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drowning in you

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i.

Niall is sure that the world is a complicated collection of colours and shapes. He sees blue and yellow and round and square and a million different points that join segments together; like the stars build the constellations in the sky. Water is blue and vibrant and vast and, although it doesn’t have a particular shape on its own, he’s sure that if you stared at the ocean from a seat on the moon it would appear as something arbitrary and beautiful and terrifying.

So Niall studies geometry and art and astronomy because he wants to understand everything that he sees. He doesn’t want to simply see the world around him; he wants to feel it and know what shapes exist in the night sky, because his sight is his favourite sense, and he wants it to make up for the one he’s lost.

See, the thing about losing the ability to hear is that he didn’t simply lose the sounds of street cars and music, he lost the sound of his brother laughing and the voice of the joke that caused the laughter in the first place. It’s an invisible wall that separates Niall from his family; Niall from his friends; Niall from the world. So, if he’s not able to experience the world in its entire imperfect glory, he’d like to learn a little more about it. Because the blue of the sky and the green of the grass and the faulty shape of the ocean are all he has here in England.

Perhaps there are shapes and colours he’s still unfamiliar with. He hopes so, and sees the first glimpse of a crooked angle at university.

ii.

The boy is tall and dark and muted cuss words thrown around pink lips when Niall bumps into him in the hall. The blonde’s stack of textbooks tumbles to the ground in a miniature avalanche, hitting the linoleum surface with what he imagines to be a painful thud. And of course his cheeks tinge pink because he’s sure he’s just humiliated himself in front of a student at least a year older than him, and pink lips continue to swear from what Niall can read.

So he crouches down to gather his belongings, keeping his eyes trained on the books and away from tan skin and pink lips. He tries to ignore the feeling in his gut that he’s being rude because, surly, the guy is still talking to him...and he’s not making an effort to acknowledge the silent sentences. A few seconds—or perhaps hours—pass and the raven-haired boy is crouched down as well, gathering scattered papers and stacking them in a neat pile. When he hands them over with soft, tan fingertips, Niall takes them gratefully and finally makes eye contact in his apologetic way.

Brown eyes are wide and hosting magnificent specks of gold, like stars dancing across the surface of the water. They’re beautiful and foreign and a million different shades of the rainbow and shapes in the sky. The boy’s eyes are extraordinary, and Niall is sure that he’ll never properly learn the geometry or art or astronomy of them in any of the textbooks he’s holding in his hand.

The raven-haired boy is talking and Niall isn’t hearing and he’s too lost in his own head to even try reading lips so he just stands there, staring. And the guy is pissed off again, because Niall just keeps ignoring him without a decent explanation and all he can do is mutter ‘sorry’ and hope that it’s loud enough. He motions awkwardly to his ears and tries and tries to express that it isn’t his intention to be rude...if he could listen, he would.

Time slows down, making the minutes feel like hours, and Niall watches as the taller boy’s features soften and his pretty eyes widen in realization. White teeth bite harshly at a full bottom lip, and hazel leaves blue in regret.

You—you’re deaf, Niall sees the raven-haired boy’s lips form the words and observes the way he anxiously rubs at the stubble along his jaw. He feels awful for putting that expression on his face and suddenly the world is a little flatter than it was that morning. He apologizes again and, once more, hopes it’s loud enough.

The raven-haired boy just shakes his head though; shakes it restlessly because no, no, no this is his fault. And he speaks in rushed blurbs of meaningless pink movements that Niall can’t keep up with. Of course, the taller boy realizes this, and if his skin wasn’t as tanned as it is, he’s sure it would be an embarrassing shade of red.

Shit, there’s a word that Niall can distinguish, you can’t understand what I’m saying. And the younger boy apologizes again because he’s gotten used to the way the word rolls off his tongue like a natural instinct.

The taller boy just shakes his head again and rephrases; something along the lines of a name Niall doesn’t recognize and an “I’d like to say I’m sorry for being such a fucking ass.” Niall’s head instinctively cocks to the side, confused, and the taller boy nods in understanding.

Tan fingers pull a pen from his book bag and open Niall’s notebook to a fresh page. Zayn, he writes in neat print. Niall reads the name at least three times, trying to imagine how it might sound and feel rolling off his tongue. Ultimately, he decides that it’s nice and unique and that it suits the stranger and his gold speckled eyes.

Niall smiles and he thinks it’s the first true smile that’s crossed his features all day; it’s all teeth and happiness and sunshine and Zayn can’t help but grin in response.

So Niall scribbles his own name in his own messy print and holds it up for Zayn, causing pretty pink lips to stretch into an even grander smile.

Zayn draws stars around Niall’s name and writes the word pretty on the tail end of it.

iii.

Three weeks pass and Niall’s pretty sure Zayn goes out of his way to bump into him. It’s never harsh and his books rarely fall—if they do, Zayn picks them up—it’s just enough to gain his attention and cause his cheeks to burn red from the contact. The red makes Zayn smile, and Niall has noticed that the raven-haired boy bites his tongue when he smiles and the muscles of his heart tighten at the sight.

They never bother speaking to each other, but Zayn walks Niall to his building and graces him with a grin as he leaves. They never see each other later or earlier, and not everyone that Niall runs into is kind enough to help him pick up his books.

Zayn notices things like the way Niall always takes the same route to his building, and that he carries his astronomy text book everywhere even though the school doesn’t offer the course. He notices that Niall is Irish and that in the few words he’s able to mumble he can still detect a hint of that Irish inflection. Zayn notices that Niall hasn’t always been deaf and that his sign language is better than his lip-reading.

Niall carries a notebook with him everywhere he goes. It’s filled with glimpses of conversations he’s had with people; scribbles of words that couldn’t be communicated through speech or sign. Occasionally, Niall attempts to tell Zayn something with his hands, but the older boy never understands. He tries though; really, he does, because he’s unusually fascinated with Niall’s big blue eyes and the way his callused fingers move in muted syllables.

Sometimes Zayn goes out of his way to bump into Niall.

iv.

England is as cold as Ireland but Niall still likes to sit outside to eat his lunch nonetheless. It’s often damp or rainy and he’s always alone, but he rather loves the outdoors. He loves seeing the vibrant colour of the grass and the unique shapes of the leaves on the trees; the grey of the cloudy sky and the odd stream of sunlight peaking through—it all fascinates Niall, it keeps his senses occupied. And he doesn’t mind sitting there on his own; he’s often on his own, despite the fact that he’s actually quite sociable. He loves people...it’s just hard for people to love him back, he figures.

So Niall is a little surprised when he feels rather than sees the body next to him. Zayn’s knee knocks against his as he slides onto the bench, and Niall jumps before realizing who it is. The raven-haired boy smiles apologetically at him before patting his knee. Niall’s cheeks turn red—again—and he’s beginning to think it’s not a result of embarrassment, it’s a result of Zayn and somehow that makes the colour a little more acceptable.

Zayn grins before reaching around to pull the notebook out of Niall’s bag; the one he knows is kept between the astronomy and geometry text books. Resting it on his lap, he opens a fresh page and scribbles in red pen I like the colour of your cheeks. And if Niall bites hard into his bottom lip it’s only to control the size of his smile.

Niall responds in blue pen I like the colour of your eyes. It’s probably an embarrassing thing to admit to someone he knows so little about—it is an embarrassing thing to admit to someone he knows so little about, but Zayn doesn’t seem to thinks so and proceeds to write that he likes the colour of Niall’s eyes, too...that they remind him of the ocean.

Zayn draws waves around Niall’s name in blue ink; adding triangular-shaped fish in orange and purple and pink.

They talk for a long time; passing the flimsy notebook back and forth, speaking through poorly drawn doodles and messy print. Zayn makes Niall tell him ten things about himself, and dismisses trivial answers like his favourite colour, unless it comes with an explanation. The raven-haired boy draws shapes in the margins; some that make sense, some that don’t, but Niall is sure that he understands them the way he understands the ocean.

v.

Niall spends more time than he’d ever admit flipping through the pages of his notebook; tracing his fingers over Zayn’s words and drawings, reviewing the ten things he’d made Zayn tell him in return—memorizing them like constellations, and hoping that it’s enough for him to see rather than hear them.

Niall really hopes that it’s enough.

vi.

Soon enough, Zayn spends every lunch with Niall. They sit at a picnic table, or on the grass—always outside, even though it’s getting cold in England and the wind likes to sink into their bones. Zayn takes lazy drags from a cigarette and always positions himself downwind from Niall so the smoke doesn’t reach his blue-eyed boy, and he’s not sure when exactly he began to care. He lets the stick hang from his lips when Niall tries to teach him sign; positioning his fingers into proper shapes and smiling shyly once he’s satisfied.

Zayn likes it when Niall fiddles with his fingers; likes how the blue-eyed boy’s hands are always warm just like his eyes, and every so often Zayn will simply entwine their fingers and watch the blush creep up Niall’s neck. He’ll hold his hand and he doesn’t necessarily understand what that means, only that he likes the calluses on the ends of Niall’s fingertips. And he thinks that maybe he’d like to set kisses to his pale knuckles, just to see how red his cheeks flush.

vii.

Niall thinks he should be annoyed with Zayn’s most recent doing because, really, he can walk home by himself. He’s been doing it for years and it’s not as if the roads have suddenly become more dangerous. Niall can take care of himself, even though Zayn pretends that’s not what it’s about and carries the younger boy’s book bag, just to appear more convincing.

Niall thinks he should be annoyed, but he’s not, especially when Zayn smiles at him and gently taps his wrist when the light turns red.

Zayn meets Niall’s older brother, Greg, who he shares the apartment with, but he never stops by to talk. He simply hands over Niall’s book bag and gives his fingers a brief squeeze before leaving, probably lighting a cigarette as soon as he’s far enough away.

Niall watches after him and he figures it’s awfully corny, but sometimes he can’t help but wish that Zayn would stay just a little longer. He wishes he could see Zayn after lunch and after the twenty-minute walk home because he misses hazel eyes in the middle of the night; he misses the shapes of the specks of gold in the pretty boy’s irises and morning can never arrive quick enough. Niall’s not completely sure what that means, exactly, only that the sun is a magnificent ball of light in the sky.

viii.

They’re sitting in the park the first time it happens; it’s chilly and overcast and a standard autumn day in England. Zayn thinks perhaps they should have sat inside somewhere; he could have taken Niall out for lunch at a restaurant that served proper food and had him sit on a proper chair that wasn’t damp from the rain. But Niall loves to sit outside, so Zayn figures nothing’s been lost to the weather.

Niall has been particularly quiet this afternoon, keeping his lips pressed together and his blue eyes glued to the notebook. He’s been lazily trying to draw a bird for twenty minutes now, even though his model flew away and has been replaced by a nosy seagull. It’s looking decent other than the beak, which Niall has erased and redrawn countless times when it’s been too short or too long.

A frustrated sigh escapes the blue-eyed boy’s lips and he looks up at Zayn with big, droopy eyes. Zayn can’t stand that look, honestly, and moves closer to fix the little cartoon-looking animal with the pencil. He gets the shape right on the first try and—upon success—Niall grins at him and scribbles a little smiley face in the corner of the page.

Zayn laughs and adds a hat to the face, one that resembles Niall’s favourite green snapback. The likeness is uncanny, really, because if Niall doesn’t resemble the utter happiness of the lopsided circle, he’s not sure what does. Niall draws Zayn and he tries to get his hair to look like a proper thing that sticks up atop his head, and the older boy laughs because Niall laughs and he wishes that the blue-eyed boy could hear the sound just once.

Zayn supposes that the laugh and the smile and the blue eyes eventually became too much and that’s how his lips ended up at the corner of Niall’s mouth. It’s not a proper kiss; only a peck, really, but Niall blushes nonetheless and stares from the raven-haired boy’s eyes to his lips. And when they kiss again, it’s soft and sweet and long. Zayn tastes like toothpaste and cigarettes. Niall tastes like minty gum. Their tongues collide in a language they can both understand and it isn’t until Niall needs a breath do they break apart.  

Zayn slips a finger under Niall’s chin and tilts his head up, looking into blue eyes before softly pecking his lips once more. The colour of the younger boy’s face is not exactly a surprise, but Zayn can’t help but admire it because it’s the most beautiful shade of red he’s ever seen.

You look glorious when you blush like that he scribbles in the notebook, and all Niall can do in response is bury his face in Zayn’s shoulder because he’s blushing again.

ix.

Sign isn’t too difficult to learn, Zayn thinks. There are symbols for entire words and the odd sentence and he figures that he’ll pick it up eventually. But it’s distracting when Niall is the one teaching him because, as hard as he tries to pay attention, he has a tendency to be washed away by the blue of Niall’s eyes, and suddenly he’s lost track of the symbols and their meanings.

Niall thinks he’s a bad teacher, and buries his face in the crook of his elbow out of embarrassment, shaking his head and letting out the odd laugh. Zayn thinks it might be the cutest fucking thing he’s ever seen, and insistently kisses the tip of the younger boy’s nose when he looks up. And the colour of Niall’s cheeks is something Zayn will never get used to; he smiles every time the blush makes an entrance and spends long afternoons willing the colour to return. Niall pretends to hate him for it, but he’s smiling the entire way through his speech, so Zayn doesn’t take it to heart.

x.

Zayn’s flat is warm and inviting and full of old but comfortable furniture that he explains his parents gave to him. He blames the slight untidiness on his roommate, Harry, who’s gone for a week to plant trees in a third world country Niall is unfamiliar with.

It’s winter, however, and the apartment has faulty heating, so Zayn makes two cups of hot chocolate and puts extra marshmallows in Niall’s, because he knows that’s all the younger boy really cares about anyway. They sit up in Zayn’s bed long after midnight, watching a movie with the subtitles on. It isn’t supposed to be in black and white, but Zayn’s television is a tad faulty as well, not that either of them really notice.

Zayn is too busy admiring Niall to pay a flicker of attention to the screen; not when his eyes are graced with something much more vibrant. He runs his fingers through blonde hair, all the way to the nape of the younger boy’s neck, who settles into the touch with a soft sigh. His lips meet Niall’s temple, followed by the soft outline of his jaw, and finally settle on his neck. Zayn tries to be gentle—he really really tries, because Niall is like some kind of fucking angel, and he’ll be damned if he’s the one to ruin him. But he can’t help the way his teeth nip at the pale skin, sucking at marks that will last for days, marking the boy as his his his.

And it’s different, this time, with his lips against Niall’s neck. It’s more intimate and meaningful because it’s finally just the two of them and the world can finally disappear. And Zayn learns that Niall likes to cuddle, and of course he does, because he’s the human personification of a kitten and gets this big, stupid grin on his face just from holding hands.

And perhaps Niall is unsure—unsure of how to appropriately kiss Zayn back, unsure of how to touch him. But he melts into Zayn’s fingerprints so nicely and the older boy doesn’t mind at all. He loves Niall’s pale skin and the freckles that adorn his shoulder blades and spends more time than he should joining them together. It’s just, Zayn has never experienced something as perfect as the blue-eyed boy before and he’s sure he’ll never will.

Niall thinks he’s falling for Zayn easier than he should but—in all honesty—he supposes he’s already fallen. He allows the raven-haired boy to press his fingertips and lips into the soft spots on his spine all he pleases because he figures he’s enjoying it more and it’s a form of communication that can never be confusing. He likes the way Zayn traces shapes and circles into his skin, like he’s his own personal notebook and he’s filling him with memories too important to be forgotten.

Zayn pulls a heavy blanket over the two of them and Niall sighs contently when he’s pulled close—enjoying the feeling of warm skin against his. He’s sure he’d like to lie like this forever and that he’d finally be content to miss the shapes of the clouds and the imaginary lines in the sky. He could drown in the colour of Zayn’s eyes and never miss the blue of the ocean or the green of the grass or the gold of the sand. He could melt into the warm body and forget what it feels like to be drenched by a rainstorm or warmed by the sun.

Niall just really likes Zayn and the way he feels against his skin. And when Zayn presses his mouth to the spot between his neck and shoulder, Niall shivers and lets the soothing sensation pull him closer to sleep. The older boy presses and kisses and breathes against Niall until he’s finally asleep—conscious of nothing but the warmth.

xi.

Niall figures Greg must have been waiting for him.

He’s damp from the rain when he first enters the apartment—bag in tow, jacket dripping tiny droplets onto the hardwood. Niall drops his things, leaving them lazily in the hallway like he’s been known to do. He can’t help but still be smiling. Zayn had made him breakfast that morning and paid extra attention to the corners of his lips—kissing at them playfully and willing him to smile. He had—quite horribly—tried to sign ‘I’ll miss you’ before leaving for work, making a funny expression, clearly aware that he hadn’t followed through correctly. Niall had only smiled though and rolled his eyes because Zayn tried so fucking hard and that's all that mattered, really. And Zayn left for work and insisted the younger lad make himself at home but Niall really should have been back to see Greg already. His brother worried—perhaps more than was necessary.

Where have you been? are the first words to shape Greg’s mouth when Niall finds him in the kitchen.

Niall purses his lips slightly before answering that he was at Zayn’s—just as he said he would be—not that he needs to let Greg know that in the first place.

At that Greg presses his lips together, looking angrier by the moment and rocking against his heels. Oh fuck off Niall, I might be your roommate but I’m also your brother and you’re supposed to tell me these things.

The younger boy just sighs because he did and he reminds his older brother of that fact.

Greg just rolls his eyes—a habit that he picked up from their mother and has mastered, rather unbelievably so. He also over-enunciates his words (probably for Niall’s sake, trying to read his lips). Whatever. I just—he pauses and briefly examines his toes—Well, you can’t let yourself trust people so easily. You can’t let yourself trust Zayn so easily. Deaf or not, Niall is sure he can imagine Greg’s tone—the same one he always used to use when he was saying something hurtful without trying to be hurtful.

Niall keeps his eyes trained on his brother’s lips, even though he’d love to look away right about now.

You can’t trust Zayn so easily, Greg repeats, his shoulders tensing up, I know you don’t want to believe it and—fuck—I don’t want to believe it either, but someone might take advantage of you...and I don’t want to see that. Because people are people, and people are cruel.

Niall chews into his bottom lip until he’s sure he’s close to chewing right through it, processing his brother’s words and trying not to let his emotions get the better of him. But, when it comes to Zayn, Niall just can’t help himself. Well I guess Zayn’s not a person then. He must be something far more amazing, because he doesn’t have one cruel bone in his body.

xii.

Most days, Zayn likes to think that Niall is a part of the sun—that he’s warm and bright and made up of smiles and red cheeks. He likes to think that Niall’s happiness is as consistent as time and that it will never cease. So, needless to say, when it does, Zayn is a little concerned.

Niall has been quiet all afternoon and barely graced his boyfriend with a smile, let alone a laugh. He’s been staring at the television screen blankly—as if he’s not really interested in The Godfather even though that’s ridiculous—and slowly sinking further beneath his soft blanket.

Zayn has never been one to comfort. He’s never been the overly affectionate type or the shoulder to cry on—he’s never been the one to love more. But with Niall? Niall makes him want to try. So he sighs against the cushions of the sofa and slides his fingers around his boyfriend’s pale ones.

Niall looks up at him—surprised at the contact but warming when he remembers Zayn. The raven-haired boy smiles warily and decides it’s become a habit now, the way he over-enunciates his words so his baby can read his lips, What’s wrong?

Nothing, Niall murmurs and Zayn rolls his eyes, thinking how pointless his regular speech therapy sessions are if he refuses to speak up.

I know you, Niall, Zayn reminds his boyfriend, I know what you love and what you hate and what makes you smile and makes you frown. I know when something’s wrong, so just tell me, yeah?

A long moment of silence ensues and the small room gets colder and colder by the second. Zayn swallows coolly but never glances away from his boyfriend. Eventually, when the anxiety is festering in the pit of his stomach, Niall finally reaches for his notebook. His free hand stumbles across the page until he decides he’d rather use his words for this one. And when he tells Zayn that he’s never gonna get any better the raven-haired boy just stares at him because what in the world is he talking about?

And Zayn shakes his head and squeezes Niall’s fingers but the younger boy isn’t having it. I’m gonna be deaf for the rest of my life. There’s nothing the doctors can do for me. Zayn, I’m never going to hear the sound of your laugh or your voice in the morning—

You’re being fucking ridiculous. Zayn doesn’t like to interrupt but come on.

Niall wipes furiously at his eyes and the raven-haired boy’s heart swells through the opening of his ribs and threatens to consume them both. Don’t cry, baby, please don’t cry.

But it’s not fair, Zayn. It’s not fair that you have to give so much when I give so little—

And Zayn has to shut him up, he really does, because his heart hurts and he hates the tears and why is Niall bringing this up all of a sudden? So he kisses his boyfriend and insists between pecks that Niall gives more than Zayn ever could and that it was the colour of his eyes and the shape of his smile that drew him in that very first day. Everything else is trivial and fuck it, fuck it all.

xiii.

Niall recovers and comes to his senses and he supposes that was the moment he decided he was falling. See, the rainy streets are slippery in England and his feet always threaten to give way. He figures the fall would be like tumbling down the side of a mountain but Zayn is always there to grab his waist and catch him before he gets that far.

And Zayn holds his hand down the street and carries his bag to class and kisses his neck in public and Niall thinks it’s too much. The hazel eyes are drowning him and the golden specks are only pulling him down further and god, is it really supposed to feel like this? Is it supposed to be so consuming and impending and elating and terrifying and wonderful? Niall has no idea. All he knows is that it’s overwhelming, and he doesn’t think it’s possible to love another human being this much.

Zayn can catch him from crashing into the sidewalk all he wants but Niall will continue to fall into him—and he’d be happy to drown there and he just needs Zayn to know.

xiv.

Niall is sitting in the park on the day. He’s decided that the park is the perfect backdrop because it’s the most beautiful place he knows next to the canvas of Zayn’s skin. Today he’s going to tell him—he’s going to tell him about the fluttering of his heart and the implosion of his lungs and how lost he is in the abyss of hazel. He hopes he won’t sound too crazy and that his cheeks won’t flush as red as usual and that he’ll be able to get the words out at all.

Niall’s heart is racing and his eyes are searching the shapes of the park for Zayn’s familiar frame, but his boyfriend is still nowhere to be seen. It’s odd, really, because they always eat lunch together, and lunch started over forty minutes ago.

Niall watches the clouds and pretends they’re as interesting as they used to be before the blanket he’s sitting on pulls tighter beneath his legs. He looks down to find Zayn—looking as beautiful as ever sitting across from him, the lingering smell of cigarettes filling their little atmosphere.

Zayn smiles and Niall is already blushing. One little grin and he’s ruined, just like that. Zayn laughs and kisses Niall’s mouth like it’s the easiest thing in the world—tasting his lips like they were made for him. I’m sorry I’m late.

Niall shrugs and hides his gaze beneath his eyelashes, trying to muster up the courage to just do it already. But Zayn is quicker than Niall and, of course, they both know it. The older boy slips something out of his backpack and places it in Niall’s lap, prompting the younger boy to stare up into his boyfriend’s dark features.

Zayn grins, it’s a notebook—you know, since we filled up the other one.

Niall smiles and blushes and he figures it’s useless mentioning the shade of red that adorns his cheeks—it’s a chronic side effect of Zayn and, if that’s the case, he’ll proudly wear the colour for the rest of his existence. His fingers reach shakily for the pen in the front pocket of his jacket—the one he keeps for moments like this—and opens the little blue book with the intention of being courageous. But—just like the first time their hands brushed and their lips met—Zayn has beaten him to it.

On the first page, written in neat print on the top line, Zayn has started and ended a sentence with three simple words.

I love you.

And Niall is sure that the shapes of Zayn’s letter are far more spectacular than the ocean could ever be.