( part one, part two )
Niall/Zayn, secondary Harry/Louis
tv-14 for language, eventual R
chapter three, 2,168 (total 7,270) | boxing AU
Not much to say here besides hope you like it! Confliiiict. xo
"You don’t know what you’ve got yourself into."
I don’t feel bad, Niall realised. Coming in second in the region wasn’t something to scoff at, and the consolation prize was still five k. But something had possessed him to ease up on Zayn Malik the second time they went into overtime, and he could not put his finger on it for the life of him.
He also couldn’t put a finger on who was paying for which drinks, as he peered into Zayn’s eyes again while they chatted and shot the shit at the bar. Zayn had ordered a rum soda, which Niall tried not to judge as he asked for his typical whiskey.
They talked about everything and nothing at all, and Zayn inched a little bit more off the edge he seemed to always be perched upon with each sip of his drink. Niall appreciated Zayn’s easy sense of humour, as he himself borrowed his, tending to recycle jokes he’d heard on Buzzcocks or the radio. Zayn laughed anyway.
Niall was both nervous and relieved that his opponent had accepted his invitation to go out for a couple of pints after the obligatory (and irritating, they both agreed) post-fight interviews with that tetchy, sycophantic bird that somehow was famous, for one of the upper channels on cable. It’s because she’s hot, Zayn had said, rolling his eyes and laughing roughly, and something in Niall frowned and he prayed it wasn’t his face.
Of course, they had to discuss boxing in general, but Zayn deftly dodged the topic of the match itself. Niall wasn’t having his whole modesty shit, regardless of how furrowed his brow got when Niall brought it up. Which he did. Repeatedly.
“I heard what you’re planning on doing with the money,” Niall admitted, and Zayn looked up from his glass this time, an unreadable look on his face. “I think that’s brilliant. A lot better than what I wanted, anyway. More important.”
Stumbling over his expressions, Zayn seemed to settle on a mixture of sheepish and proud. “Thanks, mate. That really means a lot. I’ve worked honestly for what I’ve got so far and it’s pretty tough being away from everyone, but I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, y’know?” Niall nearly tossed back the whole rest of his whiskey at the sincerity. Zayn continued, “My mum cried when I told her. She does it a lot, I guess, she’s kind of crazy. But it’s nice, y’know, because she’s being supportive.”
Niall nodded. “My dad really likes what I’m doing, with the boxing, and, I mean, I suppose it’s all relative. I just wanted to do somethin’ my hometown could be proud of.” This time he did tip back the last bits of his drink, grinning at Zayn, whose own glass was still half-full.
“Shut up,” Zayn said indignantly, and both he and Niall began to laugh. The sound was apparently promising to the bartender, who brought each of them another drink.
Gesturing to Zayn’s glass, Niall prodded, “Best finish your first one, then we’ll have a go at the next one, yeah?”
“Yeah, bit presumptuous of him, if you ask me,” Zayn responded of the server, letting out a laugh as he took a few gulps of his unfinished alcohol. “Gotta be careful, though,” he warned teasingly, “don’t want to get too smashed or else we might do something we regret.”
The way Zayn’s mouth curled up into a smirk and his eyebrow quirked suggestively gave Niall pause. He floundered briefly trying to pick up his thoughts and mold them into a string of words that would make at least vague conversational sense.
“D’you have a girl or something? Why’d you come out with me instead of-“
“Taking one of those half-to-panting spectator girls home?” Zayn finished, shrugging. “You seemed a better choice in the moment. Don’t make me regret it, Horan, going all soft on me now!”
Niall shook his head, the blood inside his skull thumping to the too-high bass in the music on the dance floor behind them. Smiling toothily, he pulled out his buzzing phone to see a couple of “congratulations!” texts from his brother and a few friends back home. Zayn grabbed it, exiting out of the messages quickly. Niall knitted his eyebrows together, but wasn’t worried. For some reason, Zayn seemed trustworthy. And Niall was used to going with his gut.
When he was done doing, well, whatever it was he was doing, Zayn slid two phones across the counter, one open contact reading “Zayn Malik” and the other blinking “Niall Horan.” Raising an eyebrow, he elaborated, “Your number?”
Niall nodded this time, feeling foolish. The dim overhead lights probably masked the redness threatening to creep up his neck to his face, for which he was grateful. He thumbed his number into the phone (which was only marginally less shit than his own; maybe he could buy a new one now; maybe both of them could) and tossed it back to him gently.
“This might mean I’ll be texting you film quotes nonstop, you know,” Zayn warned. “Probably annoying ones from Grease or Stepbrothers. Mm, not probably. Definitely. You don’t know what you’ve got yourself into, mate.” He let out an open laugh.
Niall snorted, admitting, “Magazine factoid: Grease is one of my favourite movies. But if you let that interview bird know, though, I’ll have to kill you.”
He had opened his mouth to say something else when Harry’s Louis came bounding up, shouting something about Zayn being a “goddamn motherfucking champion” and then asking Zayn blankly for a “moment, please” in the same breath. Harry stood behind, wide-eyed and looking terrified, tugging desperately at Louis’ arm and muttering nonsense through his teeth in Niall’s general direction.
Zayn frowned, asking, “Do you two know each other? We haven’t met – Harry, right? Zayn.” He offered his hand and Harry stared at it, mouth agape, before taking it and shaking it a little too hard.
Niall eyed the interaction warily, confused. “Yeah, Harry and I are flatmates-”
A full smile graced Zayn’s face at that, and he was beaming what felt to Niall like pure sunlight as he let Louis drag him away into a quiet corner adjacent to the bar, by the back door.
Zayn thought about Niall and his obsession with proving himself and his grin failed to fade as he remembered how earnest he’d been when he told Zayn he was happy for him. He felt something like regret when Louis had unceremoniously (but, for Louis, there was no other way) yanked him away from his barstool. He hadn’t even had time to grab his glass to deal with whatever Louis needed to say to him so urgently.
“Y’know, if you need a condom, this is a very uncharacteristic way of asking for one,” Zayn intoned, patting his wallet in his back pocket.
Louis’ typical mischievous glint was absent from his face now that Harry was out of his sight, and Zayn chalked it up to his current status as a smitten kitten. (Niall had said his brother’s girlfriend had called Niall that when he was younger and obsessed with Cheryl Cole.) Rolling his eyes and offering nothing more than stark worry, Louis said, “No, you twat. I’ve got one, anyway.”
“Niall’s actually a really cool bloke, and if he and Harry are flatmates, that’s well off, yeah? If it’s serious between you and him, it would be really well done, we could chill out in London all the time.” Zayn managed to fit in a grin before Louis started, waving a hand agitatedly.
“No, that’s the thing, Zaynie. I don’t know if you know this, but Niall let you win tonight. Hazza showed me some videos of his better matches and, Christ, Zayn, he absolutely slays everyone.”
Pulling a face, Zayn let out an exhale that was meant to come out as a laugh. “So, you’re telling me that you don’t believe that I won on my own talent, tonight of all nights? Fuck you, Lou, that’s some joke you’re pulling here.”
Anguish immediately painted Louis’ typically impish face. “No, no, I’m not – Haz and Niall have been mates for ages and he told me at the match, during the fight, that he was easing down, not giving you his best, that he knew it from when they trained together at their gym, and-”
“Look, Lou, I don’t know what you’re trying to do here, protect me from – something, I don’t know, I don’t need help with anything. Why are you doing this?”
Louis grabbed hold of one of Zayn’s calloused hands in his two smaller ones, a beseeching look in his eyes. “Have I ever lied to you before?” He hesitated. “Well, seriously, anyway, pranks notwithstanding? I’m not out to hurt you, mate, you’ve got to know that. I thought you ought to know the truth, whatever come of it.”
It was alarming to see Louis so upset, and Zayn tugged his arm away to lean up against the wall, propping the door open with his foot and lighting a cigarette, the vent just outside the exit sucking up the smoke he exhaled. He had to think.
Would it be so bad if Niall did really deserve to win? He didn’t want to. He gave it up. What reason he had for it, Zayn couldn’t guess for the life of him. But then… why did he try so hard to be his friend if he had lost, even purposefully? Guilty conscience, Zayn surmised. He probably didn’t want to be mates for real, anyway, just to play along until he felt better about losing because he gave up. Checking the time on his watch briefly, Zayn breathed, “Christ.” He had spent four hours talking with Niall at the bar. Sharing his happiness, his family life, his lifelong dream. Wasted four hours at the bar, Zayn reminded himself.
Bile began to rise in his throat. He had met the guy not even a full day earlier, and his blood was boiling as he stewed over the way Niall had treated him. Zayn came by what he had honestly. That was his thing. And to have that thrown away over a stupid boy – man – whatever – was, frankly, embarrassing. And degrading.
Louis watched nervously as Zayn hurled his cigarette to the sidewalk just outside the cracked-open door, smashing it under the toe of his shoe more than necessary. Resentment flashed over Zayn’s face and he grit his teeth, making movement to give Niall a piece of his mind.
Not two steps and he smacked straight into Louis, whose feet were planted firmly, but slipping a little as Zayn shoved him aside. “What the actual fuck, Lou, get out of my way.”
Shaking his head, Louis insisted, “We’re leaving now. No need to deal with that nonce, he’s a prick and a liar and a nutter. You’re drunk, and Liam’s gone to deal with him; I can see him now, and you’ll be fine. We’re going, get out the door, chase the smoke and go to bed.”
“I’m not drunk, Lou, I’m just gone to give him an idea of why he can’t fuck with a guy like that, there’s a code.” Zayn’s head felt clearer now than when he started drinking. Score one for pissed off v. pissed.
Zayn fought Louis’ pushes (which Louis was a trouper for enduring; Zayn was a semi-professional athlete, after all) all the way out the back door, but he begrudgingly got in the cab. Louis slid in next to him, pulling out his phone and tapping out a quick message, his bottom lip caught by his teeth.
Sighs filled the back of the car simultaneously, one exhale frustrated, the other exhausted. Louis’ face was lit up by the faint blue glow of his screen, his fingertips moving against the glass and plastic deftly. A text to Harry, no doubt, assuring that Zayn was contained. Animal control was not necessary. His jaw creaked as Zayn yawned widely, bringing him to the hazy realisation that he had never unclenched it after receiving the information.
Maybe he just needed to get it on with a random girl from the pub or the market or the far recesses of his contacts list. Zayn considered this. It dawned on him that he hadn’t had sex in probably a month. A frown appeared on his face. He hadn’t gone a month without sex since he was probably fifteen or sixteen. A month? Jesus. And, if he recalled correctly, last time wasn’t that great either.
“Can hear you thinking, Z,” Louis murmured.
“’Bout your mum,” he countered lazily. Even though he and Louis joked around a lot that way, it tasted wrong in his mouth somehow. “If it’ll keep you awake enough to pay this driver, by all means, keep sexting Harry. Send him a picture of your dick; I’m not looking.”
Louis snorted, his eyes tired but his smirk firmly replaced where it belonged. That, at least, was something Zayn could count on.
( part four )