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For all the reasons

Chapter Text

 

 

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

e.e. cummings

 

Zayn doesn’t know how an impoverished student like him ever caught the eye of a handsome and wealthy museum curator like Harry Styles, but he’s stopped questioning it when Harry is so obviously proud of him and, well, Zayn doesn’t like to presume, and they don’t use words like future or love, but Harry can’t keep his hands off Zayn, hasn’t been able to since the night they first had dinner after meeting at an exhibit opening at the Tate Modern some eight months ago. Zayn has never been cherished this much before, not by his mum who loves him wholeheartedly and without conditions, not even by Louis, who was his first boyfriend and is still his best friend. Sometimes he catches the way Harry looks at him, and he feels wrong-footed and embarrassed, that someone so posh thinks so highly of a working class lad from Bradford. 

Louis has ideas about it, ideas that don’t flatter him nor Harry, but he tries not to listen to him, suspicious as Louis always is of the posh: “Fuck those capitalist motherfuckers, Zayn! They only ever have anything by oppressing the working man! It’s all stolen, Z!” Zayn always nods, because it’s best to agree with Louis else he’ll go on all night.  

Zayn knows that he has to learn how to be around posh people, if he wants a career as a painter, and so when Harry corrects his pronunciation, he practices in his room, in the Vauxhall apartment he shares with three other post-grad students at the Royal College of Art, which he can only attend because of a full scholarship. Harr-ee, he repeats to himself, watching his vowels and making sure to say the r. Harr-ee.

 

+++

 

He shouldn’t by rights have even met Harry. He loves outsider art, loved what people do when no professor tells them it’s wrong. He and Liam had gone to The Museum of Outsider Art in Amsterdam one weekend, and Zayn had talked to its curator for so long that Liam left him there to find beer and weed, but Zayn was touched by the primitive truth of the work. He knew too much to mimic it, had been too tainted by years around those for whom Art was made by mostly dead, mostly white people. He privately wasn’t that impressed with the Rijksmuseum, full of Dutch burghers who eyed Zayn disapprovingly as he stared into their smug faces. It was why he loved street art so much, had done his dissertation on the street art of North London. Why he was at the Francis Bacon retrospective at the Tate, of all places, is a mystery, even though Bacon himself was an Outsider Made Good. Later he would believe it was fate.

He had on his only decent suit, a five year old Topman, the pants a bit short and a bit tight in the groin, black, with his best black button down, and his nerves. He was the poorest-dressed bloke in the place, but his painting prof had given him and his mate and fellow post-grad Liam tickets to opening night, and naturally they had to go since they’d been singled out for such an honor.  Zayn had to laugh at that,  but it was only to himself.

Liam was off trying to find them drinks, and he was eyeing Two Figures and trying not to blush at the naked man atop another and the seeming brutishness of the encounter, as much as he could see behind the vertical striated lines that obscured the bodies. He was also trying to ignore the stirrings in his lower regions. He had read that Bacon was a masochist, and he finds this idea intriguing.

Zayn must have been staring too long, because suddenly a well-bred, slow, and deep voice murmured in his ear, its warm exhalations making Zayn startle visibly.

“Are you horrified or titillated?” the voice breathed.

“Oi, mate! You near scared me out of my wits,” Zayn said without turning around. When he recovered himself enough to look behind him, he gasped. “Oh! So sorry--I am rude, the rudest person. And the most easily startled. Forgive me.” He stared at the well-known face now in front of him.

It was Harry Styles, the youngest senior curator ever hired by the Tate, hired only six months back after a brilliant academic career in the US. Was it at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago? Yes, that was it--and he’d been a curator for their modern art collection. Zayn thinks of all this in a microsecond, remembers seeing his picture at the Royal College, where he came for a lecture on Bacon that Zayn had foolishly missed. 

“Hello, I’m Harry Styles,” the buttery vowels declared. As if Zayn wouldn’t know him, as if anyone in London wouldn’t know him. Zayn tried to look up at his face but couldn’t get past his fascination with his hands. They were huge but delicate, smooth and soft-looking. The nail polish was not just an urban legend. He forced his eyes up to meet Harry’s amused green gaze.

“Sorry, yes. I’m Zayn Malik, and I know who you are. You lectured at my college last month, and it was all anyone of my fellow students could talk about.”

“Oh--they love Bacon, do they?” Harry smirked.

In truth, all the gay boys in Zayn’s circle had gushed about Harry’s looks, his Prada suit, his gorgeous eyes, his curly locks, his nail polish. Was it an amusing quirk? Or a signal? No one knew about his sexuality, although that hadn’t stopped the salacious speculation. 

Zayn blushed at the memory of Liam, who had gotten there early enough to have a front row seat, boasting that he could see the outline of Harry Styles’s dick through his designer pants. “I’m sure that was it, Bacon,” he murmured in response to Harry’s not-really-a-question.

“Keep looking around--Bacon was such an interesting person. I’d love to hear what you think of the exhibition. Have we honored the breadth of his work or tried too hard to be shocking?”

With that, Harry Styles had turned away, and Zayn had seen him only at a distance the rest of that night. He had followed him with his eyes for so long that when Liam returned to say, “Man, there’s no bar, why are we here if not for free food and drink,” he noticed, as Liam often did in spite his resemblance to a puppy, that Zayn was mooning.

“Just over this piece. I can’t figure it out. Are they in love and hidden, or are they just internalizing society’s hatred of them for being homosexual by taking it out on each other’s bodies?”

Zayn learned that in order to be served champagne and finger food one had only to stay in one place, so there was that at least. He felt vaguely cheated at not getting more of the illustrious Harry Styles’s attention, but why should someone rich, famous, and beautiful care about Zayn? No reason.

A week later, when he found a note in his mailbox in the School of Painting office, he couldn’t say that he had forgotten about Harry, because that would be a lie, and Zayn doesn’t lie, but he had put the encounter behind him where it had started, since there wasn’t a world where Zayn and Harry Styles talked or had things in common or oh god dated. And yet. Zayn held a fine-grained envelope in his hand that he knew as soon as he felt its weight was from Harry.  Zayn’s name was printed in angular letters, both first and last, and when he opened it, he found the cream colored note card, embossed with “Harry Styles” in gold lettering, and inside an invitation to dinner for some three nights hence.

“Dear Zayn,” it read, “I’m inviting you for dinner and conversation about Bacon, about art, and about anything else, at my apartment on Friday night. I’ll cook. I hope that doesn’t discourage you.”

He had signed the note with a flourish and his phone number. Zayn waited twelve hours before texting so as not to appear too eager. Send me the address and the time. Shall I bring a bottle of wine?

He is embarrassed all over again to remember that question, that he thought he could bring a bottle of wine to Harry Styles, who, he will learn, has a wine cellar whose 100-bottle curated collection was featured in Wine Spectator, who blends wealth and education with personal style and cool quirks so easily that if Harry says something is good, it becomes good. And he was going to bring a bottle of wine to Harry’s place.

He had, too. to his shame.

He had agonized for the three days he had to wait about what wine to take, until finally Louis snapped at him, “You don’t need to take that rich bitch anything--don’t you know he’s got it all already? Except Mr. Zayn Malik. Are you going to be an exhibit in his latest collection? Why did he even invite you?” Zayn didn’t know if Louis was jealous, curious, angry, or all three. He could be all of them and wasn’t above passing judgment on anyone, especially when Zayn seemed to like them.

Finally the day arrived, and he ended up stopping in the off-license for the best bottle someone in his position could afford, an Argentinian Malbec that cost 20 pounds, a fortune to him. To his credit, Harry had only quirked an eyebrow at Zayn’s offering before saying that maybe it wouldn’t go with what they were having but they could save it for next time, couldn’t they, prompting Zayn to stammer something unintelligible. Next time. Harry Styles had said next time.

Harry was alone in the penthouse; the floor to ceiling windows looked out on the London Eye and the Thames. He served Zayn a lovely mushroom risotto, salad, and a crisp Italian Arneis that was the best white wine Zayn had ever tasted. They talked about everything but mostly about Zayn’s art. Zayn talked more than he listened, because Harry was such a good and generous listener.

Zayn knew he was fucked. No one gave him such focused attention, and it felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket after being out in the wet and cold.

Perhaps it was his full belly and the slight intoxication from the half bottle of wine and the 1957 port that Harry served for dessert. Perhaps it was the way Harry looked at him appreciatively, or that he quickly adopted Zayn’s dry humor, or that he gently tutored him in wine and posh vowels and exactly how to say his name. Probably it was the way he allowed his hand to brush over Zayn’s as he poured him another glass of wine, or the way his long delicate fingers rubbed his lower lip while he listened, or the dimples that appeared whenever Zayn said something that amused him. Some or all these things led Zayn to speak from his heart.

“Harr-ee, you’re gorgeous.”

Harry murmured something suitable,  a dimple peeking out of his left cheek like a promise.

“Nah, I mean, I’m gay, I’ve been out since I was seventeen, and you are the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. I’ve been staring at your eyes and your hair and your hands, God, your hands, all night. I'm having to clasp my hands together in my lap to keep from reaching for you. I’ve never been so attracted to anyone before. Is it… do you feel anything for me? I shouldn’t ask--I know it’s impossible, you’re everything I’m not…” 

Zayn found that once his lips had opened he didn’t know how to seal them, and he was, to his horror, babbling. 

He didn’t stop until Harry placed an uncalloused index finger to Zayn’s lower lip, rubbed along its length, and then beamed at him. “Zayn Malik, I’m not sure you’re real. You can’t possibly be unaware of how you look, can you? This is a seduction game, surely? Everyone at the Tate last week, and I think there were over three hundred people there at one time or another, and I never exaggerate, everyone there noticed you, in your cheap Topman suit and your scuffed boots, looking like a dish waiting to be consumed. You are actor beautiful. Model beautiful. I look like a washed out rag next to you--no, don’t try to deny it, Zayn. I noticed you when you walked in with your little friend, the one who was so eager and energetic, and then I only had eyes for you the whole night. I exercised most of my self-control to leave you alone for thirty minutes, and then when I had left to leave you in front of Two Figures after we spoke. I’ve been watching your lips all night tonight, wondering if I could kiss them. So yes, Zayn Malik, I feel something for you. Yes, I do.”

Harry leaned over Zayn at the table, brushed his lips against Zayn’s, and kissed both corners of Zayn’s mouth before licking Zayn’s mouth open for a real kiss that ended too soon.

“Stand up, lovely Zayn,” Harry demanded as he gracefully raised himself up from the elegant table, now littered with the remains of their feast. “I want to feel you against me.”

Zayn shot to his feet, almost knocking his chair over, and pressed his torso to Harry’s and his face to Harry’s neck, breathing him in. He shook with desire as Harry used both his hands to stroke Zayn’s sides, back, and arms unhurriedly. He didn’t kiss Zayn again, and just as Zayn was lifting his face to Harry’s to correct that, because they clearly needed to be kissing, Harry sighed.

“You are delectable and disarming and alluring, and I’m going to send you out of here while I can still make a rational decision. But I want to see you again, Zayn Malik. I want to see you many, many times.”

Zayn resisted his urge to beg Harry to be allowed to stay. He had already thrown himself at him, and if Harry didn’t want to do anything else tonight, then it was fine, Zayn could handle it. Harry called him a car, and Zayn rode in the back of a limo for the first time in his life, and then he didn’t hear from Harry for three weeks. 

 

+++

 

Harry considers himself a big hypocrite.

Especially when he thinks about Zayn, which admittedly is ninety per cent of his time. Or ninety-nine.

Zayn is carved in Harry’s mind like a good matrix for a xylography. He looks at ease between Harry’s Egyptian cotton sheets, so much more at ease than he ever looks when he’s awake and tries to show Harry that he likes the posh, likes the money, likes everything that Harry is.

Harry knows perfectly well Zayn doesn’t feel at ease in the slightest, at least not when they’re not alone and naked and fucking and kissing and alone.

But that’s what Harry is, that’s how their relationship works. Harry is Zayn’s sugar daddy. Zayn lets Harry fuck him when they’re alone and in the safety of Harry’s penthouse. And Harry pays for whatever Zayn wants, and something more, always something more, something that will ensure that Zayn will never want for anything. Will never want to leave.

They give it to each other when they’re alone, however Harry wants it, whatever he asks for. Zayn does it, and he looks happy while he does it.

Harry knows the only thing Zayn still wants but never asks for.

To be a normal couple.

To be brought to the latest party as Harry’s date, not ‘my friend Zayn.’

It’s the only thing Harry can’t give him, because he likes Zayn on his knees in the middle of the Arab carpets, he likes fucking him from behind while they look at each other in the two-meters-per-two mirror in his bedroom, he likes looking at Zayn asleep in a tangle of stupidly expensive sheets.

But Harry is a hypocrite, because he only wants Zayn like this when they’re alone.

If they’re not, they’re friends. Because Harry Styles, curator of the Tate Gallery’s Museum of Modern Art in London, is in the closet and doesn’t even think about coming out of it. 

He’s had wild and extremely pleasant dreams of him and Zayn dating like normal people, walking holding hands and giggling over expensive wine in expensive restaurants while Harry feeds Zayn caviar, and Zayn turns up his pretty noise at the salty, fishy taste, much like they do in private, only out in the sun.

It feels good while it lasts. Somehow, those dreams always turn into nightmares and leave Harry gasping and sweating when his donors find out he’s gay. They stop sponsoring him and his museum. He stops being one of the hottest curators in London. He stops creating exciting and provocative instalments. He stops being the Harry Styles, and once he’s not himself anymore, Zayn decides he’s not worth it anymore either.

On those nights, he wakes up in a pool of sweat, with Zayn’s big eyes worried and fixed over him as he innocently—because everything he does is innocent—asks what’s wrong.

That’s why Harry says nothing, and trains his mind until he can believe the truth again. Zayn is good sex, and a good laugh, and a pretty thing to have around. Nothing more.

Harry knows that in the Year Of Our Lord 2025 he shouldn’t worry about coming out. But he’s been in the business for much longer than even his older business partners have, and he knows how it can turn out.

The mere thought of having been invited at the Met Gala months earlier has made him cringe. Cringe at the thought that whatever he’d wear, for the theme of Camp, would be reason for speculation, because if even his nail polish is, just imagine a whole outfit. Harry’s fine with his taste in clothes and his whole persona being interpreted as ‘quirky’. He’s not fine with declaring to the world that the quirkiness is plain old homosexuality. So, on the day of the Met Gala, he’d faked an important business trip on the other side of the world, planned an impromptu vacation to Fiji, taken Zayn with him, and steered clear of anything even remotely related to challenging his heteronormative façade. Only to be secluded in a very private resort with an even more private beach, challenging his heteronormative façade on his own, with this young, clever boy with the long eyelashes and the disarming smile.

Harry honestly doesn’t know why Zayn even keeps seeing him.

But he’s there, nodding and listening intently whenever Harry shows him clothes Zayn probably doesn’t even care about, since he can’t tell a Gucci from an Armani. Repeating words under his breath whenever Harry corrects his pronunciation. It’s Ee-v, not Ey-vs, Harry tells him when Zayn fucks up the pronunciation for Yves Saint-Laurent. It’s Rem-brunh, not Rem-breh, he tells Zayn about the painter, Rembrandt. 

It’s Harr-ee, not Harreh.

Harreh. Harry loves it, the way Zayn pronounces his name with his thick Bradford accent.

But Harry knows how the people Zayn will meet through him are, and he doesn’t want Zayn to stand out too much because of his social background. He doesn’t want them to look at Zayn and think he’s less than he should be, because Zayn is already more. More than his working class, more than his fucked up pronunciation, more than whatever expensive suit Harry can dress him in like a doll.

Harry loves Zayn when they’re alone and Zayn laughs and talks without controlling his accent, even if he knows Zayn is not his partner, never could be.

He spends his time loving the way Zayn pants underneath him and looks at him like Harry is hanging the stars and moon while he fucks him, and scolding himself for even thinking that, because Zayn is good sex and a good laugh and a pretty thing to have around, and he can’t be more. He can’t be anything more.

Harreh. Harreh. Harreh.

Harry doesn’t care, cherishes it, even, although in secret, hidden away even from Zayn himself. But the rest of the world does care.

It cares if someone doesn’t know how to correctly say Yves Saint-Laurent. It cares if the Harry Styles is gay. It cares if his sugar baby comes from a working class family. A family that loves Zayn more than any of Harry’s ‘friends’ loves anyone else. A family that Harry envies Zayn a little, in the quiet and secretiveness of his penthouse when Zayn texts him Sorry babes, dinner with ma. Cant come tonite.

So, when Harry opens the museum and fucking rehearses to introduce Zayn to his new sponsors in the next few days, he nods to himself and breathes deeply.

This is Zayn Malik, a dear friend of mine. He’s very talented.

This is Zayn Malik, a dear friend of mine. He’s very talented.

The museum is still empty, if not for Niall. Niall is Harry’s oldest and closest friend, if not the only one. He’s also the only person in the world who knows the true nature of Harry and Zayn’s friendship. Maybe it’s because Niall is closer to Zayn in class than Harry himself.

Harry and Niall have been in Brussels for the past few days, arranging new loans for some new exhibitions Harry plans on having in the museum, and Harry would have liked to keep Zayn a secret for a little while longer, but the booze has thought otherwise. Harry has gotten drunk with Niall in their hotel and ended up telling his friend everything about what he gets up to with his young, talented Zayn. It’s Niall himself who has advanced the hypothesis that Harry does have a sugar baby, calling things with their own names in the way Niall does. Harry hasn’t found it in his heart to be indignant and disagree.

Harry knows Niall doesn’t judge him, but doesn’t necessarily approve of him either. Niall’s too good to approve this kind of relationship. Harry, on the contrary, is far from good. And so is Zayn, innocence be damned.

Harry doesn’t need love and future. He needs Yes sir and I’ll do whatever you want and he needs a pretty thing to have around, someone who lives to be cherished by him and him alone. Zayn fills all the requirements.

Harry greets Niall and hands him the coffee he’s grabbed for him on his way to the museum, and they settle in Harry’s office, going over the contracts for the loans, the receipts of the auctions they participated in and won, while Harry hums distractedly and Niall diligently notes down the dates of arrival of all the items they haven’t brought back to London with them.

Harry’s phone buzzes on the table, and it takes all his willpower not to look at it. It’s been six days, seventeen hours, and forty-five minutes since Harry’s hands have touched Zayn. Six days, seventeen hours, and forty-five minutes since Zayn has been on his knees in front of Harry and looked up through his gorgeous eyelashes.

“Six days, seventeen hours, and forty-five minutes”

Harry raises his head abruptly and stares at Niall with a frown.

Niall grins and doesn’t hide the way he’s blatantly read something from Harry’s lock screen. “Your toy boy is keeping tabs,” Niall declares. “Ain’t you gonna answer him? I believe you two have never been apart this long since you started your… thing.”

Harry doesn’t say that he’s been keeping tabs just the same. He shrugs. “He’ll wait. He knows I’ve been busy,” he says.

Niall arches an eyebrow as Harry’s phone buzzes some more. “Answer it, come on,” he says, gentler than Harry would be if someone made Niall’s phone constantly buzz while they’re working.

Harry sighs and picks up the phone, opening the string of four messages Zayn has sent him.

Six days, seventeen hours, and forty-five minutes, says the first text.

The second is a picture. Zayn doesn’t really do sexting and/or sexy pics, but this one is very close to making Harry come in his pants already. It’s a close-up of Zayn’s pretty, pretty mouth, with his perfect bottom lip trapped between his teeth. Harry feels himself already fill up a little, and blames the six days, seventeen hours, and forty-five minutes.

The third text reads I know youre busy, but u should have come back 2 days ago and I havent heard from u yet, u ok, m kinda worried

Harry’s lower eyelid trembles a little at the way Zayn always spells his texts, but decides not to call him out on it. Just this time. Just because he misses him. He reads the fourth and last text. Ok, nvm. Maybe u r still busy. Call me tho

Harry sighs. He doesn’t particularly like it, when Zayn’s cross or sad because of Harry. Because it’s the way they work; no matter how much it’s Harry’s job to make Zayn cry out in equal pain and pleasure, it’s also his job to take care of him.

He glances at Niall, who is very busy looking at bills and receipts, and quickly types an answer for Zayn. I was busy, yes. I do appreciate the incentive in the pic, though. I’m still busy, but I’m free tonight if you want to come over.

Zayn has come a long way from waiting a respectable amount of time before replying, and he’s already typing back. We can go grab smthg to eat?maybe mcdonalds we can go to the drive through we wont even need to get out of the car. And then we can eat and then I can ride u right there til you tell me how good I am and how much u missed me

Harry’s lower regions react even more strongly to Zayn’s proposal, but one thing in the whole text stands out the most for him. We won’t even need to get out of the car.

Zayn knows Harry doesn’t want to be seen. Harry wonders sometimes what Zayn thinks about it, if he knows all the reasons, if he’s made up other reasons of his own. If he minds, if he thinks about it, if it drives him a little crazy like it does Harry.

Harry wonders if Zayn wonders himself. If Zayn spends time asking himself all the reasons why Harry can’t keep his hands off him while at the same time putting effort into showing that he doesn’t really want to date like normal people. Harry wonders if Zayn has ever thought about the real reason why, after their first date, Harry hadn’t had the guts to call him for three weeks. 

They don’t talk about it; it’s something they don’t do. Zayn probably doesn’t even know Harry’s in the closet, and he most certainly doesn’t know why. 

Harry shakes his head, and forces himself a bit to go into dom mode already. We’ll skip the drive-through part. Come to my place at 7. I’ll cook, we’ll eat, and then you’ll show me how good you are, and I will decide if I really missed you. Understood?

Harry can almost see Zayn shiver in response to that kind of text. Yes, sir, Zayn only answers.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Zayn is packing up his things in his studio space, quickly stuffing things into his bag to go in his locker so that he can get home to shower and prepare for seeing Harry tonight. He is finally, after too close to a week, seeing Harry.

Louis slams the door as he comes in, red-cheeked and windblown. “What’s this, then? Am I not sitting for you tonight? Wait, let me guess. Harr-ee finally called you, and now like a trained seal you’re jumping to do what he’s asked. Have you no self-respect, Z?”

Zayn remembers, too late, that Louis was to sit for him, to continue as his model for a painting that his prof wants to enter in a competition next month. He had done some sketches, and Prof liked them, and now… he has forgotten that every sitting is important in the rush to Harry.

“Oi, Lou, I forgot. I’m really sorry. Let me make it up to you tomorrow? I’ll take you for beers and fish and chips, yeah?”

“It’s not that, Zayn. It’s that when Harry says jump you say how high. You’re dick whipped, and I haven’t even met him after eight months. Tell me again how proud he is of you and how well he treats you.”

“He’s so busy,” Zayn protests. “He’s important, and we both know he could help my career…”

“Right, that’s why you’re seeing him. You’re just both using each other. Jesus, Z., you don’t have to be honest with me, but at least be honest with yourself.”

With that rejoinder, Louis flounces out of the room, letting the door slam behind him. Zayn continues to pack up, perhaps a little more slowly.

 

+++

 

By the time Zayn fights the subway crowds at rush hour, walks the four blocks from his stop to his apartment, showers, shaves--because Harry likes him to look young and innocent--he has exactly fifteen minutes to get to Harry’s. He texts: im going to be late, the traffic was terrible, will you forgive me, sir?

His heart pounds as he waits for a reply, even as he’s adjusting the silk bikini briefs that Harry bought him last time they shopped, and slipping on the cashmere sweater in the color of his eyes that Harry sent to him in the post the last time he had to be away for business. He no longer wears his scuffed Docs, at least not on Harry nights. He’s in Gucci loafers and silk socks: Harry likes the way the socks feel when Zayn presses a foot to Harry’s groin. The thought makes him groan. Surely Harry will still see him?

He leaves the apartment anyway. These clothes provoke laughter from Liam and his other two roommates--they say Zayn has a sugar daddy, but Zayn would never say anything like that about Harry. He knows that it gives Harry pleasure to provide for Zayn, and that Harry’s dad left the family when he was seven. He senses that in some way Harry is making up for what was done to him by lavishing Zayn with gifts and attention.

He is walking back toward the subway when the text comes: wait at the door to your building.

Nothing more. No word about how long he will wait or what he will wait for. Just wait. Zayn will.

He turns back to the building, the evening wind whipping his hair around into the look that Harry likes most, natural and soft. There’s that at least. He waits half an hour, until he is frozen solid in the leather jacket he wore because it’s what Harry likes best.

At last a Mercedes limo pulls up to the curb, and a driver emerges to open the rear door for Zayn. He is solemn, so Zayn says nothing to him, just folds himself into the soft leather seats and in the half hour ride to the better part of London has a think.

He knows Harry is in the closet, that he introduces him as “my dear friend Zayn” rather than “my boyfriend Zayn,” and he doesn’t mind that much, really. Harry has his reasons for keeping his sexuality a secret, and Zayn might too in his position. He doesn’t ask about it; he knows that Harry won’t talk about it. But Zayn is in love, and he wants to behave as a lover does. He wants to caress Harry’s lower back as they stand together looking at a painting. He wants to hold his hand as they walk into the Tate together. Instead, he keeps a careful distance, minds his facial expressions, keeps his hands to himself. He gets frustrated, or he might if Harry would allow it. Or he might if he hadn’t learned something new about himself.

It seems that Zayn is enjoying being denied, reveling in Harry’s control for reasons he doesn’t fully understand. He likes how Harry is the boss; Zayn has made so many decisions since the day he left Bradford to enter uni and begin a life as an artist. He has struggled against so many odds. It’s nice not to have to struggle.

At last the limo pulls up to Harry’s building, and Zayn waits for the driver to open his door. He remembers the first time he rode in a limo with Harry, how he reached for the door to bound out, since after all they had arrived at the opening and he was eager to get inside.

“Zayn. We have a driver. It’s part of his job to let us know when it’s safe to leave the car. We wait for him. If he offers you a hand out, take it. When it’s raining, wait for him to open the umbrella so you don’t get wet. Act like you expect to be catered to, and you will be. It’s working with me, isn’t it?”

Zayn had nodded, blushing. He didn’t like to be reminded of how much, in private at least, Harry catered to him and surrounded him with the very best. He knew everything he was wearing was bought for him. “Sorry, Harr-ee. I’ve never ridden in a limo, have I? I don’t know what you do, but I know you’ll teach me.”

Harry had looked pleased, and now Zayn rides in limos as though he were born to it. Harry is right: act as though you expect to be catered to, and you will be. Out in the world at least. In private it’s more complicated.

Zayn enters the building. The concierge knows him, nods to him as he walks past to the private elevator to the penthouse. The marble floors gleam, and Zayn grimaces as his feet leave light mud prints from his walk to and from the subway. The elevator opens onto Harry’s foyer, and he hangs his jacket on the coat stand before waiting for Harry to appear. When he comes around the corner, Zayn tries to control his reaction but can’t help but gasp. Harry is wearing a deep red velvet smoking jacket over a silk tank that shows the sparrows tattooed on Harry’s chest that only he sees. He’s wearing loose trousers that hide his legs but emphasize his narrow waist and slippers that Zayn now knows at a glance are Gucci. He looks spectacular, even if his expression is unreadable.

“Down,” he says carelessly, and Zayn drops to his knees immediately.

 

+++

 

“Down,” is the first thing that leaves Harry’s mouth when Zayn shows up at his place.

It’s weird and a bit ill-mannered, even for Harry. He’d have liked to hug Zayn, say “Hey babe, I missed you loads,” and all the pleasantries normal couples do when they haven’t seen each other for days.

The thing is that they’re not a normal couple. They aren’t even a couple, period.

And Harry is kinda angry, if he’s honest. Zayn is late. He was a fucking nightmare when they started seeing each other, always being late everywhere and oversleeping, but Harry took care of that.

Now, the fact that he’s late can only mean one thing.

Zayn wasn’t in any particular rush to see Harry.

And what if this means that Zayn’s interest is starting to fade? What if Zayn was late because he was somewhere, thinking about how to tell Harry that he doesn’t want to do this anymore.

I won’t have it. You’re mine, and you’re going to stay. I want you to stay, and that’s the only thing I can’t order you to do.

When Zayn kneels on the floor, pliant and obedient, waiting like the very first time Harry commanded him to go down, Harry has to fight himself not to heave a sigh of relief.

He’s staying he’s staying he’s staying.

Harry clears his throat and turns his back on Zayn, starting to walk to his bedroom. “Stay on your knees and come to my bedroom,” he orders Zayn, and immediately hears the rustle of Zayn following him on his knees.

Once they get to the bedroom, Harry sits on the king-sized mattress, looking at Zayn, beautiful and innocent without any trace of beard, completely covered in clothes Harry himself has chosen for him.

“You’re late,” Harry says, crossing his legs “You managed to be late even after I sent you a car.”

Zayn opens his mouth and then closes it. He knows better than to try and justify himself, now.

“I’m sorry,” he only says.

Harry stares at him. “I’m sorry, what?”

Zayn’s lips tremble. “I’m sorry, sir,” he amends.

Harry nods. “Good boy.”

He stands up and goes to the kitchen to plate the food he’s cooked. The food that is now completely cold. He doesn’t tell Zayn anything, just leaves him there while he takes more time than necessary to warm up the food in the microwave.

It’s just simple couscous with curry, and it’s gonna taste horrible after being warmed up. It’ll do.

Harry waits five more minutes, just to leave Zayn there by himself a little longer.

Zayn should wait, now. Wait until the skin on his knees is raw because of carpet burns, because while he was doing God knows what, Harry was cooking for him and fighting fucking giggles at the thought he was finally going to see Zayn again.

Zayn should wait on his knees while Harry takes deep breaths and tries to tell himself it’s not jealousy that he’s feeling. He’s not jealous over a fucking canvas with which Zayn has probably spent so much time he then was late to see Harry.

Not jealous over the roommates Zayn was probably talking to instead of going out of the fucking door already.

Harry can’t be jealous over a pretty toy, and that’s all Zayn is.

A pretty doll he can dress and fuck. Something pretty to have around.

Sometimes Harry wishes Zayn would get mad already, because it’s true that they have a dom/sub relationship, and it’s true someone else would say Harry is the sugar daddy and Zayn is the sugar baby, but the way Harry behaves would make even angels go to hell, as Niall once said.

Zayn never gets mad, though.

Whatever Harry tells him to do, Zayn is already doing it before Harry even finishes the sentence.

The more Harry gets mad and frustrated and takes it out on Zayn, the more Zayn loves it.

There had been a moment, right when they’d started this, in which Harry was so frustrated with work and life, that he was particularly rough with Zayn during sex, and then immediately tried to stop, for fear of hurting him. “You can use me if you need it, Harreh,” Zayn had just said, whispering and stroking Harry’s hair and smiling like he fucking meant it, “Whatever you need to do, do it to me.”

Harry did.

Repeatedly.

Zayn loves it.

When Harry gets back to the bedroom holding a full plate, Zayn is still there, motionless and with his eyes closed, a small smile on his face, like he’s fucking enjoying it.

Harry’s heart constricts a little at the way Zayn fits in that space, like he belongs there, despite everything that should make them not fit together, not fit in each other’s home.

Not that Harry has ever seen Zayn’s place, but that’s another story.

“Hands behind your back. And look at me, I didn’t tell you to close your eyes,” Harry says.

Zayn obeys at once, clasping his hands behind his back and focusing his eyes on Harry, who is now standing right in front of him.

Harry lowers himself a little, sitting on his haunches, the plate still in his hands. “I should be very angry at you,” he tells Zayn “But for some reason I’m not that angry. Must be ‘cause I’ve missed you a little bit. My bed was very cold, in Bruxelles.”

Zayn’s eyelids tremble a bit. “I’ve missed you too, sir.”

Harry nods. “Where have you been?”

“At the studio. Then home to get ready. I was stuck in traffic.”

Harry hums. “You still having that friend of yours modelling for you? What’s his name. Louis Something-son.”

It’s a blatant lie, that Harry doesn’t remember every single small detail about Louis Tomlinson. Ever since Zayn mentioned that they used to be lovers in the past, Harry has demanded to know everything, only to pretend he didn’t care and didn’t remember the next day.

Zayn nods. “Yes, sir. But I didn’t have time for that tonight. I wanted to see you.”

Harry chuckles. “Good boy. You even remembered to put on some of the clothes I like best on you. I might even forgive you very soon. You hungry?”

Zayn nods.

Harry arches an eyebrow. “Use your lovely voice, Zayn.”

“Yes, sir. I’m hungry.”

“Good,” Harry says “Keep your hands behind your back. I’ll feed you.”

Zayn’s big eyes widen, like he can’t believe his fucking luck.

Is it really healthy? That this boy is so eager to have me fucking feed him? Am I doing something wrong to him? Harry wonders, but just for a small second, because then Zayn is already opening his mouth, and all worries are forgotten.

He wants to stay, he needs to stay just as much as I need him to.

Harry takes his time to leave Zayn with his mouth hanging open before he starts feeding him.

That’s how the rest of the hour goes. Harry feeds Zayn, Zayn chews on the food with his mouth closed, like a good boy, and swallows without interrupting their eye contact.

It’s only after that, that Harry allows him to stand up.

Zayn’s knees crack when he does, and Harry clearly sees him wince, but he controls his hands not to grab him and ask him if he’s okay.

You need to hurt, so when you look at your bruises and remember who made them, you’ll want more.

Zayn waits for Harry to give the command, before climbing on the bed, and waiting some more.

Only then does Harry fuck Zayn.

It doesn’t last as long as Harry would like, but it’s not Zayn’s fault at all, even though Harry tells him just that. “You made me wait too much; it’s your fault,” Harry tells him, but the truth is completely different.

The truth is that Harry can’t even manage to wank, not now that his body seems to have become wired only to have sex with Zayn.

And so whenever they’re apart, Harry bottles everything up, feelings and release, and only lets them go when he can put his hands on Zayn again.

Zayn takes everything like it’s a gift, like there’s no difference with Harry’s other gifts, with the clothes and the smartphones and the art supplies.

Whether it’s objects or pain, Zayn takes it and always remembers to say thanks.

Even when they fuck, and Harry holds him down by the hips and whispers to him that it’s gonna hurt, Zayn nods and smiles and his eyelids flutter like he loves it.

Does he really love it, though? How long will he love it? Does he love me, or am I just a toy like what I want to convince myself he is for me?

It’s frustrating, and Harry can’t fucking live without it.

He never tells Zayn, though.

 

+++

 

Harry likes to be little spoon.

He can dominate Zayn and even manage to hurt him, in a way which both of them consent to and which they both like, of course. And Zayn can manage even to go into subspace, letting Harry take care of him and everything for however long Zayn needs (both of them have done their share of studying and counselling before venturing into what they do, because they’re both people with sense).

But in the end, when they come out of it and slide in bed together, to just sleep, Harry doesn’t even have to ask. Zayn knows, just as he’s known the very first time, and Harry just turns while Zayn moulds his chest to Harry’s back, engulfing him in a way he never does when they’re awake, in a way that makes Harry feel protected and safe like he can’t ever allow himself to feel when he’s awake and he’s Harry Styles.

When they sleep, it’s the only time when Harry is able to let go of all the control and let Zayn have it.

Zayn never uses it, though.

He only holds Harry and lets him fall asleep, and when they wake up, Zayn Malik is Harry Styles’s pretty thing again.

Sometimes Harry feels like he can’t breathe at the thought that one day the control and the gifts and the posh places won’t be enough, and Zayn will leave him to go look for something normal.

Sometimes, Harry feels like if Zayn leaves, it’ll be the end of Harry Styles, and all there’s gonna be left will be the curator of the Tate, with a lot of money and a lot of daddy issues, crying and gasping in a corner because he feels so alone, and that’s the only thing he can’t control.

He can pretend to control Zayn all he wants, but the truth is that Zayn controls Harry by just fucking existing, and that is Harry Styles’s worst fear.

So he dominates Zayn and revels in the fact that Zayn loves it, and he never tells him just how much he’s come to mean for Harry.

Zayn will never know. Because if he knew, he’d leave, and Harry can’t have that.

I need him to stay.

Stay.

Stay.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Zayn wakes up slowly, feeling the burn on his knees from the Arab carpets he crawled across to get to Harry’s bedroom and the soreness in his bum from being fucked roughly. Harry bit into his shoulder blade as he came last night, and the mark aches pleasantly. Zayn feels used, and it feels right. He wants to serve Harry; he thinks that last night he managed it.

He plants a series of gentle kisses on Harry’s broad, muscular back, hoping to wake him slowly. He can see from the light coming in through the edges of the blackout curtains that it is after sunrise, and he doesn’t know Harry’s schedule or if he needs to get up. He never knows Harry’s schedule.

Harry stirs, grips Zayn’s hand and moves it over his sensitive nipples. He hears Harry pant and dares to reach lower to his groin. Will Zayn be allowed to bring Harry off this morning, or will he be instructed to dress himself and leave? Harry’s hard, but that never means anything. His iron control rules every aspect of his life, including the bedroom.

Today is different, though. Harry turns to him in bed, his eyes heavy with sleep, and smiles. “I’m glad you’re here, baby. You were so good for me last night. Are you hurting?”

“No, sir, I’m fine. May I suck you off, sir?”

The night before Harry didn’t allow Zayn to come. It’s a familiar game they play, one that allows Harry to exercise control over Zayn in the same way he controls himself. It’s harder for Zayn; he realizes that never before has he had much self-control. Harry is teaching him. He loves him for the lessons.

“No, baby, I’m going to fuck you. I want you to face me, and you can come, but don’t touch yourself. I’ll touch you, when it’s time.”

Zayn’s eyes fill. Harry is being generous this morning, and Zayn reaches for the lube in the side table before Harry can change his mind. He covers a finger in lube and starts to push it into his hole, slowly, letting Harry see. Harry has forgotten that he didn’t command Zayn to do this. Sometimes he wants to be the one to slick Zayn up. Sometimes he won’t bother and will instead just lube himself before slamming into Zayn without care. It hurts so good.

But today is an exception. Harry holds Zayn’s gaze as he fingers himself, getting himself good and wet and ready to receive. Zayn takes a chance and pours more lube into his palm before coating Harry’s cock, paying special attention to the area under the head, making Harry’s eyes close involuntarily with pleasure. 

“Now, sir?”

“Yes, baby. Now. I’m going to fuck you now.” He slides in, gentler than normal, gentler than last night, being considerate of Zayn’s soreness. He starts to move, slowly, and Zayn arches his hips up to draw him in deeper, tentatively lifts his legs to hold himself behind his knees so that Harry can give him everything. Harry groans, pushing into Zayn fully, grasping Zayn’s cock and jerking him in the rhythm he has set for their sex. It’s not long before Zayn is begging, “Sir! Please, I need to come. May I come, sir. Please. It’s so good, I need it so much.”

“Come for me, baby. Right now.”

And Zayn releases the pent-up desire of eight days. He no longer comes without Harry. He can’t. Harry has told him not to wank, and he wouldn’t anyway. He can no longer imagine coming without permission. He needs Harry to tell him it’s okay.

Afterwards, Harry strokes his hair and neck, which makes Zayn sigh with contentment. He loves this, loves Harry. He wants to ask Harry to do something for him, now when he’s being so kind and soft.

“Harr-ee. Would you do something for me?”

“If I can, baby. You know I want to give you everything you need. What do you need?”

“Will you come out with me? To a place that I go--no one from your set will be there. It’s not fancy, just comfortable for me and my friends. Maybe I could invite Louis, and you could meet him?”

Harry is truly feeling generous today. “Ok, Zayn. Should we shop for this? Find something to match the decor of your club?”

“Don’t you have to work today?”

“Not if I can spend the day with you. Let’s go to Penshoppe. I know I can find something sexy for you to wear. I want people to look at my boy no matter where we are. I like knowing they look, they want, and they can’t have. You’re mine, Zayn. You know that, right?”

Zayn turns to him, eyes wide and unaware of how innocent he looks in this moment. “Of course. I’m yours. I would never--I can’t imagine being with anyone else. You’re everything, Harreh…”

Harry smiles at the Bradford accent that slips out when Zayn is at his most earnest. He knows it’s true, that Zayn is his. Why does he doubt it when Zayn isn’t here, in his bed?

“I know, babe. I know you’re mine. And we’ll go to your club, alright? We’ll go shop this afternoon, and then we’ll go to dinner--maybe just fish and chips, befitting the occasion? Zayn gets Harry Styles to slum--that’s something, isn’t it, baby?”

Zayn thinks privately that no, Harry isn’t slumming; he’s just seeing how real people go about their lives, but he says nothing, only murmurs his thanks and asks if he should shower now or make them some toast and coffee. He’s asked for more than he dared hope to get, and he wants to show his gratitude all day today. 

Harry tells him to go home to clean up and grab a kit, because he’ll be staying with Harry all weekend. Zayn thanks him, more than once. It will be the first time he’s had Harry for a whole weekend, and he can’t wait.

He should be working on his portrait. Instead, he calls Louis and tells him to meet him at their favorite place at nine. Harry will be there; Louis will get to meet him.

“Wow, Z, you must not be the only one dick-whipped. What did you do to your Harry last night? It must have been spectacular. I can’t wait to meet this perfect creature, and in our place yet. How did you convince him to go to a gay disco in our shitty neighborhood?”

In fact, Zayn hasn’t given the details to Harry. He didn’t ask, and Zayn didn’t want him to say no. If he weren’t so happy, he might have thought to think through exactly what Harry was going to think of his slightly tawdry gay club in his more than slightly tawdry neighbourhood, but he doesn’t want to think. He wants to feel cherished and indulged, and he does. It’s enough. Harry will be fine, he thinks. He can fit in anywhere.

 

+++

 

While Zayn showers, Harry manages to get some of his wits back after the spectacularly mind-blowing sex they’ve had the night before and thirty minutes ago. Harry thinks, and the first thing that comes to his mind is what the actual fuck am I doing.

He’s never actually gone out with Zayn, at least not in the normal sense of going out with someone. He’s taken Zayn—my dear friend Zayn—to a couple of events. He’s taken him shopping. But going out just for the sake of it? That’s unchartered territory for him, and Harry Styles hates unchartered territories.

You’re a control freak, Haz, you gotta chill, the tiny voice of Niall in his head tells him.

Harry sighs and nods to himself, staring at his reflection in the big mirror covering two of the doors of his closet.

In normal circumstances, he would have declined Zayn’s offer, or countered it with an offer of his own to go somewhere he knows, a place where he could control the situation at hand.

As it is, Zayn’s tentative smile was so embarrassed and cute as he asked Harry to go out and meet his friend Louis, that Harry had the affirmative answer ready on the tip of his tongue even before Zayn was done speaking. It’s taken quite a conspicuous amount of self-control for him to let Zayn finish his question before replying.

Harry hasn’t gone out for a night of normal activities in a place he didn’t know beforehand in years. The thought makes his skin crawl.

He shakes his head. “You can fucking do this,” he tells himself.

 

+++

 

They go shopping.

Harry has learned months earlier that very few things can quite compare to the beauty of Zayn’s eyes when he’s staring at things he never thought he could have before meeting Harry.

Niall likes to say, good-naturedly of course, that it’s because Harry is a manipulative bastard and he’s brainwashed Zayn with his ridiculously expensive soap.

Harry likes to think that it’s because he’s providing for Zayn, making sure that Zayn leads the best life he can have, with all the things he deserves, courtesy of Harry Edward Styles. Harry has more money than he actually needs, so what’s a couple bills in the face of fucking love?

Harry scoffs to himself while Zayn is in the changing booth of the store, trying on clothes. Yeah right. Love. Why the fuck would I think this is love when I can’t even fucking hold his hand in public without having a panic attack? Harry thinks grimly to himself. Besides, how could it be love? It’s nothing, it’s nothing, a pretty thing, a pretty boy, and that’s it.

Zayn gets out of the booth with his new clothes on. They fit him perfectly, of course; by this point, Harry thinks he knows Zayn’s sizes better than his own.

The clothes aren’t particularly fancy, seeing that wherever Zayn is intending on taking Harry, it certainly won’t be a place for Gucci suits or Armani blazers. Zayn is wearing—under Harry’s suggestion/command—a pair of extremely tight black skinny jeans, artfully cut in five lines on each thigh. The top is cotton, a white background with a pattern that looks like someone splashed blue paint on it. It’s sleeveless, and the irregular cut gives the illusion that someone just hacked them off with a pair of scissors. It shows off Zayn’s flawless arms, their shape, their smoothness, their musculature. Harry’s mouth waters to look at him.

Harry would never ever in a million years wear something like that without being at gunpoint. But the ensemble is casual enough that Zayn won’t look like an overdressed doll wherever it is they’re gonna go, and plus, Zayn has been giving the eye to that top since they’ve set foot inside the store.

“Harry?” Zayn frowns “You’re looking but you’re not saying anything. I can… like, I can put it back if you… if you don’t like it.”

Harry frantically shakes his head. “You look gorgeous, Zayn,” he assures him. “I was just lost in thought. These are perfect. Don’t take them off; we’re almost late for dinner. I’ll try mine on and then I will pay for them and we can just keep them on.”

Harry gestures to the clothes he’s holding in his arms for himself. Zayn nods, looking at the clothes and frowning a little for no reason—Zayn always frowns if Harry doesn’t call him out on it, it’s like it’s his default setting—and Harry goes inside the changing booth.

He strips down to his underwear and gets into the skinnies he’s chosen for himself. They fit him well. Once he’s also wearing a sheer shirt with a dark brown leopard pattern, he looks at himself in the mirror and almost has a coronary.

He looks… young. The years of Harry’s sheer shirts and skinny jeans are long gone, gone the very day he’d been appointed curator of the Tate, but the clothes still feel so inherently Harry’s that he’s scared for a moment. Scared to see that kid in the mirror, the one who never had much money to begin with despite him being the son of Desmond Styles. The kid who had to work his fucking arse off just to be enough, to be seen, to be recognized, because his father wouldn’t have it, that Harry would just rely on family money without making a name for himself. In the end, even Harry making a name for himself wasn’t enough. Nothing is enough for Des Styles.

Harry shakes his head to get rid of the thoughts. He’s just being sentimental.

He gets out of the booth with his best smile plastered to his face, and opens his arms to show his outfit to Zayn. “What do you think?” he asks Zayn, more out of politeness than anything. It’s not like Zayn would ever criticise Harry’s clothes.

Zayn is gaping. “Harreh,” he breathes. “Jesus. You… you look different.”

Harry raises an eyebrow, and Zayn immediately holds his hands up. “A good kind of different!” Zayn exclaims. “Like, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean, like, it’s just, I’ve never, um, never seen you with, like, this kind of clothes, and…”

Harry laughs. He can’t help it, Zayn looks so adorable while he tries to justify himself for having done absolutely nothing wrong. Zayn gapes a bit more, and Harry doesn’t need him to speak to know what he’s thinking now.

He’s never seen me laugh like this before.

Harry stops his laughter immediately and clears his throat, going towards the register while Zayn obediently follows him. “Close your mouth, Zayn,” he says without turning. “Gaping isn’t pretty.”

 

+++

 

They buy fish and chips from a booth at a corner.

Well, Zayn will have to buy it, because the thought of waiting in line at that booth and then smelling like fried fish for the rest of his life almost gives Harry another coronary, so he tells Zayn he’ll wait by the bench nearby. He’s about to give Zayn the money, but Zayn shakes his head and rolls his eyes in a way that shouldn’t be that attractive. It should piss Harry off, but seeing that it’s Zayn, it doesn’t. Even if he’ll never admit it.

“’S just fish ‘n chips, Harreh. I’m broke, but not that broke,” he says, and then immediately pales and snaps his mouth shut with a guilty expression. Harry isn’t sure if it’s just for the way he’s slurred all his consonants, which Zayn knows Harry disapproves of, or that he’s defied Harry.

Harry doesn’t want to ruin this for Zayn, but he’d be lying if he isn’t already thinking about how to punish his insolent outburst. He puts the money back in his wallet.

“Harr… Harr-ee,” Zayn says in a perfect enunciation. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I just want to buy you dinner for once, yeah? Is it okay? If it isn’t, I won’t.”

Harry, despite the discomfort he’s feeling, smiles and nods. “Yes, Zayn. Go ahead. I’ll wait here; that booth will never catch me alive closer than this.”

Zayn chuckles and nods.

He buys the fish and chips for both of them, and they eat it on the bench, like fucking homeless people. Harry secretly likes the rawness of it all, but he’ll never admit it.

When they’re done, it’s almost nine, and they walk to the infamous place where Zayn hangs out with his friends.

During the walk, at some point, Zayn’s hand brushes Harry’s. One, two, three times. Harry doesn’t move his, and Zayn must interpret it in the wrong way, because a moment later he’s taking Harry’s hand, very slowly and with shaky fingers, and the mere touch makes Harry’s lungs constrict and panic spread hotly under his skin.

Harry retreats his own hand very quickly, without being able to look at Zayn in the face.

Zayn lowers his head a little bit, and neither of them talks for the rest of the way.

They get to the place in what feels like a thousand years. Harry raises his head to look at the anonymous, black concrete building, where a neon banner flashes Babylon in bright colours.

His skin crawls a little again at the dirtiness of the façade, and they’re not even inside. “What kind of a place is this?” he asks, trying to sound conversational instead of terrified.

And to think there was a time where the dirtier the club was, the surer it was that Harry Styles and Niall Horan would be found in it.

Zayn makes a sound that feels like a tiny squeal. “Just a place. Where you, um, have beers. And drinks. And you can dance. But we don’t need to dance.”

Harry chuckles and decides to put Zayn out of his misery, also to make sure the small incident of the aborted hand-holding is forgotten. “Maybe if you’re a good boy I’ll show you the legendary Harry Styles moves,” he tells Zayn in a whisper as they get inside.

Zayn shivers at the touch of Harry’s lips to his ear and doesn’t reply.

The inside of the club looks, if possible, even dirtier. It’s dark, illuminated only by the flash of maybe a thousand strobe lights, and it’s crammed with people. Harry can see a small bar with only two—very tired-looking—bartenders, and the floor feels sticky under the sole of his booths. The music is loud, very loud.

“Oi oi!!” someone shouts, and the next moment the man is wrapping his arms around Zayn, and Harry sees red.

Don’t touch him, who are you, why is he laughing, he never laughs like this with me, fuck he’s beautiful, why have I never seen this kind of laugh, who are you don’t touch him who are you.

“Harr-ee?” Zayn smiles “This is my friend Louis. Lou, this is my dear friend Harry Styles.”

It’s a low blow, but Zayn doesn’t mean it, Harry’s sure of it. He’s not that mean; Zayn is the opposite of mean. And yet he’s introducing Harry like Harry always introduces him, and it fucking hurts.

Louis Tomlinson has very clear blue eyes, not exactly friendly. “Oh, Harr-ee!” he exclaims, stressing the enunciation Zayn just used. “Heard a lot about you. It’s a pleasure to finally know for sure you’re not a figment of Zayn’s imagination. One might as well think that, for how perfect Zayn always describes you to be.”

Zayn scratches the back of his neck in embarrassment , and Harry replies with his best smile.

Louis seems unimpressed, but after a moment he pushes a drink into Zayn’s hands, and another in Harry’s. “Let’s get to know each other. Or get shitfaced. Or both,” Louis declares with a grin.

Harry withholds a desperate sigh and follows Zayn and Louis through the sweaty crowd. He catches sight of many people kissing. Men kissing.

He briefly wonders how good it must feel, to be out in the open air doing what Harry only does in the shadows of his fucking closet.

You’re ridiculous. You’re thirty, you’re rich, you’re famous, and you’re still scared to fucking disappoint daddy by being gay, he tells himself, and then shuts himself up.

“Oh my God!” someone to his right exclaims “Harry?”

Harry’s insides freeze, and so do Louis and Zayn, alerted by the voice.

Fuck fuck fuck, someone recognized me. Come on, Harry, be Harry fucking Styles and smile politely, whoever it is.

Harry turns to the voice, and when he sees the person, he desperately wishes to be anywhere but there.

It’s Luke Hemmings, a well-known artist whom Harry himself made famous by recognizing the talent in his work and featuring him at the museum in an instalment, which gave Luke the start of his shining career, three years earlier.

Harry smiles. “Hello, Luke, fancy seeing you here,” he says politely, stretching out his hand for him.

Luke looks at it, and then laughs, wrapping Harry in an unannounced hug that makes Harry almost puke. “Fancy seeing you here!” Luke laughs again. “I mean, I gotta say, not that I never thought about this. But it’s cool, you know, me too, like…”

“Harry?” Zayn’s voice interrupts Luke. “Let’s go, come on.”

Harry frowns at Zayn. He’s closer than before, and his hand is on Harry’s shoulder. Zayn is a bit pale even in the disco lights, and he’s slightly shaking. There must be something wrong, because Zayn would never fucking dream of interrupting a conversation of Harry’s like this.

Harry smiles, desperately trying to regain control of the situation, and failing. “Zayn, I’m talking to this gentleman,” he says coldly.

Zayn licks his own lips. “I know, but like…”

“Zayn Malik?” Luke asks “Oh, man. I saw your works, they’re good! You with Harry then?”

Zayn opens his mouth.

“Luke, this is my dear friend Zayn,” Harry says quickly.

Luke grins. “Yeah, right.”

Harry frowns. The tone is rather sarcastic, isn’t it? “I beg your pardon?”

Luke shrugs, his blonde curls flying everywhere. “It’s okay, Harry, really. I can see it, and I’m proud of you, you know? For doing this.”

What exactly is this?” Harry asks.

Luke doesn’t answer, but his eyes dart between Harry and Zayn.

In that moment, the only reflex Harry has is to shrug Zayn’s hand away from his shoulder, ignoring the wounded expression on Zayn’s face, and the way Louis Tomlinson is face-palming for some reason.

“Explain yourself,” Harry tells Luke, forgetting that he can’t just order anyone around like he does Zayn.

Luke seems unfazed, though, and frowns a little. “Coming out, Harry.”

Harry’s stomach churns, and he forces himself to laugh. “What? No, Luke, there’s been a misunderstanding,” he says, stepping another inch away from Zayn. “I’m not gay,” he assures him.

He hears Zayn’s sharp intake of breath despite the loud music.

Luke arches an eyebrow. “This is a gay club, Harry?” he says.

Later, Harry will tell himself that he should have understood what Luke meant right away.

When the dots connect in his mind, Harry can’t look at Luke in the face anymore.

He can’t look at Zayn in the face anymore either, for that matter.

There’s an ugly voice inside his head that whispers Zayn knew what he was doing and he brought you here anyway and he didn’t tell you. You always take care of him and this is how he repays you. You don’t count shit for him. You are the pretty thing, you are the toy.

He forced you to come out because you don’t matter to him, your wellbeing means nothing to him.

Harry doesn’t speak. Luke realizes there’s something wrong, and he quickly says something about his friends waiting before fleeing the scene.

Harry turns to look at Zayn, angry like he hasn’t been in fucking ages, and it’s like everything he’s tried to build with Zayn crumbles right in front of his eyes.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

All Zayn can think is oh no oh no oh no, I’ve hurt him, he’s so angry I’ve never seen him look at me like that, like I’m an ant he’s about to squash, and then as the apologies start to tumble from his lips, Harry’s face relaxes, and for a minute Zayn knows what it feels like to fall from a great height.

“I’m sure you can find your own way home, can’t you, Zayn? Since these are your people and this is your bar? Perhaps that Luke person”--and Harry takes a certain vicious pleasure in using such a phrase to describe the artist that he nurtured and who has now turned on him, oh, it will be an even greater pleasure to make him fall just as he made him rise--“yes, perhaps that Luke person can give you a lift, or Louis can walk with you. The streets in this area,” and his voice drips with condescension, “are hardly safe for a pretty young thing like you. Or you either,” he flings carelessly in Louis’s direction.

With those words, Harry leaves, without having had a drink or a dance with Zayn, without having held his hand, even for a moment, and only Louis’s arm around his waist keeps Zayn from collapsing onto the sticky barroom floor. 

He sobs into Louis’s shoulder, “What have I done? Harr-ee has been so kind to me, and I’ve hurt him? He isn’t out, I knew that. Why did I ask him to come here, of all places?”

To his credit, Louis listens, pats Zayn’s shoulder, wards off with a hard look the predators who would ‘comfort’ Zayn, murmurs, “There, there, love, ‘s alright, you didn’t mean to do anything wrong,” but it’s no use.

Zayn at last tears himself out of Louis’s embrace and into the night, forgetting that he is wearing what is a very provocative outfit for a certain type of man. He is so busy wiping away his tears and striding quickly that he almost misses the limo that has pulled alongside him, or the voice that calls out softly, “Hey little love, where are you going in such a hurry? What’s hurt you so? Or should I say who?”

Zayn turns to stare, and instead of finding a bejeweled old queen with more money than attractions, Zayn sees a man not that much older than Harry, perhaps mid-thirties, dark-haired, fine arched eyebrows, lovely eyes full of concern, and, from what Zayn can see, a lovely, muscled body if the arm out the window is any indication.

“My name is Ben. I was in the club when you had--well, when you left. It’s really not a safe area. You know how our clubs are always in the worst neighborhoods. Let me give you a ride home. My driver can vouch for me--James, am I not in the habit of rescuing lost lambs?”

James nods over his shoulder, clearly having heard this one before.

But Zayn has already been won. He heard the word that he didn’t know he needed, the magic word that has unlocked a point of view that he longs for in a relationship--Ben said our

“Yeah, ok, but Ben?”

“Yes, lovely?”

“Don’t take me home. Take me anywhere but there. By the way, I’m Zayn.”

 

+++

 

Zayn’s head pounds when he wakes up on 1000 thread count sheets--Harry has taught him to recognize quality. He has the mother of all hangovers and shudders as he tries to remember what happened last night and how he came to be alone in these luxurious linens in a room he doesn’t recognize.

He remembers that after Ben picked him up the night before they had driven the city, drinking Dom Perignon straight out of bottles, and Zayn had told Ben everything, about his struggles as an artist, about meeting Harry, although he doesn’t  call him by name, because a little part of Zayn is still loyal, about falling in love but being so little able to express it. Finally, he whispers what is as much a revelation for him as it is to Ben: “I like to be dominated. My lover controls me--what I wear, how I talk, where I go and with whom--and I love it.”

The empty champagne bottles clatter around in the spacious floorboard of the limo, and Ben says nothing for a moment, just reaches out to stroke Zayn’s face gently before replying, “Oh my precious child, and do you think this man, who won’t call you his boyfriend, is the only one who will understand and meet your needs?”

Zayn doesn’t remember much after that. Ben had kissed him, gently at first, and then, holding Zayn’s face carefully as though it were a delicate heirloom, nipped at his bottom lip, the lip Harry likes so much, and then made his tongue an instrument to thrust into Zayn’s mouth, exploring every inch of its interior, making Zayn, shamefully, hard in the tight trousers that Harry had bought for him only that day. Harr-ee.

“Stop, please, Ben, I can’t. I love him! This is so wrong…” Zayn is confused by his arousal, feels guilty for betraying Harry, feels the stirring of what might be anger toward the man who gives him everything but nothing.

Ben stops, looking searchingly into Zayn’s eyes. “Ok, Zayn. All you had to say was stop. I can see you still have a lot to work out, but why don’t you stay with me tonight? I’ll put you in the guest room, and you can be sure you’ll have some quiet time alone.”

Zayn is relieved as the night comes back to him and he realizes he didn’t betray Harry, but now he thinks, hasn’t Harry betrayed him? How much longer can he be with someone who can’t or won’t acknowledge him as his lover? He remembers what Ben said, that there were many who would be happy to meet Zayn’s needs for domination.

He has one last memory of the night before. Ben was standing at the door to the guest room, shirtless. Unlike Harry, with his lean, lanky, and almost hairless torso, Ben has thick, dark chest hair over well-developed pecs, a narrow waist, and arms that show time well spent with weights. He’s gorgeous, and he’s very manly. He’s talking to Zayn.

“Before you fall asleep, love, just know one thing: I’m a dom too, and I’m not afraid to show you off to the world. If you wanted to be my lover, I would be proud of you, proud to be seen with you. I could take you to some clubs where we could explore every kink you think you might have. Oh, Zayn, beautiful, innocent Zayn, just say the word, and I’ll change your life. That’s a promise. Good night, sweet boy. I’ll be gone when you wake, but there will be breakfast and a driver waiting to take you where you need to go.”

Ben had disappeared, and Zayn had passed out. Now he wonders, is this possible, this life with Ben? 

Zayn dresses quickly and leaves the luxurious bedroom. He walks out into an opulent open space, where he sees juice, a coffee warmer, and pastries on a tray. Next to them is a note from Ben:

It was so interesting meeting you, Zayn. You are without a doubt the loveliest sub I’ve ever seen, and I will dedicate myself to making you see yourself as I see you. Think about it.

Below Ben’s scrawled signature are two numbers, listed as mobile and work. Zayn thinks that Ben is serious if he’s willing to give him his work number. He fishes his own cell out of his pocket, seeing that he still has about 30% battery left, easily enough to call Louis to let him know he’s okay and to make another call, to Ben. He punches in the number, sure that it will turn out to be fake, because why would someone like Ben want him? He probably just is using it to get Zayn out of his apartment and into the car that will take him away forever…

“Ben Winston.”

“Ben? Oh, I, um, I never imagined, it’s Zayn, sorry.”

“Zayn! I’m so glad to hear from you. I’m in a board meeting just now, but shall I call you when it’s concluded, say, in an hour?”

Zayn nods, foolishly, forgetting for a moment that Ben can’t see him. “Yeah, call me when you can. Thanks for last night, Ben.”

A warm voice answers him, straight from the board room, fearless: “Stop, love. The pleasure was all mine.”

And now Zayn is truly confused. Ben is offering him--well, he doesn’t know, but it’s enticing to think about. Harry rejected him last night, spoke coldly to him and left him behind in the disco. Maybe he’s been in the wrong place all along. Does he really love Harry as much as he thinks, or does he just love what Harry has been offering him, the gifts and the ability to lose control?

In the car, sinking back into the soft leather seats that no longer register as luxurious to him, Zayn wonders what he should do. He honestly doesn’t know.

 

+++

 

After Harry goes out of the gay bar—runs out, really—the only thing he can think about is how hurt Zayn looked while Harry assured Luke Hemmings that he’s not gay.

But Harry’s hurt just the same, isn’t he? And it’s Zayn who hurt him.

Lovely, innocent, pretty Zayn, exposing Harry Styles like that for the whole world to see.

I knew everything was becoming like a too tight suit for you, but I never thought you would be cruel about it, Harry thinks grimly as he gets back home.

He walks the distance, even if he’s not used to walking that long anymore. He could call a driver, but he doesn’t feel like seeing anyone, not even a person who would never speak to him first.

Maybe Zayn is better off without Harry, he thinks as he finally reaches his penthouse and gets inside, slamming the door shut with more force than necessary, like he can’t lock the door safely enough.

Harry takes his clothes off, his sheer shirt, his skinny jeans, all the things that belong to a Harry he isn’t anymore, can never be again.

As he showers, his anger peaks and then gets to its lowest.

Harry is angry that Zayn took him to the club on purpose.

Harry also knows Zayn couldn’t have possibly known just the extent of what being so exposed means to Harry.

They never talked. Zayn can’t know, because Harry never actually told him about all the issues, the fears, the panic attacks.

Harry manages to be lucid for ten more minutes, but when he gets out of the shower and into his bedroom, the emptiness of it, the Zayn-ness, hits him like something physical.

I’ve lost him, haven’t I? He’s never gonna come back, he realizes, and his breath catches in his throat.

Harry tries to steady himself as his legs give out, but he doesn’t manage, and falls on the bed, feeling his lungs constrict and his trachea flutter. His brain is a whirl of I wasn’t enough I’ll never be enough I disappointed him he loved me and I fucked it up, and the thoughts make Harry’s head spin as he gasps for air and fails.

His vision blurs, and he does the only thing he can think of.

He calls Niall, dialling his number with shaky fingers, his breath still going in and out in hiccups.

“Hazza?” Niall says upon answering.

Harry tries. He really tries to speak, but he’s choking, he’s even crying now, tears blurring his vision even more, and I’m gonna die like this, scared and alone, he thinks.

He hears Niall sigh on the other end of the call, and because Niall knows Harry better than anyone else, has known Harry from before he became Harry Styles, he just says “I’m coming to your place, Haz. Breathe,” and ends the call.

It probably takes Niall no time to get to Harry’s, but to Harry it feels like it’s a couple lifetimes.

Niall sits next to Harry, hugging him and rubbing his back and shushing him until Harry feels safe enough that his lungs can start working decently again.

When the panic attack is gone, Harry cries some more and tells Niall what happened.

Niall doesn’t speak for a long time. He just listens to Harry, his face unreadable, until Harry is done speaking.

“I think you both made a mistake, Haz,” Niall says at last “But I also think your mistake is bigger than Zayn’s.”

Harry frowns. He’s lamely sitting in the middle of his bed in just his underwear, and he’s still hiccupping a little, like a toddler who cried for hours and now calmed down. “What… what do you mean?”

“I think that yes, Zayn omitted the detail of what kind of club he was taking you to, on purpose. But I don’t think he did it to be cruel, Harry,” Niall sighs “I haven’t even properly met the lad, but I know he’s the furthest thing from cruel, really.”

Harry chuckles, sniffling. “How can you be sure?”

Niall shrugs. “Because he has to be perfect, to be able to do this to you,” he chuckles too, pointing at the hot mess that is Harry right now.

Harry sighs. “You said my mistake was bigger?”

Niall nods. “You took him for granted, Harry. You were so busy buying him stuff and making him your doll that you didn’t realize he was slipping through your fingers while you thought everything was going great. And you were too comfortable knowing that Zayn wouldn’t even dream of calling it quits, that you didn’t stop to think that it might happen anyway. You were obsessed with him staying to the point that you were kinda forcing him to, and it became too much.”

Harry is probably gaping a little, because Niall, as per usual, is right. “I want him to come back, Ni,” he says, his voice shaking.

Niall sighs and pats him on the shoulder. “I’m afraid this time it’s Zayn who has to want it, Haz.”

 

+++

 

Harry gives himself three days to mourn the loss of Zayn, and then gets back at work, because he might be heartbroken, but he’s still Harry Styles.

Zayn hasn’t been answering his phone, but now Harry has stopped even trying.

Niall is right, Zayn has to come back of his own free will.

Harry desperately wants to look for Zayn and fall to his knees to say sorry and come back and I love you, which is already out of character for him enough to signal he’s lost his fucking mind over this boy.

As it is, Harry doesn’t do any of it, because he still has to come to terms with the fact that the only way to get Zayn back might be a coming out.

It’s not that Zayn would ever ask for it. But Zayn clearly wants to be Harry’s partner, to be seen with him like couples are, and it’s only fair.

Harry still doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to give it to him, because every time he pictures the scene in his mind, the looming shadow of Des Styles makes him feel on the verge of a new panic attack.

There’s an instalment at the Tate, although Harry has only taken care of half of it, while the rest has been handled by Niall.

That’s why Harry didn’t know Luke Hemmings was going to be there.

The memory of three nights earlier at the Babylon makes Harry’s palms sweat as soon as he sees the blonde head of curls in the museum, and Harry is madly tempted to just go to Luke and accuse him of ruining the only fucking relationship he ever wanted to last.

But Harry doesn’t have any right to do that, because what he had with Zayn wasn’t a relationship, since Harry didn’t want it to be, and also, Luke knows even less than Zayn about Harry, so he couldn’t have possibly done anything on purpose.

Luke sees Harry, and his lovely face goes a bit pale, his eyes a bit sad, and he keeps looking at Harry from afar like he doesn’t know if he should approach him or not.

Harry forces a smile out. Luke has nothing to do with this, he thinks again as he moves to be the one reaching Luke.

Luke clears his throat a bit, and he’s still a little too pale for Harry’s liking. “Um. Hey, Harry.”

Harry keeps smiling. “Hello, Luke. Congratulations on another job well done,” he says pointing at the three pieces by him featured in the instalment.

Luke chuckles and nods. “Yeah, thanks, Harry. As usual, this would have never happened if it wasn’t for you. Listen, I… May I speak to you? In private?”

Harry frowns a little when he sees just how worried Luke looks. Sure he knows he fucked up, but what is bothering him so much? They don’t really know each other.

Harry nods and precedes Luke towards the opposite end of the room. He stops at the open door, where a corridor begins. The corridor is empty right now, and scarcely illuminated if not for a couple of open windows.There’s no one there, and they can have the privacy Luke asked for.

Luke takes a deep breath, tormenting the rings on his fingers with his eyes trained on them. “Harry, um, I just, I wanted to say sorry for the other night. With Zayn Malik, you know. It was none of my business, still isn't, but like, if you broke up because of me, I'm sorry about that too.”

Harry wishes he could be anywhere but there talking to Luke about meeting him at a gay club, but one thing stands out the most in what Luke has just said. “What makes you think we were together and we broke up?” Harry deadpans.

Luke sighs, and finally raises his head to look at Harry in the eyes. “Yeah, that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. He’s… Harry, you won’t like this, but I’m gonna tell you anyway because I think you are a nice person and I saw you look at Zayn Malik quite often, so I also know he’s really important to you.”

Harry makes sure his face keeps staying blank. “Speak,” he just says.

Luke takes another deep breath. “Zayn is seeing someone else. Ben Winston. And I know because Ben Winston listed him as his guest for the gala dinner you organized for the anniversary of this place in three days. I thought you should know.”

Harry doesn’t reply, because he’s not sure his voice is there anymore. He just nods at Luke, and then Luke finally leaves him alone, murmuring another apology.

Harry feels his breath starting to come out wrong again, and he ducks into the empty, dark corridor before anybody sees him.

Ben Winston. Ben fucking Winston.

Ben Winston is—there is no other term—Harry’s nemesis.

They have hated each other since they met, in the same master programme at university, and Ben has only hated Harry more after Harry has been chosen as curator of the Tate, a position to which both of them aspired.

The thought of Zayn—Zayn Zayn Zayn—being touched by Ben Winston makes Harry see red, but he forces himself to calm down before someone comes looking for him.

He has no time to freak out. He needs to fucking think.

Because Ben Winston is going to bring Zayn to Harry’s party, like a war declaration, like a joke, like a mockery for Harry.

And Des Styles is listed as one of Harry’s guests for the very same party.

 

+++

 

Zayn tells himself that he doesn’t miss Harry. Why should he? He has Ben, lovely Ben, who takes him to parties and introduces him as “my lover” or “my boyfriend,” Ben who insists that Zayn stay in his penthouse all the time rather than try to study and work with all the chaos of four roommates in a two-bedroom flat, Ben who asks Zayn if he likes something before he buys it for him.

And Ben in the bedroom, who handcuffs Zayn to the bedposts and edges him for hours, who will punish Zayn if he comes before he’s told to, Ben, whose fat cock leaves Zayn sore but so pleased at being claimed. When they’ve had an especially intense session, Zayn will slip into sub space easily, and Ben cares for him, wraps him in a cashmere blanket, carries him into the kitchen while he makes him camomile tea, praises him for being so good, so beautiful, so talented in and out of bed. Zayn rides his endorphin wave, head on Ben’s shoulder, Ben’s voice like a shell at his ear, soothing him with the sound of the ocean. He loves those nights with Ben. He thinks that he could fall in love with Ben, maybe.

But when he leaves Ben in the morning to go into the studio, and he’s in the back of Ben’s Range Rover with James silent up front, his mind inevitably turns to Harry, to his smooth, lean torso and sexy tattoos--Ben would never, all his wildness is confined to the bedroom--his ability to surprise Zayn with a gift that is just the right thing, even though he never tells Zayn it’s coming. And no matter how talented Ben is in bed, no matter how well he cares for Zayn after, Zayn has to force thoughts of Harry away. He must really be a masochist, he thinks wryly. Only a masochist would prefer Harry to Ben. Not that he does, not at all.

So when the afternoon arrives that Ben comes by the studio, where Zayn’s prof is praising his prize-winning portrait of Louis, the one that he finished in spite of, not because of, Harry, he waits at the door, smiling fondly, and of course knows Zayn’s prof because Ben knows everyone in the art world, has two well-regarded galleries, one to be the recipient of this piece of Zayn’s work, and the Prof says, “So, Ben, will you and Zayn be coming to the anniversary gala at the Tate Modern? I hear Styles has really gone way out for this one. Not sure the Boy Wonder can pull it off,” Zayn doesn’t stiffen, or let his mouth gape open in shock. He stays relaxed, smiles when Ben turns to him and says, “Of course we’ll be there. Right, Zayn?” Yes, Zayn nods, of course. He will do as Ben wants, but inside his blood is freezing.

Of course Ben will want him in a new suit, and of course it will be Armani, because Ben considers Gucci and some of the newer designers like Palomo Spain, whom Harry loves, tacky and over the top. He always wants Zayn in smartly tailored suits from the classics, Armani, Tom Ford, Louis Vuitton. He likes the old design houses. Zayn thinks, loyally, that Ben is a classic himself.

For Harry’s party, Ben puts Zayn in a dove gray suit with a vertical seam that pinches and shows off his narrow waist, and narrow trousers that fit him like a glove, that hint at the roundness of his tiny bum. His shirt is of the finest high thread count cotton poplin, white, the better to bring out the caramel of Zayn’s skin, and Ben makes one concession to frivolity, allowing Zayn a dove pink silk tie that brings out a slight blush in his cheeks. He wears silk socks and a monkstrap shoe in a charcoal gray that almost matches his pocket square with its faint lines of pink. Once he’s fully dressed, Ben admires him openly: “Zayn, I’ve never seen you look lovelier, not even when you’re taking my cock with your hands tied behind your back with a silk tie much like the one around your neck. And you know how beautiful I find you then.”

Zayn feels himself flush, at the compliment and the memory. Ben is so good to him. It’ll be fine to see Harry. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Zayn tries to calm his nerves as they enter the Tate, his first visit in close to two months. He knows he looks good, and that Ben looks good beside him, wearing black on black, contrasting with and highlighting Zayn’s dove grey. Ben’s hand is reassuringly at his low back, guiding him into the wealthy and well-dressed crowd who, if they notice that Zayn is not there with his usual partner, are too well-bred to comment. Ben murmurs in his ear, “Stand up straight, Zayn. Look happy to be here, and proud to be with me. We’ll show that little shit.”

There’s no sign of the little shit, however. Zayn straightens his back and lifts his chin, trying not to scan the crowd. He doesn’t care, he tells himself. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t.

He notices the usual tuxedoed waiters making their way around the crowd with champagne and hor d'oeuvres. He grabs a glass before Ben can tell him no. He’s not paying attention to Zayn anyway. Sometime between stand up straight and now Ben found another wealthy man to chat with, and he’s no longer touching Zayn or indeed noticing him at all.

Zayn wishes that he had smoked a bit before leaving, but Ben is absolutely against Zayn’s smoking of anything, especially pot. He remembers getting high with Harry a few times, how much fun it was, how much Harry giggled. His eyes mist a bit at that before he sharply brings himself back to his real present, where Ben is good to him and Harry couldn’t even acknowledge their relationship. He drains his champagne, sets it on one of the trays, and grabs another. He’ll need a few of these to get through the evening.

“Hey.” Zayn glances in the direction of the voice and finds Luke, the instigator of the fight that ended him and Harry. Why is he even talking to him?

“What can I do for you, mate? I don’t have any more relationships for you to fuck up.”

“Really? I heard you were with Ben Winston now.”

“Not that it’s your business, but yeah, I am, and he doesn’t care who knows it.”

“No,” Luke muses, “he wouldn’t. He’s been out for years. A bit older for you, yeah?”

“He’s ten years older than Harry,” Zayn says flatly.

“Right. Well. I’ve already gotten in enough trouble meddling, but I told Harry you were with Ben and you’d be here tonight. He hasn’t got much color anyway, but he lost that little bit. I thought he was going to pass out.”

Zayn’s heart pounds, and he tries his best to maintain an indifferent facade. More champagne, that’s the answer. Fortunately, a waiter appears like magic.

“Did Harry send you over to me? Where is he, anyway?” he can’t help asking.

“Of course not, Zayn. I just thought you’d want to know that Harry cares. He may not be able to be out--I’ve known him for years even if we’re not friends--but he’s never been seen with anyone the way he was seen with you. Everybody in the art world here in London was whispering about it, because now that you’re making a name for yourself, everyone knows that you’re gay. There was talk.”

Oh. Zayn hates this. He hates that because of him Harry has been made uncomfortable, forced into declaring something he wasn’t ready for. He’ll apologize, he thinks. He just has to find Harry so he can apologize.

“There you are, love!” Ben’s voice booms into Zayn’s space. “You wandered off from me!” Nodding, he adds, “Luke,” as he steers Zayn from the edge of the crowd back to its center. “You’re looking like a little fawn, babe. What did I tell you about tonight? You’re to show how little you care, not how scared you are. My boy needs a firm hand, perhaps some discipline later.”

Ben smiles at a passing acquaintance as his hand tightens at Zayn’s waist. He lifts the hem of Zayn’s bespoke jacket to pinch his waist, grounding him, centering him in the moment at Ben’s side. Zayn thinks, yes, I need discipline, that’s what I need and Ben can give it to me. At the same time, a new voice in his hand, quieter, gentler, asks him, Really? Is it discipline you need or just someone to love? He feels confused and downs another glass of champagne. Now he has voices in his head--what’s next? Hallucinating? The champagne has made his stomach warm, and he laughs a bit to himself. He hasn’t even seen Harry tonight. He was so worried, and yet there’s been nothing to worry about.

He hears the sound of a spoon on crystal as Niall, Harry’s assistant curator, announces in a loud voice, “At this time, please make your way into Turbine Hall. Dinner will commence in fifteen minutes.” Still no sign of Harry. He downs his champagne, losing track of how many he’s had. It’s just three, right?

Keeping a firm hand on his back this time, Ben walks him through the crowd, stopping to introduce him proudly, “This is my boyfriend, Zayn. He’s a very talented artist, post-grad at the Royal College. Yes, he won that competition. The painting will be in Winston Gallery One next week.” Why is Zayn thinking of Harry when Ben is so clearly proud of him, so clearly supportive? 

They make their way into Turbine Hall, where fairy lights have been strung in complicated loops and swirls to make the high ceiling look like the night sky. Zayn’s suit glows a little; Ben seems a little harder to see in this lighting. Only his firm hand keeps Zayn moving forward toward what must be their table. Ben knows the way, clearly.

Once they are seated, Zayn notices that he knows no one at the table. His prof is here--he saw him earlier across the room--and Luke is here, someone with whom he at least has someone in common. But whoever did the seating chose to put Zayn and Ben at a table where Ben clearly knows everyone and Zayn knows no one. Zayn thinks again that Harry has done this, has wanted him to be uncomfortable, and reminds himself that Ben would never. 

The waiter is pouring the first wine of the night, a dry Arneis that Zayn recognizes as something Harry served him on their first date. He had gone to so much trouble for him, Harry had. He remembers the relatively cheap Malbec he brought and how Harry accepted it graciously, the lovely risotto that Harry made and how anxious he was that Zayn like it. He recalls that Harry wouldn’t have sex with him that night--that he got to know him first. Suddenly he misses Harry fiercely, and just then he hears Harry’s voice.

“Thank you all for being here,” he says from a podium that Zayn now sees has been set up on the opposite side of the room. Harry must be avoiding him and Ben. “It means more to me than I can say, more to the Tate than I can say. We have been blessed with your kindness and generosity, and I hope you enjoy this evening as a small token of our appreciation.”

“We’d also like to take this opportunity to unveil a new acquisition for the Tate. As most of you know, I’m very much in favor of including up and coming new artists in our acquisitions, and this young man as most of you know won the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize for 2019, so without further ado, here it is.”

Zayn notices for the first time the covered easel that shares the podium with Harry, and he watches numbly as his portrait of Louis, all in blues and greens and grays, is unveiled. He turns to Ben, “I thought you bought it on consignment, that you were going to sell it from your gallery.”

“As did I, dear one. It was purchased almost immediately by an anonymous buyer who agreed to let it exhibit at the Gallery for a month. I suppose he’ll send it over after tonight to be on display. Harry, you competitive bugger,” Ben says, looking more amused than angry.

Zayn looks back at the dais where Harry is leading the applause for the acquisition,  immaculate as always in a slim cut floral suit, its faint sheen visible even from the other side of the room. He wonders why he has been so slow to see it, that he’s just an acquisition to both of them, a pretty painting that has the added advantage of being mobile. He murmurs to Ben, “Excuse me, I have to...” and without further explanation he stumbles up and away, feeling a little drunk.

He finds the nearest bathroom although he’s not sure how. Zayn needs to think. He might have managed it too, but Harry enters not one minute behind him.

“Zayn, I know you probably hate me, but Ben is not a good person. He didn’t care about your art. He bought that piece to buy you. It’s how he does it; he makes all these strings that tie you to him until you can’t get loose because you owe him so much…”

“And what makes you such a bloody expert, Harreh? You’re jealous because he outbid you for me, and he’s not ashamed to display his acquisition.” He sounds pure Bradford, and he’s drunk enough not to give a fuck.

Harry’s face softens, and the look he gives Zayn is full of affection and sorrow. “Babe, I know because Ben taught me. Eight years ago, I was you, a penniless art student, full of ambition but no way to realize it. My dad cut me off, said I should make my own way. And Ben was there to pick up the pieces.”

In spite of himself, Zayn is intrigued. “What happened?”

“He made me a submissive, which taught me how to be a dom, which because of how Ben is, led to some really unhealthy power dynamics. He loves power, Ben does. He uses his power to humiliate.”

“He never! He’s always taking care of me, building me up…”

Harry gives Zayn a pitying look. “It’s early. You’re not dependent enough. And if I can help it you never will be.”

“Is that why you bought my painting? Just to beat Ben?”

“Of course not. It’s a smart acquisition for the Tate. And getting between Ben’s control and you is just a bonus. I love you. I’ve missed you. I want you back.”

“I can’t stay in the shadows with you any more, Haz.”

“I know. I’m going to tell my father that I’m gay, I promise. You do what’s right for you, but I’ve warned you about Ben. You deserve better.”

Harry brushes his lips against Zayn’s temple and then leaves him alone in the marble bathroom whose splendor now seems tawdry. Zayn has so much to think about.

 

+++

 

Harry’s brain threatens to explode when he sees Zayn and Ben fucking Winston come together to his party.

Zayn is lovely, as usual. He seems a bit self-conscious, a bit eager to have Ben direct him to seats, people, just direct him. Harry’s hands start to sweat. I should be the one showing you off. I didn’t when I had the chance. This is on me. It’s all on me.

Zayn doesn’t see Harry, and Harry wants to just go up to him and Ben, send a polite, hurtful smile in their direction, and just look at Ben to tell him with his eyes You ruined enough. Don’t ruin him too.

It was Ben who taught Harry how to be a dom. By making Harry a sub.

The truth of the matter, though, is that Harry learned how to be a dom from Ben by not doing what Ben does. Because for Ben, it’s not about the rush of adrenaline that being a dom gives you. It’s about humiliating and punishing even when there’s no need to, not even caring if your sub goes into subspace. Ben never cared about that with Harry, and Harry had been close to being ruined for good, more than once.

As it is with every aspect of his life, Harry has only himself to thank for being able to get out of it, to rise again, to let the toxic in his life go.

Harry is so fucking scared Zayn is too innocent, too… delicate, to understand which kind of power dynamics he’s gotten himself into. Harry is scared Zayn won’t be able to get away from it before it’s too late.

“Harry? My son.”

Harry’s insides freeze. He doesn’t know why. It’s just his father; Harry sees him at least once every two weeks.

And yet, when he turns and plasters a smile to his face for Des Styles, his stomach turns upside-down, and it takes him no time to realize why. How can I look at myself in the mirror if I’m scared of having my father know who I am?

“Father,” he says “I’m glad you could make it.”

Yes, Harry is one of those people who call their dad “father”. He’s not like Zayn, so close to his father that he calls him “baba” on the phone. He’s not like Niall, who talks about his “ma and pa.” He’s Harry Styles, whose father left him to fend off for himself because “it builds character.”

Harry’s character built itself alright, and it made Harry into something Des Styles won’t like.

But Harry has to tell him, doesn’t he? It’s not for Des, and it’s not for Zayn, no matter how much Harry wants him back, for real this time.

It’s for Harry himself. It’s because he got the character, he got the money, he got the name. But he never got his freedom, the freedom of going with someone to a gay club and not caring.

He doesn’t have time to exchange even a single word with his father before Niall apologizes for interrupting them, and tells Harry it’s time to present the piece.

Harry excuses himself, and resolutely ignores the proud smile Des Styles sends his way. You’re not gonna be proud for long, Father.

 

+++

 

When the speech and the show of Zayn’s portrait is done, Harry disappears into a restroom as fast as he can.

It’s only his fucking luck, that Zayn’s there in all his glory, making a fucking men’s restroom glow just by standing in the middle of it.

As soon as Harry catches sight of Zayn, he speaks.

Harry Styles, always thinking and overthinking until he’s sure he has control of whatever is said by him and the other person, just goes up to Zayn and lets the words flow.

He tells Zayn about what Ben does, what Ben did to him. He tells Zayn about how Des Styles, eight years earlier, made Harry into what Zayn is now, a penniless art student, full of ambition but no way to realize it. About how Des cut him off, said Harry should make his own way. About how Ben was there to pick up the pieces, only to shatter even those in his humiliating grip.

Harry is conscious that he’s speaking fast, so fast, that his pronunciation is all wrong, his own northern accent slipping through the words now that he can’t think about controlling that as well. He wonders if Zayn is noticing. He probably is. Zayn notices everything, even if he graciously never says anything about it.

When he’s done speaking, he tells Zayn that he wants him back. That he’s going to tell his father that he’s gay, right away.

Zayn doesn’t seem to really believe him, and if Harry’s honest, neither can he. He didn’t plan to tell Zayn this. But as soon as the words leave his mouth, he realizes that’s exactly what he needs to do, exactly what he needs for himself and for Zayn, and Zayn might as well know.

So he leaves Zayn in the restroom, too afraid that if he looks at him one more moment, he’ll do something he’ll regret. Like kissing Zayn on that irreverent plump mouth, ruining everything forever.

So Harry goes.

Des Styles is talking to Luke. Luke seems to be quite embarrassed and not at ease in the slightest, maybe conscious of the way he looks, with the nail polish, the kohl under his eyes, the generally androgynous tone of his clothes, everything screaming not straight in Des Styles’s face. It’s not a mystery, what Des Styles thinks. Harry’s own use of nail polish is a remnant of a time in which he lived to spite his father, a mindset now gone because he wanted to convince himself he didn’t care anymore. But he does still care, and so the nail polish stayed.

Des Styles, to his credit, doesn’t seem weirded out or judgmental as he speaks to Luke.

“Father,” Harry says, the word punching out of his lungs in a ragged breath,  “I’m sorry to interrupt. I’ve got to speak to you. Like, right now.”

Des looks at Harry, and his eyebrows shoot up at the way Harry has just spoken. He doesn’t reply, just stares.

Luke clears his throat. “’S all good, Haz” he asks Harry, and Harry wants to hug him, because Luke also knows how to be posh, but he’s blatantly not being that, smiling at Harry. Harry can read between the lines, so he understands that the way Luke spoke, and the encouraging smile he’s sending Harry, mean I perfectly understand what’s going on, and I support you. Harry needs more people like Luke Hemmings in his life, probably. And to think he was mad at him for no other reason than pointing out the truth.

Luke leaves Harry and Des alone.

“What is it, my son?” Des asks, frowning. “You seem… quite dishevelled.”

“I’m gay,” Harry just says.

Des freezes.

Harry keeps going. “I’m gay, Dad. I’ve always been. I’m gay, I like men, I like one man specifically, and I feel your shadow over my shoulder every time I’m about to hold his hand, every time I kiss him, every time I make love to him, and I can’t take it anymore because I’m in love with him and I don’t need your approval but you need to know because your opinion still matters to me despite everything but I’m in love with him, but I’m not doing this for him, I’m doing it for myself first so I need you to get a fucking grip on your homophobic behaviour and just accept this is who I am!”

He’s spoken. He’s ruined it. He almost screamed—although he’s sure no one heard—and he slurred all his consonants and he swore in Des Styles’s face and he’s fucked everything up.

Des stays silent one more moment. And then he smiles, and Harry feels like throwing up. “Do you think I didn’t know? You just told me grass is green, Harry.”

Des never calls him “Harry”. Only “my son.” He’s calling him “Harry” now. “What?” Harry almost squeals.

Des nods. “I knew. And if you had talked to me years ago, instead of building this ‘homophobic’ image of me in your head, you would have understood I realized I was being prejudiced and medieval by myself, and corrected my ‘homophobic behaviour’ once I realized. I love who you’ve become, and there was literally no question about me accepting you,” he says, and his own northern accent is surfacing, and Harry is about to have a fucking heart attack.

Harry feels his legs shake. “Are you serious?”

Des laughs. It’s a sound Harry has probably last heard when he was ten. “I’ve been told my son is very clever. You, my son, are extremely daft. Now tell me about this person you love. Unless it’s this very distinct and handsome boy behind you staring at you like you’re a ghost. In that case, nice to meet you, Zayn Malik.”

Harry turns. He turns so quickly he has whiplash. And there Zayn is, his huge eyes widened, staring at Harry like he can’t believe what he just heard. 

Because he clearly heard everything.

 

+++

 

Zayn leans against the wall of the Hall, mainly so that he won’t fall down. He didn’t mean to drink so much champagne, and he didn’t mean to eavesdrop on Harry’s conversation with his dad, or “Father” as he says. So formal. Explains so much about Harry. Zayn had been looking for the entrance to one of the little balconies where you can smoke, needing a few minutes to compose himself before returning to Ben. The thing is, he believes Harry. If he thinks about it, the signs have been there, even tonight, in the way Ben wanted to control his facial expressions and posture. He senses that the humiliation is coming. He has to break up with Ben, but what will it mean for his relationship with Harry, if anything? He really doesn’t trust Harry, either. Who’s to say that Harry won’t change his mind about coming out, claiming that coming out to his father ought to be enough for Zayn?

Zayn finds the balcony. He has a smoke, then another. The only thing he knows is that he can’t be with Ben, not after tonight. He makes his way back to the table, where Ben is engaged in animated conversation with his acquaintances. He commands their attention, their laughter, just as he commands Zayn.

He leans in to Ben’s ear. “Can I talk to you for a moment?" he murmurs, only slightly slurring his words.

Ben looks irritated then quickly smooths his expression into geniality. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll have to finish this story in a moment. Duty calls.” The beautiful women and prosperous men nod knowingly.

They move outside the hall before Ben finally speaks. “What is it, Zayn, that couldn’t wait until I finished my story? And are you drunk? Already?”

“Maybe a little drunk, but I know what I’m saying. I can’t do this anymore, Ben. I’ll return all your clothes that you bought me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your help--I’ll be able to live for months on the proceeds of the painting--but it was too fast, going from Harry to you. I’ve thought about it...” He falters, seeing Ben’s thunderous expression.

“You little ingrate!” Ben hisses. “I did more than “help” you. I gave you a career. I made you feel confident, all while satisfying you in the bedroom. You want to say that the sex wasn’t perfect? That I didn’t have you at my feet, begging me for more, every night?”

Zayn feels cold. Even so, he slips off the Armani jacket and hands it to Ben. “You took advantage of my vulnerability, yeah. You used me to further your own career and your vendetta against Harry Styles, even though you lost. Don’t try to act like you were giving to charity. You got me on your arm and in your bed. You molded me as you wanted me to be. And the first time I show some independence you’re furious and call me an ingrate.”

“Oh, Zayn, you’re hopeless. And take this jacket. You’re cold, and what do you think I will do with a jacket custom fitted to someone with your frame? These clothes are useless to me. Just like you. Sober up, and call me when you’ve realized how stupid you’re being.”

With that, Ben hurls the jacket into Zayn’s arms and whips around, heading back into the Hall and his captive audience. Ben loves an audience, Zayn thinks. Ben’s right about one thing: he’s hopeless. He’s been the biggest fool ever.

He shrugs the jacket back on then stops by the coat room for the wool Tom Ford overcoat that was Ben’s first purchase for him (You’re always cold, babe. That motorcycle jacket doesn’t cut it in London winters. I won’t hear of my boyfriend freezing in the night air--what will people think?)

He steps out into the night air. He’ll find a hotel, damn the expense because now that Ben’s treated him like dirt he’ll use his credit card one last time, and then tomorrow he’ll call Harry and ask for an advance on the proceeds from his painting. He has to do it, because he has no money to find an apartment, only the allowance that Ben has placed in an account for him. He’ll pay it back; he will.

 

Amazingly, Zayn sleeps well, although he’s wondering now how he will leave wearing last night’s Armani suit. He sighs. Harry could help with this, too. He texts him: Harry is it ok to call you i need your help. He knows that Harry will jump at the chance to help him. He knows Harry means it when he says he loves him.

He’s right; it’s not two minutes before he receives an answering text: Is now a good time?

Yeah call me please

He can’t lie to himself. His eyes glisten with tears at the sound of Harry’s voice on the phone. He has missed him so much.

“What do you need, Zayn? I’ll do anything; you know that.”

“I broke up with Ben last night.”

“Really?? I saw that Ben was alone, but you’d never guess from his behavior that anything bad had happened. He’s such an actor. I’d be impressed if I didn’t hate him so much. But what does this mean, Zayn?” He hears the hope in Harry’s voice, and he hates to have to dash it.

“I dunno, Harry. Short-term it means that everything I own is at Ben’s, and I need to get my things. I’m going to store them, I guess, and then I have to look for an apartment. Which means I have to ask you if I can get an advance on whatever will be my part of the sale of the painting so I can pay for everything I need.”

Harry’s voice turns business-like. This is the Harry that the Tate hired, ready to solve every problem as it arises. “If I know Ben, he’s already packed up your things and has them ready to deliver. No need for storage. I have a storage room at my place. Your share of the proceeds is 200,000 pounds--I can advance you 10%, which should be enough to get you in an apartment. I’ll send Niall over to get your things, and I’ll call an estate agent I know to help you look. What else?”

Zayn is so tempted. Harry is decisive, and his commanding voice sends shivers down Zayn’s spine, but he forces out his next words. “No, Harry. I need to do these things myself. All I’ve done since I met you is rely on you or Ben for everything. I’ve got to be my own person now.” As he says the words, he realizes their truth. There’s nothing he can’t do for himself.

“Zayn. I want you back. I want to help you, to show you how much I love you. Let me do these things for you,” Harry pleads.

Again, Zayn wavers. Harry is so good at taking care of things, but he knows he can either be a kept man or a functioning artist. The truth that he has hidden from himself insinuates itself into his conscious mind--he hasn’t done a bit of new art since his portrait of Louis. Not even a sketch.

“No, Harry. I can’t run between you and Ben, letting you make my decisions for me. Just--can I give you my bank account number and have you transfer the funds?”

“Of course, Zayn--anything. May I at least take you out to dinner once you find an apartment? To celebrate?”

"I don’t know, Harry. I love you, and just a few months ago I only wanted to be with you and do whatever pleased you. But I need time to think, to sort out what’s me and what’s just wanting to make you happy. I hope you’ll understand. To be honest, I hope you’ll wait, at least a bit.”

Zayn is staying at Claridge’s. As soon as he gets the text from Harry that the funds are transferred, he calls down to the concierge, explains his clothing needs and his sizes, and then in a few hours he’s dressed in clothes that suit him. Meanwhile, he’s called an estate agent and has appointments to look at apartments. He’ll stay at the hotel one more night, and then it’ll be off to Ikea to furnish his new place, because he’s going to buy what he can afford. Zayn is going to learn to be independent, for the first time in his life.

 

+++

 

Harry doesn’t see Zayn for two weeks, but he can’t find it in his heart to pine and cry about it, because he understood Zayn’s point, and he honestly agrees.

He’s come to the realization that Niall was right, the night he and Zayn broke up, when Harry had a panic attack over it and Niall told him that he’d made a big fucking mistake, trying to control Zayn with his money and his submissive disposition.

Because it’s one thing to explore a kink your lover has and to satisfy both him and yourself. Another thing entirely is using that kink to manipulate and coerce people into staying with you because you don’t have the guts to face your own issues. Harry has gone and done the very thing he’s always accused Ben Winston of. Being a manipulative piece of shit ready to humiliate and punish.

And Harry will be damned if there’s gonna be even one single thing that makes him similar to Ben.

That ship has sailed for Zayn as well, and that’s enough. He’s not with Harry, but he’s not with Ben either. And Harry’s happy about that, not because he feels like he won over Ben, but because Ben is a dangerous person, and Harry couldn’t stand the thought of Zayn being trapped in his grasp. For the rest, Harry hasn’t won shit, because he’s lost Zayn all the same.

Harry is trying to stay positive anyway.

He gives Zayn the space he needed and asked for.

He devotes himself to his job. He’s still Harry Styles, still posh by character and not just by family money, and he’s still seemingly perfect in every aspect. But he doesn’t feel like he still has that underlying, debilitating anger that always brought him to be jealous of Zayn to the point he couldn’t see straight, that made him ball his fists under tables when someone even dared just spare Zayn a glance. He feels more settled, and more his own person, like Zayn said he wanted to be, in a way.

Also, his relationship to Des Styles has changed completely.

No, that’s a lie. The truth is that it hasn’t changed much, because in all those years, Harry has been so careful to only talk about his job with his father, that he has stopped knowing his father as a person, building up the image of a Cerberus in his head where “Dad” should have been.

He still calls Des “Father,” because some habits die hard. But he also talks to his father, really talks to him, about what he’s done in the past few years that is not work-related, about how he’s still Mommy’s boy even if he’d rather die than let people know, how he loves Niall as a best friend more than just a co-worker.

Des asks about Zayn, sometimes. He smiles and says “What about that boy you said you loved, my son?” and Harry’s heart tightens a little as he replies, “We’ll see with time, Father.”

All things considered, it’s going well.

Harry misses Zayn. He misses him whenever he’s alone in bed at night and he tosses and turns, only finding an empty space where Zayn should be, glued to Harry’s back and letting Harry be little spoon because he’s never said that he likes it, but Zayn understood anyway.

He misses him when he walks around the streets and sees a fish and chips booth and desperately craves buying one and eating it on a bench. He never does, because it doesn’t feel right, doing it without Zayn.

But Harry keeps going. He checks his phone, hoping to find a message from Zayn, but it never comes. Maybe Zayn needs more time. Maybe Zayn doesn’t need time at all, and he’s just come to the conclusion that he’s better off without Harry. Harry honestly wouldn’t blame him, but at the same time he wishes, hopes and prays that Zayn will call him someday.

Two weeks later, Harry’s in a meeting at the museum, brainstorming ideas for a new installation. It features Luke, too, because he deserves it and Harry’s been kind of an asshole to him, but he’s still Harry Styles, so he won’t go up to Luke and say “I’m sorry.” Instead, he’ll give him another incredible occasion to show the world his talent. Harry’s confident Luke will understand what Harry means.

Niall is saying something about hanging the paintings in the middle of the room in a net to make them look like they’re floating, since the theme of the installation is “air.” It’s honestly a quite good idea, but Harry doesn’t have time to reply, because right then, his phone rings.

He frowns at it, and then he almost has a heart attack when he sees “Zayn” flash on the display.

If this was before, Harry would have declined the call and then made Zayn kneel on his Arab carpet for hours to punish him for having disturbed him at work.

Now, Harry just mutters an apology and flies out of the room clutching his phone.

“Hello?” he says in the receiver when he’s alone, in the dark corridor leading from the meeting room to Harry’s own studio. He knows he’s panting, in anticipation and physical effort not to shout and cry. He honestly doesn’t care.

Zayn clears his throat. “Hey, Harry. How… how are you?”

“Good!” Harry exclaims, too quick and cheerful to be credible. “I’m good. I’m in a meeting for a new installation.”

“Oh,” Zayn sighs, “I’m, like, sorry I disturbed you, I can, um, I can call ba…”

“No it’s fine!” Harry interrupts him. “It was boring. You saved me, actually.”

Zayn chuckles. “I dunno if I believe you, Harr-eh. But okay, babe, whatever you say.”

Did he just fucking call me ‘babe’? Harry thinks, feeling warmth radiating in his whole fucking body at the thought. He stays in the dark corridor, leaning his back into the wall and mildly cursing his shaking legs.

“Anyway,” Zayn keeps going, “I, um, I just wanted to know if you’re free tonight? To, like, meet and talk?”

Harry nods frantically before remembering Zayn can’t see him. Which is a blessing, right now, because he’s sure he looks like a fucking teenager with a crush. “Yes, yes, I’m free. Where and when?”

Zayn chuckles again. The sound’s lovely. “My place? It’s in Princes Gate? In South Kensington? I can cook. And we can talk. Let’s do seven?”

“Okay,” Harry breathes. “Okay, Zayn. I’ll be there. Just text me the house number, and I’ll be there.”

“Cool,” Zayn replies, clearing his throat. “See you later then, Harr-eh.”

“Yeah, Zayn. See you later.”

Harry spends the rest of the meeting not paying any attention and not even bothering to check if anyone except Niall notices. Niall, to his credit, just grins at Harry and takes the reins of the meeting in his hands without hesitation.

When Harry goes home and showers, getting ready to meet Zayn, he doesn’t know what to wear. He has a lot of suits that would befit the occasion of having dinner at Zayn’s, someone he would like to fucking openly date, but Harry’s not convinced by any of them.

Then, his eyes land on the last row of hangers in his closet, and he smiles, taking out one of his favourite old shirts, the black one with the feathers, and a pair of skinnies.

Those clothes, like the ones he wore a lifetime ago to go unknowingly to a gay disco with Zayn, belong to a Harry that doesn’t exist anymore.

And yet, it’s not true, isn’t it? Harry Styles exists, but Harry the boy in flashy shirts and skinnies exists all the same, because it’s who Harry was when he started, and no matter how hard Harry has tried to suppress him, that kid with insecurities and a visceral fear of his father has always been there.

Now that Harry feels more settled in his own skin, he can learn to have the two Harries coexist. It’s not a bad thing, to be more than one thing at a time.

Zayn contains multitudes.

Harry wants to be worthy of him. He can start by wearing his old clothes, and showing Zayn he can contain multitudes too, and they’re all for Zayn.

 

Eight Months Later

 

They have been in bed for an hour, and in all that time, Harry has had his hands tied to the headboard with silk scarfs, soft, delicate, but as tied by Zayn, inescapable without tearing the lovely silk, something Harry would never do.

Zayn had started with slow, languorous kisses that made Harry pant into Zayn’s mouth and beg for his touch. But on Zayn’s nights he is firmly in control. So in control.

They have skipped dinner, as they often do these days on their Nights, but Zayn has taken them to a craft cocktail bar not far from his flat where the handsome bartenders wore leather aprons and each specializes in a drink: Harry’s boy made him a delicious sazerac, specialty of the house, and Zayn had to pinch his ample thigh to get his attention.

“What? Oh, sorry, Zayn, but he’s really handsome, isn’t he, and I’ve never really been able to look,” Harry stage whispered. The bartender caught it all and winked at them both.

“Are you trying to make me jealous, babe? Because you know what happens when I get jealous...”

Harry shivers. He can’t wait.

Two drinks later, just buzzed enough from the delicious drinks, Zayn traps Harry just inside the door to his flat, stripping him down in seconds.

“Zayn, get naked with me, please. I want to touch you.”

“Harr-ee. You know how this works. It’s my night, my rules, and I say you don’t get to touch me at all.”

“Zayn. I’m not sure I can keep from it.”

“And I am prepared for that. Go get on the bed. I’ll be right there.”

When Zayn enters the bedroom, he’s naked, finally, and Harry can at least look his fill. He loves to look at Zayn, at his carefully designed tattoos, his lean body, the strength that the slender frame belies, his cock. Zayn sees Harry flush, and he knows what he’s thinking of. All these months later, and Harry still struggles with how much he loves a pretty cock. It’s why Zayn indulges him, lets him look at boys when they’re out, but it’s why he punishes him when they get home--just a little.

“I see you looking, Harr-ee, and it’s not at my eyes. Shall I feed my cock into your eager mouth, babe? Can you take it all?”

“Yes, sir,” Harry responds eagerly. “I can swallow everything.”

“I’m sure you can, babe, but not tonight.”

 

“Harreh, be still,” Zayn says firmly, marveling at the commanding tone that has emerged from him since he and Harry resumed their relationship. He thrills to see how obedient Harry usually is, but tonight he’s struggling.

 Zayn has been rimming him for ages, and Harry, unable to control himself, is writhing and moaning underneath him. This won’t do at all. “Do you want to come tonight?”

“Yesssss, god, Zayn, please, please, I want to!” Harry groans out. 

“Then you must hold yourself perfectly still, as I’ve taught you. Remember, when it’s my turn to top, I make the rules, yeah?”

“I’m sorry, Zayn, I’m sorry. You just make me so crazy that I can’t help myself,” Harry pleads.

“Really, Haz? You can’t control yourself? Maybe we should stop this, get up, go out for a drink or summat? What do you think about that?”

“No, Zayn, no, I’ll be good, I promise!”

Zayn grins at him. “Well, if you’re sure…” They love this play, the blend of frustration and fulfillment that is Zayn’s specialty when it’s his turn to dominate, because Harry loves to be tortured like this.

He resumes his leisurely tonguing of Harry’s hole and smiles to himself as Harry trembles involuntarily, while holding himself obediently still. Zayn swirls his tongue in circles around the edge, then licks firmly in the very center of Harry’s hole. Harry cries out but doesn’t move. He’s sweating now, and his lovely torso has a sheen that tells Zayn he can’t wait much longer.

“Ok, love, I’m going to fuck you now. Are you ready for me to fuck you hard?”

“I’ve been ready for ages, Zayn! You’re so cruel to me!”

Of course, Harry has whispered this very fantasy into Zayn’s ear the first night they spent together after reconciling, so nothing he says now is true. In fact, Harry could go another hour of torture, but Zayn’s not sure of his own self-control.

Zayn carefully places each of Harry’s long slim legs over his narrow shoulders, loving the heavy feel of Harry’s body keeping him grounded in the moment and in his lover. After taking a second to admire how beautiful Harry looks right before sex, his skin glowing, his hairline wet, his lips plump and flushed with blood, he coats himself liberally with lube, and then he lines himself up and snaps his hips forward, drawing a cry from Harry. He feels tight and hot and wonderful. They’ve played long enough that fucking feels perfect. Zayn wants it to last forever.

“Can you come without being touched, babe?”

“Do you want me to?”

Does Zayn want him to? Zayn wants to watch his lover’s cock jerk and spurt, yes. He wants to see what he can do to Harry without touching him. He wants to watch him strain against the dark purple silk scarves that bind his arms above his head. He wants everything, but yes, he wants Harry to come untouched.

“I do. Wait for me, babe. You can come right after I do.”

“I’ll wait for you, Zayn. I can do it, but don’t take too long?”

“No, babe. I know what you need.”

Not much later, they are spent and satisfied. Zayn has the window open so he can smoke and Harry curled against his side. It’s too hot for it, but Zayn doesn’t care. He loves the nights when he is in control almost as much as when Harry is in control. Harry’s had so much more practice at it, but Zayn has discovered a previously unknown talent. Or maybe, he thinks fondly, it’s just Harry.

“Zayn?”

“What, babe?”

“I love you.”

“I know, babe. I love you, too. I’m so glad that we can take turns like this. You think tomorrow you could use those nipple clamps on me?”

“Zayn! You know I love to give you what you want.”

“I know, Harry. I love it, too. I’ll always try to give you what you want.”

He looks into Harry’s eyes, and he sees they are full of wonder and affection. He’s glad they worked it out, because this is bliss.

 

If you had asked Harry, a year earlier, what the things he most firmly believed in were, he would have told you: I can’t be anything but Harry Styles, curator of the Tate Museum; my father is an arsehole; the only way I can enjoy sex is by topping and dominating.

Now, after Zayn came crashing into his life like a fucking tornado, many things have changed.

Harry doesn’t feel the need to be Harry Styles all the time. Sometimes, especially when Zayn is next to him, which is basically all of the time, Harry feels like he can let go of the metaphorical restraints he himself put around his wrists, and let Zayn put his very physical ones around them. It’s been a discovery, that even after Ben and everything, Harry can still enjoy being dominated as well, if his partner knows how to.

One night, after a particularly mind-blowing orgasm, Harry has asked Zayn where and how the fuck he even learned to be such a good dom. Zayn had just smiled his lovely, crinkly smile, and had told Harry: “Babe, I learned from the best. You. But don’t let it go to your head, or I won’t let you come tonight.”

Harry feels like they’re more at ease around each other, now that all the issues and obstacles between them have been removed. Zayn is still the loveliest sub Harry’s ever met, but now he’s not afraid to speak up anymore, not afraid to let Harry know when he’s crossing a line, not afraid to ask for punishment and give it to Harry as well, in equal measure.

Harry loves it. And he loves Zayn, but that, as Niall—and Des Styles—said more than once, was like admitting that grass is green, so there you have it.

That night, as Zayn smokes his cigarette and Harry curls up into his side, Harry just stares at Zayn, and, as it often happens, he still can’t fully believe he managed to get Zayn back.

It dawns on him in that moment, that he didn’t get Zayn back. It was Zayn, lovely Zayn with his innocence and stubbornness, who decided to come back to Harry.

Harry loves that too.

“Do you wanna go get fish and chips?” he asks Zayn after a moment.

Zayn snorts a laugh, which rumbles through Harry’s ribcage for how glued to each other they are in that moment. “It’s three in the morning, babe,” Zayn comments.

Harry shrugs. “I saw one booth a couple blocks from here. It said 24/7. Do you wanna go?”

Zayn laughs. “What have you done with Harry Styles?”

Harry laughs and climbs on top of Zayn, kissing him. “He’s asleep,” he stage-whispers. “Be quiet, don’t wake him up, he’s a pain in the arse. Let’s go before he notices.”

Zayn laughs again, and while he does, he kisses Harry some more. “You’re mental sometimes, has anyone ever told you that?”

Harry grins. “They’re all too afraid to say it out loud. Except Luke Hemmings. But he’s a bit of a pain in the arse as well, so.”

Zayn laughs one more time, and if Harry had his way, he’d never stop. “Luke fucking Hemmings,” he nods. “We might have to send him some flowers. He’s played quite the role in our reconciliation, after all.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “If we give him flowers, he’ll just braid them in his hair and give my father a coronary.”

“Or not,” Zayn smirks. “Des Styles is an ally, now, babe.”

Harry chuckles, and doesn’t reply. Instead, he just kisses Zayn, and he thinks that maybe they can do something better than fish and chips.

Zayn can win this one, after all.