( part one, part two, part three, part four, part five )
Niall/Zayn, secondary Harry/Louis
chapter six, 3,218 (total 16,170) | boxing AU
The finale! Thank you so much for reading. This story means a lot to me, being my first venture into the 1D fic world, and it's bittersweet to see it over after just a month of writing. I'm excited to see what I can come up with next, and I hope you'll all enjoy it! Love you all to bits xo
"Can y'call it a failure?"
“Getting kind of redundant, you two are,” Harry commented haphazardly, peeling his eyes from Louis’ jawline to glance over at a shirtless, training Niall, who was currently doing push-ups and doing controlled breathing.
Louis crossed his ankles, smirking as he shifted gently on Harry’s lap, adding teasingly, “As eager as I am to see you two go at it – again – I’d really rather see you go at it in a much different way.” Niall rolled his eyes, used to Louis’ little digging (but harmless, really) jabs at how utterly over the whole situation was. Harry, of course, chuckled lowly into Louis’ shoulderblade.
If he had to admit it, Niall had woken up over half of the nights in the past week alone in a cold sweat, desperately wishing that he hadn’t dreamt about the tight skin under his fingers and if maybe his hand had slid down a few inches over that toned stomach, ducking deftly beneath a familiar yet completely foreign waistband and then… who knew?
Somehow he always forced himself awake, like Dream Niall knew he had to resist temptation and respect Dream Zayn’s privacy, funny as that sounded. He had relayed it back to Harry in a slightly tipsy confession that apparently sent Louis howling over the phone not fifteen minutes after. (Niall forgave Harry for sharing. Louis had forgiven him for screwing Zayn over, after all, as soon as Harry had revealed the details of their eternally platonic yet inseparably close relationship. Louis’ dry sense of humour and shamelessness came with the Harry territory now, Niall quickly found out. He accepted it readily – it would be too exhausting to battle otherwise.)
“Look, Haz – when Liam Payne calls – y’ don’t say no, even when he’s – proposing another fight against Sir O Great Mystery – that is – Zayn Malik,” Niall huffed between the up and down push-up positions.
Frowning lightly, Harry amended, “You don’t say no when you’ve already said yes, you mean. You didn’t even listen to what he had to say before you agreed.”
He was right, of course; when he picked up the phone, Niall was a little too eager to please Liam. It wasn’t every day one of your sports idols called you on your mobile phone, and his people-pleasing attitude hadn’t really failed him before. Up until that point. Well, can y’ call it a failure? S’ more like the boxing fates conspirin’ to hook y’ up with a second chance.
Sitting back on his haunches, Niall shrugged. “I woulda agreed regardless.”
“Ah,” Louis paused dramatically, “What would it be like to not be under the spell of such a prolific athlete? Who’s to say?”
Harry nuzzled his face into Louis’ neck, saying lazily, “It’s cute you’re supportive, but there’s no need to rub it in our faces that your best friend is famous, Lou.”
Niall cut in, “And, Haz, no need to rub it in m’ face that you’ve got someone t’ call ‘cute,’ either,” shooting a lighthearted glare in the couple’s direction as he stretched out to touch his toes.
“You could call me cute, too, if you so choose,” Louis cooed, preening. “Harry here won’t be mad, won’t he? It’s an undeniable fact. I’m a wonder to behold.”
Harry glowed proudly at Louis. It was verging on sickening, Niall thought to himself, the way they adored each other. Or, rather, it would be, if it wasn’t so obvious that they were made for each other. Uncomplicated, easy. They just fit.
That kind of relationship made Niall nervous that he wasn’t cut out for love, or for caring for someone else, because he’d be so afraid to fuck it up that he would accidentally fuck it up trying so hard not to fuck it up. That was the kind of convoluted maze he drew up for himself. He wondered if going after Zayn, trying to fix everything he ruined before anything even began, was even worth it.
“Y’know this doesn’t matter, right, Nialler?” Harry’s soothing drawl cut through Niall’s looping train of thought.
He knit his eyebrows together, answering, “It kinda does, actually?” He thought Harry understood what this meant to him, but obviously he had been wrong.
Louis let out a little exasperated sigh, like Niall was being dense. (In all fairness, he probably was.) “No, it doesn’t. This match is all symbolic, it means nothing. Not in the least official. You didn’t even tell Paul about it. S.C. doesn’t know at all what’s going on, he just wants Zayn back up and boxing in real matches. And, this time, I’m refereeing.” He let this sink in for a moment, cocking his eyebrow at Niall. “Liam set it up to pull you and Z together again so we don’t have to hear him bitching and moaning or you sighing and whinging about all this crap anymore. Fight like you mean it, there’s no point in not, but really, it’s what you say that matters more.”
“I thought actions spoke louder than words,” Niall fired back. Louis and Harry laughed in response, as if they were conspiring to make Niall look a fool.
“Not with Zayn,” Louis said finally. “He’s nearly as dense as you.”
“Probably all the nicotine or tobacco or smoke or whatever,” Harry interjected.
Grinning, Louis agreed, “Probably. But anyway, what happened last time probably scared him off. Just explain to him the whole mess and he’ll likely just fall at your mouth.”
Niall said nothing. He knew Louis hadn’t misspoken, and Niall hardly dared to even think of that as even the remotest possibility. Harry and Louis had taken to alternating whom they hung around, in order to be fair to each of them while this conflict went on. Dragged on, if you asked them.
Regardless, Niall had given up all pretense of not being attracted to Zayn, as it was exhausting and futile pretending part of his desire to fix things wasn’t romantically motivated. But he would honestly settle for being awkward, tenuous friends with unrequited feelings and unresolved sexual tension with Zayn if it meant he wouldn’t be plagued by guilt and sadness and bouts of irreconcilable anger at himself.
So, hopefully, this fight wouldn’t be pointless like the last. Despite the point of contention being pride and skill, Niall knew that Zayn really didn’t want to talk about the money anymore, especially because Zayn could have used it so much more than Niall and both of them knew that. Niall didn’t have anyone to support but himself; he’d seen that his mum and the rest of his family were fine on their own without him as it was. Zayn had all these big dreams for his family, for himself, and Niall was stuck with the outcome of a fight.
But he had an idea.
Everything felt like an ugly span of déjà vu to Zayn. It was like every day, every night, he would open his eyes and he was standing in front of Louis and Niall and trying not to think while he let referee Louis gab on about whatever (the rules, probably, in a very strange, very Louis sense of professionalism in this ridiculous carousel of circumstance) and also trying not to let himself look up into Niall’s china-dish eyes.
But today it wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare at four o’clock in the afternoon that he had to cope with, and Zayn was going to give it his all, or else he could never look at himself again, much less the single box of texts and voicemails he couldn’t bear to delete. So he just swallowed, popped in his mouthguard, and nodded at Louis, who was stepping back a bit to call the start. Harry and Liam rang little bicycle bells and handbells at his signal, and tried not to look too nervous.
Niall started the fight, obviously, enjoying some success picking off Zayn’s admittedly crude advances. But the two of them were locked in at 5-5 after the first bell rang, and Zayn knew he was going well, starting off the second round just as skillfully, if not better. Zayn could tell Niall was struggling to regain his positions as his clearly determined opponent began relying on heavy right-hand pick-offs, but Niall’s quickness (Zayn should have anticipated his excellent movement, he realised half a second too late) blocked the majority of his shots. It was like the wind was dragging him around the ring, because Niall’s more patient approach saw him edge into a three point lead at the end of the round.
Puzzling for a second through his trusty repertoire, Zayn saw to it that Niall was forced to barely cling on to see the bout out after being dropped and clearly winded by a left hook to the body. Unfortunately, though, the judges (or, rather, just Liam and Louis) rewarded Niall’s cleaner work with more points.
Of course, Zayn was defeated, again being forced to accept his loss in heavy-handed silence and by an extremely slim point margin. Nothing exciting or spectacular happened when the bells clinked and jingled stupidly from the sideline, just the dull tingle of a thorough wash of nerves moving over him like the grey of the sun that had just ducked behind a cloud.
He tugged off his gloves awkwardly.
Louis had hung back after gently announcing the score, arms draped loosely over Harry’s shoulders as they and Liam gazed with anticipation at the pair in the ring that felt and probably looked like ants in a shoebox, swallowed by the grandness and literal bigness of it all. Zayn felt exposed, wings pinned to the shadow box, and he offered a rough hand to Niall silently, not trusting himself to spit out the words he’d been chewing for a week.
Zayn didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t an echo of the huge, worry-filled cobalt he had been seeing tattooed on his eyelids since they had last seen each other. That was what he received, however, presented unceremoniously on a porcelain-pale face before he darted through the rings and down the halls of the gym.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” Zayn said incredulously, the volume of it bouncing across the cement and metal and fluorescent lighting that filled the common area. “You have got to be fucking kidding me!” he repeated, louder this time. He took a deep breath, trying to regain his composure. Zayn ended up hurling his gloves to the floor and sprinting after Niall down the gym corridor to the training room, breaths heaving and whistling through gritted teeth and a clenched jaw. Not after all this fucking trouble, no way is he getting off like that.
He barely had time to register that it was the same room where they had had their last confrontation when he barreled into a flash of dirty blonde and flushed skin, hurling indiscriminate curse words and exclamations in any direction he could find.
Zayn struggled to regain his footing, fire in his eyes and thunder cracking in his ears as he tried to find something, anything to say to yank whatever confession or truth he wanted from goddamn Niall Horan.
“Excuse me, but where do you get off? Liam and I organised this so we could put things square, best two of three, fair is fair, and so I could fucking apologise to you for acting like a fickle twat and you respond like this? Just who do you think you are?” Zayn exploded, trying his damnedest to stop shaking. It was inane and he had to get ahold of himself if he was going to even begin to right this.
Niall opened and closed his mouth repeatedly, letting out a string of agonised noises not unlike the last cries of a dying buffalo or goat. “Iaaaaah. Iuuhhhhhhh.”
It was absolutely useless to try and talk to this fool. Zayn smacked his head against the punching bag in frustrated desperation. “Why did you even come today?” he muttered.
“Because I… I, uhh. I – er. I… because I don’t have the money any more,” Niall said quietly.
Who the hell cared?
“Who the hell cares?” Zayn asked, bewildered and genuinely apathetic. “Wouldn’t’ve been mine anyway.”
Niall swallowed hard. Zayn tried not to eye his Adam’s apple or the rivulets of sweat still sliding over his collarbones as Niall continued his explanation in a voice lower than dirt, “But’s.”
“What?” whispered Zayn for some reason.
Shutting his eyes, Niall repeated, slower, “But it is.”
He shook his head. “I don’t need your goddamned help,” Zayn insisted roughly. Frankly, he was getting pretty offended at the repeated notion that Niall thought he was some sort of charity case. “I’m not taking your money.”
“But… you sorta already did.” Excuse me?
“What?” Zayn screeched. “Did you reverse rob me, shove money into my bank account? Prepay all my checks? You might fancy yourself some slick Irish Robin Hood but I’m having none of it. Why’re you playing with me? I don’t need this.” The last bit was more to himself than anything else, but he said it out loud regardless.
“Haz and Louis helped me out a bit and I… I phoned y’ mum. Gave her the money m’self.”
Zayn thought he would be used to surprises from Niall Horan, but he was clearly wrong. This was totally out of the blue. He didn’t know how to respond. But… “Why would she take money from you? You’re a complete stranger. She just knows you beat me, you let me win, you’re a nutter and a crazy and, for all she knows, an arsonist or a deranged athletic fan or a serial killer, and it takes some balls to call a person’s mother who you don’t know and probably hate and then give her some outrageous sum of money and– “
“I told her I was in lo– I told her that I lik– I told her I had… feelings,” Niall blurted in half a breath, not making much sense at all.
“That’s nice! Where have all those feelings been for the past two mon– oh.” Zayn stopped himself short.
Something inside of him crackled with the same fiery anticipation and tsunami air as when he recklessly screamed into the room not fifteen minutes ago. Zayn took a step toward Niall, then another, then another, and it felt like running and it felt blindly angry or something so close to it he could taste it but instead he tasted salt and something unidentified and something so clearly and inexplicably Niall and he didn’t fucking care that his fist curled into the jersey around Niall’s neck was clenched so tightly he might never be able to uncurl it, he just knew vague peppermint and soft, soft skin and blushing reds and that his mouth moving on Niall’s was like nothing he ever felt while he boxed or while he smoked or while he breathed.
He knew it was a hurricane, not a forest fire, chapped lips rubbing but wet tongue teasing and God, it was so good, so good. Short panting breaths and huffed, nasal exhales smothered Zayn’s ears and he wanted it. He wanted more, actually. “Christ,” he let out finally against Niall’s mouth, which curled up into a little smile. Not self-satisfied, but genuinely happy, like Zayn felt. “Mm.” Zayn received one of those laughs that’s more shuddery breath than real noise in response.
Niall’s chest expanded and contracted against Zayn’s in laboured attempt to even his breathing.
“I’m still mad at you, you know,” Zayn murmured against the top of Niall’s still slightly damp head, biting at his shoulder but otherwise unable to pull away, not while Niall’s fingertips were tracing patterns on his back underneath his shirt.
Niall paused, ducking his fingers beneath Zayn’s waistband an inch, then another, then another, ratcheting Zayn’s pulse up again and swirling his lightning into Zayn’s eyelids, which slammed shut at the feather-light but match-hot touch. “I don’t think you can be forever, though,” Niall mouthed slowly into Zayn’s collarbone tattoo. “And maybe we can…”
Zayn forced his head forward and let out an incoherent, “Not here, no way, not with – oh, I – not with Harry and Lou here and with Li or – yeah, no, we have to go now.”
God, Zayn could fucking kiss. It was somewhat a challenge to Niall, licking into Zayn’s mouth until he didn’t taste smoke any more, just gentle toothpaste and maybe vanilla from a coffee and in the end, just wholly and fully Zayn and it was so good and Niall couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t happening.
Seconds melted into minutes into hours and he lifted his head from a delirious, delicious haze and all that was left was Harry and Louis screeching in through the doorway, yelling dirty comments at the tuckered-out pair, tangled limbs and warm comfort beneath the nest of quilts and pillows Niall never quite managed to put away. Zayn was pretty much dead to the world (in the worst best way), so Niall took it upon himself to pick up a heavy Nike and chuck it at the cat-calling duo snickering just outside the door.
“Geddoooout!” he whined in a hoarse whisper-shout, hissing a few choice swears at the clock when he saw what time it was. Nudging Zayn gently, Niall nipped and murmured along the back of his neck, prodding him to wake up.
Groggy, Zayn curled across the rest of the bed and gathered covers against his whole front (which, to Niall, was quite a shame, really, but then again, he ought not to be greedy). “Mwhat,” he rasped, clearing his throat and rubbing his eyes to be greeted by the not unfriendly sight of Harry and Louis, matching shit-eating grins on their faces and identical prim-and-proper poses as they gazed adoringly at Niall and Zayn from Harry’s bed.
“Hello, darling,” Louis probably meant to coo, but it sounded more like a crow to Niall.
Zayn groaned and flopped his head back, burrowing under pillows, as if that would make their presence go away. Niall rubbed Zayn’s shoulder soothingly, laughing roughly, frowning at the state of his voice. He managed, “Whadya want, you two?”
Harry frowned, offering, “I made breakfast.” Before Niall could say anything, he continued, “Real breakfast, Nialler, not my usual concoction; don’t fret.”
Stretching out, the four of them huddled on the living area sofa like it was made for them all, plates of eggs and sausage balanced on sinewy knees and muscle-lean thighs, and it all was easy, and they all seemed to fit together seamlessly, like a puzzle. Because in the end, everything about it was an adventure to Niall, piecing together the ragged edges of everything that happened and remembering a tired version of a tired series of ridiculous events. (Zayn made himself out to be a worse sport than Niall remembered it, so it was always up to him to take him down a notch. He never minded much. And Zayn never did erase those voicemails.)
boxing terminology; it is a term used to describe a great and exciting boxing match. a very tight match wherein it is hard to predict who will win the game, not until the last few seconds of the final round.