( part one, part two, part three )
Niall/Zayn, secondary Harry/Louis
chapter four, 3,171 (total 10,441) | boxing AU
My longest chapter yet! I'm thinking there'll only be two more chapters, the way it's looking! Thanks for reading, I appreciate it so much xo
"Cut the shit, Niall."
The incessant beeping, usually faint, sounded blaring in the deafening silence of the room. Niall plucked his cell phone from its warm spot on his stomach, where it had been glowing all night. He couldn’t have slept last night for the life of him; he was far too wound up to even think about his potential hangover status when he woke up. So he just… didn’t go to sleep. Preventative measure, he reasoned with himself. Like he had something to prove.
Closing the pop-up alarm window, the screen seemed brighter, almost glaringly so. The familiar letters at the top of the message inbox were tattooed onto Niall’s eyelids, so when he blinked hard, he could still see “Zayn Malik” and the short text he had sent while they were drinking together like he had never closed his eyes.
Zayn Malik: (03:41) a hickey frm kenickies like a hallmark card… ill ask lou n get back to you on what 1 frm harry’s like :) aha
He wondered if sending him a message this early after hanging out with him at the bar would be too soon. Niall was briefly reminded of the feelings he felt after chatting up a girl: should I call her now, will a text do, should I wait for her to contact me first? Chewing on the inside of his cheek, Niall sat up, stretching his spine upward before hunching over his phone again.
(07:08) hey man great talkin t you last night - let me know if your going out again this week n mayb well see each other? cheers!
That would have to do. He didn’t want to fuss over semantics any longer than necessary.
Part of Niall hoped that Zayn wasn’t awake, but he knew that he was. But he probably wouldn’t check his cell for messages this early anyway; at least, that’s what Liam Payne had reassured him last night.
Liam Payne! He could hardly think of last night without beaming. “Hey, Niall Horan, yeah? Good go tonight; I train Zayn and you really gave him a go of it, ‘til the end there, anyway,” Liam had said, taking Niall’s hand and shaking it without even a thought.
Fanboying was in his nature, and Niall had prayed to God that his sheer delight and glee over being approached in a bar by celebrity boxer Liam Payne hadn’t overtaken his voice as he tried to stutter out words in response to Liam’s gentle firmness. “Oh, m’God, wow, er, I mean, I didn’t do that great, but that really means a lot! I look up t’ you so much, man. Wow.”
Niall cringed internally. He could practically see the exclamation points. And what fell out of his mouth was honest, and just so happened to be truthful. Yeah, he threw the match on purpose. But Liam didn’t know that – or did he? Fuck! What would happen if his boxing idol found out that he lost on purpose for no reason whatsoever? He would look weak and flaky and irresolute and all sorts of pathetic. Niall crossed his fingers mentally (he seemed to be praying and wishing a lot lately; probably all the services he went to as a kid manifesting now) and smiled openly at Liam, glancing in the general direction Louis dragged Zayn not two minutes earlier.
“Oh! This is my best mate Harry; he’s a boxer, too,” Niall offered, remembering Harry was milling about too.
“Thanks, Niall. I’m sure he would’ve noticed me eventually.” Harry grinned lazily at Liam, shaking his hand as well. “How’re you doing?”
Liam was still smiling but his eyes, too, were somewhere else. “Good, man, good. Thanks so much for the support.” He paused, then looked into Niall’s eyes curiously. Niall froze, but slowly relaxed as Liam continued, “Hey, sorry to have to do this, but Zayn’s got some quite early training tomorrow morning and he had to rush. I have to go; was great meeting you. See ya ‘round, sometime, yeah?”
He patted Niall and Harry on the shoulder before trotting off. Niall expected him to follow Zayn and Louis through the back, but he went out through the front, dropping a kiss onto the forehead of a beautiful girl – undoubtedly his wife, Danielle – as he left.
Niall turned back to his pint, swallowing a few gulps in celebration of what he considered a successful conversation with one of his idols, and glanced over at Harry, whose phone was buzzing nonstop in his hand but whose eyes were fixed on Niall.
Raising an eyebrow, Harry said shortly, “Were you always planning on throwing the match or was it a spur-of-the-moment thing?”
Niall nearly choked on his drink. “E-excuse me?”
“Cut the shit, Niall. We’ve known each other for ages and now is not the time to start the lying game. Why did you do it? Because that was not a fair fight, mate. I could tell the second you stood up the second round of over.”
Niall hadn’t known what to say. So he stuttered through an assessment of Zayn and the fight as best he could and left Harry to accept it for what it was and roll his eyes, like he already knew all the answers and just wanted to watch Niall trip up. And so Harry did, chewing on a piece of gum and looking at Niall expectantly. Neither of them said anything, so Harry slid into the seat previously occupied by Zayn and tapped out text messages, a pinkness to his ears that he tried to cover nonchalantly with his hair.
Niall decided not to say anything that time, and so they sat in silence for the better part of an hour, whereupon Niall paid for the drinks and Harry drove them home in their rental car.
Swinging his legs over the side of his bed, Niall peered at the curly hair sticking out of the mass of bedcovers in the bed next to him. Harry was wrapped tightly around an unfamiliar purple hoodie, long limbs sprawled across the mattress. Smiling at the sight, Niall slipped his cell phone into the pocket of his sweatpants, pulled on a tank top and decided that this morning would be absolutely lovely for a run.
He promised himself that if he made it his best time yet, only then he would let himself check his phone.
Zayn ignored Niall’s first text. And his second and third. And his five calls, and his two voicemails. He felt like a huge douchebag at first, but then he remembered that Niall was a manipulative guy who did strange things for unknown reasons and he felt marginally less bad about it.
To be honest, the dangerous tightness Zayn felt in his stomach every time he felt his phone buzz or his ringtone go off was less due to his offense at Niall’s purposeful loss than it was the honest laughter and terrible, recycled jokes he’d made at the bar after the fight. Zayn had pegged him as an earnest, hardworking guy, like himself. Not someone whose mind was a bag of cats who did stupid things like lose on purpose and then pretend to befriend their victor.
He was just glad that Louis had sent Liam to chew Niall out, because, for all his talk that night, Zayn wouldn’t have been able to do it, because he kept thinking about Niall's wide, honest blue eyes and how simply he interacted with Zayn after the fight. And, anyway, Zayn wasn’t really one for confrontation, except in the ring. But therein lay the rub: Zayn refused to schedule any more matches.
Not that he wasn’t still training; he had to do something to release his frustration, and luckily for him, Liam had the keys to the gym, so Zayn pretty much had 24/7 access. But despite his massive, exponential improvement in the practise ring, he absolutely would not fight this guy or that guy from God knew where. And S.C. wasn’t having it.
“What are you playing at, Malik?” he shouted, waving his arms like one of those inflatable wiggling men used to sell cars and spray tans. He was trailed by a slightly worried-looking Louis. “Twenty people have called my offices in the last week asking to schedule a match with you, and I trust Tomlinson here to deal with that, so it’s not a problem, usually. But this morning, what the hell do I find? This morning, I’m eating my bowl of Weetabix, just casually doing what I do, and I look into my email and they are all marked ‘urgent’ and they are all asking if I know when you’re going to be fighting again!”
Louis interrupted, “Well, you see, Zayn and Liam and I felt that he should try to work on his game and ride this high as long as possible, you know? Do loads of press and build up to the next fight so he’ll have a lot to go off and-”
“That is not your decision to make, Tomlinson!” S.C. roared, his voice bouncing off the cement walls and reverberating across the huge gym.
Zayn stopped pommelling the stationary bag and exhaled loudly. “I want a rematch against Niall Horan.”
S.C. took pause at this. “What?” he asked, his face screwing up into something like confusion. “But you won. You have nothing to prove now. Move on, take on your next opponen-”
“No?” S.C. crossed his arms and peered at Zayn incredulously. “No?”
“No,” Zayn affirmed, grinding his teeth. “No more matches unless I get another go at Horan first. Then you can schedule fifty fights, I don’t care, a hundred, a thousand. But I need to do this. Or I quit.”
Taken aback, S.C. considered this. “You’re a weird one, Malik. You really are. But I suspect you won’t tell me anything if I ask you why, so I won’t. I’ll contact Paul Higgins and see what I can do. After this, though, Zayn, you’re mine again.”
Zayn nodded. He needed to give this an honest go, over the same amount of money, with the same odds. A fair fight, no matter the monetary outcome. He could do anything to send his sisters to school, anything else, box and work at a shop or in an office, whatever. But his pride would not let him accept this win, the same way as he couldn’t leave the market if they’d given him too much change.
He still didn’t want to look at Niall’s messages, but he tapped out one of his own.
(21:52) were fighting again. b ready.
Harry was bouncing a little in the driver’s seat, making their loaned car swerve slightly to the left and right every now and then. Luckily they hadn’t yet scheduled their return flight back home from London when Niall nearly flung himself off the balcony of their rental flat as he got a text from Zayn.
Pulling him backwards into the safety of their living room, Harry was sent into a fit of giggles. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were a lovesick little primary school girl impatiently waiting for a text from her thirteen-year-old crush, Nialler.”
Niall scoffed, indignant but red in the face (and neck and chest), reading the text aloud. “We’re fighting again, be ready.”
Raising an eyebrow and gently tugging the cell phone out of Niall’s hand, Harry said, “No, that can’t be it. Is that really it?” He chewed on his bottom lip thoughtfully. “Call Paul.”
And call Paul they did. After the fight was confirmed, Harry wouldn’t leave Niall’s side, except to shower and probably phone Louis. Niall felt that it bordered on clingy, but didn’t really mind too much. He was just glad that he was getting to see Zayn again. And he wasn’t the best texter, so what? He was probably swamped with press and with fight requests and whatever. Niall thought it was important to stay optimistic about this sort of thing. And he didn’t think too much of boxing against Zayn again, just that he would give it his all this time, because lying made him feel guilty as fuck and this fight was apparently closed to the public, so it didn’t really matter, anyway, did it? Harry hadn’t pressed about the details last time, and Niall was glad for it, because it made him far less nervous about this match.
Presently, Niall was stretched out in the back, making sure he was still limber and loose from the morning’s fight-day routine. “I’m gonna be honest with ya, Haz, you’re not really makin’ me feel too safe back here,” Niall wavered from the back seat.
“Well, put on your safety belt then, idiot. You’re not going to tighten up in the next three minutes. Just keep your joggers on, you’ll be fine.”
Niall sat up, buckling his seatbelt and bouncing his own knees a little. He didn’t think he was worried too much about the fight, but instead about Zayn. Stop thinking, Nialler, he insisted to himself.
He tried to close his eyes and think about nothing. That usually worked. Niall would just make his mind go black and get into the boxing zone, where nothing existed but movement and swiftness and hit or be hit, fuck or be fucked. He would just take deep breaths in and out, inhaling and exhaling over and over, and all of a sudden he found himself in the ring, his favourite brand of red mouthguard firmly in place and the referee unnecessarily but routinely explaining the rules, and nobody was watching but Paul and Zayn’s coach or gym manager or whoever, and he and Zayn were boxing again.
Niall started the same way he always did, assessing the opponent in front of him. Zayn looked stronger, less skinny and more lean, and his feet were moving faster than they did two weeks before. Niall leaned a little on his left leg to begin with, which was something he needed to get away from, but he knew he was very physically strong for a bantamweight of his age. He used his typical right jab to freeze Zayn up, forcing him to come forward. This was a contrast to what Zayn preferred in the previous bout. Niall fought off his back foot, throwing a quick three-jab combination and sending Zayn into the rope. He eased up, moving his body backward but still centered, not too close to either corner on his original side of the ring. Trying not to look into his face too hard, Niall anticipated a swing from the left, and swiftly took Zayn out of that plan of attack, which seemed to work extremely well.
Niall won the opening round, 6-3, but Zayn did squeak by in the second, nicking it with a score of 4-2. It was 8-7 into the final round and Zayn was sweating, both literally and figuratively. Before the bell went, Zayn hissed lowly, “Give me everything you’ve got.” Niall nodded curtly in understanding, and the referee stepped out.
He kept his composure despite the hard-winged buzzing in his stomach and somehow he took the round, and thus the fight. Niall finished the round with a score of 6-3 again. But there was no crowd this time, no Irish flags flapping along with crashing waves of cheers and whoops and hollers. Niall won easily in virtual silence, and he found it eerie.
Holding his hand out in sweaty, breathless acknowledgement that it was a fair fight, Niall frowned when Zayn touched it with his own, lightly and too, too briefly. He shrugged but shot Zayn a half-smile. Not one to break tradition, he opened his mouth, asking gently, “Wouldja want to go get drinks again? ...My shout?”
Zayn’s eyes met his, and Niall felt seen through as the darker ones’ piercing gaze lasered into his own. “I- I don’t think so,” he replied, his voice just as soft.
Niall frowned again, this time deeper; it felt more permanent. “I- er, that’s all right. Maybe another time, then.”
“I don’t think so,” Zayn repeated, tugging his gloves off distractedly and slipping through the ropes and into his changing room without another word, his gym manager (S.C., Niall remembered now) following close behind.
Paul gestured for Niall to approach. He did. “Good going, Niall! That’ll be morale-boosting for you, I’m sure; I’ll be getting you some more matches for right away! That looked almost easy for you. Go change, I’ll call you soon,” Paul congratulated.
“Thanks. Ah, but- could we maybe wait a little bit bef're the next match? Haven't been home in a while; I need t' sort some stuff out, too?" Niall pulled off his gloves and picked at the skin around his thumbnails as Paul nodded, confused but understanding
Niall walked briskly to the multipurpose training room, his makeshift change room-locker room, slowing as he heard miscellaneous sentient noises emanating from the room. He peered through the door, wondering who or what was occupying the space.
His eyes widened to an almost inhuman size and he swallowed deeply, as he saw two figures on the practise-level pommel horse, one practically laying on top of the other. One, he could make out, was Harry, his telltale curly locks tossing back and forth as he moaned and ground his hips down into (who Niall assumed was, from the look of his coloured jeans) Louis’ groin. Louis’ shirt was off and his hair disheveled as he pulled his head back to allow Harry to kiss along his neck. The two rutted against each other breathlessly, nipping kisses into collarbones and licking soothing stripes across freshly blossoming bruises. Niall could tell there were tongues in mouths and hands groping arses and he backed up quickly and unsteadily, his heart pounding faster than he knew it even could.
Despite that, his heart nearly stopped beating as he quickly pieced together what was going on. Harry had known immediately that Niall had faked his loss. Harry and Louis were dating, or fucking, or something, and they were together at the first match against Zayn, and Harry and Louis were about to fuck in the training room of a gym that Niall and Zayn just fought in, the training room that Zayn probably used fairly often, and Niall had seen Louis pull Zayn aside at the bar and he must have told Zayn what happened because Harry must have told Louis he was losing on purpose during the first match and now Zayn hated him because he had lied and–
“Shit!” Niall growled loudly, slamming his gloves onto the cement floor with a sound thwack. He could hear the scrambling of the boys inside the room, the thud of a butt hitting the floor and the whined “Ow!” that followed, but he wasn’t concerned in the slightest with their present state of undress. He just knew he needed to fix things with Zayn immediately, because he didn’t know how much more of this he could take.
( part five )