( part one )
Niall/Zayn, secondary Harry/Louis
tv-14 for language, eventual R
chapter two, 2,416 (total 5,102) | boxing AU
I really needed to get this chapter out before I got on with the real interaction part. Don't hate me too terribly. Next chapter will be up soon, and it'll be getting to the good stuff. In the meantime, enjoy xo
"Train like you'll fight."
The idea was that Zayn would loosen up a bit before the second fight of the week by going out to the club. The night before the match, he would lose himself in being surrounded by bodies, standing at the booth spinning an hour and a half-long record mix, and a three-drink maximum. (That last one was Liam’s call, not Zayn’s.) He had easily trumped Greg Something-or-Other in the bout on Monday, so this was a kind of celebration rolled into an easygoing prep for his go against Niall Horan, one big blowout of it.
Louis never turned down a Fight Night Bang-up, and he bounded into the club directly following Zayn. Louis, of course, was wearing his tightest grey skinny jeans, more than ready to make the world fall at his feet with one flip of his soft hair. He tried to imitate the brooding pout Zayn had pasted on his face, tugging him further into the throng of gyrating bodies with a barking laugh. “Ease up, man. Find a bird and do that hip thing you do so well. Sex tonight, first-rate fight!”
Rolling his hips against Zayn’s briefly, Louis patted him on the shoulder before disappearing into the crowd. Zayn rolled his eyes, half-smiling and lighting a cigarette as he popped out of the club to lean against the brick wall. Dim lights flooded the alleyway, deeming it one of the safest clubside alleys Zayn had ever seen. He chuckled at the thought, taking a long drag from his cigarette. Normally he’d be all over the DJ booth, mixing until Louis dragged another poor soul away from the dance floor and into a cab, but tonight, he felt apprehensive.
This was a big fight. This fight determined whether or not he would win the money he’d been fighting to earn for the past months, if not years. Zayn hadn’t realised how big it was going to be until S.C. came out of his office, silently looming in the middle of the gym while Zayn was training with Liam the other evening.
Just his intimidating presence had spooked some of the newer recruits to the gym into dropping a dumbbell or two. S.C. peered through the ropes at Zayn, whose shaking legs weren’t doing him any favours as he fruitlessly tried to dodge around Liam’s admittedly tough combinations. “What are you doing, Malik?” his gruff voice asked incredulously. “Do you know how many rounds Niall had to win to even get close to fighting you?”
Liam and Zayn had paused to consider this. “No, not really…?” Zayn lilted awkwardly. He winced at how childish he sounded. “Which fight is this again?”
Sighing deeply and crossing his beefy arms, S.C. admonished, “You're kidding me. This is your final fight for the summer season, and it’s the one with the twenty-k-quid prize at the end of it. You know you can box better than this. Don’t take yourself out of the match before you even look at the ring. Train like you’ll fight, Zayn.”
Zayn needed that money. His older sister had worked her way through her life all right, being the eldest, and Zayn had helped on his own with S.C.’s sports scholarships, but his younger sisters were floundering at school as it was, and nobody really knew if his mother and his dad could afford to put two more kids through the uni system, especially with tuition rising as high as it had been lately. Winning that prize would mean an endless amount to his family, and he could afford to send both his little sisters to top-notch universities, if they wanted, and then some. Maybe he’d even be able to earn that upper degree in literature he’d been wanting since he entered upper school.
But first I have to fight that Horan guy, Zayn mused, tossing the butt of his cigarette onto the already ash-laden asphalt and crushing it under the toe of his shoe. He gave a curt nod to the backdoor bouncer before sliding back into the humid crowd, the bass thumping through his body and probably giving him early-onset, club music-induced arrhythmia. That wouldn’t be helpful if he intended on continuing his athletic career for as long as possible.
His eyes flicked over the mass of sweating, dancing bodies, searching quickly for a striped shirt and perfectly swooped bangs. Zayn thought he had everything about Louis pegged by now, but he still raised his eyebrows not entirely disapprovingly when he identified the older boy, dancing (if he could even call it that, it was more just rhythmic gyrating in tandem) with a taller, lanky boy with a mop of messy hair. From his place at the bar, Zayn stared incredulously as the curly boy not-so-delicately clutched the hair at the nape of Louis’ neck, nipping kisses along his throat and leaving a sucking bruise on his collarbone. Louis’ eyes fluttered closed, but all the while he stayed moving to the music, pressed flush against the taller boy.
Pulling a neutral face and ordering a drink, Zayn decided it would be best to leave that one alone for the time being. He would take the drink carryout and walk back to his flat, maybe try to get a good night’s sleep, for the first time since God knew when. The pretty blonde bartender gave him a wink as she passed him his drink, her cell number undoubtedly written on the napkin-coaster she handed him alongside his glass.
Zayn gave her a quick once-over. Ordinarily he would be all over her (or the other way around) by this time of night, but there was a weird buzzing in his stomach that he couldn’t shake, and Zayn thought maybe it was time to head out, with or without Louis.
He tucked the scribbled-upon paper into his pocket and grabbed his drink, hoisting himself off the barstool and heading towards the exit. Passing briefly by Louis and his boy toy du jour, Zayn allowed himself a glance. Catching his mate’s eye, Zayn lifted his drink in a toast to Louis’ conquest, causing Louis to smirk proudly and tilt his head in return. Zayn considered that his signal to leave, tipping an imaginary hat in the boys’ general direction and turning to step out the exit and hand the valet his ticket.
Glancing down at the half-finished drink in his hand, Zayn wondered briefly how many bar glasses he had inadvertently collected over the last few years. Shrugging, he downed the rest of it.
“No worries, Niall Horan, all you have to do is just tell us your name, how old you are, how long you’ve been training for this, and why you want to win,” the elfin brunette woman fussed, clipping a microphone onto Niall’s collar.
Niall waved his hand, offering the woman a half-smile in acknowledgement. Harry would usually be buzzing around, flirting lazily with the interviewer as she prepped Niall for the standard pre-fight camera gauntlet, but this morning he was rocking back and forth on his feet, drooping, tired eyes flicking between Niall and the crowd steadily filling up the arena.
“What’re you lookin’ at, Haz?” Niall peered around the locker room corner, trying to follow Harry’s gaze. He paused when his eyes fell upon a very attractive but tired-looking man checking his phone in the center of the second row, who also seemed to be peering back at him. “Harry… who’s that?”
Caught off guard, Harry stumbled back against the wall, trying desperately to look nonchalant. “Who? I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Noticing the guilty look on Harry’s face and the cameraman approaching quickly, Niall raised an eyebrow at his mate, saying bluntly, “You’ve got twenty seconds to tell me something, else I will not let it drop.” He gazed at Harry innocently but expectantly.
Harry glanced from left to right, mumbling out lowly, “His name is Louis and he’s a boxing ref here in London and I met him at a club last night and.” He stopped himself abruptly, swallowing thickly as the interviewer raised an eyebrow at him, microphone in hand and the other on her hip.
She grinned saccharine-sweetly. “Harry, love, could you do us a big favour and tell the announcer we’ll be but a minute? Thaaaanks,” she drawled, motioning to her cameraman.
Niall coughed, pulling a face at Harry, who bounded out with a mightily sarcastic salute, before starting the interview.
“So, Mr Niall Horan, tell us about yourself.”
“Er, well, I’m Niall Horan, as y'know. I’m twenty-one years old and I’m fightin’ fer Mullingar, Ireland.”
“Small town, that. How long have you been training for this fight?”
“I mean, I’ve been boxin’ fer ages, since I was a lad, practically, but this match is really important t’me. Twenty thou is a lot of money, but it’s not just about that – I have t’ prove to m’family and t’ everyone that dreamin’ big isn’t pointless. That, y’know, a normal kid, just some buddyboy boxer from Mullingar or wherever, can go t’ London or America or somet’in and succeed on his own, on the sheer force and power of his boxing. Not very many people come out of a place like Mullingar and make it. I want t’ be that guy, selling out Pay-per-View fights and jamming bars on nights when I’m tossin’ another opponent t’ the bottom of the scoreboard. I have to win. Not just for me, but for Mullingar. Fer my home.”
“Well, I’m sure everyone at home and everyone out here wants you to succeed. Sounds like you’re going to fight your hardest out there, doesn’t it?” the interviewer beamed sunnily.
Niall furrowed his brow, but continued smiling his lopsided smile. “I always fight m’ hardest. And if the day comes I don’t, well…” He paused, then laughed. “Someone’s bound t’ notice. And I’ll get a good hard arse-kickin’ fer it.”
The interviewer laughed too hard and signed off, hastily unclipping the microphone as Paul came waltzing into the warm-up room, all broad shoulders and thick arms and stern face.
“Thanks a lot, Niall – uh, Mr Horan – uh!” She scurried away, mousy cameraman in tow.
Harry laughed as the irritating duo scuttled off, undoubtedly to ask Niall’s opponent Zayn Malik the same overplayed questions. Paul approached gruffly, saying something about the match starting in fifteen minutes, and Niall nodded. He had to get into the zone. Harry retrieved Niall’s water bottle and handed it to Paul, before whispering in Niall’s ear, “You’ll do amazing, mate. Knock him out.”
“No doubt.” Niall gave him a quick hug before Harry scampered off to, undoubtedly, ‘Louis’ in the seats. As he clicked to his warmup playlist, Niall peered out into the audience, watching as Louis’ face lit up to see little but lanky Harry bounding towards him.
Niall jogged in place, closing his eyes and tugging his Under Armour sleeves up higher on his biceps, Bon Jovi blaring as he imagined Zayn Malik in front of him, breath heaving through his mouthguard as Niall hits him once, twice, three times clear in the face, and one sharp jab to his ear sends him to the floor, and Niall’s lifting his arms and grinning a bright red plastic smile and Paul is tapping him on the shoulder and Niall is opening his eyes and it’s time to fight for real.
“Fuck, Liam, what is this man’s problem? It’s like he has a personal vendetta out for me or something,” Zayn gasped out, taking a swig from his water bottle, sweat pouring from his forehead into his eyes.
Liam patted a towel over his face, mopping up the sweat. He shrugged, “He’s pretty good. You’re tied. You never tie. It’s like he knows what you’re going to do before you do it. Trick him. Make a decision, then change it at the last second. Don’t do what you think is best. You’re going into overtime again, and you have to do it. You have to.”
Nodding frantically, Zayn strained to close his eyes and found that he couldn’t. He looked straight across the ring, only to meet Niall Horan’s eyes. Startled, Zayn tried to recover seamlessly, attempting to furrow his brow and look menacing and determined, but the other boy had simply frowned and spoke in hushed tones to his own trainer. Liam was stretching Zayn’s arms and back out as Zayn took deep breaths, Louis calling out to him murkily from the second row.
“Come on, Zaynie, I know you’ve got more in you than that!”
Zayn managed a meager thumbs-up at Louis and, was that Curly Hair from last night?, before the bell rang again and his bright green mouthguard was back in and he was cracking his neck and he was moving.
Something in Horan’s eyes was different, Zayn supposed, figuring it was just exhaustion getting to him. Instead of taking punches straight at Zayn, he had leapt into a cover-up, and all Zayn had to do was swing his left arm to hit the seam between those pale but strong arms and the guard was down. He swiftly took the opportunities to send his right glove flying into Horan’s face, and he staggered back a few steps, breathing hard and going into his guard again.
Zayn couldn’t stop landing punches. All he could see was flashes of pale skin and red mouthguard and headgear and those blue eyes that seemed so determined yet still so resigned. All he was thinking was one more, one more, points points points why is he looking at me like that I’ve got to hit him, one more one more, for Waliyha, for Safaa, one fucking more.
Horan swung at Zayn, getting a hit in on the ears as the bell sounded and the referee signalled stop.
His eyesight went fuzzy, and Zayn screwed up his eyes, trying to regain mental traction. He barely registered his chest heaving and his opponent staring wide-eyed lasers into him as the referee leaned into his shoulder to hear the judges’ verdict. Gulping for breath and water like some sort of ugly, desperate boxing fish, Zayn managed to make sense of Louis’ and Liam’s cheers and whoops in the crowd of manic boxing spectators and flinched under the holes being bored into his face by Curly, who looked something like concerned when Zayn had expected either enthusiastic or disappointed.
He felt his arm being lifted by the baby-smooth hand of the referee and promptly began to cry.
( part three )