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i should be over all the butterflies

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Niall would be lying if he said he wasn't nervous when he stepped into the big school building. This was his first day as a teacher, and even though he wouldn't be teaching anyone right away he was still a bit scared about what was expecting him. There was one week left until school started and the teachers were supposed to start setting up their classrooms and attend a few staff meetings. So yes, Niall was nervous, because this was his first teaching job and he didn't know what to expect or do. Knowing him, he'd probably embarrass himself before the first hour was over.

Entering the teachers’ lounge about ten minutes before the set time, Niall saw that about 20 teachers were already there. A bit lost, he hovered close to the door, unsure what to do.

It didn't take very long until someone approached him, a burly young man with soft brown eyes and a nice smile.

"Hi" he said, stretching out a hand for Niall to shake in greeting. "Are you one of the new teachers? I'm Liam Payne, I teach sports."

"Hi, yeah, I'm Niall Horan, I'm the new Spanish teacher."

"Nice to meet you, Niall! Tell me, what's an Irish lad doing in England teaching Spanish?"

"Went to uni here" Niall explained, surprised but pleased by the forwardness of this guy. "And then I kinda just stayed after."

"Found someone worth staying for, huh?" Liam asked, winking conspiratorial and Niall was taken aback for a second. Was this guy trying to flirt with him? Sure, he was very attractive and quite nice so far, but Niall wasn't exactly interested in a relationship at the moment. His last one had ended rather disastrous and he certainly didn't need a workplace romance - those always ended badly anyway - to get over it.

"No, that's not it" he answered Liam. "Just haven't really considered going back to Ireland for a long time."

"Well good for us, eh? Welcome to Stanhope School for Boys and Girls" Liam said, using the private schools full name.

"Thanks" Niall said, giving him a genuine smile. "How long have you been here for?"

"Oh, I'm still quite new myself, actually, this is my third year now. Suppose you're coming straight from uni?" Niall nodded. "You can join the very small club of people who've managed that. I did too, but usually - this being a private school - they only seem to hire people with at least a couple of years of experience."

"Really?" Niall asked, genuinely surprised. "Huh. I wasn't that good at uni, wonder why they'd pick me."

"Dunno, I've stopped questioning it, to be honest with you. I wasn't exceptionally good either, suppose they just hire whoever they like."

Niall shrugged. "Yeh, probably."

"Hey, wanna go find a seat?" Liam asked, pointing over to the table where quite a few teachers had already assembled. "The meeting's supposed to start in a minute."

"Sure" Niall smiled and they went to sit down next to each other.

The person on Liam's other side started chatting to him so Niall started people watching, examining every person who walked through the door.

His breath halted a little when he took in the guy walking in in a leather jacket, dark haired styled up in a quiff, white t-shirt drooping down just enough to display the edge of a couple of tattoos on his collarbone and chest.

Niall thought he would've stopped and looked anyway, because this guy was plainly hot, but what made him stare was the striking familiarity he felt looking at him.

"Don't get your hopes up" Liam said from beside him, making Niall whip his head around to him. "He's got a girlfriend."

"What?" Niall made, trying to ignore the stupid sting he felt at that. "I wasn't - it's just I think I know him, is all."

"You do?" Liam's eyebrows were raised sceptically. "What from?"

"I think he might've been friends with my brother a long time ago. Is his name, um...Zayn?" Niall wasn't entirely sure about Greg's friends name anymore, but he thought he could never forget that face.

            The first time Niall saw Zayn was a couple of weeks after they'd moved to Bradford. Greg had friends over, all of them loud and rude, as 17-year-olds tended to be in Niall's experience. The quiet, tan boy amongst them caught Niall's attention because he was different from the rest of them, he had something calm about him, making him stand out from the others.

As time passed, Niall found out more and more about Zayn as the older boy came around quite frequently. Apparently he was a bit younger than Greg, which still left him four years older than Niall. Still, he always made an effort to talk to Niall, or at least say hi when he saw him. He was the only one of Greg's friends to do that. The others either constantly poked fun at him or ignored him completely.

It took almost a year for Niall to realise he had a crush on Zayn, and for his 12-year-old self to start questioning his sexuality.

They'd moved back to Ireland soon after though, not that Niall would have had any chance anyway, and he'd had to forget about Zayn.

Which he did. He hadn't thought about Zayn at all, for probably close to ten years now, until he - or someone who looked a lot like the 16-year-old Niall used to know 11 years ago - walked into the teachers’ lounge of the school Niall was about to start work at.

"Yeah" Liam answered, sounding surprised and pulling Niall back to the present. "That's Zayn Malik. You really did know him then?"

"Yeah" Niall said, distractedly watching Zayn interact with a redhead by the door. "I doubt he'll remember me though. Haven't seen him in more than ten years and I was just the little brother anyways."

"Don't know until you ask, right?" Liam smirked, raising his hand. "Oi, Zayn! Kindly move your skinny arse over here, wouldya?"

Niall snickered and got the feeling those two knew each other quite well.

Zayn's head snapped over to them, scowling at Liam before taking in Niall who - of course he'd embarrass himself right away - blushed.

Zayn sauntered over to them and Niall tried his hardest not to stare at the way his skinny jeans hugged his legs.

"Good morning to you too, Liam" he said, his voice deep and smooth. His attention quickly turned to Niall though, and he asked "Who's this then?"

"This is Niall, he's the new Spanish teacher" Liam explained. "Niall, Zayn is an English teacher here."

"Nice to meet you" Zayn said, plopping down next to Niall.

"You too. Although I think we've met before."

"You think? I think I'd remember you, to be honest."

"Well it was a long time ago" Niall said, trying to convince his treacherous mind that that hadn't been a flirty remark. The guy had a girlfriend, for god's sake! "I don't know if you remember a friend you had about ten years ago, Greg Horan?"

"Greg?" Zayn's brow furrowed. "Wait. Niall. You're Greg's little brother?"

His eyes roamed across Niall's body curiously and Niall nodded, fighting another blush. "That's me."

"Wow" Zayn said. "Small world that, huh? Never would've thought I'd meet you again, and in this place."

"Well, would've been hard telling when we last saw each other, right? Didn't really know what I'd be doing with my life at twelve."

"Right, that's how young you were, I'd forgotten. How'd you even remember me?"

"Dunno" Niall shrugged. "Just thought I knew you from somewhere when you walked in earlier. Haven't changed that much, apart from the tattoos and the beard and - well, growing up I guess." No need to go into more depth about how his features were perfectly chiselled now, all defined cheekbones, strong jaw, straight nose and soft pink lips. Niall stopped there, trying to get his thoughts back on track. A crush on a straight colleague was not what he needed. "Your like eyes and stuff haven't changed at all." Still that beautiful shade of brown, more like amber, that made Niall feel like drowning and flying at the same time, still framed by incredibly thick and long eyelashes.

Zayn laughed. "I don't know if I should take that as a compliment, mate, but okay. You've definitely changed. I remember you as a scrawny brunette kid with crooked teeth and not this" he waved his hand, engulfing all of Niall in the gesture.

This time, Niall couldn't contain the blush. "Guess puberty does things to ya" he muttered, feeling increasingly uncomfortable under Zayn's gaze. This felt way too much like flirting.

"Oh, it obviously does."

Niall's blush deepened even more and he cursed himself internally for his pale skin, but even more for his dumb reaction to this childhood crush.

He also cursed Zayn for growing from a cute and very nice teenager into what was probably the most beautiful human being to ever exist.

And despite his earlier nervousness, he was very thankful for the headmaster starting the meeting.

Afterwards, he thought the meeting had gone quite good considering the fact he'd had to introduce himself and that his eyes had fallen on Zayn every time he turned his head too far to the right.

And every time he did while Zayn was looking at the front, he could see a tattoo peeking out from under his teacher on the back of his neck, it looked like some kind of fan. Niall thought fighting the urge to pull down the shirt just a little bit to have a closer look would kill him, but it didn’t.

Zayn had to leave right away, but Liam offered to stay behind and show him the school, which Niall gladly accepted, afraid of getting lost on a day where he'd actually have to teach.

Liam showed him the library, the lunch hall, the sports grounds ("We even got a tennis court last year, add that to the rugby and football fields, the race track and the grounds we use for cross-country and we've got quite the diversity." – it was obvious he taught sports) and the different parts of the school.

Niall thought he was really lucky to have gotten a job at a private school, they were so much nicer and bigger and better equipped than the state ones.

"This whole corridor is the language department" Liam explained when they got closer to what Niall remembered to be his classroom. "This is the French class, that over there is German, that's yours and the rest are English classrooms."

"Zayn's gonna be here too, then?" Niall asked, trying to sound casual.

"Yeah" Liam said. "His classroom is actually right next to yours. You seemed to get along just fine, I didn't follow your talk, but did he remember you?"

"He did" Niall confirmed. "So you and him are good friends, I suppose? You seemed close."

"Yes, we started here the same year and we bonded over being new and just kinda clicked. We've basically been best friends ever since. Here" he pulled out his phone, looking for something. "this is me and him about a year ago, with our girlfriends - well, my ex-girlfriend and Perrie, Zayn's girl. We went on holiday together."

He showed Niall a picture of four people at a beach, a tan, curly haired girl next to Liam and a blond, blue eyed beauty pressed into Zayn's side. They looked good together, contrasting and unfairly beautiful, and Niall fought to keep in a sigh. Life wasn't fair.

"Sorry about you and your girlfriend."

"It's okay, she broke up with me shortly after that holiday, I've had time to get over it. She's a dancer, you know, said she needed to be on her own to focus on her career."

"That sucks" Niall sighed sympathetically.

"I'm alright" Liam insisted. "Care to go for a bite? I'm starving."

"You know the way to a man's heart" Niall grinned. "Food is something I'd never turn down."

-

Niall saw Zayn again two days later, the day before the last day of the holidays. He was just fixing the last poster he'd put on the wall when there was a light rap on the doorframe of his open door.

Turning around, he found Zayn leaning against the frame and smiling up at him. "Hola" he grinned. "Got everything done in here?"

Niall climbed down from the chair he'd been standing on. "Think so. Do I have your approval?"

"You sure do. Lookin good. You excited for tomorrow?"

"Yeh, mainly nervous though if I'm being honest" Niall admitted.

"Don't be. I mean I know everyone's nervous on their first day, I was too, but they're gonna love you. They generally love young teachers, if you're not being a total arse, which I can't really picture you as."

Niall smiled. "Not planning on being one, that's for sure."

"And if they're giving you a hard time or you need help or have any questions whatsoever, my classroom is right next to yours, and my door is always open for you."

"Thank you, Zayn. I still haven't figured out if you're just a genuinely nice person or if I'm getting the special treatment because my big brother used to be your friend."

"This has nothing to do with Greg" Zayn said, sitting down on the edge of a table opposite Niall. "How's he doing, though? Haven't heard from him in years."

"Oh, he's doing really well. Got married a couple of years ago and my nephew Theo is the best kid in the world."

As usual, Niall couldn't quite keep the fond smile off his face when he talked about Theo, and he already pulled his phone from his pocket. "Here, I can show you some pictures if you'd like. This is me and him when he was just a couple of weeks old...and that's Denise, Greg's wife with him..."

A couple of minutes later, he put his phone away and looked over at Zayn, who smiled widely, only then realising how close to each other they were sat. He moved back a bit quickly, ignoring the way Zayn's face seemed to fall a bit.

"They seem to mean a lot to you" Zayn said carefully. "How come you're not back in Ireland with them? Found yourself a nice girl here?"

Niall chuckled. "Everyone seems to assume that! No, I don't have a girlfriend - or anyone like that - I just like it here. I've grown attached to England, and I can still go home plenty."

"What do you mean 'everyone assumes that'?" Zayn asked, eyebrows raised.

"Well, Liam asked me the exact same question when we first met, and when I told my mum I'd gotten a job here, the first thing she said was 'so you do have a boyfriend!'. So yeah, that already qualifies as everyone for me."

Zayn didn’t even raise an eyebrow when Niall said ‘boyfriend’. "If even your mother suspects so...you sure you don't have one hidden away somewhere?"

"I'm sure." Not anymore.

"Good." The combination of how Zayn said that one word and the look he gave Niall made his intentions fairly clear, and Niall cleared his throat awkwardly. He hadn't pegged Zayn for the type of guy to go for someone on the side, but then again, he didn't really know anything about him. He had the picture of him he'd formed as a 12-year-old, and even if that had been correct back then, a lot could change in eleven years.

"Um" he said. "Look, I've still got some stuff to do in here, so maybe you better -" He made a vague gesture with his hand and Zayn's eyes widened.

"Oh" he said. "Oh, I understand. Sure, um, I'll go. I'll see you around?"

"Yeah" Niall said, feeling a strange sensation in his chest as Zayn walked out the door (giving him another short peek at the strangely fascinating tattoo on his neck).

He sat leaned against one of the tables, burying his head in his hands before running them through his hair.

Why was this happening? Why was Zayn still making him feel those things? Why was he so flirty? Why did he have to have a girlfriend?

Pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes, Niall tried to focus. He wanted to prepare his first lesson as good as possible, his dwelling on Zayn could be done later.

-

“He's just so infuriatingly beautiful, and he keeps giving me those looks, and saying those things and ugh, I just don't know what to feel anymore!" Niall whined over Skype that night as he talked to his two best friends.

"And you're sure he has a girlfriend?" Harry asked.

"His best friend told me so, I'm inclined to believe him."

"Yeah okay...I don't want to imply anything but you said he was your first crush all those years ago. Maybe he's just being nice -"

"I know" Niall whined. "That's what I'm trying to figure out! Am I over interpreting? Or is Zayn actually a cheating bastard?"

"Is that his name? Zayn?" Louis asked.

"Yes?"

"This might be crazy since I bet there's more than one Zayn in England, but combined with inhumane beauty...his name isn't Zayn Malik, by any chance?"

Niall stared at his friend. "How do you...? Yes it is, actually."

Louis laughed, seemingly unable to stop, and Niall and Harry just watched speechlessly as he actually rolled off the bed laughing.

“You alright, Lou?” Harry asked, looking over the edge to where Louis was apparently giggling on the floor, out of Niall’s sight. “Mind to let us in on the joke?”

Louis groaned and crawled back onto the bed, still giggling.

“Sorry, but this is just so funny and fucking impossible” he started. “Because I know Zayn too. You know that before I came to your uni to do acting, I went to a different uni up in Manchester to become a teacher, right?” Niall and Harry nodded in unison. “Well, Zayn went there too. We were roommates, actually.”

“What?” Niall asked.

“In the dorm, yeah. I lived with Zayn Malik for a year.”

“That’s impossible” Harry said. “I don’t believe you.”

“You don’t trust me, young Harold?” Louis asked, dramatically clutching his chest. “Let me find some proof for you.”

Harry and Niall just stared after him as he sprinted out of the room.

“What -?” Niall asked and Harry shook his head, his curls flying.

Niall and Harry had been friends since the first day of uni. They’d met the first morning, as they had left the dorm at the same time and – both of them being pretty talkative and open – had started talking. By the time they had crossed the campus to get to their respective classes, they were best friends.

Louis had joined their little group soon after, having met Harry in the bathroom of the arts building, where he as an acting major and Harry as a music major both had most of their classes.

Louis had graduated a year before Niall and Harry, who’d done so only a few months before. And while Niall had moved away to start teaching at Stanhope school, Harry and Louis had stayed in London, in their shared flat, both of them determined to make it in the world. So far Louis had only gotten small parts in musicals and the like, though, while Harry tried making enough for a living by playing in coffee shops and pubs.

Niall knew the money was a big part of their decision to keep living together after uni, even though it surely wasn’t the only reason. People often thought the two of them were a couple, because they were so freakishly close.

Louis returned to the room noisily just a few minutes later, interrupting Harry's story about what had happened at his last gig in a coffee shop.

"I brought proof!" he hollered, thrusting something into Harry's hands, before flopping down on his stomach, a smug expression on his face.

Harry stared for a few seconds before realising he didn't even know what Zayn looked like.

He said that much, chuckling at himself, and held the picture close to the webcam for Niall to take a look.

It was shitty webcam quality and Harry couldn't keep perfectly still, but there was no doubt: the guy on the picture, next to a significantly younger Louis, was Zayn. He looked a lot more like Niall remembered him, too.

"Well haven't the years been generous to you" Niall joked and enjoyed the faces his friends made.

"So? Is it him?" Harry asked impatiently.

Niall nodded. "Yeah, that's him."

"But how-" Harry started. "Niall! Those are too many coincidences! It must be fate!"

"What the hell are you on about?" Niall asked, although he was rather sure what Harry would say.

"You and Zayn!" Harry exclaimed excitedly. "Those are too many coincidences to be anything else. You were meant to be."

"Oh, shut up Harry" Niall groaned. "If you're gonna argue like that it might just as well be Louis' fate. Who knows, maybe he was 'meant to be' friends with Zayn again. Why've we never met him before anyway, Lou? Haven't you talked to him in all those years?"

"How long ago was that anyway?" Harry asked, pointing at the photo he was still holding, and Niall mentally high-fived himself for changing the subject so smoothly.

Louis took it from him and looked at the tattered picture thoughtfully. "Well, it was my first year and his second, so...seven years ago?" He sighed deeply. "Well, I guess it's story time then, lads. So, you already know like 75% of this story, I've just always left out Zayn. Anyway, you know I was really unhappy at that uni, I knew practically from the start that it wasn't what I wanted to do with my life. Zayn and I shared a dorm room, and he was pretty much my only friend. And rightly so, because I was a dick in class, for reasons the others didn't understand. And I guess I was kinda Zayn's only friend too. He used to be really shy and quiet, was more one to stay in and read instead of making friends. But I was a dick to him too, left right before the end of my first year without telling him."

"You just left? And didn't even tell him what happened?"

"I know" Louis sighed. "At first I didn't contact him because of my bad conscience. Then because I had convinced myself he'd never want to talk to me again anyway. And then too much time had passed."

"If you ever do something like that to me..." Harry said, his voice sounding unsure.

"I wouldn't!" Louis exclaimed, grabbing his hand and looking at Niall through the webcam. "I promise I'd never do that to you two. I was a child back then, and I didn't know what else to do. Besides, I'm happy with my life like this, there's nothing I'd run away from."

"That's good to know" Niall smiled, watching his two best friends. "But it was a really shitty thing to do to Zayn."

"I know" Louis sighed. "Probably one of the lowest things I've ever done, and that's saying something."

"So do you want me to tell him? That I know you, I mean?"

"You know what" Louis said, "yes. Tell him I fucked up and that I'm still sorry. And give him my number, so he can call or text me if he wants to. He was my best friend after all."

"See" Harry grinned. "That gives you another reason to talk to him."

Niall sighed. "Dunno if that's good yet."

-

"I didn't think you'd be here today" Niall said, standing in the door to Zayn's classroom.

"Oh!" Zayn turned around, surprised. "Hey Niall. I always come here the day before school starts, to make sure everything's ready and how I want it. I'm not exactly a morning person, so I prefer doing it today instead of tomorrow morning."

Niall chuckled. "I can relate to that."

"Come in" Zayn said, gesturing for Niall to enter the room. He lifted a thermos that had been standing on his desk. "Coffee?"

"Um" Niall made, unsure. He still didn't know how to act around Zayn, but coffee sounded perfect to him at the moment. "Yes, please."

Zayn smiled and poured him a cup, handing it to Niall with a soft brush of their fingers, making Niall's stomach flutter in that annoying way. He didn't want to feel this way about Zayn, but how could he help it? He was up against Zayn's damn cheekbones, those eyelashes, the pink lips that often curled into that stupid beautiful smile and his charm. Niall was positive Zayn could charm the pants off absolutely anyone.

Didn't help he was so nice. And flirty.

"Any special reason for your visit?" Zayn asked after he had poured himself a cup too, leaning against his desk while Niall leaned against the windowsill.

"Yes, actually" Niall started, making Zayn lift his eyebrow in question. "So I was telling my friends about you..."

"You told your friends about me?" Zayn interrupted. His eyebrow had lifted even higher.

Niall blushed to the roots of his hair. "Yeah, you and Liam I mean. You're kinda the only people I've really talked to and then we already knew each other..."

"I see" Zayn said, his voice neutral, but the expression on his face was definitely a smirk.

"Anyway" Niall coughed, trying to regain focus. "My friend asked me to talk to you, because he used to know you but apparently you might not want to talk to him."

"What?" Zayn looked terribly confused.

"Um...yeah. You were roommates at uni, his name is Louis. Louis Tomlinson."

"Oh" Zayn made, his jaw tight. "He was right. I might not want to talk to him."

"He told me what happened" Niall insisted. "And I could explain it to you, but Lou said he'd rather do that himself. In person."

"Oh, so suddenly he's interested in me again? After seven fucking years??" Niall saw something flash in his eyes, and he realised with a pang in his chest, that being left behind like that had had a deep impact on Zayn.

"That's why he wants to talk to you, so you can ask all your questions and he can try and explain."

"He was my best friend, Niall" Zayn said, his voice suddenly more sad than angry. Niall felt as if he could see the lonely boy from seven years ago shining through, and he took a cautious step towards Zayn, touching his arm lightly.

"I know, Zayn" he said quietly. "And he was fucking stupid. Told him that much, too. And I get why you're still angry, I really do. But maybe it'll help if you talk to him. You don't have to be friends afterwards, or anything really. I just think it might help you, like get over it. You know, get closure."

Zayn looked up from his arms, nodding slightly. "You're right."

Niall smiled, dropping his hand when he realised it was still resting just above Zayn's wrist.

"I wrote down his number" he said, pulling a piece of paper from the back pocket of his jeans. "So you can call or text him, whatever you feel like."

"Thanks" Zayn replied, taking the paper. "You're a good guy, Niall."

Niall could physically feel the blood rushing to his face again, and he lowered his head a little. "Um, sure" he mumbled. "Just did what Lou asked me to."

"No" Zayn said, still wearing that small smile that drove Niall absolutely mad. "You did much more."

Niall wanted to scream in frustration, because what the fuck was he supposed to reply to that??

For a few seconds, he just stared at Zayn, who looked right back, gaze unwavering.

Nervously, Niall gulped down the coffee from the cup he was still holding, his swallowing making too much noise in the otherwise quiet room.

So did the cup as he set it down on Zayn's desk.

"Um" he made again, awkwardly shuffling towards the door. "I'll see you tomorrow, I guess. Thanks for the coffee."

Not giving Zayn a chance to reply, Niall practically ran from the room, shutting the door of his own classroom behind him and leaning against the wall for support. He took a few deep breaths, trying to get his heart to beat at a normal pace again, to keep it from thudding against his ribs so harshly.

There was something unsettling about Zayn, about the way he looked at him, and the way it made Niall feel. He didn't really know where to place it, as he had definitely been attracted to men before, and it had never made him feel like this.

Maybe it was because of the fact that he knew exactly he shouldn't be feeling this way, something about the appeal of the forbidden. Or maybe it was because he'd seen how vulnerable Zayn was under all that cool.

Either way, Niall felt out of his comfort zone with Zayn - something that rarely happened to him - and he didn't know if that was a good or bad thing yet.

-

"I'm just saying" Niall said when he was on the phone to Louis later that night. "Be gentle with him. He's obviously still upset about it, I only had to mention your name and his whole demeanour changed. You really hurt him."

"What exactly are you asking?" Louis wanted to know.

"Just don't...be too much. Try not to be too overwhelming. Don't play it off as no big deal, and don't try to be his best friend again straight away. Offer him an explanation and then give him space to process everything and decide for himself what he wants. Think you can do that?"

"Yeah" Louis sighed. "Yeah I think I can manage. Thanks Niall."

"Sure thing, mate. Also…this might seem like a strange question, and like a really weird change of topic, but…do you know what the tattoo at the back of Zayn’s neck is? Did he have that already when you knew him?”

Louis laughed. “You’ve got it bad, Niall, don’t you? And yes he did, it’s a fantail bird, actually. But maybe you should talk to him about his tattoos.”

“That’d be a bit weird, though.”

“And asking me about it isn’t?”

Louis had a point, and Niall already knew he wouldn’t tell him the first thing he did when they ended the call was google this fantail bird.

-

The teachers’ lounge was a very busy place on the first day of school, Niall discovered. Every teacher seemed to be there, drinking coffee, chatting, making copies or causing noise in another way. It was still early, and only the most eager students had already arrived, but the teachers seemed to be assembled completely.

Niall felt a bit out of place and was quite relieved when he spotted Liam coming over to him.

"Morning Niall!" he shouted as he got closer. "How's it feel, first day?"

"Fluttery" Niall said and Liam grinned, seemingly understanding the sentiment.

"So do you like your classroom? Has Zayn been of any help?"

"Oh yeah, it's great. And Zayn would've helped if I'd asked, I'm sure."

"Mate, you don't have to be shy around him, he's a nice guy."

"I know" Niall smiled. "He gave me some of his coffee one day."

"He gave you coffee? Zayn? Zayn gave you some of his coffee?" Niall nodded confused. "Mate, that's a huge deal! Zayn doesn't just share his precious coffee."

Niall came to the conclusion that Liam said 'mate' too often and might've been a bit crazy.

"Well, can't be that big of a deal if he offered it to me, right?"

Liam shrugged. "He must really like you."

"Maybe he's just nice for old time's sake."

"Nah, he wouldn't've shared his coffee for that. Take it as a compliment. Anyway, I should get going. Have a good first day!" He turned around to walk away.

"Thanks, you too" Niall said and thought he might just as well head to his own classroom then.

"Oh, wait!" Liam turned around, facing him once more. "Zayn and I are going to the pub tonight, celebrate the new school year and all that. Would you like to come with?"

"Um" Niall said, thinking about Zayn's eyes and if he could handle them all night. "Sure, thanks." After all, Liam would be there to rescue him.

"Cool! I'll text you the time and place, yeah?"

Niall had almost forgotten they'd exchanged numbers but nodded anyway. "Thanks, see ya then!"

"Bye, mate!"

Niall shook his head, a small smile on his lips. He really liked Liam, who might look intimidating on first glance but was actually an overexcited puppy.

He stood there for a minute longer, watching the other teachers interact, smiling back at those who acknowledged him.

Then he sighed and set himself in motion, walking towards the door on his way to his classroom.

Halfway through the teachers’ lounge, he spotted Zayn talking to an older colleague and felt his face flush as he remembered their last encounter. It couldn't possibly have been any more awkward. He smiled at him widely, trying to somehow apologise for his hurried exit the day before.

Zayn smiled back blindingly and Niall felt his breath hitch at the way his tongue pressed against his teeth and his eyes crinkled. It really wasn't fair.

He had planned on just walking by - it was the shortest way to the door after all - but Zayn ruined that plan as his arm shot out just as Niall was next to him and grabbed his wrist.

Niall let out a yelp that he desperately hoped wasn't loud enough to be heard and tried to supress the shivers that threatened to break out all over his body as Zayn's dark fingers closed around his pale wrist, the pads of his fingers resting against the blonde's pulse point.

"Sorry" Zayn said, but the glint in his eyes didn't seem sorry at all. "Didn't mean to startle you. Would you mind waiting just a second, so I can walk with you?"

"Uh, sure" Niall stammered, reminding himself to breathe as Zayn finally let go of his wrist.

He stood there awkwardly as Zayn ended his conversation and got up.

"Alright, we can go" he said, touching Niall's elbow as he started walking towards the door. Niall felt slightly disconcerted at the amount of touching he did.

“You alright?” Zayn asked as Niall caught up with him just outside the teachers’ lounge. Not many students were there yet.

“Yeah” Niall replied, trying to send a convincing smile his way. “Just nervous.” No need to tell him it wasn’t necessarily the impending first lesson that made him nervous.

“Not too nervous, I hope” Zayn smiled. “Honestly, they’re gonna love you.”

“It’s reassuring how sure you are of that” Niall laughed.

“How could I not? Those eyes will surely make you every girls’ crush” Zayn smirked and Niall had to tear his eyes away from his stupid plump lips.

“I sure hope not” Niall tried joking back. “It’d just be very awkward considering they’d never stand a chance in the first place.”

“Well I kinda hope the boys don’t stand a chance either.”

“They don’t of course, as students” Niall reassured him. “But technically, they’ve got a better chance than any of the girls.”

Zayn chuckled. “Don’t tell them that.”

“I didn’t plan on it” Niall laughed.

“Anyway” Zayn changed the subject. “I was gonna ask you. Would you like to come down to the pub with me and Liam tonight? Grab a pint?”

“Oh” Niall said, “Liam asked me already. But ‘course, I’m always in for a pint or two. Gotta stay true to my Irish heritage.”

Zayn laughed. “Well that sounds good. It’s only ever the two of us for some reason, it’ll be great to have you with us.”

“It’s nice you’re taking me in so easily” Niall said, looking over at Zayn and smiling at him. “I didn’t think I’d make friends that quickly.”

“Stop lying” Zayn teased. “You seem like the kind of person who could make friends everywhere.”

“Fine” Niall laughed, putting his hands up in defeat. “It’s still nice.”

“Sure thing. We’ll see if you still think the same way tomorrow.”

“I can’t imagine how bad it could be to convince me otherwise. Are you gonna get smashed and rob a bank?”

“That’d be an idea” Zayn joked just as they reached Niall’s classroom. “Anyway, have a good first day, don’t let the monsters eat you. And remember, I’m right next door.”

He squeezed Niall’s arm once, who immediately seemed to lose all sense of speech and muttered something in return that might’ve been a response.

Shaking his head at himself, he unlocked his door and walked to his desk. Time to prove he could be a teacher.

-

“Well?” Liam asked as Niall sat down next to him and opposite Zayn in the small booth at the local pub that evening. “How was day one?”

“Pretty good actually” Niall grinned. “I mean, I haven’t actually started teaching anything yet, so they might start to hate me later on, but so far we’ve gotten along quite good.”

“See, told you so” Zayn grinned back and Liam clapped him on the back.

“That calls for a round of pints!” Liam called.

Time passed quickly as Niall found out he seemed to become at least a bit used to Zayn's face and was actually able to hold a conversation with him, even if Liam went to get another round. The amount of alcohol they were consuming might have been beneficial too, but Niall just enjoyed being able to have a fun night out with two mates, without having to overthink everything he said.

As the evening progressed, Niall caught Liam staring over at the bar more and more often.

Zayn seemed to realise the same thing and eventually sighed exaggeratedly. "Go talk to her, mate. I can see you want to."

Looking over, Niall saw that it was indeed a woman Liam was looking at, a very pretty one with full lips and straight brown hair.

"You sure?" Liam asked, looking from Zayn to Niall.

"Of course" Zayn said. "Go get her! Niall here and I can fend for ourselves perfectly fine."

Niall nodded encouragingly, even though he definitely wasn't as sure as Zayn was. Five minutes alone with Zayn were alright, but who knew how long Liam would be gone, or if he'd return at all?

Liam looked at both of them once more before slapping his flat palm on the table in a gesture of decisiveness. "Alright then, wish me luck!"

Niall clapped him on the back and Zayn sent him off with a thumbs-up, and then they were alone.

For a minute, they watched silently as Liam walked up to the woman and started talking to her, grinning at each other when she seemed quite happy about it.

"Well" Zayn said as Liam sat down at the bar. "Looks like it's just you and me now."

"Looks like it." Niall played nervously with his glass, while simultaneously trying to smile his awkwardness away. "Unless you wanna go home...?"

"You shock me, Niall! Thinking about going home at this time of the night? And you're supposed to be an Irishman!"

Niall laughed, loud and from his belly, couldn't really hold it in as he watched Zayn's eyes crinkle. Damn alcohol.

"Sorry" he wheezed once he'd calmed down enough. "Dunno what I was thinking."

-

About two hours later, Liam returned to their booth. Neither of the men had looked his way in quite a while, but he had a content smile on his face, so Niall figured he was alright.

To him, the hours had seemed more like minutes, having hit it off with Zayn right away. Talking to him was so much less difficult than he'd worried, and they'd had a genuinely good time.

“So?” Zayn asked curiously as Liam slid into the booth next to Niall.

Liam smiled and looked so much like a puppy that Niall had to fight the urge to pet his head. Although that might have something to do with the amount of beer he and Zayn had consumed too.

“Her name is Sophia” he told them. “And she had to go because it’s a weekday, but she gave me her number so we can go out sometime.”

“Congrats, mate!” Niall grinned. “You gonna call her?”

“Definitely. She was proper hot.”

"Good on you, Li" Zayn smiled. "It's been a while since you've had more than a random hook-up."

Liam blushed and looked pointedly Niall's way, embarrassed his friend was drunk enough to blurt out such personal things about him. Niall obviously didn't care though, he just laughed and chugged down the rest of his beer.

"Right, lads. Think it's my time to call it a night. Prolly shouldn't show up hungover on my second day."

Zayn and Liam laughed. "You're right, might not make the best impression."

Zayn finished off his pint too and the three men left the pub together.

"Niall, which way do you have to go?" Liam asked. "I'm gonna walk but Zayn's taking a taxi."

Niall scrambled for his still new address in the haze of his brain for a bit, and when he'd found it Liam and Zayn decided it'd be best if he and Zayn shared a taxi.

"You'll have to drive a bit longer than I do" Zayn explained, "but my place is basically on the way to yours."

"I'm gonna leave you now" Liam announced, slinging an arm each around Niall and Zayn. "I don't think you're too drunk to give the driver your addresses."

"We're not" Niall said, taking a deep breath. "Think I'm a bit tipsy, though."

"Yeah, mate, you both are" Liam chuckled, smacking a kiss to Zayn's cheek and squeezing Niall's shoulder. "See you tomorrow then, goodnight!"

The two others shouted their greetings back at them, and then they were alone.

"Are you really drunk too?" Niall asked. "Liam said we both were, but you seem pretty sober."

"That's cause you don't know me that well yet. Liam knows what to look for."

"Oh?" Niall asked, curious. "And what's that? How do I find out how drunk you are?"

Zayn shrugged, grinning sheepishly. "I don't really know what it's like from the outside. Liam says it's the eyes."

"Your eyes?" Niall asked, leaning forward and peeking up at Zayn. He frowned. "Don't see anything."

He took a step closer, narrowing his eyes. "But mate, you've got really long eyelashes. Wait - can you see your own eyelashes?"

Zayn laughed and Niall noticed his warm hand was resting on his waist. He looked up at Zayn at the same time the latter looked down, but before Niall could do or say anything, their taxi pulled up.

Zayn's hand disappeared from his waist quickly, as if it had never even been there, and Niall had to brace himself against the taxi for a second, feeling lightheaded all of a sudden.

Neither he nor Zayn said anything for a few minutes, and Niall wasn't sure what had just happened.

"Thanks for taking me with you" he finally said, trying to break the silence. "I had a great time tonight."

Zayn looked over to him, the streetlights outside of the car casting shadows over his face, making his cheekbones even more prominent. He smiled. "Me too. Even though Liam disappeared like halfway through."

Niall chuckled. "He seemed to enjoy it too, though."

"He sure did."

The taxi stopped at what Niall assumed was Zayn's address, and Zayn leaned forward to hand the driver a couple of bills.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Niall."

A fleeting touch to his knee, and the car door shut behind Zayn.

Niall dropped his head against the car window with a thud, the cool surface soothing against his forehead.

When he fell onto his bed face first a bit later, he was almost asleep already, but still confused.

-

The next morning started with an annoying pounding in his head.

Niall groaned and rolled over on his stomach, squeezing his eyes shut. It took him almost a minute to realise the pounding was mainly caused by his alarm clock, which was still ringing persistently.

With another groan he hit the snooze button, only to remember he was now part of the working population and didn't have a choice about getting up. The pounding in his head had thankfully receded a bit after his alarm had stopped.

Niall pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and slowly got up, swaying only slightly.

A shower, plenty of water and some food helped him feel at least halfway human again, and he had just enough time to make himself look presentable and hurry to his car.

When he got there, the memories of the previous night suddenly came crashing down on him, and he groaned for what probably was the hundredth time that morning, dropping his head against the steering wheel.

"Jesus Christ, Niall" he murmured. "Just had to get yourself drunk and make a fool of yourself, right? Obviously can't handle your liquor as well as you thought."

The drive to school was spent wondering just what he could say to Zayn without making things more awkward than they probably already were.

Apparently, the universe had sealed a deal against him, as the first person he met in the teachers car park was Zayn, who looked just as perfectly rested and groomed as usual.

"Good morning!" he shouted and started making his way over to Niall before he could pretend he hadn't seen him.

"Morning" he mumbled back, keeping his head down.

"I brought you a coffee, thought you might need one today." Niall lifted his head and stared at Zayn incredulously, but he really was carrying two cups, thrusting one into Niall's hand.

"Um, thanks" Niall managed to get out.

Zayn obviously didn’t think this had to be awkward.

“I hope we didn’t take it too far last night, getting you drunk after your first day.”

“Nah, it was fine” Niall grinned. “I had loads of fun and after all, I did manage to get here in time. Coffee helps too. Thanks again.”

“No problem at all!” Zayn was weirdly cheery for someone who claimed not to like mornings, especially after a late night like that.

He was also very popular with the students, as Niall could notice from how many greeted him while they made their way to their adjoining classrooms.

A few of them even recognised Niall already, and he was starting to feel increasingly better - which might of course also be due to Zayn and his coffee.

"By the way" Zayn said when they rounded the corner to their corridor. "I decided I'm going to contact Louis."

"You are?" Niall asked excitedly.

"Yeah, you kinda made me realise it's necessary. And if it's only to get closure."

"I'm glad you think so" Niall smiled. "Although I of course hope you can forgive him and become his friend again - but that's entirely your decision."

"We'll see" Zayn smiled back. They had reached Niall's classroom now and stood facing each other. "Alright, we should both get ready for class now...don't worry about the coffee, it was the least I could do after last night."

And then his fingers brushed against Niall's arm where he'd rolled up the sleeves of his jumper, leaving the blonde an incoherent mess right in front of his door as he watched Zayn walk away.

Niall stood there for a few seconds, staring into thin air, remembering Zayn's soft touch, until he noticed a few of his students already standing there, waiting for him to unlock the door and kind of staring at their teacher.

Niall blushed profusely, hurrying to open up his classroom and doing his best to ignore his students' curious stares.

It took him a few minutes of looking at his notes to focus on anything but Zayn's soft fingers and his even softer eyes, but his job actually meant a lot to him and he enjoyed teaching immensely, so he concentrated on just that once class began.

"So, are you friends with Mr Malik, Mr Horan?" one of the girls in his class asked once he'd officially ended class.

"Um" Niall said, not sure how to respond. "Um, yeah, we knew each other when we were kids…but I don’t really know if that’s any of your business.” He added a smile for good measure, just to make it seem less strict, but he felt like his private life shouldn’t be something he discussed with his students.

“Just thought it looked like you knew each other pretty well” the girl pressed on, and Niall thought she was someone to watch out for. He should probably learn her name.

“We’re catching up” he said, getting up from his desk in order to finally end the lesson. “That’s it for today.” He hoped they realised he wasn’t only talking about class.

-

“So my students were quite nosy today” Niall heard a familiar voice from behind him as he walked towards the teachers’ lounge during lunch break.

“Oh?” he asked innocently, waiting until Zayn had caught up with him. “Concerning what?”

“You know, I’d bet my right arm you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“Are you left handed?”

Zayn laughed. “Nope. I’d still bet.”

Niall chuckled defeated. “Alright, alright. I’m guessing they were asking you about me too.”

“That they did. All ‘You seem close’ and the like. Kids today and their lack of respect for authorities.”

“Don’t act as if you don’t love it” Niall teased as they sat down on the table Liam was already unpacking his sandwich at.

“Love what?” he asked around a mouthful.

“Nosy students” Zayn explained with an eyeroll and Liam shrugged.

“I’m gonna assume there’s a story to this that’s way too long to be told when you could be having lunch instead.”

“You assume correctly” Niall grinned and pulled out his lunch – which he had bought on his way to work. It wasn’t as if he had had time to make something that morning.

Zayn sighed deeply and dramatically, staring at the apple in front of him. “Can we please go to the cafeteria tomorrow? It’s not like I have time in the mornings.”

Niall chuckled at their similar train of thought and pushed one of the muffins he’d bought for dessert over to him. “Here, don’t want you to starve. Take it as a thank you for the coffee.”

Liam just shook his head, looking between his two friends. “What have you two already been up to today?”

-

A couple of days passed as Niall slowly got used to his new routine before and at school.

Getting up early wasn't that big of a deal for him, he didn't really enjoy it, but it wasn't too difficult either. He'd often send off a quick text to Zayn, hoping to actually make him get up. If neither of them was running late they usually met in the car park, walking to their classrooms together, and then again to lunch, where they met up with Liam. The afternoons were spent preparing class for the next day, doing cleaning or shopping or whatever else needed to be done, and in the evenings, Niall either skyped with Louis and Harry or met up with Zayn and Liam again.

One day about two and a half weeks into the school year, as they were just walking back from lunch, Zayn said: "I talked to Louis yesterday."

Niall nearly stopped walking. "Oh! Are...are you alright?"

"Yeah, I think so" Zayn said quietly, not looking at him. "I texted him yesterday after school and we kinda texted back and forth for a bit before he called me."

He was quiet for a few seconds and Niall really wanted to touch him, just to check if he was alright, to give him a little bit of comfort, but he didn't know how, especially since the hallway was getting more and more crowded by the minute.

"It was fine, I guess, but...he said he wanted to explain things in person. Like, meet up."

"What did you say?"

"I agreed, and he's gonna come down here on Friday, and meet me at the pub." He looked at Niall for the first time since he'd started talking, eyes wide. The vulnerability in them shocked Niall once again, and a wave of want hit him. Not even in a sexual way, right then he just wanted to be able to hold Zayn, tell him it was gonna be alright, comfort him.

"I'm scared, Niall." It came out nearly as a whisper, and Niall's heart hammered painfully in his chest. "I know it's stupid, but it won't go away."

"It's not stupid, Zayn" Niall said, wanting to make sure Zayn believed him. "It's natural, and absolutely understandable."

When Zayn looked at him again, he looked shy. "Will you come with me? To the pub, I mean? You know Louis, and I think I'd feel safer with you there."

"Of course." Niall didn't even have to think about it. "Of course I'll come with you."

"Thanks, Ni. You're a really good friend." And there it was again, the stupid touch of Zayn's fingers on his arm before Zayn disappeared into his classroom.

Inside his own - still empty - classroom, Niall had to lean his head against the cool glass of the window for a while.

A rollercoaster was nothing against Zayn talking to him like that, touching him, opening up to him, only to call him a friend, reminding Niall of the painful fact that they'd indeed never be more than just that. Friends.

-

In the afternoon, when Niall checked his phone after class, he had 18 missed calls from Harry. His heart plummeted and then started beating at double speed as he called back with shaking hands.

"Niall!" Harry yelled instead of a greeting.

"Harry, what happened? Are you okay? Is Louis okay?"

"Yes, why -?" He interrupted himself. "Ni, I just got signed!"

"You got what?" Niall asked, not sure if he'd heard right.

"I got signed! By a music label!"

"Oh my god, Hazza! Finally! Tell me everything.”

Niall knew how long and hard Harry had worked to get to this point, playing basically every gig he got, trying to get his music to the right people. If his dedication would finally pay off now, Niall couldn’t be happier for him.

“Okay, so you know I kept sending records everywhere, but I guess most people didn’t even listen to it. And now today this one guy called me, told me he’d seen me live and liked me, and when he looked through his files, he found one of my CDs! So then he called me and told me they’d be interested in working with me. I’m supposed to come in tomorrow for a test recording and the official signing, but from what he told me and from the contract he sent me, I’m quite positive. He said it already counted as a sort of temporary contract if I said yes, but he wants me to be able to look over the contract and stuff. You know me though, and you know Lou, and we have absolutely no idea what most of the stuff means. But you took that law course at uni one semester, right?”

“Um, I did” Niall said reluctantly. “But that really only taught me the basics.”

“That’s all we need! I don’t think you’ll need more than the basics to see if this is all correct. Can I just send it to you real quick? Unless you wanna come down to London for a celebration?”

“You’re celebrating?” Niall asked, suddenly yearning to see his best friends again in person.

“Just a small party, Lou and me, and the other boys are gonna be here around six. Ashton, Luke, Mikey, Calum, Josh, you know.”

Niall looked at his watch. “If I hurry I could get the next train to London and I’d be at the flat around five thirty.”

“You’d come?” Harry asked excitedly.

“Course! This is a special occasion, I haven’t actually seen you in three weeks and I’m not that far away.”

Not even two hours later, Niall found himself in front of the familiar door to Louis’ and Harry’s flat. It was yanked open and he was tackled by Harry in a bone-crushing hug.

“Nialler! It’s so good to see your stupid face in person.”

“Nicely put, but I missed your ugly mug too” Niall teased back.

“Let me through!” Louis was heard from somewhere behind Harry, pushing the tall man away so he could wrap himself around Niall.

As he tried to push Louis’ legs from around his waist while at the same time averting his sloppy kisses, Niall thought it really wasn’t surprising people had often thought they were in some weird three-way-relationship.

He laughed and wiped his cheek. “Calm down, Lou, it’s only been three weeks.”

“Three weeks too long!” Louis exclaimed and dragged him further into the flat.

“And now you’re gonna see me twice in a row” Niall said with a grin. “Zayn asked me to come along to your meeting on Friday in case he needs moral support.”

“In case he needs someone to hold his hand, you mean” Harry corrected.

“He doesn’t want to hold my hand” Niall said flatly.

“You can’t be sure about that” Harry said, patting him on the back.

“And you definitely want to hold his, no hiding that” Louis added. “Stop moping about your crush now, though, we’ve got things to celebrate!”

The living room was already prepared for the “small celebration”, glasses and bottles with all kinds of alcoholic beverages set up on every surface.

“Guys, you know I have to teach classes tomorrow, right?” Niall reminded his friends who looked at him innocently.

“No one’s gonna make you drink anything” Harry said, but Niall knew Louis. He wouldn’t stay sober, no matter what he – or Harry – said.

“I need to drown the fear Harry’s gonna leave me when he’s a big deal in the industry” Louis defended himself, causing Harry to jump to his side and poke his cheeks, making Louis’ mouth turn up in a smile.

“I wouldn’t leave you even if I became the biggest star in the world, you’re my best friend you wanker” Harry made clear. “And same goes for Niall, if he hadn’t left us first.”

Niall chuckled. “I didn’t leave you. I’m here now, am I not?”

“Only for your legal knowledge” Harry joked. “Besides, didn’t you say your audition the other day went well, Lou? Who knows, maybe you’ll be a star before I am.”

“What audition?” Niall asked.

“Harry convinced me to try for the leading role in this new musical” Louis mumbled.

Niall knew that even though his friend was loud and obnoxious and outgoing, he could still be pretty shy and insecure if it counted.

“That’s great!” he grinned, squeezing Louis’ arm. “Which musical is it?”

“Peter Pan.”

“Louis, that’s perfect for you! You’re literally Peter Pan yourself.”

“That’s what I said, too” Harry laughed. “You’re gonna get it, I’m sure.”

“Thanks, boys” Louis grimaced. “Are you quite finished with making me feel awkward now?”

“Alright” Niall sighed, even though he couldn’t quite keep in the smile. “Show me that contract then, before the others arrive and it gets crazy.”

-

Half an hour later, Niall had declared the contract okay for signing, hugging Harry in congratulations, when they heard a lot of noise out in the hallway.

“I bet your neighbours really hate our friends” Niall chuckled as he went to let them in.

There was a loud chorus of “Niall!” when he opened the door and he was shoved to the ground, with five men piled on top of him. Louis came to look what the commotion was about and stood there laughing for a minute, before he shook his head and said: “Cannot believe you’re all grown men, you pigs.”

“At least I’ve got a real job” Josh teased him, as him and Niall often did. The two of them were the only ones with steady jobs, while Harry and Louis were struggling artists – or had been, if Harry’s signing worked out, while the other four were still at uni, but likely to continue their band after graduation.

Ashton, who was lying right on top of Niall, bit his shoulder and started getting up, effectively throwing the other lads on the floor.

“Ow” Calum complained. “That’s my stomach, Luke, put your fucking elbow somewhere else.”

“There’s the man of the hour!” Michael shouted when he spotted Harry, and the whole group went to tackle Harry now.

Niall watched from his spot on the floor and laughed. He had missed his friends, no matter how crazy they were.

-

“Oh” Zayn said, an amused grin spreading across his face as he took in Niall’s state in the middle of the car park the next morning. “What happened to you? You look as if I should’ve brought you a coffee.”

Niall groaned. "I went to London yesterday and of course my friends convinced me to live in the moment and I got drunk with them and left too late to sleep it off and now I'm more hung over than on my second day.”

Zayn chuckled. "If there was a valid reason to get drunk, I won't condemn you."

"There was. One of my best friends just got signed by a music label."

"What? That's amazing! Who? Harry, who plays in bars and coffee shops?"

Niall looked over at Zayn, surprised. "You remember that?"

"I do actually listen to you when you talk, you know?"

"You obviously do" Niall smiled, feeling a warm flutter in his belly. "Anyway, I went to celebrate with him and a few other friends, but apparently it's not possible to do that with class if you're friends with people who don't have steady jobs or are still at university."

"Sometimes I forget you're four years younger than me" Zayn said. "Even the last of my friends have left uni by now."

"Well, I probably wouldn't know these four either, but Harry played a few gigs with them a couple of years ago, and they stayed for drinks...and suddenly we were friends. They're a band."

"Your friends sound fascinating" Zayn mused.

"They're something else" Niall laughed. "You should meet them some time."

"I'd like that." Zayn's smile did things to Niall's belly again and he was kind of glad they'd arrived at his classroom. He didn't trust his hung over brain not to do something stupid.

Before class started, he sent a text to all of his friends.

I hate u

-

"By the way, I've got a proposition for you" Zayn said that afternoon as they were walking to the car park. "Or actually, it's more of an order. There's this film I need to watch, and you're gonna have to watch it with me."

"What?" Niall asked dumbly, not quite able to keep up.

"See, if I want to watch a film in class, I always watch it at home first, to make sure it's suitable. But I never want to watch them on my own, and usually the honour is Liam's. That was before I knew you, though. Besides, Liam is always busy with Sophia these days, so I'm sure he wouldn't mind sitting out on this one film."

Niall stared at Zayn dumbfounded, feeling slightly overwhelmed.

"You even get to choose the day" Zayn said in a tone as if he was trying to sell something. "I was gonna watch it today, but I can do tomorrow if you're too tired from yesterday."

"Um, yeah okay" Niall finally got out. Watching a film with Zayn could be fun, right? "Would tomorrow be okay? I think I need a whole night's sleep tonight."

"Yeah, sure, that's fine. Thanks, mate!"

And he was off to his car. Niall shook his head, still confused, and got into his own car, pulling out his phone.

Again, he had several unread messages, and he thought he should really start checking his phone during lunch. They were all from his friends, in reply to his text in the morning.

Luke Hemmings, 12:26 p.m.: at least u like ur job i dnt even like this class nd i still had to get up for it

Luke Hemmings, 12:27 p.m.: or actually im not sure if u like ur job or just the guy u wrk with

Josh Devine, 12:29 p.m.: p sure its the guy but honestly luke if u got up now ure rly lucky

Ashton Irwin, 12:30 p.m.: he did but he woke me up too :(((

Luke Hemmings, 12:31 p.m.: U DONT GET T SLEEP LONGER THAN ME

Louis Tomlinson, 12:33 p.m.: i hate u all i was sleepin

Josh Devine, 12:35 p.m.: U WERE SLEEPING WAT IM AT LUNCH U LAZY SODS

Harry Styles, 12:37 p.m.: shouldnt hv gotten a “real job” then :p

Calum Hood, 12:40 p.m.: stop tlkng i wanna sleep thru this class

Michael Clifford, 1:17 p.m.: jus woke up did i miss anything

Michael Clifford, 1:18 p.m.: cal should i hv been in that class with u

Michael Clifford, 1:20 p.m.: cal why didnt u wake me ur stupid

Michael Clifford, 1:22 p.m.: i didnt wanna go anyway

Calum Hood, 1:26 p.m.: :D

Niall shook his head at his friends’ antics and typed back

Niall Horan, 3:19 p.m.: just sayin ive got a regular income and me own flat

He got back six different variations of “shut up”.

-

The first of his students had already piled in for the next lesson when Zayn suddenly appeared at Niall’s door the next day.

“About tonight” he said without preamble. “Do I assume correctly you’d prefer pizza over Chinese?”

“I thought you should know by now I’d choose pizza over anything” Niall grinned.

“Thought so” Zayn grinned back and vanished again.

Niall turned away from the door with a fond smile and caught Lizzie’s eye, the girl who was too invested in his and Zayn’s relationship.

“Don’t” he said, looking straight at her. He knew she knew what he was talking about, when she lowered her head, a knowing grin on her face.

Niall thought that if she wasn’t his student, they could be great friends.

-

When Niall arrived at Zayn's building at 6pm that evening, he stayed put in his car for a few minutes. He was nervous.

He hadn't been to Zayn's place before, and somehow this took their friendship to a whole new level.

Apart from that, he'd started wondering about Zayn's girlfriend. They had obviously been together for a long time, but he didn't know if they lived together too. He thought it was weird how little he knew about her in general, considering how much he knew about Zayn by now. Zayn never even mentioned his relationship.

He didn't know what to expect. Would there be a lot of her stuff there?

Niall groaned and ran his hand through his hair. How awkward would he feel?

Only one way to find out. Niall sighed deeply and finally got out of his car.

There was a short moment of awkwardness when Zayn opened the door and they didn't know how to greet each other, before he seemed to make a decision and hugged Niall.

Niall did absolutely not marvel at the way their bodies fit together and neither did he want to hold on forever.

"Come in, it's that way to the living room" Zayn said, gesturing towards an open door. "I was just about to order the pizza, any special wishes?"

"You know I eat everything" Niall grinned as he walked into the living room, looking around curiously.

He was glad Zayn stayed behind for a bit, giving him the opportunity to snoop around.

The first thing he noticed was that the whole area distinctly said Zayn, even though he wouldn't have been able to say what Zayn's style was before he'd come. He liked it.

The second thing was the lack of a female touch. There was nothing that made him think the mysterious girlfriend had put it there. And there were no pictures of her whatsoever. Niall spotted a few pictures of family and friends - Liam was on a few, and Zayn's three sisters were heavily featured - but no one who looked like the girlfriend he'd seen on Liam's phone. Strange.

Then again, Niall couldn't really say he minded, as it kept him from being constantly reminded of her existence and his very misplaced crush.

He sat down on the sofa just as Zayn walked in, plopping down on the other side of it.

"Can I get you anything? A drink?"

"Not right now, thanks." Niall smiled. "So what film are you gonna force on me then? I never even asked."

"Thanks for that, your trust in me means a lot" Zayn grinned and stretched to reach for a DVD, the hem of his hoodie riding up and revealing a sliver of tan skin and tattoos that Niall tried not to stare at.

There seemed to be some writing on his left hip, and something dark and a bit bigger on the other side, but Niall didn't dare to look closer. No need to get caught staring at your mate creepily.

"This is it" Zayn said, handing him a DVD. Niall blinked. He'd almost forgotten what he had asked. "I'm reading Hamlet with them, and this is a modern interpretation of it, with Ethan Hawke."

"Shakespeare?" Niall grinned. "We'll see if I still like you after tonight."

"Hey, you get free pizza out of it."

"That's the only reason I'm not running" Niall joked, and Zayn boxed his upper arm lightly.

"Fuck you too" he joked right back.

"Nah, you know I can tolerate your company too" Niall kept teasing and Zayn slid closer to him on the sofa, nudging his knee against Niall's thigh.

"Thanks, though" he said, suddenly serious. "For everything. You know, coming with me to meet Louis tomorrow and stuff."

Niall smiled. "Don't worry about it, honestly. I'm happy to help you."

Zayn looked at him thoughtfully and suddenly turned around, lying down with his head in Niall's lap. Niall stared down at him wide-eyed, but Zayn had closed his eyes contently. A few seconds later though, the calm expression turned into a frown.

Carefully, Niall touched Zayn's forehead, trying to smooth out the lines. He slowly traced along the soft skin, carding his fingers through Zayn's unstyled hair.

Zayn let out a soft hum, encouraging Niall to keep going.

"I don't even know what I'm scared of" Zayn started. "I know that I can walk out of there any time, and that nothing is expected of me. I guess what scares me is that I'm actually gonna have to face everything that happened all those years ago. I've had it locked away for so long, somewhere so deep in me that I didn't have any chance to heal, in a way. So yeah, what I'm afraid of is unlocking it all."

Niall kept massaging Zayn's head, watching his face as his eyes were still closed. "Maybe that's what you need to do though. Let it all out. Even if it means hurting for a while, it's probably the only way to really get over it."

"What if I start crying?" Zayn's smile didn't turn out as sarcastic as he had probably wanted it to.

"That's what I'm coming for. I've been told my shoulder is perfect to cry on."

Zayn chuckled, his face finally relaxing again. "Good to know."

They were silent for a while, Niall scratching Zayn's scalp, while the latter made sounds of appreciation from time to time.

The doorbell ringing startled them both, and Zayn said up, looking disoriented.

"Oh" he said. "That must be the pizza."

"Right" Niall mumbled as Zayn went to get it, trying to return to the real world. He wasn't entirely sure about what had just happened, when their friendship had gotten to the level where they were putting their heads in each other laps, but he couldn't say he didn't like it. In fact, he probably liked it a bit too much. Suddenly, Niall wished there were more signs of Perrie, or whatever her name was, around the flat. It might be good to be reminded that Zayn was off limits from time to time.

He ran his fingers through his hair once more, trying to stop thinking about Zayn making breakfast in comfortable clothes like he was wearing now, his hair not only soft like it was now, but also messy from sleeping or other activities they'd been up to at night.

He hated himself for letting his stupid crush morph into something bigger. Something that made him want domesticity already.

"Niall? You alright?" Zayn called when he came back with two pizzas, napkins and two bottles of beer, finding Niall with his head buried in his hands.

"Um, yeah" Niall said, flushing and sitting up. "Just a little tired." It wasn't even a lie, he really was still a bit tired.

Zayn set down their dinner, taking his seat next to Niall again, a lot closer than before. "Oh god, I'm so sorry I made you come here for a film you don't even want to watch! If you'd rather go home and sleep I won't be angry. I know I kinda made it sound like you had to come, but you don't actually -"

"Zayn" Niall interrupted his rambling, a smile playing on his lips. "It's fine, really. I would've told you if I didn't want to come, and I'm honestly here for more than just a pizza. Stop worrying."

"You sure?" Zayn looked at him closely.

"Positive. Now go pop in that film so we can start with the pizza, I'm starving."

Already setting up the TV, Zayn chuckled. "The top one is yours, pizza speziale with double cheese."

Niall looked at him with a surprised laugh. "You really do listen when I talk."

They'd never had pizza together before, and yet Zayn had ordered his favourite.

-

When Niall woke up, the end credits were rolling and he was extremely comfortable. Confused, he yawned and blinked a few times, trying to fully wake up.

It took him a few more seconds to realise his head was resting against Zayn's shoulder, the older boys arm wrapped around him to keep him from falling forward.

"Oh" he said quietly, sitting up straight and rubbing his eyes. Zayn took his arm away, and put it on the armrest behind Niall instead.

"Well good morning, sleeping beauty" he teased.

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry" Niall hurried to say, mortified. What if he had talked in his sleep? Drooled? "What did I miss?"

"Not much, only like 20 minutes. Don't worry about it, you put up a good fight."

"I feel like such an uncultured twat" Niall groaned. "And I even kinda liked the film!"

"You did?" Zayn asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I mean it was a bit weird having them talk like that in this modern setting, and that bird - Ophelia? - was proper crazy, but I could still relate to them better than to some blokes with weird haircuts and tights."

Zayn laughed. "It's good you say that, makes me hope my students will think the same."

"You just gotta sell it to them right" Niall suggested. "You could show them a part of like a really old stage production first and then treat them to this. It'll seem easy to them then."

"That's actually a really good idea" Zayn grinned. "Thanks, Niall!"

"No problem" Niall said. "Sorry for, um, using you as a pillow."

"That's totally fine with me. I'm a cuddler anyway, like to have someone to hold on to when I'm watching a film."

Niall tried his hardest not to find that as cute as he did.

-

The next day Niall brought Zayn coffee and told him about a billion times he didn't need to be so nervous, that it'd be alright, he'd be there.

When he got to the pub where Louis'd be meeting Zayn, the darker lad was already sitting in their usual booth, nervously playing with the menu.

"Hey" Niall greeted, sliding in the seat opposite Zayn. "You alright?"

"Alright?" Zayn gave back, still fiddling with his fingers. "He's late. Said something's up with the trains as usual and he'll be here in half an hour."

"Oh, good" Niall said, halfway to calm Zayn down, halfway because he really thought so. "Gives me just enough time order some chips, I'm starving and Louis wouldn't eat them anyway."

"Niall, it's five in the afternoon" Zayn said, taking a look at his watch.

"So?" Niall shrugged cheerily. "Being all British, 5 o'clock tea and stuff."

"I doubt most people take their tea with chips" Zayn laughed.

Niall shrugged again. "I'm Irish" he said, as if that explained everything.

Getting up, he asked: "You want anything?"

"No thanks. Think I'm far too nervous to get anything down."

Niall rolled his eyes and went to order two servings of chips.

When he got back, he looked at Zayn sternly. "I've told you at least a million times that you don't need to be nervous. And just for the record, if you want to punch him, you've got my blessing."

"I'm not sure I even want to do that" Zayn chuckled darkly. "I mean, I was very angry and disappointed when he left me behind, but I kinda also have to thank him. After he was gone, I opened up a lot more, feeling the need to prove myself, to show that I could make it without him. So in a way, Louis is the reason I found more friends than ever before."

"I'm starting to see why you've been thinking about this so much" Niall admitted. "This is a more complicated story than I thought."

"Yeah" Zayn sighed. "Anyway, I feel like we haven't talked about anything but Louis over the past few days. How's your life going? How's Harry with the contract?"

"My life is as boring as ever" Niall chuckled. "Nothing new to talk about there. Harry signed the contract and has been recording demo versions of some of his songs. Apparently they're thinking about releasing an EP soon, and if it's a success, they're gonna work on an album."

"Wow" Zayn said. "Sounds exciting. I used to want to become a singer too. At uni, I had a boyfriend who studied sound engineering and he helped me record some of my stuff. Never got into it again after we broke up, though."

"That's a shame" Niall got out, trying not to react to Zayn talking about a former boyfriend. He tried to look calm on the outside, but inside, he was freaking out. He suddenly realised he hadn't known about Zayn's sexuality, they'd never discussed the topic, and he'd just assumed he was straight, as it made things easier. Niall didn't know whether to dance or to bang his head against a hard surface - the table looked fit for that purpose - because Zayn wasn't completely straight and he still had no chance.

Thankfully, their food arrived that moment, giving him a chance sort his thoughts.

"Didn't I say I didn't want anything?" Zayn asked, looking between Niall and the plate in front of him with raised eyebrows.

"Well, yeah" Niall grinned. "But I figured you should eat something, and I'll just finish whatever you can't."

Hungrily, he dug into his chips, Zayn watching him with a grin. "How much can you actually eat?"

Niall smirked. "A lot."

A few minutes passed as they ate quietly, Zayn hesitantly chewing on a few chips, while Niall wolfed down his own food, occasionally stealing something off Zayn's plate.

"I never wanted to pursue music as a career" Niall eventually took up their conversation again. "It was always more of a hobby for me. I did play a few gigs with Harry though, mainly before we met the 5sos boys. You know, those friends I told you about."

"The band, I remember" Zayn grinned. "So you're good at music too. Is there anything you can't do?"

"Mate, tons. I saw your drawings, and I'd never be able to do that. I can't draw for shit."

Zayn laughed. "I'm not that good myself."

"What?" Niall yelped. "Don't be so modest! You're an amazing artist, Zayn."

"Thanks" Zayn smiled, pushing his plate with the last few chips over to Niall. He'd only eaten about half of them anyway.

"I'm glad I went with this career, though" Zayn continued, watching Niall with a small smile. "It's how I met you again."

Niall nearly choked on the chips. If only Zayn knew what he did to him when he said things like that.

"I'm glad too" he coughed anyway, finally swallowing the last bite.

"This is the second time we're just the two of us, after being ditched by someone" Zayn said thoughtfully. "Kinda feels like a second date, doesn't it?"

Niall cursed inwardly. Had the universe made some kind of pact against him? Zayn probably didn't even know what he was doing.

"Except it's not a date" he said, and there it was again. The look of rejection on Zayn's face. Niall had seen it a couple of times by now, and he didn't know what to make of it. What did Zayn want from him? His actions kept confusing Niall, and he got up, awkwardly clearing his throat.

He mumbled something incoherent and grabbed their emptied plates, taking them to the bar instead of waiting for the waitress to get them.

She thanked him with a confused look.

Just when he couldn't stall his return any longer, the door of the pub opened, and Louis walked in. Relieved, Niall made a beeline towards him.

"Thank god you're here" he said, hugging his friend. "And right on time. I don't know what to do, he's talking about dates. I don't know how to act around him, Lou!"

"Calm down. I have no idea what you’re talking about and it sounds complicated as hell, but I’m here now" Louis whispered. "I'm the perfect distraction."

"Yeah you are" Niall said, remembering what they were here for. "Be gentle, please."

They walked towards the table together, and Zayn got up when they came closer.

"Louis" he said, stiffly.

"Hey, Zayn" Louis replied, his voice much softer.

They awkwardly shook hands and sat down opposite each other. Niall was glad the bench in the booth went around the table in a half circle, making it possible to sit right in the middle between both men, like a referee.

"It's good to see you again" Louis said, still in his weirdly soft voice. Niall was beginning to understand that this really meant something to him.

Zayn just nodded.

"Look" Louis continued. "I understand if you don't want anything to do with me, but let me try to explain, alright? I know I was in the wrong, and I'm sorry, but I had my reasons."

Niall took out his phone and started fiddling with it, trying to give his friends some privacy. He'd already heard Louis' story anyway.

"I would've let you go, you know?" Zayn said when Louis had finished, his voice sad. "I knew how unhappy you were."

"And I knew you'd let me go. But I also knew that if you gave me permission, I wouldn't be able to go through with it. I felt like if I'd give you the chance to be so selfless, I wouldn't be able to be selfish."

"I'm not some delicate flower that needs to be taken care of, Louis!" Niall looked up at the tone in Zayn's voice. He'd never heard him this agitated. "I didn't need you to take care of me then and I most definitely don't need you now. What made you think you'd have to stay for my sake?"

"You were my best friend" Louis said. "And we were all each other had."

"And yet you didn't trust me."

"I didn't trust myself, Zayn."

They were silent for a while and Niall looked up again. Both men were looking at each other, not saying anything.

Apparently, they communicated through their eyes, because suddenly, a slow smile spread across Zayn's lips - Niall's breath might've hitched a little at the sheer beauty - and Louis let out a relieved little laugh.

And then, making Niall feel like he had missed a step, they were suddenly talking about their uni and people they'd known, wondering what had happened to one or the other person and reliving their favourite moments.

When they eventually moved on to themselves, Niall started paying more attention again.

"So you went to school for acting then?" Zayn was asking and Louis nodded. "But Niall said you only graduated a year before him, so what did you do in the missing year?"

"Well, I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, so I moved to London and basically did whatever job I could to get by. I ended up working backstage at a play and I kind of helped the actors run their lines, and then they offered me a part in their next production. That's how I realised acting was my calling, so I applied for a couple of schools in London mainly, and actually got in. And then I met Harry on a toilet during my second year, he introduced me to Niall here, and the rest is history."

Zayn looked a bit overwhelmed by all the information he'd just gotten, but he was smiling. "Sounds like you made the right decision when you left Manchester."

"I did" Louis smiled. "But what's your story? How did you end up in this small town?"

"I'm afraid my story isn't quite as exciting as yours" Zayn grinned. "I stuck with English at uni, and then I worked at a school in Leeds for two years before I realised I was getting bored with my life. So I asked myself where people in England would go if they're bored, and London seemed like the logical conclusion. While looking for jobs openings, I stumbled across Stanhope School and figured I'd give it a try. It's close enough to London and the pay is a lot better than at any school directly in London, let me tell you. Haven't regretted it a day since."

Louis chuckled. "Niall found this school by accident too, didn't you Niall?"

"I did, actually" Niall grinned. "Didn't want to go anywhere else after I had, though."

"I feel like we've been a bit rude all evening, ignoring poor Nialler like that, don't you think, Zayn?"

Niall’s head turned towards Louis so quickly his vision blurred. He knew the tone he’d used, and he knew it meant Louis was up to something. Whatever it was, Niall was sure it would end with trouble for him.

“Oh no, that’s fine” he said quickly. “This is all about you two. I’m just here for moral support, and pretty sure you wouldn’t even have needed that. You’ve worked things out well on your own.”

“Still, it’s so nice of you to do this” Louis insisted with a pointed look at Zayn, who still hadn’t said anything.

Thinking about it, Niall realised Zayn hadn’t really acknowledged him at all since the disastrous “date-talk”. Not that it had been a proper talk. Just enough to confuse Niall thoroughly.

Before he could do anything more embarrassing, Louis’ phone rang, much to Niall’s relief. He recognised it, because he’d once set it to the song “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys as a joke, and no one else was likely to have a ringtone like that anymore.

"Oh my god" Louis said, staring at his phone screen. "I gotta take that, sorry."

He got up, walking away from their table towards the door, but didn't leave the pub entirely.

"What was that?" Zayn asked, and Niall looked up surprised. He hadn’t really expected Zayn to talk to him again.

"I'm not sure, but I'm willing to bet it's some theatre. He only gets this excited about work."

They were both quiet for a bit, trying to understand anything Louis said, but to no avail.

"Can you hear anything?"

Niall shook his head. "No. But...Zayn, are you okay? Is this whole meeting okay?"

"I'm fine" Zayn smiled. "Honestly. It's surprisingly easy, and fun. In a way, Louis and I are still the guys that were best friends seven years ago. I think we could maybe be that again."

Zayn's hand was lying on the table, and without really thinking about it, Niall reached over and put his on top and squeezed. "I'm so happy to hear that."

"I hate to interrupt" Louis said from where he was suddenly standing next to them again and Niall quickly let go of Zayn's hand. "But I just got the role as Peter Pan."

"What?" Niall shouted.

"I got the leading role in Peter Pan - The Musical!" Louis yelled back, a wide grin on his face.

Niall let out a loud whoop, jumping up and tackling Louis with his hug.

"Congrats, Tommo" he whispered into his ear, using the affectionate nickname he'd used when they first got to know each other. "I'm so proud of you. You deserve this."

Louis only squeezed him tighter.

When Niall let him go, Zayn enveloped Louis in a hug, surprising both of them. "Congrats, mate" he said, and Louis buried his face in his shoulder.

"Anyway" Louis said a bit later, when Niall and Zayn had settled down again. "I'd love to celebrate with you, but I'm meant to meet up with them as soon as possible, to talk about details and all the legal stuff, which means I'll have to take the next train back to London."

"Oh, sure, Lou" Niall said, and Zayn nodded understandingly.

"Are you gonna get to the station or do you want me to take you?"

"Thanks Zayn, I'm alright. You two just stay here and enjoy your date."

"It's not a date" Niall was quick to say, throwing a warning glance towards Louis through narrowed eyes.

"It really isn't" Zayn added. "Niall has made it clear enough he doesn't want to go on a date with me."

"What?" Niall asked incredulously and he saw Louis grin widely. "That's because you've got a girlfriend!"

"I- what?" Zayn looked honestly confused. "Who said that?"

"Liam did." Niall had crossed his arms in defence, unwilling to let Zayn play with his heart like this.

"Seems like you two got a lot to discuss" Louis interrupted, dropping a kiss to the top of Niall’s head and patting Zayn's back. "I'll see you soon."

And then he was gone, leaving Zayn and Niall to stare at each other across the table.

"When did he-" Zayn started. "Oh, was that on the first day we met?"

"Yeah" Niall said. "Why?"

"Because I hadn't told him yet I broke up with Perrie at the beginning of summer."

Niall stared some more, blinking slowly.

"You...you don't have a girlfriend?"

"No! Would I have flirted with you all the time if I did?"

"That's what confused me so much!" Niall said, his voice raised. "I didn't know how to act around you, because I liked you so much and it sometimes seemed as if you liked me too, but I thought you had a girlfriend!"

"I do, though" Zayn said quietly, stretching his hand across the table, waiting for Niall to unfold his arms. "Like you, I mean."

Niall lifted his eyes, locking them with Zayn's. "You do?" He slowly dropped his arms.

"I do. So much, actually. I haven't felt this way about anyone in a long time. When I saw you that first day, I thought you were cute, but then I got to know you and you were so funny and nice and good, and I just fell harder every day."

Niall carefully let his fingertips rest against Zayn's index finger, slowly moving until his hand was in Zayn's.

Zayn had watched the process quietly, without rushing him, and looked up, tightening his grasp slightly. "So you feel the same?"

"Yeah" Niall said, the corner of his mouth lifting up. "Yes, I do. Jesus, and to think I pushed you away all this time."

"Well, it's understandable. Maybe I should've told Liam earlier."

"I reckon you should've" Niall chuckled. "Why'd you keep it from him for so long anyway?"

“I don’t really know, to be honest. I wanted to tell him in person but we didn’t see each other at all over the summer, so I just kinda kept it from him unintentionally.”

Niall chuckled, looking at Zayn fondly. They were still holding hands on top of the table, but other than that, their confession hadn’t led to anything yet.

Zayn’s trail of thoughts seemed to be similar, as he licked his lips, Niall’s eyes immediately flicking down and watching the movement kind of mesmerised. The deliciously pink, wet lips formed a knowing smirk, and Niall’s gaze snapped back up, blushing.

“So” Zayn said hesitantly. “Would you wanna go somewhere we can talk more privately?”

“Yes” Niall breathed in relief, getting up in a hurry without letting go of Zayn’s hand. Talking wasn’t necessarily the first thing on his mind right now, but privacy sounded very desirable.

They left the pub hand in hand, smiling at each other shyly, and Niall resisted the urge to pinch himself. This was real, this was his actual life.

"Wait, where are we even going?" he asked when he noticed Zayn seemed to have direction.

"Um, I thought we could go to mine? If that's alright with you?" Niall tries to ignore the thrill of excitement that ran through him at that suggestion because Zayn sounded so adorably shy and unsure, so he just squeezed his hand more tightly.

"That's perfect, actually."

"My car is parked right over there" Zayn explained, pointing towards a small car park.

"Lead the way" Niall chuckled, and Zayn grinned at him.

Niall hadn't had someone opening the car door for him before, but Zayn did - of course he would - and he got in, reluctantly letting go of Zayn's hand.

"Niall" Zayn said after they'd been quiet for a minute. "This isn't gonna be weird, right? We're still gonna be able to talk to each other?"

"Yeah, of course we are" Niall reassured him, reaching over to entangle their fingers again. "Of course there are a lot of things we're gonna have to figure out, but we're not gonna make it weird, alright?"

"Good. Cause that's the last thing I want."

"Same goes for me" Niall smiled. "Although I gotta say I've already acted pretty awkward around you, whenever I just wanted to kiss your stupid face off but thought I couldn't."

"Well now you can" Zayn grinned and Niall couldn't help watching his lips again. "Not while I'm driving, maybe."

"Sorry" Niall chuckled. "I'll keep it together. We can use the time to talk about Louis, cause I feel like we just witnessed something pretty important there."

"That's his first major role, right?"

"Yeah" Niall grinned and let go of Zayn's hand as they neared the car park of his building. "And it's absolutely perfect. I knew he'd get it as soon as he told me it was Peter Pan."

Zayn held his hand out for Niall when they got out of the car, and the blonde happily grabbed it again. "I mean, he's obviously perfect for the role, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I do" Zayn agreed. "Who better to play the boy that doesn't want to grow up than a man who's still a child?"

"He really is" Niall laughed. "Could you tell just from the little time you got to enjoy the normal Louis today?"

"That in combination with the stories you've told me."

"I have told you a lot, haven't I?"

"I feel like I've already met all of your friends."

"You'll still have to actually meet them some time. Now even more."

Zayn smiled as he unlocked his door and let them in.

"I can't wait" he said, turning around to Niall who still hovered near the door while Zayn was already standing in the open kitchen. "Now, can I get you anything? A drink? Something to eat? I'm not sure what I've got here, but I could look..."

He seemed nervous again now that they were at his flat, really alone. Niall thought it was kind of endearing, but he also just wanted to finally kiss Zayn. He'd been wanting to for the better part of a month and really didn't feel like waiting any longer now that he knew he could.

"Zayn" he interrupted his ramblings about snacks and ready meals he might have in the pantry, taking a step towards him. "Can you just kiss me already?"

Zayn stopped in his tracks, turning around to face Niall, a smile spreading across his face. Within a second he had crossed the space between them, cupping Niall's face gently.

For a moment, they just stared at each other, Niall being mesmerised by Zayn's eyes so close to his.

Then, his eyes wandered down to Zayn's lips, pink and pouty and slightly parted in anticipation, and he tilted his head upwards, slotting their lips together.

It was chaste at first, nothing but the soft push of lips against lips, until Niall started tracing Zayn's bottom lip with his tongue and the older man made a noise in the back of his throat, causing Niall to tighten his grip on the slim hips.

Zayn's one hand had slipped from Niall's face to his neck, gripping the back of it tightly and pulling him closer. Zayn made another impatient noise and then his tongue was there to meet Niall's.

Niall let out a small gasp and wound one of his arms around Zayn's waist, so they were flush against each other.

They kissed like that for a bit, in the middle of Zayn's kitchen, lost in each other.

Eventually Zayn pulled away to catch his breath, resting his forehead against Niall's.

"You alright?"

"Absolutely perfect" Niall replied breathlessly.

"Just for the record" Zayn said, brushing Niall's fringe off his forehead, "me too." He leant in for a series of pecks before nudging Niall's chin up and going for a proper kiss again.

Niall's left hand on Zayn's hip started playing with the hem of his t-shirt, slipping under it slowly. His fingers brushed against Zayn's warm skin, and suddenly he was being pushed backwards, until his back hit the kitchen counter.

He let out a low hum when Zayn pressed even closer, positioning one of his legs between Niall's. Niall responded by caressing Zayn's side and lower back under his shirt more insistently.

Zayn's second hand, which had still cupped Niall's cheek, slid down over his shoulder and the length of his arm to his hip too.

Two of his long fingers skimmed along the waistband of Niall's jeans, who let out a low moan into Zayn's mouth.

Almost experimentally, Zayn ground his hips forward once, making Niall repeat the noise louder.

Niall's hand slipped up further under Zayn's shirt, his flat palm pressing between Zayn's shoulder blades, and he started grinding too, pulling noises from Zayn.

Their hips found a rhythm, rocking together steadily, while their breathing became harder and harder, slowly turning into something like moans.

Zayn's hand on Niall's neck wandered up to grab his hair, while the other one had slipped down to his bum.

Niall was roaming his hands across Zayn's back under his shirt, bunching it up under his armpits. Zayn lifted his arms and stopped kissing Niall for a second, so the blonde could take it off. He then started tugging on Niall's shirt impatiently, until they were both shirtless.

When their naked chests came into contact, both men let out groans and their kisses turned even more heated as they tried to get impossibly closer.

"You've got so many tattoos" Niall murmured into Zayn's mouth, his fingers skimming over the inked arms lightly without ever breaking the kiss.

"Is that a good or a bad thing?" Zayn asked, leaning back a little.

Niall grinned, tracing the lips in the centre of Zayn's chest lightly with his fingertips, making the darker man shiver.

"Oh, definitely a good thing."

"Well that's a relief" Zayn grinned and hauled Niall back in.

His hand slipped from Niall's bum to the front of his jeans, palming his thickening cock through the stiff fabric.

Niall threw his head back, exposing his pale neck, and Zayn immediately started sucking a bruise on the side of it.

The blonde mewled and bucked up into Zayn's hand.

"Should we maybe take this to the bedroom?" Zayn asked, his lips still against the soft skin on Niall's neck.

Niall could only nod frantically. "Lead the way."

They only got to the hallway before Zayn had Niall pressed up against the wall again, kissing him hungrily, both of their hands roaming feverishly.

Niall was clawing at Zayn’s back, probably leaving scratches, but neither of them cared about that. Sliding his hands down Niall’s back, Zayn squeezed at Niall’s bum, pressing their crotches together, before going down further and grabbing his thighs, lifting him up.

The younger man immediately wrapped his skinny legs around Zayn, who hurriedly carried him to his bedroom.

He lowered Niall onto his bed carefully, letting go of the back of his thighs to get up again, but Niall had other plans. He grabbed Zayn's belt loops and pulled him all the way down, so that he was lying on top of him.

Surprised, Zayn let out a yelp as he fell, making Niall giggle.

"Oops" he giggled, acting innocent.

Zayn pouted exaggeratedly. "How am I supposed to get your trousers off like this?"

"Maybe you'll just have to wait a little longer" Niall said, suddenly flipping them over so he was on top of Zayn.

He leant down mouth along Zayn's jaw, his soft lips catching on the stubble there.

Zayn started wriggling around a little when Niall moved down his neck to his collarbone, his tongue darting out to trace the ink there.

"Niall..." Zayn moaned out, pushing his hips off the mattress in search of some kind of friction.

"Shh" Niall made purposely breathing the word out against the wet trail his tongue had left on Zayn's collarbone, watching in fascination as goose bumps erupted all over the tan skin. "Patience."

His lips moved over Zayn's skin with intent, from his collarbone to his left arm first, taking the time to kiss every single tattoo, the smoking skull, the tiger and down his still ink-less arm.

"Do you have some kind if tattoo kink?" Zayn teased when Niall got to his wrist tattoo and twisted his arm around so he could reach the ones he hadn't got to yet, the yin-yang one and lastly “Bus 1”.

"I have a liking for them, 's not a kink" Niall protested, muffled against inked skin. "'sides, don't act as if you're not enjoying it."

Zayn chuckled and helped Niall climb over him to get to his right arm, maybe groping him a bit in the process. "You've got a point there."

Niall hummed and traced the outline of the space monkey with his tongue, before he stopped.

"So who's this?" he asked, tone conversationally, fingers on a familiar tattoo.

Zayn cringed a little. "You're gonna laugh."

Niall just waited, going back to his original task and kissing around the tattooed bandana around Zayn's elbow, pressing his lips delicately against the small puzzle piece.

"'s me" Zayn muttered. "As a girl, y'know. What I'd look like as a girl. Drew it myself, a gender bent self-portrait."

Staring up at him wide-eyed, Niall asked: "Why'd you think I'd laugh at you? That's the most amazing thing I've ever heard! Thought it was gonna be a girlfriend or something."

Zayn chuckled a little shyly. "It's not. You really think so, though?"

"I really do" Niall assured him, pressing his smile against the big ZAP inked to Zayn's skin, not missing a single one of the small and random tattoos scattered across his arm.

From his arm, Niall moved on to Zayn's ribcage, kissing along the playing card there. Zayn let out a giggle and tried to wriggle away, making Niall look up with a devilish smile.

"You're ticklish?"

The way Zayn yelped a "no" quickly and tried to wriggle out of Niall's grasp gave him away, and Niall grinned, tightening his grip on Zayn's hip and moving to straddle him.

He leaned forward to press small kisses all over the tattoo, making Zayn writhe and laugh, desperately trying to push Niall away.

“Niall” he choked, trying to stop laughing. “Get off me, you sod.”

Niall looked up for a second to smirk at him, loving the flush that had spread down Zayn’s chest. “Not planning to.”

He bent down again, this time to lick right across the tattoo, making Zayn gasp. Smirking wider, the blonde blew on the wet stripe lightly, listening to Zayn’s giggles turning into moans.

“That good?” he asked, his voice low.

Zayn moaned again, his hips bucking up, clothed cock brushing against Niall’s stomach.

“Jesus Christ, Niall” Zayn groaned and Niall moved to hover over him. “Can you stop teasing already?”

Niall smirked again, enjoying being in control, grinding down purposefully to watch Zayn’s jaw go slack. “Not yet” he said, breath ghosting over Zayn’s parted lips. “Haven’t gotten to all of your tattoos yet.”

His hand moved from beside Zayn's head to cradle his neck, fingers slipping down between his shoulder blades to caress the ink there.

"This, for example, is my personal favourite."

"Is it, now?" Zayn asked, hands deftly grabbing Niall's butt and pulling him down. Thanks to his one hand being otherwise occupied, Niall couldn't keep himself up and collapsed on top of Zayn. "This is better."

Niall chuckled. "It's my favourite because I could always see it peeking out from underneath whatever you're wearing, and it's been driving me crazy since day one."

"I'm not sorry at all" Zayn smirked and grabbed onto Niall's neck himself, pulling him down for a kiss while simultaneously bucking up his hips against Niall's.

They kissed like that for a while, all tongues and teeth and breathy moans, grinding filthily, before Niall pulled away breathlessly, putting a hand on Zayn's chest to stop him from chasing the kiss.

"Wait, I'm still not done with all of your tattoos."

Zayn groaned frustrated but let him go nonetheless.

Niall placed small kisses all the way down Zayn's chest, stopping momentarily to flick his left nipple and suck on it gently. When he reached Zayn's waistband, he sucked a hickey onto his hip bone right next to the tattooed heart he found there, before swiftly moving on to the writing dangerously low on his stomach.

"Don't think I won't" the blonde read out, smirking up at Zayn. "Is that a threat?"

"Don't think I won't take control if you don't hurry the fuck up soon" Zayn growled.

"Alright, alright" Niall chuckled, only pressing a quick kiss to the gun disappearing under the waistband of Zayn's black jeans. "Got any more hidden under here?"

"You're gonna have to take them off to find out."

Niall didn’t waste any time complying, pulling down Zayn’s tight jeans in one go and revealing a wolf tattoo on his shin.

“There we go” he grinned, pressing his lips to it quickly, and starting to mouth along the inside of Zayn’s leg, up to his knee, pushing the skinny legs apart to kiss the soft inside of his thighs.

Zayn was letting out breathy moans and sighs, positioning his legs around Niall in a more comfortable way.

"Oh my god" he moaned out, his voice raspy, when Niall moved even further up, nosing along the thick length of Zayn's cock, straining against his dark boxer briefs.

Niall was sure he'd never heard anything hotter than Zayn's aroused panting.

In search of new ways to hear it, he pressed an open mouthed kiss to the wet spot on the fabric.

Zayn didn't disappoint, letting out a strangled groan and hopelessly bucking up, his cock hitting Niall's chin.

Niall looked up at Zayn, only to find him already staring down, pupils blown wide with lust.

"Ni" he whispered, sounding desperate, "please."

Niall smiled and pressed a soft kiss to the inside of his thigh. "Please what?"

"Just...do something" Zayn whined. "Stop teasing me, you're having way too much fun with that."

Niall laughed. "It is nice to see you fall apart like this, not gonna lie. But then again, you're still wearing this really unnecessary bit of clothing, and I'm starting to get impatient too."

"Take 'em off, then."

One last grin and Niall did as instructed, swiftly pulling down Zayn's briefs, watching hungrily as Zayn's cock sprung up against his stomach, already leaking pre-come.

The briefs found their place somewhere on the floor, near the previously discarded jeans, and Niall came back up to settle between Zayn's legs.

Without hesitation, he gripped the base of Zayn’s cock and licked a stripe along the underside, tracing the vein there. Zayn let out a hiss as Niall took the head into his mouth, working his hand on the rest.

He placed a hand on Zayn's hip to keep him from thrusting up when he moved to take more of him, choking a little when Zayn's cock hit the back of his throat and moving back up to swirl his tongue around the tip.

"Fuck, Niall" he heard Zayn choke out, his knuckles turning white where he was gripping the sheet tightly.

Niall hummed, the vibrations making Zayn gasp louder. One of his hands found its way into Niall's hair, pulling a little.

Niall hummed again and Zayn tugged harder, moving his head. "Wait, Niall" he said, and Niall pulled off with an almost obscene pop.

He looked up at Zayn expectantly, licking his lips and watching in satisfaction as Zayn seemed to lose all trail of thought as he tracked the movement.

"Come up here" Zayn ordered, hauling Niall up so their bodies were aligned, smashing their lips together in a sloppy kiss.

"Don't want to come yet" he explained, placing open-mouthed kisses against Niall's jaw and down his neck, before biting his collarbone playfully. "Can I fuck you?"

Niall supressed the moan that threatened to escape at that notion, chuckling lightly instead. "Are you the kind of guy to have sex before you even go on a date?"

"First of all" Zayn said, fingers already fiddling with Niall's fly, "you were just sucking me off, if I remember correctly. Secondly, we've talked about this today already, we've been on two dates, three if you count the film during which you fell asleep on me."

"That sounds a lot dirtier than it was" Niall grinned, but it turned lopsided when Zayn started palming him through his jeans again. "But okay," he gasped, "you've apparently even respected the third-date-rule, so you've earned this."

Zayn's hand stopped moving and Niall whined, biting at Zayn's shoulder when he didn't get any more pressure on his throbbing cock.

"I don't want you to feel obligated" Zayn said, his tone worried. "I'd be fine with a blowjob."

"No" Niall whined, bucking his hips up impatiently, past the point where he was opposed to begging. "Maybe I shouldn't do that during sex, but I was joking, it was a dumb joke. Please, Zayn, will you please fuck me?"

"Oh" Zayn said, his voice coming out in a rough whisper. "Good. Yeah, yeah. Fuck."

His hand went back to work on Niall's jeans, pulling them down with one hand, before he leaned over to plant a soft kiss on Niall's lips.

Niall kissed him back and smiled, wriggling around a little until he lay comfortably on his back.

Zayn's lips found their way down his chest and stomach, making him giggle when he interrupted his little kisses to blow air into Niall's bellybutton.

When Zayn pushed Niall's trousers and pants down his legs and finally got a hand on his cock, the blonde nearly cried out in pleasure.

Zayn's tight fist around his almost painfully hard dick finally gave him the friction he needed, and he started thrusting in time with Zayn's strokes almost involuntarily.

"Slow down, cowboy" Zayn chuckled, letting go of him to stretch and retrieve what Niall assumed was lube and a condom from a drawer in his nightstand. "We're not quite there yet."

He settled between Niall's legs again, kissing the inside of his thighs once, twice, on each side.

Niall heard the characteristic pop of the lube being opened and then suddenly Zayn's breath very close to where he needed him most.

"Don't jump, this might be cold at first."

"I don't care" Niall groaned. "Just get to it already."

Zayn chuckled and spread Niall's legs further, pressing a kiss to Niall's butt until Niall felt the cool touch of a lubed up finger against his rim.

He hissed, more in pleasure than shock, and Zayn started circling his hole lightly, applying more and more pressure until one finger slipped in.

Encouraged by Niall's low moan, he kept going, pumping his finger in and out of Niall until the blonde started pleading for more.

Carefully, he added a second finger, scissoring them to prepare Niall. Soon, the younger man started whining again, pushing his hips down to meet Zayn's fingers, moaning loudly when one of them grazed his prostate.

"Please, Zayn" Niall moaned once more. "I'm ready."

Slowly, Zayn added a third finger, making Niall's back arch off the bed in pleasure.

"Stop, stop, stop" left Niall's mouth for the first time that evening as Zayn suddenly started kitten licking at the head of his cock, his traitorous hips snapping upwards and encouraging Zayn to start sucking more enthusiastically even though Niall knew he had no chance of lasting like this.

"'m gonna come if you continue this, but I want you to fuck me" he gasped out.

Zayn pulled off with a smirk. "Retaliation."

Niall whacked his shoulder playfully. "Asshole."

With another smirk, Zayn twisted his fingers in a way that had Niall cursing incoherently, his hips pushing down on Zayn's fingers again. "Yours though, quite literally."

Niall chuckled weakly. "Can you please just stop the teasing and fuck me already?"

"Says you" Zayn didn't seem able to keep himself from saying, but he was already scrambling for the lube and a condom.

Niall looked down to watch him and thought he could very well just come from watching Zayn touch himself, so he squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to hold out.

There was more rustling and he opened his eyes when Zayn grabbed his legs, hooking them over his shoulders.

“You alright?” he asked.

“Perfect” Niall breathed, rolling his hips slowly.

Zayn groaned and lined himself up against Niall’s hole, carefully pushing the head in.

“Go on” Niall grunted, holding on to Zayn’s upper arms.

Zayn leaned down to kiss him and pushed in all the way, both of them cursing loudly.

“Fuck” he groaned. “Fuck, Niall, feel so good.”

“Move” Niall ordered, rolling his hips more urgently.

Zayn complied, pulling out before thrusting in again.

They soon found a rhythm, skin slapping against skin as their thrusts sped up.

“’m not gonna last long” Niall panted, fingers slipping on the light sheen of sweat on Zayn’s tan skin.

“That’s your fault” Zayn gave back, sounding just as out of breath. “You were the one who started all the teasing.”

“We can do it your way next time” the blonde promised and Zayn leaned down to kiss his collarbone and then his lips.

“Okay” he said, reaching between them to get a hold of Niall’s leaking cock. “Next time.”

He started stroking in time with his thrusts, fingers pressing into the slit once again, and Niall clenched tightly around him.

“Zayn” he warned, unable to form a sentence around his moans.

The older man’s thrusts became more erratic, his hips stuttering as he kept pounding into Niall.

They came at the same time, Zayn loudly while Niall was quiet all of a sudden, mouth wide open and eyes clenched shut as his back arched off the back, white streaking his and Zayn’s chests.

Zayn collapsed on top of him, his softening cock slipping out of Niall, making him wince a little.

Lifting his hips slightly, Zayn allowed Niall to rearrange his legs, their limbs ending up entangled. Zayn kissed Niall’s chest softly, tugging him closer by the waist.

“’m sticky” Niall protested, trying to push him away a little, but Zayn only nuzzled his neck.

“Don’t care. We can take a shower later, but I don’t wanna move right now.”

“Okay” Niall mumbled, already half asleep, and buried his nose in Zayn’s hair.

-

When he woke up, Niall felt uncomfortably sticky and yet happier than he had in a long time. The room was dark now, but Zayn was still asleep half on top of him, his chest rising and falling in time with Niall's.

He smiled a little to himself, trying to understand what had happened over the past couple of hours. Not long ago he'd been sure he had no chance whatsoever with Zayn, and now they were lying on Zayn's bed, naked and sweaty limbs entangled.

Zayn made a small sound, like a snuffling, and Niall looked down, able to see his insanely long eyelashes flutter open.

"Oh" he said and moved his head to look up at Niall, his face softening. "Hey."

"Hey yourself" Niall smiled back, pressing a kiss to the tip of Zayn's nose. "Should've gone shower right away, as I said."

"I still don't care" Zayn grinned, pulling himself up so their faces were aligned and he was hovering over Niall again. "Sticky naps are something a relationship with me entails." He stopped, looking hesitant all of a sudden. "Unless...you're not the relationship type?"

Niall chuckled. "Definitely the relationship type. And if I get to call you my boyfriend in turn, I'll gladly endure as many sticky naps as you want."

With a grin that spread over his whole face, eyes crinkly and tongue pressed behind his teeth, Zayn said: "I'm very happy you think so. Boyfriend."

Niall laughed and pulled him in for a proper kiss.

"I feel like I'm a horny teenage boy again" Zayn panted when they broke apart for air, grinding down to make their already half hard cocks slide against each other.

Niall pushed back, leaving small marks all over Zayn's neck, chuckling breathlessly.

"We could take that shower now" he suggested. "And take our time, if you know what I mean."

"Did you just waggle your eyebrows?" Zayn laughed.

“I might have…did it do the trick?”

“You don’t need to waggle your eyebrows for me to have sex with you – in a shower or not. Feel free to keep doing it though, it’s cute.”

“Cute wasn’t really what I was aiming for” Niall pouted.

Zayn chuckled and leaned down to kiss the pout away. “I guess it was hot too. You’re hot, so everything you do is at least a bit hot too.”

"Close call, Malik" Niall teased, "but I'm gonna count it. Mainly because it might help the task of you getting me off in that shower right now."

Zayn laughed and ran his hands down Niall's body to squeeze his bum. "Oh, no need to worry about that. Come on, the shower is getting impatient."

"More like you are" Niall laughed and returned the favour.

Zayn let out a low hum, biting Niall's collarbone softly. "Same thing."

-

The next morning was oddly domestic already, they made breakfast together and made out against the kitchen counter while the water for doing the dishes turned cool, before they took another shower together.

They drove to Niall's flat around noon so he could put on a new set of clothes, and made lunch there.

Afterwards, Niall called Louis to ask about his meeting.

"Oh, it was fine, I'm gonna spare you the boring details" he said dismissively. "More importantly, how's Zayn? Harry's here to be filled in too."

Niall laughed. "How did you know?"

"That something happened last night? If you'd have gone home alone you'd have called me way earlier, probably last night already."

"No" Niall said, even though that bit was interesting too. "I meant how did you know Zayn didn't have a girlfriend? You were waiting all evening to get us to that point, right? I knew you were up to something."

"Well" Louis started. "I'd like to think that I still know the basics of how Zayn works. And the way he was looking at you all evening made it clear that he was annoyed with you, or hurt rather. I also knew from you that he'd been flirting with you, even though he apparently had a girlfriend. Which you didn't know first-hand, by the way. That combined with the fact that he didn't even mention a significant other all evening, even though I gave him plenty of opportunities, kinda gave it away for me. I really only had to connect the dots."

"You're too observant for your own good" Niall said, in awe.

"That's a matter of opinion. Anyway, back to the actual topic of interest. How's Zayn? Is he with you right now?"

"I am" Zayn said, coming up behind Niall and resting his chin on his shoulder. "Hey Lou."

"Zayners! Hi mate, it's good to hear your voice. Listen, I know we're friends too, but if you hurt Niall I'm gonna have to come cut your dick off with a blunt knife."

Zayn chuckled lightly. "I don't intend to give you any reason for that" he said, pressing a light kiss to Niall's cheek.

Niall smiled at him happily and turned around to tuck his face into Zayn's chest.

"Oi, is that Zayn?" Harry's voice suddenly came through the speakers of Niall's phone. "Does that mean they -?"

"Yes it does, Haz, don't ask for details though. I get the impression they're on the verge of snogging anyway."

"Shuddup Lou" Niall mumbled, muffled against Zayn's shirt.

"Heeeyyy Niall!" Harry shouted enthusiastically. "I'm really happy for you!"

"Thanks" Niall smiled. "I'm really happy too."

"Is Zayn still there?" Harry still sounded more like an excited kid than a grown man.

"Yes, hi Harry, it's good to, um...meet you" Zayn said. "Congrats on that contract, by the way."

"He remembers that?" Harry exclaimed. "Niall, you gotta keep him, I'm telling you, that boy's a keeper!"

"I know Harry, thanks" Niall laughed, while Zayn hid his chuckle in Niall's hair. "I'm gonna bring him round some time so you can meet him, alright? Or you could come visit."

"I'd like that a lot, still haven't seen your very own flat after all!"

"Introduce us to that Liam guy too" Louis chimed back in. "I wanna know who replaced me as Zayn's best friend."

“I’m sure Liam would like that too” Zayn said. “We really should all meet up.”

“Great, let us know when’s best for you. Right now, Harry and I can still make our schedules ourselves after all.”

“What Lou said” Harry called. “Rightio, we’re gonna leave you two lovebirds to it now, byeee!”

Niall and Zayn shook their heads at each other when the call ended before either of them could say anything.

“I have weird friends” Niall concluded.

“Maybe a little, but aren’t we all a bit weird?” Zayn mused and then grinned. “Anyway, speaking of Liam: he’s gonna be so embarrassed when he finds out he’s basically the reason for us taking so long to get our shit together.”

Niall chuckled. "Oh yes, he will. I'm torn between not wanting poor Liam to feel bad and making him feel as bad as possible."

Zayn laughed and kissed the tip of his nose. "As if you could make anyone feel bad, babe. You're far too nice for that."

"Oh, I can make them feel plenty bad" Niall protested. "Harry says I've got those killer puppy eyes -"

"Which Liam won't get to see over the phone" Zayn interrupted with a teasing smirk.

"We're calling him?"

"Right now" Zayn nodded, catching Niall's lips in a quick kiss as he pulled out his phone. "You ready? Just chime in whenever you feel like it."

He tapped Liam's name on his phone and wound his free arm around Niall, tugging him closer. Niall just wrapped his arms around Zayn's waist, tucking his head into his neck and listened to the dialling tone.

"Zayn?" Liam's voice said.

"Hey, Li" Zayn replied. "Look, I'm just calling because...do you remember me complaining about Niall not giving me clear signals? How I never knew if he liked me or not?"

Zayn completely ignored the way Niall lifted his head off his shoulder to look at his face. So that was what it had been like on his end. Niall was slightly relieved to see Zayn had had the same worries.

"Of course, you literally cried about that yesterday, Zayn." This time, Zayn looked at Niall a bit sheepishly. "Why? Oh god, did something happen? What did you do?"

"Calm down, there's nothing to worry about" Zayn laughed. "I just found out what the reason was."

"What? How? Zayn - wait. You don't sound upset at all. What's going on?! Zayn Malik, tell me everything right now!"

"Does he always sound like your mum?" Niall giggled.

"Is that Niall?" Liam exclaimed. "Niall why are you with Zayn, will you please just explain what the fuck is going on?!"

"Well technically it was mostly Louis, you know, Niall's friend who we met up with yesterday? He wants to meet you too, by the way. I'm sure you're gonna like him..." Zayn winked at Niall and he understood that he was doing this to get Liam as annoyed as possible. Snickering, he turned to hide his face in Zayn's shirt again.

"Zayn! Get to the fucking point! I know what you're doing, and it's not funny."

"Alright, alright" Zayn said. "It was because he thought I was still with Perrie. You told him about her the first day we met, before I told you we'd broken up."

“Did I?” Liam asked, sounding stricken. “Oh god, I did, I even remember…but wait. Don’t you dare blame me now! Zayn, this is completely your fault!”

Zayn shrugged a little, even though Liam couldn’t see him, jostling Niall’s head.

“I know, I should’ve told you right away” he said. “But we’ve talked about this already.”

"Yeah we have" Liam agreed. "And I'm not angry or anything, I'm just saying it's your own fault that things didn't work out with - wait. Niall." Liam paused. "Wait, Niall is with you! Zayn, are you fucking with me right now? Did you call to tell me you two got it on?"

"I guess you could say that" Niall laughed and Liam let out a frustrated groan.

"I hate both of you and I can't tell you how happy I am for you" Liam said and Niall could tell he was smiling.

"Thanks, Liam" Niall smiled back, and Zayn squeezed him a little tighter.

"As to your friend, I'd love to meet him."

"Great! He and my other best friend Harry want to come visit sometime soon, you could meet them then."

"Oh, sure. I'm very excited to meet these people you keep telling crazy stories about."

"I do talk about them a lot, don't I?" Niall laughed sheepishly.

"Of course you do, they're your best friends."

"Speaking of best friends" Zayn interrupted. "Aren't you forgetting something, Liam?"

"What?" Liam asked. "No? Nothing that I'm aware of."

"Niall's friends made sure I knew what would happen to me if I ever hurt him."

"You want me to-?" Liam laughed. "Sorry mate, there's no way in hell I could ever hurt Niall."

Niall laughed cheerily while Zayn pouted offended. "Jeez, thanks Li."

"Good thing I don't plan on hurting you" Niall smiled and Zayn pressed a lingering kiss to the corner of his mouth.

"That's a very good thing."

Liam groaned through the phone again. "I can feel you making gooey heart eyes at each other. How am I ever gonna hang out with you again?"

Zayn and Niall both laughed. "We're not that bad."

"Right" Liam said, unconvinced. "We'll see about that. Anyway, I suppose I won't get to see much of you this weekend, so I'll see you both on Monday?"

"Alright" Zayn gave back. "See you then!"

"Bye Liam!"

Zayn hung up and put his phone away before he wrapped his arms around Niall again, kissing him chastely.

"Well, that went quite well, didn't it?"

"Really good" Niall agreed, tightening his grip on the back of Zayn's shirt.

Lifting his head up, Zayn knew what he wanted and met the blonde halfway, their lips sliding against each other.

It wasn't long until Zayn had Niall crowded against the kitchen counter, one hand brazed against it and the other on the small of Niall's back.

Niall’s hand found its way into Zayn’s soft hair and he shifted his hips forward just a bit, but Zayn let out a surprised gasp into his mouth and Niall couldn’t help but smirk.

His lips wandered across Zayn’s cheek to his earlobe, tugging on it lightly.

“Any idea what we might do with the rest of the weekend?”

“Oh” Zayn said, gripping the back of his thighs and lifting him up onto the counter, stepping in between his legs. His hands ran up Niall’s legs from his knees up to his hips, coming to rest there and pulling their bodies flush against each other. “I’ve got a couple ideas.”

-

Arriving at school together on Monday wasn’t too different from how it usually was, since they always walked together from the carpark anyway. The main difference was that they now had to unclasp their entwined hands upon entering the school, since they’d decided to keep their relationship at least relatively private at school. There was a heightened interest in it already anyway.

“Come by during break, alright?” Niall asked Zayn quietly when they reached his classroom.

“Of course” Zayn smiled, their hands brushing lightly before Zayn moved towards his own class.

“Guess I was right then” a voice said from Niall’s right side and he turned to look at Lizzie, who looked smug as ever.

“About what?” he asked his student, even though he had a fairly good idea what she was talking about.

“You and Mr Malik” she said, rolling her eyes. “A blind man would’ve been able to recognise the looks you just gave each other.”

Niall chuckled and unlocked the door, shaking his head in disbelief. “You are incredible, you know that? You’re almost as observant as my friend Louis.”

“I bet he would see it too, then.” She was the first student inside of the classroom, and Niall made a quick decision.

Smiling at her, he put his bag down. “He already did, Lizzie, he already did.”

-

Four months later

"Thank you so much to everyone who made the effort to come tonight" Louis said into the microphone. "And thank you to everyone who's decided to stay for a little longer. I promise you it'll be worth it. Harry over there, who most of you probably know more intimately than you want to" a big part of the audience laughed uproariously while Harry ruffled his own hair in his signature move, "is going to give us a taste of what his album is gonna sound like, we're going to devour most of the chocolate I got given today and we're gonna get drunk as fuck!"

Niall, who had been waiting for something less formal and more Louis, clapped and wooped loudly, as did the four tall lads standing on his right. Louis grinned and waved at them.

"Alright, you've had to endure me on stage enough for today, enjoy the party!"

The crowd applauded enthusiastically. Most of the attendees were Louis' friends and hadn't really expected anything but a big booze-up, so to say.

"Guess I'm still pretty hyped up from the adrenaline" Louis announced, bounding over to the group of seven when Harry started setting up his things on stage. "Dance with me, Nialler! Is it okay if I steal your man?"

The question was directed to Zayn, who stood on Niall's left, one arm slung around his shoulder.

"You're the man of the night, Lou" Zayn chuckled, letting go of his boyfriend already. "As long as I get him back."

"I wouldn't be able to keep him away if I tried" Louis laughed and Liam on Zayn's left joined in.

"Right? They've practically been attached at the hip over these past few months."

Louis clapped his shoulder. "You secretly love it, Payno."

"We all do, Tommo" Liam replied, looking over at the rest of the group for support.

Ashton, Calum, Michael and Luke all nodded.

"I tried my best to find them annoying" Michael said. "But they're really cute?"

Zayn laughed and dropped a kiss to the top of Niall's head. "We really have the best friends in the world."

Niall snorted. "Now who called me a sap when I said this earlier?"

"We're both saps."

Niall stretched to kiss him, until Louis started tugging on his arm.

"This is all lovely and nice, but I think I've best promised a dance!"

Niall sighed and broke away from Zayn. "Only because it's your opening night party, Lou."

Niall and Louis had quite the experience of dancing with each other, thanks to attending countless parties together throughout uni. If one of them made a certain move, the other knew how to jump in right away.

"I'm really proud of you, Tommo" Niall said after a while. "You were amazing tonight, and I'm not just saying that as your friend. The critics are gonna love you, I'm telling you."

Louis smiled gently. "I don't think I've ever been this happy. The musical I'm starring in-"

"In the leading role" Niall added and Louis' face lit up even more.

"-just premiered successfully, and all of my friends came here to support me. This is literally all I've ever dreamed of."

Niall pulled him in for a hug, swaying them gently to the music.

"I'm risking dropping into complete cheesiness here, but you deserve to be happy. You deserve all of this."

"You know you do too, right Nialler? I can see how happy Zayn makes you, and I couldn't be happier about that. I'm so very happy that Zayn fit into our group so easily, and Liam too."

"Are you crying in the middle of the dance floor?" Harry asked, suddenly appearing next to them. "This is a night to celebrate! Come on lads, this is our song!"

Niall shook himself from the sentimental mood they'd somehow gotten stuck in and realised that the song playing was indeed one the three of them had danced to often enough to have developed a sort of choreography for it.

He laughed loudly and caught Zayn's fond glance from across the room, before launching into the dance.

-

Much later, when the night was slowly turning into morning and almost all of the guests had left, Liam, Louis, Harry, Zayn and Niall sat together in a cosy booth of the pub that had been rented for the party.

Disapprovingly, Louis shook his head at the four boys huddled together on the floor close by, fast asleep. "Still at uni and they can't even pull an all-nighter" he sighed. "Kids these days."

Harry chuckled and patted his head.

"Kinda wish I was there with them, to be honest with you" Liam mumbled, his head dropping onto Louis' shoulder heavily.

"You're all weak!" Louis exclaimed. "And Zayn is the weakest."

Niall laughed and looked down to where Zayn seemed dead to the world on his shoulder.

He was sitting on his boyfriend's lap, arms securely wrapped around his waist, but Zayn’s chin was resting on Niall's shoulder from behind, eyes closed, and he could feel the slow rising of his chest in his back.

"Maybe we just gotta accept we're getting old" Harry grinned.

“Not too old to do it all again for your album release party” Liam promised.

“We’re gonna drag our tired, old bodies to London for you too, Hazza” Niall joked.

“It’s not gonna take that long to finish” Harry laughed, patting Niall’s leg reassuringly in a teasing way. “Although…is that a grey hair I spot on Zayn’s head there?”

Zayn’s eyes snapped open and he looked at Harry, horrified. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

Everyone laughed and Niall entwined his fingers with Zayn’s that were resting on his stomach. “Of course he is, babe.”

“Of course he wakes up for that” Louis grumbled. “You always were bloody vain.”

“Zayn swears he’s not vain, he just likes to take care of his body” Liam explained, and they both snorted.

“Yeah, yeah” Zayn mumbled, his chin dropping to Niall’s shoulder again. “You two keep making fun of me.”

“You alright there?” Niall asked quietly, watching as Zayn’s eyelids started drooping.

“Yeah…’m just tired” Zayn answered tiredly, pressing a kiss to Niall’s neck just above the collar of his shirt.

“Wanna go back to the hotel soon?” Niall suggested. “Since we already booked a room, we might just as well put the bed to good use.”

“Oh?” Zayn’s eyes opened again and he raised one of his eyebrows, smirking at Niall.

The blonde giggled and turned sideways on Zayn’s lap, away from the rest of their friends.

“I meant sleeping, but that’s an idea too.”

Zayn brought one of his hands up to the back of Niall’s neck, playing with the short hair there and tilted his head up to kiss him. Niall let go of his hand, moving to cradle Zayn’s face instead, while Zayn’s right hand rubbed up and down Niall’s thigh slowly.

“Ew, if you’re just gonna snog in front of us you can really just leave” Louis complained.

Niall chuckled and broke away from Zayn with one last peck.

“Love you” he whispered.

“I love you too.”