Title: The Quiet Things
Rating: G? PG?
Warning: RPF, uhh light angst, maybe?? Sorta?
Summary: Liam thinks he might understand why Zayn started smoking, but he can't for the life of him understand why he won't quit. In which Liam tries to figure out what makes Zayn smoke, and maybe falls a little in love in the process.
Disclaimer: Not real, not making any profit, etc etc.
A/N: Muchas gracias, or rather a huge, giant fuck you to Tumblr for ruining my life with these boys, and an actual serious thanks to mockturtletale for the beta job and for encouraging me to write again. ♥ always, dear.
The first thing Liam really notices about Zayn is that he smells like cigarettes. He's not sure why, if it's because someone in Zayn's family smokes or because he does, but he thinks it's disgusting, and while he isn't inclined to dislike anybody without really interacting with them first, he can't say Zayn's at the top of his list of people to get to know.
That changes, of course. A lot of things change in the next few weeks. Liam doesn't know when exactly, or how, but suddenly everything in his life is turned upside down and he's forced together with these four other guys that he knows nearly nothing about. He expects to be disappointed when it begins, feels like he wants this more than the rest of them, but it doesn't take long to realize that being put in a band with Niall, Harry, Louis and even Zayn is the best thing that could have ever happened to him.
They all get on Zayn’s case about smoking, but he refuses to quit. Liam thinks it's a little strange, maybe, because all-around it seems so outside of his personality to smoke and keep smoking. He thinks he might understand why Zayn started, but he can’t for the life of him understand why he won't quit.
"I just don't get it," he says one day, just him and Zayn in Zayn's flat, which reeks of smoke. Liam wishes he could still say he hates it.
"Hmm?" Zayn mumbles, blinking away from the television to glance up at Liam.
"Smoking isn't cool, it's bad for you, it wrecks your voice. I just don't get it."
Zayn closes his eyes and frowns lightly, like he's tired of these conversations.
"I don't do it because I think it's 'cool'," he says a little tersely.
"I've got an addictive personality," Zayn says, looking back at the telly. "S'all there is to it."
Liam doesn't buy into the validity of that and says as much. "Then be addicted to something else. Lotsa people kick smoking habits in lieu of an addiction to like, chewing gum, or whatever."
At that, Zayn smirks -- or something close to it, as far as Liam can see from his profile, but he doesn't look amused. "I don't think think that'd work."
"Liam, mate, give it a rest. Don't worry about it so much, 'm fine."
Liam does worry about it, though, in the coming weeks. He doesn't believe that it reasons down to an addictive personality, and while he'd thought he understood why Zayn had started (at first because it was the socially acceptable thing to do at the time, and then because a habit's a habit and Zayn doesn't like to do things half-way), he's starting to think that maybe he doesn't get it at all.
Zayn doesn't smoke constantly. He doesn't buy a new pack every day and smoke them all in hour-long intervals; he doesn't light one after another in a constant succession of nicotine and ash. He doesn't do it every day, doesn't do it consistently at all. But sometimes he'll smoke half a pack in a single night, out in the alley of a club or on the back porch of his flat, rain or shine or snow or anything, and not pick up another for a month, and sometimes he'll smoke one cigarette every day for two weeks straight. Liam can't seem to figure out what makes it happen, can't really distinguish any common factors between the occasions, but not for lack of trying.
It's almost creepy how much attention he pays to Zayn these days, obsessing over every move to try and figure it out. And he doesn't understand why he's doing it, either, or is at least ignoring whatever reasoning his head's coming up with. He's being ridiculous, and he knows it, because it's Zayn's body and his life and his decision, and he's not really putting the band in jeopardy, so what's the big deal? Liam is almost ready to give up on trying to learn what makes Zayn tick when he thinks maybe he’s found a clue.
One night after a really great, high-energy show, Zayn pulls Liam backstage and into a hug so tight that Liam can feel the faintest of tremors rippling over Zayn's body. He pulls back and tilts his head in question, but Zayn just smiles so brightly at him that he's knocked off kilter for a second, and then the rest of the boys come tumbling in, all smiles and excitement, and Liam can't help but succumb to the infectious joy until he notices Zayn sneak off backstage, pulling the pack of cigarettes out of his bag on the way.
Liam doesn’t follow him, even though he wants to. Instead, he files away this tidbit of information and thinks about paying more attention next time.
Next time is a while later, after the tour is over. They’ve been home for a week, relaxing for the first time in what seems like forever, but already they’re all a little anxious, ready to get out and do something, no longer content to sit restlessly at home without much purpose.
It’s taking its toll on everybody differently. Liam’s picked up four or five different instruments and attempted to master them, only to put each one down after about a day. He’s itching to sing, to record, to perform -- anything, really, would be better than sitting around like this. So he calls the boys to his flat, orders some take-out, and sets up for a long movie marathon. They still get restless when they’re all together, but it’s better than it is apart, like all things are.
Halfway through the second movie, Zayn is pressed up close against Liam, all five of them smushed onto a three-person sofa. Liam feels more at ease than he has all week, this close to his best friends, but next to him Zayn is radiating pent-up energy like he’s never been outside in his life. It’s a few minutes later that Liam notices the faint trembling again, starting in Zayn’s chest and moving outward from there. Louis, on Zayn’s other side, doesn’t seem to notice, and for a while Liam thinks maybe he’s making it up. But near the end of the movie it gets worse, Liam can feel it shaking him, and even Louis is side-eying Zayn like he’s worried.
When the credits start to roll, Liam looks over at Zayn, who seems to have stopped trembling quite so much, but whose leg is now bouncing up and down against Liam’s own so quickly he almost doesn’t realize it.
“Zayn, you good, mate?” he asks quietly, some mix of not wanting the others to worry and not wanting them to know what he’s been trying to hard to figure out.
Zayn looks at him a little oddly before standing up. “‘M fine,” he mumbles, and then more loudly: “I’m gonna step outside for a minute, start the next movie without me.”
Liam almost thinks about following him, cornering him outside and making him explain himself, but it seems like too much and not enough. Zayn’s starting to worry him, but the thing is -- he doesn’t seem any different than he always has. He’s not acting differently, he’s had no change in demeanor, he’s not more or less excited about anything, not sleeping differently, it’s just that now Liam has this piece of information that he didn’t have before, and somehow that changes everything.
Zayn doesn’t come back until the end of the third movie.
Over the next few weeks, Liam sees Zayn smoking, but not very much. He doesn’t have the chance to get too close, to test his theory further, but something in his gut tells him that he’s really onto something here. He isn’t sure what this is though, because sure, now he knows that Zayn’s got this shaking thing going on, and whenever he starts shaking he goes to smoke, but there’s gotta be something beneath that, beyond it. Liam wants to know what makes Zayn so shaky, but he doesn’t know how to ask.
They’re at a club one night, drunk and having fun, when Zayn sneaks up behind Liam and starts dancing with him, grinning against the back of his neck. They’ve been like this, recently, in a way that’s been slowly building so quietly behind the scenes that Liam’s almost missed it, focused instead on figuring out what other things mean. But he pushes back into it tonight, reaching behind him to pull Zayn’s hands into his own and settle them on his hips. They dance like that for a while, Zayn’s head hooked over Liam’s shoulder, smiling at and into each other.
The song changes to something slow, and the alcohol really starts to hit Liam, things blurring at the edges (and lines blurring out almost entirely). He suddenly feels Zayn’s lips pressed up against his neck, his breath hot and damp, and he pushes his back up against Zayn’s torso, closer than he thinks they’ve ever been before. And Zayn’s mouth is moving up, behind Liam’s ear, and his fingers are holding on tightly to Liam’s, pressing sharp into his hips. Zayn flicks his tongue out and Liam shivers all over, a light gasp slipping out of his throat and into the air in front of him, nearly lost. There are people pressed against him from all directions on the crowded dance floor, but he isn’t aware of anyone but Zayn, of anything but the press of his body behind him, the exact spot behind his ear where Zayn’s tongue just was, where he wants it again.
Liam turns his head toward Zayn, tilts his head up to press a kiss to his forehead. But just as Zayn is lifting his own head up, some rational faculty deep inside of Liam kicks vaguely into gear and he realizes, suddenly, that they’re both incredibly drunk. And he wants this, he does, he’s not so far gone that he can’t recognize that he’d want this just as much sober as he does in this moment, but he doesn’t want it like this, something that would only be a half-memory in the morning, something that maybe Zayn wouldn’t want sober. He wants it more than he’d expected, he realizes in the instant that he pulls himself away from Zayn, too much to give it the possibility of being a one-time thing.
Liam spins around to find Zayn a step farther away than he’d been an instant ago, his face closed off and the smile that Liam had felt burned against his neck gone. Before Zayn has a chance to bolt, Liam reaches for him, hands around his waist to pull him closer.
“Zayn,” he says, a little too loudly, a little desperate. He doesn’t like the closed-off look on Zayn’s face but his head is too fuzzy to figure out how to fix it, so he just hugs Zayn close.
“Tomorrow,” he whispers, “we can talk about this tomorrow, I promise.” That seems to relax Zayn a little bit, if his body going pliant in Liam’s arms is any indication, and Liam sighs and takes a step back.
“I’m getting a drink,” Zayn shouts over the sound of the club, and Liam nods in acknowledgement. He reaches out to squeeze Zayn’s wrist as he leaves, and though he notices the faint tremor he doesn’t remember why it’s important.
Zayn walks away in entirely too straight a line for him to be as drunk as Liam thought he was.
They all go home much later, stopping for chinese food on the way, and by the time everyone heads off to bed, they’re all pretty sober and the sun is just about to rise. They all leave Niall’s flat to go back to their own, but when Liam gets into his, he notices Zayn sitting out in the back courtyard, cigarette in hand.
He almost thinks nothing of it, peeling off his tshirt and heading for the bathroom, but then he thinks about earlier that night, Zayn’s body pressed close to his, and suddenly he’s just tired. He’s tired of not understanding what’s going on with his best friend, of not knowing how he feels, he’s tired of the dance they’ve been doing.
So he pads outside, the night-cool air of a too-early summer morning a blessing against the heat of his skin. He sits down next to Zayn and they’re silent for a while, only the sound of their breathing between them while Zayn takes drags of the cigarette until he flicks it to the ground and puts it out with his flip flop.
“I still don’t get it, Malik,” Liam sighs, resting his head on Zayn’s shoulder. They’re both quiet for a long time after that, and Liam thinks for moment that maybe they’ll fall asleep this way, sitting up against each other on the back porch of an apartment complex just before 6am in the middle of July.
But then Zayn speaks. “Sometimes,” he says, and it’s so soft that Liam almost doesn’t catch it. He pauses for a long time again. “Sometimes I get this feeling, Li, like I’m too big for my skin. Like all my insides are gonna burst. It feels like... Like every time I breathe in, I’m expanding inside, but my skin won’t stretch enough around it.”
Liam reaches an arm out to grab a hold of Zayn’s hand, laces their fingers together between them.
“It used t’be that I could just go outside and it’d all seep out of me and into the universe or something, but eventually that stopped working. And I couldn’t... It’s such a terrible feeling, I just feel trapped.”
Liam’s thumb runs up and down Zayn’s hand.
“I tried lots of different things, and believe it or not, smoking’s the healthiest.”
Something about that makes Liam’s throat clench, and he scoots closer until their thighs are pressed together.
“But you don’t only smoke when you’re upset,” Liam says softly, thinking about times after shows, giant grins lighting up Zayn’s face before he walks out to the alley outside.
“No. It’s anything. Usually they’re big things, like being really happy or really sad or something, but sometimes it’s just being restless or confused or excited or amused. Sometimes it isn’t anything at all, except a thrum starting just below my ribs and spreading outwards.”
They’re quiet again, then, pressed close together, the sun almost entirely over the horizon now.
“Then what was it in the club, earlier?” Liam’s almost afraid to ask, mumbling it against Zayn’s shoulder, heart thumping a little in his chest. Now that he’s got one mystery solved, all of his attention has focused on the other, and he’s remembering hugs and smiles shared especially with each other, watching movies almost in each other’s laps, dancing so close in clubs. He’s been ignoring it, but he wants it, and he’s not at all as surprised as he thinks he should be to discover that this fascination with Zayn’s smoking habits has been nothing more than a disguise to cover up his real interest in Zayn.
“Thought you didn’t wanna talk about it ‘til tomorrow,” Zayn says, but Liam thinks he’s smiling.
“I’d say it’s probably tomorrow by now.”
Zayn is smiling, Liam looks up to see, but he doesn’t say anything else. And maybe it isn’t Zayn’s turn to talk, anyway, maybe Liam has some explaining to do.
So he says, “I didn’t mean to imply ‘no’,” and Zayn stays quiet.
“I didn’t wanna be drunk. I wanted to remember our--” he cuts himself off, blushing. After a moment: “If we were gonna have a first kiss, I wanted to remember it exactly. I wouldn’t want it to be a one-time thing.”
Liam’s looking out at the sky, but Zayn bumps their shoulders together until Liam turns to look at him. Zayn’s smiling a little, not beaming, but it almost feels more genuine this way, soft around the edges. Liam can’t help but smile back.
“I don’t think I could only kiss you once if I tried, Li,” Zayn says, leaning his forehead up against Liam’s.
Liam is still blushing horribly, but his smile’s growing wider by the second, even as he feels exhaustion crashing over him like a wave. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” And then they’re kissing, and Liam isn’t sure if he pressed forward first or if Zayn did, but he is sure that it doesn’t matter.
Zayn pulls back to yawn, and Liam can’t help but huff out a laugh.
“We should go to bed,” he says against Zayn’s lips.
“Probably. You’re too sensible, Payne,” but he’s smiling back against Liam, and Liam thinks about all the days they have in the future for this, for them.
He stands up slowly, stretching his arms out above his head before reaching them down to help Zayn up. They hold hands back into the apartment complex, and when they let go to head back to their own places, Liam realizes that Zayn isn’t trembling, at least not now.
- the quiet things