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sweetness in my bones

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this is my poison and my salvation;
the trickle of gold against the dust

*

(it all goes wrong in the last week of april.)

striker. he plays striker.

his thighs are tense and his lungs work a rhythm, his heartbeat fast and steady. the field is damp and mud stains his cleats as he pushes the ball further up the pitch, a constant slosh-slosh-slosh. it flies from his feet and curls into the net, the opponent’s defense pitiful and their keeper much too slow.

there are cheers and the thudding in his ears gets louder as he feels a body slam into his, arms coiling around his shoulders and it’s liam, he can tell by the broad chest pressed against his back and the heavy heat of fingers splayed against his waist. he sinks into it for only a second and then everyone is on them, slapping his arm and ruffling his hair, their grins blurring together with the weak glow of the early spring sky.

it’s the final goal he scores, his third in the game, and his coach nods at him proudly as the final whistle is blown. he did good.

and after the game liam smiles at him again and says a happy “great game,” before grabbing onto some lanky brunette. zayn watches him walk away gripping her hips and something rancid bursts in his gut, nausea tainting each hug and congratulations received.

it is then that he realizes that varsity soccer has failed to be enough.

it all goes wrong in this last week of april, when buds line tree branches like blisters and the sun is fickle and pale.

there’s something lodged under his skin that he cannot seem to get rid of, a sense of unease that he cannot shake. he aches for something desperate and physical, needs to fuck or fight before the restlessness destroys him.

the next morning he yanks on a pair of sweats, that unnamed frustration making his skin crawl.

it’s early and rainy and the crunch of gravel grates his ears. he pushes, and the track seems to slip from under his feet, bleachers disappearing into stripes of white and grey. he pushes harder. it’s still not enough.

the mist stings his skin like acid and he doubles over, gasping down mouthfuls of sour air.

it’s not enough. cold sweat gathers under his arms and drips down his back as he jerks upright and heads back to his dorm.

he lets the shower run ‘til the room is filled with steam and throws himself under the scalding spray. he yanks at himself until he’s hard, strokes rushed at a pace that’s almost painful to the phantom touch of warm hands and the imprint of brown eyes on his eyelids.

he leans an arm against the chipped tiles and buries his face in the crook of his elbow. his skin is hot and wet from sweat and water and his cock is throbbing in his hand as he bites down, sharp teeth piercing delicate skin.

with a strangled sigh, he pulls himself out of the shower, his come twisting down the drain with his spit and blood.

*

in the end, it’s not the restlessness that destroys him, but the drugs.

he wasn’t completely new to that, really, his high school years cloudy with the sweet smell of marijuana. though back then, he’s not sure whether the appeal was more the weed or harry; a docile creature with slick lips and wide eyes who was somehow always hazy around the edges.

harry wore band shirts and skinny jeans and listened to horribly indie music and tended to follow zayn around as if in a daze.

it was harry who introduced him to chip, a shady bloke who had pierced ears and could be found at the back bench of chester park. harry liked chip for the weed, zayn liked him for his inked arms; chip liked them both for their cash and their naïveté.

and it was harry who introduced him to liam, though in all honesty, that wasn’t his fault. harry had a friend who had a friend who knew liam and it all came together at a party senior year. it was too hot and there was not enough air and zayn couldn’t take his eyes off the boy with the big brown eyes. they only talk enough to get each other’s names, and zayn leaves as he had arrived; with harry wrapped around him and a fag dangling from his fingertips.

“smoke one?” he presses out once they’re covered in each other’s sweat, stretched out lazily on harry’s bed, and harry’s long lazy fingers roll a blunt.

for harry, the weed was always about the experience. it went with the music and the bands and the dazed shine of his eyes.

for zayn, it was a way to let himself dissolve.

harry disappears after senior year, gone off to live with his father somewhere far. zayn moves on to university and forgets his cloudy-green eyes. through some miracle—or disaster—, he doesn’t forget chip.

weed was about letting himself dissolve but, just like varsity soccer, its potency was limited.

and that’s why zayn drops down onto the rickety bench in chester park and waits. when chip comes, they sit in an unacknowledged silence ‘til zayn says;

“i need something harder,”

and that’s that.

*

he drops out of college and it’s a strange sort of feeling.

it’s a relief and a reprieve but it stings more than the pinch of the needle in his arm and burns at his throat in an undefined way. he’s lost, and it’s a bitter comfort.

he finds harry again, melded to a sharp-eyed boy with tattoos crawling up his chest. the boy’s name is louis, and he knows where to get good stuff.

they let him stay on their couch and it’s the first time he’s slept in what feels like years and the first time he bathes in weeks. it’s louis’ place and louis is generous and they share a syringe and the ache in zayn’s throat is repressed.

some time later, he finds himself waiting on the back bench of chester park. it’s a friday evening and the sky is cloudy, the heat of the day having died away. the damp of the wood seeps into his skin and it’s august and the wind smells like rain.

a blur of white and black flies by his head and drops with a cackle to the ground. a soccer ball, he thinks, and something shatters. he stares, unmoving, as a man jogs past him to pick it up and—

liam’s eyes widen and the shocked “zayn?” that leaves his lips cuts deep into the sensitive flesh of zayn’s stomach and zayn—

zayn sits there with glassy eyes until liam, hesitant, turns and leaves.

and something has shattered as zayn’s cold fingers trace the constellation of pinpoint marks that litter his fragile skin.

*

it’s his fault.

louis’ stubble scrapes his neck and his fingers hold too tight onto zayn’s skinny hips, and zayn feels like maybe his bones will crack and splinter. he’s stretched too wide and maybe he himself will break—fully, this time; completely, finally.

“lou,” he moans, and it sounds wrong, corrosive on his lips.

louis hisses and yes, somehow that fits with the burn and the ache and the pressure threatening to tear him apart. and zayn rests his sweaty forehead on his arms and tilts his hips to the pain.

and then cold air his his chest and he looks up and harry is standing at the door, cheeks glazed with tears and then he’s gone, whirling out with a gust of stale air, without looking either of them in the eye.

and louis groans and pulls out and doesn’t finish, and zayn collapses and it takes him a while before his shaking hands can pull his shirt over his head.

harry doesn’t come home that night, and he never looks him in the eye ever again. he’s hit the next morning by the fifty-two, the streetcar slicing through his frail body and smearing his life across the cracked concrete.

louis doesn’t say anything all day, just sits on the balcony and, as the sun begins to sink, he tightens the tourniquet with his teeth and waits for zayn to join him.

and zayn does, pricks into his bloodstream and looks onto the street below.

“pass,” louis mutters and zayn does, fingertips burning.

he tilts his head back and runs his tongue over his teeth, licks his dry lips, and the sky smears colour into the dark.

beside him, louis coughs up a sob.

*

he gets kicked out of the apartment after louis od’s.

chip finds him and takes pity on him. chip’s always understood.

maybe chip’s ratty futon is a low but maybe it doesn’t matter and maybe zayn’s just tired of it all.

and somehow the restlessness is back and he feels like it’s eating him, biting at what’s left of his will and carving its way to his soul.

so one day he gets up and stumbles down the stairs, ignores the twitching of his fingers as he fishes coins from his pockets and gets on the fifty-two, to get away.

the window is blurry with rain and he stares at the faceless people and colourless cars flying by when he catches a glimpse of deep brown eyes and broad shoulders; and the streetcar jerks to a stop as he trips outside and looks up; and his heart is lodged in his fingertips as he says,

“liam,”

and the air is pulled from his lungs as liam turns and smiles; smiles before he takes in zayn’s holey shirt and skinny legs and that telltale cluster of wounds in the crook of his elbow but—

“liam, please,” zayn says and somehow liam understands. and after a hesitant “hello” and another timid glance, liam takes him home.

and liam’s rough like louis never was but the burn tastes so much like redemption; and it’s tragedy and it’s catharsis and with a shudder, zayn lets go, and he let himself dissolve—

and liam, buried deep, bites down on his shoulder hard enough to draw blood and chokes out a muffled—

“zayn,”

and that’s that.

(and that’s hope.)