( part one, part two, part three, part four )
Niall/Zayn, secondary Harry/Louis
chapter five, 2,511 (total 12,952) | boxing AU
Second to last chapter. I'm attached to this story! But it is coming to its inevitable close... xo
"Your turn now."
The only thing that soothed Zayn after an argument was a smoke. And that bout felt pretty damn close to an argument to him. But it wasn’t one of those shouting matches of which he was so often on the losing end (somehow, he attracted infinite amounts of crazy, possessive, shrill harpies with lungs like iron and voices like banshees), it was one of those quieter, passive-aggressive fits he would get in when he was younger and nobody paid him any attention.
He lit up one cigarette after another, trying to cloud his mind, but he only ended up clouding his lungs, what with the gently wafting summer breeze pushing the smoke everywhere, and all. It wasn’t a full carton to begin with, but Zayn was surprised when he reached in and there were only a few smokes left in the cardboard. Frowning at the cinnamon-paper butt cemetery he left behind him, Zayn reentered the gym through the side entrance, blowing ashes off his still-wrapped hands and coughing lightly.
Because, of course, the only thing that made Zayn feel better after he inflicted more (probably permanent) damage upon his internal organs with soothing-in-the-moment cigarette smoke was thrashing the shit out of the free bag in the training room. And that, Zayn knew, he was good at.
He closed his eyes and let the young but fierce voice of Chris Brown flow through the speakers into his ears, flooding his brain and going on autopilot as his hands flew into the bag over and over and over. Constant movement, he reminded himself briefly, bouncing gently on the balls of his feet. More Look at Me Now, less And Zayn Malik is the winner, eking out upstart Niall Horan for a life-changing twenty thou! At the very idea, Zayn began to breathe harder, shift his weight faster and slam his fists into the equipment faster and harder and he nearly screamed out his gasps as the chain on the bag rattled and he almost sent it flying.
Or, at least, that’s what it felt like when he staggered back from the recoil and smacked clear into the flatness of a turquoise and pale white figure in Supras and stupid fucking blonde hair and he was automatically brought back into the real world and Zayn's nothing if not immediately pissed off.
“You reek of smoke,” Niall said bluntly, before Zayn could even think something besides Ugh! “I wanted to–”
“I don’t care what you wanted,” Zayn spat ruthlessly, rolling his eyes and shoving himself out of Niall’s gently clutched grip on his upper arms.
Niall looked affronted. The gall. Zayn couldn’t even look at the storm crossing his sunny face. Too much weather was bad for his hair.
“Look, I know you prob’ly hate me and all-”
“Probably? Don’t make me laugh.” Zayn took the liberty to interrupt him again. It felt good. He deserved it.
Rolling his eyes, Niall implored, “Don’t be immature about this, I jus’ wanted to fix whatever the fuck happened with us.”
“Us? Are you kidding me, mate? Do you have any idea how pathetic you made me look?” Zayn was shouting now. He never shouted. God, what was it with this kid that got under his skin? “I looked weak, S.C.’s gym looked like it needed someone’s fucking pity, and, fuck, what am I supposed to tell my mum? ‘Oh, it’s okay, I cheated and the money isn’t ours after all, sorry, I guess Waliyha and Safaa need to find their own way to uni, and maybe I’ll get an office job or bag groceries at the market on top of trying to box professionally and never being at home as it is.’ Is this what you wanted, Horan? Because I can’t think of a single reason why you would do this to me.”
He was half to foaming at this point, and he had to pry open his fists before his short nails scraped his palms to pulp. Obviously frustrated as well, Niall stepped forward, screwing up his eyes and mouthing numbers. Jesus Christ, was he counting to ten? Was he literally, actually five years old?
Zayn looked skyward, as if to ask the heavens for patience, but his eyes snapped downward suddenly as he felt Niall’s hand brush against his waist. He began to breathe shallowly, small, sharp inhalation and shuddery exhalation, his eyes wide and glued to the rough thumb stroking his hipbone. Swallowing thickly, he watched as his tank wrinkled against Niall’s wrist, his hand looking like snow against the skin of his stomach. Zayn looked at Niall and didn’t know if his body was choking or strangling itself; all he knew was that the dark look in his blue eyes tugged the breath from his lungs and sent all the blood into his head behind his eye sockets and he suddenly couldn’t see.
Pushing Niall away abruptly, Zayn coughed out, “What the fuck?”
That was not what he had wanted to say.
And clearly it was not what Niall wanted to hear, either, as he looked at Zayn like he was seeing him for the first time, a deer in headlights and scared as fuck. “I- sorry,” he choked out before tearing out of the room like a bolt of lightning.
Fitting, because Zayn felt like he was just struck by some.
Head cradled in his hands, Niall swore repeatedly, probably scaring the gravel beneath his feet half to death as he trudged across the driveway into the lobby of his current residence. He managed to avoid bruising his shins against anything in the trek to the elevator, no small feat considering his (probably inadvertently self-inflicted) present blind state and his sprint to the flat he shared with Harry.
All he wanted was to burrow into an endless sea of pillows and quilts and covers and just go to sleep in the desperate, desperate hopes that he didn’t actually do what he thought he remembered doing. Zayn hated him. And if he didn’t before, he did now. Niall had royally screwed up in more ways than one. In probably about seven thousand ways.
So he retreated, his tail between his legs, like a coward and like a fool and like a person ashamed of what he’d done. Niall felt done. Done with everything, and all he wanted to do now was eat everything in the flat and then sleep forever. He was thinking in superlatives and he, frankly, couldn’t blame himself.
Firmly nestled in the middle of the living room, swathed to a ridiculous degree in every fluffy item he and Harry owned, Niall shoveled forkful after forkful of leftover Nando’s into his mouth, staring at whatever reality rubbish was on television. He didn’t know the channels here. Or where the clicker was. A true tragedy.
Harry echoed as much as he walked into the flat to the probably unappealing sight. “Nialler, whatever do you think you’re doing?”
It didn’t sound judgmental, and, knowing Harry, it probably wasn’t. Despite being so young, he was strangely wise about existential crises. It should probably have bothered Niall, but it didn’t. Niall was a relatively simple guy, and he appreciated Harry’s sage ways. It was just his circumstances that always seemed to be complicated.
“I… and then Zayn… and then… yellin’… and then I… and now,” Niall eked out.
Harry was having none of it. He rubbed a hand along his forehead, shutting his eyes momentarily. “You’re not making any sense. And you know it. So stop shoving food in your face for five seconds and tell me what happened.”
“I went to go apologise and Zayn went off on me and we started shoutin’ at each other and I kind of…” Niall just sort of let his voice trail off into meaningless mumbles, whereupon Harry, much like Zayn had, looked heavenward, as if humbly requesting divine guidance on how to deal with this blonde imbecile. Niall cringed at the memory of Zayn’s appalled face and felt something inside him tear. He looked painfully at Harry, whose expression softened.
“So it’s like that, hm,” he said sympathetically, snuggling next to Niall in his blanket nest, resting his head in Niall’s lap. Niall carded his fingers through Harry’s curly mop therapeutically and sighed deeply. Maybe Harry was right, he was a stupid thirteen-year-old girl.
“Zayn Malik is becoming a problem for me,” Niall said experimentally. He found, as he said it, that it was true.
Shrugging slightly, Harry offered, “You should let this one stay unsolved. I haven’t seen you this torn up about… well, anything before, and, not that I’m a sadist, Ni, but you fucked up. Let it stew, and then fix it.”
He dropped a kiss onto Niall’s knee. It soothed him, in a simple way.
“I think the stew is stuck to the pot, Haz.” Niall worried over his thumbnail, picking at it with rough and nervous hands. The metaphor was getting tangled up in his head and his mental comb broke trying to untangle it further.
They sat in silence for quite some time after that. Harry wouldn’t push; he never did. But Niall always got the feeling that he had been seen through when he talked with Harry, so Harry had never had to ask. The result was the same.
Muscles like Liam’s wouldn’t suit Zayn. Or, at least, that’s what he told himself when he looked down at his stalklike legs and his vaguely defined arms in the wall of mirrors lining the room. His thumb tattooed its print onto his third knuckle, pressing into the bone in the joint harder than it probably should have, as it slammed repeatedly into the hanging vinyl and sand. Liam stood at the side of the punching bag, leaning against the mirror and flicking his hair out of his eyes. He was silent but Zayn could feel the unspoken words in the gaze trained on his face as he smashed his arms into the bag again.
Zayn’s breathing was heavy with effort, but it was roaring through the deadly quiet room along with the trained slaps of his closed fists against the equipment. He tried to shake the eyes boring into the sides of his own, growling and muttering through his gritted teeth, “I don’t know why the tosser is trying so hard, fuck, it’s like he doesn’t even know what he did. You went and sorted him right away. S’ridiculous.”
The air immediately changed from faux-nonchalant observance to something else, something expectant that Zayn tried desperately to ignore, along with every other vibe his mentor was releasing into the already stuffy room. About fifteen seconds passed before Zayn spun around to glare at Liam.
“What do you want, Liam? Jesus.”
Liam had the gall to avoid Zayn’s gaze. What the hell was he playing at? Zayn said as much, shooting him a dark look as he opened his arms in utter defeat.
“About that,” Liam started.
Zayn’s eyes widened. He had to be kidding. He had to. The only reason Zayn was able to fitfully get four hours of sleep a night since that first fight against Niall was knowing that one of the few people he trusted had handled the situation for him. He couldn’t deal with more breaches of simple, simple trust. If that happened, how the hell was he supposed to go through his life? Trust no man indeed.
Backpedalling quickly, Liam continued, “No, no, I did go and talk to Horan when Lou pulled you off, I did. Louis didn’t lie or anything, he sent me and I talked to him.” Zayn had just let out a relieved breath when– “But I didn’t tell him you knew about him throwing you the match.”
Spluttered Zayn furiously, “B-but – what the bloody hell did you say to him, then? ‘Oh, I love how you’ve quiffed your hair, give me some pointers?’ I’m absolutely baffled here, Li. Please explain this to me, because I’ve not got a single fucking clue.”
Liam let out a long sigh before calmly beginning to unwrap Zayn’s left hand. “I went up to him with the exact intention Louis had provided me. I was going to set that fetus straight, give him a piece of my mind and let him know that S.C.’s gym wasn’t somewhere that needed his pity, and that you sure as hell didn’t, either.
“But I got up closer to him, and I saw him there, brushing his thumb over his phone absentmindedly because his head was somewhere else far away, and he was waiting so patiently for you to return, all shiny-eyed and moony and this optimistic smile plastered onto his face and, God, I couldn’t bear to chew him out, Zayn, I’m so sorry. And it’s not my place to judge what you want to do, who you want, whatever – but I could have sworn I saw something like that hope in you too. Before Lou dragged you off, anyway.
“If you want to know what I think–” Zayn didn’t. “–you let your hotheaded stubbornness fuck up what could have been a good thing, and if you don’t get over your goddamned pride, you’ll never know what could have happened.”
That lingered for a few moments, the uneven breaths Zayn let out becoming a pregnant pause before Liam added awkwardly, “Your turn now.”
Zayn swallowed thickly, resembling a disheveled, raggedy fish as he opened and shut his mouth a few times. Struggling to think of something to appease Liam, he ran a nervous hand underneath his tank top, shuddering as he felt the ghost of Niall’s rough fingertips over his stomach beneath his own familiar callouses.
“Fuck,” he cursed lowly, and Liam chuckled.
Suddenly and strangely sympathising with a slot machine, Zayn shuffled through myriad possible solutions. Whether it was because of the lightning-fast scrolling behind his forehead or because he’d had trouble breathing since Niall had entered the gym, he didn’t know, but he was feeling dreadfully lightheaded. Dizzying desperation threatened to overcome him, and Zayn wasn’t used to not having control over himself.
He settled on a question instead of trying to puzzle out an answer, for the moment. “Will you help me?”
Liam was kind of indebted to Zayn, he figured. He was given one job and he dragged the ordeal out much longer than Zayn had planned, which was a double-edged sword. Niall was sunshine and the cloud it hid behind, and Zayn wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go outside. So it once again fell to Liam to sort it out.
“I’m an adult,” Zayn swore he heard Liam mutter as he waved a hand in dismissive goodbye after reluctantly agreeing to formulate a plan. “Can’t wait for them to shag and be done with all this.”
Zayn pretended he didn’t hear that last part. He was like Tinkerbell; he could only deal with one feeling at a time, and he was nowhere near ready to acknowledge that section of his brain just yet. One fight at a time.
( part six )