( originally written for team au for the 1d olymfics 2012 )
hard R for recreational drug use, sex, and language
part i 7,126, total 12,359 | 1980s british airways AU
zayn is a pilot, niall is first officer, harry and louis are flight attendants, liam is a miner on strike. people are hard to read sometimes.
notes: this fic was a labour of love!! i'm quite proud of this one, despite it being my second fic for one direction. this took ages to write, much longer than it probably should have, but it absolutely would not have come together if not for my trusty coherency beta and moral supporter msmoocow. thank you for everything!!! xo
"LIMA OSCAR VICTOR ECHO"
i. london, england | march 1983
It just wouldn’t have been a normal flight, had Louis not just barely slid into Heathrow Airport in time for departure.
“I swear to God those customs blokes are setting the divider ropes higher and higher each flight; it’s fucking Olympic-level hurdles out there,” he griped. “I’m telling you, they’ve got it out for me. It’s that Nicholas, he really doesn’t need to hold such a grudge, I only put sugar packets in his shoes once.”
He tossed his standard-issue suitcase into the overhead compartment and grinned cheekily at the stewardesses and Harry, the only other male flight attendant. This resulted in a peal of loose laughter from the flight’s roguish first officer, who was leaning against the “wall” next to the kitchenette, running a hand through his hair and sipping a Coke.
A good-natured Irish brogue sighed from the cockpit door, “Are we gonna fly this plane or what, Malik? Quit laughing and joking about and get back in here.”
With a somewhat sarcastic salute to the flight attendants and a deliberate wink to Louis and Harry, Zayn downed the last of his soft drink and turned on his heel to the cockpit, grabbing a bag of Maltesers for flight engineer Niall before he slid the door shut. A confident male voice came over the intercom system, pausing for a moment before gently encouraging everyone to take their seats and buckle their lap belts as the plane prepared to take off. Louis pulled a face in Harry’s general direction as he tapped on the whistle attached to his fluorescent yellow inflatable life vest, going through the safety lecture motions and trying his best to ignore Harry’s softly scolding looks and wide, dimpled grin.
As they took their seats on the aisle, Harry narrowly slid in beside Louis, his long legs beating stewardess Jesy to the seat with an apologetic but satisfied look in his eyes. He buckled his seatbelt. “You know, Lou, if you left your flat just ten minutes earlier-”
Louis turned to face Harry, raising an eyebrow and giving him a look like he was missing the whole point.
“Then there’s really no fun in it, is there?”
ii. paris, france | july 1983
Congregating in their hotel lobbies was something the male portion of the British Airways flight crew was eerily brilliant at; it happened accidentally and it happened quite often. Not that anyone was complaining, of course. Who else would they spend time with in all these beautiful foreign countries other than their (sometimes infuriating but mostly charming) co-workers?
The group of them didn’t say much of anything when they gathered like lions around the watering hole (in this case, in front of the bureau d'information). In fact, they just sort of muttered indiscriminately and gravitated outside in their Bermuda shorts and light tops. The first real sound anyone uttered turned out to be a collective hiss of pain as the French sun glared into their eyes. Niall squinted and brayed a low sound of disapproval as he pulled his cap lower over his eyes to shade them. He tugged the wide straps of his tank top to the side and pressed still-chilled fingers against the back of his neck in an effort to cool himself.
Louis groaned, sighing, “You sure we’re in France, mate? And not, like, Mali or something? This is outrageous.” He frowned at Zayn and Niall, as if to blame their flight responsibility for the weather.
“It is July,” Harry offered helpfully, his eyes wide but watering. Regardless, he pushed a floppy mess of curls back from his forehead and wiped beads of sweat off his brow.
Niall nudged Zayn, who was suffering wordlessly beside them with a woebegone look on his face. His sunglasses and cigarette seemed effortlessly French and endlessly disinterested. “D’you even know where Mali is, man?”
“Africa,” Zayn said, without hesitation. Louis raised an eyebrow, pleasantly surprised at Zayn’s geographical facility, undiscovered as of a moment ago. Niall and Harry clapped politely as the four of them began to wander down the cobblestone pavement towards the river. (Their pilot was off somewhere on his own, probably to procure prostitutes or something; his advancing age was certainly not the only thing that separated him from the younger set on flights.)
Harry and Niall popped into a bread shop (boulangerie, Harry had declared with surprising proficiency; Louis figured today was the Day of Hidden Talents) to grab a few oven-warm baguettes for the foursome’s walk along the Paris streets, leaving Louis and Zayn to their own devices.
They stood outside the bakery for a moment, deeply inhaling the warm-bread scent in silence until Louis began to mill about aimlessly. His feet weren’t quite tripping over themselves, but doing something that looked more like dancing than waddling to Zayn. Zayn followed suit almost immediately, shuffling his black suede shoes in a feeble attempt to match Louis’ flighty feet. The two began poking their heads into nearby shops, their disheveled appearances seeming to irritate the shopkeepers, who babbled at them in rapid-fire French. At this, they smiled sheepishly and poked back out again, laughing a bit and clutching at each other’s shirtbacks to avoid tripping over the single step leading to the doorways.
Niall and Harry emerged with what looked to Louis like a thousand loaves of bread, tossing three to him and keeping the other nine hundred for themselves. Zayn snorted but took a drag off his cigarette instead of saying anything, which was probably for the better.
“You do not want to know how many francs we just spent,” Harry said, his low voice laced with a good dose of his dimpled grin. Nodding, Niall didn’t even have the gall to look sheepish. This didn’t surprise Louis in the slightest; he knew Niall took his food seriously.
Shrugging, Harry added, “But then, who even knows the exchange rate from pounds to francs?”
Louis responded quickly, “Eight francs to a pound,” surprising the others for a change. Success, he thought triumphantly.
Zayn pushed his sunglasses down his nose so he could take a good look at Louis. “Good go. Now, I don’t know about you, but when in France, drink wine, yeah? Wine and bread, classy stuff. Get on the river, have a good time with our classy half-meal, relax?”
The other boys seemed keen, so Zayn and Louis took another gander into the caviste (thanks again to Harry), this time working a little harder to dazzle the women working the counter. They emerged with two bottles of wine and mischievous smiles on their faces, their wallets feeling only slightly lighter.
The idea was that they would all somehow pile into one boat and drink and eat together, but the boats were kind of small, so they split up. Harry was the tallest and Louis the shortest, but Niall wasn’t letting the majority of the bread go on without him, so Zayn and Louis ended up in one boat with their meager rations and Harry and Niall were in the other. Niall and Harry hollered something at Louis and Zayn, whose boatman had untied the whole rig away from the little anchor on the sidewalk, but the increasing distance between the boats allowed their apathy to go unnoticed.
Louis wasted no time twisting open the bottle of wine with the bottle opener keychain he had bought from the souvenir shop during last week’s stopover in Las Vegas, narrowly missing soaking the crotch of Zayn’s pants with the slight overflow.
“You’re lucky that didn’t go the way I fully expected it to,” Zayn said flatly, chasing it with an incongruous twinkle in his eye that quickly soothed Louis’ frozen spine.
Rolling his eyes, Louis offered the bottle to Zayn. “Fine. For that ‘near miss’ you can have first go.”
Tipping his head in silent gratitude, Zayn briefly traced his tongue over his lower lip and lifted the bottle to his mouth, humming in appreciation as he swallowed. His bicep and shoulder flexed with the effort of lifting the near-full bottle with only one arm; it took Louis both to take it from him when he was done.
The two of them tore into the baguette, the crust flaking slightly and steam fogging up the inside of the bag from the still-piping, soft insides. Zayn’s mouth was full of bread already, but he tucked the pad of his thumb into his mouth and sucked off the butter thoughtfully. Frowning around the starch like a disgruntled chipmunk, he abruptly ripped off another little piece, mainly crust, tossing it at Louis’ head. With his eyebrows furrowed, he pointed at Louis, who blinked quickly as crumbs smacked him in the eyelid.
Zayn swallowed, his Adam’s apple dipping. “Don’t fucking drink it all! I’ve barely had any.”
“Please, you’ve had plenty,” scoffed Louis. “Like three-quarters of what’s left is mine! Not my fault you decided to drink first and eat bread later.” Biting his lip in concentration, he retaliated with a larger piece of bread. Of course, Zayn caught it in his mouth with a muffled giggle of triumph as he chewed. Louis harrumphed and socked Zayn in the arm in response.
“Pilot’s reflexes,” Zayn explained with a smirk. “Might wanna get yourself some.”
iii. bangkok, thailand | october 1983
“An elephant ride? You’ve got to be joking,” Louis exclaimed, face incredulous as he gazed at Zayn in the hallway between their rooms. They were stationed on the seventh floor of the (surprisingly fancy, Louis had to admit) hotel, which was smack in the middle of the building.
Whether this was a positive or negative reaction, neither one was entirely sure. Zayn shrugged, but let loose an easy grin that took Louis by surprise. “I dunno, I kind of liked the idea. I mean, Josh is keeping Niall company ‘cause Niall’s got food poisoning from that kebab cart on the street I told him was going to end badly, and he figured we should use his reservation instead of cancelling. And, I guess, I mean, we’re not as… adventurous as he is or anything, but Harry wasn’t on call and he would’ve gone with Nialler and I just thought I’d ask.”
Louis paused for a second, his gaze raking over Zayn’s face, lingering for a second on his teeth tugging against his bottom lip and his raised eyebrows. Oh, he was waiting for an answer.
Nodding slowly, Louis grinned back. “Sounds great, actually. Riding one of the world’s most majestic animals for absolutely free, except for whatever future favour Nialler will certainly be calling in? Highly ideal, don’t you think?”
“Definitely,” Zayn agreed. He wrapped one hand around the thick camera strap around his neck and the other around Louis’ bicep; his fingers splayed out against Louis’ arm as he tugged him with a firm grip toward the hotel elevator. Zayn meant now? Well, he did already have his wallet with him.
Every time they were in Southeast Asia, the BA flight crew always kind of fumbled their way through, their boyish (and feminine, Perrie always chimed in) charms their only ally. This trip was no different.
They weren’t entirely sure how much money they gave the driver of their taxi in payment for their journey, but at least Zayn managed to recognise the sign for the elephant tours and thank the driver profusely in mangled Malay. The driver responded in smooth English, “Not a problem. Thank you very much.” The flush that passed over Zayn’s face made the whole exchange worth it, and Louis bit his lip, trying not to grin like a fool.
Zayn pouted, and he turned to Louis, who was still trying to cover up the smile threatening to split his face in two. “Don’t you dare say anything,” he warned, his frown wobbling at the corners as he stifled a laugh. Louis smothered his own laughter into Zayn’s collarbone.
Batting him away, Zayn grasped Louis’ wrist and tugged him further down the pathway, his long strides somehow getting impossibly longer as the bray of an elephant cut through the trees. Louis’ legs struggled nearly three steps to one of Zayn’s and he wondered if this was really the best idea. He looked up at Zayn to say so but shut his mouth at the stars in Zayn’s eyes as he cantered toward the clearing, tickets clutched tight in his hand. Louis wondered when Zayn’s legs got so skinny and glanced down at his own thighs briefly before running into a motionless Zayn.
“What the-” Louis shook his head to clear it, popping up onto his tiptoes to see over Zayn’s backpack and shoulders.
He was acutely aware of the loss of contact when Zayn let go of Louis’ wrist and lifted his camera. “Oh,” he breathed before snapping three quick shots in succession, the elephants waving their trunks before them.
They wandered closer, arms and shoulders pressed seamlessly against each other like the humidity was superglue. A young woman stopped assisting a small family to approach them, asking for their reservation and tickets; Louis had to pry the paper out of Zayn’s hand, handing over the tickets with an apologetic smile. Zayn was wandering now, unsupervised and awestruck, snapping pictures of the elephants with wide eyes.
Louis let the silence overtake them but soon found that they didn’t need to say much anyway; the general directions the organisers gave were easy enough to follow without question and the family’s nasal chatter filled the rest of the empty air. Prodding Zayn with an exaggerated grin, Louis finally tried to coax some words out of him. “Hey, Annie Leibovitz.”
“She takes photos of people,” Zayn said, turning his head to look Louis in the eye.
“So can you,” said Louis, shuffling over to the nearest elephant’s head and making his most tourist-y face: two thumbs up, eyes wide, and tongue out. All he was missing was a fanny pack, Louis decided.
Zayn, of course, rolled his eyes but moved closer. “Here, we’ll do this,” he said, pressing his head closer to Louis’ and approximating a good angle. He flipped the lens backwards and grinned with his tongue between his teeth, mumbling, “Cheese,” before snapping a picture of the three of them (elephant included).
Frowning and tousling his hair, Louis insisted, “No, no, we have to take more, I wasn’t ready for that one.”
“Stop whinging and we’ll take more,” Zayn sighed, bumping Louis’ shoulder with his own. Satisfied, Louis smiled brightly into the camera lens, leaning his head on Zayn’s shoulder and pointing at the elephant behind them.
“Silly ones now,” announced Louis impetuously, chin tilted upward to stare at Zayn, who sighed and nodded slowly.
How Zayn managed to take the photo with his eyes crossed and nose scrunched Louis didn’t know, but the rough skin beneath his lips as he pressed his mouth to Zayn’s cheek was warm when the flash went off. The elephant brayed loudly, startling them, and the developed film would later reveal they were laughing in the next three photographs.
iv. new york, new york | december 1983/january 1984
Louis was the one who was most excited for New York, because no matter how often they flew there (which was often; being based out of London made most major cities familiar to a fault) it always seemed different. But New York in winter, that terrible balance of breathtakingly beautiful and disgustingly cold that Louis thrived on, was particularly memorable.
Or, rather, it wasn’t, because it was New Year’s Eve and everyone had piled into a too-small booth and was downing drinks like they never were going to fly planes ever again. The girls were giggling and cooing at the men entering the club but dancing with each other, frowning at any of the men who approached further, with the exception of Jade waving her arms and shimmying wildly with Niall, who seemed a little bit outdone by her enthusiasm but was trying anyway.
Harry, Louis, and Zayn were running through their favourite flights and stopovers of 1983 with the kind of nostalgia afforded only by a few drinks (okay, more than a few) and a soundtrack of the year’s top 40 pop hits soaring through the bar.
“Oh, oh, remember, remember Rome! How Niall accidentally offended that group of women leaving that shrine to the vestal virgins,” laughed Harry, his low, usually syrupy voice surprisingly loud and crisp, his head trying to burrow into Louis’ too-big red sweater. Just because there was enough room for him in there didn’t mean he had to occupy it, but Louis relented, his fingers carding through Harry’s hair lazily. He looked over at Zayn, who was staring intently at his drink as if it held the meaning of the universe.
“Yeah, but the only reason he got out of that square with all his limbs intact is because you and Z went in there with your sorriest puppy faces on and dragged him out by his ears,” Louis chortled, tossing back the last of his drink with gusto.
Zayn shrugged. “Hey, whatever works, yeah?” He smouldered across the booth in Harry and Louis’ direction, the dim lights serving as a spotlight on his sharp features. He raised his glass and Harry tapped his own against it, a grin splitting his face open handsomely. They, too, finished their drinks in single gulps.
Niall and the girls bounded over, somehow still full of energy, yelling that it was ten minutes to midnight and if they wanted to get over to Times Square before the fireworks they had to “Get a fucking move on, ya wankers!”
They couldn’t exactly argue with that.
Everyone grabbed their bags and coats and cameras and novelty hats and glasses, and after a weird moment wherein Zayn and Harry realised they were wearing each other’s leather jackets (this was noticed by Perrie with a hiccupping laugh), the excitement in the air was as palpable as their breath as the eight of them got closer and closer to Times Square.
Obviously, everyone was intoxicated to varying degrees, but that only made it more fun when the group reached the throng of people who just wanted to see the fireworks from the center of the world. The girls were wrapped around each other, fingers intertwined and belting that song from Flashdance ( “What a feeling! Bein’s believin’!” ).
Niall had one arm slung around Harry’s shoulder, the other holding tight to Zayn’s camera. Zayn slid a hand into Harry’s and Louis’ back pockets. Harry wiggled his backside playfully in response, and Louis managed to cough out a nervous laugh, slipping his hand into the same pocket to scratch lightly at Zayn’s wrist.
Jade’s squeal of excitement was the first indication that the one-minute countdown had begun. There was an anticipation and a nervousness that settled over the crowd, an eager feeling for the new year and a last-minute scramble for people to find someone to kiss at midnight.
“Thirty! Twenty-nine! Twenty-eight!” the crowd called, and Harry flew into the crowd. He wouldn’t have a problem finding somebody, not with his soft curls and wide eyes and lopsided grin that sent hearts into a tizzy. Neither would the single girls; in fact, Leigh-Anne and Perrie had already snared a pair of twins who looked slightly intimidated but interested nonetheless.
Niall, Louis, and Zayn stood side by side in the middle of the square, shuddering with excitement in the icy air and the warmth of the sheer number of bodies in the vicinity. Niall clicked Zayn’s camera into shooting position, sure that something worth capturing would happen in a matter of moments. ”Fifteen, fourteen!”
Louis briefly wondered if he had any New Year’s resolutions. “Ten! Nine!” Take more chances, he decided.
He flexed his fingers and realised Zayn’s hand was still in his back pocket. He decided that he didn’t mind that much. “Zayn?” Louis’ voice was nearly swallowed by the countdown as Louis looked up at him. “Three, two!”
“Fuck it,” Louis muttered. Or at, least, he meant to, because suddenly one hand in his pocket turned into two and Zayn’s mouth on his swallowed any words he had wanted to say. He made a keening noise and threaded his fingers into Zayn’s hair, fingertips clutching at the back of his head as if to press him closerclosercloser.
All Louis could hear was white noise and all he saw were fireworks (probably literally, but he figured he was allowed some poetic license), his lips parting and letting Zayn lick hungrily into his mouth. Louis moaned, his arms thrown haphazardly around Zayn’s neck and his nails scratching against the base of Zayn’s scalp. He slid his mouth down Zayn’s jaw to suck into his collarbone and he heard a panted, sibilant, “Yes, yes, yes,” that sent a bolt of lightning down his spine, and Zayn’s hands in his back pockets rolled his hips forward, the yeses sliding into a desperate groan of “Louis, Lou, please, Lou, please.”
Zayn pulled his head back with some effort and licked his lips slowly, a dark look in his eyes and a red flush on his cheeks, a faint bruise blossoming on his neck where Louis sucked a mark not moments earlier. Swallowing hard, Louis breathed, “Happy New Year?”
“Happy New Year’s fuckin’ right,” Niall called from a short distance away, waving the camera and handing it to Zayn with a crow of laughter. “You’ll be wantin’ those pictures, if I do say so meself.”
v. london, england | february 1984
Niall always held that what happens over international waters stays there, kind of a Las Vegas type of school of thought. Still slightly sunburned on the back of his neck from the last stopover in Barcelona, Louis figured it was true enough, but surely he and Zayn had more sense than to do what they did.
Louis wanted to blame it on being young, making mistakes, being too in love to care about the rules, but that’s what you did when you were thirteen, not when you were in your mid-twenties trying to make a career of something you love and a terrible split-second decision fucks it all up. He and Zayn had no one to blame, and much as he hated himself for it, Louis did the sensible thing and decided to let the consequences take their course.
I was in for it, he thought, unable to stop the wistful smile from flitting across his face. He laced his fingers together subconsciously and lifted them to his mouth, wishing that they still smelled like airplane oxygen and two different brands of hand lotion.
It was Zayn’s last flight before he was fully qualified to become a full-on pilot; he would finally have enough hours of experience as first officer after the flight from London to Cancún. That should have been reason enough to deter them from trying any kind of shenanigans onboard, especially because Zayn was so invaluable to the cockpit operation and all that, Louis thought, but of course, they were stupid and enchanted by each other and figured they were experienced enough at this that they could get away with it.
Zayn got one break through the nearly eleven-hour flight to eat and use the toilet and stretch his legs, but he decided to use it to tug Louis into the heinously small toilet, growling into his ear, “Been too long already, need to see you come.”
That, of course, was more than enough to get Louis on board with the idea. “Yeah, yeah, okay,” he gasped, mouth feverish and careless against Zayn’s, his head tilted up and his eyes dark. His standard-issue neckerchief wasn’t even undone as Zayn snapped his shirt open to rake his nails across Louis’ chest; Louis’ breath caught as Zayn trailed his tongue over his nipples and down his stomach. He struggled to swallow a desperate moan when Zayn unbuttoned his trousers, pulling the zipper down with his teeth. Zayn’s eyes as they gazed up at Louis, heavy-lidded and debauched, were nearly enough to set him off, with all that brown and those fucking eyelashes.
“C’mon, Zayn,” Louis muttered, his cock straining against his briefs (green stripes, what was he thinking), his eyes slamming shut as Zayn mouthed at the outline of his erection, all hot breath and slight dampness. “C’mon,” he whined again, struggling to keep his voice down. One hand clutched tight around the corner of the plastic counter, the other hand flew to Zayn’s hair as his underwear was pulled down and the head of his cock was engulfed by Zayn’s mouth.
Louis’ head tossed back against the wall and he groaned lowly in the back of his throat. He exhaled in rapid succession, quick breaths shallow and loud as Zayn worked him over, the pressure nearly unbearable in the cramped space.
Zayn’s wrist twisting, he pulled back a moment, humming. “That’s it, that’s it, come on, love.” He laved his tongue over Louis one more time and that was it, back arching and thighs shaking, a ragged moan ripped from his throat.
Mind hazy, Louis faintly registered Zayn coming too, hot in his own hand seconds after Louis’ release. Louis was finding it difficult to distinguish anything from Zayn, Zayn, Zayn and their small, lazy kisses as they tidied themselves up a bit. He did, however, recognise the telltale rattle of the refreshment cart being pushed into its dock in the kitchenette.
“Babe, babe, you’ve gotta get out, they can’t catch you in here,” Louis breathed, haphazardly tugging Zayn’s trousers up for him and pulling a lighter and two loose cigarettes out of his pocket with a pointed look. “You’re not supposed to have these either, you bloody rebel.” He moved to hide them underneath the sink, but in his haste accidentally hit the emergency assistance button. “Fuck!”
“Get out, get out,” Louis hissed, shoving Zayn out of the toilet and hastily locking the door just before three quick raps interrupted his sigh of relief.
He finished snapping his shirt closed and straightened his neckerchief as he opened the door. “Yes?” he asked innocently, a bright grin on his face.
Damn it, it was that pinched little mousy woman unfortunately selected as the purser for the flight instead of Jesy, the usual flight attendant captain. She gasped, her face twisting into a look of sheer horror. Louis’ heart stopped. He couldn’t have forgotten anything, he took care of everything - ?
“Smoking! In the toilets!” Fuck.
She wasn’t having Louis’ stammered pleas of, “No, they’re not mine, I swear, I’ve worked for British Airways for three years, you don’t think I know the rules by now!” because “Well, then, Tomlinson, whose are they?” And he couldn’t say Zayn’s. He just couldn’t.
Working for the airline was a choice for Louis, because he got to travel and see the world and have fun along the way, but being a pilot was Zayn’s dream, ever since he was a little boy. It was all he wanted in the world, and he was so close he could taste it, and Louis wasn’t going to take that away from Zayn. He just couldn’t throw him under the bus like that.
So he didn’t.
And so Louis was grounded indefinitely, left alone in the emptiest flat he’d ever had in the middle of London, six blocks from the British Airways headquarters and directly beneath the flight path of every plane out of Heathrow. It was the first time in a long time he spent more than a single night drunk, and the first night ever he spent in tears.
vi. miami, florida | april 1984
You could have knocked Zayn over with a feather when he found out his first flight as a (in Harry’s terms) “Real Pilot” would be the final voyage of the Boeing 747-400. The British Airways coordinator handed him the well-worn captain’s log, thick with the words of select men before him, the details of the responsibility they had to bear scrawled nearly illegibly upon every page. The strength of the knowledge alone almost left him winded.
But, then again, lately he’d been having trouble breathing just in general.
The thought that he and Louis were... well, they were something, and that it so suddenly was torn apart by Zayn’s fucking stupid mistake made him so mad he saw stars and had to count to ten just to bring himself back.
He wasn’t going to let himself let Louis take the fall. But Louis insisted, tear tracks drying on their cheeks, thumbs brushing against Zayn’s cheekbones and he somehow was convinced to say okay. Zayn didn’t know how to say no to Louis, beautiful Louis with the smile and the hands and the emotions.
Louis had made him promise to not think about him at all while he was flying. “Look, I’m not, like, the best driver or anything, but they tell you not to drive upset or whatever, so you’re not to think about anything but pilot stuff while you’re up there, you got it?” His voice was indignant and his face was fierce but the way he swallowed slowly and prodded a finger into Zayn’s chest let him know all he needed to. “You better not. Niall will be keeping tabs on you, so I’ll know. I’ll find out. So... don’t.”
So besides Niall and brand-new flight engineer Greg spending the entire flight eyeing him like a zoo animal (as though he was going to punch a hole in the window and jump out the cockpit in a manic fit of blind rage and hopeless love), everything was absolutely brilliant about the flight. The rush Zayn got from shifting the controls just a tad and knowing he was responsible for the 500 people in the plane was incomparable. He remembered how daunting the endless lights and buttons and switches seemed when he was eighteen, but now they were familiar as his own right hand.
It was only a few hours later when he sat curled up in the big hotel chair, scrawling the dates and data into the heavy logbook with a tired hand, and when he signed his name at the bottom of the page, he stared at it a moment. There were still a few empty pages in the back of the book, but his name, Zayn realised, was going to be the last thing written in it. His eyes slowly traced the loops of his signature and he shut the book carefully, twisting his pen closed.
Zayn exhaled loudly and leaned his head back, eyes shut, exhausted, when he felt a finger poke his cheek. He opened his eyes and found his nose a centimeter away from a dimpled grinning ghost’s own nose. Starting, he let out a shout, scrambling out of the chair to stare wild-eyed at - “Harry! What the fuck?”
“You look like an old lady,” Harry laughed, pretending to clutch a pocketbook to his chest with an exaggeratedly startled face and pointing to the logbook pressed flush against Zayn’s torso. Zayn exhaled with a breathy laugh and set the book down gingerly on the seat of the chair. On a completely unrelated topic but in the same breath, Harry said, “Let’s go out.”
Shaking his head incredulously, Zayn responded, “Mate, it’s midnight.”
“And?” Harry clearly didn’t see the problem. “It’s also twenty degrees C and we’re in America. Live a little.”
Zayn weighed his options. He could go and call Louis, which he had been meaning to do since they landed. (Before he left, he found himself unpinning his brand-new, still-sparkling pilot’s wings from his chest and closing Louis’ hand around it, murmuring, “Keep it. Please.” He wasn’t that good with words, but he could tell Louis got the message loud and clear from the rather spectacular kiss he got before walking into the airport without Lou for the first time.) He glanced at his reflection, himself on the wall in his uniform and the patch of bright bleached white between the other pins felt like a badge of honour in and of itself.
But he did the math in his head quickly, and, in all likelihood, Louis wasn’t going to be awake right now. And he was still dressed to impress. And his hair did still look all right.
“All right.” He rolled his eyes but grinned at Harry, his tongue between his teeth.
So they found themselves snickering as they ran across the street from their hotel like eight-year-olds, flocking to the strip mall as they would an ice cream truck.
Zayn had an afterthought as glowing neon lights screamed “TATTOOS” and “DANCING” and “CLUB CIELO” into his face. “Oh, shit, what about Niall?”
Harry waved his hand dismissively, ducking into a doorway. “Went to bed. Calling his mum or food coma or something. Come on, Z.”
Something about it didn’t quite settle with him but he let it go as Harry’s dimpled grin, the promise of alcohol, and the press of Harry’s large hand on the small of his back steered him right through the doorway.
vii. london, england | august 1984
It took him a few weeks to get back on his feet, but Louis was slowly getting used to the feeling of being alone (which wasn’t to say that whenever the phone rang he didn’t perform Olympic-level hurdles over the furniture to answer it in the hopes that it was Zayn).
By July he was dragging himself out of the house once a week to buy groceries, and by August he was actually changing out of his joggers to do so.
He had a grocery basket full of frozen dinners and quarts of ice cream when he slammed into a stocky body rounding the aisle. Louis closed his eyes and sighed deeply, not even bothering to pick himself up off the floor. He folded his legs like Bambi and rubbed his face with his hands; he was sitting in the middle of the frozen food section of a convenience store (not even a proper grocery store, Jesus, Louis, get your shit together), surrounded by ice cream cartons and easy-nuke meals and loose potatoes.
“Er,” the body said haltingly. Right. Louis hadn’t just hit a brick wall and collapsed into a mess of human in the aisle; he had hit a real person with a real bag of potatoes that were currently rolling through the shop of their own accord.
Louis couldn’t be bothered to get up, but gazed up at the brick wall apologetically. “Hey, er.” He didn’t care to admit it, but he was a little dumbstruck by the broad-shouldered guy standing in front of him. “Sorry...?”
Broad Shoulders’ face was so concerned, Louis had to blink a few times to make sure he was for real. His buzz cut did little to toughen his baby face but he was built like a house. Louis swallowed hard. If Zayn got a look at this guy...
Louis took the hand offered to him and stood up. “Thanks. I’m Louis. Sorry.” His hand was dwarfed by roughness and calluses, which he probably should have been used to by now. He nearly fell back down again laughing at the sheer difference in size before he realised that was probably super rude and bit his tongue.
“No, no, it’s my fault,” the guy stammered, and Louis knit his eyebrows together. “I was coming around the corner so fast and I didn’t even see you. Let me help you pick all this up.”
“Hey, no, it’s totally fine, look, all your potatoes are...” Louis closed his mouth and waved indiscriminately at the mess surrounding them. He shrugged. “Potatoes.” What?
“I’m Liam. I’m so sorry, seriously.” He was bending over, scooping up the boxes and stacking them in size order like a Mayan pyramid (of course). Liam placed the frozen foods gingerly into Louis’ shopping basket. Louis was taken aback by this guy’s kindness. He didn’t even think people like that even existed anymore. He wondered briefly what Liam did for fun. Probably play Monopoly with the ailing children of Britain.
Louis pushed Liam’s hand away when he tried to pick up the basket and hand it to him. He appreciated the help, but he wasn’t an invalid. Louis didn’t know if he could be around a saint in his state. “Look, mate, thanks for the help, but I’m sure you’ve got to go to work or something, yeah? Don’t want to hold you up or anything.”
Liam looked chastened. “No, I work down at the mine over in Northampton.” He considered this. “Well, used to. Strike and that kind of messed that up.” Shrugging, he tossed a few potatoes back in their sack.
“Wait. Northampton? That’s like an hour away. What’re you doing all the way down here for?”
Liam rubbed the back of his neck. “Looking for a new place to stay, actually. Rent’s running a bit high where I’m now, since I’m not working. Have to save money and that. Getting married in the spring, but she lives with her parents right now. Do you know of any place nearby leasing?”
Louis let out an approximation of congratulations while his mind raced. The flat he was in was alarmingly empty right now. And Liam was engaged, and polite, and had a job (sort of). What was the harm in asking if -?
“Hey, I live by myself right now, just a street over. I work with British Airways but I’m, er,” he paused, “on a break. So I need a little extra money coming in. Maybe you’d want to stay with me?”
The skeptical look that flitted across Liam’s face didn’t deter Louis. “You’d come check it out first, obviously. Come over for tea and then you can decide? But if I’m gonna be honest, I think we’d be a good fit.”
Louis plated two of the frozen meals for tea (Liam was a proper gentleman and didn’t mention it, though Louis knew he could tell) and, as far as he was concerned, charmed the hell out of Liam. He tried not to be smug about it when Liam nodded at the end of night and just said, “Okay.” But he was pretty pleased.
viii. amsterdam, netherlands | october 1984
Because of the storm, British Airways Select Crew One was afforded a few extra days in the Netherlands, and hell if they weren’t going to make the most of it. Of course, when in Amsterdam, do as they do, right? They weren’t sixteen; they knew what they were doing. Sort of.
Niall wasn’t going to ask Zayn for the particulars, but when he came back smirking, shoving his hands into his coat pockets conspicuously and leaning close into Harry’s ear, he knew what was going on. But he, too, was invited upstairs with a sly grin, the girls stepping gingerly behind them so their heels wouldn’t click against the hardwood hallway.
“We look like we’re at a slumber party. Buncha girls in a ring on the floor in our kit,” said Perrie, digging her perfectly manicured nails into her pale thighs.
Shirtless, Zayn took a hit and quirked an eyebrow at her, motioning slightly frantically for her to come closer. Opening her mouth and pressing it against Zayn’s, her chest rising (nearly spilling) in her bra top, Perrie inhaled the smoke fully. She nodded and passed it, mouth-to-mouth, to Leigh-Anne, who laughed when Perrie pressed a little kiss to her nose immediately after.
Indignant, Jade whined, “You let all the smoke out!”
“Yeah, don’t get cross, but we only have so much of this,” Harry agreed, lighter flickering in front of his face, his eyes sleepy but bright green. His collarbones were pronounced as he hunched over himself, cross-legged on the hotel room rug.
“You mean I could only charm this much of this out of the ‘coffee shop,’” Zayn clarified, chuckling as he wrapped a hand around Harry’s to stop him toying with the lighter.
Harry shrugged. “That too.”
They smoked the remainder within a couple of hours, half-naked bodies in a haphazard heap on the floor in the room the boys were sharing. Niall found himself irritatingly clearheaded but altogether too hungry for the cannabis to have had no effect at all (which was saying something).
He remembered faintly that housekeeping was due to come round in only a few hours and that if the girls and the paraphernalia weren’t gone, they would all probably have some explaining to do. He had seen enough from what happened with Louis that that wasn’t a situation they wanted to be in at all. That was enough to get him to rouse Jesy, who helped him toss clothes in the general direction of their owner.
Zayn and Harry gazed up at them with hooded but alert eyes, nodding when Niall said, “Gonna get these ones into their room and pop down, grab som’t from the lobby shop and be back, yeah?”
It took some effort, but he stayed coherent enough throughout the endeavour to make it down to the lobby and back without a hitch. A biscuit in his mouth, Niall chewed slowly and fished the room key out of his pocket. His hand was hovering over the knob when he paused, a mixture of noises coming from inside the room.
Just because Niall wasn’t exactly all there didn’t mean he was blind. Or deaf, as the case happened to necessitate. A distinct buzzing noise accompanied the – oh – miscellaneous but very clearly Zaynlike and Harrylike groans peppering the air. Niall pulled his hand back like he had touched the kettle, but leaned so his ear was slightly closer to the door.
The scattered shouts and punctuated buzzes didn’t strike Niall as anything quite ordinary. His thoughts immediately jumped to chainsaws, murders, like on the 60 Minutes specials, oh God why them, they were so young, until –
“Harry, no, oh my God, you can’t do that there! Oh, Jesus, okay, yeah, do it.” Bzzzzzz.
Oh. Well. Jesus indeed.
Niall staggered back, his biscuit falling forgotten to the floor. He didn’t know the dirty details, but he was fucking positive he did not want to.
God, Zayn was just talking about how he was going home next month and that would be the first time he’d seen Louis in ages. It didn’t sound to him like they had an… arrangement, or anything of the sort. Harry was good-looking, sure, and Niall’d be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about it, but that shit wasn’t fair to Louis. Louis had the right to know. So I’ve got to tell him, Niall decided firmly.
He bounded back down the stairs, foot crushing the biscuit as he went.
( part two )