Title: Awake Without Awakening
Pairing: One sided Zayn/Niall, background Harry/Niall
Rating: PG 13
Word Count: 7000
Disclaimer: No offence intended. Not real in the slightest.
Summary: Zayn tries to come to terms with his crush on Niall and his-not-so-secret relationship with Harry. Angst?
A/N: I think I have the inability to make Zayn happy.
Pairing: One sided Zayn/Niall, background Harry/Niall
Rating: PG 13
Word Count: 7000
Disclaimer: No offence intended. Not real in the slightest.
Summary: Zayn tries to come to terms with his crush on Niall and his-not-so-secret relationship with Harry. Angst?
A/N: I think I have the inability to make Zayn happy.
To Zayn, Niall is like a ball of sunshine that burns so hot through his chest that it hurts.
Okay, he's maybe being a little melodramatic but he's decided that that's the only way he can put it. He never used to be like that but lately Zayn's become hypersensitive to him, just aware of everything he does. How he smiles, how he smells, how he feels. It's disconcerting at first, feeling like everything is revolving around his very funny but at times very annoying best friend. But as soon as he thinks it through and has really mulled it over he's came to the realisation that maybe he's a little bit in love with him.
His breath hitches and skin burns every time Niall brushes against him. His laugh is engrained into his memory, ringing in his ears as he falls asleep and his smile burned into the back of the eyelids, glowing up at him when he blinks.
He's drawn to him, no matter how hard he tries to fight it. He'll end up squashed beside him on a sofa in some interview or eyes trained to him as he changes from summer to autumn backstage. He finds himself missing him when he's not there and sticking to him like glue when he is.
He belatedly realises that he's been feeling like this for a while, maybe since he's met him but spending all day every day with him whilst on tour has intensified it to the point where it hurts deep in his chest and takes conscious effort not to lick a stripe up his neck to meet his lips. It hurts more to see him continue on oblivious to Zayn's pining. Stings to see Niall develop feelings for someone else. And absolutely aches to see them directed towards another member of the band.
They are a few weeks into their tour. It's crazy and sometimes Zayn can't believe that they've came this far. Before, he had been all caught up in it, fascinated with screaming girls reactions and how insane One Direction is taking off. He was happy to bask in the warm glow of their success, his crush on the periphery of everything he did, barely niggling at him in the back of his mind as he watches Niall manage to talk a more composed fan into his hotel room for the night.
But it gradually started to calm down, or rather, he started to get used to it. He has developed an ability to tune out chanting fans and answer repetitive questions without rolling his eyes. It's got to the point where his obsession on Niall is bordering on outrageous, blinded by everything Niall that it takes him a moment to process that Niall isn't bringing girls back to his room anymore, nope, Harry was going back with him instead.
The knowledge burns in his stomach and makes bile rise to his throat. He has talked himself out of the thought over and over, convincing himself that there’s nothing going on, that it’s just a few platonic sleepovers that they all take part in from time to time. But he can only last so long with that wishful thinking. With the help of thin hotel walls and Louis dropping into his lap one day with a bit of gossip, his make believe world is shattered.
"So Harry and Niall are fucking." Louis announced gleefully, hand coming up to card through Zayn's hair. Rage bubbled in his stomach and he slapped Louis' hand away. Louis pouted but didn't move from his lap interpreting his annoyance at the state of his hairstyle not the conversation topic.
"I think it's a bad idea." Liam murmured from beside them. Eyes flicking up to glance at them both before going back behind his laptop screen. His expression disapproving and Zayn felt satisfied that he’s not the only one annoyed at the recent development.
"Well." Louis shrugged, slipping onto the sofa and throwing his legs over Zayn's lap instead, oblivious to his discomfort. "They seem to be having fun."
And having fun they were.
Zayn seemed to catch them everywhere. Pecks to cheeks and hands petting through each others hair. He could hear their gasping breaths and giggling laughs down the bus, see their glinting grins at dinner and hastily covered love bites at breakfast. It gnawed at him, whittling down his resolve to keep his mouth shut. How come Harry got to have him and all the fun when Zayn couldn't?
They don't come right out and say it but like most things, nothing stays a secret very long within the five of them. Louis still thinks it's the best thing ever, slipping innuendos and sly remarks into interviews and on stage, turning it into a huge game like he does with most things. Even Liam, who Zayn had been relying on to be a sort of ally with him, was coming round to the idea.
"They seem really happy." Liam shrugged at him one day as he chucked a controller at him. Harry had just dragged a giggly Niall off down towards the bunks by the shirt collar. Louis was lying over the other end of the sofa, grin faltering slightly as he took in Zayn's hastily covered tortured expression.
"You ok Zayn?" He asked and for once the cheeky and loud tone in his voice was absent. Liam looked up sharply, concern marring his features. Zayn looked between them, torn between spilling is secret or staying silent.
"Yeah." He forced a grin on his face but even to his own ears his voice sounds flat. "Fine. Let's play something. Liam I‘m going to kick your ass!"
He settles in front of the TV, turning up the mindless Start Menu music to drown out the moans emitting from the bunks and he misses the look the other two share behind his back.
It builds and builds and builds until Zayn knows it's going to explode out of him some day soon. Liam and Louis have made it their mission to get to the bottom of whatever is annoying him and Zayn knows that the cat is nearly out of the bag, he can’t just smile serenely and pretend that he isn’t a mess under his skin. It’s like he lives for the days where everything seems normal, when Niall isn't plastered all over Harry or they're distracted for most of the day with promo and he doesn't have time to wallow in his self pity.
Today is not one of those days. He's restless and tired from travelling all day, stuck on the bus with Niall and Harry being sickly sweet to each other all afternoon. He changes into his first outfit for the show and hates the sight of it because he feels like he's been wearing it forever. He can hear the screams and yells of the crowd every time the door to the dressing room opens and it grates at his nerves. The sound normally makes him excited, skin tingling and muscles flexing, other times he gets nervous, shocks of energy thrumming through his veins and pulsing in his ears. But tonight he's just irritated. His head already hurts and his annoyance grows with every step he takes towards the stage.
Louis and Liam are in front, arms around each and laughing at something. Niall has some how managed to clamber all the way up onto Harry's shoulders who is inexplicably allowing him to hang off his neck as they swing round the corner and Zayn is met with a wall of noise. A swell of hate grows in his stomach and for a moment he's unsure if it's the thousands of fans behind the curtain or his four best friends that it's aimed at. In the dark backstage, Zayn tries to ignore everyone around him as he checks his in ears and his mic, the motions automatic for the amount of times he's gone through this and focuses on making the smile on his face look less forced.
An arm loops around his neck and Zayn knows it's Louis pulling him close into the huddle. The familiar gesture nearly makes him feel better but when he lifts his eyes he's met with Harry and Niall, gazing at each other, excited and adoring. He stares at them until his eyes burn, until after they've both turned away from each other, Niall snuggling into Liam's shoulder as they form the other side of the circle. It's too loud for them to say anything important to each other when they do this, they just huddle in close with reassuring smiles, Zayn's arm slipping around the back of Liam's torso and his side pressed against Louis. He takes a deep breath, feeling his ribs expand and the tension in his chest relieve slightly. He feels the quick press of cool skin against his and looks up to see that Harry has nudged their foreheads together. He sends him a quick grin that's one part questioning and two parts cheeky but it only makes Zayn's stomach twist uncomfortably knowing that Harry had caught him staring.
The concert goes badly. He forgets his cues and messes up his lyrics. He walks into Liam halfway through Up All Night, nearly sending him sprawling onto the stage. Niall seems like he's on a mission to cling to Harry like a limpet for the majority of the show and that doesn't help Zayn's frame of mind at all.
"You need to destress." Louis tells him once they've bounded off stage and the lights have came up. Over his shoulder he can see the other three clinging to each other, Niall's laugh echoing down the corridor to meet his still ringing ears. "We'll go out and you can find someone to fuck."
He says it so matter of factly that Zayn just nods. Louis sends him a mega watt grin and marches him off to the bus. An hour later and Zayn finds himself being led past a bouncer and into a hiving club with glittery lights and a constant press of anonymous people. Zayn wants to ask how Louis was able to get them in without being ID-ed but Louis just smiles and taps his nose with one hand and passes a drink to Zayn with the other.
Zayn gets lost in the music and the fact that he's finally able to have some fun. There's a constant stream of drinks in his hands, Louis not letting him go empty handed for long and as the night progresses he gets more drunk and worms his way through the dancers and into the middle of the crowd. Louis is grinding up behind him to the beat with whatever song is blaring out of the speakers and Zayn sinks into it, pushing his hips back and encouraging. He closes his eyes and tries not to wish it was Niall instead. But he does, he wants to turn, grind down on him, hands on his hips. He can feel the brush of his lips against skin and he would only have to press forward and they would be kissing.
"Spot anyone yet?" Louis calls into his ear and Zayn snaps out of his fantasy. Blinking rapidly he takes a step back from Louis but he doesn’t seem to have noticed that anything had changed. It's late, the bar shutting down and the club is already starting to empty out. Zayn isn't too bothered by that because his feet are finding it hard to keep himself upright with the amount of vodka running through his veins. Zayn shakes his head. He hadn't been looking if he's completely honest with himself. Louis frowns at him, grabbing his wrist and leading him out of the hot club. It's cooler outside and they huddle together as one of the security guys they've dragged along with them hunts for a free taxi.
"Tell me Zayn." Louis murmurs into his ear wrapping a comforting arm around him when Zayn drops his head to Louis' shoulder. "Tell me what's got you all sad."
Zayn can't speak.
His mouth is impossibly dry and his stomach is sort of rolling with the sway of the bus as it flies down some motorway in the middle of no where. He feels hot, beads of sweat gathering under his collar and he wishes they could stop and take a walk in the fresh air. He thumbs over the already fading stamp on his wrist and remembers flashes of disco lights and the burn of tequila and Louis asking why he's sad.
Harry is sitting on the leather sofa opposite, feet tucked up below him and wearing the shirt Niall had been wearing yesterday. Zayn has the urge to rip it over his head and pull it over his own but he knows that any subtle smell of Niall would be long gone and he has to admit somewhere in the back of his mind that isn't clouded with bitter jealous rage that he looks good - navy cotton clinging to his chest and the hints of a point of his star peeking out from the sleeve. He looks sleep soft, still bleary eyed and in the process of waking up even though they've been on the bus for nearly an hour. Niall has his chin hooked over his shoulder and they're both reading some tabloid together spread over their laps. Niall has a hand tangled in Harry's hair, a finger tweaking at a curl absent-mindedly.
"She's cute." Harry murmurs, clearing his sleep rough throat and pointing to a photo of some actress that Zayn really should know the name of. Niall giggles softly, pressing his face into Harry's neck with a wry grin and eyes that are hiding a secret.
"Maybe you should ask her out. Use some of that irresistible charm." Niall mutters lowly with a tinge of a smile still on his face. Harry glances around to him, eyes lighting and a finger coming out to skim over Niall's face.
"Wouldn't want to make you jealous darling." He says it sickeningly sweet and obviously a joke but Zayn feels his teeth grit together never the less. Niall giggles again when Harry bops his nose with his pointer, a faint blush dusting his cheeks.
"She's not really my type anyway." Harry says turning the page of the magazine after a lingering look down at Niall who's nuzzled up against his shoulder again. The corner of his mouth is turned up and Zayn suppresses the urge to smack the smirk right off his face.
"Yeah." The words spill out of Zayn's mouth before he can stop them. Voice tinted with hurt and resentment. "She's sort of missing the right parts isn't she Harry? You'd rather your mouth around some twink’s dick right?"
It's a simple comment and if Zayn's tone hadn't been so malicious then it maybe could've been laughed off and taken as a joke.
But it wasn't and it can't.
He knows he's being an asshole and that he shouldn't be taking his frustrations out on Harry, who is still technically one of his best friends but he can't help it. For those few seconds the crushing around his heart disappears and he can just breathe.
But then he catches how Harry frowns, hurt flashing in his eyes as he looks down resolutely at the magazine in his hands and it's all back again like a kick to the gut. They rarely talk about Harry's sexuality so he knows that his comment was below the belt. Plus he's pretty sure that now with is crush on Niall, he's being a bit hypocritical. The full weight of what he's said is only beginning to dawn on him as he fights the panic building in his belly.
Louis pauses on his way to the fridge, eyes widening in shock and Liam looks up from whatever paperback he's devouring, lips pressed in a thin straight line. He's sort of expecting them to say something but it's Niall's voice that cuts through the tense silence and buzzing between his ears.
"What's that meant to mean?" His voice is laced with a hardness he's never heard from him before. It's so unusual to see Niall angry and it's taking a moment for Zayn's brain to catch up. He opens his mouth but lets it hang like that, not knowing what to say.
"Leave it Niall." Harry forces out quietly through his clenched jaw. He still hasn't lifted his eyes and Zayn knows that he's upset. Niall's eyes dart up to face and then back to Zayn, face set and mutinous.
"No." He snaps, eyes narrowing as he glares at Zayn across the bus. There's a second of silence and Zayn tries to prepare himself. "What the fuck did you say that for? Harry doesn't need you to - "
Harry cuts him off, magazine flinging across the small space and smacking the window to the left of Zayn's head. He winces away from it on reflex and Harry's on his feet, throwing a glare at all of them in turn. "Harry doesn't need people speaking for him." Harry bites out, glare softening but still sharp enough to sting when his eyes land on Niall. Niall's eyes widen a little and he reaches out to catch his wrist. Harry let's out a gasping half sob when skin meets skin, Niall's fingers curling around him to press against his pulse point. There's a desperate plea in his eyes and Zayn's gut twists just watching them. Harry catches his second sob in the back of his throat but storms out of the living area anyway, pushing past a still stunned Louis and disappears off to where the bunks are.
Niall is still fuming and his eyes swivel around to glower at him before he pulls his knees up to his chest and sinks back into the sofa. Liam looks torn between jumping after Harry or lecturing Zayn but forces himself back to his book with a frown. Louis sits down beside Niall, a comforting hand resting on his knee, eyes never leaving Zayn's face. And just stares at him for a long time with a curious glint in his eye.
Niall doesn't speak to him for days. It's hurts Zayn to his core but he's came to terms with the fact that he deserves it. Harry is fine however, emerging from his bunk once they had reached the hotel and falling into step beside him as they stepped off the bus. Zayn had whispered that he was sorry into his ear and Harry pulled him into a hug, an odd look on his face that wasn't quite a smile but Zayn had taken what he was given. He let Louis drag him off and when they returned, an hour later, Harry was a little red eyed but the smile he threw in Zayn's direction was a little more genuine.
Niall though, is completely silent. He ignores him on stage and Zayn tries his best to make sure it doesn't show that it's beginning to eat away at him. He's tried different tactics, following him around under the impression that Niall would have to talk to him at some point. Or ignoring him and playing hard to get. On Thursday they have the afternoon off so he buys Niall cupcakes and leaves them on his pillow, they have strawberry frosting and Zayn's quite pleased that he has remembered that strawberry is Niall's favourite. Harry has pink icing in his hair later and Zayn tries to control his building resentment.
Through some cruel twist of fate they have to share rooms at the hotel they're staying at that night. Danielle has just landed so Liam has pulled her off to their room as soon as they get a key and Harry and Louis couple up immediately, Louis grinning smugly between him and a sulky looking Niall.
"Sweet dreams." He crows at them once they get to the seventh floor and find their rooms opposite each other. Harry looks between them sympathetically but his gaze lingers on Niall and Zayn swears that they have some sort of unspoken conversation in the moments where they catch each others gaze. "Niall, don't poison him in his sleep." Louis jokes in an attempt to lighten the mood. It has the opposite effect, Niall scowling darkly at him before slamming the key into the lock repeatedly until it turns green and he can kick the door open.
"Night." Harry says softly and follows a still smirking Louis into their own room and Zayn has no choice but to follow Niall.
Niall is quiet as he shrugs off his jacket and drops his overnight bag onto the bed by the window and avoids his gaze when he disappears off into the bathroom causing Zayn to release a breath he hadn’t realised he had been holding. He flops onto his bed and stares at the ceiling listening to the shower run, mind blank of how he's going to fix this between them.
"Bathroom's free." Niall murmurs twenty minutes later, hair dripping slightly and skin looking clean and pink. It's the first words directed towards him for days and Zayn only realises how much he's missed them. Zayn stays silent, watching from the corner of his eye as Niall pulls on a t-shirt and a pair of boxers. He's fiddling with his phone, looking annoyed as a few messages come in at once. He sits himself on the end of the mattress and looks up at Zayn, phone landing amongst the folds of the duvet.
"Harry says I should talk to you." Niall mumbles looking a little defeated. "And I should get over what you said."
"He's forgiven me." Zayn can't help mutter back. He's a little bitter that Niall is still in a mood with him. Niall meets his gaze sharply and ok, maybe that wasn't the best way to go about it now that Niall's only started talking to him again.
"Well it was a shitty thing to say just because you were in a mood." Niall snaps back, the anger that's so rarely in Niall's voice edging back again. "And Harry forgave you too easily. You're supposed to be his friend and not making fun of him just because he's bi."
"That's not - " Zayn starts but Niall keeps on talking over him.
"And if you have a problem with Harry because of that, then," He takes a deep breath and meets him head on with a determined look on his face. "Then you can have a problem with me too, because I'd quite like to suck on some twink's dick too."
Zayn winces at his own words being thrown back at him but doesn't let his gaze fall from Niall's hardened stare.
"I don't have a problem." Zayn tells him desperately and watches as Niall's eyes narrow at him, daring him to fuck up again. "And I'm sorry for saying that. I didn't mean it like that."
"Then why did you say it?" Niall asks immediately. Zayn stares for a moment, mind going blank before he decides to blurt out the truth in some bout of sudden bravery.
"Because I'm angry." Zayn tells him, eyes reverting to the carpet and watching as Niall's bare toes curl into the rug between their beds. "And jealous of Harry."
Niall looks confused for a moment, mouth opening but then closing as he looks across at him with a perplexed look.
"Jealous of what?" Niall finally asks tone softening and eyebrows dipping in a way that makes the courage drain out of Zayn under Niall's scrutiny.
"Of his relationship with you." Zayn mumbles, his lips feel heavy but he can see from the tension in Niall's shoulders that he's heard anyway.
"Me?" Niall asks and Zayn can't meet his eyes anymore. He watches as he gets to his feet, eyes trained to his toes as they pad across the carpet and stand an inch away from his own sock clad ones. Niall hooks a finger below Zayn's chin and his head is being pulled up and he's face to face with Niall again. "Zayn?"
Zayn doesn’t think it through, just strains his neck up and presses his lips to Niall’s. They’re soft, just as soft as Zayn had imagined them but they don’t move as Zayn kisses him harder. He curls his fingers around his neck, trying to pull him closer, nails scratching at the hair there but Niall doesn’t budge.
This isn’t what Zayn wants. He wants Niall to kiss back. To want to kiss back. He pulls away and Niall doesn’t move, frozen still with confusion and uncertainty in his eyes. Zayn feels an embarrassed flush creep up his neck and onto his cheeks.
"I think I'm falling for you." Zayn whispers with his last ounce of courage and squeezes his eyes shut because he can't deal with watching Niall's face contort after getting that tidbit of information. His shoulders sag in defeat but he isn't really sure what he had been expecting in the first place. Niall pats his shoulder gently and he feels his lips on his forehead once before he can't feel him at all anymore. He gasps at the contact and holds his breath until he hears the door click closed before he lets out the sob that's been building in his chest for the past two days.
Zayn stays quiet the next morning. His throat is sore and he's more than a little embarrassed with the amount of crying he got through before drifting off to sleep. He doesn't know how his life turned into this tangled mess but he's decided in a very wet cheeked moment of clarity that he needs to catch a grip.
Niall slips into the room just as he's leaving for breakfast and Zayn just nods at him before escaping down the corridor after Liam and Danielle who are being too sweet for him to stomach.
Harry and Louis eye him when they all climb onto the bus and Zayn knows immediately that Niall's told them. Harry looks wary but there's pity in Louis' smile. He stays silent, avoiding their glances and climbing into his bunk, hoping that he can sleep most of the journey and somehow wake up when it’s all better.
He very nearly whacks his head off the bunk above when wakes up with a start later. He can hear noise and commotion from the living room where everyone else is having fun and his stomach turns at the thought of joining them. At least behind his curtain he doesn't have to force a smile on his lips.
"Are you going to lie in here all day?" He hears a whisper and at first he think it's directed at him and he nearly rolls off his bunk in shock because it's Niall's voice. But it's not directed at him at all because he hears Harry's rough voice a moment later.
"Yes." Harry replies from the bunk opposite and Zayn's never been so glad that there's a curtain separating him from the other two. He can hear Louis squawk out something distantly but he has to strain his ears to listen to Niall and Harry just beside him.
"Why are you hiding?" Niall asks and there's a bit of shuffling about. He hears Harry grunt and Niall snuffle a laugh against skin.
"M'not hiding." Harry denies but even to Zayn's ears it sounds insincere. Niall must give him a look because Harry keeps on talking after a few moments pause. "I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything." Niall whispers back making Zayn grip to the edge of the bunk and lean out as far as he can without drawing attention to himself. There's more shuffling about and then one of them hums contentedly. Zayn's stomach is in his throat and his chest is burning with the effort it takes not to breathe too loud.
"I don't want to make him more sad." Harry admits and Zayn's heart thumps. He can just about hear Niall sigh over the sound of his own breathing.
"You're not the one making him sad." Niall tells him softly and Zayn let's his eyes slip shut, imagining the look on his face when he says it. He can see his lips, soft and pink, curling around the words and it makes them sting even more. "I am."
Harry huffs out sound of disagreement but doesn't really push the subject.
"Because of me." Harry murmurs sadly a few moments later but Niall just shushes him and that's the end of that conversation.
When the bus rolls to a stop nearly an hour later, Zayn tentatively pulls back his curtain letting his eyes land on the pair of them, curled together in the too small bunk, fast asleep and looking more content than Zayn has ever felt in his life.
He can't get his head out of the funk that it's dropped into. It’s still terribly awkward between him and Niall and he spends most of his day wishing that he hadn’t opened his big fat mouth in the first place.
Harry isn’t so bad, he starts to relax around him again, not hiding when Zayn makes the effort to sit quietly in the lounge of the bus, eyes trained to the screen where Louis is kicking Niall's ass at Fifa. In truth he has no idea who's winning, eyes flicking over to the back of Niall's head and watching as the muscles in his neck twitch. He has the desire to run his hand over his skin there and feel the muscles twitch under his palm, knead at them with his knuckles and listen to the sounds that Niall makes in response. Harry catches him nearly drooling at the though and it's like being shoved back to square one.
Niall eases up too, offering him smiles on stage and slinging an arm around him during one of his solos. Zayn revels in the contact, sitting as close as he can on the sofa in front of ten thousand screaming girls and soaking up any attention Niall throws at him. He knows it’s pathetic but he’ll take what he’s given.
But off stage, his forced self isolation is making him miss them, he yearns just to laugh at Niall's joke or run his hand through his hair or cuddle innocently in front of a movie but it's been so long that he can't help be awkward when they're all together, slipping back into silence and working hard to pretend that nothing is bothering him.
"What are you doing?" Liam's voice makes him jump but Zayn doesn't look up from where he's fixing the lock on his suitcase in case Liam tries to talk him out of it.
"Going home." Zayn presses out between numb lips. He’s been thinking it over for the past few days and he knows that this is the only opportunity he’ll have to put some distance between them all and hopefully sort everything out. A pair of supras appear in his vision and he knows that Niall has came over to see what's going on.
They have a break in the tour, it's only for a few days and they're planning on staying in California. Niall has been talking non stop about his plans and most of them involve Harry. The rest of them have been excited to just enjoy time off in the sun but Zayn has been going stir crazy at the thought. He's slightly scared of what's going to happen when they don't have to stick to a schedule and he doesn't have the safety net of everyone slipping back to normal when they're on stage. What if Niall just doesn’t speak to him for four days?
"Why?" Harry asks him and Zayn knows without looking up that they're all gathered around him now. Paul is sorting something out with a few fans outside but he's going to be back soon to drive him to the airport. He fiddles with his zip again, but knows he isn't fooling anyone so he stands up straight and meets his four curiously annoyed band mates.
"I miss home." Zayn tells them, eyes flickering over to take in Niall's slightly pained expression. He knows it’s a rubbish excuse but one that they’ll believe anyway.
"You can't go home." Harry shakes his head as if he's going to convince Zayn to stay. "We're on tour!"
"I'll be back before Dallas." Zayn reassures him, forcing a smile on his face and gripping the handle of his bag with white knuckles when Paul appears over Liam's shoulder. "Just a few days, clear my head.” Get away from Niall. He let's his eyes linger on Niall and Niall's expression turns sad when he interprets his meaning. “And then we can start up again. Good as new.”
"This is why we shouldn't have relationships within the band." Liam mutters. Both Zayn and Harry wince at his bluntness but Niall only flushes scarlet and flops into the sofa opposite them. Louis ignores him though, pulling Zayn into a tight hug.
"Have a safe flight." He tells him into his shoulder before turning his head to murmur into his ear. "Don't do anything stupid, please." Zayn's gut clenches and he has the overwhelming urge to cry so he wrenches away from him quickly and makes for the door, avoiding eye contact with the other three.
He's welcomed into his home quietly, questions in his mother's eyes but none on her lips. She takes one look at him as he drops his luggage in the doorway and pulls him into her arms making soothing noises and stroking his neck like she used to when he was younger. Zayn sort of goes boneless and lets her pet at his hair until he's feeling a bit better.
"Do you want to talk about it?" She asks him carefully once his breathing has calmed down and he doesn't think he's going to burst into frustrated tears.
"No." He shakes his head against her shoulder and he's being honest. He doesn't know what he would say, it's still so muddled in his head. She hums in response and gives him a gentle kiss on the forehead before disappearing into the kitchen to make dinner.
He's allowed about five minutes peace before his sisters burst through the door and pull him into a hug he didn't realise until now he had been missing. He lets himself ignore the worried looks they share and get's lost in their inane stories from school.
It's dreary and grey and rains most of the time but Zayn think it suits his mood. He's kept busy, braiding his sisters hair and helping with the washing up and he starts to forget that anything's bothering him in the first place. He meets his friends and watches the football with his dad. He reads his little sister the first five chapters of Harry Potter before she falls asleep on his shoulder and teases his older sister about the boy that she's dating until she smacks him across the head with a slipper and pushes him out of her room.
It's only when it's quiet does it slip back. The hurt and the disappointment and the yearning. Every time he closes his eyes at night he sees Niall's face and he can't help but imagine what him and Harry are up to. It's feeding his self pity but his mind won't stay where he wants it. It's frustrating. He had sort of expected this to be a quick fix, out of sight and out of mind but it isn't working and he's beginning to realise that more drastic action might be needed.
His phones rings one morning and wakes him up. He fumbles with the buttons and doesn't read the caller id just punching green and croaking a hello.
Zayn's eyes snap open. It's Niall.
"Hey." Zayn finally is able to answer, clearing his throat and rolling over, phone pressed to his ear. He can hear his sisters getting ready for school so he guesses it must be around midnight where ever Niall is.
Niall stays silent for a moment and Zayn just listens to him breathing for a while until curiosity gets the better of him.
"Niall, your phone bill is going to be crazy." He tries to force some enthusiasm into his voice and make it like he's laughing but it sounds hollow to his ears. "Is there a reason you're phoning?"
"I miss you." Niall whispers and Zayn's breath catches in his throat.
"Miss you too." Zayn finally forms words. "Have for a while."
He hears Niall snort. "Yeah." He agrees. "We shouldn't fall out."
Zayn screws his eyes shut and half wishes they weren't having this conversation over the phone.
"I want to be friends again." Niall sighs down the phone and there's a faint rustling over the line as Niall rolls over in his bed.
"Me too." Zayn mumbles. Niall stays quiet for another drawn out moment and Zayn counts him take three steadying deep breaths.
"Me and Harry are over." He finally says in a rush. Zayn doesn't know what to do with that information, a part of him swoops for joy but he can hear the tension in Niall's tone. "There wasn't really that much there to begin with anyway. We were just messing around, but it's over now."
Zayn knows it’s a lie but he doesn’t call him out on it.
"Why?" He manages to croak out, wincing at how small his voice sounds. Niall clears his throat on the other end.
"Making you sad made me sad." Niall is back to whispering and through the crackle of the phone Zayn very nearly doesn't hear him. His heart is back in his throat and he can hardly breathe his chest is so tight. He can feel his eyes watering but he can't find the will to care anymore. "I want us to go back to before." Niall whispers, his voice edging on to a whine.
Niall is quiet before he heaves a sigh and Zayn can nearly visualise him gulping down air the way he does when he's upset.
"I just love you both too much to loose either of you." Zayn can tell he's crying now and that's when Zayn finally breaks, hot tears rolling down his temples to meet his hair and soak into his pillow.
"I love you too." It hurts when he says it but he can't help it. "I don't know if I can stop." It comes out like a warning and Niall quietens for a moment.
"I understand." Niall murmurs, taking another gulp of air. "And I'm sorry."
Zayn swallows his apology and doesn't respond. He's not sure if he even could because his chest is wound so tight and his throat feels closed off.
"Are we friends again?" It's nearly a whimper and Zayn doesn't know how he could refuse.
"Yeah." He gasps quietly and has to screw his face tight so it doesn't turn into a sob. He can hear Niall sniffle a few more times and then stay quiet.
"Will you stay on the phone until I fall asleep?" Niall asks timidly and Zayn's heart breaks all over again. He sounds so small and Zayn just wants to gather him up and clutch him close to his chest. Tell him to do whatever makes him happy. But he can't. Instead he listens until Niall's breathing evens out and he's sure that he's finally drifted off before he hangs up, wipes his face and throws himself into the morning rush of the Malik household.
Niall's waiting for him in the foyer of the hotel. There's a few fans going wild on the pavement outside but Zayn is able to zip past them with a short wave and an even shorter smile. Paul walks off to talk to the receptionist about his room allowing Zayn to slope over to where Niall is sitting, thumb tucked behind his teeth as he nibbles on the edge of it nervously.
He doesn't say anything, pulling Zayn into a tight hug that means more to him that it should. He soaks in the heat that Niall has produced, fingertips trailing over his bare arms before folding in under his arm and squeezing him tight. He smells of lime and clean cotton.
"I'm glad you're back." Niall whispers, breath hot against his skin before he pulls back. Harry is standing behind him and Zayn doesn't read too much into the fact that he hadn't noticed him before. He offers him a tentative smile before Zayn gestures him in and they're hugging too. Niall let's out a small sound at the back of his throat and wiggles in so he's in the middle. Harry laughs against Zayn's shoulder but clutches him tighter, his grip strong around his neck.
"Can anyone join this hug?" Louis' voice appears out of nowhere, jokey but aware of how serious the situation is to the three of them. "Or is it invite only?"
Zayn finally smiles genuinely, arm thrown out to let Louis and Liam wriggle in beside them, hands coming up to crowd them all together and Zayn finally feels his muscles relax.
He perfects his brave face and slots himself back into Niall’s friendship like nothing had ever happened. It gets better, the pain between his lungs subsiding to a dull manageable ache until he rarely has to think about it. And when six months later and Harry and Niall knock on his door at 2am with sombre expressions and confess that they’ve accidentally kissed each other, Zayn just smiles sleepily at them, allowing them to fold him into a cuddle with murmurs of ’thank you’ into his ear.