thinks he can say those things to her.

“Wanted to see if I was a good fuck,” Zayn says numbly, inhaling deep. “I told him I was.”

Liam grins some only because her lips are quirked up too, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I’m sorry ‘bout him.”

“Why are you sorry?” Zayn hiccups, scooching closer to Liam because the air outside is cool and he is always so warm. And as much time as they still spend together, in the library all the time, she has missed having him alone and intimately to herself. “He thinks I’m a slag, and I am based on his definition on the word. Wasn’t you who said it.”

Liam hangs his head for a moment, shaking it before he reaches out and cups her jaw. His skin is warm, just like she expected and she nuzzles into it. It is so familiar, sitting on this window sill with him reaching out to comfort her and Zayn mixed between embracing it and wanting to disappear from everything. “You’re not, please stop saying that.”

“S’true,” she says quietly, hoping she understands why it is important for him to know that. Or it was true. Now the term is based off her dress, and the way she presents herself, like she isn’t allowed to feel beautiful in her own skin -

Liam bites his lip, just looking at her for a long moment before he speaks. “How many people have you slept with since we got together?” He looks regretful, grimacing some and Zayn flinches, because he is expecting a bad answer but the truth feels worse. “If you’re so convinced it’s true –“

“Two.”

Liam nods, a grin tugging at his lips. There might be relief lingering in his expression but she can’t be sure. “Tyler and me? That doesn’t make you a slag, babe –“

Zayn shakes her head, bringing the cigarette to her lip and pulling away from Liam’s touch. “I have never slept with Tyler.”

The only other person beside Liam was someone from home, and that had been during the time she was avoiding Liam for a few weeks – because he made her she feel too much, but being with the other person had felt wrong, made her miss Liam.

And she has kind of been a wreck ever since.

Liam frowns at her, face crumping in confusion. It is to be expected, since she has teased about Tyler so much and she spends a majority of her time with him. “You – like, not with Tyler?”

Zayn chuckles out, a bit manic like but that’s how she feels. “No, I just made comments like that to make you jealous, because I wanted to see if it would make you get a little rough ‘cause you’re always so gentle. But it just made you look hurt. Was dumb of me, m’sorry. Sorry for a lot of things, really.”

There is a brightness in Liam’s eyes and he smiles, chuckling softly. A masochist, she swears. “All you had to do was ask. It did make me jealous, but if you just told me that was what you were going for I could have played along.”

Zayn nods, putting out her cigarette in the makeshift ashtray still on Liam’s window sill and she moves closer, resting against his bare chest. She shouldn’t really, but she doesn’t pull away because those strong arms wrap around her, holding her close and she can feel his lips pressing to her hairline.

“Y’know I don’t know what’s going through your head, but don’t let what people who don’t know you say get to you babe. I’m sorry if this er – makes you uncomfortable, but I’ve heard those things and I love you all the same, yeah? Unless you had sex with like – I dunno, Niall or summat, havin’ sex doesn’t make you a good or bad person.”

Zayn lets out a hollow laugh, ending with a hiccup. “Never,” she jokes along weakly, because she really isn’t feeling up to it at the moment. “I know it doesn’t make me a bad person.”

She whispers the words against his skin, heart pounding behind her temples because it feels like last time outside of the cafe, the start of her opening up but she doesn’t want it to go to shit this time.

She wants to be better.

Liam’s lips drag against her forehead, fingers brushing through the hair that falls against her back. “Then what about it makes you upset?”

He is quiet as she pauses, nibbling on her bottom lip as the words float around her brain, over and over as she tries to get them to sound right. There is really only one to say it, and she gulps down the pressure in her throat that is trying to hold onto them before they can slip past her throat.

“Like that’s the only thing people think I’m good for.” And somehow warped her into thinking it too, and it feels impossible to fight that thought away, no matter how hard she has tried to before, because sometimes she knows she shouldn’t believe it, but the voice that tells her she should is always louder, more convincing.

Liam doesn’t react, only hooks his chin at the top of her head, arms squeezing a bit tighter around her. Zayn knows he can’t deny it, because that is what people think. He has already said he heard what people say about her –

“That’s not true though. Some of my favorite times with you were when we were just sat around playin’ Fifa or summat in my room, or that day we went to the free comic book day. Jus’ like being around you, y’know.”

Zayn flattens her palm against his chest, sliding it over the wiry hairs and feeling the dull thump of his heart underneath his sternum. Hers is more rapid when her eyes squeeze closed. Those are some of her favorite times too, her memories of them mostly of Liam’s laughter and innocent kisses just because.

And the comic book store, she doesn’t really know why she felt the need to be so coupley with Liam, it just had felt a lot like happiness and Zayn had wanted to embrace it until she realized how selfish of her it was.

“You’re the only one that thinks that,” she says softly, voice filled with a vulnerability she isn’t comfortable sharing, but she wants to be able to with Liam. It isn’t selfish if she can give Liam that same happy feeling, is it?

She feels Liam smile and she wonders if it is happy or sad. “Come on, Zayn. Y’want me to walk you back to your dorm?”

Zayn shouldn’t, but she clings to Liam, closing her eyes to catch her breath. He can’t expect her to finally open up some and then send her off -

“We can talk about it later, yeah? When you haven’t been drinking.”

She tilts her head, looking up at Liam with her chin pressed to her chest. He is gorgeous, with the moon reflecting against his tanned skin and making his eyelashes seem longer and thicker as they shadow his cheekbones. “I didn’t drink that much.”

Liam smoothes his palms down the sides of her head, pressing his lips to her forehead. “Later, okay?”

She pouts some, but nods. “Can I stay here?”

Liam answers instantly, a warm smile tugging at the corner of his lips, swollen and bruised like he had been nibbling on them the whole time she had been talking. “’Course. Y’know I sleep better with you here.”

Zayn changes into some of the clothes she left in Liam’s dresser and curls up behind him, waiting until he falls asleep to whisper apologizes and promises to work on being better for him against the back of his neck.

++

Tyler taps a rhythm against her knee, bobbing his head along to the same one he hears in his head. Zayn reads the lyrics he has written down, listening to the same beat that Josh drums on the table. You don’t know my heart the way you know my face, you don’t know what I’ve done -

She is trying to pay attention, really, and help Tyler get this song done before the next café show this upcoming Friday, but he decided to sit in front of the gym, with it’s glass wall and Liam Payne on the other side, muscles flexing in his shoulders as he pulls on this bar that has too many weights attached to it. She wants to move closer, and see the skin that is probably slicked with sweat and flushed from exertion.

It is obscene to look at really, even though she is probably biased in this case. She loves his back, the hard muscles and his soft skin, the way it reddens and bruises so easily under her fingertips.

They haven’t seen each other since the morning after the party, with Liam rushing out of bed because he had slept past his alarm, and Zayn’s eyes heavy and swollen but Liam hadn’t noticed, or hadn’t mention it if he did.

“Can you stop eye fucking your boyfriend and pay attention, please?”

Zayn pulls her eyes away from Liam reluctantly to glare at Tyler. She shoves him, cheeks flushing. “He isn’t my boyfriend, y’know that.”

“He is. And you know I think you’re stupid, now please help me.”

Zayn sighs, focusing on the words leaving Tyler’s lips as he sings along to the lyrics written in the notebook. Tyler thinks she is stupid for thinking she doesn’t deserve Liam. Zayn thinks she is stupid for opening up to Tyler.

Liam pads across the gym, shorts hanging low on his hips. He stops to lean on a treadmill where a girl with brown hair runs. Zayn narrows her eyes, trying to figure out why the girl seems familiar. The girl slows until she comes to a complete stop, hopping off the treadmill to reach for a bottle that Liam hands her way.

When she turns, in the direction of the lockers with Liam, it feels like Zayn’s heart stops and sucks all of the energy out of her just to pick up a beat again. Sophia

She remembers how Liam talked about her, only kind words because Liam never says a bad thing about anyone. He had told her how he had asked her out time after time, until she finally agreed, only to break up with him a few months later because you’re a nice guy Liam, but

Zayn watches his hand slide against her lower back and she grits her teeth, pulling her eyes away because she has no right to feel jealous, or angry for that matter because she had broken Liam’s heart too.

“Did you already finish your song for Friday?” Josh asks, giving up on drumming the beat. “You know that guy from Blarneys is coming just to see you.”

Zayn clears her throat, expression falling into a bored one instead of a hurt one. “Um, kind of yeah. And he isn’t coming just to see me. He is probably going to hire you two.”

“Doubt it,” Tyler tells her, kicking his feet up onto the table between them. “I’m trying to get signed you know. Go big. Plus, I don’t think we’re the type they are looking for honestly.”

Zayn rolls her eyes, not wanting to fuel his ego but they could get signed, easily. They are really talented. Idiots, but talented idiots.

“I think they’re looking for a more, eh - mellow vibe. I think that’s why he keeps asking about you Zayn –“

Liam steps out of the locker room, going to the receptionist desk where Sophia waits for him, leaning against the counter and attention on the phone in her hands that she taps away at. They are friends, according to Liam. They didn’t have much choice since Sophia and Louis, one of Liam’s best mates, are practically attached to the hip.

And Liam forgives likes it’s the easiest thing to do in the world.

Zayn doesn’t consciously think about it before she moves, sliding away from Tyler and Josh to jog up to the entrance of the gym as Liam and Sophia head out of it. Liam’s eyebrows raise up, and a soft smile quickly takes over his lips as he spots her. He doesn’t look as tired today, those bags gone and there is a glow on his skin, cheeks flushed from working out. 

“Hey Liam,” she says quickly, hearing how her words are choked and she clears her throat, hoping that confidence she likes to portray will come through. “Are we still on for later?”

“’Course. You remember Sophia right –“

He gestures to her and Sophia gives her a smile that is on the edge of uncomfortable but Zayn ignores it with a quick nod, looking back to Liam. “Would you mind if we study in my room this time? The library gives me a headache.”

Liam’s cheeks bunch up as he smiles, and Zayn swears there is humor lingering in his features. “I’ve never been there before.”

She knows her smile is flirty, and she doesn’t mean to run her fingers out to touch Liam’s arm but it happens anyway. Possessive, and she will apologize for it later. Maybe. “I think you’re gonna like it.”

++

Zayn fixes her hair in the mirror, brushing her fingers through her bangs. She pulls her arms through Liam’s plaid shirt, opening the buttons enough to reveal the curve of her breasts, the expanse of the ink stained on her skin. She ignores the guilt pooling in her as she pulls on the spandex shorts that she bought to work out in before she remembered she actually doesn’t like working out. But maybe she had bought them because Liam mentioned how they should go to the gym sometime, but Zayn changed the subject without hesitation because that seemed like more than what they were doing. But it still lingered in her mind for weeks after.

The last time she wore them, Liam had rolled her over with an overwhelmed expression, just to mouth at her through the material and the memory sends a jolt of excitement through her, even if she is probably going to win the shittiest person award.

Liam knocks on her door a few moments later, a lazy grin on his lips when she opens it. His eyes widen slightly, and drag down her body. His looks are always so obvious and the flush in his cheeks when he rips them back to her face is like a routine they have been over a million times before.

“First floor? That’s convenient for that bad smoking habit of yours,” he jokes with a laugh, stepping through the door. She reaches out, dragging her fingers down his arm to link their fingers. A gentle touch, with the promise of a more that she is comfortable with.

“’M afraid of heights,” she says, pulling him towards her bedroom. Shittiest person, shittiest person -

Liam snorts. “You practically hang out of my window.”

Zayn grins, turning as she steps him past her bedroom door, covered in a mess of artwork and photographs, rude notes from her roommates. “’Cause I know you’ll save me.”

Liam’s eyes scan her room with curiosity. It much smaller than Liam’s, practically a box in comparison. Just a bed, a desk and a wardrobe, with posters covering the walls and a bed set that is plain gray because it had been on sale, and her blankets from home made her miss it too much. There are piles of clothes on the floor by the closet that she hadn’t bothered to pick up because Liam knows she is messy. A complete wreck in more ways than one -

“Your sisters?” Liam asks, reaching for a photo propped on a desk that is covered in books and CD cases. It is the four of them, from before Doniya went off to school, curled up on the couch in the living room with an afghan thrown over them because Safaa had fallen asleep before the movie they were supposed to be watching even started.

Zayn nods, sitting on the bed where her textbooks are already laying, in anticipation to be opened but she is hoping they will be knocked to the floor. “It goes Doniya, Waliyha, Safaa and me.”

“They look just like you,” Liam comments, something coating his voice that she can’t identify and doesn’t want to. He sits beside her, teeth working at his bottom lip, eyes bright and warm like he is trying to mimic the way the sun shines through the window. “I’m really happy I finally get to see your room.”

“Nothing exciting,” she grumbles. She hadn’t purposely kept Liam from her room, but she kind of had. His roommates were never in their dorm, and Zayn’s always were. And they were supposed to be secret.

“You were right when I said I didn’t know a lot about you,” Liam admits quietly, looking down at his hands. There is an anxious tilt in his voice. “And I would like to, so it’s nice to see this bit at least.”

Zayn huffs out a breath, pushing the text book away where it lays between them to scooch closer and touch Liam’s jaw and soothe out the tension residing there. “Ask me anything you like.”

Liam smiles. “Yeah?”

“Mhm,” she hums, sliding her hand across Liam’s shoulder. It’s so nice to be able to touch him, to settle into something more normal.

“You’re afraid of heights? What else?”

Zayn hesitates, lips quirking up. “Lots of things. Bugs, roller coasters, Frank Ocean never coming out with his next album.” She pauses, her chest beating quickly because even if she means to tease, it still rings true. “Never getting to kiss you again.”

Liam’s smile falters a bit and his lips open and close like he isn’t sure what to say. The expression he gives isn’t bad, just thoughtful.

He had said he wanted to know what was going through her head that night, the one she tries not to remember much of, and that seems to be the only thing, most times.

“I’m afraid of that too.”

Zayn nods, pulling her fingers away from him abruptly. She had wanted to get him into her bed and make him forget about fucking Sophia, but now she feels bad because Liam’s words are genuine, and she needs to stop fucking doing this to him, but she has never been good at doing what she right. Especially when it comes to Liam.

Which is probably the number one reason she doesn’t deserve him most of all.

“I really want to kiss you now,” Liam tells her, a shy grin on his lips like that first night they were together, and he still asked like a proper gent, even though Zayn had him pushed against the bedroom door and was waiting for him to do so. “I’d be like – okay if we went back to normal y’know.”

Zayn groans, leaning to press her forehead against his arm. “Why do you want things that will just hurt you in the end?”

Liam cups her jaw, pulling her head up. His thumb is warm and soft against her cheeks. “To be honest babe, it is kind of torture to be around you and not kiss you. And I regret ever messing that up. I mean – like, I’m cool with just chilling or whatever, but I’m not going to lie and say I don’t think about kissing you half the time.”

Zayn’s breath hitches, and she puts her hands on Liam just like he has them on her. She should say it, just blurt it out and tell Liam how she feels, because as much as she doesn’t deserve him, he doesn’t deserve hurt, and logically she knows it might make things easier – if only for the moment. “I told you that you didn’t mess anything up.”

Liam nods, hesitating for only a moment before he leans forward. It is only a brush of the lips, one that burns through Zayn and makes her push forward, capturing Liam’s lips with her own in a way that feels more familiar, in a way that she has craved every time they were in the library together because Liam has a habit of rubbing his thumb against his lower lip whenever he is concentrating.

Her fingers press into his cheeks but she lets him guide the kiss, tongue rolling over her bottom lip and pressing against her own as she parts them. Her stomach flips when she remembers what Liam had said before everything had happened. I could spend all day kissing you -

He kisses like he could, slow like he is savoring every time her lips drag against his own. Gentle, like he is trying to heal the bruises Zayn makes with her kisses. It used to bother her, and she always craved desperate kisses, teeth nipping at her lips before being replaced by the hard press of Liam’s, making her lips swollen and sore after only a moment.

Liam moves a bit, turning towards her more to press her back. He guides her still, hesitantly while her fingers sliding around the back of his neck to tickle in the short hairs there, until her back presses into the mattress.

There is a thud when Liam moves so he is completely lined over the top of her, but Zayn doesn’t bother to check on what fell off the bed. She has missed the heavy weight of Liam on top of her, the way his body is so much larger than hers that she feels completely surrounded by him.  She is in love with the feeling really, of everything Liam consuming her -

She keeps her fingers gentle, circling patterns at the back of his neck, down his throat and to his chest, trying to mimic the way Liam always does it. He groans softly when she tugs on his lower lip with gentle teeth, his hips pressing down against hers and she spreads her legs more to tilt her hips up to meet his.

“I didn’t know you took this,” Liam huffs out, lips moving to her jaw and she tilts her head back into the pillows. His hand drags up the material of her shirt, the plaid one she stole from Liam. The one she always steals, because it smells like his cologne but she has worn it enough times that her perfume lingers to the material too.

“Sorry,” she sighs but she doesn’t mean it, arching up as Liam moves his lips to the dip at the base of her throat, between her collarbones.

His fingers work at her buttons as he moves down, breathing against the ink staining her chest. He had been there when she had gotten it, letting her clutch his fingers and not judging her for being afraid, or telling her it was her own fault she was in pain, like Jade always does when she complains after getting a new one.

“Don’t mind,” he promises, scraping his lips against the curve of her breast. Anticipation curls in her belly as Liam groans, like he gets proper turned on just by touching her.

“No?” Zayn huffs out and Liam looks up at her, grinning some as he pushes the fabric away from her torso. She only wears a cotton sports bra underneath, and her nipples stand out obscenely against the white fabric. Liam groans again, lips hovering over one of them before he bites down, tugging her nipple and the material with it into his mouth.

She moans quietly as Liam dampens the material with open mouthed kisses, the fabric rubbing against the sensitive bud as Liam’s tongue flattens out against her. She had been surprised how obscene that shy boy from the party was back then, and it still makes something that feels a lot like static burn down her spine.

Zayn dips her fingers under the back of his collar, feeling the warmth of his skin as he moves lower. The words are at the tip of her tongue, playing over and over again in her brain but that metaphor about having a wall up is scary true, because she feels like she is slamming into it every time she considers saying them out loud, and the force of the blow shoves them back down her throat and keeps them locked where they belong in her chest.

At first I was just tryin’ to fuck, but you have got me so deep in love -

“Missed this,” Liam murmurs, fingers cradling her hips and planting them to the mattress as he tongues over the blocky heart on her hip. “Not that studying isn’t fun or whatever.”

Zayn snorts, chest expanding as she watches him. His palms slide down to her thighs, sliding underneath them and pulling them from the bed. “Missed that mouth,” she says as he presses a kiss to her inner thigh. Missed you –

There is no shyness in his expression when he quirks an eyebrow up at her, eyes playful. “Yeah?” He asks, a bit of cockiness sliding into his grin. A cockiness she likes to think he learned from her, because she likes to rile him up with comments on how good he is.

“Yeah, babe. S’ all I think about,” she whispers quietly, lifting her hips when Liam’s fingers pull on the band of her shorts. She slips her legs back to the bed, watching Liam pull back on his knees as he slides the materials off her legs, silky against her smooth skin and she shivers as the pads of his fingers drag behind in it’s path.

Liam’s cheeks redden, a hint of that shyness appearing in his features as he reaches between her, pressing a finger against her. She breathes out a bit of neediness, wanting to urge Liam to get on with it, but she wants Liam to pace this the way he needs to.

“Thinkin’ about it gets you proper wet like –“ Liam rubs against her clit gently through the damp material of her panties.

Zayn moans as static shoots through her again. “Thinkin’ about you in general does,” she teases playfully, sitting up to reach for the brim of his shirt. “Wanna strip off for me?”

Liam nods, teeth fucking his bottom lip as he pulls the material over his head. That flush in his cheeks matches the flush spreading up his chest, blotchy under the brush of hair and she drags her fingers up the hard bulge of muscle covering his belly. She tilts her head, lips pouting for Liam to kiss her again.

He grins into it, fingers sliding under her jaw, palms pressing into the fragile skin of her neck. She cups him gently, fingers teasing over the cloth that covers his length. A moan rumbles in his throat and he kisses her a little harder, hips pressing into her palm.

“This is okay right?” Liam mutters against her lips, pressing her back down against the mattress. His voice is tainted with uncertainty like always, a bit overwhelmed and she nods when he pulls back to look at her.

“If it’s okay with you,” Zayn says, brushing gentle fingers into his hair. She traces I love you along his hairline with a thumb pressed to his skin, and against his throat, with a tongue trailing down the column of it. Liam shivers, pulling back to his knees, eager fingers pulling at the panties she still wears.

“Very okay with me,” he says, eyes bright. “I promise.”

Zayn only nods, an overwhelmed breath getting stuck in her throat as Liam leans forward, peppering kisses along her hips and lower, like he is trying to imprint the same words against her skin.

She considers taking over like she normally does, as Liam teases with soft kisses and breathing over her clit but not properly touching it, but she knows Liam never lasts long with teasing.

Liam’s hands cup her hips, lifting them off the mattress and she pulls a leg up, sliding it over Liam’s shoulder with a grin, a quiet push for him to get on with it. He chuckles softly, looking at her with dark eyes before he closes the space between them.

She moans softly, fingers sliding through his hair as he wraps his lips around her clit, gentle as he pulls it into her mouth. Pleasure rolls around her tummy and she presses her hips up, watching as Liam flattens his tongue and drags it between her lips, letting her grind up against it with hitched off breaths that sound better echoing off the walls in Liam’s room.

“God,” Liam groans, humming against her, lips moving more eagerly. Zayn closes her eyes, her head tilting back on the mattress because she feels the same. Overwhelmed, in love.

Liam circles her hole, moving her hips up more before she feels him pressing his tongue slowly into her. He fucks her shallowly, licking into her with an eagerness that is obscene and messy. The tip of his finger presses against his tongue before he replaces it, gently thrusting into her.

Her legs quake and she presses her heel into Liam’s back, reaching for his shoulders. He pumps a second finger into her, the slick sound obscene in the small room. “Come on,” she whines. “Want your cock, babe.”

Liam groans roughly, pulling away from her with wide eyes. “I don’t have a condom,” he tells her as she slides her leg down his back.

Zayn bites her lip, watching Liam climb back up her and his tongue flick out, rolling over the glossy skin around his lips with a look of mischief in his eyes.  

They usually stay in Liam’s room, where she puts the condoms, and sometimes she carries them in her backpack for when they get worked up somewhere else, but at the moment she doesn’t really care.

“I have only been with you,” she tells him, sliding her hands up his chest. He knows she has the implant in her arm, because a few months ago he had her in a fit of giggles when he poked at it with a disgusted look on his face. “Since like last year.”

Liam looks at her for a long moment, shaking his head some with a look she can’t read on his face before he pulls back.

She panics for a moment, that he is going to leave, but he fumbles quickly with his pants, shucking them to the floor and climbing back onto the bed before she can even get out the where are you going –

“Only been with you too,” Liam says even though Zayn has never had a doubt. Liam always assures her of it, even if she doesn’t ask – even when she assured him she didn’t care if he did hook up with someone else, and she is thankful he hadn’t.

Because that is another lie she has to add to her long list of.

He kneels on the bed, spreading his legs some and capturing her hips to pull her closer. “Only want to be with you,” he mumbles softly, a flush in his cheeks a moment later like he hadn’t meant to say it. She can see the apology on his face –

“Me too,” she says quickly, without thinking about it because she doesn’t want to hear Liam’s apologize for it. It makes her chest expand, nerves roll around in her stomach, a warmth roll across her limbs because she knows Liam means it, even if she doesn’t understand why.

Liam wraps fingers around his length, nudging forward and Zayn wishes he would come closer so she can kiss that vulnerable look off his face, but she wraps her legs around his hips, budging down the mattress and closer to him.

“You mean it?” he asks, guiding the tip of his cock against her.

It is right there, heavy on the tip of her tongue but she bites around it, nodding her head. I love you. “I mean it.”

Liam gives her a jerky nod, eyes kept down, watching as he slowly works into her. Maybe he is learning to hide his emotions from her too -

Zayn huffs out, fingers flexing against the gray sheets crumpling underneath her. A groan rumbles in Liam’s chest, lips parting around the sound. She rotates her hips, working back on Liam’s cock to get him going.

She had been honest, with those lyrics I’ve never made love – but Liam looks like that is the only thing he knows how to do, with overwhelmed eyes that hold so much feeling in them that he could never properly learn how to close all of that off but she doesn’t want him to. His strokes are slow, grinding deep with gentle fingers pressing into the thick of her thighs and huffed out breaths. He would probably whisper all of his thoughts against her skin if she let him, and she’s considering.

“C’mere, please,” Zayn moans quietly, reaching out for him and Liam obliges, leaning over her until their chests press together. She wraps an arm around his upper back, nudging his lips open with her own. “Need you close.”

Need you, she corrects, writing those quiet words against his lips. Liam’s skin is slick when he picks up the pace, thrusting faster with a harsh smack of skin but he is still gentle in the way his fingers tangle in her hair and his lips move to her forehead.

Zayn sucks gently on his throat, her moans vibrating against his skin as she tightens her legs around his waist. Her teeth bite in when that shiver runs down her spine, signaling that she is close, marking his as hers, even though she has never had the right.

She grinds up against him, pleasure building in her as her clit rubs against Liam’s skin. Liam grunts out roughly when she clenches around him. A sound she has been in love with since the first time she heard it, coaxing Liam to let her hear him and he had looked so embarrassed and insecure when he did.

Liam pushes onto his elbows pressed beside her head, eyes finding hers as he fucks into her a little harder without her asking, but she had wanted him to, told him that when she confessed about Tyler, and Liam stores everything in his memory -

She tries to keep her focus on those kind brown eyes but hers fall shut as she arches against him, feeling the wave run through her as she comes.

“Oh Liam, fuck,” she moans out, nails digging into his sides. I never made love -

He presses their foreheads together, hips staggering as they rabbit into her. “Say it again,” he huffs out, a bit desperate like.

Zayn slides her hands up, cupping his jaw to hold him close. The words come out shuddered, her hips rocking up to meet Liam’s jerky thrusts. She keeps her fingers gentle on his skin, a grin quirking the corners of her lips up, trying to show him that even if she doesn’t know how to make love she will try for him. “Y’gonna come in me Liam?”

There is a whine in his throat, a jerky nod of his head. Her moans breeze past his lips, unable to keep talking him through it because her own body quakes underneath his.

Liam crushes their lips together, teeth biting harshly at Zayn’s bottom lip as he comes with a wrecked sound rumbling in his throat. His hips jerk, pushing deeper and she rotates her hips, working out his orgasm as she feels her second quickly approaching.

“Liam,” she manages, taking her fingers away from his jaw to reach between them. Liam arches away from her some, moving his lips to the shell of her ear where he lets out a shaky breath.

She works her fingers quickly against her clit, her body tensing on the verge of being painful in the way it tries to tremble against the tension. Liam pulls out of her, but stays close to work his teeth against her earlobe with soft moans of encouragement.

“You always look so beautiful when you come,” Liam murmurs hotly against her skin. “S’what I think about when I stroke off.”

Zayn’s eyes fall shut, an image Liam when they aren’t together stitched to her eyelids, overwhelmed and eagerly pumping his cock and thinking about what they would be doing if they were.

“Good?” Liam chuckles after she comes and wraps her arms around his shoulders to pull him flat on top of her. He still braces himself with an arm though, always so careful with her.

“Yeah,” Zayn responds, hearing the overwhelmed sound in her voice. She pecks his lips, closing her eyes to ignore the way Liam’s brows push together. The pressure is heavy in her chest and she tightens his hold, afraid he is going to leave.

“M’not getting’ out of this bed,” Liam mumbles, a grin tugging at his lips. He slides off of her some though, so only half of his body is pressed to the top of hers. “You’ll have to drag me out kicking and screaming.”

Zayn giggles, pressing their noses together. “Don’t want you to.”

A brightness takes over Liam’s face and he nuzzles her nose, chuckling under his breath when she frowns at him because she has to keep up the act that she hates when he does that, even though she secretly loves it. “I like your bed more than mine, I think.”

He rests against the pillow, his arm sliding underneath it as he adjusts to get comfortable and Zayn pecks his lips again because she can’t help it. There is a laziness settling around them and she wants to bask in it. “I like you in it.”

Liam’s eyes crinkle some, a hand going around the back of her neck to pull their lips back together. I could spend all day kissing you –

He pulls back, brows furrowing together and he shifts off the bed some. “What is this –“

Zayn’s heart stops in her chest and she considers shoving the card he pulls out from underneath her pillow back under and kissing him to distract him, but his thumb is already flipping it open before she can collect herself enough to actually do that.

Liam’s cheeks warm, the corners of his lips pushing high into them. He glances at her, a glints in his eyes and Zayn flops down on the pillow beside him, dragging her hands down his sides.

“You still have this?” His voice is soft, warm and Zayn keeps her face blank as she watches Liam trace Your Liam, just like she always does.

Zayn moves closer, ducking her head under Liam’s arm to rest her cheek against where it is rests against the pillow, his elbow propped as he continues to look at the card. “I hope you aren’t excited about that homework on the floor, because I’m not feelin’ up to it anymore.”

Liam drops his hand, wrapping it around Zayn’s shoulders with the card still squeezed between his fingers. He scrapes his lips against Zayn’s forehead, humming slightly. “That means moving so no thanks. I’m good right here.”

Zayn grins, curling her arm around Liam’s side to pull him closer until they are flushed together, legs tangling. Me too.

“I like this too,” Liam says quietly into her hair. “Just so y’know. I don’t want you to think like, what you said the other day ‘bout feeling like sex is all you’re good for, that I think that jus’ because I like having sex with you.”

Zayn warms, snuggling closer into his chest. Liam has never made her feel that way, and that had been the scariest part. She had been afraid if she trusted he wouldn’t, that one day he would.

But really, she should just trust Liam.

“I know.”

++

“Beti, what is troubling you?”

Zayn moves the phone to her other shoulder, balancing it as she slides her fingers through Liam’s soft hair. She is lucky he hadn’t woken up when the phone started to vibrate, but he had looked so tired all day, especially when he came knocking after practice, that he sleeps heavy with a rumble of snores filling her room.

The sky outside is dark, and the only light in the room is from the blue night light she has plugged in across the room, because she the dark is another thing to add to the list of her fears.

Liam was supposed to meet up with Sophia a few minutes ago, but Zayn hadn’t felt like waking him up, or getting out of bed to bring him the vibrating phone from the sports bag lying by her door. She knows plenty of other people at this school to hang out with.

“Nothing, Baba,” she whispers into the phone, lips scraping against Liam’s forehead before she slowly rolls away. His snore hitches off, hands curling under the pillow after she slips away from them like maybe he wants to touch that card he had checked to see was still there earlier before he fell asleep.

Her father clicks his teeth. “Don’t lie now, Zayn. Your sister showed me a new video of you performing and no one sings with a face so full of hurt unless they actually feel it.”

Zayn chews on her bottom lip, stepping in Liam’s jersey shorts and grabbing a t-shirt from the pile in front of her closet that she pulls on quickly before she tip toes to the common area, which is quiet and empty. “S’ nothing, I promise.”

She curls up on the couch, tucking her legs underneath her. “You know what your Mum and I have told you love. If the joy someone gives you doesn’t heavily outweigh the pain they can cause, get them out of your life.”

“It’s me,” Zayn says quietly instead of denying any longer, because her father always knows when she does. She clutches onto the phone, wishing it were his shirt, or that knitted sweater he wears most days during the winter. She remembers when her and Danny broke up,  and her father coaxed her out of her room with a bowl of ice cream and gentle fingers in her hair, never asking questions – just comforting her. “I’m causing my own pain, Baba.”

“Then fix it,” he says simply. “Make it right.”

“It’s not that easy,” she sighs, dragging her fingers through her matted hair. “I think that I might make it worse, really.”

“This is about a boy?”

Zayn whines in embarrassment. “Yes, Baba,” she drags out, grinning to herself. I know everything, beti. You can’t hide anything from me -

He clicks his teeth again, disapproving. “If he can’t handle how hard headed you can, or if you made a mistake or whatever it is that is causing you this pain you aren’t telling me about, he isn’t worth your time.”

She sighs, listening to the soft padding of feet and the sound of a door opening. Her heart picks up like it always does, whenever he is close. “That’s not it. You’ll like him. Cares for me y’know, proper like.”

Her father scoffs, ending with a chuckle. “If he is your boyfriend, he is already on my shit list.” It isn’t genuine, and Zayn warms at the idea of Liam and her father sitting on the couch in their living room, Yaser trying to intimidate Liam and Liam falling for it, stumbling over his words and flustered until he realizes Yaser is just as much of a puppy as him.

Liam pads over to her, eyes heavy and lips parting before he notices she is on the phone and closes them. His hair is a wreck at the top of his head, and red prints on his face from the pillow. He only wears his briefs, because Zayn stole the only pair of pants here that will fit him.

“I love you Baba,” she says, tilting her head up so Liam can slide his fingers against her jaw lazily. “Thank you for checkin’ up on me.”

“Love you too, Zayn. That’s my job. Fix it with your boy and then bring him home because I’m going to tell your mother and you know how she is.”

The call clicks off as she chuckles and Liam leans forward to press his lips to her nose. “Everything okay?”

She nods, giving him a soft smile but she doesn’t know how assuring it is. “Go back to sleep, I’m sorry if I woke you up.”

Liam makes a sound of protest in his throat, pecking her lips before he falls onto the couch beside her. “Can’t, I’m late meeting with Sophia.”

Zayn doesn’t hide her frown when she turns to throw a possessive leg over his lap like don’t leave. Liam’s fingers instantly go it, drawing shapes against her skin, gentle against the bruises scattered up her thigh because Liam finally got the hint that she wanted him to be a little rougher with her. “So cancel.”

“She is only here for the week,” Liam hums, leaning forward to press his lips against her knee. He is an expert at gentle touches that make her breath hitch. The only person that she has ever been with that touches just to touch, like he can’t handle the idea of not touching her.

“Staying where?”

Liam frowns in confusion. After a beat, realization crosses his face, but he doesn’t comment on that, instead answers her question with, “Niall’s flat, I think” and a quirk of the lips.

Relief washes away the worry she had that Liam was going to say his room, since he hasn’t invited her over since they started it back up. (Even if it has only been three days, she is used to spending most of her time at Liam’s.)

“Nothing I can do to convince you to stay?” She asks, pouting her lips and hopefully perfecting the puppy look that Liam is so good at.

Liam pouts in return, amusement coating his features as he reaches out and wipes a thumb across her pushed out bottom lip. “I will come back, I promise.”

Zayn nods, resting her head against his shoulder. Tell him, tell him.

The idea comes to her suddenly, and she blurts it out without considering if she has enough time to change the song she is performing.

“Wanna come to the café with me on Friday? We are having another show.”

Liam stiffens some and she pulls back, watching as a nervous look takes over his face. His voice is shaky when he says, “yeah, I would love to.”

On a date is what she is opening her mouth to say, even though she feels as if she may vomit instead, but Liam continues speaking, interrupting with, “Sophia wants to see Harry perform. I guess they know each other or summat.”

Zayn feels that familiar feeling of her expression going flat. She climbs off the couch, reaching for his hand to tug her back to her room. “C’mon, let me give you your pants back.”

Liam chuckles, planting his chest to her back and arms around her belly, making her stumble in the room with lips at her cheek. “Unfair that you get to take all of my clothes but I can never take any of yours.”

She snorts out a laugh, fond warming away the uneasiness settling in her chest from thoughts of Sophia. “Go ahead, but you’re a bit bulky like – might turn into the Hulk or summat with your muscles tearing my clothes to bits.”

Liam’s fingers push down the band of the shorts, dragging them past her hips with fingers that tease against her skin. “I’m like totally ripped bro.”

Zayn covers her lips to muffle the giggle passing them as she wiggles the shorts down her thighs, turning to face Liam. It has been so easy, light with Liam the past few days as she tries to work up to expressing herself more adequately.

“I know what you would look good in,” she starts, voice teasing as she curls an arm around his waist, tugging him back until the back of her knees smack against the edge of her bed.

“What’s that?” Liam’s lips drag across his bottom lip as his eyes dart down to hers.

“My sheets.”

Liam groans, eyes clenching shut when she pulls them back onto it. He is faking it, because he is a lot stronger than her and could easily have resisted but he had gone so easily like it was the one place he most wanted to be. “You make it difficult to resist you.”

Zayn moves slides her hands up his spine. “So don’t.”

He smiles softly, brushing her bangs off her forehead. “I can’t believe you’re the cool one.”

“M’not,” she denies easily around a laugh. He presses his lips to her throat, as if he wants to feel the way her laugh vibrates under the skin there. “That’s you, Mr. Footie Captain.”

Liam groans again, eyes clenching shut. “I’m a right dork, babe. Y’know that.”

I love you for it. “I like it,” she says softly, sliding soft palms across his temples to press a kiss to his nose to rid that hint of insecurity in his voice.

The change in his face is instant, eyes going bright and it is always so easy with him, to assure him – make him feel better. Whenever he would tell her about how the kids used to make fun of him, or how he feels different than the others - boring, lame, bland - all she had to do was tell him he was wrong or fuck them, and it seemed to be enough.

Zayn never understood it really, why he feels that way. Sure he wouldn’t stand out in a crowd full of uni kids to anyone but her, and he looks a bit awkward whenever they go out, but it seems artificial to her. He is kind, genuine, strong, brave – a multitude of things she wishes she were, all wrapped into one.

“Wanna mess around a lil’ bit before I leave? I mean, I’m already late.”

Zayn giggles, muffling it against his cheek. “You know I do. For a dork, you sure know how to dick a girl down.”

Liam barks out a laugh, cutting it off when he presses his lips to hers. Shy and embarrassed, another thing she has always found adorable when they messed around. “I had a good teacher.”

Zayn quirks a brow, sliding her palms gently down his back to cup his hips. “Me?”

He had been nervous and awkward the first few times they were together, but not bad. Zayn had actually been surprised by the expect way in which Liam worked his hips to thrust into her. But she doesn’t want to think about anyone else before her.

He hums as he nods, pecking her lips. “Now I get to teach you something in return.”

She breathes out as Liam’s legs nudge against hers to spread them for him to fit easier between. “What’s that?”

The slide of his thumb against her jaw is light, moving up her cheek and he looks down at her with that fondness in his eyes. “You’ll see.”

++

The art room is empty, but it’s the only one in the whole building that is. All of the rooms have been rented out as students practice for Friday’s show, and in the hallway it is a muffled mix of noises.

Zayn sits on a stool in front of one of the drawing tables, Tyler and Josh on the other side. There are laptops, notebooks opened with scribbled drawl all over them, and blank CDs spread all over the table.

“That is the song you are choosing?” Tyler frowns at her, judgment in his eyes.

Zayn narrows hers, readjusting the microphone in front of her with shaky fingers. Josh clicks the camera off, frowning just like Tyler. “What is wrong with it?”

Please don’t take this personal but you ain’t shit, and you weren’t special,” Tyler says blandly, repeating a line of the song back to her.

“That is like one part. It’s the rest of the song,” Zayn argues, but he is right and she grimaces. She doesn’t want to sing to his insecurities. She thought it would be easy, changing her song last minute and finding one that represent all her feelings in a more positive light, but it hasn’t been so far.

“That is why we take parts,” Tyler says, scrolling through the lyrics pulled up on his computer screen. “And mix it with –“

“Brave,” Zayn blurts, pointing to the song title on the other page of lyrics Tyler has up. Tyler scans the lyrics quickly, eyes bright like they get when he comes up with a good line for one of his new songs.

“This one is perfect, fuck the other song. Test it out. We don’t even have to mix it up, but we could if you want.”

Zayn clears her throat, bringing the microphone to her lips. Liam might as well be in the room with her at the moment with the way her lungs squeeze all of the breath out of her.  

“Wicked,” Josh says when she finishes. A nervous giggle bubbles past her lips like it always does when she gets done singing and has to come back to reality.

She isn’t completely comfortable with singing in front of other people still, but more comfortable than not. It doesn’t feel as hard to open up when she sings, she just has to find the perfect song.

“You’re definitely getting hired,” Tyler goes on with a proud smile. He is furiously scribbling something before he folds the paper and hands it to her. It’s other lyrics she can mix in with the song.

Zayn snorts, but doesn’t comment, instead nibbles at her bottom lip because she had already forgotten about the music venue rep coming to the show.

She slides off the stool, giving them a soft thank you and telling Josh to send her the video as she excuses herself from the art room because they are meeting up with someone else for Friday’s show.

Zayn takes her phone out as she steps out of the art building, flipping through her contacts until she hovers over Liam’s name. She wants to call him, hear the sound of his voice to comfort the nerves buzzing through her, but he is probably at practice so she sends him a quick message.

thnking of u hope ur days ok x

They haven’t picked up their conversation from the night of the party, mostly because Zayn is too afraid of bringing it up again, but she wants to. But hopefully Friday, if she doesn’t get sick on stage.

“My day is going fine, thanks. Better now.”

Zayn looks up from her phone at Liam, who grins at her. He wears that varsity jacket, the tan and black one, buttoned to the neck, and a black beanie keeping his ears warm, even though it isn’t that cold out yet.

They are on the sidewalk outside of the art building, Zayn heading up the hill in the direction Liam just came from. “No practice?”

He shakes his head, teeth working at his bottom lip. “No game this week and Coach gave us off ‘cause he reckons he has been working us too hard.”

“I agree,” Zayn teases, taking a step closer. Liam reaches out, sliding a strand of her hair behind her ear with a curious look. It only lasts a moment before he is smiling again, dropping his hand away from her.

“I gotta go though. Wanna meet up later?”

She nods, biting around her grin as he taps her cheek and walks past her. She turns, watching him when he looks over his shoulder with a smile. Maybe they could have more of this, stopping each other on the sidewalk for a rushed peck on the lips, or walking on the sidewalk with each other, their fingers laced together. It seems unimportant, silly little things, but she wants them. She doesn’t want secrets anymore.

“Maybe we can get some grub at the student center?” She calls after him, chest expanding when she sucks in as much air as she can.

Liam’s wrinkles his nose at her, turning towards the entrance of the art building. “I would love to, babe.”

++

It’s Friday, and the café is filled, nearly the whole art department sat around, including professors, students and alums. All the tables are filled, and people fill in the spaces in between them, and take up most of the back wall. An owner of some high end music venue from a town over is supposed to be here, but Zayn isn’t sure if he is – completely unaware of what he looks like, which is probably good because half of the people are performing tonight to impress the guy.

Tyler and Josh know, but she has asked them not to tell her because she wants to only have eyes for one person tonight when she’s performing.

Zayn finds Harry before anyone else, hair pulled into a bun and a large shirt hanging off of him that is pointless to wear because it is unbuttoned so far down. He jumps when Zayn comes up behind him, a hand going for his elbow.

“Good luck tonight,” she says, grinning some. Harry doesn’t want the job, but he loves performing and Zayn thinks it would be cool if he got it. They met here a year ago when he performed, and Zayn has kind of been his number one fan since. “Hopefully you get the job and can be saved from meeting creeps at the bar.”

Harry snorts out a laugh. “Niall isn’t a creep, love. Proper gent.”

Zayn makes a face like she highly doubts that before she spots Tyler and excuses herself. Josh hops on the stage to set up the microphone and the crowd cheers, making him laugh and do some mock dance like he is holding his drumsticks.

“Can I see the list?” Zayn says when she gets to Tyler, reaching for it. “When am I going?”

Tyler plants it to his chest with a shake of his head. “You’re going eighth, right after our Drake enthusiast.”

She frowns at him, reaching for the list but he keeps a firm grip on it.

“Why aren’t you letting me see it?”

He gives her a guilty look that sends dread through her. “Because I put you on it twice,” he responds sheepishly. But he is faking it, Zayn knows he doesn’t feel bad for surprising her because Tyler is a little shit half the time.

Zayn punches him hard. “I only have one song prepared!”

Tyler shrugs like it’s no big deal. It is. She had planned on confessing her love to Liam and then hightailing it out of the café. “You’ve performed thousands, just pick another one.”

He says it as if it so easily but Zayn might throw up from nerves. Her palms soak with sweat, and she wipes them on her leggings but it doesn’t help any. She searches for Liam to calm her, and finds him walking through the back entrance, a hand pressed to Sophia’s back and a smile on his lips as she says something to him.

Niall is with them too, trailing behind with Louis, who graduated their sophomore year. Aviators cover his eyes despite the dim lighting of the cafe, and his hair is pushed up into a slick quiff. Louis is from her hometown, and good friends with Danny, but thankfully not a complete arsehole like Danny. Nothing at all like Liam, though, which has always made it hard for Zayn to understand why they are so close. Liam has told her stories about Louis’ jokes, and how half of them relate to his insecurities.

He swears it doesn’t bother him though, but Zayn has always said the same thing about hers.

Zayn sighs, turning away from them to see Tyler still frowning at her. “Why are you always so nervous? You do realize you have an amazing voice right?”

“I’m also performing for a potential job and confessing in front of everyone that I am in love with Liam Payne basically, who happens to be here with another girl.”

Tyler’s frown deepens and he looks over Zayn’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t worry about her. Trust me, okay? I gotta go though, the show is about to start.”

Zayn stands off the side of the stage, folding her arms in front of her chest as the audience goes quiet and Tyler starts his opening spiel. She tries to keep her attention on the stage even though she has heard this bit a million times over the last few years, because her quick glances in Liam’s direction makes her even more nervous.

But it’s hard to not look, because he looks so attractive with his button up plaid shirt and hair styled into a perfect quiff that Louis probably styled for him. He finally shaved his beard some, so instead of being unruly and bear like, it is trimmed and neat. Not that Zayn minds when it is thicker, she gets high off the way it scratches against her thighs, but she likes the way it makes the sharper edge of his jaw stand out when trimmed.

Louis is whispering in his ear, those glasses now clipped to his shirt collar, and he looks amused. Liam nods, biting on his bottom lip before his eyes find her.

She waves awkwardly, ripping her eyes away as a girl with aqua blue hair takes the stage. She is a regular, captivating in her hoarse voice and the sad way she sings. A crowd favorite.

It takes a couple performances, all regular acts, before Liam finally comes up to her, fingers sliding at her lower back and lips against her ear. “Hey babe.”

She jumps and her nerves increase, because they are on performance number six and she kind of wishes Liam would stay in the back, hidden in the dark to make it easier on her. Normally he is her comfort, normally she craves his hands on her, soothing out the buzz running through her, but right now he is making it worse because she wants to blurt out the words now and leave before her performance.

“You look nice,” he murmurs, a smile on his face that is warm and just as comforting as it normally is. She wants to soak in it, feel it pressed to her skin. “Always beautiful.”

Zayn feels her face burn from the compliment. “You don’t look so bad yourself.” She pats her hands on his chest, putting on a flirty smile to hide her nerves. “How is your um, date?”

She tries not to sound bitter, but they were supposed to go out to eat earlier and Liam cancelled with some excuse about Sophia, and then they were supposed to hang out the day before, and the same thing happened.

Liam’s brows push together, nose crinkling but there is laughter in his eyes. “Sophia? Don’t be daft babe, I told you I’m yours.”

Zayn’s breath hitches, not hiding the way her eyes widen a bit. He has said it loads of times before, the words always tugging harshly at her chest, but he hasn’t been as vocal about his feelings since they started this friends with benefits thing back up.

Fuck, she hates that term, because it has been more for the longest time, but she had been the one stopping it.

That smile stays on Liam’s face even though she just stares back at him, knowing he probably thinks that she is just going to shut off like she normally does when he says things like that.

“Your Liam, remember?” He teases, before he presses his lips to her forehead. “Be right back, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Zayn mutters, chest expanding to the point where she considers going outside during the seventh performance to catch her breath.

She can’t though, rooted to the spot as Tyler takes the microphone with a laugh on his lips, making a beckoning motion with his fingers at Liam before planting his eyes on Zayn. “We got a newbie to the café tonight. First time performing here. Good guy, nice voice. Dumb in love, you know how it goes. Every one give it up for the Payno!”

Zayn jerks, eyes finding Liam as he hops onto the stage. There is a nervous set to his mouth, his fingers rubbing at the back of his neck while the others grab the microphone. She is stuck, rooted to the spot as she stares up at Liam, whose red cheeks stand out from the light that shines down on him. His name plays over and over again in her head, and she is watching him on the stage but she still can’t quite put the pieces together to believe it.

“It’s Liam, actually – um, I’m proper nervous like.” He clears his throat, eyes finding her and he winks, both eyes flicking closed in this adorable way that makes her want to smile but she can’t because all of her breath is gone.

The music starts to play, slow and recognizable because Tyler has been tinkering about with it the last few days, but she had thought it was something him and Josh were performing. She can see Liam gulp, lips quirking up.

“I asked about you and they told me things -”

Zayn wrinkles her nose when her body comes out of paralysis, trying to ease the nerves from Liam but they fill her up too. “But my mind didn’t change, I still feel the same about you –“

Tyler comes up beside her, an arm wrapping around her shoulders. “I didn’t think this song would work acoustic, but we made some changes –“

“Shut up,” Zayn snaps. His voice is better than she had originally thought, soothing and warm just like everything else about him. He ranges from high to low with ease and she is insanely jealous that everyone gets to see this part of Liam too -

“When all the baggage just ain’t as heavy, we’ll change the pace and just go slow –“

Liam’s eyes fall shut, brows pushing together like he is putting it all in the microphone.  It is breathtaking watching him, and she is so proud because he had seemed so shy when she had mentioned it before.

“’Cause you don’t say you love me, even though we both know that you do –“

His eyes open, eye brow quirking up at her like a question and she nods back to confirm, wishing she could see the smile he hides behind the microphone properly. It makes his eyes crinkle closed, the note he sings wavering some.

“How am I supposed to perform next?” Zayn hiccups, elbowing Tyler because he clearly knew about this. Her words are choked, those stupid tears brimming her eyes and making it harder to see Liam but every time she wipes them away, they are replaced instantly.

“Well on the bright side, you’re actually only performing once,” he laughs in response.

“If you let me, here’s what I’ll do – I’ll take care of you.”

The crowd erupts in cheers as the music plays out and Liam’s eyes crinkle again as he lets out an overwhelmed breath through his smile. Tyler is pushing her towards the stage with strong hands on her back, instead of letting her run off to where Liam is slipping away on the other side of the stage.

“You all know Zayn,” Tyler laughs, holding onto her wrist like he knows she might run away. “She’s dumb in love too, with that Payno guy so –“

Zayn rips her hand away from him, pushing him away from the mic so she can stand behind it. Liam is a few feet from the stage, looking up at her with the expression he gets whenever she opens up to him anyway, soft and encouraging.

“I was supposed to tell you that, not him,” she tells him, biting her bottom lip. Liam’s smile widens and he nods some as if he understands. “Um, which means it’s true. Like, I’m your Zayn.”

The crowd makes a cooing noise and Zayn flames, feeling so stupid but it is worth it with the look that crosses Liam’s face as he tilts his head some. It’s only him there though, no one else in the crowd matters. Even off stage he is captivating -

She clears her throat, pressing her lips close to the microphone and starts. It is easier this way, her feelings floating right through that wall that is always up, relaxing the nerves that wrap around her throat.

“Tell me have you heard the news, we are now in love –“

He tilts his head as he watches her, fingers shoving into the pocket of his jeans and an awe on his face that is meant for her and her only and she doesn’t think she will ever understand that.

“I am in no condition, to put you in this position, I might fuck this up –“

Liam’s eyes close as he shakes his head and her note wavers some, making her fingers clench harder around the microphone. She lets her eyes fall shut, trying to keep the tears from trying to escape out of them but to no avail, because for once she needs to look at Liam when she tries to explain to him how she feels.

“But you’re so brave, stone cold crazy for loving me –“

Liam’s eyes open again, bright and maybe a bit watery but that could just be the light, Zayn thinks.

“’Cause I’m a bad girl, but I wanna be good for you.”

Zayn huffs out an overwhelmed breath, eyes falling back shut as she finishes the song. “I’ll be good in bed, and I’ll be good to you.”

The crowd cheers, all white noise muffled by the pounding of he rheart and she practically runs off the stage, careful not to trip down the steps because she is wearing heels, but there is a hand reaching out to her, fingers linking with hers and tugging her away from the stage.

“Liam,” Zayn says desperately, but Liam only grins over his shoulder, tugging her outside into the cold air.

He stops, a few feet away from the door where they stood last time they were at the café together. She just wants to kiss Liam really, but there is a hard expression on his face and it halts her movements.

“You lied to me,” he says, reminding her of that night when they were out here last, but his words aren’t as harsh or accusing. I didn’t know you could sing. “I always thought maybe you felt the same way, but when you tried to tell me you didn’t I could tell that was bullshit babe. You don’t ever cry, but telling me I deserve better than you made you and I should have called you out on your bullshit right then and there.”

Liam inhales deep because he is talking quickly and losing his breath again. Zayn stares at him, waiting for whatever is making him look so crazed with wide eyes and the corners of his lips quirked up.

“I am careful what I say because I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, so I figured if we went back to normal you could see that I’m going to be there even though you are being difficult.” He bites at his lips, embarrassment crossing his face. “And I thought maybe making you jealous would make you blurt it out or somethin’ romantic like that, but you didn’t so I figured I would just  - y’know tonight.”

Zayn gapes at him, pushing his shoulder but he doesn’t budge. “With Sophia?”

“That’s what you got out of that?” Liam complains, shaking his head in disbelief. He looks amused, and Zayn wants to punch him a second time. “Well, you lied.”

Zayn’s face falls, guilt filling her again. There is no point in denying it. She has lied over and over again, all about how she feels.  “I did.”

Liam’s expression softens some, a thumb rubbing circles at the back of her hand. There is an eagerness there, lining his features like there was that night she said she hadn’t loved him. An eagerness to know the truth. “So don’t lie to me this time.”

Zayn’s smile is nervous but genuine she hopes, the words rolling off her tongue easily this time as she reminds herself not to be afraid of the words. She can trust Liam with them. “I love you.”

“I know you do,” Liam breathes out in relief like he hadn’t thought she would really say it. He takes a step closer and pinches her chin with two fingers. “You’re stubborn but so am I and I’m not letting you go, babe. Whatever it is that you think I want from you, you’re wrong. That is the only thing I want, for you to tell me you love me and mean it.”

Zayn nods, not caring about the tears that roll down her cheeks anymore. She trusts Liam with those too. “I want something from you.”

Liam’s face goes serious when he nods. “Anything.”

“Can you kiss me already, please?”

He smiles big, eyes practically closing with the way they scrunch together. He is the walking definition of joy, Zayn thinks. “Just say it one more time.”

She snorts, resting her palms against his chest. “I love you, and I’m sorry it took me so damn long to say it out loud.”

“S’okay,” he mumbles, already leaning forward to whisper the words against her lips.

++

“Tell me,” Liam says, sliding their fingers to link together. They are headed back to his room, after going inside to get her coat and say goodbye to Sophia, because Niall and Louis were too busy laughing their asses off at Liam. “Why this is all so hard for you.”

Zayn hesitates, but Liam squeezes her fingers before she can find a way to divert the conversation. “I’m not like – it’s not going to change anything if that is what you’re worried about. Like what I think or feel. I just want to understand y’know, so maybe you will believe me when I assure you that you have nothing to worry about.”

He gives her a soft smile and it warms through her before she nods, turning to face forward and rest her head against his shoulder. It is dark outside, the paths through campus dimly lit and mostly quiet, since everyone is either at the bars or the café.

“It sounds daft when I say it out loud,” she says quietly, trying to hide the waver in her voice. “And confusing, probably.”

Liam doesn’t miss a beat in responding, and he is genuine – always so genuine and kind. “It isn’t daft if it’s how you feel, babe. And if it’s confusing I’ll try my best to understand.”

Zayn turns, pressing her grin to his shoulder to look up at him because she can’t believe he is real, sometimes. “You’re always so good to me.”

“Makes me sad thinking someone wasn’t.”

She sighs, unlinking their fingers to slide her arm around Liam’s lower back. He puts his arm around her, pulling her close into his side.

Zayn tells him about Danny and Andrew, of the guys since them whose names she has washed away from her memory the morning after. He stays silent, only sucking in a breath when she tells him with a choked voice how it made her worth seem small, how affection makes her uncomfortable but she craves it.

She tells him about John, who she had been with the night she met Liam, and how she had ignored all his calls until he nearly broke down her dorm room, but she hadn’t been there because she had been with Liam. And even though they had barely known each other at the time, she had already known she felt safe with him. 

“I’m picky about being touched,” Zayn says, voice choked. She hasn’t ever really talked this long about how she feels but it feels like the weight on her shoulders is slowly seeping off. Liam fobs into his building, keeping his arm around her as he does. “I don’t like when people to expect to be able to, I don’t like when people do because they want something more from me, and not because they are just comforted by it.”

She huffs out a harsh breath, reaching out to press the elevator button and she can see the way her fingers are trembling. “It makes me a hypocrite and a bitch and –“

Liam cuts her off for the first time, letting her go to cup her cheeks. He presses his lips to her forehead, and it’s a hard press of the lips, like he knows it can help regulate her breathing. “Take your time, babe. We can take a break from talking if you need to.”

Zayn shakes her head, pulling away from him to walk into the elevator that bings open. If she stops talking now, she might not pick it up again. Shutting off and hiding away is so easy for her, and she doesn’t want to do that now.

“I told you it sounds daft? I love sex but I hate that’s the only thing people want from me, and I hate that it’s the only thing I can give them.”

“It doesn’t sound daft if people have treated you that way and made you feel that way,” Liam tells her softly, wrapping his arms back around her shoulders and pulling her to his chest. Zayn bites down on her bottom lip hard, a sob stuck in her throat. “And it’s kind of like that self-fulfilling prophecy thing you were teachin’ me about, innit? You think that’s all people want, so that influences your behavior by acting on that, and they confirm your belief.”

Zayn pinches him hard, chuckling sadly against his shirt. The words ring around her head but she wants to shove them out because he is right. “Don’t be smart right now. That makes it sound like I deserve it.”

“No, no,” Liam says quickly, pulling her face away from his chest with gentle fingers and a panicked look on his face. “Remember? You also said explanations are just that, why they happen, not an excuse or a blame. You don’t deserve it at all. M’just sayin’ maybe you just needed to find someone who proved you wrong.”

Zayn smiles weakly, nodding. That is Liam, in every sense of the way. “I guess that means I’m lucky you were staring at me all night like a proper creep at that party.”

“Hey,” Liam whines, dragging the word out in mock offense.

She doesn’t want to pull away but the elevator bings again when they get to his floor and Liam links their fingers and guides her out. She stays quiet as they enter Liam’s quiet dorm, all the lights off and she maneuvers to his room easily, that path so familiar to her.

“You lied about something else,” Liam starts, a grin tugging at his lips even though Zayn frowns at him. There are tears sticking to her cheeks that he wipes away with the palms of his hands. “You said you didn’t like affection and couldn’t do that for me, but that’s shit Zayn, ‘cause you do it all the time.”

Zayn looks up at him, in the brightness in his eyes. There is no mistaking the way they are just as watery as hers this close up. “I try for you.”

“I’m going to show you how jaded your thoughts about yourself are babe. I am happy with you as you, and all you have to do is tell me when you don’t want to be affectionate, or whatever else. I don’t care if it changes.”

“That sounds frustrating.”

Liam chuckles, tugging her back towards the bed. “I am determined to prove you wrong.”

Zayn snorts, sliding her hands against the sides of his head when he sits on the bed and she stands between his legs. “Um, can I ask for one more thing?”

Liam nods, sliding his hands up to slide the jacket off her arms. It is warmer than usual in his room, with the window shut for once.

“Let me take you out. Somewhere nice. Like on a proper date.”

He barks out a laugh, eyes wrinkling at the corners as his lips fall open. It’s a lovely sight, and she wants to start a photo album with photos from every time he laughs so she can remember each one. “Anything for you.”

Liam’s wide hands warm down her sides and she climbs onto his lap, curling her arms around his shoulders. She always loved how well they fit together, even when they first started this and Liam was scrawnier and she was all bones.  

“I’ll learn how to be a good girlfriend for you,” she whispers shyly. It feels a bit more comfortable to open up now, like that wall is down, but there are still nerves wrecking up her stomach because she is afraid of shutting off again, or saying the wrong thing.

Liam looks at her for a long moment, hands dragging up and down her back. “I’ll teach you how, if you want?” he asks, lips quirking up some.

She hesitates, unsure of what to say but Liam doesn’t wait for her to respond anyway.

“First, be you.”

Zayn rolls her eyes, knocking him back some so his back falls flat against the mattress and his elbows dig into it to keep him up. She thinks he is taking the piss again, but his face is set serious like he needs her to understand what he is saying.

Liam reaches up to brush her hair back. “Second lesson, stop assuming there is anything else I want other than that.”

She presses their lips together so mask the desperate sound blocking up her throat. He kisses back softly, fingers sliding through her hair and down between her shoulder blades, rubbing shapes against the material of her shirt and just touching for comfort and nothing more.

“I’ll never understand it,” she admits, pulling back only enough that she can see the warmth in his eyes, the way they shift into focus the moment she starts to speak. “You’re like the sun or something cheesy like that, you shine too bright compared to me.”

He shakes his head in disagreement. “I’ve always thought the same about you.” He cups her cheeks, falling farther onto the mattress. “It’s like having the sun in the palm of my hands.”

Zayn tucks her head into the crook of his shoulder, lips pressing against the side of his neck because she is too overwhelmed to respond to that. His arms wrap around her lower back and it’s uncomfortable, with Liam’s feet still rooted to the floor beside the bed, but she doesn’t want to move – just wants to hold Liam close until his warmth seeps into her and she can be at least a tiny star compared to him.

“I love you Liam,” she whispers softly. Now that she has said it, she doesn’t think she is ever going to stop.

 

Seven Months Later

It is dark, the lights dimmed so much that is hard to see the people at the table next to him. Niall is saying something loud in his ear that he isn’t listening to, because his eyes are planted on her, captivating the audience as she sings one of the songs she had spent the last two weeks, day and night, working on.

Pride swells in his chest and he claps along with everyone else when the song stops before it flows into the next one, one she has performed a dozen of times already and the one that is stuck in his head nearly every day because he likes to come to as many of her shows as possible to support her.

“No wonder you wanted to come here, Payno,” Sean, an intern that works with Niall, says from the other side of him. He points his glass towards the stage, a grin that could rival Niall’s on his face. “That bird can sing. Fit too –“

“Hey,” Liam warns, dragging out the word. He scrunches his brows, eyes pointing at the other man.

Sean raises his brows, looking at Niall for an explanation.

“That bird,” Niall mocks, pointing at Zayn the way Sean had. “Is Liam’s.”

“Girlfriend,” Liam adds, eyes finding her again. Her hair is twisted into a thick braid that lays over her shoulder, the bangs gone and her hair a pale blond, nearly white. It had taken him some time getting used to it, but he is quite fond of the way it contrasts against her skin, the way it makes her eyes look softer and browner.

The collar of her shirt is high on her neck, a deep red color and he can almost make out the necklace he bought for her birthday hanging over it from where they sit in the back, near the bar, because the overhead light reflects off it now and again.

It is quite a large place, with at least fifty tables and two bars. It is a restaurant in the day time, serving a variety of food, mostly which Liam has never heard of – except for the cheeseburgers and chips, which they still serve at night, alone with booze and music. 

“Lucky dude,” Sean says, holding his glass towards Liam and he clinks it with his own because it seems proper to.

“Yeah,” he says softly.

They are supposed to leave for Zayn’s hometown of Bradford the next morning, but the club doesn’t close until half two, and Liam isn’t going to sleep a wink anyway because he is finally meeting the Maliks.

Another girl who sings for the club on Zayn’s days off takes the stage, her hair just as pale but with hot pink tips. She whispers something in Zayn’s ear before she can start the next song and Zayn makes a face of relief before disappearing of the side towards the back, where the locker rooms are.

He remembers when she got the job offer, and he had to practically force her to act excited and not so nonchalant about it, because it was huge. People from all over come to this city, know about this bar. It is close to their dorms, which they are moving out of in two weeks after graduation, and also close to Zayn’s home.

And Liam’s, but he had seen the flat listings for this city Zayn had stashed away in her desk when he was searching for their textbook, so it hardly matters anyway how far their individual homes are. He is just going to have to bring it up, since Zayn still has a habit of taking forever to express something she wants. She probably meant for him to find it so he would, and he’ll expect to find those same listings shoved into his backpack or something soon.

“I’m tellin’ you man, with the way football is going for Leeymo, they are going to be the next Beckhams.”

Liam flushes, rolling his eyes. “Shove off.”

“No? Maybe you’re right, Zayn isn’t very posh.”

He groans, pressing a hand to his forehead because this isn’t the first time Niall has tried to make a Beckham joke regarding them. “You better stop talking about her or she might make you cry again.”

Niall’s smile falls off his face quickly, and he points a finger at Liam, jumbling out a bunch of excuses of why that happened to Sean, when there is a soft palm sliding against the back of Liam’s neck distracting him away from the boys and Niall’s lies, because he definitely deserved Zayn snapping at him.

“Hey baby,” Zayn murmurs, a smile present in her voice. He turns, hand instinctively going to settle against her lower back because no amount of time they are together will ever satiate his need to touch her. “Pez told me the boss is letting me off early since we’re traveling in the morning.”

“Bradford is only about forty minutes away,” Liam chuckles, pressing his lips to the corner of her mouth.

“Breakfast with your mum?” She reminds him, a disapproving look on her face. The same look she has been giving him all week since he kept slacking on his final paper to the point where Zayn refused to come over until he finished a good part of it. “We have to leave early.”

Liam grimaces. He had forgotten. “That explains why she sounded so confused when I said see you in a few weeks.”

Zayn shakes her head fondly, pecking his lips. “C’mon. Let me tire you out so your nerves won’t keep you up all night.”

“Deal,” Liam responds seriously, sliding off the bar stool without a quick nod towards Niall, who waves at Zayn from behind him, but it is distracted because he is too caught up in his conversation. “But if I start to leave a mark, rip me off ‘cause if your dad sees –“

He shutters dramatically, face crumpling in mock fear and Zayn snorts, fingers tangling in his button up. “He is a big softy and he is going to love you.”

Liam hooks his arm around her shoulder as they walk through the parking lot. “I hope so. Because I’ll cry if he so much as looks scary.”

Zayn barks out a laugh, pinching his hip. “I don’t think there is a person that exists that wouldn’t love you Liam, don’t worry.”

He doesn’t respond, because he never knows what to say when she does that because even though she always tells him how much she loves little things about him, it still gets him overwhelmed.

 

Zayn slides her hands across his chest, straightening out the shirt she had picked out for him this morning. She rakes her eyes down his body, giving him a considerate look that makes him flush and feel embarrassed because Zayn shouldn’t be giving him that look anywhere near her parents’ house unless she wants him to combust.

It is a big house, an off white color with red shutters in the windows and two flower gardens on either side of steps leading to the front door.

“You look fit babe. Maybe we can test out how quiet you can be in my childhood bedroom tonight,” she teases, pinching his chin.

Liam jerks, eyes wide when he shakes his head. Zayn rolls her eyes before she links their fingers and finally knocks on the front door. He had been stopping her every time she went for it. Not on purpose, the word no just kept blurting from his mouth because he was so nervous.

He relaxes some when it is Waliyha who opens it. She is practically a replica of Zayn, except younger, eyes a bit thinner shaped, and her hair is still black and pulled to a large bun at the top of her head. Liam had met her when Zayn’s oldest sister, Doniya, brought her up for a night to celebrate Zayn’s birthday.

“Mum’s been callin’ you all morning. They’re going crazy, thinks you’re dead or summat.”

Zayn groans, shoving through the door. “I told them we would be here by one, it’s only twelve.”

Waliyha shrugs like she could care less. Liam tickles his fingers under her chin as a greeting and she rolls her eyes, but he can see the grin she tries to fight off.

He tries to take in as much of the house as he can as Zayn drags him through it, eyeing the collection of portraits in the hallway of Zayn and her sisters, the wooden furniture, the smell of food.

They end up in the kitchen, tiny with a wooden island in the center that is covered in array of food and plates and spices. Zayn’s mum, who is digging in the fridge when they enter, pops her head over the refrigerator door with a smile that reminds Liam of Zayn’s.

“Your father has been worried sick about you,” Mrs. Malik says with warmth and a bit of amusement in her voice. She closes the refrigerator door to bring Zayn into a hug, pressing a messy kiss to her forehead that Zayn whines at but Liam knows she needs it by the way her fingers dig into her mother’s back to keep her there before she pulls away.

Liam wipes his hands down his pants before he holds it out towards Mrs. Malik, who tuts at him and hugs him instead. She reminds him so much of his own mother, who had done a shit job at hiding the tears that slid down her cheeks when she met Zayn.

Because Liam has been talking to her about Zayn for years now to her, and she had cried even harder when Liam had rung her the day they became actually a couple. In a cheesy and romantic way, that had Zayn crinkling her nose but the flush in her cheeks had been unmistakable.

On their first date, at some small restaurant outside of town that Zayn picked out, with Liam’s sweaty hands holding hers.

“It is so nice to finally meet you, Liam,” Mrs. Malik says, patting his cheek before she pulls away. “Heard so much about you.”

“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Malik,” Liam mutters. His movements feel awkward, jerky as he nods his head along with his words. He has no idea what Zayn has told them about him. He has only seen the way her cheeks flush with embarrassment when her parents bring him up when they call and he doesn’t get much from that.

“Please, honey, it’s Tricia. Would you like something to eat? You look famished –“

“Mum,” Zayn interrupts, sliding her hand against Liam’s lower back to steady him. “We just had breakfast.”

“I mean –“ Liam starts, but Zayn pinches him and shakes her head when her mum turns back towards the refrigerator, pulling out food as if she hadn’t heard her daughter.

“She will feed you all day,” she whispers with a sigh that is supposed to be annoyed but it is too fond to work. “And I know you’re too nice to say no.”

“I could eat all day,” Liam reminds her with a soft laugh, sitting in the stool that Mrs. Malik indicates by the island.

“What do you like?”

“Anything without flavor,” Waliyha remarks from behind him and Zayn cups her hand over her lips to muffle her giggle.

“I’m never cooking for you again,” Liam tells her pointedly, a pout on his lips. He had tried making a dinner for them as a treat for Zayn’s birthday in Niall’s kitchen. It hadn’t turned out that great, or fully cooked –

There is the thud of feet, followed by Waliyha’s soft groan and then a small body hurtling through the kitchen before knocking into Zayn’s mum.

“Safaa, careful –“ Mrs. Malik scolds as Safaa knocks into her, but her hands are gentle as they card through the younger one’s hair. “We have company.”

Safaa looks in his direction, nose wrinkling and a judgmental look on her face that takes Liam by surprise because she looks much older than eleven with that expression. And just like Zayn.

“Zayn, this is your boyfriend?” she says, quirking up a brow that looks confused. Liam can see a lot of Zayn in her features too, except Safaa’s cheeks are rounder and eyes wider, softer. “Does he know you’re lame?”

Liam chuckles this time, as Zayn mutters something foul under her breath that she really shouldn’t say out loud. Safaa seems to hear it though, because her eyes get wide and she looks offended when she glares at Zayn.

“Mum!” Safaa yells, ripping her eyes away from her older sister. Tricia just rolls her eyes, sighing some like this is common.

“There she is!”

Liam’s body goes rigid when he hears his deep voice, and he pushes up from the stool, sucking in a hopefully unnoticeable deep breath. Zayn keeps her fingers pressed to his side, moving him closer to her father.

His eyes are narrowed and dark, thick brows pushed together and lips pressed tight as he glares at Liam. Liam feels like he is frozen, tongue thick and maybe he is sweating a little bit too –

Mr. Malik’s serious expression breaks suddenly, lips forming a smile that brightens his whole face in a way Liam hadn’t thought possible a second ago. (Though, he really should have known better, because he has seen Zayn do it a million times. She can go from shadow to sunshine in a split second.)

“Liam, m’boy,” Mr. Malik greets happily. He holds out his hand and Zayn has to nudge Liam a bit until he reacts and clasps his hand with his own. “It is nice to finally meet you.”

“You too, Mr. Malik.”

“Yaser,” he corrects politely before moving to pull Zayn into his arms. “I missed you.”

“Missed you too, Baba.”

Liam warms as he watches them, remembering the way Zayn had talked about him, and how close they were. She had felt guilty, for not coming home practically all year, but Danny only lives a few houses down.

“C’mon,” Yaser says, tugging Zayn away a bit and Liam looks away because he thinks the man’s eyes are watering some. “Let’s take this outside. It’s a nice day and I want to hear about this new job of yours.”

Zayn reaches out to Liam, tangling their fingers together with a warm smile that he is kind of in love with.

“Okay?” She mutters, pressing her chin to his elbow as they follow her father out. Safaa is giggling behind them with Waliyha, something about look how gross they are –

“Always good when I’m with you,” Liam responds, pressing a finger under her chin so their lips can meet quickly before her father can see.

Zayn grins. “Love you.”

Liam just pecks her lips again, because he loves her more than words can say.