it was now and we were both in the same place
didn't know how to say the words
with my heart ticking like a bomb in a birdcage
a fine frenzy, "what i wouldn't do"
He remembered, sometimes, how he and Niall met: remembered the way Liam’s voice crackled to life in his ear, all static and frenzy about how the Freeze Ray was working his way up Third Street and how he’d better get there soon because he didn’t think he could take it if the library was destroyed for the second time this month; remembered the way he’d had to shield his eyes against the glint of the sun off the ice when he skidded into view, wishing he’d pushed harder for the sunglasses. It was Niall he remembered the clearest though, the way he stood out, bright against the ice, mouth gaping as the Freeze Ray ambled closer, and the way he’d ran towards him without a second thought, his cape tangling between their legs as he crashed into him and they slid off the edge of the ice into an alleyway. He’d jumped up then, straightened his cape and looked down at the blonde boy sprawled beneath him. “I’ve got an appointment,” he said, “but wait a tick, yeah?”
The fight was a blur, and he’d had ice burns etched across his cheek for a week afterwards--Liam had rolled his eyes when he stumbled through the door, reaching around the computer to toss him the ointment, and Harry had giggled into his hands and muttered some comment to Louis about superhero beauty pageants--but he left the Freeze Ray in a crumpled heap surrounded by melting ice, walking back into the alley, snapping his gloves against his wrist. “Some appointment,” the boy said, and he was sitting up now, leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette. “I usually just stick to the doctor’s but, hey, whatever you’re into, mate.”
He’d grinned then, the mask stretching across his face. “You usually make it a point to wander into the paths of villains, too? I won’t always be there to save you, you know.”
“Don’t need saving,” he answered around his cigarette, smiling a bit, and it felt, Zayn had thought later, when he was back in his flat smoking a cigarette of his own--can’t let people see you smoking, Z, Liam always told him, ruins the image, y’know--like the first day of summer holidays and his birthdays and new trainers all rolled into one, the way this boy smiled at him.
“Name’s Zayn,” he said, pulling out one of the cards Liam had printed off for him and tossing it onto the ground. “Just in case you ever not need saving again.”
“Niall,” the boy returned, picking up the card and looking at it closely. “And d’you give all the boys your business card before your number?”
“Only the ones that don’t need saving.”
“And here I thought I was special,” Niall said, stubbing out his cigarette and flashing Zayn a grin that was too bright to be real.
He left then, turning away before he could say something to ruin this, something stupid like the you are, though that was already on the tip of his tongue (he had known even then that this wasn’t something he wanted ruined).
Niall texted him a week later, in the middle of a fight with some bloke who ran around in purple spandex carrying an hourglass and calling himself the Time Twister. He’d gotten a bloody nose for stopping and glancing at it--hey mate, definitely won’t need saving at the flicks tonight, but i’d pack the mask just in case xx the boy you didn’t save--and Liam running off a lecture in his ear, the standard fare that he knew well enough to ignore (Zayn, how can you expect to keep winning if you’re messing about and checking your phone? I should confiscate it before missions, is what I need to do, lock it away until you’re back home, d’you want me to do that?) but it didn’t really matter, did it, when he had Niall texting him?
The fight was over in almost record time, Zayn sniping back to Liam about how he could keep his phone after all and Liam sighing, a rush of static in his ear. He’d barely even stopped to chat when he got home, just pulled off his cape and tossed it over the back of his chair and tugged Harry off the couch into his room. Louis had followed of course (“Ah, the smell of intrigue in the morning is better for my health than tea.” “Lou, it’s afternoon,” Harry had said, reaching back and swiping Louis’ shoulder), and even Liam untangled himself from all the wires and radar equipment to poke his head in after a minute.
“Just wear your cape and stuff,” Harry said once they were all settled on his bed. “Y’know, so he can recognize you. And then you can be like, ‘are you ready to have a super evening’ when you get there.” He giggled a bit then, turning to Louis like he was waiting for his gold star.
“Might want to wear your mask too,” Louis agreed, “don’t want anyone hearing that terrible joke and putting your face to it. Bad enough that we have to hear it at home, can’t imagine anyone unleashing that on the public.”
“Or,” Liam started, leaning forward and pulling a face at Louis and Harry, “or you could wear that jumper, y’know, the red one?”
“Can’t, you’ve still got it from when you nicked it off me last month.”
“Oh yeah, sorry bout that, it’s just--”
“Looks better on Li anyway,” Louis broke in. “Sorry mate, but it’s true. Hey, why don’t you wear that plaid thing? Bet it’ll look good thrown onto the floor at the end of the night, if you know what I mean.”
“Out,” Zayn ordered over Harry’s delighted laughter. “All of you. Get out. Can’t do this with you lot being like this.”
“Wear the plaid!” Louis was insisting as Harry tugged him to his feet and dragged him to the door. “Trust me, I’m never wrong about these things!”
“You are though, remember that weird thing you made me wear when we ate dinner at that place?” Harry was saying as they disappeared through the door. “Wouldn’t even kiss me goodnight, and you were the one that picked it out.”
“If I do a wash now, I can get your jumper back to you tonight,” Liam said, lingering a bit.
“S’fine, really,” Zayn told him, pushing Liam to the door. “Really,” he said again when it looked like Liam was going to argue.
He wore the plaid shirt in the end, ducking his head and pulling his beanie down over his ears when he left to block out Louis’ cheers, and he’d blasted that indie mix Harry’d snuck onto his iPod the week before, hoping it would be loud enough to drown out the hammering of his heart, but it wasn’t, and he walked to the theatre with his hands shaking and his throat feeling like it was closing off.
Niall recognized him straight off (“it’s the hair,” he told Zayn, grinning at him. “I’m wearing a beanie,” Zayn said, laughing a bit when Niall just shrugged and said only “still, though.”), and the only thing he could remember about the movie was Niall whispering to him during a preview for a new superhero movie (“like your mask better, and your one-liners things aren’t as lame”) and the way Niall tasted like popcorn butter and soda when he kissed him.
(Louis was right of course, not that Zayn would ever admit to it; the plaid shirt looked great crumpled up on the floor of Niall’s bedroom)
It was strange, how well he and Niall fit together; it was a bit like cleaning out your bedroom and finding a piece of yourself you’d lost, he thought sometimes when they were watching some crap movie Niall had put on, one of his legs hitched round Zayn’s waist and their fingers interlocked. It was like, he tried to explain to Liam once, having a sun blazing in his veins, or tucked away in the hollow of his ribs. Liam had just blinked at that, reaching over to squeeze Zayn’s shoulder. “Sounds like something you shouldn’t lose then, yeah?” he said, holding Zayn’s gaze and smiling a bit before leaning back and fiddling with a new ray gun he’d just got in.
“S’cool, you know,” Niall said one night, taking up his entire couch and eating the nachos Harry had made earlier. “Your, y’know, super speed thing,” he explained when he saw Zayn’s raised eyebrow, gesturing wildly towards Zayn’s feet.
“Thanks?” he said, turning it into a question and tilting his head a bit, wondering if he could be complimented for something that had just happened to him. It wasn’t like he’d worked for it or anything; he’d just happened to be in the wrong science lab at the wrong time (or the right science lab at the right time, as Louis always pointed out when he grumbled about needing extra sleep to recharge or the health shakes Liam forced down his throat after every mission).
“That all you can do? Or d’you have some other secret super powers tucked up your sleeve?”
“Nah, the speed thing’s all I got. Haz can fly though,” he added as an afterthought.
“Knew he could do something like that,” Niall said, “just wasn’t sure what. Actually, I kind of thought he had that thing where you can, like, stretch yourself out really long, you know?”
“Yeah, there’s a guy that Liam knows that can do that, I think his name’s Ed? Doesn’t work with us though.”
“So, okay, you and Haz are the heroes, Liam does all the geeky stuff, and Louis is the cheerleader?”
“Makes you a cheerleader too then.”
Niall paused a moment, considering. “I could rock a skirt,” he said finally, nodding a bit. “Don’t tell Lou though, or he’ll run out and buy us matching outfits. Now c’mere and watch this movie with me, the couch is lonely.”
“Not watching that weird musical again,” Zayn said, falling onto the couch next to Niall. “We’ve watched it, like, every night this week.”
“Did not,” Niall insisted. “We didn’t watch it two nights ago because you and Haz had to go out and fight that guy!”
“Fine, fine, put it on,” Zayn told him, waving a hand at the remote.
“Thanks, Z,” Niall beamed.
Zayn made it through about three of the songs--and he still didn’t get what this musical was about? a car and leather jackets? the music was alright, but this just wasn’t his cup of tea--before tipping his head onto Niall’s shoulder. “Gonna have to write the Freeze Ray a thank you card,” he said.
“For what?” Niall asked, half paying attention and half dancing around in tune with the music.
“Endangering your life. Wouldn’t have met you otherwise.”
“Didn’t need saving though.”
“Maybe I’ll write him a card too. Thank him for icing up that street and getting you to crash into me,” Niall said.
“Better write Liam one too, he could’ve sent Harry instead of me, and then where would we be?”
“Already thanked Liam though.”
“Yeah?” Zayn asked, moving back enough to glance up at Niall.
“Yeah, right after he threatened to sic Harry on me if I hurt you.”
“Li did that?”
“Didn’t take him seriously though, Haz was in the kitchen yelling about how he was gonna do an investigation to find out who snapped his comb in half so he could throw them into space.”
“We’re a terrifying bunch.”
“You are,” Niall said, nudging Zayn a bit. “Was scared of you, at first.”
“Was scared of you too.”
“Not scared anymore, though.”
“I am, a bit,” Zayn confessed, thinking about how Niall had snuck into the spaces of his life, how his lungs still burned whenever they touched, like they weren’t used to him yet, how his hands shook whenever he thought about how he could lose Niall, maybe.
“Told you I didn’t need saving,” Niall told him smugly, grabbing Zayn’s hand and dragging it over his chest. “Scary enough on my own.”
He could feel the bruises already blossoming on his skin, the blood already trickling down from the tears in his suit, and there was gravel digging into his palms. His hair, too, was wilting, falling down over his mask into his eyes and this, surely, was the end of the world. “I’m losing,” he said quietly, sort of stunned.
“Lost,” the Tornado corrected, smirking down at him.
“Yeah, lost,” Liam chimed in helpfully on the earpiece. “Best get up while you still can, Z. Quit while you’re ahead and all that.”
“Shut it, you,” Zayn muttered, his hands curling into fists and his feet scrambling against the pavement trying to find purchase enough to stand. “I never lose.”
The Tornado tapped his foot and sighed, just a bit, enough to send Zayn collapsing back onto the ground. “Hate to break it to you, kid, but there’s a first time for everything and, well, this is yours. Call me up when you heal up some, this is like taking candy from a baby.”
“But he does that!” Liam exclaimed, his voice tinny in Zayn’s ear, and then there was another burst of air and Zayn was flat on his back, and yeah, he was sure his hair was completely ruined this time. “Not everyone can win them all, mate,” Liam said, his voice a bit softer, and Zayn didn’t answer, only stumbled to his feet and started home.
“Bloody hell, what the fuck happened to you?” Niall asked when he limped in.
“I lost,” Zayn answered, falling into a chair and kicking his boots off, wincing when he reached up to tug off his mask.
“What, Liam wasn’t there to help you?”
“Faulty equipment,” Zayn told him. “Turns out you can’t beat the Tornado on speed alone.” A beat, then, “Ni, I lost,” like he still couldn’t believe it.
“You’ll be fine, you big baby,” Niall said, already turning and rummaging in the cabinet above the sink for the first aid kit.
“Not a big baby,” Zayn muttered around the pain pill Niall was tipping down his throat, the world already starting to crumble into black around the edges. “Gonna need to recharge soon,” he tried to say, but it was so faint he wasn’t sure Niall heard.
“No, course you’re not,” Niall said, eyes narrowing as he tied off a bandage around Zayn’s arm, fingers dancing up to his neck to untie Zayn’s cape. “You’re my hero,” he whispered, rocking forward a bit and kissing the tip of Zayn’s nose, but Zayn was already fading to black, head falling back against the chair, and he didn’t hear it.
He woke up to a muted light--and he could vaguely hear a Friends rerun and guessed that Niall had left the television on again--and Niall nestled against his side, an arm thrown across his chest. “Where am I?” he asked groggily, rubbing at his eyes one-handed.
“Fort,” Niall answered against his shoulder.
“Built you a fort. While you were recharging.”
“Right. Course.” He closed his eyes, let that sink in for a minute. “Why, exactly?”
“Yeah,” Niall told him, moving closer and kissing his neck.
“Could be persuaded, I think.”
“Was counting on it.”
“Hey, Ni,” Zayn started a few minutes later, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. “Did you--did you use my cape as the top bit?”
“Only thing I could find that fit.”
“I’ve got sheets, y’know.”
“Don’t see them,” Zayn said, looking around and seeing only pillowcases and his cape and the throw blanket from the couch.
“Built two forts,” Niall told him proudly.
“Where’s the other one then?”
“Bedroom, we’ll use it later,” Niall promised, trailing a hand down to Zayn’s hip.
“Think I’m starting to like forts.”
“Was counting on it,” Niall said again, and then neither of them spoke for quite a while.
“Hey, Haz,” Liam started, tapping away at his computer while Louis and Niall screamed at the football match that was on, and Zayn and Harry were rolling their eyes at each other and texting. “D’you remember fighting some guy called the Oceanographer? Wears a lot of blue and has glasses?”
“Don’t think so,” Harry said, flipping his hair out of his eyes and thinking. “Reckon I’d remember that one, why?”
“He just challenged you to a rematch, want me to set him straight?”
“Nah, could probably take him, let’s just let it play out, yeah?”
“Look at you, cleaning up the streets,” Louis said, turning away from the match and grinning. “Gonna throw him into space?”
“Could’ve thrown you into space, Lou!” Harry protested. “Just didn’t want to, that’s all.”
“You’d miss me too much, buttercup.”
“Would not,” Harry said, crossing his arms and looking away. “Don’t even think I’d notice.”
“Course he would, sunshine,” Zayn told Louis. “Haz’d probably fly into space five seconds later to fetch you back, he’d miss you so much.”
“Would so,” Zayn said, rolling his eyes at Niall when Louis leapt onto Harry’s lap and kissed his neck until Harry was laughing and kicking his legs against the couch.
“Would so! Would so! Would so!” Louis was yelling in between kisses, reaching down and ticking Harry’s ribcage.
“Idiots,” Liam said fondly from behind his screen.
“Called Lou sunshine tonight,” Niall mumbled later, when the other lads had gone home and it was just the two of them. “Thought I was your sunshine,” he said, curling up under Zayn’s arm.
“C’mon, Ni,” Zayn said, his fingers hooking with Niall’s underneath the covers. “It’s just this thing Li and I say, like how Lou thinks Haz hung the sun or something. Just a joke, that’s all.”
“Yeah, don’t mention it to Lou though, he goes all red-faced and tends to throw pillows.”
“Right,” Niall said, and it was silent for a moment. “Think you hung the moon, them.”
“Can’t fly, Ni. Wait, hang on, does that mean I’m made of cheese then?”
“I said hung the moon, Z, not made of the moon!” Niall said, laughing and resting his head on Zayn’s chest. “But if you were, you’d be the really expensive kind. Bet you’d go great with wine.”
“Does that make you the wine?”
“Could be,” Niall shrugged, “we fit together, yeah?”
“A bit, yeah,” Zayn said, pressing a kiss to Niall’s forehead, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.