Liam Payne is efficient, smart, liked by everyone, surrounded by people and lonely.

He doesn’t fully realise it, and he doesn’t understand why.

Jean Toulson is forgettable, absentminded and asks too many questions.

She also has a potted fern she renames every week.

An AU about two optimistic people who aren't meant to be protagonists. Their story is slow, awkward and not very dramatic - but it's alright, because it's their own.


2. Blueberry muffin.

Jean Toulson had the art of reaching just in time for any sort of time compulsory activity down to the last letter.

So, to get to her lecture hall for a Data Analysis class at twelve forty, she left her room at a comfortable 10.38, after watering her fern and only constant companion whose company she actually desired, Yvonne. It took her exactly eighteen minutes to walk to the building where she had her class, but since she'd attended the Relevance of Greek Literature lecture by accident the last time she'd made the mistake of reaching early, she decided it was a better idea to take the longer way there.

On the way to one of the small cafes that were close to campus and cheap enough for her to afford a moderately decent breakfast, Jean managed to almost slip four times on the frosted pavement; actually fall the fifth time; further tear the hole in the pocket of her oldest and most worn coat and kept almost dropping her phone by continuously forgetting about the hole in the pocket and putting her phone into it. She also discovered a small rip in her woollen scarf and to top things off, her rubber band snapped.

Jean realized, as her hair suddenly fell from the neat knot on her head into her face and she narrowly avoided stepping into a puddle of slush, that it was not really going to be her day.

She took out her phone to make herself feel better, beaming fondly at the metal that was her most expensive possession as well as the newest, since she had only recently pooled her money into buying the new iPhone. She still didn't fully understand the point or purpose of a Twitter, but she still liked being able to use all the sophisticated apps that her old, chunky smartphone only dreamed of.

Her beam dimmed a little as she saw the notifications on the small screen.

4 text messages from Elle FromDesign.

1 text message from Tim TheBossMan

2 text messages from Zayn WithQuiff

9 missed calls from DoNotAnswer.

Oh, well.

She opened the text messages, breezing through Zayn's invite to a party. He sent those to everyone on his contact list, since his part time job as a party host and sometimes DJ included bringing in crowds. He'd explained this to her once.

“It doesn't matter if they don't turn up and don't get in,” he'd said, shrugging as she typed away on the computer they were sharing. “I have to help create talk about the bash, y'know?”

Jean did not know. She attended far shadier parties if she felt the need to; the kinds thrown by people she knew vaguely at best, with plenty of strangers and cheap beers and struggling musicians, all assembled at a small bar. It wasn't as though she knew anyone there, invited by acquaintances that reminded her of people back in her own home (like Tim, a tattoo artist whose mum was friends with her grandmum) – but she preferred them purely due to the familiarity and lack of fuss. 

The other message from Zayn was asking about their assignment for the next week, which, quite honestly, Jean had almost finished. Zayn was intelligent and not bad to work with, but he tended to struggle with a lot of things that took her half the time. It was okay for tests and papers, but when it was a grade that would depend on their cumulative final output, she'd managed to do all the work herself, misleading Zayn by continuously forgetting to tell him the assignment. 

He'd get annoyed and scowl heavily at her when she would finally tell him the day before submission, and she would plead for forgiveness, offering to make things up by doing the work by herself. Then she would hand in the perfect report that she had prepared two weeks ago, and he would be mollified.

This plan had worked flawlessly thus far, and she had avoided detection successfully. Her professor cared about the final product and nothing else, and Zayn was blissfully unaware or he had caught onto what she was doing and decided not to fuck up a good thing for himself.

Besides, it wasn't like she was going to pretend to know anything about his art. To each their own. As knowledgeable her lab partner was about music and art and possibly everything else, she preferred to do her own programming instead of waiting until he caught up to her. 

Besides, working with someone that unmistakably tetchy made her far too nervous to concentrate.

Elle's messages were about their Design assignment. This was a partnership that she was, quite honestly, starting to regret. 

She liked Elle very much, admiring how dedicated, how very thorough the Fashion major was, very unlike Jean and her haphazard way of thinking. She liked how Elle always smiled at her and asked her to come over to hang out. She liked how Elle always looked pretty and confident in her neat little outfits and a friendly smile. She liked how Elle always got her a can of coke when she popped around to the vending machines, always shared her sandwiches and talked to her about a million different things and actually asked for her opinion. 

But Jean did not like her attempt to make this partnership a completely collaborative effort.

She had been pleased in class when Elle jerked her out of her daydreams to ask her if she wanted to partner up. She had been even more pleased when she realised that the brunette had already planned out the website layout and had taken the initiative to monopolise the creative and marketing aspect so there was a clear plan. And then she realised that her partner also wanted to assist in the rough work that was the actual making of the website, which was always her only job.

Alarmed and overwhelmed by her sincere attempts to 'help', Jean had started dealing with it the only way she knew how.

Ridiculous excuses and ignoring text messages.

All her messages deleted, Jean sighed as she pushed open the door to the small bakery/cafe that she frequented for her daily tea and croissant. The air inside was warm and scented with the wonderful smell of baked food and she felt a little happier as she went up to the register to order.

“Morning, can I take your order?” 

Jean smiled fondly at the basket of warm muffins and then nodded at the only employee with the extremely curly hair. “Yes, hello. Er, could I get a warm cheese croissant and a raspberry tea? Oh, and a blueberry muffin to go, please.”

“Cheese and raspberry would taste vile,” the boy told her warningly, his voice deep and very, very slow, making her blink. She had been coming here for the past year but it was the first time she'd heard him say anything beyond 'What would you like?' and 'We're out of the cinnamon squares'.

“Er. I know....” She peered at his nametag, aware that she did this every morning, pledging to remember his name before forgetting it immediately. It made her feel slightly guilty, since she saw him everyday and she usually remembered the good looking ones' names out of awkwardness. “Harry, er, hello,” she said again, before going on, “I like it anyway. Cheese, I mean. And raspberry.”

“Have I seen you before? I mean...I think I have. What's your name, then?” he asked her, tilting his head to one side as she gave him the exact change.

Jean suddenly felt a lot less guilty for forgetting his name. Although, in all fairness, this happened to her with embarrassing regularity. At least she always remembered faces.

Deciding against mentioning that she came here every morning, she told him, “Jean. I work at the library. I'm there everyday.”

“Nah, that can't be it. I never go to the library. I mean, come on, what's the internet for?”

“Porn?” she blurted out, before she could stop herself. 

Harry's very green eyes widened momentarily, he paused before handing her her tea and then laughed in a way that seemed very mature for someone who looked so much younger than her, despite his impressive height and the torso of someone who worked out. She reckoned it was the face, although the curls helped. She hadn't seen hair of that texture and...fluffiness on any male older than six. He must not like the short haired look on himself, she thought, and it wasn't like the curls exactly took away his attractiveness.

“Well, that's probably true,” Harry said, grinning. “The internet was invented so we could all watch porn.”

Jean wondered what her professors would think of that, but smiled as she took her food to her small table near the door. Harry still looked extremely amused, but two boys came in to get jam brioches to go, and she was spared further involvement in the discussion about the closely linked need for internet and smut.

She had taken the second bite of her warm croissant when Liam entered and made a beeline for Harry, not bothering to look around to check for customers in the unusually empty cafe.

“You wanker.”

The insult was declared loud and solemnly enough to make her abandon the crossword puzzle she was solving on her mobile and look up.

Harry, who had been setting out a fresh batch of shortbread, viewed his friend with a broad grin. “Don't need to be one, not as much of a boring sod as you, mate.”

“You knew she would ditch me and you set me up with her anyway! What did you think would happen?”

“Are we talking about Lizzie here?”

“Libby. And answer the question, Styles.”

“C'mon, Liam, don't be like that.”


“Fine, alright. I guess I was hoping you would think you've become a boring prat and would make an actual effort on the next date so you could at least get laid. And maybe, maybe – I was running out of girls that were willing to talk to me long enough to let me set you up with them.”

“You're a rotten friend, you know.”

“That's not even true,” Harry shot back seriously. “Stop looking like I told you I killed your grandmum. Here, have a muffin on the house.”

This seemed to mollify Liam, because after he'd been given the free cake, he sounded a lot less cross when he spoke. “Why would she even bother to date other guys if she wants her old boyfriend?”

“Don't ask me, mate. I'm not even going to pretend I know what goes on inside girls' heads.”

“She's trying to move on,” Jean said, and belatedly realized she'd admitted she had been blatantly eavesdropping on the boys' conversation and then joined in without invitation. She slapped her hands over her mouth, surprised by her own uncharacteristic acknowledgement of the people in the same room.

Harry peered at her over Liam's head, who turned around to gawk at her.


“You know her?” 

“Yeah, she's the one who said Libby left our date halfway to go shag her ex.”

“I'm not a gossip,” Jean managed to say, wanting to clarify why she spoke. Both of them looked like she had just said something hilarious and she was suddenly needing the cigarette that she'd scheduled for twenty minutes later. 

“Are you a friend of Lizzie's?” Harry asked, confused.

“Libby,” Liam and Jean said at the same time. She shot him a funny look and then answered Harry.

“Er, not exactly. We live across the hall from each other. I found her crying in the loo at night a few months ago, she looked a right mess. She drank a whole bottle of peach schnapps, and I helped her clean up.”

“That was nice of you,” Liam said, smiling a little.

“She, er...grabbed my hair when I tried to run away,” Jean confessed. “So I reckoned she'd let go if I sorted her out and got her to bed. She talks a lot. Even when she's sober. Oh, fuck. Fuckity. Should I be telling you this? I don't think so. Please don't tell anyone, I mean, I like Libby. She doesn't make fun of me and she tried fixing my face the other day.”

“What?” Liam said, his eyebrows drawn together in confusion.

“She was fixing your face?” Harry said, laughing. “Didn't seem to do much good, did it?”


“Thanks, mate,” Jean said crossly, but couldn't help grinning at the wide smile on the curly haired boy's face.

“You set me up for that one, sweetheart.”

Jean supposed she did, so she ducked her head, focusing on her phone to indicate she wasn't a part of the conversation anymore. The boys spoke for a few minutes more, and except for a few chuckles and exclamations of you tosser!s, their volume was to a low murmur, so she kept to herself.

12 across. Four letter word meaning silly (slang).

“You don't know you're a proper laugh, do you?”

Jean glanced up at Liam, startled at the ease with which he'd occupied the chair in front of her without asking. In addition, he was sitting so that his attention was solely focused on her and it made her feel slightly self conscious.

“Er, pardon?” she asked, unsure if he was making fun of her or paying her a compliment.

“The things you say,” he explained, one side of his mouth quirking up in a smile. “They're hilarious.”

“I don't...”

“Harry's impressed with you. But I feel like you're not doing it on purpose.”

“That's probably true,” she admitted, fidgeting slightly, tucking her hair behind her ear out of a need to move her hands. She glanced up to see Harry breaking a raspberry muffin into halves and putting an entire half into his mouth. “So you're friends with Harry?”

“Yeah, unfortunately.” Liam rolled his eyes at her, feigning exasperation, but Jean could see his mouth lift slightly and his eyes warm, so she knew he was actually very fond of his friend. “How do you know him?”

“I don't. We only spoke properly today,” she said, truthfully. “I come here pretty often.”

“And it took him that long to speak to you?”

“People don't pay attention to their surroundings much these days. You didn't know my name for a long while either.” She swirled the dregs of tea in her cup. “No one notices people much.”

“That is rather profound,” he told her, breaking off a blueberry from his muffin and popping it into his mouth.

“Completely intentional,” she deadpanned and he grinned. “So. Why was he setting you up with Libby? You don't seem to be the type who'd have trouble in that area.”

“Intrusive, aren't you?”

Jean nodded. “I find it's best to get the answers to your questions than ponder about them later and believe the rumours that you hear.”

“That's noble.”

“Not really. I like being accurate.”

“So it's the accuracy, not the potential hurt to people's feelings and the invasion of their privacy.”

“I suppose so, yes.” She watched him grin at the crumbs of his muffin, and felt an urge to smile at how very boyish he was. 

She'd noticed him a long while back, one of the long afternoons she had to spend at the library. She had watched Liam fetch half a dozen frighteningly large books and build himself a little fortress in the corner she'd labelled as his. He would sit there at least two days of the week, working, reading, his brow furrowed. Occasionally his friends would be there, sometimes he would ignore his mobile as it lit up, which happened very often. Liam Payne was clearly very popular.

She didn't know him, so she wasn't sure, but it was difficult to look at him and think of anything bad to say. He looked so normal and wonderfully typical, so charming and young, that she made an exception in her usual watching of odd people to appreciate the ultimate boy next door. 

He dressed like any young man, with enough care that his clothes were clean and appropriate, but not really fashionable, though he wore them very well. His hair wasn't styled, his eyebrows thick and lips seemingly perpetually chapped. He would talk and laugh with his friends like an amiable teenager, he walked and was built like an athlete, or at least someone with a past in sports. Girls would giggle at him from behind bookshelves, many would call out to him, and he would always look up and smile or wave back.

But sometimes, Liam would look up from his books, stare out the window, and in those moments, Jean would realise how very young he looked. He was a little confused, she would think, abandoning her Sudoku. Confused and like he didn't know what he was doing around all those friends of his. He was sometimes just young and handsome and achingly alone.

He was interesting.

“What's it like, working in the library?” he asked her.

“Boring,” she replied, leaning in and stage whispering as though telling him a grand secret. “But you could have guessed that, hm?”

“Well, books are exciting,” he admitted.

Jean smiled, and pushed her chair back as she got up. “I'm glad you think so. I'll see you round. I have class now.”

“It's been nice talking to you,” he told her, eyes friendly and warm. He stood up when she did, and even someone as clueless as Jean could appreciate the old fashioned gesture. She bit back her laughter, securing the strap of her bag on her shoulder as she waved vaguely to both Liam and Harry, the latter of whom managed to get the last word as she left the warmth of the cafe.

“Don't abuse the privileges of the internet, Jean!”

She sent him a middle fingered salute through the glass door.




Jean would never admit it, but she was honestly overwhelmed by Zayn more often than not.

This is was clearly one of those times, she thought miserably, unable to run away as he waved his pencil around in the air. She'd made the terrible mistake of admitting she knew next to nothing about some artist and was being punished for her honesty with an impromptu lesson from her lab partner.

And all she'd had to deserve this was offer him a cigarette.

“I know people say it's pretentious, but there are differences between each piece of abstract. It's about the paint used, the brush strokes. It's the same reason why one landscape looks more alive, like it breathes, while another is called cliche.”

It helped that he was so good looking, she decided, as he paused to lean his head back so the smoke he exhaled avoided her face and went drifting above their heads. He looked down at her, face twisting into the smirk that she wondered was his actual smile.

“You still think it's rubbish, don't you?”

“Yes,” she replied, and then remembered that she was being rude. “Oh, I'm sorry, I meant - ”

Zayn rolled his eyes at her, but not in a way that made her suspect he was mocking her. “I get it. You have issues being diplomatic.”

“I guess it's one extreme or the other,” she said, not sure if it was better to be brutally honest and be laughed at or be a chronic liar and feel completely alone.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Oh, bollocks. She'd forgotten who she was talking to. She blinked multiple times, trying to buy some time and say something that would be profound enough that he would let it go.

“Er. It's better than lying, isn't it? That way no one...believes you.”

Zayn's eyes were focused on her in the way that made her suspect he could read minds. Despite her private opinion of him being a secret nerd rather than a cool intellectual, she did honestly believe that he thought too much, which led to him being overly perceptive. He caught onto the most inconsequential things if he was paying attention.

Fortunately, that day he'd chosen to ignore the fact that he knew she was being silly rather than philosophical.

“You have a way with words,” he said instead, snorting with disdain, bringing the fag to his mouth and looking away. Zayn very rarely looked at people while talking to them. It had been a source of much confusion to Jean, who needed ordinary social cues like eye contact to know she was being addressed. “I'm DJing at a party this Saturday.”

“That's nice. Good pay?”

“Decent,” he admitted. He talked to her about his job rather often, mostly because she'd helped him program an audio software that he'd used for parties. It was coding that software that had deemed her worthy to be picked as his lab partner that year. “You should come.”

“Eh?” Jean jerked out of her reverie about compile processes at his words, startled enough to stare at him. “What?”

He rolled his eyes again. He did that a lot around her.

“To the party. You should come. This one'll be good.”

This was odd, even for Zayn. He never personally invited her to any party, and she always ignored the mass text he sent as a form of courtesy or duty or whatever he liked to call it. Inviting her in person meant he wanted to see her there, and her presence was actually a factor that he would consider in the party.

“I...I don't know. I have a lot of work.”

“Don't lie, Toulson. You never have anything pending, it isn't possible when you don't have a social life.”

“That's rude. I go out, just not to your parties,” she pointed out, but she was smiling and he tapped her on the forehead with his pencil.

“You work at a library. Take a break and come chill at the party. This won't be as vile as the others I have to work at, so I'm actually recommending that you leave Ophelia alone for the evening and get a few drinks in you. Act like you're in college.”

“College means finishing your assignments and getting a degree, Zayn. And my fern is called Yvonne.”

He raised his eyebrows at her. “Don't pretend you're as boring as you like to believe.”

“Are you giving me a compliment?”

“Don't get ahead of yourself.” He dropped his cigarette butt into a nearby bin, tucking his pencil behind his ear before fixing his eyes on her. “I'm serious, though. You should come. Bring Lizzie – '


“ - if you like. But I expect to see you there, Jean.”

“I don't know, Zayn,” she muttered, inhaling deeply and looking away so she didn't blow the smoke into his face. “I'll think about it.”

“I'll show you how the program's working out,” he offered, shrugging. He took a look at her face, mouth pinched and forehead creased as she considered the invite, and then tapped her smartly on the head with his knuckles.

“Ow, fuck, stop that, you twat!” she cried out, rubbing the spot he'd knocked on, glaring at him slightly. The tapping had become some sort of odd ritual between them, developed unconsciously and out of the sort of familiarity that the two of them had allowed in their friendship, with Zayn's superiority and Jean's fumbling concern. 

“I owe you for the projects,” he told her, his voice deep and stern so she knew he wasn't joking. It also meant he'd figured out she had been doing his work for him. “I'm trying to pay you back by helping you have a semblance of a life. So show up and have a dozen free drinks. Stop being difficult. Christ.”

She sighed, still massaging the spot he had rapped his knuckles on. “I'll try and be there.”

“Good,” he declared, pushing himself off the wall. “I'll see you there. The address will be in the mass text, yeah?”


“See you around.”

“Bye, Zayn.”

He gave her a small two fingered salute before tucking his hands into the depths of his warm jacket and walking off, looking like a model off the runway. She wondered if the girls staring at him and giggling behind their hands knew that he occasionally ditched lectures to go to the comic book store. His favoured one that happened to be run by a friend of hers, and she'd accidentally stumbled upon him there. It was the most hilarious sight in the world, mysterious, cool Zayn sitting in a store among pubescent teenagers as he talked to the owner about the newest Green Lantern comic. 

“Was that Zayn?”

“Were you eavesdropping?” 

Libby looked offended at her accusation, face etched with shock and eyebrows high on her forehead. “I'm offended at that, Jeanie.”

“Don't call me that, Liberty,” Jean said passively, even as Libby plucked her cig out of her fingers and crushed it.

“I thought you were going to quit smoking,” she declared, widening her large blue eyes further and looking at her with disappointment. It was a look that suited the girl very well; with dark hair and light eyes and a very red mouth, Libby was one of the most attractive girls on campus. 

That particular day, she looked even nicer because she'd abandoned her usual heavy eyeliner and monochromatic black clothing for a neat green sweater and jeans. Her hair curled prettily in its natural state, not straightened or overly stiff with hair mousse. Jean couldn't recall the last time she'd looked so sweet and unassuming, aware that if she'd stuck to this sort of everyday look, people wouldn't whisper nasty rumours about her or believe them.

“I don't remember saying that.”

“Of course not,” Libby sniffed. “So, what did Zayn Malik want with you?”

“We're mates. You know that.”

“He mentioned a party.”

“Yeah, Saturday. You're invited too.” Jean started walking towards the library, looking over to her friend, who picked up on the hint to fall into step with her.

“That's nice,” Libby said contemplatively. She seemed to be thinking about it but only spoke again once Jean was in her librarian's chair and she was perched on the table in front of her.

“We should go.”

“Really?” Jean asked her, surprised. Libby didn't make plans with many people in uni, and was very unlikely to show up or sit through any sort of gathering. People knew how prone she was to cancel on them for her tosser of an (ex?)boyfriend and it had become such common knowledge that she had gone from being invited to everything in her first term to being almost completely looked over. It would have offended any other person, but it was unlikely Libby had noticed or even cared.

As much as Jean genuinely liked her friend, she knew that her tendency to be self centered wasn't exaggerated. It was doubtful she even acknowledged her own lack of compassion. 

“Yeah, why not. It'll be nice to go to a party on campus. I don't even remember the last one I attended. I'll see how it holds up to the off campus parties.”

These off campus parties were generally ragers thrown by Jacob or one of the very off colour people he knew. Jean had attended one of these and been completely taken aback at how...wild it had all been. 

Even though Jean only ever turned up at pubs that were frequented by vehicle enthusiasts and underground artists and musicians, she had been alarmed, not really expecting a gang of university drop outs to be quite that mental. Half an hour and three broken bottles of beer later, she had made the wise decision to run for her life when the crowd decided to hit a nightclub one of them had connections at.

But Libby contemplating showing interest in anything that wasn't related to Jacob was positive, and Jean knew it was probably a good idea to push this along. Even if it meant her going for a party.

Still, she had to make sure this wasn't going to be one of the times where Libby changed her mind abruptly. She was most certainly the kind of girl that her grandmother liked to call flighty.

“And you're sure you'll come?”

Libby raised her eyebrows. “Would you like me to sign you a contract, Jeanie?”

“Don't call me that.”

The pretty brunette ignored Jean's plaintive frown, and picked up one of the books that had to be returned to their shelves. “Yes,” she said, flipping through the pages carelessly, “I'll go. In fact, how about we go together? I'll take my car.”

She considered the idea. On one hand, she had no experience or much fondness for flashy lights and knackered uni students in enclosed spaces; on the other, she was almost completely sure that she was Libby's only friend, and an event without the toxic arse that was her boyfriend would do her good.

Jean had concluded a few weeks ago that the Liberty Jameson wasn't as badass as she thought she was. She was simply the result of a confused childhood with two oddly free thinking parents. They had sounded distinctly irresponsible, naming their daughter after a song, leaving her to make her decisions with almost no guidance and enough money to support whatever stupid thing she chose to do. 

The Jamesons were a couple almost too much in love, artists with little talent and generous inheritances and a daughter that they couldn't be proper parents to. It wasn't that they didn't love her, and while Libby never had to worry about a bickering family, her lack of sense could be blamed entirely on how her parents were incapable of pausing their adoring lives to also pay attention to her.

Socializing with their university mates would probably lessen Libby's dependence on Jacob, and it was a premise that couldn't go too wrong.

“And,” she added, blue eyes gleaming slightly wickedly as she saw the librarian's mind waver, “You have to let me chose your clothes and fix your face again. We'll have a girls' night, sort of, yeah?”

So Jean agreed.



On the actual night of the party, dressed in Libby's clothes and eyes itching because of the unfamiliar contact lenses she had been forced to wear, Jean would watch glumly as her friend left and wonder what lapse of judgement had led to this.

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