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Zayn blew out a shivery breath, the air spinning and crystalising in front of him. He shoved his hands deeper into his jacket pockets and continued down the dimly lit street. The automatic doors parted and he entered the offensively bright 7-Eleven. His voice shook as he asked for his cigarettes and his hands trembled as he dug the coins out of his pocket. He walked back out into the cold, immediately lighting up and taking a long draw to soothe his thumping heartbeat.

The night was quiet and the voice in Zayn’s head seemed louder. He walked faster towards the park, trying to escape his thoughts.

The park was well lit and Zayn sat on a shadowed bench, watching a late night dog walker playing soccer with his Great Dane while he finished his fag. It was calming in a way. He turned his cigarette over in his fingers and gazed at the fading red embers before dropping the butt to the ground and placing his foot on top of it. A soccer ball rolled to his feet.

“Watson!” a man called. “You little monster!” Suddenly the Great Dane was at Zayn’s feet too. The dog butted the ball at Zayn’s legs and nuzzled his knees. He gave the friendly animal a small smile and petted its head. “Watson!”

Zayn looked up to see the dog walker jogging over to him. He was a tall brunette and he looked kind of like a puppy himself with his big brown eyes widened in concern.

“Sorry mate!” the dog walker apologized, grabbing his excited pet by the collar. “I usually exercise him at night so he won’t bother people.” Zayn shook his head.

“It’s fine,” Zayn said quietly. He nodded at the dog. “He’s a lovely dog,” he added.

The man chuckled and gave his furred companion an affectionate rub. He looked back up at Zayn curiously, seeming to read his expression.

“Do you want to play with us?” he asked. Zayn blinked. He exhaled, hoping to expel his current state of mind. Then, he nodded and stood.

“Sure.”

“I’m Liam,” the man smiled, letting his dog gallop around the park once again. “And this is Watson.” Watson woofed at his name, running circles around the two men.

“I’m Zayn.”

After a half-hour of running around kicking a ball with a stranger and his dog, Zayn allowed his shaking legs a break and flopped down on the grass. He panted out little clouds as he looked up at the night sky. The stars and half-moon twinkled down through the light mist above. Zayn felt sadder and happier than he had in a long time and he still didn’t know how that could be. His eyes pricked and he couldn’t tell if it was emotional or from the cold. Watson bounded over to him and hovered over his face, his slobbery tongue licked at the few tears that had spilled out of Zayn’s dark eyes. Zayn giggled a bit, seriously confused with his emotions right now. Liam was there and gave Zayn a grin. He helped Zayn up; his large hand was strong and warm despite the winter night.

“I’ll walk you home?” Liam offered. Zayn wiped at his wet face with his sleeve, giving Liam a small nod and half-smile.

“Thanks.”

Walking along the dark suburban streets, Zayn felt safe brushing shoulders with the stranger he’d met less than an hour ago. Although, Liam didn’t feel like a stranger to Zayn. Even though they didn’t speak, he felt less lonely. Everything about Liam seemed stable, warm and safe. Maybe that’s why Zayn liked him already. Because he was exactly the opposite of himself. He stopped out the front of his flat.

“This is me,” he mumbled, sad to say goodbye to the first person he’d interacted with properly in days. Watson butted at Zayn’s legs and Zayn let out a wheezy chuckle, stroking his hand down the dog’s warm back while Liam rummaged in his pocket for something. He pulled out a slightly scrunched business card.

“Here’s my number.” Zayn took the little piece of paper that read Liam Payne and a mobile number. Liam placed a reassuring hand on Zayn’s shoulder, steadying Zayn’s shivering a little bit. He looked up into the man’s honest eyes. “You’re gonna be alright, Zayn,” Liam told him. Zayn gave him a sad smile. “See you some time, yeah?” Zayn gave him a nod.

“Yeah,” he croaked. “Bye.” He watched the man and his dog walk off down the street. Watson glanced back and Zayn gave him a little wave before going inside.

Lying in bed, Zayn decided that tonight’s tears were happy ones.