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The Money Maker

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“This is who I gotta pretend to be in a relationship with?” Zayn whines, shaking his head when he sees the crinkly-eyed boy with the styled quiff, the hoodie, the sunglasses.

“You’re no looker yourself,” Liam snorts, squinting his eyes at Zayn as he pulls off his sunglasses. But he’s lying. Of course he’s lying. His cheekbones are sharp enough to cut wood, his eyes bright enough to start a fire. But Zayn doesn't have to know that.

Zayn is perplexed—already—by Liam. He’s sharper, quicker than he expected. With a sigh, Liam slides down his hood, tiredly sliding his fingers through his hair. “Alright, well, let’s get this… thing started. I want it over as soon as possible.”

Zayn wonders suddenly what Liam’s hair feels like, has a strong urge to reach forward and kiss him back into the wall, find his own fingers in the boy’s brown hair.

Zayn's lying, too. But Liam doesn't have to know that.

---

“Guys, you gotta at least try,” Liam’s manager, Chris, hisses behind them, his eyes lasering in on the most awkward hand holding he's ever seen: their hands barely touching, only thumbs connecting the two of them.

A sigh falls from Liam’s lips, but he changes positions to interlock fingers with Zayn’s anyway. Zayn’s hand is hot, a little sweaty, but just the simple touch brings a lump into Liam’s throat and a sudden urge to squeeze his hand. But no. He shakes his head in an attempt to clear the thought from his head. That’s something a real couple would do. And the two of them were not even close to that, considering they didn’t even know how to hold hands.

Zayn echoes Liam, a sigh leaving his mouth as the paps start shouting, firing questions at them both that Zayn probably wouldn’t even confide to his closest friends, let alone some sleazy guy looking to make a quick buck. But he’s surprised by how soothing the hand holding is, at the ease to which Liam’s hands fit with his, at how natural the whole thing feels. Surprised by the quickened beating of his heart from Liam’s touch.

“You’re supposed to be in love,” Chris whispers sharply as he gets closer to them.

The two of them know what this means: smile now or die later. Zayn grins first: at the paps, straight ahead, even at the carpet. But he’s careful to look anywhere other than Liam.

Seeing Zayn’s smile from out of the corner of his eye, Liam follows suit, finding a random person in the crowd to smile to. The walk seems to go on forever, and Liam feels his lips already beginning to hurt from the pull of his mouth.

When they (finally) make it to the door, Zayn pulls the door open for Liam. As Liam steps closer to the door, closer to him, Zayn finally lets his eyes wander from the door to the boy beside him, feeling his breath catch as he sees the grin on Liam’s face, the crinkles around his eyes forming as he catches Zayn’s eye. His brown eyes are so bright they almost twinkle for a second before it’s gone, leaving Zayn sure he must just have imagined the whole thing. Chris ushers the two of them inside with a little push as Zayn reminds himself that the smile wasn’t for him, quickly forcing himself to let go of Liam’s hand as soon as they’re out of sight from the crowd.

“Day one,” Liam exhales, rubbing his now empty hand, his thoughts still swimming from the blinding flashes. From the crowd surrounding him, Chris’ eyes following every one of their moves, everyone aching to get a closer look. He’s sure that’s why he can’t think. Or, at least, that’s what he tells himself.

---

“If you saw this picture… Would you say these people had fallen in love?” Chris’ voice booms through the office as he holds up the front cover of the tabloid, his eyebrows furrowed. Zayn flinches, watching Liam from out of the corner of his eye slink down away from the sound as he grumbles something under his breath. “Cause, honestly, I wouldn’t have even known if you two had even met each other before if you weren’t attached!”

Leaning in slowly to see the photo, Zayn finds they look mechanical, arms stiff and hands unnatural. Their face—pre-smile—says it all: I’m only here because I have to be. “But you’re lucky,” Chris continues with a little sigh of relief. “They caught you at the last second.” A little smile dances on his lips as he points to the other picture, of when they were in the doorway, Zayn aglow, his longing look fixed on Liam’s blinding grin.

Zayn’s stomach drops. He looked like a fucking lovesick puppy. His eyes slide over to his right to try to catch Liam’s expression only to find that Liam is already looking at him. Grinning. “Mate, you’re blushing a bit,” Liam smirks, the brightness in his eyes returning, just like the day before.

Zayn just groans, sure he’s probably even redder now. His jig was already up, only one day in. He’d never been good at the whole “hide your emotions” thing. 

“I don’t know what you’re doing here,” Chris laughs, gesturing both to the second picture and the scene before him. “But whatever it is, keep doing it. They’ll eat it right up.”

“We can do that, huh, honey?” Liam says, flashing Zayn a smile and a wink.

“Of course, darling,” Zayn responds, his voice practically dripping with honey.

---

The second event they go to is easier. They know where to place their hands this time, they know how to work the crowd, and there’s always this undeniable chemistry between the two of them (when they bother to acknowledge the other). Chris calls it “the money maker”. Says that both of their albums’ sales are booming, and that they’ve never been more relevant in the media.

Zayn and Liam usually talk. Some. About what the other couples are wearing or little small talk among other celebrities. But when they’re alone, Zayn doesn’t know what to say. What is there to talk about when their whole relationship is based on a façade?

But a few events in, something shifts. The movie premiere for the new Batman film starts out the same: walking into the theater hand in hand, looking as lovey dovey as possible. Zayn doesn’t even have to try—not when it comes to Liam. When he just so much takes a look at him, he feels his whole world melting underneath his feet.

But then, Liam talks. Really talks.

“You know, when I grew up, I wanted to be Batman,” Liam says suddenly as they’re being ushered into the theater. “Even had Batman pajamas, too.” Zayn is surprised by this comment, surprised to hear Liam talk about anything personal.

“Yeah?” Zayn smiles, looking up at him as he gets into his seat. “What were you like as a kid, Li?” The nickname slips out of Zayn’s mouth before he can stop it. He gulps a bit as he balls up his shirt with his hands. Apparently, there’s not much he can do to hide his crush on Liam. He’s such an idiot.

Liam’s eyebrows raise at the name but he gives a small smile. “Not like this,” he replies with a sheepish grin, gesturing down to himself, muscles and all. “I was a dorky little kid... loved Harry Potter when I was a teenager. I had superhero posters plastered all over my room…” He trails off for a moment before shrugging, “You can guess the rest.”

“I’m really into superheroes and all those things,” Zayn gulps, trying to find words from within his mess of a brain. “Always have been,” he grins, remembering his similarly decorated room as a kid. “I would’ve liked you then, too,” Zayn admits with a small smile. There’s only a second of silence before Zayn realizes what he’s said. “I mean… as friends,” he sputters, feeling his face grow hot again.

“Don’t worry, love,” Liam smirks back. “We’re not friends here.” He gives Zayn a little hint of a smile, staring at him a little too long as he pops a Starburst—that he’d snuck into the theater—into his mouth. When Zayn declines to take one, he just pops another one in his mouth with a shrug.

“Ah good, our first proper date then,” Zayn retorts, elbowing him gently as the lights begin to dim. Liam hums in response, his eyes darting towards him and then back to the front, but the smile on his face is unmistakable.

Zayn feels a sudden burst of courage swelling up inside him and he takes it while he can. “When are you gonna kiss me?” Zayn leans in, his voice low.

Liam lets out a low chuckle at this and looks him straight in the eye before muttering, “You just say the word, Z.” The words are so quiet that Zayn swears he’s only hearing what he wants to. Either way, he can’t help but smile and then, it’s completely dark. Zayn can only barely make out Liam’s shadow, can only see that he’s somehow shifting. Liam’s knee presses against Zayn’s, and Zayn really can’t remember how to breathe anymore, not sure what he just said only a moment ago.

As the movie starts, the two of them are quiet at first. Zayn tries his best to pay attention, knowing full well this movie is something he’s been looking forward to for years. But he keeps finding himself drawn to Liam, his last words echoing in his head. He’s watching as Liam starts a little when the Joker jumps out, watching as his mouth curls up at anything even remotely funny, watching as his eyes grow wide whenever Batman gets hurt. And Liam never moves his knee.

They’re less than halfway into the movie when Liam meets Zayn’s eye as he’s watching him, catching him in the act. Zayn turns away guiltily, stiffly staring straight at the screen when he feels something slide around his shoulder. He swallows hard, knowing that there’s no way this could be an accident. You don’t slide your arm around someone accidentally, as much as his brain tries to convince him it’s possible. As much as his brain tries to tell him that’s the only possible explanation… Unless…

“Li?” Zayn whispers, his glance moving up to Liam.

“Yeah?” Liam replies, his tone thick with worry.

“You know no one can see us, right?”

“I know,” Liam says, his voice low, unreadable.

He begins shifting his arm to slide it off until Zayn stops him, saying with a smile, “I like it.”

Liam also knows that no one can see them at one of the side exits of the theater after the movie gets out. But that doesn’t stop him from interrupting Zayn when he’s excitedly talking about the movie, gushing about how great the ending was. Liam can’t help it though. He’s never seen anyone so beautiful, never seen anyone’s eyes light up the way Zayn’s do when he’s talking about superheroes, never seen a smile quite like his and he wants to know what it feels like. 

He leans in suddenly, his lips finding Zayn’s, effectively shutting Zayn up. Zayn’s eyebrows shoot up and it takes him a moment before he can respond. Liam’s kiss is gentle, curious. But Zayn comes back stronger, his body taking over as his mind’s still reeling. He deepens the kiss, one hand finding Liam’s jaw, the other grasping onto the nape of his neck. He’s wondered for weeks now what Liam would taste like, wondered what his lips would feel like pressed against his. He tastes—he learns—like a mix of Starburst and mint, and Zayn can’t get enough of it.

Liam sweeps his tongue inside the other boy’s mouth, exploring as his hands find their way to Zayn’s back, one on his upper back and the other on his lower back. He presses against his upper back, pushing their bodies closer. He wants to feel Zayn against his lips, inside his mouth, but wants to feel his body reacting, too. Wants to know what his body feels like pressed up against his, responding to every move Liam makes.

Liam begins guiding Zayn to the nearest wall, anything that has a hard surface for him to push Zayn up against to feel him better. Hitting the wall, Zayn feels Liam’s bulge growing against him, well aware of his own bulky bulge. He rolls his tongue underneath Liam’s lower lip and a low groan escapes Liam’s mouth, leaving Zayn to nibble on his lip.

“Z…” Liam gets out, panting. “I want your skin on mine…”

Zayn reaches instinctively for Liam, his hands stopping at the bottom of his shirt. “Babe, I know…” Zayn starts, his hands pulling at the fabric.

A little airy chuckle falls between Liam’s words as his eyes dart around the empty surrounding area--but one that he knows could be full at any moment. “Zaynie, I know Chris would love to get news on us naked behind this theater, but…” Liam trails off, practically shuddering at the thought of such a headline.

“Back to my place then,” Zayn growls, his voice low.

“And we won’t tell Chris?” Liam asks, his face twisting up with worry.

Zayn grins devilishly as he pulls Liam to the street. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

Chapter Text

If someone had told Zayn several days ago that he would be pretending to be in a relationship with Liam fucking Payne, he wouldn’t have believed it. When his manager had even just brought up the idea, he’d pulled out his phone, hoping, praying that it wasn’t the Liam Payne he thought. It was.

He’d hoped that maybe he’d look uglier in person.

He didn’t.

And if they’d gone on to say he was taking that same Liam Payne home with him… he would’ve called them crazy.

And yet, here the two of them are, sprawled out in the back of the limo, the air so thick between them that Zayn can’t get any breath out of his lungs. The graze of Liam’s knee against Zayn’s feels like fire, complete hell but, simultaneously, complete heaven. Liam had been brave back at the theater in the dark–but he knows when he’s pushing his luck. And while sitting in a limo that their manager, Chris, called for them would definitely be pushing his luck.

When the two of them are quiet–not quite sure what to say, since talking about how good of a kiss that was is probably a forbidden topic–Joe, their driver, clears his throat. “Event good, you two?”

Zayn gulps, knowing full well the question’s easy enough. But his mind is still in a haze, can’t remember anything but Liam’s body against his, Liam’s tongue inside his mouth. He can’t stop his eyes from darting over to Liam, hoping to get a trace of his reaction. Upon finding Liam’s eyes already on him, Zayn’s heart skips a beat, looking away as a blush forms.

After a moment too long, Joe’s smirk well evident from the rear view mirror, Liam says smoothly, “Good, yeah.”

“Just good?” Joe chuckles. “Seems like it went just a little better than good,” he mumbles under his breath but doesn’t press it.

Clearing his throat so as to pretend he didn’t hear that last little comment there, Zayn looks out the window as he tries to remember enough of the movie to tell Joe about it. But every scene of the movie in his head is interwoven with snapshots of Liam’s expression, his little movements that Zayn had felt against him all too well.

“Great movie” Zayn finally decides to say, knowing it’s a poor excuse for a response but it’ll–apparently–have to suffice.

The rest of the ride feels like hours, but in all reality it probably only lasts ten minutes, with Liam mumbling something once about the weather outside. What did they usually talk about when they were on their car rides together? Did they talk at all? Zayn can’t seem to remember past thirty minutes ago, let alone days.

The first stop is, as always, Zayn’s house.

“Hey, man,” Liam gulps, knowing how fast Joe’s BS radar is gonna go off when he hears Liam’s next words. But he says them anyway, speaking them all in one breath. “You can drop me off here.”

Joe’s eyebrows shoot up, but he doesn’t say anything. He sighs. “Here?” Is all he asks in a deadpan voice.

“Yeah, it’s a nice evening for a walk.” They both know he’s lying through his teeth but Joe doesn’t comment further.

“Have a nice night, guys” is all he says as the two of them pull open their doors. He knows full well his job as a driver is to stay in his own lane–both physically and metaphorically.

 

Zayn’s hands fumble with his keys, can’t get them in the door fast enough as he feels Liam’s body rut against him, his hot breath falling on his neck.

Liam lets out a little huff as Zayn grumbles frustratedly, “I’m trying.”

Finally turning the knob with a flick of his wrist, the door flies open, slamming against the wall with a smack.

“In,” Zayn orders as Liam steps inside the grand apartment. He’s hardly out of the doorway when his eyes catch on stainless steel everywhere, colorful art lining the walls. But he forgets all of it when he hears the bang of the closing door and suddenly Zayn’s mouth is smashed against his, his hand finding Liam’s neck to give him some leverage. Presses deep into him as he begins leading Liam over to the couch, never disconnecting his lips from the other boy.

Liam reaches out to Zayn as he finds himself colliding with the soft cushions, his fists feeling for the bottom of Zayn’s shirt. As he weakly pulls at the fabric, Zayn pulls back without warning, hovering over Liam with a grin. Mouth traveling to Liam’s ear, he tsks in a whisper. “Nuh uh.“ Breathing heavily into the shell of his ear, he mutters, “Take off your shirt.” He licks his lips, moving them down to mouth against Liam’s earlobe, pulling gently.

“Fuck” is all Liam can get out in a whine when he catches Zayn’s hungry eyes watching his every move.

Liam’s quick to dart his fingers to the back of his shirt, lifting up with a grunt. Seeing the wall of abs in front of him, already shining from the buildup of sweat, Zayn groans. His breath’s shaky, already feeling almost lightheaded from it all. Trying to process that this is really happening. They’re both really here, and it’s happening. He’s good at putting up a game, but his heart is pounding in his ears and he can barely keep his breath coming out at all.

But no matter. He’s gonna make sure he uses this opportunity while he still has it.

As soon as Liam’s shirt is laying on the ground next to them, Zayn’s mouth is back on Liam’s, only landing for a moment before he slides down to Liam’s jaw, tracing streaks up and down Liam’s jaw line with his tongue.

Once again, Liam instinctively reaches for Zayn’s shirt, letting out a loud groan when Zayn slaps his hands back. “You said you wanted your skin on mine,” he breathes as he continues his descent down Liam’s torso, eyes never leaving his.

“So you’re gonna have to work for it,” Zayn smirks as he places his hands on the divots in Liam’s lower back. Pressing his fingers in just barely, he moves to Liam’s stomach, pulling back to suck lightly at the skin, eliciting a low huff from Liam. He trails down a bit further, continuing down the start of Liam’s V-line, and his mouth quickly hits the edge of Liam’s waistband. At this, Liam’s hips roll forward, a sharp exhale falling from his mouth.

“Naughty boy,” Zayn chides quietly, letting his tongue slowly slide over each letter onto Liam’s skin. Feeling Liam thrust against him at this, Zayn grunts, tightening his grasp on Liam to keep him in place.

“Please,” Liam pleads, his breath coming out in spurts as his hands flail in front of him.

“Alright, babe,” Zayn replies with a little smile, leaning in just slightly so that Liam can pull Zayn’s shirt up over his head with a moan.

Zayn lets out an involuntary gasp as Liam’s hands graze over Zayn’s skin as he lifts up. Shifting on his knees on top of Liam, he lets out a shaky sigh as he slowly runs his fingers through his hair. Looking down, Zayn catches Liam’s dilated pupils watching every movement with a thirst he’d never seen before and he lets out a low chuckle. Leaning his head back down to Liam’s abs, he slips two fingers into Liam’s waistband as he begins pressing his mouth on the soft skin again. At Liam’s sniff, Zayn smiles against him, his fingers dancing inside the waistband until they’re at the center of his jeans.

Zayn yanks his fingers out suddenly as he pulls back just slightly to leave shallow breaths against Liam’s skin. “Please,” Liam repeats, his voice coming out whinier than he’d intended.

“You’ve been very patient, Li,” Zayn whispers as his fingers ghost over Liam’s button. Twisting with a deep breath, he slides his pants down only a few inches before his mouth is once again on Liam. “Ready?” He sighs, his mouth beginning to travel down Liam’s quickly thickening bulge as his hands continue pulling at Liam’s pants, a little bit at a time.

Then, it’s Liam’s turn to gasp at this, bucking up just slightly in surprise. “Zayn,” he gets out in a raspy voice, sounding like he’s just swallowed sandpaper.

Zayn smirks against Liam’s cock as he slides his lips around the soaked head as best as he can, the fabric still between his mouth and Liam. “You’re so wet for me, babe,” he mutters into the underwear. Swirling his tongue around the clothing and around Liam as best he can, Liam exhales sharply, a little moaning noise leaving his mouth as he bucks up again.

Zayn,” Liam huffs again, this time sounding more frustrated.

“Skin on mine… Skin on mine…” Zayn mumbles between breaths with a grin. “Got it,” he taunts, finally teasing his fingers in under the fabric to lift it off of Liam’s fully grown dick.

Upon seeing Liam’s full cock, Zayn lets out a sigh, closing his eyes for a moment as he mentally prepares himself to do what he’d only ever imagined–and usually, he didn’t even let his brain go this far.

Looking up to catch Liam’s ragged expression, Zayn lowers his head, tracing a line down Liam’s vein with his tongue.

Liam lets out a little whine, his eyes closing part way, but he holds his breath, refusing to call out Zayn’s name again.

At this, Zayn takes all that he can of Liam in his mouth, gagging just slightly as his hand finds its way to Liam’s base to cover what he can’t reach. Exploring his cock with his tongue as he makes his way around it, he gives a light squeeze with his hand. A hissing noise leaves Liam’s mouth as he does so, his hand flying to Zayn’s hair as Zayn clutches onto his cock again and continues swirling his tongue. Reaching his head, Zayn slides his lips more off of Liam so he can find his way around it, gently licking over the tip as he begins rubbing and squeezing with his hand, shifting it up and down as he continues working Liam’s head. 

Sucking lightly, Zayn watches with wide eyes as Liam’s face crumples at this, and when he feels a throbbing in his mouth, Zayn knows he’s close, waits for Liam’s breath of “Z, I’m gonna—” before Zayn pulls back and opens his mouth when he hears his name spill from Liam’s lips. His tongue catches the warm juices as he watches Liam come undone–all from him. Watches as Liam’s breath begins to steady again, the sweat on his forehead starting to dry as his fingers unwrap themselves from Zayn. Giving a small smile, he suddenly looks shy. He leans up a little to gently bring Zayn’s mouth to his, the upturn never leaving his lips.

Zayn grins as he pulls back from the kiss and sits his ass back down on the couch, looking satisfied. “Love, if you think I’m done, you best well rethink that little thought,” Liam starts suddenly as he gets on his knees, a devilish grin on his face and that same brightness in his eyes that Zayn’s starting to get used to. “Now get back where you were, Z,” he orders breathlessly. “It’s your turn.”

 

Zayn isn’t sure what to do after all of this is over. In all of his fantasies, he’d never had to deal with the aftermath. By the time the two of them are finished, it’s late. Well past midnight, he realizes with a sigh as he catches sight of the clock on his wall. The two of them are just comfortably lying on the couch, their sweat binding their intertwined, naked selves together as Liam rubs small circles around Zayn’s arm, his breath falling softly against the nape of Zayn’s neck. Zayn’s eyes threaten to close many, many times before he finally decides what to do. Knows what he has to do. He’s been in this scenario before, watched too many times as the other one made some sort of stipulation about what’d just happened, bringing Zayn crashing back to reality each time.

And he doesn’t want that with Liam, doesn’t want this one mistake to follow Liam around like the lovesick puppy Zayn is for him. And besides, why the fuck would a guy like Liam fucking Payne want anything to do with a simple Bradford boy? So, he sighs, almost willing the words away but knowing the necessity for them. “Liam,” he mutters, biting his lip. Liam’s eyes travel to his, a grin forming on his face but Zayn can’t meet his gaze, can’t stand to see those eyes when he has to remind him what a dumb idea this whole thing was. “This can’t happen again.”

He gulps the words down, barely getting them out of his mouth before his throat feels as dry as a desert, as empty as a popped balloon.

Zayn’s eyes dart to Liam somewhere in the middle of all this, because as hard as he tries, he can never keep his gaze off of that boy for very long. Liam’s expression is content at first, comfortable, before it flashes to a stormy one for just a split second, like lightning passing through. But, before Zayn can truly register the emotion, there’s then an easy grin plastered on his face. Zayn blinks, trying to remember the expression he’d just seen. Or thought he’d just seen anyway. 

“Oh yeah, of course, a one-time thing,” Liam chuckles lowly with a flick of his wrist, as if all of it means nothing. But there’s a hint of something else behind his voice, something that doesn’t add up. But Zayn doesn’t have time to analyze it, because before he knows it, Liam breaks the silence. “Well, I better get going,” he huffs as he untangles his way from out under Zayn. “Don’t wanna keep you on this messy couch all night,” he jokes, but his eyes are dark and it feels like anything but a laughing matter.

This whole thing was a mistake.

And then he’s gone, leaving Zayn to wonder if he really had dreamt that he took Liam fucking Payne home and if he had, in fact, just sent him away.

Chapter Text

When Liam catches his own expression in his mirror the next morning, he jolts. Heavy bags under his still slightly-puffy eyes, tangled hair, and a scowl deeper than the Grand Canyon.

He should’ve thought it through. Should’ve thought that maybe, just maybe, if he was doing something he had to hide from his manager—maybe it was a bad idea.

He lets out a sigh, ruffling his fingers through his hair in the hope that perhaps it’ll make it look like the mess that is his hair is on purpose. Grabbing his keys and his wallet from the nightstand with a gulp, the motion sneaks the memories of what happened last night into Liam’s consciousness. How he’d chucked his things on the end table before he’d curled up in his King sized bed, not even bothering to change out of his suit from that day. He’d wished his bed wasn’t always cold, wished it wasn’t always empty when he got home. But Zayn had made damn well sure of that.

And he hadn’t slept, not really, kept waking up in a start, realizing each and every time that the memory in the back of his mind that was taunting him really was true, not just some nightmare his brain had made up to make him suffer.

Blinking away the torturous thoughts, Liam makes his way to his front door. Stands in the doorway for far too long, hovering over the doorknob, well aware of who’ll already be in the car once the driver pulls up, the last person he wants to see right now.

“Zayn,” he acknowledges lowly as he gets into the car with the most casual head nod he can manage. “Sleep well, sunshine?” The words come out more bitter than he means them to, and he flinches as the words ring past his own ears.

“Nah,” the other boy replies as he looks away and out the window, his teeth grazing his bottom lip. “I slept on the couch all night.”

Liam sucks in a breath as he closes his eyes. Not quite sure how to respond to this, he stays quiet. Zayn does too. The silence in the car engulfs them both the whole ride to the TV studio.

 

“And, tell us, how did the two of you meet?”

The microphone’s suddenly shoved in his face and Zayn’s heart ricochets through his chest. He’s been practicing these lines for months but fuck if he can’t remember a single word of his script. All he can remember is the air that had been pushed out of his lungs as the other boy had pulled his sunglasses off and had locked eyes with Zayn that first day. Can remember wondering then what it would feel like to be the reason for the brightness behind Liam’s eyes.

He’d found out.

And he wishes now he could have just been content to keep on wondering.

“Well,” Zayn sighs as he stalls for time. Can’t stall too much, though, or he’ll catch Liam’s eye. And he doesn’t want to see that brightness flickered out like he’s afraid it might be, like a light bulb that’s been on for too long.

“It all started out the same, just like any other night,” he finally gets out in a melodramatic tone, the words all coming back to him in a flash. Internally, his eyes are rolling so hard that he’s afraid they might just pop out.

Off stage, Chris leans forward as he continues, giving him a very enthusiastic nod.

“But when I first caught eyes with the brown-haired boy across the gala, I knew it was going to be a very, very special night.”

Zayn flashes a smile then. But when he accidentally, finally, lets his eyes wander over to Liam and sees his gaze on the floor, the thin line of his lips giving him away, Zayn’s smile lowers just slightly. And judging from the grimace that forms on Chris’ face then, it must look more like he’s constipated than truly happy.

“Okayyy,” the interviewer says with a slightly nervous chuckle as he looks back and forth between the two men. The two of them are close—physically—but the lean on Liam’s body tells a very different story.

The host clears his throat as he looks at Liam. Catching the hint, Liam sits back up and smiles feebly at the camera. He tries his best to just look completely enthralled to be there, instead of tucked up in his bed all day like he wants to be.

Accidentally catching Chris’ eye for just a moment, he watches Chris motion to him to sit closer to Zayn.

He pretends he doesn’t see.

“So, Liam, tell us, was the chemistry there from the very beginning? Or did it take time for your love to grow and bloom?” The interviewer asks as the microphone now finds its way to Liam’s face. “Like a flower?” He adds, sliding the microphone back to himself for just a moment as he looks pointedly into the live audience, giving a small pout as he waits for the inevitable awws from the mostly female audience.

After the audience follows its cue cards, he brings the mic back to Liam. Clearing his throat, Liam gulps. “Well,” he starts, knowing well the words that he should be saying. They’re on the tip of his tongue, but what’s on his mind aren’t the fake words at all, but rather the night back at the theater. “I think the chemistry was there, Bill,” Liam continues, squinting his eyes as the memory of his arm around Zayn at the darkened theater comes flooding back, their knees grazing together.

“It just took a little time for it to come forward, I think,” he finishes with a nod, as if convincing himself, the memory continuing on as he talks. Now they’re at the back of the theater where he’d brought Zayn to him, his tongue exploring Zayn’s mouth as if he was running out of time.

He supposes, thinking back on it, he was. The thought brings in a wave of nausea that sweeps over Liam. This is all his fault.

More questions come flying at him then, bringing him (begrudgingly) back to the present. Questions about both of their albums, upcoming music, and what the future holds for both of them. And Liam can’t seem to bring himself to find enthusiasm behind any of it. Not when he’s next to Zayn.

As soon as the cameras are off, Bill huffs under his breath as he gets up, “Really good actors.” And then, like a guard dog, Chris is on them in a second.

“Oh, now you show some expression,” Chris rumbles as the two of them suddenly sit up straight, Liam’s eyebrows knitting together and Zayn’s mouth forming into an o shape at Chris’ outraged look. “This is the most I’ve seen you two move all day.” Carding his fingers through his hair, he lets out a deep sigh.

“This is like the first day all over again, eh?” He moans, rolling his eyes as he adds as an afterthought, “Maybe even worse.”

“This was your first live interview and now you’ve gone and fucked it up,” Chris exhales, sounding more exhausted than upset.

Liam’s eyebrows shoot up at this, feeling a bit guilty. He’s never heard Chris swear before. Which means he and Zayn must have really screwed up.

“Whatever this is—” He gestures to their ‘I dislike you’ body language, from their bodies as far away as physically possible to their eyes anywhere but on the other. “I want it to be completely gone by the time we get to the photo shoot. Or we’ll all be in trouble,” he warns as he lowers his head just slightly, raising his eyebrows for effect.

Chris stomps off then, leaving the two of them alone in the staged living room—or whatever the hell it’s supposed to be.

“Liam,” Zayn starts shakily as he turns his body just slightly to face in the other boy’s general direction. “We can do this, yeah?” It’s meant to sound like a truce, an agreement of sorts, but it comes out more like a question.

Liam sniffs but turns. He can’t hold it against Zayn that he doesn’t want what Liam does. That’s unfair of him, and Liam has never been anything but reasonable. So he gives a little nod and the closest he can get to a reassuring smile. And for the moment, it’s enough.

 

Quiet is the new norm on the long drives home--except for the occasional random comments from Joe about the traffic, the weather, anything he can think of. Zayn knows at some point they must not have felt so long, but now it feels like an infinity as he pulls out his phone in an attempt to avoid catching Liam’s eye. He glances at his screen, finding the time and calculating: he has 17 hours before he finds himself in Liam’s presence again, 17 hours before he has to pretend that the previous night meant absolutely nothing to him, 17 hours before he has to get over him. He gulps at the thought. But people have surely done harder things in that span of time...

He has a vague memory of his drummer telling him once--as Zayn’d apologized with chagrin for the days of back-to-back rehearsals--through a laugh that this was nothing, that he’d heard once about a guy in India who’d performed on his hand drum for over 500 hours straight.

If some guy could do that for 500 hours, surely Zayn could do this in 17. Right?

Wrong, Zayn answers himself bitterly as he catches sight of Liam the next morning as he once again makes his way to the car. And Zayn’s heart once again pounds through his whole body, leaving him speechless and out of breath.

He’d tried his best. Really he had. He’d ordered delivery, curled up in a blanket, and watched one of his favorite movies from when he was a kid. Tried to forget that he was on the very same couch from the night before.

He’d done alright up until night came, up until it was time to sleep and he couldn’t, he fucking couldn’t cause his mind wouldn’t stop racing, his mind wouldn’t stop telling him exactly when and how and what he’d done to mess up. And he’d turned on the TV again then, just for noise, just for something to drone out his endless thoughts, only falling asleep when his eyes wouldn’t stay open anymore.

And he’d woken up with a back ache and a crook in his neck, but that was the least of his worries. Because he still wasn’t over Liam.

He’d hoped Liam was faring better than he was.

But if the exhale that leaves Liam’s mouth as he slides into the car next to him is any hint, he's just as fucked as Zayn.

Chapter Text

“Liam, seem to have lots of bags under your eyes, eh?” The stylist says lightly as she gives him a once over in the brightly-lit mirror, the type that accents every single flaw in blinding proportions. Gently poking him in the arm, her loud laugh bounces around the white walls as her gaze flies between the two men seated side by side in salon chairs. “You and Zayn been going at it just a bit too hard, am I right?”

The laugh echoes inside of Liam’s head, darting around until it distorts itself into something of a cackle. He hears his own nervous chuckle, followed by a low (and, he admits, not very convincing) “Yeah…”

The second his gaze slides over to Zayn’s mirror, trying to get a peek at his expression, Zayn’s eyes follow immediately to look straight on at his own reflection. He shouldn’t even try to be subtle anymore when it comes to him. Zayn doesn’t look amused, seems just as miserable to be there as Liam is. He gives a halfhearted smile to the stylist’s joke, but his empty eyes give every single thought away.

Liam wishes with a sudden force that Zayn would just fucking talk, joke, laugh. At least once. But as he brings his head back to face forward, he catches his own scowl in the mirror and sighs. Who was he to talk?

She clears her throat. “Don’t worry, Rhonda and I will get that all fixed up for you and Zayn,” she winks as she starts fluffing Liam’s hair. “This is an all-day event, remember. Gotta have you two looking good for a long time.”

Liam doesn’t need a reminder. And he has a feeling Zayn doesn’t either.

 

“Okay, that’s not quite what I mean,” the photographer huffs as Liam places his hand just over Zayn’s thigh, hovering right above the pantsuit fabric.

Tears threaten to well up from Liam’s eyes. Of fucking course he knows what the photographer wants—’place your hand on his thigh, now, Liam’–is a simple enough command and he’s no idiot.

At least today he isn’t. He’s still reliving the idiocies that got him here at all, got him to this place where he can’t even get his job done. This place where his mind is stuck in a lonely, never-ending loop. This place where every, little tiny movement and touch threatens a flashback to the other night.

“Got it,” Liam mutters, a bitterness ringing out in his voice as he lets out a little breath, his hand falling the rest of the way to Zayn. He tilts his head a bit to the left, plastering an empty grin onto his face.

Blinking rapidly, Liam sighs. The bright studio lights seem to be getting to him more today than usual. He has to constantly remind himself not to squint. Has to remind himself to not pay attention to the swarm of people behind the set, messing with equipment and standing right nearby as if ready to pounce at any moment. Has to remind himself that this sort of shoot is normal, something he should be used to.

And yet.

Seeing the photographer’s barely concealed frown, his lips forming into a thin line, he almost laughs. Knowing full well how ridiculous he and Zayn must look, not at all like the soulmate lovebirds that Charlie’s trying to sell. But instead more like the awkward family photos that his parents would slap up on Facebook after they’d been trying for hours to get some decent pictures, finally settling on the one photo where it doesn’t look like they all want to kill each other.

“Let’s take five, yeah?” Charlie says with a upbeat grin, but the flames spitting behind his eyes, directed right at Liam and Zayn, tell the true story.

Please, guys,” is all he says with a low huff as the maze of people flitter in and out of the room behind him. He doesn’t stop, just slows his step as he strolls past them, almost pleading as he bites on his lip. “Just get through it, okay?”

Zayn nods slowly. Liam follows suit. If Zayn can do it, so can he.

As Charlie continues out of the room, probably already planning out his drink for after, Zayn gulps. “Don’t…” Zayn starts, in a low voice so that only Liam can hear him. He looks straight ahead at the numerous people rushing around behind the scenes of the set. The two of them are still sitting side by side on the uncomfortable (but “stylish”) bench, Liam’s hand pressing against Zayn’s thigh. A fact that Liam is all too aware of, the heat of Zayn’s skin practically burning his hand with every second that passes. “Don’t worry about me.” He lowers his gaze.

“If that’s what you’re doing, I mean,” he says quickly as he clears his throat, still looking at the floor.

“Okay,” Liam responds slowly, now trying to keep his hand where it is, testing himself. Trying to occupy his mind as he follows the motions. “Just cause we made a mistake doesn’t mean that Charlie should have to suffer.” He tries to convince himself, tries to leave himself and Zayn completely out of it. If he can only push aside his thoughts, these emotions, for just a few more hours, then it’ll all be okay. Sooner or later.

Liam swears for a second that he sees Zayn’s face crumple at the words. But he’s looking from out of the corner of his eye. It’s probably Zayn just looking as tired as Liam feels. Zayn moves his hand from the bench, flailing it around for a bit before he eventually decides to place it into his own lap. He sighs. “Exactly.”

“Better” is all Charlie says at the new pose after the break, Zayn’s arm slung around Liam, both of them looking straight ahead at the camera with small smiles.

It’s easier, Zayn finds, when he doesn’t have to look at Liam. He can pretend it’s a solo shoot, doesn’t have to think about the body next to him, the body he’s all too familiar with now. Skin against skin, he thinks bitterly. Why did he ever think that was a good idea?

Zayn exhales slightly, unconsciously loosening the knot of his tie as the photographer calls out for the next picture.

“Now, turn to each other. Don’t even think about the camera at all, okay?” The photographer says, interrupting Zayn’s thoughts once again. At this command, he shuts out his mind, doesn’t allow himself to assess the situation, instead only doing as the photographer asks. He pretends he’s under hypnosis, doing exactly what he’s supposed to with nothing to stop him.

But when the cameraman asks Liam to lean forward a bit and reach for Zayn’s tie, his body gives him away and he swallows hard. Holds his breath as the word Liam had said keeps echoing in his head: ‘mistake’. Can hear how simply the word had left his mouth, no hint of anything in his voice except truth. Mistake.

Liam’s eyes fall to Zayn’s throat, catching the movement and he purses his lips. He pauses, ghosting over the knot as he lets his gaze slowly slide up to meet Zayn’s. “Trust me,” he mouths, his eyebrows knitting together. “We’ve done this before,” he whispers, waiting until he sees the almost invisible nod from Zayn before he glides his finger over the knot.

“Closer,” the photographer orders. Liam shifts his feet one step closer to Zayn. His heart’s pounding in his chest as he loosens the tie just slightly, his eyebrows raising just a bit as he looks at Zayn timidly.

“Come on, smile, you two,” Charlie urges from behind the camera and Liam gives a small smirk as he looks again at the tie, suddenly remembering one of his dad’s favorite stories.

“When I was younger, yeah?” He whispers, leaning in just a bit more so the others can’t hear the story that’s about to erupt from his mouth. “Around 12 maybe,” he thinks, trying his best to remember the details. “We had a costume party and I wanted to dress up like a zombie.” He giggles at the thought, already getting ahead of himself. “And so, without asking my dad at all, I went into his closet and took some scissors to what was–apparently–his favorite tie.” Liam fiddles with the knot still in his hand as he continues, looking up at Zayn again, “All in the name of looking like the realest zombie possible, because that was, obviously, very, very important.”

Zayn smiles wide at this, imagining the scene unfolding before him. “Why am I not surprised?” He teases as he waggles his eyebrows.

“Let’s just say my dad didn’t see it in quite the same way.” A giggle escapes Zayn’s mouth at Liam’s final comment, his nose crinkling up at the edges just a bit. At the sight, Liam’s grin grows wide, encompassing his whole face.

“Perfect!” The photographer yells, and the two start, suddenly brought back to the reality of where they are and what they’re doing. “That’s all we need,” he calls out as the employees start to run around again behind him. “Finally,” he huffs. “These two should not ever be models,” the photographer mumbles to himself, rolling his eyes as he starts putting his equipment away.

“Hey, Z,” Liam says quietly, avoiding Zayn’s eyes for a moment. His hand never leaves his tie.

“Li?” Zayn responds, trying not to let the worry seep through his voice. Wondering about what new ‘mistake’ they’ll have to regret later.

“Speaking of my dad, they wanna meet you.” He glances up at Zayn quickly, biting his lip before he brings his gaze back down to the floor. “My parents, I mean.” He gulps. “And I didn’t have the heart, you know, to tell them that this isn’t what they think it is and—” He trails off, doesn’t want to says the words on the tip of his tongue. Didn’t want to tell them that this isn’t real. Because what is it, really? Hell if Liam knows. “I’m sorry, I know it’s dumb, and you can just give some lame excuse, it’s fine and—”

Zayn cuts him off then, before he can get any further off track. “Liam, I’d love to,” he smiles, eyes bright.

“Alright, umm, cool,” Liam replies with a grin, trying to sound like this new development doesn’t mean anything to him. And then realizes his fingers are still firmly planted under Zayn’s neck. Liam clears his throat, blushing hard as he drops his hand suddenly at his side, avoiding the other boy’s gaze.

“Are we okay?” Zayn asks suddenly, the seriousness in his tone bringing Liam to look back up at him.

“We will be” is all Liam can get out, his voice sounding throaty, like it barely made it out of his esophagus. So much for playing it cool.

Chapter Text

Liam doesn’t talk to Zayn after the photoshoot. 

Not except for the texts. Logistical texts, texts like ‘how long are we visiting’, ‘how are we getting there’, and ‘what are your parents’ names’–and Liam has to stop himself, keep the responses simple. He looks at the text, smiles. Puts his phone down.

Lets out a little breath, distracts himself by cooking, watching a show, anything to stall for a bit of time so it doesn’t seem like he’s just sitting by his phone, waiting for another text (he is).

And then he responds back as nonchalantly as he can, trying not to let it show that his only thoughts all weekend have been echoes of I’m bringing him to meet my parents.

He hasn’t done that in years.

Him.

Liam’s never felt his parents lived particularly far from him.

That is, until he’s seated next to Zayn.

On a silent car ride, fifteen minutes in with no end in sight until Liam realizes suddenly with a start: he has a radio. Reaching for the knob, his finger hits the button as he hears a sudden noise from Zayn, a jumble of words coming from the passenger seat.

“What?” Liam asks as he quickly taps off the radio again, looking back at the road momentarily before flicking his eyes to Zayn.

“Uhh,” Zayn mutters, hand finding the back of his neck, a look of chagrin painted on his face. “It’s not that important,” he admits, eyes falling to the floor of the Subaru.

Liam doesn’t say anything, instead giving him a little smile, a small nod, before bringing his eyes back to the road. Zayn asks quietly, “Does your dad still have that tie?”

Liam blinks, his head darting over to Zayn as he begins to process the words.

“Sorry?” He must have heard that sentence completely wrong. Why would Zayn—

“That zombie tie, yeah?” Zayn says, his voice barely coming out at this point. 

“I told you it was stupid,” he continues in a huff. Clearing his throat, he looks out the window as his teeth find his bottom lip. “Never mind.”

“Believe it or not,” Liam says enthusiastically, raising his finger in the air dramatically to get Zayn’s attention, to hopefully bring Zayn back. “He does still have it. You know why?” Liam laughs, watching happily as Zayn’s worn expression shifts to a small smile.

“One Father’s Day, I stuck it in a frame and called it his present. Won son of the year with that one.”

Zayn chuckles, shaking his head as he rolls his eyes. “You know what? You were a little shit.”

Liam’s eyes widen at the unexpected comment, the giggle falling from his lips as he teases with a poke in the arm, “Yeah, maybe, but you love it.”

The words leave his mouth before he can realize what he’s just said, the incidental flirting that (apparently) Liam can’t stop himself from, at least not when it comes to Zayn.

“Err” is the only sound that comes out next. Liam sighs as the realization hits him: that maybe, just maybe, this weekend is going to be a bit harder than he’s expected. “Just don’t bring it up to my dad, yeah? He’s still a bit sore on the whole thing.”

“Of course,” Zayn says, nodding as he catches Liam’s eye with a shy smile before letting his gaze wander back out the window.

Then, not knowing quite what else to do, Liam’s hand settles on the radio button again. He lets the music fill the empty space before placing his hand back on the steering wheel with an exhale.

 

Except for the low R&B beats coming from the speakers, the remainder of the ride is silent, Zayn watching absentmindedly as the landscape flies by.

Until suddenly, as they’re getting close, Liam’s voice is echoing around the small space.

“Sorry it’s for a whole weekend.” Liam sounds guilty, his voice low. “You probably expected it to be for an evening or some shit, but my parents just kept saying how we should stay, how long the drive was, and I didn’t know what to say and–well, I know you didn’t wanna come at all, let alone for that much time.” He sighs to stop himself from spewing out any more words, running his fingers through his hair as he watches the yellow dotted lines roll by. “So I’m sorry.”

“Liam,” Zayn says suddenly in a clipped tone. Surprised, Liam’s head flicks to Zayn. “I never said I didn’t wanna come.”

Taking in a sharp breath, Liam freezes. “Oh” is the only thing he can think to get out. “I just assumed…” He starts and then trails off, not sure exactly where he’s going.

“I don’t hate you, you know,” Zayn gets out quietly, his words sounding pained.

And then Liam’s out of time, turning into the enormous driveway, through the open gate. His car inching up the hill, he only nods, all his thoughts suddenly gone. So instead, he only breathes, “We’re here.” Seeing his parents at the bottom of the steps of the house, already frantically waving, he asks, “You ready?” He turns to face Zayn as he brings the car to a stop.

“Are you?” Zayn counters, raising his eyebrows as he takes in Liam’s worry lines, the fidgeting of his hands around the wheel, the little huff that leaves his mouth.

“No,” he mutters honestly. But with his lips upturning, he slips out of the car, giving a quick wave to his parents a couple of yards away. Zayn starts to fidget with the door handle before Liam tsks, jogging around the front of the car to open it from the outside. “That’s my job, Zayn.”

“Chivalrous, I see,” Zayn teases, a grin bursting from his lips.

“Aren’t I always?” Liam returns as he leans against Zayn’s open car door. With a wink, he slams the door behind Zayn.

And it’s like the previous conversation never happened, it’s like the past hour hadn’t been driven in tense silence that said more than empty words could’ve filled.

It’s almost as if it’s a fresh start, Liam hopes somewhere in the back of his mind. And though he knows it isn’t, he figures he should allow himself to live in the welcome delusion while he can.

So with a shuffle to the trunk, Liam pulls out Zayn’s and his suitcases, chuckling at the weight of Zayn’s suitcase. “What’d you put in here, Z? Rocks?”

Glancing up, he finds that Zayn’s already been engulfed by his parents, Karen swallowing him into a hug with a smile that could blind the entire country, Geoff right behind her. His arms are crossed, his eyebrows furrowed slightly, but he’s smiling. Actually smiling.

Feeling Liam’s gaze upon him, Geoff turns his head just slightly to give Liam an acknowledging nod, mouthing a small “sorry” before Karen is pushing Zayn into Geoff’s arms with an oof.

Zayn steps back, looking between the two for a moment. A bit in shock, his eyes run between Karen’s full grin and Geoff’s wider features. “You both look… so similar. To Liam I mean.” Zayn spits out the words, realizing after how obvious they sound. “Err, I mean, of course, that was a dumb thing—”

“No, no,” Karen dismisses as she pulls Zayn up the stairs. “Not at all. No dumb things or questions here.” She stops when she realizes Liam is only just now closing the trunk with a slam.

“Liam, come along now, love,” she coos as he jogs up the stairs. Pulling him into a firm hug, she finishes, “We have a lot to do.”

That in it of itself scares Liam.  

‘A lot to do’ apparently starts with the ultimate hospitality: a house tour. And Liam doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself–or Zayn–into until it’s too late. He’s in the entryway still, catching up with his dad as Karen leads Zayn into the family room. “Oh!” Zayn says at the sight before him, the shock in his voice obvious. Liam can practically hear the gulp from the next room, can only listen as Zayn fumbles for words. “It’s… lovely, Mrs. Payne.”

Catching Zayn’s uneasy tone, Liam furrows his eyebrows, giving his dad a quizzical look before quickly making his way into the other room.

“Please,” Karen giggles, placing her arm around Zayn. “Call me Karen. We’re family now.”

“Okay, Karen,” Zayn smiles, giving a small, deliberate nod at these unexpected words, his hand nervously rubbing at the back of his neck.

As Liam gets closer, he can see that Zayn’s eyes, focused upwards, are as large as chocolate coins. He understands why suddenly when he follows Zayn’s gaze, a wave of nausea running over him. “Mum,” Liam scolds as he steps closer, standing to the left of her. “What is this?”

“Oh, Liam, am I embarrassing you?” Karen frets, quickly sliding her arm off of Zayn as she begins rubbing her hands together. “I’m just…” Her words taper off, tears forming behind her eyes as she struggles to explain.

“I miss you. I never get to see you anymore, and you two just looked so happy in this picture and—” 

Liam cuts her off then, giving her a gentle pat on the shoulder and a weak smile–the only smile he can muster at the moment. He takes another step forward so he can get a better look at the magazine cover behind the glass frame, hanging on the wall above the fireplace.

He’s surprised at first by the picture chosen, but as he squints to see it even better, he’s not sure why he’s surprised. It’s the shot at the end, the wrap-up shot that’d (thank the Lord) finally allowed them all to go home. Liam playing with Zayn’s tie, crinkles forming around his eyes as he told the story of his dad’s tie from all those years ago, Zayn’s face scrunching up just slightly as he listened.

Liam’s attention is suddenly drawn to the bright blue on the right, next to the dieting and hairstyling tips and below the latest celebrity scandals. The simple headline reads: Liam & Zayn, the It Couple.

Their interview must have been so uninspiring that the writers weren’t able to come up with anything better. He doesn’t blame them.

At least they were able to get a couple of good shots out of it.

Shots that his mom can frame. Shots that his mom can hold onto forever. Shots that his mom can remember forever.

Shit.

“I mean…” Liam gulps as he steps back once more to stand beside Karen. He doesn’t dwell on the fact that that picture is all based on a lie. The whole reason he and Zayn are here in the first place is all based on a lie. 

At least he tries not to dwell on it.

Trying to find the words to soothe his mother while also soothing his subconscious, he finally says weakly, “Isn’t the fridge a good kind of place for something like that?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she replies nonchalantly with a flick of her wrist. “There’s one up there too.”

Mother,” Liam says sharply, giving her a dumbfounded look. “Just exactly how many copies of this damned magazine do you have?”

“Umm, maybe… eight?” She whispers, chagrin crossing her face.

A giggle escapes Zayn’s mouth at this, the sound erupting to the right of Karen, soon spreading all around the room. “Good thing I love you…” is all Liam mumbles, blushing as he whines, “Now can we continue on with the tour, please?”

So Geoff shuffles them all into the dining room, through the TV room, around the kitchen and up the stairs to all the various bathrooms and bedrooms before eventually–a painfully long time later since Karen apparently feels the need to explain the significance behind every single piece of artwork they own–ending up back at the dining room.

“You two sit down, yeah? Geoff and I will go check on dinner, right, honey?” She gestures pointedly to the kitchen, her sharp gaze falling on her just-sat-down husband.

“Uhh, yeah, of course,” he stammers before jerking out of one of the chairs with a quick motion.

“Don’t do anything too crazy while we’re gone, lovebirds, eh?” Karen taunts, giving a quick wink before scrambling into the kitchen, leaving her confused husband to follow behind.

“Guess we should sit next to each other, huh?” Liam smiles shyly, sitting down in the center seat and patting the seat next to him. “Promise I won’t bite.”

“Oh, I’d say your mom disagrees,” Zayn teases, raising his eyebrows suggestively with a grin. “Afraid to leave you alone for two seconds with me. Afraid she’ll come back to us macking, eh?” He elbows Liam in the bicep lightly with a small chuckle, his laugh only growing as Liam’s expression shifts into one of mock hurt.

“You saying my mom doesn’t trust me? Her favorite son?” Liam crosses his arms, jutting his tongue out at Zayn.

“Li, you’re her only son,” Zayn points out, rolling his eyes with an endeared huff.

“So you see,” Liam grins, bringing his arms back down as he lets them fall onto the table. There’s a pause, a moment of silence as Liam figures out quite what to say next. “In all seriousness, though, you doing alright? I mean, I know she can be a bit much, but she’s obviously just so excited about all this.” The pit in Liam’s stomach grows roots at these words, knowing full well that someday she’ll find out what Zayn and him really are: a sham devised by his PR team to make more money. A sham that ended up going horribly wrong.

“Don’t worry about me,” Zayn says assuredly, repeating the same words from the photoshoot over a week ago.

“Thanks for being here” is all Liam can think to respond, sounding as if Zayn’s attending an important meeting, not spending the weekend with him and his parents. Something to finish with a firm handshake, not a kiss goodbye.

“It’s the least I can do,” Zayn mutters, looking down intently at the intricate wooden legs of the table as he gnaws on his lower lip.

Suddenly, Karen is barreling through the kitchen door once more, casserole dishes galore stacked in her arms.

“I thought Ruth and Nicola were coming tonight,” she complains as she sets them all upon the table. “So we have enough to feed an army. Maybe even two.”

Zayn laughs, giving Karen a smile as he says sincerely, “It looks wonderful, Karen.”

Swatting Liam’s fork away as she sees him beeline straight for the macaroni casserole, Karen beams at Zayn’s compliment. “You caught a good one, Liam,” she sighs happily before running back into the kitchen to grab the silverware.

And then it hits him: What the hell was he thinking, bringing Zayn in like this only to eventually pull the rug out from under him? From under his parents? His whole family?

His eyes fly to Zayn. He gives Liam a gentle smile, apparently reading the regret behind Liam’s gaze as he whispers, “It’s okay.”

And those words, his reassuring smile, is enough for the moment. Enough for Liam to not burst out the truth to his parents in between bites of mashed potato. Enough to continue on with his charade. For now.

Chapter Text

The words come and Zayn cringes. Why hadn’t they even thought to talk about this?

“What?” Liam asks, sounding more than a bit stunned.

“How did you two meet?” Karen repeats and Zayn watches out of the corner of his eye as Liam starts sinking down further into his seat.

Geoff tsks, giving a look between Liam and Zayn before sighing, “Karen, that’s a question that all the kids are gonna wanna hear. Save that for when the whole family’s together.”

Family. Zayn’s not sure if he’s included in Geoff’s use of the word, but he likes the sound of it. Likes the warmth it brings, a lantern igniting inside his body.

Liam’s firm grasp on the arms of the dining chair loosens at these words. Clearing his throat, he gives Zayn a sheepish look when he realizes how far down in his chair he’s slid.

“Liam’s just so excited to tell it, though,” Zayn teases with a smirk, raising his eyebrows.

Liam huffs, shooting him a look before saying quickly, “Anyway.”

Zayn flashes a grin at Liam, but tries to help out anyway, tries to think of something, anything, else to talk about.

He stuffs a bite of food in his mouth, his eyes uneasily scanning the room until they land on the picture above them. “Is that the zombie tie?” Zayn blurts out mid-potato.

Even though his own words surprise him, the kick against his shin that comes next doesn’t. Liam’s shooting daggers at Zayn, his eyes screaming something or other about how he had one job. (Zayn’s not quite sure, he doesn’t speak eye.)

Zayn’s not really sure how to respond to this, so he makes a joke. Again.

“Wow, we playing footsie now?” Zayn giggles, just loud enough for Liam to hear. Grabbing Liam’s foot–still attached to Zayn’s shin–with his own, he caresses his shoe over Liam’s.

Liam’s foot underneath his squirms as a laugh accidentally falls from his lips, though his eyebrows are still furrowed, his gaze sharp.

Karen beams at the scene in front of her, lightly tapping Geoff when he lets out a little exhale. “Geoff, it’s fine. Was just a silly tie.”

“Zayn, you must know so much about Liam,” Karen coos, obviously impressed that Zayn knows about the infamous tie (even if Geoff isn’t).

“You do, don’t you, Zayn?” Liam says in a low voice, the flicker of a grin there and then gone.

If this is payback, it’s cruel payback.

Though, Zayn admits, maybe he deserves it for his unnecessary ‘footsie’ comment. Oh, and, you know, bringing up the one thing that Liam had specifically told him not to mention.

The only problem, Zayn thinks smugly, is that Liam has no idea how much Zayn does know about Liam.

“Sure,” he shrugs, avoiding Liam’s eye as he brings his attention back to Karen and Geoff.

“Heard all sorts of things, like what Liam was gonna do if he wasn’t a singer. Which was become a fireman, by the way.” Zayn smiles. “And he told me how he ended up being a singer in the first place.”

So he’d actually told another interested celebrity at one or another of the galas when Zayn had been pretending not to listen. But his parents don’t need to know that detail.

“And about his family, how many sisters he had and what they were like.” His eyes lock with Karen and he adds with a small smile, “I’m excited to meet them.”

She blushes, nodding happily before Zayn finally turns to Liam. “And, interestingly, all these things about Li’s infamous childhood room. The superhero posters, the Harry Potter merchandise. Though, suspiciously, that room was left off the tour.” Zayn grins over to Liam with a wink, giggling when the words make Liam bite on his lip.

“On purpose,” Liam mutters in a huff before Karen interjects with how she’d make sure that he’d get to see it before their time was up.

“I’d like that” is all Zayn says, and the words surprise Liam.

Because the words sound sincere. And one thing that Zayn’s never been good at is lying.

Liam should’ve guessed where his mom was leading them. He had lived in that house for 18 years until he’d packed it all up and moved to London.

But he doesn’t realize until it’s too late, until he sees Zayn’s face fall at the Queen bed in front of them, the large teddy bear snuggled in between the pillows. The bed’s surrounded by romantic black and white pictures of Paris, chintzy embroidered quotes about love… Everything he can probably imagine, really, seems to be stuffed somewhere in the room.

The suitcases must have been brought into the bedroom at some point, probably his father’s job. Though the two of them are sitting side by side in front of the closet, and this neat, lined up precision seems like a scenario Karen had to create.

“Mum, I can just sleep in my old room, ya know,”  Liam starts with a gulp, closing his eyes momentarily to let out a breath. Realizing that this leaves him to replay Zayn’s fallen face in his head, he squeezes his eyelids shut harder and then quickly opens them again.

Liam,” Karen protests. “I’ll hear of no such thing,” she chides. “I made this bed for the two of you, even added some new decorations for you both.”

“I… noticed, mum,” Liam smiles weakly, hand glued to the back of his neck. “Thank you,” he gets out, giving her a nod as hopefully a hint for her to leave the two of them alone again before she makes another comment that Liam’s gonna regret.

“Sleep well” is all Karen says, and Liam lets out a huff of air, glad that this time, at least, she hadn’t made it incredibly awkward.

But he jinxes himself by thinking this because as soon as she’s almost out of sight she turns around with a grin and finishes, “But don’t sleep too well if you know what I mean.”

He waits the remaining second for her to turn the corner before he lets out a groan. But the giggle that follows from Zayn’s mouth is contagious and before he knows it a laugh is erupting from deep within.

“Okay, but seriously,” Zayn says as he sits down on the edge of the bed to catch his breath, the laughs still filling in the spaces between his words. “What happened last time you took someone home? Did you two have sex on the kitchen counter or some such shit?”

“Ooh, kinky,” Liam teases with a snort and a raise of his eyebrows. He’s not sure if Zayn’s really looking for a response or just something to lighten the mood, but he sighs. Figures he at least owes Zayn this much. “But, well, no” is all he says at first, leaning up against the closed door. Zayn looks up at this, giving him a quizzical look.

“Honestly, I haven’t ever brought anyone here.” He clears his throat, his teeth finding his bottom lip. “Well, not really,” he clarifies with an exhale. “Brought a girl home once when I was 16 or 17.”

Upon seeing Zayn’s eyebrows shoot up, he clarifies with a grin, “Just for dinner. This marital bed’s only for us.”

The second the words come out, Liam huffs, running his fingers through his hair. Why had he felt the need to say marital bed? Why couldn’t he have just said bed? Or better yet, just leave that whole part out entirely?

“Umm,” Liam continues after a moment of silence, Liam looking at Zayn and Zayn staring right back. He scuffs one shoe against the other as his gaze falls to the floor, anywhere to get away from those piercing amber eyes. “Just to clarify, this weekend doesn’t end with a surprise engagement. I’m not sure why I just said that, to be honest.”

Zayn can’t help it. Shaking his head lightly, his lips upturn into a smile. “You’re a dork,” he chuckles with an endeared roll of the eyes. 

After a moment of silence, he swallows, asking quietly, “But what happened with the girl then?”

Liam is quiet for a moment. Zayn takes this opportunity to add with a smirk, “Gotta watch my competition, you know.”

“Shut up,” he giggles, giving Zayn a light kick. “Really, you don’t need to worry about her at all, cause it didn’t feel right. None of it felt right.”

Zayn’s not sure if Liam’s referring to just the girl or all girls in general.

Liam’s not entirely sure what he’s referring to either.

He sighs, wanting suddenly to change the subject. Doesn’t want to talk about his previous fuck-ups–or his current ones for that matter.

“I’ll sleep on the floor,” Liam mutters. “Looks like you’re already mighty comfy on that bed anyway.”

He grabs a blanket from the chair beside the bed and lays it on the ground with an exhale.

“Liam, stop,” Zayn groans. “Honestly. Get off the fucking floor. There’s more than enough space for both of us in this ‘marital bed’.”

Liam huffs, crossing his arms in defiance when he hears Zayn’s mocking tone in the last few words. Though he can’t help it when a little smile forms through his faux outrage. “You know, I don’t think I wanna do that after that hurtful comment, mate.”

“Fuck, Liam, just get in, you bastard.” Zayn grabs for the blanket underneath Liam’s feet, a deep laugh bursting from Liam when Zayn starts pulling him towards the bed with the blanket. “Don’t make me take you all the way.” He warns, one eyebrow quirked. Daring Liam to test him.

Liam grabs quickly for the blanket in an attempt to thwart Zayn, only laughing harder when Zayn’s reflexes are quicker than he expects and he pulls harder and faster until he’s almost right in front of Zayn.

Zayn’s eyes wander up from the blanket to Liam slowly, meeting the other boy’s eyes. Liam blinks. Zayn blinks. And there’s a moment, a pause between the two of them as they take in the suddenly thick air and, God, has it always been this hot in here?

Liam breaks eye contact first. Swallowing hard, he surrenders, “Fine, you convinced me.” But the warm chuckle that follows doesn’t make it seem like he’s really conceding much at all.

Normally, Liam would just wear his boxers to bed. But, under the circumstances, that doesn’t seem to be such a great idea. Thank God he’s packed a pair of pajamas though–his “emergency pajamas”, he’d called them. Red plaid, fuzzy and great for the colder kind of autumn weather they’re just starting to get into.

Zayn goes simpler, Liam realizes with chagrin as he steps out of the bathroom. He’s wearing a worn out white t-shirt with the etched, comic font Cool kids don’t dance strewn across the front in black, complimented with black sweatpants that somehow make Zayn look even hotter.

Liam didn’t even know sweatpants could look hot.

He was proven wrong.

“Oh” is all Liam says as he takes the look in, his eyes halting a little too long on the baggy material pooling below the sweatpants’ waistband. “I guess I missed the memo.”

“What memo?” Zayn snorts as he gives Liam a once over.

“Ya know, the cool memo.”

A fond laugh leaves Zayn’s mouth, and the same nose scrunch from the photo shoot is back for a split second before he replies with a smile, “Well, you’re still cool to me.”

Liam dips his head then, seemingly shy, before he shuffles over to his side of the bed. “Thanks, mate,” he mumbles before sliding himself in under the covers. He wiggles around in an attempt to get comfortable. “Now get in before I feel too weird in this huge thing all by myself.”

“This is a bit more comfy than that couch, eh?” Zayn jokes as he gets in to the right of Liam.

He catches Liam’s eye with these words, but all amusement has since slipped off Liam’s face. Teeth gnawing at his bottom lip, his eyes suddenly glazed over, Liam nods slowly and a weak smile forms on his face as he blinks twice.

And Zayn wishes suddenly that he hadn’t spoken at all, wishes he could suck the words back in like a vacuum. His hands that had slowly, unconsciously, been creeping their way over to Liam’s side, wanting to wrap themselves around Liam’s chest and bring him close–they slither back into himself, empty nod bouncing around in his mind. A gulp travels painfully slow down Zayn’s throat.

And he remembers then why he’s there in the first place. To keep up the charade and that’s all.

“Goodnight, Zayn,” Liam whispers as he flips to face the wall.

“Goodnight, Li,” Zayn responds with an exhale. And with that, he closes his eyes and pretends to sleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Liam wakes up alone. Though the warm sheets next to him tell him it hasn’t been that way for long.

Kicking the comforter to his feet, he lets out a low groan as the cold air rushes past his body. He momentarily contemplates curling back up into the warmth of the blanket, but his stomach flips and he sits up with a huff.

Remembering suddenly that he can’t leave Zayn alone too long. Knowing full well his mom could easily be up and about, ready to pounce on Zayn with 1,001 questions before he’s even had the chance to get a sip of coffee.

He slides his legs over the edge of the bed, his feet finding the floor. Making his way out the room and down the stairs, he walks past the entryway into the family room, stumbling upon Zayn.

And he’s alone. No questions being hurled at him, no embarrassing stories coming at him at over 100 miles per hour.

Liam stands there in the doorway for a moment as relief rushes through him, taking the scene in with a small smile. Zayn’s in front of the fireplace, hands clasped around a mug with a grin. His heels are just barely off the ground, leaning in a bit to get a better view of one of the pictures on the mantle.

“Didn’t take you for a early riser,” Liam mutters as way of a greeting as he comes closer to stand next to Zayn, lightly leaning against him with a low chuckle.

“I’m not,” he replies simply, lips upturning as he presses his weight back against Liam.

Because how can he say he woke up with Liam curled up against him? Liam’s head cradled in Zayn’s chest, as if he could protect Liam from the rest of the world.

And how could he say that he couldn’t, he can’t? And how could he say that he was afraid to try?

“What’re you getting caught up on?” Liam asks, and Zayn gulps as the words bring him back to the moment, watching as Liam’s eyes fly up to the picture in front of him.

Zayn nods up to the family picture, all five of them huddled in front of what looks like a shopping center of some sort. “That was from our holiday to London. This was the restaurant right by our hotel,” Liam laughs with a shake of his head. “Was mum’s favorite restaurant so she asked that we get a family picture in front of it so she could remember its name for later.”

After pointing out his sisters--”for later tonight, you know”--he smiles sadly. “Tried to used this restaurant as a bargaining chip. Figured maybe I could get mum to move the whole gang over if I bribed her with some food.”

“Didn’t work, eh?” Zayn teases, looking over at him with a grin.

“Didn’t work,” Liam responds with a sigh.

“Why’d you want to go?” Zayn asks quietly. “The house, this city, seems lovely.”

“Oh, Zayn, it’s such a lovely city,” Karen’s voice echoes down from the top of the stairs.

Liam starts at the sound of her voice and he’s suddenly all too aware of Zayn’s arm that never moved from his, practically burning into his skin. Gulping, he brings his hands in front of his body to clasp them together. “You’ll have to show me then, Karen,” Zayn yells back, lips upturning. Watching Liam’s movement, he clears his throat, frowning as he takes just a half-step sideways away from Liam.

“I think that’s Liam’s job.” Karen winks as she enters the room. “Though Geoff and I can probably give you two a good start with lunch or something.”

Stepping closer, she eyes Zayn’s coffee mug. “Zayn, is that water in there?”

Zayn shrugs with a look of chagrin. “I didn’t wanna use your coffee machine on my own,” he admits, “but a mug seemed nice.”

“Liam, you need to learn to be a better host,” she chides as she starts shuffling to the other room. With a huff, she says, “I’ll bring you both out a couple of mugs in a jiffy.” She gives Zayn a grin before she goes into the kitchen. “And I’ll even put some coffee in it for you.”

---

“Hey Karen and Geoff, your table’s open over there.” The waiter yells to the group of them across the room, flashing a smile before he jogs away to deal with the next crisis.

“They come here a lot?” Zayn whispers to Liam from behind him. Liam shrugs in response, just as clueless. As the swarm of people fills in around the busy restaurant, Zayn’s hand instinctively finds the small of Liam’s back, making sure he doesn’t lose all of them in the bottleneck of people. When they make it to the table a couple of seconds later, Zayn swallows hard, pulling away from Liam with a flinch when he realizes where his hand’s at.

Liam only shudders out a slow, ragged breath when he feels Zayn’s hand slide off him, grazing down his side before pulling back. But there’s a warmth there, a dull ache that lingers long after Zayn’s hand is gone.

“Didn’t know you guys still came here,” Liam chuckles as he slides into the seat against the wall, gesturing to Zayn to follow suit.

“This used to be my favorite restaurant when I was a kid,” he clarifies to Zayn with a smile. Zayn’s eyes scan the pub-grill atmosphere, the dim lights, the red tablecloths. At the quirk of Zayn’s eyebrow, he continues, “My dad convinced me one time that Bruce Wayne comes here when he wants a bite out, and, well, the rest is history.”

“So, this is really your favorite restaurant, then, Geoff?” Zayn asks, turning to him. “Sneaky,” he says cheekily with a grin.

“Used to be,” Geoff mumbles, elbowing Karen before he finishes. “But once Li left, it soon became her favorite restaurant.”

“It reminds me of you,” she says to Liam with a bit of chagrin. “Sometimes, it’s all I have of you.” These next words are quiet, almost inaudible around the surrounding chatter, the clatter of plates and silverware that echo far beyond.

“Mum,” Liam says warmly. “I promise I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

The waiter interjects then, bringing a pitcher of what is apparently the Payne family’s favorite beer, setting it at the table quickly with a promise to return to take their orders.

Sighing, she sniffles, “I know.” She lowers her eyes to the table so she can try to hide the tears forming from behind them. “Don’t forget this boy next time you come, either.” She looks up to give Zayn a soft smile. “I’ve grown a bit fond of him already.”

“I won’t,” Liam lies with a plastic grin, taking the moment to pour a full glass of the dark, wheat beer. Pausing, he gives Zayn a knowing smile as he picks up his glass, filling it up as well.

It’ll take a lot of alcohol for Liam to get through this guilt trip of a weekend. And he has a feeling it’s the same--if not worse--for the boy he dragged along.

As soon as her receipt is signed and slammed back on the table, Karen’s up and shuffling towards the door, leading a confused Geoff along with her. “You lads alright back to our place?” She asks, but it’s a loaded question.

The answer she’s looking for is yes, and anything but a yes is a problem for her not-so-subtle plan.

Rolling his eyes at her, he nods slowly, laughing as he gestures her away. “We’ll be home in a few hours probably.”

“Don’t come back any sooner,” she warns, beaming as she pulls Geoff out of the restaurant with a tug of her arm.

“She did that on purpose, didn’t she?” Zayn giggles, looking back and forth from the still-swinging door to Liam.

“Oh, she most definitely did,” Liam snorts. “Now come on,” he urges, tapping his arm against Zayn’s as he makes his way out of the booth. “I’ve got a lot to show you. If you’ll let me, I mean.”

Zayn lifts his head, a shy smile on his lips. “I’d love it.”

---

“Are you even taking me anywhere or is this just your excuse to get me to go on a long Autumn walk with you?”

Liam laughs at Zayn’s comment, a full laugh, his head flying back as his eyes crinkle up around the corners. “A long moonlit walk on the beach is next,” he taunts, elbowing him in the side. “We’re almost there,” he promises, leading Zayn around another corner and past another shop. “I’m trying to keep it a surprise,” he grins with a gleam in his eyes. 

Liam, you know I hate surprises.” Zayn groans, but the little smile threatening to break tells him otherwise.

“My city, my rules,” Liam smirks, turning one more corner before he stops suddenly in front of a ivy-covered brick building that looks like it’s going to take a tumble any day now. “First stop: my secondary school.” He raises his arms as if showcasing a new car, not some old, condemned schoolhouse.

“It’s…” Zayn tapers off, trying to think of a compliment, any compliment, to say about the school. Coming up empty, he settles on “small”.

Sticking his tongue out at the unenthusiastic comment, Liam explains, “It was a private Christian school. Complete with uniforms and the like.”

“I wanna see you in dress pants and a plaid v-neck,” Zayn teases, looking away from the school to flash Liam a grin.

“Nah, mate, you really don’t. Trust me.” He raises his hand up, as if taking an oath. “There’s a lot I’m trying to save you from when I keep you away from my old room.”

“You know, that just makes me wanna see it more,” Zayn replies with a waggle of his eyebrows.

“Shit,” Liam mutters, a small exhale leaving his mouth. “Well, then, we better get a move on, cause I’m telling you, even that mental image of me in that clothing is not ace.”

He clears his throat, giving one last look at the building. “Besides, not the best memories here, anyway.”

Zayn is quiet, allowing him to elaborate if he wants. He doesn’t.

Instead, he lights up, eyes growing wide. “The next place is so much better though, Zed.” Wrapping his fingers around Zayn’s, he pulls him along, practically bouncing from excitement. Giggles fall out of his mouth as Zayn lets out a surprised squeal. Leading Zayn along for a couple of blocks, he keeps his eyes in front of him. Except for every so often when he turns his head back around to check on Zayn, grin widening when he sees the nose scrunch he’d come to miss.

A few blocks away, Liam pauses for a moment, breathing hard. Eyes falling to their still-intertwined hands, he gulps. He likes the way Zayn’s hand feels in his, likes the way his thoughts get all cloudy and jumbled together, likes the way his pulse drums in his ears. But most of all, he likes that it’s not for a camera.

And so, he lets go.

He doesn’t want to force it on him, doesn’t want Zayn to feel uncomfortable like he is out in public, the fidgeting of his hands and squirming of his body always Liam’s first hint.

He doesn’t want to make this trip into something it’s not. 

Biting his lip, Zayn looks up from the sidewalk to find Liam’s eyes. Knitting his eyebrows together, he whispers, “Don’t.” The words barely make it to Liam’s ears, but it feels like an avalanche, a sudden release of an unexpected thought. An unexpected request.

Breath catching in his throat, he keeps his eyes firmly planted on Zayn as he reaches his fingers across to carefully lock them with Zayn’s. He only allows himself to look away when his expression evens out, the storm behind his eyes clearing when Liam once again touches him. This time, Liam gives him a little tug, scooting him over until their arms are touching once more.

“Better?” Liam breathes, eyes flicking up to read Zayn’s expression.

“Couldn’t be better,” Zayn says contently. “I was getting a bit cold.”

“Mmm hmm, because you were cold, okay,” Liam taunts with a smirk, giving Zayn a light squeeze. Bringing Zayn along with him, Liam starts to walk again.

“Where are we going this time?” Zayn asks as he lightly rubs circles along the back of Liam’s hand.

“Don’t think you can butter me up now,” Liam chides with a tsk. “I’m still not telling you.”

Leeyummmm,” Zayn moans, letting out a huff of air.

“You’ll find out soon enough, Z. We’re almost there now.”

“You are so rude to me,” Zayn sighs dramatically. “Good thing you’re at least a good human heater.”

“Stop it,” he giggles as he swings his arm up and down, moving Zayn with him. Liam looks over at him once more to give a coy smile. “It’ll be worth the wait, I promise.”

Chapter Text

 

“Close your eyes.”

Zayn blinks. “Sorry?”

“I said close your eyes, you wanker.” After catching Zayn’s hesitant expression, Liam unwinds his hand from him, walking behind the other boy as he slowly lifts both of his hands up to cover his eyes.

“I swear, you do this to torture me,” Zayn grumbles, but he stays still, not making any motions to move Liam’s hands away.  

“It wouldn’t be any fun if you didn’t hate me just a bit,” Liam breathily teases into Zayn’s ear as he gently presses his torso against Zayn’s back, his breath lightly falling on his cheek.

Liam doesn’t miss the shudder that runs down Zayn’s spine.

“Ready?” Liam whispers, carefully guiding Zayn along with his arms enveloped around the boy.

It’s completely dark except for the sliver of light slipping through Liam’s quickly slacking fingers, and Zayn has to rely on his touch, his hearing. And he hears--and most definitely feels--the shift in the ground, almost tripping as the smooth cement turns into something more sharp. Maybe something akin to gravel. The crunching underneath his feet seems to confirm this theory as Liam snakes around once, steering from his previously straight path. There’s one more twist a minute later and then Liam presses his palms lightly against Zayn’s eyes.

“We’re here,” he says as he slowly slides his hands off of Zayn’s face, letting his fingertips graze over every inch of his skin before suddenly dropping off with a gulp. He’s nervous suddenly, as if he’s showing Zayn a part of his soul, not just a part of his childhood.

There’s a warmth coating Liam’s voice at the words, rivaling the sudden brightness that floods Zayn’s eyes. Zayn’s lips quirk into a smile at the sudden surge of sensations surrounding him. And he can’t help it. At the sight, his breath catches in his throat and all he can do is let out a contented hum.

“It’s beautiful” is the only thing Zayn can find to say, leaning his head back just slightly to direct the words at Liam. The first thing his eyes fall on is the sheet of blue in front of him, sprinkled with patchy white as the lake begins its annual freezing. He finds the maple trees framing the water next, extending far beyond where his eyes can see. Then, the red at his feet as the leaves descend into autumn.

He leaves Liam for last, after he feels him bring his head down just slightly to rest his chin on Zayn’s shoulder. Zayn’s eyes dart down with a sly grin. But he finds that instead of looking at anything around him, Liam’s trained on him.

Only able to see the top half of Liam’s face, Zayn only knows he’s smiling when he’s pulled his face down even further. He burrows into Zayn’s neck, upturned lips twitching against his bare skin.

“Do you like it?” The words come out jumbled, the syllables hitting his skin.

Zayn chuckles lowly at this. Because how could he not, especially when Liam’s looking up at him with such wide eyes, the hope, the pleading seeping clear through his pores and onto Zayn’s skin.

Zayn gives a shy, half-smile as he nods. “Did you used to come here a lot as a kid?”

Liam hums in response, the sound vibrating through Zayn’s chest and he has to fight the urge to card his fingers through Liam’s hair, press a kiss to the top of his head, his forehead, his nose. Eventually finding his way down to his mouth.

There’s a moment of silence, a contented pause, the leaves crunching under their feet as they shift ever so slightly. And somewhere far away, a bird chirps, echoing through the forest of trees.

“I came here when I needed to think,” Liam mutters, shifting himself up as he slides to the right so he can rest his cheek on Zayn’s shoulder. “Which ended up being quite a lot,” he sighs.

Zayn’s not quite sure what he should be asking, doesn’t want to make Liam uncomfortable by pressing. So he sticks with the safest question he can think of. “How did you find the place? Did your parents show you or…?”

“Nah, found it myself,” Liam says easily. “Spent a lot of time on my own, so I got into a bad habit of exploring the area, always wanting to find a new place to hide. Drove my mum crazy, actually.” He laughs, shaking his head just slightly against Zayn. “Came home after dark quite a few nights, and she just about killed me every time.”

“She probably thought you were out sleeping with all the pretty women, partying and getting smashed,” Zayn mumbles with a chuckle, talking more to himself than to Liam.

Liam sighs, and Zayn sucks his bottom lip in. Will he ever learn to just keep his mouth shut? Liam has a way of always prying it open, it seems, even when he’s not meaning to.

“She would’ve preferred that actually, I think. She worried about me a lot, that one. Always begging me to go out and spend time with my friends, my....” He gulps, pausing on the word. “Girlfriend.” Liam knows he should probably stop; he doesn’t have to give Zayn his whole life story. But he barrels on, feeling the need to explain himself somehow. “Only brought her home for my mum.” He gets out, sounding guiltier than ever.

The words bubble up from behind Zayn’s throat, practically choking him. But he’s afraid to ask. Afraid of the honest answer he knows Liam would give. And what about me? Why am I here?

---

“Oh, good, you two are back!” Karen calls once Liam pushes his way through the front door, already hearing the soft music filter through the hall.

It’s... familiar. Even though he can barely pick up any of the notes, catching only syllables of words.

Zayn chokes on air, heart fluttering as the realization dawns on him. “Is this… my album?”

Liam closes his eyes, forcing himself to take a deep breath in and then out. He pinches the bridge of his nose to stop himself from snapping at his mom for--once again--embarrassing him, embarrassing Zayn.

“I’m so sorry,” Liam groans, a huff following his words.

“I think it’s cute,” Zayn admits quietly, catching Liam’s slowly-opening eyes with a soft smile, Liam’s lips upturning just the same.

And the world stops for just a few seconds, a sharp clarity, the click of a shutter before Zayn steps into place next to him and Liam stores the moment in his mind.

For what, he’s not sure. But it feels important somehow. The weekend has been slipping by too quickly, like sand through his fingers. Soon enough, they’ll be back at the studio, and it’ll be like nothing has changed.

But Liam doesn’t want to forget this. He doesn’t want to pretend it didn’t happen.

And all he has to stop that are his memories--and he’ll do anything to replace the thought that’s been crashing around in his head for days now, of the crumpled look on Zayn’s face as he’d stormed out that night. Because anything else is better than that.

“How was your time out?” Karen asks with a knowing smile as she peers her head around the doorway of the entry.

“It was nice, mum.” Liam murmurs shyly, looking from her to his feet. “I took Zayn to see my school and then we stopped at the candy shop.” He lifts his eyes back up to her, flashing as wide a grin as he’s able. He’s not lying: they did visit his school and he had pointed out the candy store as he was leading Zayn home.

But he can feel Zayn’s eyes on him, can feel his own smile beginning to waver as he tries to push the look out of his mind, not wanting to blow his cover.

“And you enjoyed it, Zayn?” Karen’s glance shifts to the other boy, her eyes brightening. 

“Yeah,” Zayn nods enthusiastically. He blinks, pausing a moment before he gets out slowly, “the school and the—” Lake. Lake. Lake. He trails off for a second, his tongue forming around the l-shape before finishing with a clearing of his throat, “The candy shop were cool. I can see why you guys love it here.”

Karen just nods, seeming to accept their answers before hearing some buzzer go off in the other room. “That’s the ham!” She cries, racing out of the room as she rushes to save her burning pork. “Also, Nicola and Ruth are here,” she yells to them with a flick of her head. Her eyebrows shooting up in warning, she catches their gazes before running into the kitchen.

“That’s our cue to head into the kitchen,” Liam sighs, gnawing at his lip as his eyes wander over to Zayn.

And he knows immediately, can tell from Zayn’s furrowed eyebrows.

“Zayn,” Liam gulps. He pauses, waiting for Zayn to slide his gaze from his fidgeting hands to Liam. When he does, Liam huffs, seeing Zayn’s unreadable expression. He pulls his lips into his mouth before whispering, “No one knows about the lake.”

Zayn exhales, expression clearing as the beginnings of understanding flash across his face.

Liam swallows, looking at Zayn’s chin instead of his eyes, and sighs before continuing, “I’ve never taken anyone there before.”

Finally looking up at him, there’s a pleading in his eyes, a slight pout to his lips. As if he’s worried Zayn is going to suddenly race into the kitchen and tell on him, like a five-year-old that just got his sucker stolen.

There’s a pause, a hiccup of time that lasts way too long for Liam’s liking. And then, just like that, time starts again. “What lake?” Zayn asks cheekily, bouncing his arm against Liam’s before giving him a quick wink as he gently pulls on his arm to lead him into the kitchen. And Zayn’s not quite sure why, but there’s a sudden bounce in his step, an excitement vibrating deep inside of his chest, and a completely nauseating grin overtaking his face. And he likes it.

This weekend is going to be the death of him.

Chapter Text

Nicola is the first to pounce, pulling away from the doorway that she’d just been leaning against, two glasses of wine in hand and a look of pity in her eyes. “’Cause I know how this family can be,” she winks, directing her attention to Zayn.

“Hot ride,” she teases Liam, lightly jabbing her elbow into his arm.

Liam gulps, face flushing a deep red as he jerkily shifts on his feet, looking first at his wine glass, then the kitchen tile floor. Anywhere other than… what had she called him? His ‘hot ride’?

Just the thought and Liam can feel his cheeks burning almost purple.

“The car, Liam,” Nicola leans in, letting out a little chuckle as she processes Liam’s thoughts. “I meant the Subaru. Didn’t take you for such a mum.”

She gives him a little pat on his (still-burning) cheek, barking out a laugh as she continues, “But glad to know you think of him as your ride, too.”

Liam means to spit something back, something about how he thought his Range Rover might be a bit suspicious in their driveway. But instead, the words come out in a throaty croak. “Not—my hot ride.”

Zayn’s practically vibrating next to Liam, giggles almost bursting from his mouth. He’s filtered some of the sound by pressing his palm over his lips, but it’s a poor attempt, really, only catching portions of his laugh. And there’s a slight tinge to his cheeks, but at this point, he seems less concerned about what Liam’s insinuated and more focused on not spilling his wine, the alcohol sloshing in his glass from the laughter taking over his whole body.

“Whatever you say, Li,” Nicola taunts, quirking her eyebrows before jetting into the main area of the kitchen, not even giving Liam the chance to open his mouth to reply.

Liam’s eyes dart to Zayn, his head practically snapping from the rushed movement.

Looking a bit sheepish when he sees Liam’s eyebrows drawn together, his pout drooping down his face, Zayn forces himself to slide his bottom lip into his mouth. He makes sure his laughter has completely wilted in his throat before he pauses. But instead of apologizing, he shrugs, taking one step forward. He gives Liam a sly grin as he does so, a glint in his eye. “Hey, I’m the one that has to be here, so it’s only fair, really, that I get to see you squirm a bit.” With a wink, he swings his hips directly in front of Liam as if to mime the squirming. Lifting his glass just slightly, he drags out the rotation, seemingly enjoying knowing that Liam’s eyes are glued to his ass before following Nicola out of the entry without another word.

Liam swallows hard, having to drag his gaze away from where Zayn had been just a moment before. Having to drag his thoughts away from his hand finding the curve of Zayn’s ass, sliding further down as he mouths desperately at his neck. And it’s not fair, not really. That such a simple movement could twist his mind into such a clusterfuck of thoughts and images, his body following close behind.


 

Liam doesn’t mean to. He really doesn’t. But three or four drinks in–he’s lost count, really–any worry he’d had has now morphed to a warmth pulsing through his muscles, draping his thoughts in a dull glow. And his tongue is loose against his teeth, throwing out words faster than his brain can process them.

And when Ruth finally takes her doting off of Liam and his new tattoos, he’s grateful for the shift of attention. Turning to Zayn, the dreadful words fall from her mouth, the topic the two of them had been avoiding, hoping it would never have to be uttered again: how they met.

And Liam almost giggles, because this is the payback Zayn deserved for earlier, for his giggling and his not-too-subtle teasing hips. So Liam leans forward, letting the hand that’s loosely wrapped around his shoulder massage gently down his spine, pausing at the last vertebrae. Resting his hand gently there, he breathily whispers into his ear, “Time for you to squirm now, babe.”

Maybe he isn’t quite even in his retribution, Liam thinks, when suddenly Zayn’s body lurches forward, a cough spurting from his mouth as he almost chokes on his drink, eyes wide. And Liam’s not technically sure whether he’s caused that or if Ruth did. But a proud smirk slides onto his face anyway, standing up as he cries, “Let’s go eat finally!”

“Good idea,” Nicola replies, easily following Liam’s padded jog out into the dining room. “‘Cause you really need something else in your system besides wine,” she mutters before leaving the room, giving Zayn a small smile as she gestures for him to follow.

Zayn’s the last one into the room, but his spot is clear: the chair to the left of Liam, practically lit up in a spotlight with the way everyone at the table spins to look at him. But the only one he keeps his eyes on are Liam, lips quirking up at the glow practically radiating from him from the alcohol.

Not that he’s not still mad at him for his comment. Or his blatant disregard for his private space–that he hadn’t really quite minded, per se, had in fact quite enjoyed–but no, he’s supposed to be upset. He blinks the thought away.

When Liam mimics his smile, Zayn’s face flushes, feeling suddenly overwhelmed as he sinks into his seat with a nervous gulp.

He reaches for his wine glass, hating the way his fingers shake. Maybe he should have had more to drink, but he’d figured that Liam, really, had more than enough for the both of them. And maybe he was afraid of what would happen–what he would do–with alcohol racing through his veins. And maybe he was afraid he wouldn’t regret any of it. And maybe he was afraid he would.

He gulps as he settles the glass back down onto the table, feeling all eyes on him as Ruth prods again about the story of how they met. Mind whirring, he struggles to remember the one that he and Liam had come up with on their walk earlier. Something vague and mentioned offhandedly, not enough details to really save their asses if it came down to it. Something about a friend, maybe.

He thinks. Whenever Liam’s around, everything else becomes a little more hazy, a little too far out of focus to be important. And everything else includes the story that he doesn’t want to tell, the story he doesn’t want to even think about.

Because when he does, he has to ground himself back in reality. This is all for show.

The bright lights filter around Zayn’s vision, the cameras caging him to the lifeless stage once more. The microphone thrown in his face as he’d spat out the plastic words, about meeting that night at the gala, the empty syllables rolling off his tongue like dirt.

He doesn’t think he can do that again. So he doesn’t.

Instead, he tells the truth. As much as he can.

“Erm,” Zayn hesitates, fingers sliding down his thighs and grasping around his bony knees as he begrudgingly drags his eyes off of Liam to face the rest of his family.

“We met through a friend actually. Chris was his name.” Zayn smiles, a surge of happiness expanding his chest at being able to use his name, put in details that are real. (And just, you know, omit the parts that change the context just a wee bit.)

“But I didn’t want to like Liam.” Zayn pauses, raking his teeth along his bottom lip as he tries to hide the nerves suddenly bubbling up behind his voice. “Not at first.”

His eyes fly to the other boy before he realizes he’s not supposed to be looking his way. Instead, he lets his eyes fall to the full plate in front of him, stabbing at his green beans as he works up the courage to say the next part.

“I wasn’t really ready for anything.” Still not ready. He gulps. “So I tried to pull the too cool for you act.” Grinning, Zayn’s mind flicks through his lovesick puppy look caught on camera, his tongue tied words, their fumbled hookup. “But it didn’t last long really.”

Zayn’s not entirely sure why he feels the need to blurt this out suddenly, why all these words need to come out right at this instant. And if he didn’t know better, he would say it was the alcohol. But his thoughts aren’t muddled from the wine, but rather, from Liam. He takes in a sharp breath, continuing on with embarrassing detail. From their movie date–careful to skip over the heated aftermath in his apartment–to the other events where Zayn had quietly taken Liam in, filing away details: the way his hands would rub at his birthmark whenever he was nervous about something, how practically his whole body would flush whenever Zayn would catch him looking, the color blooming down his neck and chest. And that, whenever he would try to hide his fondness for something, he would bite his bottom lip as if attempting to pull the smile back into his mouth.

He doesn’t say these things, of course. Instead, Zayn talks easily about the public events they were always at. He makes them sound glamorous, mentioning all the perks and the attention that fell on them. But he purposefully leaves out the way his throat had tightened up whenever those red carpets were under him–the carpets that probably cost more than his childhood home–those lifeless words leaving the mouths of the bright but broken celebrities, imploding stars. 

And Liam was the only constant.

No matter what, Liam would be by his side, fingers intertwined in his for the hungry cameras. Even if Liam thought nothing of it, it kept Zayn’s head above water most days. 

And really, Zayn’s not quite sure why he hadn’t realized that until this second. Yet here he is, blinking hard, surprised at himself.

And when he looks over at Liam, finally out of his own head enough to catch his gaze, Liam’s biting into a grin, the crinkled wrinkles around his eyes giving away his futile attempt to hide the smile.

Zayn shakes his head, closing his eyes as he repeats to himself over and over that it has nothing to do with him–it’s just the alcohol.

And he almost believes it, except for how familiar the detail seems, fondness leaking through the nibbling of his bottom lip.

Chapter Text

“The music. Tell us about the music next,” Ruth almost buzzes, seeming almost as excited as her mom to hear more from the two of them.

Geoff chuckles, glancing over at her with an endeared look in his eyes. “You probably don’t need Liam to tell us much. I don’t think there’s any more news he can give us.” His gaze moves to his wife. “What with those texting and email updates you and Karen give him no choice but to participate in.” He stops, giving a sheepish side glance to Liam. “Of course, not that I mind.”

“Eh.” She brushes off Geoff with a flick of her wrist. “He loves the attention.” She flashes a grin to a now-red Liam before she suddenly gushes to Ruth, “Did you know this is Zayn’s music over the speaker?”

Ruth nods approvingly, chuckling when Zayn’s embarrassed gaze falls to his hands balling up the napkin in his lap. “First album?” She asks quietly, allowing him space to respond.

“It’s so incredible, Ruthie,” Liam interjects, a half-smile forming on his face as he takes in the soft music surrounding him. He’s actually listening to it, allowing himself to follow the melodic low beat beneath Zayn’s rising voice. This time, there’s no pretenses; he no longer has to skim over the songs only in case he gets bombarded by a question about them in an interview.

Zayn ducks his head at the compliment, lips upturning just slightly as his fingers fumble more feverishly around the napkin. “Yeah,” Zayn grins, responding to Ruth. “I’m working on the next one now, though. Only a few months away from finishing up recording.” 

Talking about his music, he glows, the words breathing new life into him. His shyness has suddenly disappeared as he explains the new sound, the change in lyrics. How this one is just more him. And Liam doesn’t know quite exactly what that entails, of what all he consists of, but he has a sudden urge to find out.

Until the loud knock echoes from the entry and into the dining room. Before anyone can stop him, Liam is up and heading towards the hollow sound, avoiding the watchful gaze of his mother’s eyes, her eyebrows drawn together.

And the thought doesn’t even occur to him until he’s twisting the knob and swinging the door wide open. That maybe, just maybe, his door has a peephole for a reason.

“Leonardo.” The word comes out low, more like a growl than an actual utterance.

The man huffs, running his long, slim fingers through his mop of dark brown hair. Planting his feet firmly in place, he barks, “‘s Leo.”

Liam bites his tongue, holding back a gleeful I know from passing his lips. “Why’re you here, Leo?” He gets out very carefully, making sure each word is as even as the one preceding it.

He’s not in the mood for formalities, how you beens. He passed that long ago. Ever since the first time Leo popped up on his doorstep all those years ago to be exact.

“Oh, you know.” He brushes off the words as if blowing dust into the wind. “I’m just here to check up on you, see how my mate is doing.” The ominous crescent-moon smile that follows does nothing to calm the sudden thump thump of Liam’s heart.

Asking quietly how Leo had known he was around, Liam watches as he shuffles almost imperceptibly on his feet, as if marking his territory.

“Oh, heard word from a couple of friends that you were in town again,” he says easily, but the clench of his fist against his side says otherwise.

Liam can’t help himself. He snorts. Right. Friends.

Remembering just how many “friends” this guy has, the sinking feeling digs even deeper in his stomach. He really shouldn’t have gone out to that restaurant. Not with Zayn in tow, not with his parents, not with anyone.

But it’s easy to fall into old habits in Wolverhampton, easy to fall back into the old days when Liam was a nobody. Well, until.

“Danielle isn’t here.” He attempts the words without any emotion, though the set in his jaw gives him away.

“You’re the reason she won’t talk to me anymore. Isn’t that right?” Leo lets out a low chuckle, the sound falling flat. Tipping his head lower, his expression darkens as he continues on in a mocking tone, “Reckon she’s still too in love with the adorable, lovely, perfect Liam fucking Payne to get back with me.”

Liam reels back the fuck you hanging right off the edge of his lips, instead painfully swallowing the bitter words down. “That was five years ago, Leo,” he sighs, running his hands up and down the sides of his thighs. He’s suddenly not sure where to stand or how to move, doing anything and everything to try to calm the rage boiling just underneath the surface. “I haven’t talked to her in just as long.”

“Yeah, right,” Leo retorts with a swat of his hand and a curl of his lip. “So she’s just suddenly not talking to me right when you make your way back into town?” He rolls his eyes. “Alright, sure,” he says, voice laced with as much sarcasm as he can fit into the two short words. Scoffing, he spits out, ”Besides, what makes you think I’d believe you of all people?”

“I didn’t steal her, Leo.” Biting the inside of his lip, Liam tries to stop the words from leaving his mouth. But the trace of wine, now combined with adrenaline, is making his head swim and it’s a bit more difficult to control things like how his lips move and what words come out. “Never did,” he finishes with as casual of a shrug as he can manage. “And you know that just as well as I do,” he continues on lowly, allowing his eyes to wander everywhere but to Leo’s. Feeling himself grow more confident by the second, he slides his gaze onto Leo’s pointed one. “Ever thought that maybe your little problem with Danielle has less to do with me and more to do with you?”

Anger flashes behind Leo’s eyes before he tenses, eyebrows furrowing as he takes an instinctive step forward.

And Liam has a sudden thought, a split second where he wonders if he’s said too much and now he’s finally going to know what a punch in the face feels like. And what a news story that would be. Singer Liam Payne Gets Into Fight on Doorstep of Own Home Cause He Can’t Shut His Damn Mouth.

But instead, Leo just growls, “You think you’re better than us, huh?” He jeers, his face contorting into a sneer.

Crossing his bulky arms over his chest, he squints his eyes as he hisses, “Made your way out of this town and now suddenly you’re a ‘hotshot’.”

Liam can feel the red-hot knot of anger spread, simmering its way up his body as he barks, “Why are you going after me and not any of the others I’m sure she’s been with after me?”

“Once a thief, always a thief.”

He looks like he’s about to spit out more, but something behind Liam catches his attention.

“Oh, and isn’t that just rich?” His eyes dart to Liam and then to the hesitant movement behind him. At the noise, a gulp skips down Liam’s throat. He wishes that he didn’t recognize that sound of padded footsteps. Hopes it isn’t who he thinks it is.

Liam has a sudden itch to whip his head around to check, but before he’s able to, it’s confirmed by Leo’s next words. “Not only did you take her away from me, but now you’ve ended up with him?” The malice behind his words sets Liam’s body stiff, the only movement in the rapid rise and fall of his chest.

“She’s still in love with you, but it’s no matter, cause you’re in love with this--lad?” Raising one eyebrow, he snickers, “I mean, I know I’ve heard some whispers over the past few years. That good-old Liam Payne swung just a bit too far now.” He clicks his tongue, shaking his head in feigned disbelief. “But I never thought the rumors were true.”

Heart promptly dropping into his stomach, Liam opens his mouth and then closes it again. He’s not even sure what he’s trying to get out, all of his half-formed thoughts quickly dissolving into a jumble of raw emotions. All he can feel is the tears burning behind his eyes, threatening to well up and break his carefully crafted facade in just an instant.

“Get the fuck out,” the familiar voice behind him grunts, accent thick. He’s suddenly only a step behind Liam. “You’re not welcome here,” Zayn continues lowly, taking a small step closer to Liam to fill the gap.

Leo’s attention suddenly shifts back to Zayn, as if actually taking him in for the first time. “Oh, and you,” Leo frowns. “I remember a rumor now.” He pretends to think. “You two lovebirds dating. Awhhhh,” he taunts, giving a fake pout with a tilt of his head.

Fear flickers across Liam’s face at this. It lasts only a millisecond, but from the smirk that slides onto Leo’s face, he knows he’s seen it.

“A private little weekend getaway, huh?” Leo continues, watching Zayn carefully now.

Something flashes in his expression at those words, giving him all he needs to know.

This time, he doesn’t need any prompting. He’s gone before either of them can respond.

Before Zayn can say anything, ask Liam too many questions that he doesn’t want to answer--ask Liam too many questions that he doesn’t really quite know how to answer--he turns on his heel to head back to the dinner table.

Staying put for just a moment, Zayn watches Liam’s careful movements, the calculated way he sets his unsteady walk back into his normal, easy stride by the time he makes his way around the corner. “Just someone trying to sell me something. Didn’t really take no for an answer,” Zayn can hear Liam chuckling offhandedly to Karen.

And it’s almost believable. Except when he finally pokes his head around the corner, he can just make out the almost imperceptible shake of Liam’s hands in his lap, hidden only by the table covering them.

---

“Liam.” Zayn’s firm voice forces its way past Liam’s thoughts, sounding far away as if traveling through water.

Liam blinks, bringing Zayn into focus once more. He hums, shifting around on the bed just slightly as he gives him a weak smile.

“You okay, Li?” Zayn forms the words very carefully, eyebrows knitting together as he pulls himself away from the bookshelf he had just been leaning against. Even as he does so, he keeps his eyes on the boy in front of him.

Liam gulps, knowing what he should say. He has his script ready to go, the same one he always used to give his mom. And yet, as he goes to nod his head up and down, his neck shifts until it’s not quite a shake of his head but it’s not quite a nod either.

“It’s okay if you’re not.” The whispered words come out so quietly that Liam is sure at first that he’s just hearing things.

Liam sighs, stalling for just a moment so he can attempt to calm the current mess that is his thoughts. “Dani—” Liam gulps, the wet word stopping in his throat as he brings his eyes down to focus on the plaid pattern of his pajama pants. “My senior year, Leo and Danielle were dating,” he starts after a pause, lifting his eyes up just slightly to bore into the bookshelf behind Zayn. “Somewhere along the way, Danielle and I ended up becoming friends. She was tutoring me in--” He tapers off suddenly, eyes darting upwards as he struggles to remember. “Chemistry, I believe.”

Finally catching Zayn’s eye, he gives a little smile, interrupting himself to say, “I always hated science. Though I’m sure that’s not a shock.”

Zayn’s lips upturn at this, and he finds himself moving to sit down next to Liam on the bed. He shifts his body so he’s sitting cross-legged, glancing up at Liam to give a reassuring smile.

“Honestly, the whole thing gets a bit hazy, but…” Liam stops, moving his body just slightly so he faces Zayn. “She broke up with him at some point. Then she started showing interest in me.” He shrugs, clearing his throat. “I guess. I never was the best at reading girls.” Shaking his head, he chuckles a bit at himself. “She asked me out not too much later, and, well, you know.” He looks down at his hands by his sides, the sharp press of his spread fingers indenting the comforter of the bed. “I said yes.”

“And Leo thought you stole her,” Zayn says quietly, no question in his voice.

Liam nods slowly, finally bringing his eyes back up to the other boy. 

Zayn’s reminded suddenly of the picture on the mantel above the fireplace, of Liam’s words that hadn’t quite made sense at the time. He scoots himself a bit closer, knee practically touching Liam’s back as he asks quietly, “Is he the reason you wanted to leave?”

Refusing to look at Zayn, Liam just nods slowly, his eyes glazing over once more. “Yeah, after he came to my house the first time to ‘check up on me,’” he mumbles, the tart words curling his mouth into a frown. He gnaws at his lip. “But my mum didn’t know. I made well sure of that. Didn’t want her to worry,” he gulps, the guilt in his voice evident. “She knew about Danielle, of course, since I took her here, but.” 

A sigh falls from his lips as he glances over at Zayn again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go and throw my shit backstory at you. Already forced you along to come meet my parents and you probably don’t even ca—”

As the slew of words fly from Liam’s mouth, Zayn scoots himself closer once more. As Zayn’s knee gently lands against the small of Liam’s back, Liam stops suddenly, swallowing hard.

“I do care,” Zayn promises lightly, tapping his knee softly against Liam. “I mean, I could’ve run for the hills at any point, but I’m still here,” he jokes with a grin, eyes bright.

Liam leans his torso slightly forward and then back again, just enough to give Zayn’s knee a light reciprocal tap. Eyes rising from Zayn’s leg to catch his gaze, Liam gives him a shy smile.

There’s a pause then, a moment of silence where Liam is all too aware of his heart pounding in his ears. All too aware of how he can’t think straight, can’t remember anything other than Zayn. He allows his eyes to fall to his mouth, huffing out air. Then, before he can stop himself, the breathy words are slipping past Liam’s lips. “Would you kiss me if I asked you to?”

He’s not sure why he says it, not sure why he allows himself to say it. But there the words are, and there he is, feeling almost as surprised as Zayn looks. Blinking, Zayn’s eyes widen just slightly.

A thousand thoughts rush past Zayn’s brain, but he can’t quite focus on any single one of them. Thoughts of how Liam is too emotional right now to really be asking this sort of thing, of how rude it is for Liam to even put him in this position in the first place. And thoughts of how aware he now is of his knee resting against Liam’s warm back, of how aware he is of his sudden urge to bring his lips to Liam’s. Not needy this time, not rushed. Just… exploring. Allowing himself to gently find his place there against Liam.

He gulps, Adam’s apple bobbing as he realizes he’s been pretty much staring at Liam for the past… well, who knows how long.

Instead of leaning forward into Liam like he wants to, he bites his lip, deciding on the safest route he can think of. “Are you asking me to?” His breath falls stagnant, damming up somewhere in his throat.

Because of course I would. The bittersweet words fall short, melting on his tongue.

Liam pauses, breathing shallowly as he attempts to swim through his tangled thoughts. But there’s too many emotions, too many memories running rampant, each one crossing over the other until there’s hardly any space for Liam to think. “No,” he frowns finally. “Not yet.” And he wishes he could have missed the way Zayn stiffens, wishes he hadn’t noticed the fall of his gaze.

But Zayn only nods solemnly, letting out a small sigh before he pulls his body away from Liam’s. “I’m gonna get ready for bed,” he smiles weakly as he slides his feet onto the floor.

He squats down to rifle through his suitcase. “Maybe?” Liam squeaks out right as Zayn’s gaze moves downwards.

Zayn stops suddenly at this, eyes darting up to catch Liam’s. His eyebrows fly up as he repeats, “Maybe?”

Liam huffs, not quite sure how to explain himself. He doesn’t want memories of Danielle, memories of Leo to taint it. But he wants Zayn’s lips against his so badly, wants to remember what that feels like.

All he can do is repeat the word. “Maybe.”

Forcing himself to bring his gaze back down to the suitcase, Zayn halfheartedly searches for his toothbrush once more. Ignoring the drumming of his heart, he shrugs it off as best he can. “Well, you let me know when you have an answer then,” he says nonchalantly, but his throat is tight, his mind racing.

Liam’s eyes track Zayn’s movement, following as his tongue jets out to lick his lips. That makes up his mind pretty quickly. “Yes,” Liam says firmly, nodding his head, too, as if that will help.

Zayn hums, eyes flying to Liam’s. “Are you sure?” He clarifies, watching Liam carefully.

Liam nods enthusiastically, adding “‘m sure” just for good measure.

At this, Zayn eagerly pops back up. He takes a small step forward, enjoying the way Liam follows his every move. He pauses, smirking as he steps forward a bit more. 

He watches as Liam’s eyes rake over his whole body, the motion easily distracting him. Before he knows it, Zayn’s made his way to Liam, standing above him. Squatting once more, he brings himself level to Liam. He slowly settles one hand around his neck, fingers roaming to find the little hairs around the nape. The other he places against Liam’s jaw, thumb gently running a line down the column of his neck.

He leans in, pausing as his lips shadow over Liam’s. Looking up, he takes in Liam’s golden eyes, the way his eyelashes fan over his cheekbones, the impatient little twitch of his nose. At this sight, Zayn half-smiles, one side crooking upwards.

“Please just kiss me,” Liam pleads quietly, his bottom lip jutting out just slightly.

Fluttering his eyes closed, Zayn does what he’s told. Pressing his lips to Liam’s, he is careful, deliberate. But he doesn’t allow himself to linger, only barely tasting Liam before he gently pulls back, forcing open his eyes. Liam’s eyes fly open, giving Zayn a confused look. 

At this, Zayn lets out a huff of air. “You’ve had a rough day, Li,” he says lightly. Giving a small smile, he breathes, “I’m not going to add any more to it.” 

Standing up, he goes to find his toothbrush once more. Grabbing his things, he heads for the bathroom door. Right at the last second, he turns around, echoing Liam’s words with a grin. “Not yet.”

Chapter Text

 

Zayn wakes to the sound of ruffling sheets, a noise that he's heard more than a few times tonight.

"Liam?" Zayn whispers, voice coming out more as a croak than a question.

Liam freezes, the comforter lying still. He hums quietly in response, hesitant, just in case he had only thought he'd heard his name.

"Can't sleep?" Zayn asks gently as he scoots his body a couple inches closer to Liam.

Liam flips his body around so he's facing Zayn. "No," Liam admits lowly, voice laced with worry.

"Do you want..." With a gulp, Zayn brings his body just one inch closer. He clears his throat before continuing on quietly. "Do you want me to help?"

Liam chuckles breathily, not quite sure what he means. He shrugs before realizing Zayn likely can't see him. Instead, he teases, "If you're insinuating holding me until I fall asleep, then sure."

Zayn holds his breath momentarily, not daring to exhale. His body is frozen, thoughts at a standstill. He blinks. "Can I..." Zayn finally mutters before bringing himself just a bit closer until his body is practically against Liam's, hovering his arm over his side. "Is this okay?"

When Liam nods, humming happily, Zayn slowly drapes his arm around Liam. "Turn around," Zayn orders as his hand finds Liam’s back. He begins rubbing his hand in circles over the soft, plaid pajama fabric.

Liam complies, flipping as he brings his back closer to Zayn, just enough so that their bodies lock together.

There's a moment of silence as Zayn soothingly traces little patterns over what has now become Liam's chest. "I'm glad you're here, Zed," Liam mumbles sleepily, already sounding more relaxed than he has all night.

"Thanks for bringing me, Li," Zayn replies sincerely, lifting his head up just for a moment so he can peck a kiss to the top of Liam's head.

More like a thought than an actual intended statement, Liam mumbles, "Wouldn't have come here again without you." He sighs, lifting his hand up to press against Zayn's, which is still staking claim on his chest. "Not with all the shit that I've left behind."

Zayn huffs, shifting his motions so that he's massaging up Liam's arms, one and then the other. "Never going to sleep if you dwell on that right now, babe," he gets out gently, speaking as reassuringly as he can. 

Liam exhales in response, his whole body sloping downwards from the forceful motion. "I know," he says bitterly. 

Leaning his head back against Zayn's shoulder, Zayn smiles, moving his head just slightly to find Liam's ear. He places his palm back on its place on Liam's chest before he leans in. "What if I sang you a lullaby?"

Liam giggles at this, not having expected those to be the words that fall from Zayn's lips. "Are you calling me a baby, Zayn?" Liam grins, not moving. He has an urge to playfully knock into him, but his limbs feel too sleepy to move. He really is a baby.

“No, you sod,” he groans, but his lips upturn as he clicks his tongue lightly.

His fingers moving to gently comb through his hair, Liam hums in response, nuzzling into Zayn’s touch. He doesn’t quite know how to ask Zayn to sing to him. The words knock around in his head but fall short of his tongue.

At Liam’s silence, though, Zayn begins humming a few bars of the light, Desi tune.

Liam mumbles out something that sounds an awful lot like “Continue”. So he does.

Propping himself up on his forearm, he does as Liam says, opening his mouth to quietly sing the words of the lullaby.

Lalla lalla lori doodh ki katori

Doodh mein bataasha munni kare tamaasha

He repeats the phrase twice, chuckling softly when he sees Liam’s eyebrows knit together as he tries to pick up the foreign words. “My baby doesn’t want the milk with sugar,” Zayn clarifies with a small smile, words still falling breathily in Liam’s ear.

Choti-choti pyari pyari sundar pariyon jaisi hai

He sings the rising and falling lyrics two times, watching Liam’s face relax, muscles falling into a look of contentment. Closing his eyes, he softly translates, “She’s small and sweet and beautiful like an angel.”

Kisi ki nazar na lage meri munni aaisi hai

Shehad se bhi meethi doodh se bhi gori

Chupake chupake chori chori chori

He flutters his eyes open as he finishes the phrase, biting on his lip as he lifts his gaze to Liam’s. “I’m hoping that no one’s evil eye falls on her, because that would jinx it.” He sighs as he tries to push aside the bitter thoughts that want to dwell on the harsh ring of those words. Smooshing his lips together, he presses a light kiss to the nape of Liam’s neck. “She’s sweeter than honey and fairer than milk,” he whispers against his warm skin.

Lowering his head down, he sets his cheek gently against Liam’s shoulder. “Slowly and softly,” he says, voice getting softer as if hiding from something.

Lalla lalla lori doodh ki katori

Doodh mein bataasha munni kare tamaasha

Zayn sings the familiar phrase again, happily digging his cheek further into his shoulder when he hears a weak attempt of a hum from a sleepy Liam.

He pauses, not sure if he’s gone on too long, if he should just stop right there where he is. If he’s judging from the droop of Liam’s head, he won’t be awake much longer.

Liam makes an annoyed noise at the moment of silence that follows, so Zayn smiles, continuing on quietly.

After he repeats the first few lines of the lullaby again, he stays quiet, this time not translating after he sings the words. Instead, from his perch against Liam’s shoulder, he fondly watches the way the boy’s eyelids flutter open and then closed.

Kaari raina ke maathe pe chamke chaand si bindiya

He repeats the line twice, singing softly. He whispers the translation this time, trying to keep his voice as even and calming as he can. “On the forehead of the dark night, the moon shines like a bindi.”

munni ke chhote-chhote nainon mein khele nindiya

sapanon ka palana aashaaon ki dori

chupake chupake chori chori chori

Watching Liam’s eyes press closed for longer and longer after each blink, Zayn laughs at how well the last words of the lullaby fit. “Sleepiness dances in the small eyes of my girl. A cradle of dreams, a lanyard of hopes.” He gives Liam a small smile as he whispers, “Slowly and softly.”

Repeating the first few lines of the lullaby once more, he continues humming after, echoing the tune once more. At the end of the musical phrase, he tapers off slowly, watching as Liam’s eyes finally close once more and stay that way.

“Keep talking,” Liam says lowly, not opening his eyes. The slurred syllables barely form themselves into words past his thick tongue. “Love your accent. Want to sleep.” He grunts, moving his body back a bit further to cuddle more into the warmth that is Zayn.

Zayn grins, affectionately rolling his eyes, but he does as he’s told. After all, he can’t argue with a sleepy Liam. “My baba used to sing that to me growing up when I couldn’t fall asleep.” He stills his hand’s movement in Liam’s hair as he, too, feels the wave of tiredness overcome him. He stifles back a yawn as he gets out, “He’d even warm me some milk with sugar, to go along with the lullaby.” There’s a pause as Zayn thinks back on the nostalgic memory.

Then, he realizes he isn’t quite sure what to say next, seeing as he isn’t really used to talking this much about himself. “I wanna do a song in Urdu on my next album.” He lets the words cascade from his lips, the words he’s been too afraid to say yet. Too afraid to speak aloud in case it all seemed stupid, or wrong. Or simply “not an option”, as he’d heard so many times before. Finally letting his forearm relax from underneath him, he cuddles his face into Liam’s back. Finishing his thought, he mutters sleepily, “For him. As a thank you.”

This time, he can’t hold back a yawn. And as he feels Liam’s body slump, on the edge of sleep, he gnaws on his lip, his native language still running through his thoughts. “Mujha lagta hai ki mein tumse pyaar karne laga hoon,” he breathes into the comforting fabric of Liam’s shirt. I think I’m falling in love with you.

Liam hums questioningly at that, and Zayn chuckles lowly. No way is he repeating that. “I said ‘Good night, Li, and sleep well.’”

Liam doesn’t question this, only humming happily once more as sleep finally overtakes him.

Chapter Text

 

Liam wakes with Zayn’s warmth still firmly pressed against him, his arm now wrapped around Liam’s middle. Remembering the dreamlike state that had been the lullaby from the night before, Liam smiles contentedly. He glides a couple of his fingers lightly down Zayn’s cheek, chuckling under his breath as he sees the other boy unconsciously nuzzle into the motion before falling back into a deep sleep.

Outstretching one arm as far as he can without compromising his position, he sleepily reaches for his phone, charging on the nightstand right next to him.

A quick scan through his notifications sends his heart a-thumping, eyes catching on the name he hasn’t seen in more than five years. Danielle. He sighs involuntarily, heart dropping to his stomach as he squeezes his eyes closed in an attempt to stop the sudden dread rushing through his veins. He peeks his eyes open, darting his gaze over to the still-sleeping figure. Holding his breath, he forces himself to look at his phone again, read the message that he wishes had never come in.

hey liam :) heard you were back in town again, long time, no see! want to catch up over coffee while you’re here?

Pretty casual considering they haven’t talked in half a decade. His stomach curdles at the words, suddenly feeling a wave of nausea overcome his once-relaxed body. He lets out his breath, a shaky one that barely makes it past his mouth.

Pulling his lips in, he glances over to Zayn again. His stomach rolls as he takes in his sleeping form, the long eyelashes spreading across his face, his calm expression somehow making him look even more angelic than before.

He brings his hand down to his own middle, feeling like Zayn’s grasp has quickly shifted from being made of feathers to being made of iron. He lightly lifts Zayn’s fingers off of him, gulping as he forces himself up from the bed, going as quietly as he can.

The bed, the body, the grasp. All of it has quickly gone from comforting to constraining, though he realizes as soon as he’s in the doorway of the next room that getting out of it doesn’t help steady his breathing at all.

He’s thumbing through his phone contacts before he’s consciously aware of what he’s doing, tapping the name with a little breath. Gently shutting the door behind him, he looks around the living room distrustingly. He barely makes it through the entryway and out the front door before an annoyed-sounding Niall picks up. “Oi, mate, it’s so early,” Niall whines, his Irish accent sounding thicker than normal, probably due to just being woken up.

Liam rolls his eyes. “You’re as bad as Zayn. It’s past 9am, mate.”

He grunts in response, but there’s a teasing tone to his voice as he asks, “So, this early as fuck call is about Zayn, then, eh?”

Liam huffs, closing his eyes as he tries to push away any thoughts of him. “Well, no, actually. Told you that whole thing was fake. Remember?”

There’s a pinch in his voice, one definitely not directed at Niall. Or Zayn either, for that matter. Niall breaths in through his teeth. “Sorry, mate,” he mutters, backing off quickly. “Just been, like, a month, ya know, since we last talked and…” Niall pauses. “I mean, have ya seen the bloke? Hard ta ignore, if ya know what I mean.” Niall’s laugh roars through the line, so loud that Liam has to pull his ear away from it for a moment.

Ignoring the last part of Niall’s comment, Liam glides his teeth over his bottom lip. “Sorry, Ni. Just been…” He clears his throat. He’s not really sure what he’s been. “Busy?” He hadn’t meant it to be a question, but, well, there it is.

“Been busy or gettin’ bu—” Niall starts and Liam can almost see the ridiculous waggle of Niall’s eyebrows. But thankfully, he cuts himself off with a gulp. “Sorry, sorry, habit,” he gets out in a rush.

And maybe Liam should be upset. But, well, technically, really, he isn’t necessarily wrong. Not that he needs to know that.

When Liam doesn’t respond, Niall prods as he’s learned to do. “So, what’s up, then, mate?” He holds back the Or if it’s nothin’, I’ll head back ta bed comment right behind his lips.

“It’s--err--it’s Danielle.” Liam breathes, hating the way the bitter words feel on his tongue.

“Oh?” Niall’s voice raises, even as he tries to hide the surprise in his voice.

“I’m--in town for the weekend. And I guess she heard.” He shrugs before realizing that no one will see it except the shrub in front of him. “She texted me asking if I wanted to catch up…”

Niall whistles. “Ya know what that means, right?” He chuckles. “She wants ta get back with ya, mate.”

Liam supposes he really shouldn’t be surprised by this, given Leo’s little speech just the day before. But the certainty of Niall’s words still catch him off guard. “Uhh” is all he can say in response, feeling his mouth dry up at the thought.

“But.” Niall draws out the word. “The bigger question is, do ya want ta get back with her?”

“Well, no,” Liam answers honestly, and as soon as the words leave his mouth, he realizes they’re true. “I mean, I’ve moved on from this place.” He sighs, running his fingers through his hair. “And--there’s kind of--I don’t know--it’s…” Liam sniffs. “Complicated?” There he goes with the accidental question again.

“Zayn,” Niall guesses.

“I mean--err, well--I don’t know.”

Niall hums at this “admission”.

“But I can’t really tell Danielle that, can I?” He kicks the closest rock he can find, watching it roll all the way down to the bottom of the sloped driveway as he continues. “Can’t just text her back and be, like, ‘Hey, Dani, sorry we haven’t talked for so long, but right now I’m in this fake relationship, and I don’t really know where it’s going, and maybe it’s not really all that fake after all. I better stick around to find out!’”

Niall snorts. “I mean, nothin’s stoppin’ ya, mate.” He pauses, smiling at his own response before he continues seriously, “Well, why do ya need ta respond at all?” He laughs breathily. “Pretend ya changed your number. Like a normal celebrity would do.”

Liam groans. “I’m not really a celebrity, Niall. Most people don’t even know who I am.”

Niall tsks. “They will, though.” He pauses. “But that’s besides the point.”

Liam ponders the idea, exhaling as he kicks another stone down to its impending doom. “You’re right,” he says finally.

Niall hums appreciatively. “Glad I could help,” he gets out. And, though it would be sarcastic coming from anyone else, Liam knows he’s sincere as he always is.

“Thanks, mate” is all Liam says, careful to keep his response simple. He doesn’t really want to get into his feelings any more than he already has, thank you very much.

“Whenever,” Niall says easily. “And really, I should thank ya. Cause now that ya woke me up, I’m just gonna eat me leftover pizza for breakfast cause I’m starvin’,” he continues excitedly. Liam can hear the sound of the fridge opening and then the not-so-subtle sound of chewing. “Hey, but, Liam?” Niall grunts between bites.

Liam doesn’t even have a chance to respond before he’s going on. “Don’t let this one get away.” There’s a sudden click and Liam is too shocked to even process what Niall’s said.

“He hung up on me,” he bemoans, looking up to his apparently new best friend, the shrub. “And what did he mean by that?” He huffs.

“What did who mean by what, dear?” Karen’s voice from behind Liam almost makes him jump, his heart beating twice as fast as normal at the sound.

“Err, nothing, Mum,” Liam gulps with a nervous chuckle. His eyes fly to her as he tries to wipe his sweaty palms on his pajama pants as discreetly as he can. “How long you been spying on me for?”

She giggles, elbowing him lightly. “Not long, love,” she promises. “Why? You trying to hide something from me?” She attempts to give him a stern look but the twinkle in her eyes immediately gives her away.

Liam inhales through his nose, careful not to be too obvious. “Nope,” he gets out in a thick voice. He clears his throat. “Ehm, nope,” he repeats in a more even tone.

“Didn’t think so, Liam,” she replies with a grin. “Now go find your boyfriend.” She giggles at the word. “Tell him it’s almost time for breakfast. Just gotta finish picking all these strawberries.” She gives him a contented look before she walks away, humming as she swings her basket back and forth in her hand.

Liam shakes his head, chuckling as he makes his way back up the steps to the front door. As he heads back to the bedroom, his heart suddenly picks up pace. He pauses, hand on the door as his nerves come rushing back.

He’s not quite sure what to expect: The sensitive and sweet Zayn, gently singing lullabies in Liam’s ear? The quick-witted Zayn he’d once been getting used to, the one who knew full well how to charm him? Or the shy Zayn he’d been exposed to around his parents, the one who seemed deathly afraid to step even one toe out of line?

Swallowing, he does his best to throw all those thoughts aside as he twists the knob. But at the sight before him, he freezes. A sleepy Zayn without his sweatpants, his white shirt and tight black boxers emphasizing his lean frame as he bends over to ruffle through his suitcase. 

He stands there for a moment, jaw practically falling open. “Did you pause at the door cause you knew I was almost naked?” Zayn teases. 

Realizing that Zayn has caught him staring, Liam feels his face flush even more. Closing the door behind him with a huff, he quickly apologizes before he turns to face the door out of habit.

“If you wanted to see me naked, you only had to as—” Zayn pauses when he glances up to see Liam facing the door.

“Jesus Christ, Liam, this isn’t the secondary school locker room. You can look.” Out of the corner of his eye, Liam watches Zayn stand up at this.

At these words, he flips around, feeling completely out of place as he does so, all too dressed in his full pajama outfit.

“Nothing that you haven’t seen before, anyway,” Zayn smirks as he strolls to Liam.

Still taking in Zayn’s sudden shift from the previous night, Liam tries to compose himself. “Took a confidence pill this morning, eh?” He chuckles, doing his very best to pretend none of it is affecting him. His eyes dart down to his boxers. None of it.

“’Ey,” he clarifies pointedly. “Last night I said ‘not yet.’ I think I’ve hit yet now.” Raising his arms up behind his head so his biceps bulge, his fingers suddenly dangle down, ghosting over the collar of the back of his shirt. Lifting up in one seamless motion, he pulls his shirt off, momentarily admiring Liam’s shocked expression before he leans in. His hot breath falls on Liam’s face, a moment or two passing before he says lowly, “Here, you need a new shirt.”

At Liam’s confused expression, Zayn smirks again. “For all your drool.” He grazes his hand over Liam’s just a little too long as he hands over the shirt.

Liam gulps, not able to think of a witty response. Or any response, really. Instead, he’s ignoring his urge to check and make sure that he’s really not drooling. 

His eyes trail over the winged tattoo that’s now in front of him, the red lips right where Liam wishes his were. Then, he finds the heart tattoo and the don’t think I won’t sitting atop his boxers, just another place Liam wishes he could explore.

He exhales, blinking, trying to bring himself back to the moment before he allows his eyes to descend too far. “Err, it’s time to eat,” Liam responds finally, suddenly moving his gaze to the t-shirt in his hand.

“Be there in five,” Zayn says easily before sauntering into the bathroom.

And, well, that just about answers Liam’s worries. He didn’t enter the bedroom to find Zayn reciting love sonnets to him in a whisper like he thought he might, instead finding him once again as his teasing self.

Glancing down at the shirt, Liam studies it. Cool Kids Don’t Dance, it reminds him. Looking first at the closed bathroom door and then down at his plaid shirt, he quickly unbuttons it, pulling the top off. Carefully putting on the new (oh-so-soft) shirt, Liam doesn’t allow himself to think too much. He doesn’t need to remember how the fabric feels against his skin. And he definitely doesn’t need to remember what Zayn smells like. A slight hint of cologne, a bit of detergent, and… Liam’s musky shampoo?

That’s new. Definitely something to keep in mind for later, though.

Because he can’t have Zayn think he’s suddenly gone all soft on him or anything just because he’s sung to Liam, for God’s sake. Because he hasn’t.

Besides, it’s all just banter, a kiss here and there. Nothing more and nothing less.

Chapter Text

Eyes darting out the kitchen window as her ear catches the soft pitter-patter of the drizzling rain, Karen pouts. “Zayn, I was so hoping we could all take you on a drive. Show you the nice areas outside of Wolverhampton.”

Zayn can’t help it when his lips upturn. He clears his throat, quickly hiding the motion by lifting his coffee cup up to take a sip. Before he can respond, Liam is chiming in. “Don’t worry, mum, ‘m sure we can find something to do around the house.”

Liam’s gaze travels over to Zayn, a soft smile forming on his face. “I can force Zayn to watch all my favorite movies while he’s held captive.”

Zayn can’t help but snort. As if Liam would have to force him to do anything.

“What kind of movies?” He asks, feigning only casual interest. A full yawn pulling past his lips, he stretches his arms up and straightens his toes out as far as he can.

He probably doesn’t even really need to ask. He has a feeling he already knows the answer, if their discussion from their movie date all those weeks ago means anything.   

“Come peruse my collection with me.” Liam bites back the babe on the edge of his lips, instead offering a grin as he stands up and holds out his open palm to Zayn.

Zayn’s initial reaction is to make a comment, some sort of joke, but then he looks up and into Liam’s lit-up amber eyes, Zayn’s white shirt taut against his skin. Instead, he blinks quickly, feeling suddenly shy.

For Zayn, being with Liam is like a game of Russian roulette: he never knows quite when he’s going to pull the trigger of his own loaded gun.

Though he has a feeling he already has. 

He can feel a tinge of heat, a hint of red soaring across his cheeks as he holds his breath, slowly lifting his hand to take Liam’s.

Nicola lets out a low chuckle and Zayn starts at the motion, eyes flying over to her still-sitting form. He’d forgotten that she and Ruth were also in the room, along with Geoff and Karen. So basically the whole world is there, witnessing his and Liam’s… well, their what? Zayn’s not sure if he can place a word to it.

Nicola’s gaze slides over to a beaming Karen, sending her some sort of fond can you believe these two? look. Meanwhile, Liam gives him a gentle tug, pulling him out of the seat with ease. “Pick out a few movies and we’ll meet you in there,” Nicola says easily as she turns to what has now become Zayn’s back.

Zayn nods, keeping his eyes forward so he can keep up with Liam, who’s quickly pulling him towards the mysterious DVD collection. Zayn continues to follow the boy out of the entryway of the kitchen, but he stops at the soft words that come next. “That is, if you two can stop making goo-goo eyes at each other long enough to even watch a movie.”

Zayn’s head flips around, a surprised expression flashing across his face. She laughs good-naturedly, giving him a wink. “Don’t pretend it’s not true,” she calls out as Zayn gives a noncommittal hum in response, choosing to rush to keep up with Liam rather than answer her.

When Liam’s out of the kitchen and into the main room, he lets out a low sigh. “Did you hear that?” Zayn asks indignantly.

Liam chuckles at Zayn’s tone, shaking his head. He really hadn’t, his heart instead pounding out reminders that Zayn’s hand was still in his. As if to convince Liam’s mind that his hand is truly intertwined with his, he caresses his thumb across Zayn’s.

The next time Zayn talks, he sounds much more placated. “Well, I guess it’s sort of true…” He mumbles out, sounding almost embarrassed at this confession.

Liam’s eyes move curiously to Zayn’s. “What did she say?” He asks quietly, lips quirking up at the thoughtful, serious expression on Zayn’s face. As if working out some sort of formula for whatever Nicola’s said.

“It’s not important,” he shrugs, and this time he’s the one pulling Liam. “Come on now, show me your movies. I wanna pick the first one.”

Liam rolls his eyes, knowing full well Zayn will not only be picking the first one, but rather all of them. Because Liam has no self-control when it comes to the pout Zayn’s mastered. Or when it comes to Zayn at all, really.

Nor does he have any self-control when he intertwines his leg with Zayn’s halfway through the movie, the blanket draped over them keeping the movement hidden from any prodding eyes.

Because the tinkly giggles, Zayn’s hair ever so gently tickling Liam’s neck as he leans into him to laugh. All of that is better than watching a movie he’s seen at least twenty times now. Not that he would ever admit it.

“You know what your sister said?” Zayn asks in a whisper towards the end of the second movie, bringing his lips up to the shell of Liam’s ear.

Liam hums, closing his eyes so he can forget the rest of the world around them.

“She said.” He licks his lips, a breathy chuckle fanning down Liam’s cheek. “She said we wouldn’t be able to stop making ‘goo-goo eyes’ at each other during the movie.”

“You think she was right?” Liam responds easily, voice sounding a lot more disengaged than he really feels.

“Do you?” He asks quietly with a raise of his eyebrows. Fluttering his eyes open, Liam stays quiet. Zayn pauses a moment, chuckling before he continues coyly, “Do you have any idea what’s been going in in the movie for the past few minutes?”

Liam clears his throat. “Err, umm--” He gulps.

“Me neither,” Zayn says back, his low laugh vibrating against Liam as he leans in once more.

---

“You know,” Karen says, her devilish smile bringing a spark to her eyes. “Now that we’ve all had our late dinner and Ruth and Nicola have headed home for the night..."

Liam sighs, knowing her well enough to guess what’s coming.

She continues on, ignoring Liam. “It seems it’s a good time to see Li’s room, right, Zayn?”

Liam groans, wishing he could’ve been wrong. Just this once. “Mum, they’ve literally just pulled out of the driveway and you’re already going there?”

She shrugs. “Zayn doesn’t seem to mind.” She flashes him a smile. “Do you?”

Zayn can’t hide the chuckle that bursts from his mouth as he shakes his head, not looking at Liam.

Fine,” Liam huffs, suddenly grasping two fingers around Zayn’s wrist as he storms back inside. Taking Zayn with him, he climbs the stairs two at a time. He ignores the lump in his throat, the nervousness that coats his stomach. Maybe if he can get this over sooner rather than later he can ignore the fear gnawing through his insides, can finally get Zayn to realize that Liam was, and still is, a nerd. 

Because there’s a reason he doesn’t exactly show off his room, after all. 

He pulls the door open dramatically, waving his open palm out at the view in front of them. “There you go. You can see how tragically uncool I was, okay?” His eyes catch on the posters, the pile of CDs still sitting on the desk. The action figures carefully lined up in a row against the window. He flinches, scraping his teeth along his bottom lip. “Is that what you wanted?”

Saying the words aloud doesn’t make him any less anxious. In fact, they only cause his stomach to flip.

Liam knows he’s overreacting, too worried about something that Zayn likely won’t even care about. But he used to think that about the others he brought here, others that ended up snarling and laughing at... well, at him.

The guarded expression that Zayn gives him in return doesn’t soothe anything. He smiles hesitantly at Liam before he knits his eyebrows together, carefully padding into the room. He gently reaches behind him as he does, letting the door creak closed.

Seemingly lost in thought, he leans closer to admire one of the many movie posters. Then, he finally responds. “No,” he says quietly, shuffling across the room to take in the other details. All the other parts of Liam that he desperately wants to know.

Liam’s not quite sure why he’s feeling so wound up, like he could pop at any moment. There’s not even any cameras around, and yet. He feels more exposed than ever, like he’s carved out a hole in his chest, beating heart open for all to see. Or. Beating heart open for one to see. The only one that matters.

“Oh?” Liam prods, letting out a slow exhale in an attempt to calm his nerves.

Moving on to the CDs, Zayn lifts up the whole pile to look them over one at a time. He’s still eyeing them before he says casually, “No, Liam.” He sets the shuffled CDs down gently before flipping around. “No, this is all great, Li, really.” He offers him an easy grin before he continues on. “You remember one of our first conversations, yeah?”

Waiting until Liam nods in return, Zayn says quietly, “My room is more or less the same.” He snorts as his eyes cross the room again. “Arguably worse.”

Knowing he’s babbling, he takes a small breath out, but he can’t seem to stop himself. His lips upturn even further, making his nose wrinkle with fondness. “Or better, really, I guess. ‘Cause I love this kind of stuff.”

Zayn’s heart stops racing through his whole body as he sees the brightness return in Liam’s eyes, follows the movement of his shoulders and jaw, watching them loosen from their previous hard stance.

He’s waited long enough to see that look in Liam’s eyes again, craving it, needing it, after so long. And now he’s already seen it twice in one day. This realization--that he must be doing something right--eggs him on. 

“But that’s not why I came up here.” Clearing his throat, he waits until Liam meets his eyes, making sure he has his full attention before he goes on. “I mean, I wanted to see your room, of course, yeah.” 

He shrugs, taking a small step closer to Liam before he gulps, “But really-I came up here so I could get you alone.” Pausing, his eyes glint momentarily. “That way I could gloat.”

Liam’s eyebrows shooting up at this unexpected comment, he side eyes Zayn.

“‘Cause you’re still wearing my shirt,” Zayn smirks as he takes one more step closer to the boy in front of him. Gaze not leaving his, Zayn’s free hand quickly finds its way to Liam’s (well, Zayn’s) shirt, fisting around the soft fabric. The motion lifts up the shirt just slightly, exposing a trail of skin, dark hair leading downward.

“Gotta admit, though, looks pretty fucking sexy on you,” Zayn murmurs, eyes drifting to take in the white shirt pulling tight across his lean yet muscular definition. With one quick tug, he drags Liam just a little bit closer. 

Ignoring the stutter of breath in his throat, Liam quirks one eyebrow before he gives Zayn a knowing look. “Well, you know, you do have a point there.” When his grin lights up, so do his eyes.

“But you know what I realized when I put it on?” Liam draws out the words, well aware that this is the moment he’s been waiting for all day. “It has a very distinct smell, a musky smell that’s eerily similar to my shampoo. Isn’t that just so interesting?”

Zayn’s cheeks flush momentarily, red staining his skin. There’s a flash of a sheepish smile as he attempts to collect his thoughts--which are a bit more difficult to catch when Liam is standing so fucking close to him--before he chuckles lowly.

When he finally decides to speak, he says as offhandedly as he can, “It’s a good shampoo, that’s all.” He lifts one hand up, threading his fingers lightly through Liam’s hair.

Watching him closely, Zayn pulls gently, heart drumming in his ears once again as he sees Liam’s mouth form into an o-shape. “Mmm, what a nice smell,” Zayn taunts, slowing down his movements.

He never takes his eyes off of Liam, suddenly tugging a bit harder.

Against his will, Liam lets out a little noise. Looking downwards at Zayn, he watches the other man with dark eyes, weighing his options. Finally, he moves forward so he can ghost his lips over Zayn’s with a smirk. “Well, I gotta say, the fact that you like my shampoo that much--” He clears his throat. “Is pretty fucking hot, too.”

“Yeah?” Zayn mumbles, smiling easily at Liam.

“Yeah,” he grunts in response. As he takes one last small step towards Zayn, Zayn takes one back, his grin never leaving. As Liam attempts to get closer and closer, Zayn moves further and further away.

But pretty soon, Zayn’s reached the end of the line. He whacks his legs straight up against the desk, the force knocking down the CD on top. Swearing under his breath, he leans down to grab the case that’s fallen on top of his foot.

“Leave it,” Liam mumbles dejectedly. 

But Zayn has already grabbed the CD. At Liam’s words, he gives him a confused look, bringing it up closer so he can study it. “Why, you don’t like it?” He asks, eyes darting up to Liam’s.

He’s just starting to read Liam’s handwriting scrawled across the burned disk--For D--when Liam says lowly, “That was a mix tape I made for Danielle.”

The CD jerks out of Zayn’s hand as if it had suddenly burst into flames. It tumbles back onto the floor with a loud clang that Liam wishes didn’t ring in his ears long after.

“I’m sorry,” Liam bemoans, reaching out to caress Zayn’s face.

“It’s fine, Liam,” he says sharply. In stark contrast to his tone, he offers a big smile, though it looks too exaggerated and empty to be real.

“No, it’s not,” Liam responds seriously, his mouth turning downwards into a frown. “Don’t think I can’t read you, Zayn.” He breathes shallowly, the tightness in him quickly coming back, squeezing around his chest like a boa constrictor.

Zayn blinks at this. There’s an unreadable flash in his eyes before he draws his eyebrows together. Looking down at the carpet after a moment of silence, he mutters, “I hate it.” He swallows thickly.

“What?” Liam’s voice is subdued, watching Zayn carefully as he finally lifts his gaze from the floor.

“I just…” Zayn huffs, shuffling his feet a bit closer to Liam, now only six inches away. Zayn’s gaze moves downward to Liam’s mouth.

He lifts one shaky hand up, grazing his thumb across Liam’s bottom lip. “I hate that I can’t do what Danielle got to.” He pulls his thumb away, flinching as he slides his hand down just slightly so it rests over Liam’s jaw.

“Probably even in this same room.” Zayn ducks his head, not moving his hand. He holds his breath, only exhaling when he feels like he can get all his thoughts out with a sigh.

It doesn’t work.

Liam’s finger nudges gently at Zayn’s chin, lifting his gaze back up to him. “You know what I did with Danielle here?”

Zayn looks at him hard, not blinking.

His lips moving to hover over Zayn’s, Liam blinks slowly. He’s careful not to show any emotion as he breathes, “I kissed her.”

He lurches his body forward suddenly, as if pulled by invisible strings. Pressing his lips gently to Zayn’s, he searches, testing Zayn’s reaction.

At first, Zayn freezes, not expecting the sudden movement. But soon the thoughts in the back of his mind, thoughts of Danielledanielledanielle, melt only into a chorus of Liams. Then, Zayn’s mouth is reacting against him. It’s slow and sweet at first, Zayn melting against him before he quickly picks up speed. 

Spreading his hands wide against Zayn’s lower back, Liam’s tongue lazily swipes at his bottom lip. He sighs into Zayn, following along as Zayn desperately deepens the kiss.

At this, Liam digs his fingers in Zayn’s back to bring every single part of the other man flesh against him. He groans, slipping his tongue between the seam of Zayn’s lips to feel every breath, every pant better. His tongue grips around Zayn’s, flicking up at the roof of his mouth before he pulls back momentarily to take a heaving breath.

“What else did you do to Danielle?” Zayn huffs, looking up at Liam with wide, almost-black eyes.

“Well, before anything else happened, she let her lips wander a bit,” Liam gets out, lifting his head just slightly to give Zayn a good shot at his neck.

“Oh, she did?” Zayn asks in a whisper, gently pressing his lips against the column of Liam’s neck. “Like this?” Zayn hums against his skin, trailing his tongue partway down his neck before he reaches it. What he’s been unable to stop thinking about since the day he met Liam.

Sucking at the birthmark, he smirks at the grunt that leaves Liam’s lips. “Better,” Liam forces himself to say, but it comes out more as a moan. In response to this, Zayn sucks harder at the mark, only pulling back when he can feel Liam’s heavy breath fanning out against him. 

“How about now?” He whispers, words barely making it past his lips. He swipes his fingers gently along the already-bruising skin, lightly pressing his mouth to it. Liam can only groan before Zayn’s peppering kisses back up and down his neck, not stopping until he can feel Liam’s pulse racing against his lips.

Looking up at Liam expectantly, Zayn shadows his fingers over Liam’s shirt, waiting for the slight nod that follows before he’s quickly lifting up on the fabric. As he does so, his eyes brighten as he points out with a shit-eating grin, “I’m taking off my shirt.”

“Shut up,” Liam grunts as the fabric passes over his head. But there’s no heat to his words, only a hint of impatience.

Before Liam can say anything, Zayn is detaching himself from Liam so he can lift up his own shirt. Liam waits until Zayn’s thrown his shirt quickly on the floor before he’s guiding Zayn back to the desk. Pushing him up against it, he brings his lips to Zayn’s collarbone, trailing down until he finds the red lips. “Wanted to feel you here,” Liam huffs against Zayn.

“Since when?” Zayn breathes, watching Liam intently as he traces his tongue over the tattoo.

“Most recently? This morning,” Liam smirks before he’s kissing exactly over the red lips. His hands travel down Zayn’s body, eventually making their way to Zayn’s hips. Holding him in place, he sucks his lips against the red ink, only sounding slightly apologetic as he says, “Gonna mess up the look of your tattoo for a bit.”

Zayn grunts before he brings his hand back down to slowly card his fingers through Liam’s quiff, pulling once again. In response, Liam nips at the skin on Zayn’s chest, noting with satisfaction the goosebumps that quickly dart across Zayn’s body. 

His back automatically arching as Liam’s mouth descends further, Zayn repeats in a huff one of the first things Liam had said to him when they’d arrived. “You promised-you didn’t bite.” 

Liam smirks, his only response in the form of another nip. After one particularly loud moan from Zayn, Liam slips his mouth off of him in favor of looking up at him with innocent, batted eyelashes. “Why, do you want me to stop?”

He knows full well the answer, but he wants to hear it from Zayn, wants to see him begging for it with his own eyes.

“No,” Zayn mutters, sounding almost ashamed as he slowly, carefully threads his fingers around the back of Liam’s neck to guide his mouth up against Zayn’s chest again. When Liam only grunts in response, not feeling like Zayn has committed enough, Zayn sighs before letting out a low whine. “Please.”

At this pleading, Liam chuckles, happily returning to his previous spot, right above his navel. Enjoying the low noises that continue to vibrate from Zayn, Liam glides his tongue across the area, soothing the sting each time. His hands explore the other boy, riding up Zayn’s sides until they’re at his ribs. He bites again as he travels downward a bit, fingers flying to Zayn’s nipples so he can gently flick them before once again healing the sting with his tongue.

At this, Zayn lets out a loud and unapologetic groan, his hand flying down to his quickly tightening pants. He attempts to push down his painfully growing erection as well as he’s able.

Liam huffs as the motion reminds him of his own dick throbbing against the tight material. Ignoring it, he chooses instead to nip all the way to the hair leading downward. Trailing his fingertips over the Don’t think I won’t tattoo, he slides both hands outwards. His right hand presses hard into Zayn’s gun tattoo as he lifts his other hand up off of him. Twisting his jeans button off, he slips a few fingers underneath the waistband, pulling his boxers and pants down in one fell swoop.

Liam’s hot breath falls against his heavy cock, and he can’t help but feel a bit of pride when it twitches from only that. His eyes dart up to Zayn’s, making sure he’s ready before he bends his head forward, hollowing out his cheekbones.

Tracing his tongue over Zayn’s leaking slit, he rolls it around the head. Encouraged by the sudden thrust up that Zayn’s body makes, his hand flying to the other man’s hair as a curse slips from his lips, Liam’s about to go further, take in as much of Zayn as he can.

But then Zayn tugs on his hair, pulling Liam off with a slick pop

“I want you to get me off,” Zayn grunts, sounding out of breath. Furrowing his eyebrows at that request, Liam gives him a confused look. He’s not sure what exactly he means until he continues on, “And yourself. Us. Together.” He chuckles lowly. "And I'm not going to last long enough for that if your pretty little lips keep going like that."

Liam blushes at the compliment, licking his lips as he nods quickly in agreement. Because as much as he'd like to suck off Zayn, he can feel the weight and pressure of himself a little too well.

His hands flying to his own pants, he gulps hard, taking everything off even faster than he had with Zayn. He lets out a little moan at what little relief he gets from removing the material, but he still huffs out a shaky breath at the pressure left, building inside of him.

Pushing the CDs off of the desk to the chair right next to it, he moves his hands to find the curve of Zayn’s ass. He lifts him up, bringing him to a sitting position on the small, wooden desk.

Hiking one of his own legs up, he sets one foot to the left of Zayn so he’s in a better position to reach both of their dicks. One hand cupped around Zayn’s lower back to keep him from falling off the desk, Liam starts first with Zayn, reaching forward to wrap his strong fingers around his dick. He tugs a few times, listening to the low guttural noises that erupt from Zayn.

He doesn’t realize how caught up he is with watching Zayn writhe until the other boy’s fingers have completely found their way around Liam without him noticing. Zayn tugs simultaneously, finding Liam’s rhythm after a few strokes. When Liam can all too quickly feel the pressure building in his stomach, his hand moves to grab his own cock from Zayn so he can get them both off.

At this, Zayn makes a low noise. Pausing at the sound, Liam looks up to meet Zayn's gaze.

“I changed my mind,” Zayn huffs, not taking his hand off of Liam. Instead, he pulls Liam’s hand off of him, shifting his own position slightly so he can more easily reach both of their cocks.

“I wanna do it,” he clarifies, watching Liam to make sure he agrees. When he does, he stretches his long, thin fingers around the both of them.

With a jerk of his wrist, he quickly begins gliding his hand up and down, enjoying the filthy, slick sound that follows the motion. Enjoying, too, the sounds that seem to burst from deep within Liam. Leaning as far forward as he can, his lips find Liam’s ear.

“Would Danielle be able to do this?” He grunts, moving his mouth down to nibble at Liam’s earlobe. He continues tugging at both of their cocks as he bites and pulls down on the lobe with a humph before he finds the shell of Liam’s ear again.

“Would she be able to make you feel like this?” His other hand against Liam’s back, he digs his fingernails into his skin. He forces him closer as he hears the low noise that leaves Liam’s mouth, the moan that sounds strikingly like no, she-wouldn't. 

Zayn hums in agreement, smirking as he grunts, “You're right, she wouldn’t. ‘Cause you’re a good boy and only gonna come for me, huh?” He speeds up the movement of his hand, shifting his fingers until he’s balled his hand into a tight fist.

As Zayn drags it up and down the both of them as quickly as he can, he knows he's not going to last much longer, the moan falling from his lips before he can push it back.

"Fuck," he groans between breaths, the pressure in his stomach increasing rapidly, like a dam about to break. He's not sure if he's going to be able to last long enough for Liam, but he waits until he hears the telltale hitch in Liam’s breath anyway.

After the breath shudders through Liam, Zayn presses his mouth back to Liam's ear. In a low voice, he gets out, “Huh, babe, you’re gonna come for me, aren’t you?”

With one more slow, drawn out drag of his knuckles against the two of them, Zayn can feel one last twitch from Liam before he’s gone, whimpering Zayn’s name as he milks out over his hand. Zayn continues to stroke lightly, trying to get as much out of Liam as he can.

Then, hearing his own name and the desperate breaths attached to it; the thick seed spreading across his hand; Liam whispering low compliments after he’s done; all of it is enough to send Zayn over the edge.

Spilling out violently, he lets out a rough moan that resembles Liam’s name. Doing his best to jerk out the rest, he pants. He squeezes his eyes shut, feeling too disoriented to think straight, too euphoric to remember anything other than the hum that is Liam.

At some point, Zayn’s breathing finally steadies and he starts processing everything again. As he begins to come down from the high, a wave of tiredness overcomes him, as if he'd run a marathon with Liam instead of just being wanked off. He's suddenly exhausted enough that he thinks he might drop from the desk and straight into Liam.

Muttering happily about how sleepy he is, he lets out a big yawn, his arms drooping before Liam’s grabbed a hold of him. Gently lifting him from his ass again, he carries Zayn over to his twin size bed.

He carefully lays him down against the mattress, positioning the pillows and blankets around him before he lets out a yawn himself. Making his way to the window, he pulls it open just a crack to let out some of the inferno-like heat quickly bearing down on him. After, he heads over to the desk area to pick up a discarded shirt to use as a towel.

“No, come ‘ere,” Zayn whines, reaching his arm out as if grabbing for Liam.

“I’m coming, babe,” Liam responds with a chuckle. “The wind won’t snatch me away, promise.” He freezes as he realizes the pet name that’s left his mouth. Sure, Zayn had called him that, but when it’s during sex it’s a lot different than, well, than after it.

Zayn only sighs contentedly, obviously still in a post-orgasm haze as he slowly slides his hands around the pillow in an attempt to find the back of his head.

He doesn’t seem to be in much of a rush to make fun of him, but Liam looks away, blinking away his own tiredness. Blinking away the glow that just won't seem to leave him, no matter what he does.

He bends down, stretching to reach Zayn’s white shirt. When his hand is just about to grasp it, though, he stops, moving his fingers a few inches away to grab the black shirt Zayn had been wearing earlier.

“Like wearing my shirt, huh?” Zayn says quietly, the teasing in his voice evident. “Wanna keep it clean so you can continue to use it?”

Liam clears his throat, pretending not to hear as he wipes himself off before throwing the black shirt to Zayn. “Here, take your dirty, smelly shirt,” he retorts.

“Okay,” Zayn says easily. “As long as you come back to bed with me.”

Liam sighs melodramatically, bringing the back of his hand up to his forehead. “If I must,” he replies as seriously as he can. But Zayn’s smile, his tongue barely poking out from between his teeth, breaks him, so he falls as far as he can onto the bed with a loud oomph and a giggle.

“Drama king,” Zayn mutters as he snakes one arm around Liam to help bring him further up the bed.

“Shh,” Liam replies in a hush. Not able to help himself, he quickly lifts himself up to peck a kiss to his lips before nuzzling his head into Zayn’s chest. “Sleepy,” he mumbles, repeating Zayn’s words with a grin.

Then, he's dozing off against the comfort of his soft skin, doing his best to ignore the voice in the back of his mind, softly reminding him. So much for blinking away the glow. Way to go, Payno.

Chapter Text

At first, Zayn’s not sure why he’s woken up, blearily fluttering his eyes open with a yawn. But quickly enough, he registers the sound. He rolls off the bed, suddenly wide awake as he tiptoes closer to the ajar window. Sliding on some clothes, he takes in the chatter of voices from outside, the occasional questions barked up at the house.

Even before he looks, his quickly sinking stomach reminds him that he knows exactly what he’s going to find.

But he double checks anyway.

He peeks his head through the drapes for only a millisecond, but he sees enough to know he’s right. Gulping, he quickly shoves the curtains closed. Though he knows it’s not possible, he swears he can hear the cameras flashing from the second floor, can almost see the blinding lights in front of him again.

Suddenly itching for Liam, his throat constricts around the realization: this is really happening; they’re here. It’s not a dream, and he… well, he doesn’t know what to do. Doesn’t even know where to begin.

Goosebumps darting across his skin, he closes his eyes in an attempt to calm himself down. “Liam,” he finally squeaks. After a moment, he forces his eyes open, disappointed to see Liam hasn’t moved, hasn’t seemed to register Zayn at all.

Clearing his throat, Zayn tries again. “Liam,” he gets out, sounding more than a bit panicked. 

As he waits for Liam to stir, Zayn’s thoughts race through his mind so fast he’s practically swimming in them. No, drowning. He can’t take any one idea in fast enough, because before he can stop it, his mind has rushed to the next.

How did the paparazzi find them? Zayn chokes on the thought, feeling suddenly woozy as he lets out a shallow breath. How did they—

Liam hums sleepily, interrupting the neverending back-and-forth of Zayn’s winding thoughts.

“What’s up, Z?” He asks lowly, his voice coming out froggy.

“There’s—” Zayn swallows hard, afraid to explain to Liam. Afraid that saying the words aloud will only make it worse, will only make it all somehow more real. “The—” Zayn suddenly can’t wade through his thoughts, can’t seem to pinpoint just one. He knows exactly what he’s supposed to say, but he can’t seem to find the words.

“Zayn?” Liam pops his eyes open, forcing himself awake as he senses the panic behind Zayn’s voice. “Babe, what is it?”

“Paps” is all Zayn can whisper, his heart drumming through his whole body. He moves to the edge of the bed to steady his shaking hands on the wooden frame.

Liam stands quickly, eyes widening as he swears under his breath. Pulling on his boxers and sweatpants from the floor, he does his best to get a glimpse of the outside without blowing their cover.

Watching Liam shove the curtains closed again, Zayn lets out a deep sigh. Finally having found his voice again, he squints his eyes shut, breathily drawling, “What do we do, Liam?”

Liam draws his eyebrows together. Looking concerned as he slowly shakes his head, he doesn’t answer.

Not able to cage his thoughts in any longer, Liam’s vocal absence allows Zayn to ponder them all at once. “How did they know we were here?” Zayn asks, feeling suddenly overwhelmed as he stumbles a bit closer to the head of the bed. Ungracefully plopping down on the edge of it, he bends over, placing his forearms against his legs as he bores his eyes into the carpet underneath his feet.

Liam only huffs in response, not saying anything.

Zayn’s quickly unsettled by the silence that grows between the two of them, Liam seemingly lost in his own little world. 

Meanwhile, Zayn’s world spins from the overload of questions flying through his brain.

The paparazzi had never found Liam here before, so why should it be any different now? Gnawing on his lip, Zayn can’t seem to stop his thoughts from racing. Can’t seem to stop from wondering how they ended up here in this hellish scenario. Everyone in town has always known where Liam lived, right? And nothing had ever happened.

Unless.

Then, it dawns on Zayn. The realization creeps up, and suddenly everything clicks. He’s caught unaware by it, opening his mouth to speak the words before he can push them back down.

“Chris asked you to do this, didn’t he?” He asks lowly, feeling a sudden burst of nausea roll over him at the idea.

At the fact that he was actually fooled by all this. Had actually thought that Liam wanted to spend the weekend with him.

“That’s why they’re here, aren’t they? You called them for him?”

Zayn finally looks up from the ground. The sudden anger that flashes across Liam’s face only eggs him on, spitting his words out faster than he can think through them. “Or he asked you to bring me here so he could call them? Is that it?”

Zayn uses the set in his jaw, the piercing rage running through him to distract himself from the stinging tears that threaten to swell up. He can feel the flicker behind his eyes suddenly sparking, flaming up until he can’t see straight.

“That’s low, Liam,” Zayn huffs, squinting his eyes. “Real low.”

Liam’s biting words come at him quickly, without enough warning before he’s curling up his lip to growl, “Oh, that’s rich, Zayn. Just real fucking rich.” He lets out a low, maniacal laugh, devoid of any humor.

He exhales sharply, bending down to pick up the shirt laying next to his foot. He slings it carelessly onto his shoulder.

By the time he pops back up, his snarl has quickly been framed by the rest of his now red-hot face. “You’re going to accuse me of that, Mr. ‘I Think We Should Forget About This’?”

Balling his fist into the sheets below him, Zayn lets out a gruff sigh as the hurt rushes through his veins. He rolls his eyes, trying not to seem as completely surprised and offended by the words as he is. Even though he’s not quite sure how he’s going to respond yet, he opens his mouth to reply, his tone as strong and forceful as he can make it. “I—”

But he doesn’t get the chance to find out.

You’re the one that said this shouldn’t happen, remember?” Liam shouts, throwing his hands in the air in exasperation.

Zayn isn’t quite sure what to say, so he simply watches as Liam’s breath calms itself, his voice dissipating until it’s at a low simmer. “Or do you remember?”

Zayn flinches, wishing then that Liam would just yell at him again, would just give him that hard look once more. Because that? That felt like anger. This feels like… disappointment. Heartbreak.

And Zayn doesn’t want to be the one that’s caused that.

His comment settling in deep into his churning stomach, Zayn can only let out shallow breaths. He looks up at Liam, eyebrows knitting together as he attempts to find a break in the conversation to speak.

Liam ignores him.

“We can forget about all this, fine,” Liam grunts, shrugging as if the idea doesn’t bother him. But his tight posture, the quick rising and falling of his chest says otherwise.

Zayn starts to say something, a low noise erupting from deep inside his throat. Moving to place his hand against Liam’s arm, he goes to say something, anything. But Liam quickly shakes him off, keeping his gaze off him as he spits, “Leave me the fuck alone, Zayn. You finally got what you wanted.”

As he’s just about to storm out of the room, Liam takes one hard look back at the other boy. “I hope you’re happy,” he growls before he’s gone, leaving a shellshocked Zayn to blink at the empty space that Liam left behind.

---

Liam’s glad he said what he did. He’s glad he stomped out after Zayn finally made it clear where he and Liam stood. He’s glad he’s running to the only safe place he knows, alone. Not being followed by anything. Or anyone.

At least that’s what he tells himself.

And he tells himself that it’s for the best, that it’s easier this way. He doesn’t have to wonder anymore about what could be, what might have been–because considering Zayn apparently thinks lowly enough of him to think that he would call the fucking paps on him… nothing ever would have been.

While he isn’t consciously aware of where his feet are taking him, he winds around the well-remembered gravelly path with ease, not once stopping. And when he finally makes it there, he’s not surprised.

Eyes scanning across the partially frozen lake, Liam sighs, quickly finding his favorite log. He sinks down into it, flinching as the discomfort reminds him of why he usually didn’t stay there long.

It’s here, shivering from the cold, that the thought comes hurling at him like a punch to the gut: he shouldn’t have taken Zayn here at all. After all, it was here, in this same town, that he and Danielle fell apart. Why would he and Zayn have been any different?

He kicks the log with the back of his heel, letting out a disgruntled noise when it seems to do more damage to him than he does to the log.

He does his best to forget about all of it, instead taking in the slow trickle of whatever water hasn’t frozen over yet, the occasional, quiet chirp of the birds around him.

However, when he closes his eyes, all of that fades away. All he can think of are the lingering touches, the fond smiles, the care that Zayn seemed to show Liam, all when he was least expecting it. And always when he needed it most.

As hard as he tries to force himself to forget, he can’t. His brain still wanders to the what-ifs, could-have-beens, should-have-beens: dinner dates away from the cameras, meeting Zayn’s parents. Taking a vacation away from all the crowds, just the two of them. Not because they have to, but because they want to.

He squeezes his eyes shut in an attempt to shatter the images inside his mind.

None of it mattered, anyway. Because apparently it never meant much to Zayn. He was just a good actor, always ready to play his part, with or without the cameras by his side.

Maybe it was just raw chemistry. After all, Liam had really never been anything more than a good fuck to Zayn.

He would have thought that maybe after the first time, he would have realized. He would have been smart enough to let it be, to walk away from all of it.

Tears well up behind his eyes at the thought, the memory of just last night when he’d attempted to blink it all away, to forget about the warm feeling buzzing inside of him when he still could.

If only he’d been able to do it. Then maybe he wouldn’t be where he is now, sitting alone in the middle of the wilderness on the most fucking uncomfortable thing he’s ever sat on. All to hide from everyone that he knows. Well, all to hide from Zayn.

A noise from the left of him shakes Liam out of his sob. He darts his head over to the low sound, something that seems to be a clearing of a throat. Heart pounding, he has a feeling he knows who it is before he can even tell. Blinking the tears away, his stomach drops as he comes face to face with exactly who he was afraid he might.

“Zayn,” Liam breathes. Gulping, he flushes at how awful he must look. In a weak attempt to pull himself together, he forcefully rubs at the few stray tears that had run down his face.

He looks away, crossing his arms with a huff.

When Zayn doesn’t move or say anything, instead only patiently waiting, Liam eventually sniffles, “How did you find me?”

His eyes stay focused on the log to the right of him, suddenly very interested in the centipede crawling closer to him.

“Your mum gave me a little wink and a nod to the secret back entrance you apparently have,” Zayn says, offering a small smile to the side of Liam’s head. He moves to stand in front of Liam. “But she didn’t know about this, of course.”

He cards his fingers through his hair, sighing before he shyly explains in a whisper, “I wouldn’t forget this place, Li.” There’s a pause, a silence between the two of them before Zayn gulps, “I couldn’t.”

Realizing his words, he shrugs as he tries his best to play them off. “But I remembered how you said you used to come here to think when you were younger. Figured I gave you a lot of shit to think about.” Zayn lets out a huff as he angrily kicks the gravel in front of him. “I’m sorry,” he bemoans, biting his lip as he looks down at the boy.

“I said some shit, too,” Liam responds quietly, moving to rest his eyes on the large gap between their feet.

“I didn’t mean it. What I said that night,” Zayn mutters, taking a step closer. Looking carefully to Liam so he can judge his reaction, he moves to sit on the log next to him. When Liam doesn’t shift away, he follows through on the motion with a sigh.

“I just-” Zayn’s eyes quickly dart to Liam’s side profile and then to the ground. “I was just trying to play it cool. For once, I didn’t wanna be that boy from Bradford that got his fucking heart broken again.”

“It was shit, I know. I shouldn’t have done it,” Zayn continues quickly, his words bubbling up and over before he has the chance to cover them. “I knew immediately after I said it that I’d fucked up, but I didn’t know what to do, didn’t know how to fix it.” He lets out a shaky breath as he lets the last words fall from his lips. “I thought you’d feel obligated, strung along with me and I-I clammed up.”

Zayn allows himself to bring his pleading eyes back up to Liam. Once he sees that Liam is finally looking back at him, his lips upturn just slightly.

Liam shakes his head slowly, giving a small, consolatory smile before he whispers, “I’d never feel ‘strung along’ with you, Zed.” As if what he says next will prove his point, he quietly continues, “Danielle texted me.” He snorts. “‘Cause apparently I’m famous enough to have to hide from the fucking paps, but not famous enough to get a new damn phone,” he mutters with a disbelieving shake of his head, seemingly talking more to himself than Zayn.

A breathy chuckle falls from his lips, but after it dissipates, it leaves the air feeling even more stale and tense than before. “Sorry,” he gulps, his gaze faltering for a moment as he senses the quickly changing vibe.

Even though he would rather do pretty much anything else in the world, he knows that he needs to finish explaining to Zayn. After a low huff, he finally allows himself to lock eyes with Zayn once more. “I think she wanted to get back together.”

Zayn’s face instantly falls at this, the log seemingly crumbling underneath him as he feels his whole world crash beneath him. He tries to push a smile back onto his face, about to halfass a “That’s brilliant!” before Liam stops him.

“Don’t,” he interrupts with a shy smile. “You don’t have to do that.” He says gently, “Let me finish, yeah?”

He pauses, trying his best to ignore his quickly-racing heart. He suddenly feels as if he’s back in middle school, sweating as if he’s about to nervously ask the prettiest girl in school to the sock hop. But it’s just… Zayn.

Just Zayn. As if he could ever be just Zayn again.

He blinks at the beautiful boy next to him, building up his courage before he mumbles, “I didn’t respond.”

He inhales, letting his lungs fill up with air before he lets out a slow exhale. “You wanna know why I didn’t respond?” His gaze falls to his legs. “It was because of you.” It’s always because of you.

Zayn’s breath catches in his throat. “What?” He asks. Surely he must have heard that wrong, must need to get his ears checked or-

“It was because of you, Zayn,” Liam repeats with a gulp. 

He forces himself to go on while he still has a captive audience. “Listen, it could have been her that called the paps. Danielle, I mean.” He purses his lips. “‘Cause I didn’t get back to her.” He can’t keep the speculative words from flying out of his mouth, desperate to have Zayn believe him. 

And then, after a moment of silence, he’s continuing again in a huffy rush. “Could’ve been Leo, too. ‘Cause apparently he’ll never get it out of his thick skull that I’m still currently trying, or even succeeding, in stealing ‘his’ girl.” 

He looks up, his eyes searching for any hint of forgiveness. Of understanding. “Look, I don’t necessarily know how it happened, but it for sure wasn’t Chris and it definitely wasn’t me, I can promise you that.”

An unreadable expression crossing Zayn’s face, Liam goes on. He’s babbling at this point, but he’s not quite sure how else to get Zayn to truly listen.

“Zayn, I know you don’t-trust me.” He sniffs. “And that’s fine, like, you’re allowed to not trust me, ‘cause what in this whole thing hasn’t been a fucking lie but-”

Zayn interrupts him with a sudden, sloppy kiss, his lips hitting somewhere against the corner of Liam’s mouth. Quickly pulling back to catch Liam’s eye to make sure he’s okay with the sudden motion, Zayn shakes his head fervently. “Okay, what you’ve just said is bullshit.”

Frustration and a pinch of worry momentarily flash across Liam’s face before Zayn clarifies gently, “This whole thing has not been a fucking lie, Leeyum.”

Zayn’s lips quirk up. “I mean, obviously we’ve both done some shit and we haven’t been-” He interrupts himself to laugh quietly. “Completely honest to each other, to say the least.”

“But,” he continues on, his eyes lighting up. “Would a fucking lie ever feel so right, Li?”

Liam frowns at this, eyebrows downturning as he seriously considers the question. “I don’t know, would it?” Crossing his arms as a sudden gust of wind blows through, a deep shudder passes through him. He huffs as he’s forced to remember once again how fucking freezing he is.

Cursing himself for being in such a haste to get out of there that he forgot a jacket–barely even throwing on his shirt before he’d run out the back door–he looks down to the thin fabric he’s wearing instead. Upon really seeing it for the first time, he throws his hands in the air, letting out a frustrated noise. He chuckles humorlessly before shaking his head at himself. “For fuck’s sake! I shouldn’t even try to get away from you anymore.”

At Zayn’s confused expression, Liam explains with a roll of his eyes, “In my rush to get out the door, I apparently put on your goddamn shirt.”

Zayn giggles as he grins down at the familiar white shirt. “What a shame,” he says sarcastically, his smile only growing. “Guess you can’t avoid me, even if you wanted to, eh?” Zayn teases, giving him a light poke in the arm. 

And yet, eyeing the goosebumps quickly traveling down Liam’s arms, he slips off his own leather jacket, setting it gently around Liam. Ignoring his protests, he insists with a coy smile, “You need it more than I do, babe.”

Liam quiets at this, finally accepting the gesture with a hum.

Even after all the teasing, even after Zayn’s handed over his jacket, he can sense the bit of uncertainty Liam still has–the same uncertainty that he’s sure he himself gives off. 

Zayn sighs. “How are we ever going to get around this whole fake relationship thing?” He lets his hand fall to his own knee, gently rubbing small circles around the wide hole in the fabric with his thumb. “We’re never going to know what’s real and what’s not.” He stalls his thumb’s movement, instead choosing to focus on holding in his breath for a few moments too long before he slowly lets it out. “Because, no matter what, we’re just gonna have to smile and wave once we’re back on camera.”

There’s a moment of silence where Zayn wishes he could suck back the words, hearing them eerily ring through the empty air like taps at a funeral. But then, after a pause, Liam whispers, “It doesn’t have to be fake.”

He pauses, clearing his throat before he quietly explains to the gravel beneath his feet, “Maybe I actually don’t wanna try to get away from you.”

Eyes lifting to Zayn’s, Liam gulps. “And maybe I never did.”

Tongue jetting out to lick at his lips, Liam admits, “I like wearing your shirt.” He lets out a low chuckle. “Even though I’m probably gonna get hypothermia ‘cause of the goddamn thing.”

He blinks, surprised by himself, the words that he’s bringing forth. He doesn’t know what’s he going to say next, either, until they’re practically falling out of his mouth. “Hypothetically, like, you know, just throwing out the idea.” He swallows hard in an attempt to wash down the caterpillar-turned-butterflies in his stomach. “What if you were-my boyfriend?” He tries to say the words as nonchalantly as possible, but the slight squeak in his voice gives him away.

Zayn had always wondered what the end of the world felt like.

He never thought it’d feel quite like this: the globe suddenly stopping, halting on its axis for just a moment as his heart skips a beat or two.

He blinks at Liam, not sure if he’s making some sort of sick joke or just trying to poke fun at him for feeling the way he does or-

“Okay, maybe it wasn’t so hypothetical,” Liam clarifies quickly when he sees Zayn’s sour reaction, his lips pressing into a thin line. 

When Zayn still doesn’t respond, Liam grumbles, “Fine, I’ll just fucking ask it.” Eyes almost pleading, he gets out, “Zayn, what if I asked you to be my boyfriend? What would you do then?” 

He holds in a breath, gaze darting to Zayn’s before he continues on in a rush, “I know I don’t seem sure–and maybe I’m not 100% sure–but I’m tired of waiting until I’m completely certain that something won’t fail before I jump right in. And, anyway…” Liam clears his throat, looking a bit sheepish as he finishes quietly, “I know you. You wouldn’t give this designer leather jacket to just anyone.”

Zayn hums at that, giving a small, almost imperceptible nod. “Or that shirt, for that matter. That’s one of my favorites,” he says softly.

Giving Liam an approving look, he taunts, “Guess you were paying attention to all those long and boring conversations with those celebrities. And here I thought I was the only one sneakily picking up some more information.” He teases his weight against Liam, pushing lightly with a chuckle before he lifts himself back to where he was.

But, if we’re playing that game,” Zayn continues with a smirk, “I also happen to know that you also wouldn’t take this designer leather jacket from just anyone.” Watching a light pink quickly taint Liam’s cheeks, he waggles his eyebrows as a laugh falls from his lips.

“You know,” Liam says seriously, forcing his eyes to wander as he does his best to ignore Zayn. He stands up to take in the view around them. “I’m glad I showed you this place. It’s a great place to get away, yeah, but it gets kind of lonely sometimes.”

“You’re changing the subject, Li,” Zayn points out with an endeared grin.

Liam doesn’t respond. Instead, he glances back to Zayn, flashing him a quick smile.

After a moment, he forces himself to frown as he lets out a loud, exaggerated huff. “You know what, though? You really can’t say anything, Mr. Malik, ‘cause you’ve been ignoring my question for a few minutes now,” he whines, eyes flickering bright.

And then, Zayn knows.

He’s been chasing that look of Liam’s since the very beginning, occasionally finding glimpses of it. But this? This is the fullest, and the brightest, Zayn has ever seen it. And that has to mean something, doesn’t it?

“Well, I suppose we can change the subject then,” Zayn says easily, trying to push back the grin threatening to scratch towards the surface. “We can talk about you if you so desire, Prince Liam.”

He stands slowly, carefully taking a step towards the other boy. His back is still towards him as he clears his throat as if to make a toast. “I’ll start.” He bites back a smile. “What if I said yes, Li?” Zayn finally says, his voice showing a bit more excitement than he’d anticipated. “Hypothetically.” He pauses. “Or not.” He sets his forearms gently on the top of Liam’s shoulder, pressing his weight against him gently before he hums into his ear, “I wanna be your boyfriend.” He bows his head slightly, hiding his grin. “If you’ll have me.”

This gets the reaction he’s looking for.

A joyous, full laugh bursts from inside of Liam. He grabs onto Zayn’s arms, momentarily pulling them towards his chest before he lets go suddenly. He flips himself around so he can quickly face him. Wrinkles crinkling so fully around the edges of his eyes that they almost disappear from his face, he leaps forward, pulling Zayn into him once more.

He lets one hand rest against the back of Zayn’s neck for a moment before he pushes him into a slow kiss. It simmers beneath the surface, hinting at would could be more. But he lingers, choosing instead to keep it exactly where it is.

He’s never been able to just kiss Zayn, taking in all of him without the sullen worry of maybe he doesn’t feel the same.

Until now, when he presses his lips to Zayn’s, moving gently against him like he has all the time in the world.

Because, for once, he does.

When the two of them eventually pull back for air, watching their breath form into little clouds in front of them, Zayn beams at Liam. He’s happy for all of two seconds before his expression suddenly scrunches up in worry. “What are we gonna tell Chris and your family?” He asks quietly, reality quickly flooding back.

Liam ponders this for a moment, looking serious before he suddenly laughs. Repeating the same line Zayn had told him the first time they had got together, he teases, “What they won’t know won’t hurt them?”

When Zayn groans, shoving his chest lightly, he concedes. “Okay, but in all seriousness, Chris will find out eventually.” He grins at Zayn. “I mean, I think we’re just a bit obvious, babe.”

He chuckles at the fake offended look that comes over Zayn’s face. “You know it’s true,” he points out. “Just like how we, apparently, can’t watch movies together and still know what’s going on.”

“We’re the worst,” Zayn mutters, rolling his eyes before he gives Liam a quick peck. “Why didn’t we make this official, like, forever ago?”

He snorts. “‘Cause we were both too stubborn to admit we liked the other?”

Zayn nods his head slowly, as if just now finally getting it. “Oh yeah, I guess that’s it. Thought we could keep the cool act up for forever, I guess.”

“I still think you’re cool,” Liam points out with a small smile.

“Eh, you’re pretty cool, I guess, too. I mean, that jacket helps,” Zayn taunts, moving with a little yelp to avoid the hand that comes up to slap his arm. “Kidding!” He giggles.

Anyway.” Liam shoots him a look, though he can’t keep his lips from quirking up. “As far as telling everyone goes, my mum, I mean…”

He shrugs, letting out a little huff before he goes on. “Given all the posters she has up and how much she loves you… Maybe it’s just better she doesn’t know all the bad parts of show biz. I mean, I think we’ve convinced her anyways.”

Zayn laughs, giving Liam a little nod. “I think so, too.” He pulls Liam in for another kiss, holding this one out for a bit longer before he blinks his eyes open, suddenly remembering why they’re there in the first place. He pulls back just slightly to groan against his lips. “Guess we should go back out there and face those paparazzi, huh?”

Liam looks at him, considering. “Sure.” He shrugs. “Or, you know, we got out once safely. We could just leave our stuff there, get some brunch. See how long they’ll hole up there.”

Zayn smiles quickly at that, his stomach rumbling as if on cue. “Playing a game of chicken with the paparazzi? I like it.”

Gesturing to Liam to lead the way, Zayn follows close behind. His lips upturning, he links his fingers with Liam’s. Liam tugs on his hand so he has to take a step forward, leaving Zayn to walk in stride with him. As Liam brings him closer, he chuckles, “Come on, loverboy.”

And Zayn obliges, giving Liam a light squeeze as if to say I’m right next to you.

Chapter Text

"Haven't seen you smoke this much since the first time we met," Zayn mutters as he comes up from behind Liam, gently snaking his arm around his boyfriend's waist. Liam’s so wrapped up in his thoughts that he starts just slightly at the motion before sinking into him. “You pretend you hated me, but really, it was just absolutely nerve-wracking to be face to face with such a stunner, eh?” Zayn teases with a slight smirk.

Liam groans. It didn’t take long for Zayn to put together that the only time Liam smokes is when he’s anxious. In fact, much to Liam’s chagrin, he had pretty much figured it out only a few days after they officially got together.

Liam hates that he hasn’t forgotten, even after a couple of months.

He gives him a pointed look as he pulls the cigarette from his lips. Breathing out, he wordlessly passes it over, giving him a light tap with his hip. “Shut up.”

“Come on, Li,” Zayn smiles easily. “You never head up to the roof unless you’re gonna smoke. Don’t think I don’t know you.” He waggles his eyebrows.

As Zayn takes a long drag of the cigarette, Liam mumbles in a huff, “Just ‘cause you practically live here doesn’t mean you know everything about me.”

“Doesn’t it, though?” Zayn laughs as he passes the cigarette back, finding his spot in the crook of Liam’s neck.

“Don’t quite remember how that whole thing happened,” Liam smirks down at the other boy as he puffs out a bit of smoke. “How you ended up moving in.” He gently presses his palm against Zayn’s cheek, pushing him further into Liam. “Please refresh my memory.”

“No, we don’t need to relive pissed Zayn anymore,” he moans, face now deep in Liam’s shirt. “Once was enough, thank you very much.”

“Oh, but you’re cute when you drink,” Liam coos as he throws the cigarette onto the ground, smooshing it into the smooth, concrete-like material of the roof. “Couldn’t even stumble home safely.”

“And that was that,” Zayn sighs contentedly, ignoring the blush steadily rising up his cheeks from the memory. “I couldn’t head back to my own flat after that. Enjoyed this place just a bit too much.”

Liam snorts. “Just the place? Okay, I guess I’ll leave, then,” he teases with a raise of his eyebrows.

“You know what I mean.” Zayn rolls his eyes as he taps Liam lightly with his head, still leaned up against his chest. Suddenly, he freezes, squinting his eyes. “Hey, you changed the subject, you bastard.”

Liam tsks. “Almost got away with it, too.”

“Out with it,” Zayn drawls, standing back up straight as he quirks up his eyebrows in an attempt to force Liam to speak. “What’s got you riled up enough that you need to smoke?”

Liam doesn’t say anything for a long moment. Finally, he breathes out, “What if they-”. He stops suddenly, feeling embarrassed as the words leave his lips.

“Leeyum,” Zayn says sharply. “Is this about what I think it is?”

He bites his lip in reply.

Zayn furrows his eyebrows. “I promise it’s going to be fine.” He smiles, giving him a fond look before he finishes, “My parents are going to love you, I promise.”

“I’m not going to stack up to those who have come before me, though, eh? What about that one fit model you told me you dated? How could I ever compete with him? I mean-”

Zayn chuckles, lightly shaking his head until Liam cuts himself off. “What?” He demands, a patchy red crossing his face.

“There’s no competition,” Zayn says lightly. “Literally.”

When Liam gives him a quizzical look, Zayn clarifies in a whisper, “You’re the only one, Liam.” He gnaws on his lip as he looks to the city far below them. “I’ve never been this serious about anyone else before.”

Liam lets out a nervous chuckle. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?” He asks quietly as he runs his sweaty palms along the side of his pants.

“I mean, I tried,” Zayn shrugs, giggling just slightly under his breath.

“You’re a shit boyfriend, you know that?” Liam huffs, but he smiles at Zayn anyway. 

“Sure, Li,” Zayn lilts, not believing him for one second. Wrapping his fingers around Liam’s, he begins to pull him back to the stairs. “Come on, babe, we gotta get ready to go.”

---

Zayn sneaks Liam into the front door of the house, trying his best to stop what he’s afraid will be a sudden wave of Maliks. He knows it well: they'll suddenly come barging in at any moment, inevitably trampling Liam and sending him to the hospital and that will be the end of that. Or at least, that's his fear.

This fear, however, has completely passed over Liam’s mind. Instead, he's focusing on the sudden scent of samosas wafting through the front room. Liam hums unconsciously, stomach growling as he smells Zayn’s favorite food. “They get you,” Liam chuckles, glancing over to give Zayn a knowing look and a soft smile.

“My mum is the best cook around, and don’t let her try to sell herself short,” Zayn starts, his eyes lighting up. “And she knows exactly what I love and what I miss the most.”

“I thought you missed me the most,” Liam pouts as he lightly presses his fingers into Zayn’s hip.

Zayn snorts. “Can’t miss you if you’re never gone, you sod.”

“Fair enough,” Liam concurs with a smile. He’s about to say something else before he gets interrupted by what Liam can only assume is one of Zayn’s sisters. She pops out from one of the many doors, her long, wavy brown hair bouncing as she runs to Zayn with a wide grin.

Liam blinks at that, and he can’t quite figure it out for a moment before—

Her smile looks exactly like Zayn’s. Liam’s lips upturn at that realization, taking it as something new to file away under the section of his brain titled "Useless Facts About Zayn And His Family".

“I thought I recognized that voice,” she calls out to her brother, holding out the last word as Zayn pulls her in for a hug.

“Hey, Waliyha,” Zayn mumbles as he gives her a light pat on the head. “You still keeping my bed warm for me? I don’t want it to look completely unlived in.”

She pulls back with a groan. “I haven’t done that for a while. I’m 18 now,” she answers, a bit too proud. But when Zayn raises his eyebrows with a sly smile, she finally concedes, “Okay, yes, maybe a bit.” She licks her bright, lipstick-red lips. “When I can’t sleep. Your bed is quite comfortable and it smells like you, okay?” She squeezes him a bit tighter. “And it makes me miss you a little less when you’re gone.”

Liam smiles at the words, copying Zayn’s motions, when suddenly he notices another sister, this time older than Zayn. She also looks strikingly like him, not that Liam should be surprised at this point. Still. He wasn’t sure if his whole family would be lucky enough to all be quite as attractive as Zayn.

Turns out the answer is yes, they are lucky enough.

She’s standing at the edge of the room, her large, brown eyes watching with fascination from the doorway of what looks to be her old room. She flushes slightly, knowing she’s been caught watching the three of them interact. “Glad you could make it,” she says after a moment, giving Liam a small nod. Liam gnaws on his bottom lip at the words, wondering if she somehow knew how hesitant he’d been about coming.

Not that he really had any right to be, really. Considering what he’d subjected Zayn to… He flinches at the memory. And he’d still ended up with the boy.

That says a lot, in it of itself.

“Glad I could be here,” he responds politely. Looking over at Zayn to make sure he’s not paying attention to him, he teases, “He’s glad I could be here, too.”

“Don’t go getting a big head over there, Leeyum,” Zayn comments quietly, not even looking away from Waliyha as he continues conversing with her.

Liam huffs. “Can’t get away with anything, can I?”

“No,” Zayn beams, finally moving his eyes to Liam. “But now I can introduce you, at least. This is Doniya, my older sister, and this, Waliyha.”

Liam nods his head to both of them, letting out a shy, “I’m Liam.”

Doniya rolls her eyes. “We knew that,” she taunts. “Zayn won’t stop talking about you in any of his texts or calls.”

Liam’s eyes dart to Zayn, just fast enough to see him duck his head in embarrassment. “Sis,” he grumbles.

She raises her hands up in surrender. “Sorry,” she laughs quickly.

Zayn huffs, grabbing his boyfriend by the hand as he leads him through another door and into what looks to be the kitchen. “Come on, I’m hungry. And I need to make a getaway before she says something else to embarrass me.”

As soon as Zayn steps foot into the kitchen, he freezes, suddenly remembering that his mother's there. He nervously drops his hand from Liam’s before taking a few small steps further into the kitchen, waiting for Liam to follow. 

“Love, I was worried you’d never make it to the kitchen after your sisters got a hold of you,” Zayn’s mom giggles, flipping her head around to grin at Zayn as she continues cooking.

“No, mum. I’d never forget about you,” Zayn hums as he comes up behind her to gently wrap his arms around her middle. He drops his head to rest it gently on her shoulder. Catching his eye, he gives Liam a reassuring smile, hoping to calm his nerves a bit.

His own anxiety has settled some just by her greeting. Because, in the end, it's only his mother, right? And his mother would never hurt a fly, could never. 

“I think you mean you’d never forget about my food.” She says, quirking an eyebrow seriously before cracking a smile.

“I mean, that too,” Zayn admits, pressing a light kiss to her cheek. “Smells delicious, by the way.” He reaches for a piece of cooked lamb meat sitting on a plate to the side of the pan.

She swats him away, giving him a death glare when he pops a stolen bite in his mouth. “Out,” she chastises. “Go find Yaser.” After momentarily pouting, he gives in. He turns to leave the room as his mother's gaze moves to Liam. “Liam, dear, nice to meet you.” She looks down at her dirty hands with a frown. “I’ll officially introduce myself in a bit, when I actually can. But I’m Trisha.”

As Zayn slips into another room, she grins, looking at Liam fondly. “I knew I’d like you,” she says after giving him a once-over. “A mother’s never wrong about these things, you know.” She blinks a little shyly. “And neither is Zayn.”

She reaches out to give him a pat on the shoulder when she realizes how dirty her hands still are. She drops her hand and instead says simply, “Means a lot to him that you’re here.”

Liam shakes his head with a click of his tongue. “I said that to him just a few minutes ago, but he said I had a big head.”

She laughs before she sighs, “Funny, too.” She turns back to her pan. “Sorry, dear, I’ve got to watch this before I burn all the food. Zayn’d kick me out if his precious samosas got damaged,” she jokes before giving Liam one last smile. “How about you go find Yaser, too? I think he’s in his study.” She gestures in the general direction, reassuring him with a wink before she finds her eyes back on the stovetop.

Liam shuffles through the bathroom and the guest room, lost for a minute before he finally makes it to the study. He enters to find a new, younger sister leaning against Zayn on the small, wooden bench. “And then, take those ideas you just told me and put them on paper, yeah?” He coaches, looking at her expectantly.

Liam clears his throat quietly to subtly alert Zayn that he's there now, too. “Got it, love?” Zayn checks in, waiting until Safaa nods enthusiastically before he stands up.

“Wait,” she stops Zayn with a tap on his arm. She leans down to say something to him quietly.

“Yeah, that’s him,” Liam can hear Zayn whisper back as he once more sits next to her.  

“Oh, she knows who I am,” Liam taunts with a grin. “It's Safaa, right?" He pauses until she gives a shy nod. "Followed me on Twitter when we first started--dating.” His throat catches on the word. That had been months ago, at least a couple of months before the two of them had actually gotten together.

Zayn catches this immediately, not missing Liam’s tone of voice. “And you followed her back?” He asks quietly, eyes growing wide.

“Of course. Saw she was a Malik,” Liam shrugs, doing his best to downplay it. But Liam can tell from the way Zayn’s lips are quickly upturning that he won’t be forgetting this anytime soon.

“You know, I’m a Malik, too,” a deep voice says after a quick pause.

Liam starts at the noise, moving his head to the right to see Yaser curled over a book, the huge, cushy armchair almost enveloping him.

Liam’s heart races, his throat suddenly dry as he takes in the fairly large man in front of him. “Hi, Yaser,” Liam gets out weakly.

The man before him doesn’t blink, only giving him a hard stare before Zayn rolls his eyes and groans, “Baba, don’t scare him off.”

Yaser’s eyes dart to Zayn’s, giving him a hard look for only half of a second before a sly smile crops up on his face. He quickly turns back to Liam, now beaming as his posture loosens. “Sorry,” he booms, laugh echoing after the word. “I really don’t want to scare you off,” he admits quietly. “Otherwise, I’ll never see my busy, super famous son ever again.”

He stands up to rub Zayn’s hair, lips upturning as he pulls Safaa in for a side hug at the same time. “Baba, I’m not super famous,” Zayn grumbles, slinking away from Yaser’s hand but laughing all the same.

Liam lets out a low breath, confused about what Baba means but too embarrassed to ask about it. Yaser glances up at Liam to see his eyebrows furrowed, obviously trying to figure something out. “Did Zayn teach you any of my native language?” He asks, eyes darting between him and Zayn for a moment. Liam shakes his head when Yaser continues lightly, “Baba means father.”

“Oh!” Liam remembers suddenly. He feels like Zayn had said that word to him a while ago--that one night when Liam couldn't sleep--and he'd said he wanted to do a song for his dad. 

“Yes, actually, I did know that! And I know a bit more, too,” he says enthusiastically. He gulps as everyone looks to him curiously. Suddenly the words of the language he doesn’t speak all jumble together and he throws out the only words he actually remembers. “I can't recall all of it, but it was, like, mujha… lagta… pyaar…” I... think... in love.

Yaser’s eyebrows shoot up at that, and Liam stutters in return, “I think it means good night or something? Right, Zayn?”

Liam’s eyes fall to the still-sitting Zayn, watching a thin blot of red rush across his face. “Err, yeah,” Zayn gulps, not meeting anyone’s gaze. “Something like that.” He lets out a nervous laugh, but doesn’t clarify.

Yaser watches him curiously, a half-smile and a knowing look crossing his face. Still, he doesn’t break the silence.

Liam huffs, not sure what he’s done wrong when Zayn stands up quickly, a fake smile pushed up on his lips. “I think I hear mum calling us for dinner. Come on.”

---

The dinner goes better than Liam expects it to. He’s careful to keep how they met and got together as vague as possible, but he's detailed in everything else Zayn. He finds himself gushing too much, and he’s lost count over how many times he’s blabbed on about his boyfriend, his family, and the delicious food Trisha cooked.

But still. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Liam keeps replaying the look of chagrin that came over Zayn’s features when they were in the study. He can’t help but notice the way he’s still bouncing his leg under the dinner table as if instinctively trying to run away. At one point, Liam’s fingers fall to the bottom of his thigh, right above his knee. He gently rubs in what he hopes is a reassuring manner. “It’s going great. We’re doing okay, yeah?” He mumbles, just quietly enough that no one else at the table can hear.

Zayn’s Adam’s apple wobbles as he swallows hard, but he nods. Liam’s fingers squeeze gently against his leg, lightly rubbing his thumb along the fabric.

After the long dinner, as they’ve all said their goodbyes (with Liam quick to apologize for having to leave so soon and reassuring the whole family that he’ll be back as soon as he can), Liam delicately slips his hand into Zayn’s. He swings it along as they stroll towards the train station.

“Think any paps will find us here this time?” Liam tries for a joke, but it comes out flat. “Too soon,” he agrees when he sees Zayn’s face scrunch up.

Liam's attempt at humor does absolutely nothing to calm Zayn down, because he's still acting just as weird and nervous as he was over dinner. “Hey, it’s okay,” Liam says quietly. “It’s just the two of us now, yeah?” Biting his lip, he draws his eyebrows together as he gives Zayn a concerned look.

“Yeah, I’m-good.” Zayn replies, but he doesn’t sound good. He doesn’t sound good at all.

Liam tries a different approach. “Zed, I’m sorry for what I said back there? With your dad? I’m not, like, quite sure what I said, exactly, but-” He trails off, swallowing the remaining words inside his throat. “I’m sorry.” His eyes move from Zayn’s to his hand, still intertwined with the other boy.

“Liam, let’s-err.” Zayn inhales deeply, his breath hitching just slightly. “Let’s just not talk about it. You didn’t do anything wrong, though, okay?” He gives Liam a slight squeeze. “Promise.”

Liam doesn’t believe him, and he wants to drop it, really he does. But he can’t shake the feeling that he fucked up, and he really wants to fix it. Needs to fix it, because he can’t stand to see Zayn like this.

“No, that's obviously not true, or you wouldn’t be acting like this!” Liam moans, suddenly pulling his hand away from Zayn’s. He stops walking, instead focusing all of his attention on Zayn.

Letting his hand fall loosely to his side, he feels suddenly guilty when Zayn’s body shrinks a little. “It’s just-embarrassing,” Zayn breathes, closing his eyes for a moment. He pauses for a second. When Liam doesn’t respond, he continues on in a rush, “Mujha lagta hai ki mein tumse pyaar karne laga hoon. I told you it meant good night and sleep well, right?”

Zayn sucks his lips into his mouth, looking like he’s going to puke for a second before he whispers, “Well, I lied. It means-” He cuts himself off, allowing himself to catch a breath before he finishes, “It means ‘I think I’m falling in love with you’.”

Liam’s heart stops. Any words he had been planning to say get caught in his throat, all his worry and anger completely melting away as Zayn explains.

“I didn’t mean to tell you like this. In fact, I’d hoped I’d never have to talk about it again. But.” Zayn shrugs halfheartedly. “Here we are. Not quite as romantic as I’d hoped, but-”

Liam interrupts him with a kiss, his lips pressing hard against Zayn’s still slightly parted ones. Zayn moves slightly, surprised by the sudden motion, but he quickly leans into Liam after a slight pause.

Liam pulls back just slightly, seeing a wide grin slide onto Zayn’s face. “I love you, too, Z,” he hums, his expression mirroring Zayn’s.

“I love you,” Zayn responds quietly, wanting to finally say the words out loud. Exactly as he means them, knowing Liam will completely understand him this time. His whole body warms as he says the phrase, and he feels lightheaded in the best way possible.

“I love you,” Liam repeats, his lips upturning so much that his eyes practically disappear from the crinkles that form around them. “Oh, wait, I already said that,” he teases.

“It’s okay, you can keep saying it, loverboy,” Zayn laughs, using the term of endearment that Liam had first uttered when they became official. And this time, Zayn's the one that reaches for Liam’s hand, pulling him close as he says happily, “I won’t mind.”