one direction; au
liam payne/zayn malik
inspired heavily by images found in this post from tumblr.
→ And that's where it starts, with two boys kneeling in a sandbox.
There’s a park a few blocks away from his house. It’s a perfect kind of park with two swing sets, a merry-go-round, a castle tower attached to a swirly slide, and a large sandbox in the center of it all.
It’s a quiet Tuesday in June, so Liam convinces his mother that it’s the perfect time for a trip to the park. His neighborhood isn’t the most entertaining, and as a 10-year-old boy he’s starting to realize that letting his older sisters fit bows into his hair may not be the best way to spend his summer.
But Liam doesn’t mind playing alone. He’s got a full sandbox and a set of toys to plod around with in the dirt. He's so engrossed in his imagination — Sheriff Woody versus the T-Rex! — that he doesn't notice another figure slowly approaching until a voice stutters, "H-Hey."
Liam looks up to see another boy his age, and he instantly smiles. "Hi!" The other boy, as if startled by Liam's friendliness, gapes before his lips curl into a small grin.
"Can I play?"
And that's where it starts, with two boys kneeling in a sandbox.
Every Tuesday after that the boys clamor to the park, tugging on their moms’ hands the whole way. And every Tuesday they find each other.
They dig in the sand, swing on the monkey bars, and push each other on the swings.
The other boy, Zayn, is quiet. But when he speaks, he's funny and cracks silly jokes that make Liam roll with laughter. They become as good as friends can be at 10. It’s the kind of closeness that Liam has never had with another person — not his parents, not his sisters, and certainly not any of his classmates. It was as if Zayn and Liam were a perfect fit, the kind of friends that make a whole.
At the end of the summer, they promise to still meet at the park every Tuesday. They pledge their friendship like children do, with the kind of hope that only lives in those not tainted by the realities of chance and change.
Liam sits them down in the sandbox, setting his Woody action figure on the edge, just like it was when Zayn had first found him all those months ago.
Zayn sits next to him, legs crossed and eyes sparkling as Liam paints a tale of imagined adventures and journeys. It's getting late and they realize they'll be saying goodbye soon. That school will start next Monday. That things could be different.
"I'm gonna miss you," Zayn mutters as he nudges Liam with his shoulder.
Liam grins and tugs at Zayn's shorts. "Wanna try something?" Zayn blushes at first, and Liam doesn't understand why, but he does and Liam thinks it’s just another funny thing that makes him Zayn.
“Sure,” he nods after a second. He watches as Liam reaches into his pocket and pulls out a permanent marker. He pulls Zayn's right foot into his lap and uncaps the marker.
With a steady hand, he presses the tip of the marker into the bottom of Zayn’s green converse and scribbles four capital letters. It’s his name, with a backwards ‘L’ as a twist.
"There! Now I'll be with you, and when you miss me you just have to look down here, and there I am!"
Zayn stares at the name on his shoe for a moment before grinning and slinging an arm around Liam’s back. “Cool.”
Liam goes to school on Monday and it's tiring. He doesn't have friends like Zayn in his class. The other kids are mean and tease him for his baby face and fumbled words.
He runs to the park on Tuesday, steps ahead of his mother. He sits in the castle tower and waits. But Zayn doesn't come. He waits and waits, but Zayn doesn't come.
It's like that for a few weeks, and then months pass and Liam’s feet feel heavier with each Tuesday that Zayn isn’t at the park. He picks a Wednesday in November to shake out the extra weight in his soles, and he just starts running. It feels good.
His mother convinces him to join his school’s cross country team. For once, Liam finds something that doesn’t make him feel left behind.
Fast-forward a few years. Liam's 14 and restless. It’s a boring, hot summer day, and Niall's still sleeping and Liam doesn't want to be clustered in his house any longer. He debates slinging on his running shoes, but considering the sizzling heat changes his mind. So he packs a water bottle and sets out to wander around his favorite haunts.
He stumbles upon the park without really thinking about it. Over the years it has become a little wrecked and unloved. But it's still there, and every once in a while Liam finds himself heading toward it for unspoken reasons.
As he gets closer, he sees a figure sitting in the castle and his steps stutter.
It’s Zayn, Liam knows right away. He's longer in the body and his face seems older yet young at the same time. He's got a cigarette in his mouth, sunglasses over his eyes, and Liam's struck with how much of a boy he looks.
So like a boy, the kind Liam imagines he could walk down the street with, fingers twisted together in light touches, lips twitching with smiles and almost kisses.
And— but— it's Zayn and Liam can't breathe.
"Hey," Zayn mutters when he sees Liam standing below. The cigarette almost falls out of his mouth when he actually sees Liam in and repeats, "h-hey."
Liam nods and motions next to Zayn. The other boy scoots over and watches as Liam climbs the tower and settles down next to him.
"Hi," Liam says, chest heaving from nerves and excitement. The boys exchange sloppy grins and burst into laughter.
They talk for hours that day, as if the past years only serve as more reasons to exchange conversation.
Liam tells tales of his running and schoolyard fights. Zayn explains how his family has moved around a bit because his parents just want him and his sisters to feel comfortable in a school system. Liam laughs over his freakish body and health concerns and Zayn counters by spinning the story of his first cigarette.
"I should go soon,” Liam admits finally. “My mom's probably making dinner.” He doesn't say that his mom's been texting him for the past hour. Liam turns to Zayn and tries not to frown. "Will you come back?"
Zayn nudges Liam, shoulder-to-shoulder, and Liam blushes because he knows this, this is them.
"I'm only in the area again for a handful of weeks."
There's a pause as Liam realizes that Zayn will be leaving again at some point, but he's pulled back when Zayn puts a hand on Liam's knee.
"But yes. Yes, I will."
Liam's face explodes as he grins, and it’s infectious enough to hit Zayn just as fast.
And like that, they’re best friends once again.
Liam realizes later that night that he didn't have Zayn's phone number. And then he thinks, I'd be asking for his number and what would that mean?
He considers that Zayn might not think anything of it - why should he? - but it hits him how much it would mean to him.
And that's when Liam realizes that he likes Zayn as more than a childhood friend.
It was an unspoken agreement that they would meet a week later. It's only a little ironic that it happened on a Tuesday, but that’s not what has Liam’s stomach bubbling with anxiety.
He can't stop thinking about Zayn — about how he looked and sounded and smelled — and Liam might have woken up a few times to an uncomfortable stiffness and once to a puddle of cooled wetness.
But he has to see Zayn, no matter his feelings, so he goes back the following Tuesday. Zayn's sitting on a swing, and he smiles and reaches into his pocket to grab a smoke as Liam slides into the one next to him.
It’s almost startling how easy Liam opens up to Zayn. An amazing thrill jolts down Liam's spine as he realizes how close Zayn leans in to talk to him and just how real their conversations are.
"Wanna trade numbers?" Liam blurts as Zayn rises from the swing to head home. They've been talking for hours, but Liam doesn't want it to end. Zayn doesn't respond but reaches into his pocket. "Number?" Liam smiles and recites the digits.
His pocket buzzes an hour later and his heart races at the unknown number.
Liam doesn't admit to himself just how painful it is to smile for as long as he does while he holds his phone above his head and responds.
The next few weeks pass, and Liam finds himself filling the gaps between days with endless texts shared with Zayn. Random musings, funny picture messages and commentary on television shows watched late-late at night. Everything and anything. One Friday Niall jokes that Liam's thumbs are glued to his phone, but Liam just tells him to fuck off.
“Mysterious Payne,” Niall drawls as his own fingers trample across an xbox controller. “You’ll tell me eventually.”
Liam smiles, but swallows down the realization that soon he might have anything to tell.
It's the Monday before their last Tuesday when Zayn texts you still got woody?
Liam stares at his phone with wide eyes for a few seconds before responding.
the doll, li. your woody doll
The request surprises him, but he tumbles underneath his bed to see. It’s a little battered and it’s missing the hat, but he pulls it from a storage bin and grins. He snaps a picture of it and sends it to Zayn as proof.
Zayn is quick to respond.
bring it 2morro
Liam doesn't question it. He tucks it into his pocket the next day. The walk to the park seems longer than usual. His feet don't know whether to drag or skip, because it's Zayn's last day in town, but it's still Zayn.
He finds Zayn sitting in the sandbox, and Liam's gut sinks with a mess of feelings he doesn't understand.
"Hey," Zayn says up to Liam.
"Hi." Liam sits next to him and pulls out the doll. “Look, see?”
Zayn picks it up with gentle fingers and runs a tip across the worn, plastic face. "I've got something for you." He reaches to his jacket pocket and pulls out a banged up Buzz Lightyear doll.
"Buzz?" Liam grabs it and holds it to his face. "My parents got it for me when we moved, because I wouldn't stop watching Toy Story. The move kind of upset me, so they thought it would help cheer me. It worked for a while. I slept with it every night. Still do some times."
Liam inhales sharply and turns his face close to Zayn's. The other boy's eyes sparkle with a mix of sadness and awe. "I don't wanna say bye to you again, Li.”
"Then don't," Liam says as he drops the toy into his lap and pulls Zayn in by the collar of his jacket. Their lips crash in a rushed but perfect kind of kiss, and Liam instantly thinks, oh, I get it now.
They kiss in the sandbox for a few minutes before Zayn breaks apart, gasping, "You're honestly amazing."
Liam dives in to press a sweet kiss to the corner of Zayn’s mouth. "I almost died when I realized it was you that first day,” he confesses. “Because I couldn't unsee how amazing you were. Are.”
"I've kind of had a crush on you since I was 10," Zayn whispers, cradling Liam’s cheek in his palm. Liam thinks he feels something breaks a little inside. He whines and pulls Zayn in for a heated and desperate kiss.
Lips part and tongues slip messily together, and neither of them really know what they're doing, but it's more than ok.
It's getting dark when they consider the idea of finally going their separate ways. Liam yanks Zayn down into the sand so they can sprawl out. "Don't leave, please," he mutters into Zayn’s chest as he runs a hand across the other boy’s abdomen.
The request is made in vain, but Zayn presses a soft kiss to Liam's nose. "I'll come back for you, I promise." Liam sucks in a few tears and reaches around to dig in his pocket.
"Gimme your foot." Zayn laughs. "Again?" But he lifts his leg and lets Liam grab his shoe. Liam admires the shapes and sketches decorating Zayn's sneakers, tracing them with a finger before turning the shoe upside down to scratch his name onto the bottom
"There. So when you miss me—" Zayn catches Liam's face and twists it to face him, pressing kiss after kiss to his lips
It takes them another hour to leave, but neither says goodbye.
They text every day after that, and it's good for a few months. Niall tries to steal his phone constantly, and at one point Liam is forced — Niall’s small but surprisingly heavy, and his weight knocks the wind out of Liam as Niall sits on his chest and holds Liam’s arms above his head until Liam relents — to at least show Niall the blurry picture he has saved.
Niall whistles and shoves the phone back to Liam, whose insides flip around, because it’s like Zayn is his boyfriend, or at least his in some kind of special way.
It takes a few months for communication to start to fizzle. Liam doesn't consider it, not consciously. But it hurts more than he can say when he realizes Zayn hasn’t texted him back in almost a week.
The texts stagger into distant observations about coffee prices and stupid things that barely merit responses, and Liam trudges home after school one day to face plant onto his bed. His mom wanders in before dinner, eyes filled with worry. She reaches to his open dresser drawer and pulls the Buzz Lightyear doll up by its arm.
"When'd you get this, love?"
Liam shrugs and continues starting at his phone where it lays on his bed. His mom asks him a few questions but his answers are the same. Shrug. Silence. Eventually she rubs her back and leaves him alone. Liam closes his eyes and holds back the sob crawling up his throat.
It's a year later and Liam's not totally over it. But he's ok. Relatively.
He stands on a stage in front of a dark sea of empty seats. There's three faces staring at him and he's signing. He's got his music, he's got his mom, his health. He's even got Niall who he dragged with him to this crazy whole snowball of an event (although Niall still kicks at his shins when Liam suggests to anyone that asks that Niall had been lured with a chicken wing hovered in front of his face).
And he's singing. It’s something that takes him outside of his body like nothing else, not even running. Singing, to Liam, is like floating.
He realizes he’s shivering with nerves when he finally returns his feet to the ground, but they're clapping and he's being complimented. The judges usher him off the stage. He can't breathe but at least he can walk.
He stops when he reaches the wings to bend over and inhale, exhale. He feels a hand tap at his shoulder and it startles him at first.
Liam almost falls over as he turns to find Zayn, and it almost kills him to see that he looks even more handsome, and how is this fucking possible.
"H-hi." Liam sounds breathless, but later he'll attribute that to post-performance nerves.
Zayn grins sheepishly but it falters. "I— uh. Hey. You sounded real good."
Liam nods before shaking his head, "Um, thanks. I'm— I was really nervous."
Zayn steps close enough to nudge Liam, shoulder lingering against his own. "I couldn't tell. It was awesome."
They find each others' eyes and just smile. Liam takes a breath and grabs Zayn’s hand, pulling them back into a corner. They sit and talk like the past year doesn't feel like anything, and Liam's pretty sure his heart is swelling too quickly and too large to accommodate his chest.
"Li, I'm really sorry," Zayn admits softly after a while. "I could have tried harder. I could've."
Liam shakes his head. "It is what it is, and. Well, I'm happy right now."
Zayn ducks his head to lean his forehead against Liam's. "Me, too," he whispers.
This kiss isn't rushed or sloppy, rather firm and slow. Liam can't breathe but it’s ok because he'll function just fine, as long as Zayn is always connected to him, preferably lips-to-lips.
It's a perfect kind of moment. And then a loud cackle breaks them apart.
"Check out the lover birds!!!"
Suddenly they're plowed by a lanky brunette who throws himself across their laps. He laughs and reaches in to pinch Liam's cheeks. "Hey-o, baby gays! Was happenin' over here?"
Another boy appears and huffs a laugh as he bends down. "Pardon Louis, he has no boundaries."
"Oh, Hazzah. Boundaries were made to be broken!"
The other boy shakes his head and reaches out to pat Louis' head. "I'm Harry, by the way."
Zayn and Liam can't speak, their arms still wrapped around each other and faces frozen with shock. Louis keeps talking, pulling Harry down to sit with them.
"Li! There you are, mate! What's this? Orgy without me?" Niall trudges up to the pile of boys, a bag of chips in one hand. "I leave for snacks and here you are, sexing up the competition."
Liam blushes and buries his head into Zayn neck. "Kill me," he mutters. Zayn chuckles and nestles his cheek against Liam's hair.
Niall stuffs a chip in his mouth and points down. "I know you boys, you're Dreamy Harry and you're Wacky Lou."
Louis cackles and snakes a hand underneath Harry's shirt. "Nice observation. You're cute, what's your name?"
Nial squats down. "Niall.” He turns to Zayn and his eyes bulge a little. "And who's this charmer, eh Li? Kinda looks like that bloke from last year, your mysterious pal."
Zayn reaches a hand out. "That would be me. Zayn." And before Liam can stop him, Niall is falling over with manic laughter.
"No fucking way! No! Stop! I'll die! This is too much!"
Liam groans and mutters an apology into Zayn's hair. Louis reaches over to poke Liam's cheek. "I smell a hell of a story, boys."
Harry tugs at Zayn's right shoe and holds it up. "So do I, Lou." Liam's breath catches in his throat as he takes in the sight of his own name, bold and black across the bottom of Zayn's shoe.
He turns to face Zayn, eyes wide and voice wavering. "Still?"
Zayn nods. "You still got Buzz?"
Liam nods, too, face splitting into a grin. "And you Woody?"
Zayn keeps nodding and Liam reaches in to steal a few hurried kisses. Louis and Harry whistle and catcall, and Niall watches with an amused smile. But they don't care. They don't understand what's happening, they're unsure of where they're going, but it doesn't matter. They've got each other, and they won't have to wait a week or months or years to have this again and again.
They’re off to infinity and beyond, and they’ll do it together.