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The Only One Who Takes You Home

Chapter Text

The room is mostly dark, scattered flood lights shining straight down from the drafty ceiling to illuminate small sections of the rough wooden floor. The air is hazy, and smells of cedar, dirt, alcohol and expensive cologne, and under all of that, sweat.

It had been an old shoe factory years ago, before it was purchased and transformed for a much different purpose, but the wooden floors, high ceilings, and brick walls remained nearly the same as they were forty years before.

Music pours out of expensive speakers that are tucked into discrete places throughout the room, the bass pounding to its own rhythm, and the whole building seems to move as the beat that controls the room.

People are clustered in small groups, some around tables designed for standing, some on black leather couches that are strategically placed with a view of the room, and some packed into circular booths with tall red leather seats along the back wall.

Liam looks out across the room with a sense of propriety. He doesn’t own the couches, or booths, or tables, or the speakers. His name isn’t on the door, or the lease for the building.

What he does own, however, is the crowd. He has a complete monopoly on their attention, and he’s fully aware of it, smirking as they go quiet when they notice him.

The song playing fades out and is replaced by another, one with a slower beat that covers the room and demands focus. He doesn’t need an introduction though; it’s Wednesday, and they already know who he is, seeing as they are all there just for him.

Half the lights in the room kick off, casting the crowd in just enough darkness to give them a sense of anonymity, and a larger light snaps on to illuminate the stage where a chair rests, just in front of Liam.

His smirk grows wider, and he tosses a cheeky wink to a faceless body in the audience as his cue approaches. ‘Show time’ he thinks, hips swaying slightly at first, as he lets the music flow through his body, and then loses himself completely to the beat.

***

It’s funny, Liam thinks, how quick people are to judge him when they find out his primary occupation involves taking his clothes off for the pleasure of others; even more so when they find out that he isn’t interested in doing anything else.

They’ll never understand, until they try it for themselves though, he’s sure. There’s something very special about capturing and holding the attention of a group of people with nothing other than the body he walks around in every day.

It’s addictive almost, to feel wanted, lusted after, just for existing, and to also be in full control of who touches him, and when. As cliché as it sounds, Liam is his own man, and he loves it.

Contrary to what most people think, stripping doesn’t automatically make someone easy (and Liam’s bed can attest to that). Instead, it’s made Liam quite particular.

Although he works alone, Liam is quite familiar with the other boys that perform at Caroline’s. She’s manage to assemble quite the collection of beautiful men in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but Liam really isn’t interested in anyone.

It’s hard, he’s found, to find someone that shares his taste, without running into someone who is also looking for a bit too much commitment. He doesn’t blame them of course; if Liam was someone else, he’d jump at the chance to say he was dating one of the most elusive strippers on the scene.

Thanks to some hinting from a few old mates passing through, Liam has managed to acquire a reputation of being highly selective, and well worth the wait if chosen. Needless to say, that sent men scrambling after him in droves.

There are the younger ones, barely out of their teens and dying to prove their virulence to their peers. Liam likes how captivated they are, how everything he does blows their minds, how you can literally see the wheels turning in their hyperactive sex driven brains about exactly what they do to Liam if they got him alone. (They never have).

There are the middle aged ones, in various states of aging and status, but usually alike in the fact that Liam represents some type of forbidden fruit for them. They slip in and out to answer calls, probably from their spouses at home wondering why they are staying so late at the office. Liam tends to ignore these; while he isn’t interested in a relationship, or a marriage, he still respects the sanctity of one.

And then there are the older men, the ones that come in groups of three or four and take up permanent residency for the night at one of the booths in the back. They ooze money, power, and self-righteousness, but are surprisingly gentle with the waitresses, or at least it seems that way from a distance. Their leering is slightly off-putting, but once again, Liam can’t blame them for looking. Their tips alone are more than enough for Liam to live off of, so he isn’t complaining (but he also isn’t going home with them).

(Of course, occasionally someone comes in that doesn’t fit neatly into these three categories, but after a few years, Liam has pretty much pinned down his audience.)

In the beginning, even on his off days, Liam found himself gravitating towards Caroline’s anyways, hungry for the feeling that he so closely associates with the musty smell of hardwood floors and brick walls, with a delicately crafted stage and a pounding beat to grind to. She’d put a quick stop to that though, demanding that he find a hobby outside of exercising and making a spectacle of himself to fill her club.

Liam knew better than to disobey, which is why he finds himself wandering through his favorite store in London on a rainy Tuesday afternoon instead of losing himself in the darkness of the club.

Vinny’s is an antique bookstore, tucked away on a side street between an old-fashioned barber shop and an expensive tailor.

Liam isn’t actually all that fond of reading to be honest. He tried the classics, modern romance, action-adventure, even poetry, to no avail. His guilty pleasure, instead, is comic books. The older the better, of course, and that’s where Vinny’s comes in.

Vinny is an older Italian man that emigrated to London years before with his brothers, who have all since passed. He never married, and instead poured his heart and soul into chasing down rare works of fine art. After a while, he decided to display his treasures and offer them to others, for viewing and purchase.

Most of the store contains pieces and texts that Liam is afraid to touch, simply because of their obvious value (although Vinny always tells him to do what he wants, because art is meant to be appreciated. It doesn’t matter how beautiful something is if no one stops to admire it.) The room is a maze of unique bookshelves packed with first editions, and handcrafted furniture with carefully arranged priceless art decorating its surface.

Liam’s favorite part of the store, though, is a small separate room in the back dedicated to tiny modern paintings, and antique comic books.

The walls are painted deep red, framed by hand carved wooden trim that outlines the floor and ceiling. Scattered across the walls are small acrylic paintings, only several inches tall and wide. Some are abstract, depicting emotions with swirling colors alone. Others are more interpretable: a vase filled with drooping lilacs, a pond with a single fisherman surveying its surface, and, Liam’s favorite, a classic take on a cartoon Batman responding to the signal.

Each piece is small, so small in fact that Liam is constantly amazed that the artist can cram so much detail onto the canvas. It takes precise work, he’s sure, dedication and commitment to every single stroke.

Vinny told him once that the artist doesn’t sell his work to anyone, but he’s very well known in the art community nonetheless. Apparently he’s an elusive businessman who keeps to himself for the most part, painting in his spare time and giving them away as gifts, and judging by the dozens on the walls, Vinny must be one of his favorite beneficiaries.

Along half of one wall is an old display case that holds hundreds of comic books, arranged carefully by date. The case is usually kept locked, for insurance purposes Liam assumes, because there are probably millions of dollars in old paper and faded colors behind the glass.

Liam’s favorite of them all, though, is the first solo Batman edition from 1940. It’s not the oldest comic Vinny owns, nor the most expensive, but Liam loves it all the same.

In the corner, where the display case ends, sits a well-maintained leather chair. Originally, when Liam would visit he would just sit on the floor. After a month or so of Liam stopping by to read for hours at a time, Vinny bought a new chair for the front desk. After less than a week, though, he claimed that the chair was killing his back, and moved it into the comic room for Liam. Liam didn’t exactly buy it, but he wasn’t going to complain about the older man’s generosity.

A heavy brass bell hangs above the front door, and it rings dully as Liam pushes his way inside, out of the mist. Vinny is at his usual place, curled up behind his desk in a recliner with a book, a mug of steaming tea just in reach.

“Liam!” he greets, thick accent curling around his name. “How are you, my boy?”

“Bit tired, but ‘m out and about anyways,” Liam admits, wiping his boots on the rug by the door. “How’s your book?”

“Pretty dull, to be honest,” Vinny chuckles, “but I don’t feel like getting up to pick a different one.” He shrugs, the corners of his lips turning up as he reaches for his tea.

“I’ll get you one,” Liam offers, “want one of your regulars?”

Vinny nods into his cup, murmuring his thanks. Liam turns on heel, weaving his way towards the back of the store where Vinny keeps a shelf of all of his books that aren’t for sale. It’s a curious assortment, some old, some new, with multiple languages and genres.

Liam selects one at random, plucking it from the shelf and making his way back towards the desk.

“What would I do with you?” Vinny questions with a laugh, accepting the book and placing the rejected text aside. He reaches into his pocket and removes a thick key ring, offering it to Liam wordlessly.

“I reckon you’d be a bit more bored before your typical afternoon nap,” Liam teases, snagging the key ring and scampering away to avoid being swatted by the book he just retrieved.

“You menace,” Vinny hollers after him, the grin on his face obvious by the lilt of his accent.

“I’ll be in my room if you need me. Happy snoozing,” Liam returns, jingling the keys before ducking into the comic room

He flips through the keys until he finds the one for the case. The lock pops as always, and the door creaks loudly, as if it’s complaining about being disturbed.

Liam thumbs through the available comics. He knows he’s read them all, but sometimes Vinny gets a new one and slips it in as a surprise. Not today though, Liam notes.

He picks out a few to read, a couple old Iron Man classics he hasn’t read in over a month, one of the original stand-alone Superman editions, and, of course, his favorite Batman comic. He stacks the Super Man and Iron Man editions on the little end table, and settles in, flipping open the comic book, immersing himself in the brightly colored pages and old fashioned characters.

***

There’s always a brief moment before the music starts that Liam feels like an idiot. Self-conscious, uncoordinated, and awkward, and he wants to leave. It probably happens because of all the eyes on him, all the men who look him over and decide if they’re interested or not based on his drive-by appearance.

Liam is attractive with his clothes off, he knows, or he wouldn’t still have a job here, but he’s nothing special fully dressed.

Of course, some nights are easier than other too. Some nights he goes out looking like Liam, and some nights he’s already in character, slipping into a costume and a new persona all at once.

Tonight is the latter. Caroline has been asking Liam to explore his “cocksure” side, because apparently Liam routinely stripping for strangers hasn’t gotten rid of his shy side yet. So here Liam is, dressed in what Jade called his “lady killer” outfit, which had to have been some kind of twisted irony considering his chosen profession.

The black faux fur of his jacket is soft but the constant movement of it across his skin is overstimulating. It’s left open, revealing the abs he’s worked so hard for, shining with the oil that Caroline shoved at him when he pitched the idea to her a week before. He’s wear loud orange joggers with lots of wiggle room, if you catch Liam’s drift, overtop a pair of boxers that hugs his arse but not his cock. Just to make things interesting, he thinks.

Amanda had whistled at him backstage, winking before turning back to her makeup, and Adam had nudged a finger into his abs when he was running offstage, muttering “damn bro”. Liam looks good, and he knows it, but that doesn’t make him any less nervous when he slips his glasses into place to complete the “better than you” look and steps on stage.

The crowd always goes a bit quiet when he emerges, and Liam’s not sure if it happens for everyone or just him, but either way it makes his cheeks flush. ‘Focus’ he thinks to himself, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before flicking his finger to signal for the song to start.

“Na, na, na, come on,” blares over the speakers, Rihanna’s voice loud as the chords begin to play, because there’s nothing more cocksure than a song about sexual preferences in Liam’s opinion.

He swings his hips, slowly at first, smoothing a hand down his abs to tease at his waistline before the drums kick in, and Liam picks up the pace to match the tempo. A glance at the audience tells Liam that they are captivated, watching Liam like they are starving animals and he’s the first piece of food they’ve seen in a week.

He feeds off of their energy, pouring it into his hips to grind filthily in the air before turning to reach for the pole that’s attached to the stage behind him.

(That’s new too, one of Caroline’s ideas. She’d come up to him last month, complimenting his upper body strength before gently suggesting (read: commanding) that he start practicing on the pole they just had installed on center stage. Liam had been apprehensive at first, not too fond of broken bones and sore tailbones, but he’s surprisingly good at it, loves the weightless feeling that it gives him when he’s off the ground.)

He grabs the pole just as Rihanna sings his favorite part, pressing his crotch to the pole and sliding down. “Cause I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it,” she belts, and he rolls his hips back up, releasing the pole to fling his jacket wide open. He swings his hips in a way that accentuates the hardness of his abs, before losing the jacket all together, glasses flying off too.

Liam grasps the pole firmly then, pulling himself into the air smoothly as the second verse begins.  He spins slowly, legs bent and crotch extended to highlight his bulge. As he spins away from the crowd he shifts his weight, popping his arse out and wiggling slightly to hear the crowd cheer.

He lowers himself gracefully, making a point to reach for his bulge when his toes touch the floor, grinding into his own hand and touching the back of his teeth with his tongue. Liam grinds slowly, murmuring, “I like it, like it,” along with the song and then picks up the speed, reaching up and behind him to grab the pole and put his abdomen on full display for the audience. He can feel his dick bouncing in his joggers, putting on quite the show on it’s own.

Liam reaches down then, loosening the fastening on his joggers so they’re loose, and then he grabs the pole and hoist himself up. He holds himself away from the pole, muscles in his biceps bulging and shimmies his hips to wiggle his way out the joggers midair, losing them just as he turns away from the crowd.

Liam takes the pole between his legs then, tightening and releasing his arms to flip over upside down, running his hands down his hips and across his own chest to tweak his nipples. Out of the corner of his eye, Liam can see money flying through the air, the roar of the men in the audience loud enough to tell him that they like his use of the pole.

‘Good,’ he thinks, smirking and falling deeper into the cocksure attitude. He grabs the pole with his right arm then, loosening his left leg and extending it, motioning for the crowd to increase their volume with his free hand as he slowly slides down the pole.

When he’s on the ground again, he focuses on the music, losing himself in the pounding beat, letting it take over his hips and his hands. He’s half hard, from his own touch and the hungry stares of the crowd. Liam will never understand how he can be so insecure and yet feed off of being the center of attention at the same time, but it works.

Stripping requires a nice figure, of course, but it also requires the right attitude. Interested in attention but not so desperate that you give everything away. Sure of yourself but not so confident that you can’t make men think you need them to praise you.

Liam flicks his hair out of his eyes, shooting a wink at a familiar figure in the audience. Shawn is one of the nicer regulars, often sending Liam invitations to go home with him, but Liam isn’t interested. Men around here only want him for his body, he knows, and Liam’s not looking for a man who wants to bed him and keep him there forever.

As the song winds down, Liam grinds in circles, swinging his hips wider and wider, lowering his body towards the ground and spreading his legs wide. He lets his arms hang down between his legs before resting them on his thighs, leaning forward to mouth the final words and then blowing a cheeky kiss to the crowd.

The audience roars for him, money spilling out of them and into the lower stage. Josh, one of the stage hands, emerges from behind Liam to collect the money, and Liam smiles widely, before turning to disappear behind stage.

He’s in and out of the dressing room within twenty minutes, shoving himself into his street clothes and dumping his outfit into the laundry bin before ducking out the door and striding down the street, head down.

‘Just another day on the job,’ he thinks as he blends perfectly with everyone else near him on the sidewalk that probably just stumbled out of the club or a nearby bar. At least being plain with his clothes on means he doesn’t attract attention off stage. Liam speeds up then, weaving in and out of the pedestrians, suddenly desperate to be home where it doesn’t matter if anyone knows him.

***

Zayn is tired. Physically and emotionally tired.

If you asked Zayn to make a list of all the reasons he’s tired, he may actually have a never ending list.

He’s tired of the way his lovely assistant still cannot get his tea order correct, despite Zayn having corrected him almost daily for the three months that he’s been employed.

He’s tired of the way that Molly from marketing continually throws herself at Zayn any time they have an all staff meeting, despite the fact that it’s common knowledge that Zayn doesn’t date anyone, especially women that he employs.

He’s tired of attending business meetings with the heads of other companies, because all they want to do is complain about the age and waistline of their wives, while bragging about the women they are seeing on the side. Zayn can’t relate to either.

But most of all, he’s tired of the way that people assume owning a company equates to sitting back and looking pretty, and paying other people to do the work for you, when it really means working longer hours and sacrificing the chance to live life like a normal person.

On the other hand, being constantly tired is also part of the reason that Zayn is one of the richest men in the UK, and definitely the richest under 30.

Overall though, owning your own company isn’t always the glamourous joy ride that it appears to be, and Zayn can attest to that considering the fact that he’s still in his office and it’s nearly eight on a Friday night.

He reaches for the mug of tea sitting beside his computer; it’s long gone cold, but it’s better than nothing. He scrolls through some files that will be needed in accounting next week, humming under his breath until he’s interrupted by a soft tapping at his office door.

“Boss?” Griff pokes his head in, looking disappointed but not surprised at the sight of Zayn. “Shouldn’t you be gone?”

“Could say the same to you, yeah,” Zayn retorts, feeling reprimanded but also a bit self-righteous because its Zayn’s company and he can’t be told what to do.

“I just finished my paperwork for Monday because I’m taking the day off. What’s your excuse?” Griff fires back, leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed and eyes narrowed.

Zayn stares back stubbornly, but remains silent, because he honestly doesn’t have a good reason to still be here, other than the fact that he has nothing to go home for if he’s honest.

“That’s what I thought,” Griff states as he strides into the room to plop down in one of the overpriced leather chairs for those who visit Zayn.

“You need to get out of here bro, at this rate you’re gonna burn out before you turn 26. And then who will hire me?” he’s teasing, but there’s a serious edge to his statement, and Zayn knows he’s right.

“Got any suggestions that aren’t just me going home to my TV every damn night, then?” Zayn mumbles, picking up his mug and tracing around the rim just to have something to do with his hands.

“You could buy a dog or a fish or something?” Griff suggests, but Zayn shakes his head. “I don’t want anything that depends on me for survival. I’ll accidently kill it and feel awful,” he pouts.

“You could start painting again? I know it’s been a while, but that always used to calm you down.” And Zayn has considered that lately, longing for the release he finds when he loses himself in the simplicity of brush strokes on a willing canvas, but he shrugs, because that’s not enough to break himself out of this funk.

Griff sighs, looking at Zayn with a look that screams disappointed but resigned, and Zayn wilts a bit. “I don’t know, man. I’m not a trained professional or anything. If you were anyone else, I’d tell you to go get laid and snap out of it, but that hasn’t ever worked on you.”

And he’s right, Zayn has never been interested in the type of lifestyle that includes sleeping with anything that looks in his direction. He’s had his fair share of partners over the years, but as he grows older, he finds himself growing weary of the search.

Still, maybe Griff is onto something. It can’t make things any worse, he reasons.

“And if,” he begins, pausing to chew on his lower lip as Griff eyes him seriously. “If I wanted to try it your way, where would you suggest that I go?”

Griff’s eyes light up, a grin breaking out on his face, and he leans forward to snag a pen and loose sheet of stationary from Zayn’s desk.

“My friend owns this club in Soho. Very low-key, so it’s right up your alley. It’s called Caroline’s,” he explains, jotting down the address before thrusting it in Zayn’s direction.

“If I remember right, on Friday’s they have specials starting at 10, and you can totally make it if you get out of here.” Griff encourages, standing up and crossing the room to grab Zayn’s coat from the stand near the door.

Zayn studies the address, mentally running over the pros and cons of actually going through with it. On one hand, the cynical side of him makes him extremely doubtful that anyone he meets will be worth his time. On the other hand, showing up doesn’t make him obligated to do anything, and a change of scenery might be nice.

Griff clears his throat loudly, somehow standing right next to Zayn now, and Zayn realizes that he may have zoned out a bit there. Yeah, he probably needs to get out a bit more because half the time he’s lost in his thoughts, and it can’t be very healthy.

Zayn saves the files on his computer, before logging out and shutting it down. He quickly straightens up the few things left on his desk, tucking a couple lose files away into the drawer in his desk and locking it for good measure.

Griff looks amused and a bit too excited, offering Zayn’s coat for him to slip into before practically dragging Zayn to the elevator.

“Man, you have no idea how nice it is to see you wanting to go out for a change. I feel like you’ve been cooped up for ages,” Griff admits as they wait, and Zayn is struck with a pang of guilt, because he’s cancelled a lot of plans lately to work instead.

He silently resolves to dedicate more time to Griff every week from now on as the elevator arrives and they board.

“Whatever happens tonight though, I know you won’t regret it. Caroline’s has never shown me a bad time,” Griff promises, looking so genuine and earnest.

“I hope you’re right,” Zayn mumbles, feeling oddly excited but also doomed as the doors slide shut and they begin their descent.

***

Friday nights are always interesting, Liam thinks. The audience buzzes with the energy you’d expect at the beginning of weekend, sending a low rumble through the crowded room.

Friday’s are unique in the fact that it’s the only day of the week where nearly all of the regular dancers perform in the same night. It’s also the only night where Caroline allows them to try out a new routine, mainly because if it flops there will be another main performance minutes later.

There are always a few people dancing on side stages just to keep people entertained in between the more interesting shows. Liam can hear the music for them echoing around the club as he ducks in through the back entrance and makes his way to the dressing room, nodding to Antonio, one of the security guards specifically for the weekends.

The dressing room was originally a storage area, where things would be stacked until they could be shipped. Now it’s divided in half by a large black curtain that extends from floor to ceiling. Stripping tends to make people a bit more confident in their appearance, but Caroline draws the line at the boys and girls having to share the same space to get ready.

If you ask Liam, one of the best parts of Caroline’s is the diversity. Caroline has always been careful to employ an equal amount of men and women, of various ages, races, and builds. Although they generally tend to clients that aren’t exactly straight, per se, Caroline insists on having enough women around to ease their minds.

The girls make things more interesting, for sure though. The dressing room constantly smells of their hairspray and glitter perfumed lotion, the atmosphere clouded by their chatter as they apply makeup and fix each other’s tiny outfits. Liam’s vanity is the one furthest from the door, all the way in the corner.

He scans the other stations as he passes, noting the ones in use and those that belong to people who aren’t scheduled for tonight. The only other male in the room must have just arrived as well, as he’s still fully clothed and seated at his vanity with headphones on.

Liam swerves out of his way to bump into him, and Christian looks up with a smirk, lowering his headphones around his neck and reaching out to snag Liam’s sleeve quickly, spinning around on his stool in a fluid movement

He drags Liam in by the wrist, closer and closer until Liam finally concedes and plants himself in Christian’s lap, arms coming up to circle his neck, dragging one hand through his short hair.

“Hey Li,” Christian murmurs, mischief clear in his low voice as his large hands find a place on Liam’s hips. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Liam rolls his eyes and huffs out a laugh. Contrary to popular belief, most strippers aren’t friends with their coworkers. Because schedules for so many are based off of availability, it’s hard to make connections. Most people would rather get home to curl up and watch bad TV instead of heading out for a drink or bite to eat after a long night.

Christian, though, is Liam’s exception. Liam knows the names of most of the other dancers, but the only one he’s ever had a real conversation with is Christian.

Christian is actually an incredible professional dancer, and his real job is with some big shot multiple platinum selling artist. When he’s not away on tour though, Christian works a couple nights a week for Caroline.

Liam had asked once if he really needed the money, because you’d think flying around the world and performing sold out shows for a majority of the year would pay pretty well. Christian had just laughed and mumbled something about boredom before dragging Liam up to show him this sick new move he learned the other day.

Liam glances down at the man under him, eye slightly narrowed, but feeling fond. “Well look who decided to show up,” he snarks, and Christian squeezes his hips in warning, eliciting another eye roll from Liam.

“I came as soon as I got off tour, babe. Just got back in three days ago, and I had to sleep off the jet lag before I came to see your pretty face.”

Liam glares, but his cheeks heat up at the compliment nonetheless. He wiggles a bit, feeling self-conscious at the undivided attention, but Christian isn’t having it.

“Hold still, Li. Just wanna hold you while you tell me all about what I’ve missed for the past few months,” he pouts, tightening his hold by wrapping his arms completely around Liam.

Liam sighs, melting into Christian a bit because there’s no way out of this, and they both know it. “Nothing’s changed. Still here, aren’t I?” he mumbles, leaning down to tuck his head into Christian’s neck. If he’s stuck like this, might as well get comfortable.

Christian shifts a bit, pulling Liam impossibly closer and smoothing a hand up his back to play with the loose curls at the base of Liam’s neck. “There’s nothing wrong with that, yeah?” His voice is soft, barely a whisper, like he can tell that Liam is a bit delicate right now.

They stay pressed together like that for an indefinable length of time, listening to the girls get ready and gossip about whoever isn’t performing tonight as their voices carry through the curtain. Liam hears the door to backstage creak open, footsteps leaving the room and carrying noisy high pitched voices with them until they are left in silence.

“Probably should get ready before Caroline comes looking for us,” Liam murmurs, on the edge of sleep but well aware that this isn’t the time or place for a nap. Christian hums in affirmation, shifting, and Liam lets out an unmanly squeak as Christian’s arm slides under his thighs and he’s lifted into the air.

He clings to Christian out of instinct, legs tightening a bit too much and arms scrambling for a tighter hold, causing Christian to let out a wounded groan and stumble a bit. “Ease up babe, ‘m not gonna drop you,” he huffs, regaining his balance and striding over to Liam’s vanity.

He bends to deposit Liam gently onto his own stool, placing a kiss on his forehead before straightening up and backing away. Liam looks after him a bit dopily, feeling warm and mushy on the inside.

“Get ready, you donut,” Christian admonishes, throwing Liam a killer smile before grabbing the bottom of his shirt to pull it over his head. Liam watches lazily, whistling lowly and then chuckling as Christian flips him off.

Liam slowly spins in his stool, toeing off his boots and reaching down to tug off his own shirt before reaching for the zipper on his jeans.

“What are you performing tonight then?” Christian asks, leaning down to rub below his boxers at his naked inner thigh.

Liam hums, shimmying out of his skinny jeans and flings them halfheartedly towards the cubby that he keeps his street clothes in while performing. He glances over at the rack of costumes at his disposal, mentally going through the ones he’s worn in the past few weeks.

“I guess lumberjack or nerd, what do you think?” he asks, flicking his line of sight over just as Christian steps out of his boxers and reaches for his fitted pair of briefs, stepping into them with the natural grace of a dancer.

“Nerd, that one makes me laugh,” Christian decides. “I’m gonna go classic fireman since it’s been ages and I need to brush up on other choreo first so I don’t look like an idiot.”

Liam laughs, stripping out of his own boxers and snagging his briefs from the top drawer of his vanity. Christian whistles, and Liam cheeks go pink, but he refuses to be embarrassed in his own workplace.

“Fuck off, I look exactly the same,” he hisses, scrambling into his briefs and adjusting himself to make his bulge look less intimidating.

“I didn’t say you changed, just thought you should know you’re still hot as ever,” Christian sing-songs before cackling and dodging as Liam chucks his boxers at his head.

***

If it was any other night, Zayn would’ve just kept walking. He would’ve called another cab, and waited at the corner of the street and went home to the safety of his own house. He should’ve fucking known, because Griff was far too eager to push him out the door and into a cab, and there was no way it was innocent.

Because apparently Caroline’s is a strip club, primarily for gay men. And it’s not that Zayn is ashamed of favoring men in the least. He’s more than comfortable in his sexuality.

What he’s not comfortable in, however, is an environment where he can easily be identified though. Zayn can be pretty vain at times, and he’s well aware of his appearance and what people think of him. Add that to the aura of wealth that’s probably oozing off of him right now, and Zayn will be too busy fending off other customers to even enjoy his night out.

He’s sat through far too many evenings surrounded by beautiful men and women, where his only thought was ‘ESCAPE’, because beauty and wealth seem to bring out the worst in people, and Zayn has never been one to enjoy the dull gossip that preludes mediocre sex.

Zayn is a breath away from whipping out his phone and dialing for a cab, when he thinks of how disappointed Griff will be when he finds out that Zayn bailed. Guilt wells up in him, and clashes with his instinct to run and hide. He sighs heavily, deciding that one night won’t kill him, and turning on heel to push his way through the heavy door into the club, where he’s met by a bored looking teenager, and a large bouncer. He pays the entrance fee, and is waved through with little more than a glance from either party.

The actual club is dimly lit, but from what he can see it looks surprisingly clean. There are various tables and couches arranged carefully to keep the focus on the stages. Zayn surveys the crowd, pleased to note that almost everyone is already in groups and captivated by the ongoing performance.

Zayn shuffles towards the back wall where the bar is located, waving over the bartender and ordering a coke and rum, which is promptly placed in front of him. He mutters his thanks, paying for the drink and leaving a generous tip, suddenly grateful that he always has a healthy supply of cash on him.

Drink in hand, he makes his way towards one of the unoccupied couches with an end table, tucking himself neatly into the corner.

Zayn’s always thought it’s funny how time passes differently in a club. The energy in the air, the thumb of the music, the sweet smell of alcohol all blurring the lines between reality and a dream. He can see how easy it would be to lose yourself in this environment, in this lifestyle. It must be addictive to count time in dances instead of minutes.

‘Just for tonight,’ he thinks. He’ll conform to the norm for one night, and hopefully tomorrow he won’t regret it.

Zayn reaches down and turns his phone off before placing it on the inside of his jacket and rearranging the lilac spring tucked in his breast pocket, carefully tucking his watch so it’s not visible on his slim wrist. He sips at his drink until it’s gone, waving over a waitress and tucking wad of bills into her hand with the instructions to keep him well supplied. She nods in understanding, and another drink is delivered to him moments later.

He smiles wolfishly, turning his attention back to the strippers on stage. The dancers come and go, men and women alike, though definitely far more men.

None of them are bad, clearly each of them are talented and attractive in their own way, but Zayn is far more interested in the contents of his glass than he is in the scantily clothing people parading around.

The crowd around him continues to fill in, couches and tables crowded with men of various ages and economical standing no doubt, and they don’t appear to share Zayn’s sentiments, as they holler and whistle and throw money at the beautiful dancers.

Zayn is just on the edge of tipsy, admiring the technique of the dark skinned man on stage currently. The fireman routine is a bit cliché, but he pulls it off quite nicely. He’s extremely flexible, and obviously very aware of his body, which always makes for an interesting night in bed, Zayn thinks. Not that he’s planning to get involved with a stripper though. He gets the feeling that he may have to wait in line, judging by the men drooling to his left and right.

The performance ends, and the music is turned down to allow a faceless voice the chance to announce that coming up is the final performance of the night. Apparently the club stays open for a couple more hours, and only the dancers on the side stage will remain.

Zayn shrugs, dismissing the waitress when she returns to ask if he’d like another drink. She reaches into her pouch to return the cash and he waves her off, muttering something about a tip, and she’s smart enough to not argue.

He’s tempted to leave early, and beat the rush of men that will no doubt wander out when the main performances are finished, but before he can, a body plops down onto the couch beside him, a beefy hand slapping at his shoulder.

The man beside him is considerably drunk, smelling like he consumed an entire alcohol store on his own, and that’s before he even opens his mouth. “Hey mate,” he slurs, “thanks for saving me a seat for the best show of the night.” Zayn grimaces as the man belches and drags a hand over his mouth.

“Best show of the night?” Zayn inquires, while subtly shifting away from the man.

“Course!” He laughs, as if Zayn just told the funniest joke he’s ever heard. “Everyone knows Jamie is the best dancer around. Gets his own show on Wednesday and everything.”

Zayn lets out a fake laugh and smiles widely, praying the man will forgive him when Zayn inevitably is unimpressed by the final performer.

The man looks like he wants to say something, eyes struggling to focus on Zayn, but before he can, his face goes a bit green and he slaps a hand over his mouth, and he scrambles away towards the entrance of the club while Zayn watches with wide eyes and a wince.

The music changes, the beat speeding up slightly and the bass dropping impossibly lower as the beginning of a familiar song begins to play, demanding Zayn’s attention. He sits back, crossing his legs and resting his left arm on the arm rest while reaching up to rub at his beard with the right.

The lights on the stage flicker and then plunge the middle section into complete darkness for several seconds. A single spotlight shines down then, illuminate the back of a boy with wavy caramel hair, dressed in slacks that hug his arse and thighs, and a fitted dress shirt.

He whirls around, and the audience lets out a chuckle at the sight of the oversized glasses framing doe eyes, a pocket protector stuffed with writing supplies, and the books tucked under his left arm.

It’s definitely unique, nothing like the beginning of the other performances of the night. Zayn watches, intrigued, as the boy stumbles around, playing unsure and shy, before gradually dropping the act and picking up the beat with his body.

His shirt is gone in the blink of an eye, his hips moving fluidly, confidence pouring off of him and energizing the crowd. The louder they call and whistle, the dirtier the boy moves, grinding his hips forward and back in a hypnotizing rhythm that’s suggestive enough to really grab Zayn’s attention. His abs are delicately sculpted, his body appearing from a distance to be a confusing contradiction as the soft of his hips contracts with the bulge of his biceps as they reach down tear off his trousers.

And suddenly Zayn, and every other man in here no doubt, are focused on a very different bulge. The music builds and intensifies, and as it does, the boy grins wider and dances filthier. He smirks then, sauntering his way forwards to where a chair rests on a lower area at the front of the stage, still well above the crowd but low enough for everyone to get an eyeful.

The boy turns the chair around and straddles it backwards, mimicking a lap dance while flicking his hair out of his eyes, before rotating the chair and giving the audience an eyeful of his tiny, round ass.

The men around him go wild, money flying into the air towards the stage, and the music grows louder to compete with the roar of the crowd. The boy turns back around to face the men in front of him, eyes scanning the audience as a cocksure smile graces his lips, hips still rotating in a hypnotizing rhythm. His hands trace across his chest, over his shoulders before smoothing down his sides to rest on his hips, thighs bulging as he squats to keep himself elevated an inch above the chair.

Zayn cocks his head, admiring the boy’s slim hips and sizable bulge. He raises his gaze, only to find his eyes locked with the dancer’s, and Zayn freezes, because this is the first time all night he’s felt like someone is actually looking at him, looking through him almost.

The boy’s smile softens slightly, almost as if he can sense Zayn’s discomfort with being noticed, and he tries to toss a cheeky wink in Zayn’s direction, but it’s more of a blink if he’s honest, and fucking hell, Zayn is interested and endeared, and his poor cock is very confused.

Zayn leans forward, watching as the boy sways his hips before rolling them dirtily as he climbs back onto the main stage. The song is winding down, Zayn realizes, and he stares in awe as the boy swings his hips in time with the beat, grinding in wider and wider circles and spreading his thighs as he lowers himself towards the stage. The final beats of the song are punctuated by the boy arching his back, falling backwards and catching himself precisely with his left hand to flip onto his stomach, sprawling across the stage. His legs slide out then, further and further apart, and Zayn can feel his eyes grow wide as the boy ends in the splits, throwing a grin that pulls at his flushed cheeks over his shoulder, his eyes crinkling into tiny slits.

The stage lights go out again, and the volume of the audience grows impossibly louder as men clap and holler, and Zayn finds himself applauding the dancer as well. ‘That was well worth the price of admission,’ he thinks to himself, mind spinning a bit.

He’s struck with a wild impulse then, reaching into his pocket to dig out his wallet. He’s already handed a majority of his cash off to the waitress from before, asking her to see that it’s delivered to each of the dancers from tonight.

Instead of money, though, Zayn pulls out one of his personal business cards. Griff had suggested he carry them years ago, in the event that he meets someone in a setting where he doesn’t get the chance to exchange numbers normally.

‘He probably didn’t think I’d send one to a stripper,’ Zayn thinks wryly, clamping down on the instinct rising up in him that says this is a bad idea. Before he can think too much, he jots down a small note on the card and waves over the waitress; ‘Jade,’ he thinks to himself as she approaches.

“Something I can get for you, sir?” she asks politely.

“Yes, I was hoping you could do me a favor?” He begins, almost too quietly to be heard over the buzz of the club, but she nods in affirmation and smiles reassuringly. “I’ll do my best.”

“Thank you,” he mutters, before asking “could you deliver this to the dancer that performed last?” He holds out his business card, and she takes it gently.

“Is this all?” she inquires, glancing down at the card. Zayn nods, feeling a bit sheepish, and he’s seconds away from snatching it out of her hand and going home to forget any of this ever happened when she reaches out towards his lapel and tugs at the lilac. He’s confused, but he lets her remove it and pair it with the card.

“Trust me,” she says with a knowing smile, “guys send their business cards to the back all the time. If you want a chance, you need to stand out.”

As she begins to leave, Zayn is struck with inspiration, one hand grasping for her wrist and the other digging into his pocket. She eyes him curiously, before understanding lights up her eyes as he withdraws his handkerchief.

Its Italian silk, monogrammed with his initials because his assistant insisted that plain handkerchiefs weren’t enough. He carries them out of habit now, never actually using them because Kleenex’s are far more sanitary and accessible. Still, it’s quite personal, and Jade seems extremely pleased with his offering, shooting him a wide grin before disappearing into the back with his gifts.

Zayn smiles after her, the thrill of the moment making his heart race. He sits there for a few minutes, before reality pours itself over him like a cold bucket of water.

“What the fuck am I doing,” he mutters to himself, reaching into his jacket to pull out his phone. As he waits for it to power on, he glances around, relieved to find that no one is paying attention to him at all. He checks the time quickly before messaging his driver that he’s ready to be picked up, sending the location with a request for him to hurry.

Zayn tucks his phone away then, rising from his seat and smoothing his jacket before turning to make his way towards the door. He casts one last glance over his shoulder at the crowd before stepping through the exit, the bouncer nodding at him as the music spills outside with him.

He shivers as he’s struck with the chill of the wind, but it clears his head a bit, easing the ringing in his ears. Minutes later his driver arrives, and Zayn slips inside the car gratefully.

They pull away from the curb and Zayn sinks down into the leather seats, mind still reeling. The night had felt never ending, but also like only moments long. He checks his watch, somehow surprised, but not at all surprised by the fact that only a few hours had passed.

He taps his fingers along his thigh, hand reaching up absent-mindedly to thumb at the place in his lapel where his lilac normally sits. Something about that boy, the club, the night in general, had destroyed his better judgement, but oddly enough Zayn doesn’t regret any of it. Maybe he would, in the morning when his mind was no longer clouded by the alcohol sloshing around inside his bloodstream, but right now he feels oddly at peace.

‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ he reasons with himself. ‘Either he never calls and life goes on, or he calls and- and that bridge will be crossed if it happens.’ He settles further into the seat then, closing his eyes to rest as the car rolls through the city, making its way towards Kensington and home.

***

Liam shuffles backstage towards the dressing room, waiting to collect his clothes so he could throw them in the laundry bin before calling it a night. He pushes his way through the door, mind spinning a bit from the adrenalin rush he always gets after a performance.

The crowd was loud tonight, a bit bigger than usual, but Liam still managed to make out a few familiar faces among the forgettable ones. 

‘Not all forgettable though,’ his brain reminds, drawing up unbidden memories of the handsome stranger sitting alone on a couch, looking aloof and unaffected despite Liam’s best efforts. No amount of grinding or thrusting got his attention.

His heart still races a bit, though, as he remembers the brief moment they made eye contact; the thrill that ran down Liam’s back, pooling at the base of his spine and pulling at him like a leash connected to the man he’d never seen before.

He’s almost stumbled over himself, playing it off carefully and returning to the main stage a bit early because he could feel the piercing stare of the man, feel how intense his attention was, and Liam couldn’t help but wonder what kinds of things the man could do to Liam in private with all that focus.

Liam pushes through the door, striding past his coworker in various stages of undress as the night wraps up. He reaches his own vanity, tossing his clothes on the floor and grabbing his water bottle to take a large drink.

He sets the bottle down with a thunk, peels his briefs off and casting them on top of the pile of clothes before sliding into the boxers he’d retrieved from Christian after a bit of begging (because Christian is the worst, and he knows how much Liam can’t stand free balling in this pair of jeans, but he also likes watching Liam sweat a bit.)

He’s just buttoning his jeans when a pair of arms pulls him in from behind, long fingers dragging over his abs and dipping cheekily beneath his waistband. Liam slaps at the wandering hands until they retreat and settle on his hips.

“Great show babe,” Christian whispers lowly into his ear, swaying Liam back and forth. “The crowd went nuts for you. ‘m proud of you.”

Liam flushes with the praise, hair falling into his eyes as his chin drops to stare at his feet. “Shut up, you’re dumb,” he mumbles, eyebrows furrowing. Looking at Liam and taking into consideration his profession, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess that he melts when genuinely complimented, but it happens all the time regardless. Most of the people in his life are careful not to exploit his shyness, but Christian has always been the exception in every way.

Christian loosens his hold enough for Liam to spin around and bury his face into the crook of his neck, his cheeks burning for absolutely no reason. Christian just laughs, rubbing a hand up his back.

“Why don’t you finish getting dressed and we can go get something to eat and catch up,” Christian suggests after a minute or two pass, letting the subject drop as Liam burrows further into his arms, loving the contact.

Liam whines a bit, before Christian flicks his ear, making Liam bite out a bitter “fine,” turning back around to slip on his sweater. Christian grabs the pile of clothes from beside the vanity and walks them over to the laundry bin as Liam bends over to tie his boots.

He tucks his phone and wallet into his pocket, checking his hair in the mirror and trying to tame the waves before deciding it’s a lost cause. He turns around to find Christian waiting patiently. “Ready to go?” he asks, and Liam nods before-

“Oh Liam,” Jade’s voice rings out over the noise of the dressing room, and both Liam and Griff turn to find Jade grinning like the cat that got the cream, brandishing a handful of things. “Got a present for you,” she sings out, presenting three separate items to him with a flourish.

Liam accepts the items, glancing down at them curiously. A business card, a handkerchief, and a lilac. He looks up at Jade, question in his eyes, because these items don’t make a lot of sense.

“You’ve got a bit of an admirer I reckon,” Jade says. “I’ve never seen him before. He was older, but younger than most of the guys around. Hot too,” she grins wickedly.

“Dark hair, thick beard, gorgeous facial structure, super expensive suit. He was definitely loaded, and quite generous too. Nearly shit himself trying to send you his card,” she finishes, cackling, and Liam finds himself intrigued by the picture Jade is painting.

“My baby has a hot, rich secret admirer!” Christian crows gleefully, nudging Liam with his shoulder. “You should call him, Li, he sounds nice.”

Liam shrugs, looking down at the card, as Jade and Christian start gossiping about some girl Liam doesn’t know. It’s very high quality he can tell, the paper feeling smooth and rich between his fingers. Printed on the card is a string of numbers and a single letter: Z.

The lilac is an interesting touch. It’s fresh, and smells sweet when he presses it to his nose and inhales. The handkerchief is silky but unremarkable at first glance, just unblemished ivory, until he flips it over and is met with the initials ZM that have been carefully sewn into one corner. He traces over the letters with one finger, mind racing with questions as he carries the gifts over to his vanity.

Liam pulls open the bottom drawer, feeling around inside until he finds the small glass he’d been meaning to take back to the bar from a staff party a few weeks before. He places the lilac gently in the glass and sets the glass upright inside his top drawer before carefully closing it. He tucks the handkerchief and card into his back pocket, turning back to Christian just as he finishes his conversation with Jade.

“Ready to go, for real this time?” he asks, and Liam nods with a small smile, feeling oddly drained. Christian wraps an arm around his waist, guiding him towards the entrance. “I’m feeling Chinese, that okay with you?”

Liam hums absent mindedly, his thoughts on a man miles away in a car, speeding towards Kensington.

***

It’s not like Zayn is waiting anxiously for a call or anything, because he’s not. It’s just that he’s suddenly realized how interesting the lock screen of his personal mobile is, and he needs to make sure it’s still there every five minutes.

But after a week of silence, Zayn is starting to get the feeling that the dancer, Jamie, if the intoxicated man was right, isn’t going to call.

Part of him is perfectly okay with that. After all, he could be a complete bore, or a moocher, or some kind of serial murderer, and Zayn doesn’t need any of those things in his life.

Part of him is a bit embarrassed, because while he never puts himself out there, Zayn always has been able to fall back on the idea that, if he did, he would be successful. And now, here he is. 25, a billionaire, Britain’s most eligible bachelor, rejected by a dancer without a single word.

Another part of him, a part much deeper inside, is screaming at him to not let this go, though. There’s something about this boy that has made it impossible for Zayn to forget him, unlike 99% of the people he meets every day.

It was bearable during the week, because Zayn had work to do, tasks to complete, meetings to attend, decisions to make, and they distracted him from the fact that his invitation had been declined. But now, it was Saturday, officially a week later, and Zayn is sitting on his couch at home, channel surfing and sulking over someone he’s never even spoken to.

“Pathetic,” he mutters to himself, casting the remote aside and burying his face in his hands.

About a year after they relocated into their new building, Griff had absolutely forbidden him from working in the office on the weekends. Zayn understood his feelings, had woken up with papers in his face and a crick in his back on Saturday mornings too many times for it to be healthy.

Unfortunately though, the no-working-in-the-office-on-the-weekends rule meant that Zayn had to plan ahead and take everything he needed with him, lest he suffer the wrath of Griff when the security guard inevitably tattles.

Normally it’s not an issue, Zayn just takes relevant files with him and downloads what he needs onto his jump drive. However, Zayn had left in a rush the night before to avoid Griff’s obligatory offer to head to Caroline’s, and he’d left his jump drive behind because he’s an idiot.

So, here he is, bored out of his brain at one in the afternoon on a Saturday, trapped with nothing but his depressing thoughts of rejection.

He flops onto his side, groaning loudly, and it echoes off of the high ceiling, emphasizing the emptiness of this massive house, far too big for one sad businessman.

He feels like a teenager again, discouraged because he asked his crush to the prom and she said no, and with that in mind, he reaches for his phone and dials a familiar number.

“Beta?” Yaser’s voice sounds a bit tinny, distorted by the phone, but it’s still calm and rich and loving, and it wraps around Zayn’s bones like a warm blanket.

“Hi baba,” Zayn mumbles, his voice barely working as he feels choked by a sudden wave of homesickness. Yaser doesn’t comment on it though, just continues on, the smile evident in his voice.

“It’s good to hear your voice, beta. It’s been a while since you called.” And Zayn is struck with an intense feeling of guilt. He doesn’t phone home that often, not as much as he should, but it’s because he’s never grown out of the urge to just go home whenever he calls. He has the money, and he can get take the time off, but Zayn also knows it’s not a great idea to jump on a plane every week because his mum called to chat, so he just puts off their conversations until he can’t stand it any longer.

“I miss you, so much,” he whispers, closing his eyes and picturing home; his mum and baba moving around each other in the kitchen, making dinner, as Zayn and his sisters float around bickering and playing until they are forced to work on their schoolwork. A part of Zayn aches for those days, for the consistency, the loving arms that waited for him at home every day.

“I know you do,” Yaser soothes, understanding coating his voice, “we miss you too. It’s too quiet around here now that the girls are away at university.”

Zayn knows the transition was hard for his parents, going from a full house to an empty one as they all moved out one by one, never returning. His mum still gets weepy as they all leave after the holidays, and she once told him that his baba cries after they are all gone.

“How are the girls?” he asks, grateful for the distraction.

“They’re wild as ever,” Yaser laughs wryly, “Wali keeps sending us pictures of all the flashcards she’s made to help her memorize different laws, and Safaa had an hour long conversation with your mum after she sat in on a C section a few weeks ago. Think she’s decided to never have kids now.”

“Sounds about right,” Zayn giggles wetly, his heart filled with fondness for his girls. They text him every few days, sending him funny pictures and posts from various social media sites to make him laugh.

“How have you been, then,” Yaser asks, his voice gentle, as if he knows Zayn called for a reason, but treating him like he’s a wild animal that might startle if Yaser is too abrupt.

Zayn hesitates, trying to decide how to explain why he’s desperate for a chat all of the sudden without telling too much, when Yaser warns, “Don’t sugar coat it, beta. Just tell me.”

And so Zayn does. It just comes spilling out, working too much and feeling stuck in place, Griff’s suggestion and Zayn’s desperation for a change, the boy, Zayn’s gift, and the week of silence, and how confused Zayn is about everything.

Yaser listens quietly, letting Zayn get it all out, before asking, “Have you thought about going back and finding him?” and Zayn freezes because honestly, that hasn’t crossed his mind at all.

Yaser plows on though, not letting him respond, “because if you’re having this kind of reaction to him, he must be something special. You’re a fighter, Zayn. If you want him, go get him.”

Zayn sits in silence for a second, processing, and then blurts out, “but what if he doesn’t like me, baba. What if he’s just not interested?”

Yaser laughs, as if Zayn had just told a hilarious joke instead of asking a legitimate question. “Beta, did you even talk to him? He probably has people send him things all the time. Maybe he wants to see that you’re truly interested in him and willing to put in some effort for his attention.”

“Think of it like a job application. When you apply, you call in a few days later to check in and show the company that you’re dedicated and waiting for a response. Regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, at the very least you won’t be stuck in limbo feeling inadequate.

Zayn hums in response, mind whirling as he tries to imagine himself going back to the club. Maybe he’ll send another note, with another lilac so the boy will know it’s him.

“I don’t want you to make any quick decision though,” Yaser adds as Zayn stays silent, “just think it over. And don’t sit at home stewing all day either. Why don’t you go visit Vinny, and take your mind off things?”

“Yes baba,” he murmurs, hope springing up in his chest to war with the insecurity he’s been feeling all week. “Thanks for always listening.”

“Anytime,” Yaser replies fondly, before sighing heavily. “I better run. I promised to pick your mother up from the store in 10 minutes and she’ll be a right terror if I’m late.”

“When is she not a right terror?” Zayn jokes, and Yaser bursts out laughing. Zayn sighs, a smile on his lips. “I love you. Send her my love too, please.”

“Of course. I love you too, beta. Visit us soon, yeah?” Yaser suggests. Zayn promises to make a trip home in the next month,

Zayn sits in silence for a bit, before heaving himself off the couch to get ready. Vinny is an older Italian gentleman that runs an antique shop in the heart of London. When Zayn first moved here from Bradford, he found himself wandering the streets to escape the loneliness of his apartment, and that’s how he stumbled upon Vinny’s.

Zayn loves everything that Vinny’s collected, all the paintings, sculptures, furniture, books, and comics. Vinny also encouraged Zayn tremendously when he admitted that he painted a bit in his free time, and in return Zayn showered him in paintings for months afterwards.

Today he’s in a comic book mood, he decides. It’s been too long since he’s visited, work keeping him preoccupied and draining him to the point that he wasn’t interested in leaving the house on the weekends. Or at least he wasn’t until now.

***

The crowd roars as he finishes his set, standing up to bow and allow people to tip if they wish. Liam blushes slightly, his cheeks turning pink at all the attention.

He turns away, jogging offstage and heading to change. Christian isn’t in tonight, but he invited Liam over for takeout and Fifa when he gets off work.

Liam is just leaving when he’s stopped on his way out the door by Leigh-Anne, one of the waitresses that always works on Wednesdays.

“Liam!” she calls, looking a bit frazzled. “I have something for you.”

She holds out her hand, and Liam’s stomach twists at the familiar sight of paper and a lilac. It had been a month now, a month of occasional visits always marked by a handwritten note on a business card, and a fresh lilac.

Liam thanks her, taking the gift and turning around so he can add the lilac to the small collection he has in the top drawer of his vanity. He thumbs at the business card, turning it over and running his eyes over the elegant scrawl. This one reads, ‘You look beautiful tonight, as always, my dear. I’d love to meet you.’

Liam pauses. Normally he’d just drop the card in the trash on his way out, but something makes him tuck the card into his pocket instead. There’s a garbage can in his apartment too, he reasons. He ducks out of the club, waving to Marvin, the security guard for the night, and makes his way towards Christian’s apartment.

He doesn’t live far, just five or six blocks away, which gives Liam enough time to think about the mysterious stranger that is eager to get his attention.

The issue is that he’s so tempting. He’s attractive, obviously wealthy, and very interested in Liam for some reason, and Liam is a sucker for undivided attention.

(Liam is also a sucker for men that smell nice, and judging by the handkerchief that may or may not be tucked into his nightstand at home, the man smells like vanilla, cinnamon and smoke. He’s utterly intoxicating, and Liam is so fucked.)

The thing is, Liam knows better, knows this man’s type: rich, persistent, and entitled, thinking they run the world and can have anything they want if they throw enough money at it. Liam really isn’t interested in being left behind for the next person that catches his attention in two years, or two months. It’s far easier to just ignore him, and wait for him to get bored and go away.

Liam keeps that in mind as he jogs up to the entry of Christian’s apartment, resolving to stay strong and not crumble under the constant, admittedly flattering attention.

 

 

***

Zayn is a very patient man, all things considered. He’s given the dancer an ample amount of time to contact him, and he’s kept his distance just in case, but it’s been nearly two months of watching and waiting, and he’s at his wits end.

And he would’ve given up by now, too, if it wasn’t for a visit from another dancer who claimed to be friends with the boy in question. Christian was his name, and he didn’t say much, just that his friend, “Lee”, is very shy and needs to warm up to the idea of dating. “Give him time,” he’d said, “and he’ll come around. But if you hurt him, I’ll beat your ass.”

Zayn had been quick to nod in agreement, mumbling, “I’d beat my own ass before I let that happened,” and earning himself a blinding grin and a nod of approval from the dancer.

He’s thought about sending a gift, bringing something special to show the boy he’s interesting and willing to stick around until he’s ready, but Zayn doesn’t even know where he’d begin to look for that type of a gift. ‘It’s difficult shopping for someone you know absolutely nothing about,’ he thinks, frustrated.

Griff has noticed that he’s been off lately too, commenting more than once about how strangely Zayn is acting. Zayn finally broke down and told him the whole story. Griff offered to get in touch with Caroline and find out who the boy is, but Zayn turned him down instantly. The last thing he wants to do is make the boy uncomfortable by invading his privacy like that.

Instead, Zayn has decided to drive himself crazy by waiting. Patiently waiting.

On the bright side, the frustration caused him to start painting again in his spare time, which means he visits Vinny’s more often to drop off paintings in his free time. And sometimes, even in his not-so-free time.

For example, right now it’s Tuesday afternoon, and rather than sitting through the dull meeting he had planned, Zayn is walking towards Vinny’s, a small painting that he finished a few days ago wrapped carefully and tucked under his arm.

The old brass bell clangs as he pushes through the door into the shop, calling out a greeting to Vinny.

“Zayn, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Vinny greets, setting aside his book and giving full attention to the dark-haired man.

“Finished another one, wanted to bring it by,” Zayn responds smoothly, thrusting the painting towards Vinny unceremoniously.

Vinny scoots forward in his recliner, peeling away the brown paper and removing the painting. It’s a more abstract one, swirls of red intersecting slashes of black

Vinny examines the piece for a long time, before glancing up at Zayn with a curious look in his eye. “Shouldn’t you be in the office?”

Zayn blushes, caught. “Just needed to get out and clear my head,” he explains sheepishly.

Vinny smiles knowingly, looking back down to study the painting again. “Well I’m not one to judge, we all need to think sometimes.”

Zayn nods in agreement, his brain reminding him of the frustration that he poured into the canvas days before, after yet another performance and rejected offer. All he’s done lately is think, and Zayn is ready to act, for fucks sake. Thinking is driving him mad.

“Why don’t you hang this one up?” Vinny suggests, interrupting his thoughts by sliding the canvas back across the desk and settling back in his recliner. “I don’t feel like getting up.”

Zayn laughs, throwing out a “lazy old man” while grabbing the painting and making his way towards the back of the store.

Initially, Vinny had kept his paintings all together on a display case towards the front of the store, but eventually they had ran out of room, and Vinny decided to relocate them into a side room he’d set aside for comic books. Zayn had spent a whole day painting the room, carefully adding hooks to the walls and arranging the canvases to his liking. Whenever he brings a new one by, he just adds a hook.

Zayn grabs a hook from the supply cabinet at the back of the store, the one holding all the cleaning equipment and the supplies needed to package items for safe transfer when purchased.

He’s been adding to the far wall lately, and it’s almost time for him to wrap around the corner and begin hanging them on the wall above the display case, he thinks.

Zayn enters the small room, and startles as he notices the person sitting in the leather chair in the corner, headphones in his ears and nose buried in a vintage copy of the original Batman comic. Zayn blinks, hard, because he has to be hallucinating. There’s absolutely no way that the person in the room with him is the dancer he’s been desperate to talk to for months.

He’s not dreaming though, and the boy (who’s more of a man if Zayn is being honest) must feel Zayn’s eyes on him, because he glances up only to freeze like a deer in headlights, mouth dropping open to form a tiny, silent “oh.”

They stare at each other for a few seconds, Zayn’s mind running wild with questions and thoughts, and he’s trying to decide how to start a conversation (“hello, nice to finally meet you” is far too awkward, “will you marry me” may be a bit too forward, and “would you like to find out what my bedroom floor looks like” will give him the wrong idea, because while Zayn is very interested, that isn’t all he wants from this boy) when suddenly the dancer’s eyebrows furrow, and he reaches up to rip out his headphones.

“What the fuck, are you following me?” the boy explodes, darting to his feet to back further away from Zayn and into the opposite corner, and Zayn is torn between soothing him and getting defensive at the accusation.

“I didn’t even know someone was in here, mate,” Zayn replies coolly, because he’s attracted to this boy, but he’s not a stalker and he’s not interested in letting the conversation devolve.

“Then what are you doing here?” he demands, his words aggressive but his tone has softened, eyes wide as he hunches his shoulders, curling in on himself as if Zayn is going to do something to him. Zayn’s heart aches, wants to reach out and hold the boy and take away his fear.

Zayn wordlessly holds up the painting and the hook, gesturing to the walls, before offering, “Brought this in and Vinny asked me to put it up.”

The boy takes in the painting, eyes darting around to look at the ones hanging on the walls that surround them. His eyes drop back to the painting in Zayn’s hand again, eyebrows dipping in confusion, before he raises his gaze to look at Zayn. Zayn smiles softly, shrugging.

“I promise, if I had known you were here, I wouldn’t have bothered you. ‘m not like that,” Zayn murmurs, hoping that his tone conveys his sincerity.

The boy drops his gaze to his feet, shuffling awkwardly in place, and Zayn studies him. He’s gorgeous, even more so up close, though Zayn had never doubted that he would be. His hair is curlier today than usual, waves tangling together and falling in front of large golden brown eyes that are framed by bushy eyebrows. His mouth is pink and plush, lips looking soft and so, so inviting. There’s a splash of chocolate gracing his throat in the form of a birthmark, and Zayn would love to add his own marks to the column of his neck.

He’s wearing a soft white sweater that makes his skin look like caramel, jeans that sag but somehow hug his thighs regardless, and clunky combat boots, not unlike those that Zayn wears when he isn’t trapped in dress clothes for work.

‘Beautiful,’ Zayn thinks. ‘So, so beautiful.’ There’s no other way to describe him. The silence must have stretched on for a bit too long, because the boy is turning bright red, full cheeks flushing, and while Zayn would love to see him flush for other reasons, this is neither the time nor the place. He’s getting ready to just back out of the room and give the boy his space, when-

“Are all of these yours?” the boy asks softly, and for a second Zayn has no clue what he’s talking about, until he realizes that he’s studying the painting in Zayn’s hand again.

Zayn holds it out to give him a better view, nodding as he does. “I paint in my spare time.”

“They’re quite good,” the boy smiles softly, adding, “that one is my favorite.” He waves a hand in the direction of the Batman one, which Zayn had created in a fit of nostalgia after watching The Dark Knight years before.

“ ‘s one of my favorites too,” Zayn replies with a grin and a wink, and the boy bites his lip in response, cheeks flushing as he looks up at Zayn from under his lashes. Zayn is enamored, and he can already tell that it’s going to be a problem, how easy he is for this boy.

The boy opens his mouth to say something, but before he can Zayn’s phone rings from where it’s tucked in his pocket, shattering the atmosphere, and Zayn wants to smash his phone into bits as he watches the boy withdraw again, closing himself off.

Zayn sets the painting on the display case to the side and yanks the phone out of his pocket, muttering an apology and stepping out to answer. It’s nothing important, just the head of marketing wondering why Zayn didn’t make the meeting, and Zayn sighs deeply, asking him to call Zayn’s assistant and reschedule, hanging up without a response. ‘Duty calls,’ he sighs forlornly, stepping back in the room to find the boy slipping into his coat.

“Sorry to bother you,” Zayn mumbles, his good mood diminishing rapidly, as he scoots to the side to make a clear path for the boy to exit. The boy pauses in passing, looking at Zayn, considering, before holding out a hand for Zayn to shake.

Zayn hesitates, shocked for a split second, before grabbing for the offered hand, grasping it firmly, rubbing his thumb along the top. His hand is warm, and fits perfectly into Zayn’s.

“It was nice to meet you, -“ the boy begins, looking unsure, and Zayn blurts out his name to fill the space. “Zayn,” he repeats softly, a small smile turning up the corners of his soft, pink lips.

“ ‘m Liam,” he adds, like it’s an afterthought and not a valuable piece of information that will probably change Zayn’s life. “Liam,” Zayn murmurs affectionately, and Liam’s cheeks pink at his tone. Zayn gives the back of his hand one last stroke before releasing him.

Liam backs away smiling, and gives an awkward mini wave in goodbye before turning to leave. Zayn watches him go, heart pounding in his chest, because that went better than he thought possible, and Liam is incredible, better than he’d been able to imagine.

Zayn turns around, picking up his painting and fastening it to the wall. ‘Maybe he’ll call now that he knows I’m not crazy’ he thinks wistfully. After the painting is up, Zayn sinks down in the chair, wondering if it would be weird for him to go to the show tomorrow night now that they’ve had a conversation in real life.

Attending would show Liam that he’s still very interested, but it also might send the wrong type of message. Yes, Zayn is interested in Liam for his appearance, because obviously Zayn isn’t 110 and blind. But there’s obviously much more to Liam than meets the eye, and Zayn doesn’t want to jeopardize his chances with the boy just because he wants to see him again so quickly.

Zayn shuts his eyes and groans quietly, not used to feeling so indecisive. When he opens his eyes again, he focuses on the display case filled with comics, and an idea springs to mind. Why not buy Liam the comic he was reading as an apology for ruining his afternoon? It would be perfect, he decides. He’s got more than enough money, and getting onto Liam’s good side is well worth whatever the price may be.

Invigorated, Zayn stands and goes out to speak to Vinny, feeling far more hopeful than he had been an hour before. Skipping work has never been more rewarding.

***

Liam is feeling very confused, for lack of a better word.

It had been months of consistent visits. Every Wednesday and Friday Zayn would arrive like clockwork to watch the show, and afterwards send a lilac and his card back with a new note written on his business card.

So Liam feels that he justified in being a bit concerned when the older man never turns up at the show a day after they ran into each other at Vinny’s.

Overall the encounter had been positive, or at least Liam had thought so. Zayn was almost inhumanly beautiful up close, radiating an aura of confidence and authority that called to Liam. He wasn’t overpowering though, very careful to give Liam his space, which is rare among the entitled upper class.

Admittedly, Liam was a bit aggressive with his accusation at the beginning, but Zayn had startled him, turning up unexpectedly in the one place Liam was sure he had all to himself. How they had missed each other for years, despite having Vinny’s in common, he isn’t sure. Fate works in mysterious ways, he thinks.

Liam had been embarrassingly close to asking Zayn out for coffee when they had been interrupted, and judging by the expression on Zayn’s face and the tone of his voice during the hushed conversation, he was extremely displeased. Still, it had given Liam the chance to escape and gather his thoughts.

All day Wednesday, he’d thought of what to say to Zayn, how to accept his number and graciously agree to give their relationship a chance. Zayn ran through his mind constantly, overtaking his thoughts, causing Liam to stare off into space multiple times in public for no reason. Christian was more than amused as they prepped for the show, teasing Liam for being smitten after exchanging a handful of words with the older man.

But he wasn’t in the crowd, not in his usual seat on the couch to the left of center stage, or anywhere else. Liam stalled a bit backstage regardless, hoping for a waitress to bring something back to him, but the gift never came.

When he got back to his apartment, he thought about dialing the number on the card, just to check and make sure Zayn was okay. He had groaned then, remembering and regretting the fact that he had thrown away every single card from the man before leaving the club. Nothing like not appreciating something until it’s gone, he sighs.

‘Maybe he isn’t interested anymore,’ Liam thinks forlornly, ‘maybe I ruined everything by being too rude, or boring.’ He considers calling Christian, and asking for advice, or maybe checking to see if he has Zayn’s number somehow. He’d never admitted to it, but Liam is pretty sure that Christian spoke to Zayn once in the club while Liam was busy elsewhere.

But Christian would have said something the night before, Liam knows, when he reassured Liam that Zayn probably just got stuck at work or something, and not to worry.

Liam buries his face in his hands, feeling off kilter, and slightly crazy. This was messing with his head, and sitting around was driving him mad.

‘Maybe I’ll go to Vinny’s.’ he thinks, before realization strikes him. “Vinny’s,” he mutters, scrambling to his feet. Zayn said he knows Vinny, and he obviously goes there all the time considering all the paintings he’s donated. Vinny probably knows how to get into contact with Zayn!

Liam shoves his feet into his boots and shrugs his coat on, locking his apartment before buttoning it up. The walk to Vinny’s feels like it takes forever, but Liam knows it’s probably only a few minutes.

The bell clangs as Liam throws the door open, startling Vinny.

“Liam, what on earth,” he splutters, taken aback by Liam’s frantic manner, no doubt.

“Hey Vinny, sorry ‘bout that,” Liam says sheepishly. “I was just wondering, um, well you know Zayn, the guy who does the paintings in the comic room?” Vinny nods his assent, looking at Liam like he’s grown a third eye, but Liam plows on.

“Well I need to get in touch with him and I’ve lost his number, and I was thinking that you might have it? It’s kind of important,” he rushes out, stumbling over his words.

“I see,” Vinny says slowly, studying Liam intently, and proceeding to crush Liam’s hope by saying, “I’m sorry Liam, but I don’t have any way to get ahold of Zayn. He comes here a lot, but he’s like you. He’s never left any kind of contact information for me or anything.”

Vinny looks apologetic, but Liam’s heart still drops at the words, and he’s sure his face falls too. “That’s alright,” he mumbles softly. “It was a long shot anyways.”

He’ll just have to wait for tomorrow night, he decides. Surely Zayn will show up.

“Thanks anyways, Vinny. Think I’m gonna head back home,” he motions towards the door, taking a couple steps before Vinny interrupts.

“Wait, Liam! I just remembered, I do have something for you,” Vinny looks focused, sorting through packages beneath his desk, before pulling out a slim item wrapped in brown paper and handing it across the desk. Liam accepts it, confusion written across his face.

“Who’s it from?” he asks, though he already has a pretty good idea. Vinny just winks, and tells him to take it home before he opens it.

Liam nods, thanking Vinny again, before tucking the package under his arm and heading back outside. He walks quickly once again, curious to see what’s inside this package. He’s almost positive it’s from Zayn. He’s been going to Vinny’s for years, and never once has anyone left him anything. Until now that is.

He throws the door to his apartment open, toeing off his boots absent-mindedly as he turns the package over in his hands. There’s nothing on the outside to suggest a sender.

Liam peels back the paper then, carefully of course, and lets out a startled gasp as he’s met with the sight of the cover of his favorite comic book. His hand flies up to cover his mouth, shock setting in because this comic book is worth a fortune.

He peels off the rest of the paper to reveal the whole cover, and as he does a white note appears and flutters to the ground. Liam stoops to scoop up the piece of paper, heart pounding as he unfolds it and is met with familiar, elegant handwriting. It reads,

“Liam,

You are even more lovely up close than I thought possible. Our conversation has been the highlight of my week. Please accept this gift as an apology for the interruption. Hopefully you are met with less distractions while reading at home. Please call me, darling.

Yours always, Zayn”

Liam groans then, because talk about cruel irony. Here he is, desperate to get in touch with Zayn for the first time in months, and it’s also the first time he’s had no access to his number. Why does the universe hate him?

He pulls out his phone, frazzled, and dials Christian, who answers on the second ring with a sleepy “Li?”

“Christian,” he moans, “he bought me a fucking comic book and he’s so hot and all I want to do is call him and I can’t.”

“Woah wait what?” Christian interrupts, half yawning, “your secret admirer slash the guy you panicked over last night? What comic book?”

“That’s the one,” Liam confirms sadly, setting the comic book down on his end table carefully. “He bought me the Batman one, from Vinny’s, the one that’s my favorite. It had to have cost him a ton. And he left me a note apologizing Christian. He said sorry for bothering me, and he called me lovely, and I’m having a fucking crisis.”

Liam flops down on the couch and throws an arm over his eyes. His stomach is in knots, emotions running wild. ‘This is why you’re single,’ he thinks to himself.

“I feel like such an idiot. I can’t believe I threw away all those notes and thought that I’d never want his number, and now he’s never gonna talk to me again.”

Christian hums thoughtfully. “He sounds interested at least, babe. I mean, if he sent you an expensive gift, he’s probably not over you, yeah? At the very least, you can just get his number tomorrow night.”

Liam mulls over his words, feeling a bit embarrassed by his overreaction. “And hey, if he’s loaded, maybe he’ll be your sugar daddy,” Christian adds, his voice mischievous and teasing, and Liam’s cheeks turn bright pink at the thought. He definitely wouldn’t be opposed to being Zayn’s baby, sugar or otherwise, but Christian doesn’t need to know that.

“Shuddup,” he groans, before whining out “I don’t want to wait a whole day and a half to talk to him.”

“Well are you sure you don’t have any of his cards lying around?” Christian asks exasperatedly.

“No, I told you, I threw them all –“ and Liam’s voice dies as a memory pops into his head, of himself tucking a card into his pocket before heading out to meet Christian. He’d never thrown it away, never took it out of the pocket of his jeans, and he scrambles up off the couch, stumbling towards his bedroom.

“… Away?” Christian finishes, yawning again. “I don’t know what to tell you then, Li. You’re just gonna have to wait.”

Liam fumbles through his laundry bin, digging through all his pockets and praying that he hadn’t accidentally washed the jeans with the card still in them. His fingers run into a sharp corner, and he yanks the card out, familiar handwriting staring him in the face. Liam whoops in triumph, holding the card over his head and doing a mini victory dance.

“Don’t tell me. You remembered you kept a card and just found it,” Christian deadpans in his ear. “Why do I feel like your mother sometimes? You can’t do anything unless you tell me you can’t, and then you magically find a solution out of nowhere?”

Liam giggles, joy coursing through his veins. “Sorry babe. You must just be good luck.”

Christian scoffs then, “yeah, yeah whatever. Good luck calling your lover boy. You woke me up, and I’m going back to bed.”

Liam glances at the clock. “It’s almost two in the afternoon though?” he questions, laughing when Christian groans loudly in his ear in protest. “Sorry, sorry, I still forget that you sleep at all hours of the day. Just call me when you’re awake, yeah? We can get dinner.”

“Sounds good Li,” he murmurs. “Talk to you soon.”

Liam hangs up, staring down at the card in his hand. The string of digits seems to smile up at him.

No time like the present, Liam decides, tapping in the number carefully and double checking before hitting send.

***

It’s just one of those days, the kind where literally everything goes wrong. Zayn thinks that he should’ve stayed in bed this morning.

He’d waited up late the night before, thinking that Liam may call after the show, but the hours ticked by, 2, 3, 4 in the morning, and his phone stayed silent. By the time he actually fell asleep, there was hardly a point.

He got dressed in a black Armani suit, and promptly spilled toothpaste all down the front of his jacket in his rush, so he had to change, dashing around like chicken with his head cut off.

The car he called to pick him up was late, and when Zayn got to the office he realized that he picked up the wrong files off the desk, and the ones he needs for the afternoon are still sitting in his office.

His assistant delivers a cup of awful tea, as usual, and Zayn manages to dribble some on an important document that he was meant to be signing and sending to a contractor later in the afternoon.

The meeting he skipped on Tuesday had been rescheduled for today, but for some reason Zayn had thought it was at 10:30, when in actuality it started at 10, and his assistant was out retrieving the documents from his apartment, so he didn’t get his customary reminder. The head of marketing called in a huff seven minutes after 10 to ask if Zayn was planning to show up. Zayn’s presence in the meeting was merely a formality, and Zayn was bored out of his brain for the entirety.

Everyone and their mother seemed to need to talk to Zayn for no apparent reason as well. He’d already gotten a call from nearly every department head about minor complaints that Zayn never handles himself. Griff popped in for lunch, having picked up Zayn’s order from the cafeteria. Because life hates him, of course, he unwrapped what should have been a turkey club to find a BLT.

His stomach rumbles unhappily, reminding Zayn that he still hasn’t eaten anything today, but he also doesn’t have time to call the cafeteria or send someone out for something, seeing as he has a meeting in 20 minutes. He digs around in his desk, looking for a granola bar and making a triumphant noise as he drags one out from beneath a stack of old files.

Zayn unwraps it quickly, getting ready to take a bite, and then his phone rings. Zayn’s fingers go white where they grab the edge of his desk, frustration screaming through his blood.

“Can I have five fucking minutes of peace?” he mutters, pushing aside papers until he locates the offending phone near the edge of his desk.

“What,” Zayn snaps into the phone, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose as he closes his eyes, and he’s met with a sharp inhale on the other end of the line.

“Sorry, is this a bad time?” a quiet voice whispers, and Zayn wants to die.

“Liam?” he asks, bewildered, because Liam could have called months ago, or yesterday, or the day before, and this is definitely not when he was expecting to hear from the younger man.

“ ‘m sorry, I didn’t even think, you’re probably at work and now I’m bothering you,” Liam mumbles, and Zayn can hear the distress in Liam’s voice, a vulnerable tone that Zayn wants to erase.

“Not bothering me babe,” Zayn soothes quickly, his voice dropping low and gentle. “Just didn’t expect to hear from you, ‘s all. But ‘m happy you called. Like, you have no idea.”

And he’s telling the truth. Zayn’s heart is in his throat, his stomach rolling for an entirely different reason, as excitement courses through his veins. Liam is calling, which means he’s interested, or at the very least he’s not completely put off by Zayn.

Liam stays silent for a second, and Zayn listens to his quiet breathing patiently, almost missing when the boy quietly asks, “Really?” insecurity shining through, as if he can’t believe that Zayn actually wants to talk to him, despite the months Zayn spent trying to get his attention.

“Yes, really,” Zayn chuckles. “I’ve been wanting to hear from you for months, remember? ‘s why I kept sending you my number. Didn’t you notice?” he teases, and Liam giggles softly, smiles evident in his voice as he responds, “kinda made it hard to ignore you.”

“That was the point, babe,” Zayn answers, fondness creeping in at the sound of Liam’s little attitude. Liam stays quiet again for a few seconds, and Zayn is so, so tempted to cancel his meetings and ask Liam to meet him somewhere, desperate to see the boy all of the sudden, to see the flush in his cheeks and the spark in his eyes.

“But,” Liam begins, and Zayn’s heart drops a bit, bracing for rejection, or ‘I have a boyfriend’, but is surprised when Liam softly asks, “if you wanted me to call, why didn’t you come see me last night?”

Zayn lets out a relieved laugh, explaining “I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. Wasn’t sure what the boundaries were after we spoke and everything.”

Zayn reaches up to rub at his beard, adding, “Plus I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea about why I kept coming to the club. Like, don’t get me wrong, you’re stunning and I could watch you dance all the time, but –“ he pauses, choosing his words carefully, “I wanted to make sure you didn’t think that’s all I want you for, yeah?”

Liam is quiet for a long time, so long that Zayn actually checks to see if they’ve disconnected, before mumbling, “I understand. Missed you though. It’s more fun with you there,” and Zayn is sure he’s going to combust before he ever touches this boy in the way he wants.

“I wanted to be there,” Zayn promises, “won’t miss the next one.” His office phone beeps then, and Zayn glances at the clock, heart sinking as he sees that his meeting starts in five minutes.

“Liam, I have to go. Got a meeting I can’t miss, but I can call you back later tonight, if you want?” he offers.

“I’d like that,” Liam says softly, and Zayn is ready to say goodbye when Liam blurts out, “Wait, Zayn?”

Zayn hums in response, grabbing his briefcase and heading for the door.

“I actually only called to say thanks, for the comic book from Vinny’s,” Liam explains, “you didn’t need to buy me anything, especially not something so expensive.”

Zayn smiles into the phone as he presses the button for the elevator “you’re worth it, darling. I wanted you to have it, yeah? Do you like it?”

“I love it,” Liam whispers abashedly, as if he’s ashamed that he is enjoying the gift, “ ‘s my favorite comic book.”

“I know,” Zayn says gently, stepping into the elevator and punching in the button for the floor that holds all of the conference rooms, “that’s why I made sure to get it for you. I’ve really gotta now babe, but maybe later we can talk about what’s so special about that edition specifically yeah?”

Liam murmurs in agreement, and they say their goodbyes just as the elevator doors slide open to the correct floor. Zayn pockets his phone, smoothing a hand down the front of his jacket, slipping easily into the confident aura that makes him successful, but his smile is far more genuine than usual today when he greets the room, all thanks to Liam.

***

It starts out slowly, Liam thinks. Their conversations grow more frequent, first a few times a week, and then every day, and then multiple times a day whenever one of them gets the urge to talk. Liam is completely charmed by Zayn, and he becomes more intrigued as the older man opens up to him bit by bit. He’s quirky, well refined and extremely intelligent, but not in a way that grates on Liam’s nerves and brings out feelings of inferiority. Zayn is careful to make sure Liam is comfortable and happy, never pushing him into topics that make him uneasy.

But as fulfilling as the conversations are, as much as he loves hearing about Zayn’s day and his life in general, Liam wants more. There’s always been this itch under Liam’s skin, a burning almost, nagging him to get closer to Zayn, to spend more time with him, to stay as close to the older man as he’d allow.

And part of that, Liam knows, stems from his own insecurities, the feelings of inadequacy that have ruled his life and dictated his actions for too long. A desperation to grab Zayn and hold on for dear life, because there’s no telling when he’ll move on and decide Liam is no longer worth his time and affection.

Fear aside though, Liam is confident in himself in one way: his appearance. He works hard to maintain a body fit enough to attract a hefty tip each night at the club, and Zayn is clearly appreciative of his efforts.

It’s only a matter of time, he thinks, until Zayn gets bored of his odd sense of humor and tendency to bounce all over the walls when he gets happy, but if Liam can get Zayn addicted to him in other ways, that shouldn’t be an issue. With that in mind, Liam resolves to get things moving along as quickly as possible.

He starts hinting around a bit. Nothing too extreme, of course, because Liam isn’t desperate, just small comments here and there that imply meeting up outside of the club. Zayn isn’t as quick to respond as Liam would like, but he is quick to reassure Liam that he does want to spend time with Liam, just not too quickly. Eventually, about a month after their first conversation, Liam is successful.

Zayn calls him on a Saturday afternoon and invites him over, into a massive house with too many rooms and not enough people, but Liam likes it all the same. It’s modern, a bit bare, but there are still hints of Zayn in every room; a book of poems that Zayn reads when he can’t sleep tucked onto the end table by his couch, pictures of Zayn and girls that must be his sisters judging by the resemblance, the cheap wooden stool scooted up to the breakfast bar because “eating at the dining room table alone is pretentious and unnecessary, Liam”, glasses full of water tainted with paint that Zayn abandons in various places when he gets distracted on the way to rinse them out.

Zayn leads him into a cozy den in the center of the house. It’s lined with dark leather couches and two recliners that Zayn explains are for his parents when they visit, and a large screen takes up almost an entire wall. To the side is a small compact cupboard with glass doors, filled to the brim with movie cases.

“Wanna watch something?” Zayn offers, gesturing lazily to the TV, and Liam shrugs, because truth be told, he doesn’t want any distractions from the man in front of him, but he also doesn’t want to be too demanding.

Zayn takes his silence as a lack of interest, but he doesn’t seem annoyed as he reaches out to wrap his long fingers around Liam’s wrist, pulling him towards the largest couch. Liam sits first, and Zayn takes a seat beside him, close enough that Liam can feel the heat radiating off of his thigh, but not close enough to touch.

Zayn tucks a leg under himself, turning into Liam slightly, and Liam blushes as the older man examines him thoughtfully. His gaze is intense, but not unwelcome; rather, Liam feels like preening at the look of admiration in Zayn’s eyes.

He takes the opportunity to study Zayn as well. Zayn is ridiculously beautiful, even more so up close, almost to the point that Liam isn’t sure if Zayn is actually a human or some kind of other-worldly being.

Zayn has coal black hair, thick and tousled like he’s been running his fingers through it. His eyes are hazel, speckled with flecks of green and gold that catch the light, and a tiny freckle rests to the side of the pupil in his left eye. His lashes are long and curled up, fanning across his high cheekbones when he blinks. His mouth is luscious, lips pouty and smooth, surrounded by a thick, full beard that frames his jaw line and somehow makes him sharp and soft all at once.

Zayn quirks an eyebrow, a small smirk gracing his lips, and Liam blushes as he realizes that he’s been staring. He turns away to look around the room, and then startles when he feels a gentle touch, looking down to see Zayn’s fingers teasing across the top of his hand.

Liam turns his hand over, offering it up to Zayn’s affections, and he smiles approvingly, tugging Liam’s hand into his lap and tracing a finger across the lines on his palm, outlining each finger gently and then moving up to his wrist, tucking a finger beneath the sweater Liam is wearing to press at his pulse. Liam hopes he can’t feel how fast his heart is beating, how worked up a simple touch has made him.

The silence isn’t uncomfortable, but Liam is still buzzing with the need to get closer, to capture Zayn’s attention and never let him go, and it makes him restless. He fidgets back and forth, edging closer to Zayn’s side, pleased when the older man doesn’t move away. His eyes fixate on the ink he can see peeking out from beneath the loose collar of Zayn’s sweater, reaching out with his free hand hesitantly.

“I like your tattoos,” he mumbles, tracing careful fingers along the wings, and outlining the top lip at the top of his sternum. Zayn hums, the vibrations tickling Liam’s fingertips where they rest on the older man’s chest.

Its wild how he feels, here with Zayn, almost like a child who has spent months looking at toy ads in the paper only to be turned loose in a toy store, able to touch all he wants, but unsure where to even start. Diving in is so tempting, and Liam wants to rush, just in case this is some kind of dream that he may wake up from tomorrow.

Zayn releases his hand, nudging his fingers up underneath Liam’s chin to tickle at his throat, heat coursing through Liam at the touch. “Thank you, baby,” he murmurs, the pet name sending a thrill through his veins. Liam holds perfectly still as Zayn looks at him, considering, eyes flicking down to Liam’s lips. He can be good, so good for Zayn, just needs to show it.

Zayn doesn’t kiss him though, doesn’t lean in despite the chanting in Liam’s head that screams for it. He just smiles, wiggling his fingers slightly before letting his hand drop into his own lap, and Liam feels like a marionette whose strings were just cut.

He scoots closer then, silently pleading for more contact with a tiny pout, and Zayn acquiesces easily, wrapping an arm around Liam’s shoulders so he can tuck his face into Zayn’s neck. Zayn chuckles, chest shaking where Liam’s cheek is pressed.

“Feeling a bit needy today?” Zayn teases, and Liam is sure that if he looked, his eyes would be bright and playful, Zayn’s arm wrapping even tighter to give Liam a reassuring squeeze.

Liam huffs, but doesn’t deny it. “Just like being close to you, ‘s all,” he whispers, burrowing even closer, and if it was possible, Liam thinks he’d just crawl inside Zayn’s chest.

“Nothing wrong with that, babe,” Zayn soothes, his voice slightly apologetic. “If I’d have known, I would’ve invited you over sooner.”

Liam wants to believe him, too, but Zayn had passed on plenty of opportunities to meet with Liam, both in public and private settings. He’d said he wanted to wait until they knew each other a bit better, and Liam had said “I want to get to know you too, just not in the way you’re thinking” causing the older man to burst out laughing. Nothing had come of it though.

“Why don’t we put on a movie,” Zayn suggests softly, “and we can lay down and cuddle for while? If you get any closer you’ll knock me over or be in my lap.” And Liam wouldn’t be opposed to curling up in his lap, but that might be a bit too much too fast.

“ ‘s good with me,” Liam agrees, thinking for a second before asking, “Do you have Iron Man?”

Zayn pulls Liam out from his hiding place under his chin, looking at him with an ‘are you serious’ expression and chuckling, “What kind of man would I be if I didn’t?” He climbs to his feet, and Liam feels overly cold without Zayn’s warmth beside him.

Zayn shuffles through his collection of movies, pulling out Iron Man and getting the TV set up, before turning back to Liam. “ ‘m gonna grab something to drink from the kitchen, want anything?”

“Not now, thanks though,” he murmurs, and Zayn shrugs before padding out of the room, leaving Liam to his thoughts.

The room feels larger and colder without Zayn to put Liam at ease, and he finds himself shifting restlessly. Energy thrums through his veins, from being close to Zayn, being in his personal space and being promised even more affection.

The real question is how far Zayn will let him take it, Liam thinks. The older man has acted oddly whenever Liam brings up anything remotely sexual, usually deflecting or blatantly ignoring Liam’s advances, but not to the point that Liam doesn’t think he’s interested. No, he just needs a little shove, a nudge in the right direction, and that’s what tonight is for.

All Liam has to do is please Zayn, show him how obedient Liam can be, and Zayn won’t be able to resist him. And Liam knows he’s rushing a bit, trying to climb into bed too quickly, but there’s an urgency inside him, telling him to do whatever it takes to keep the other man coming back for more. In reality, apart from stripping for a living, Liam is pretty sure he’s not all that interesting, and Zayn is going to get tired of Liam if he doesn’t move things along. He’s nothing special, not like Zayn himself.

His thoughts are interrupted by a soft caress to the back of his neck, Zayn’s hand running through the curls at the top of his spine. “You seem focused,” he notes, quietly, holding out a bottle of beer. “Got you one just in case.”

Liam accepts the beer with a bright smile, grimacing internally though, because he’s really not supposed to drink. He hasn’t told Zayn about his kidney, how the doctors told him it was somehow regenerating slowly despite all odds but that he still shouldn’t ingest alcohol as it can stunt the healing process. He debates internally, as Zayn plops down beside him, taking a big gulp.

Liam watches, shrinking slightly, before taking a sip himself, praying his face doesn’t give away his disgust or the bit of panic he’s feeling. What are the chances that Zayn will still be interested in Liam after he finds out that Liam can’t even party like a normal person, he wonders. Pretty small, he thinks, resigning himself to some discomfort as he takes another, slightly larger drink.

The movie starts, and Zayn rests his bottle in between his thighs for a second to clap twice, the lights in the den lowering as he does. Liam is kind of impressed.

“Fancy,” he teases, and Zayn rolls his eyes, taking another drink before responding, “Yeah, it’s super cool, unless you invite your family over and they have a tendency to applaud reality show contestants like mine do. It was like someone installed a strobe light. And then I caught my sisters in here at four in the morning playing songs and trying to get the lights to turn on and off to the beat.”

Liam bursts out laughing, and Zayn glares at him, grumbling, “it’s not funny, fuck off.”

“Aw,” Liam prods, “did the poor old rich man’s gadget backfire?” causing Zayn to flip him off with a pout. Liam giggles, pulling his legs up onto the couch and curling into Zayn’s side, thankful when the other man wraps an arm around his shoulders. They watch the movie in silence for a few minutes, Zayn finishing his beer quickly as Liam soaks in the warmth that seems to radiate off of Zayn.

“Hey,” Zayn murmurs, and Liam hums in response, “when you finish your drink we can lay down, yeah? It’ll be more comfortable.” Liam freezes then, before tipping the bottle up and letting a large drink slide down his throat. ‘It’ll be fine,’ he thinks, trying to convince himself, as he gulps down the rest of the bottle, despite the instinct in him that screams for him to stop.

Zayn looks satisfied when Liam hands over the empty bottle though, setting it beside his own on the end table, and that makes it almost okay.

Zayn shifts to pause the movie, and Liam sits up, releasing the arm he had trapped between his back and the couch. “Stand up for a second,” Zayn instructs, and Liam obeys as Zayn grabs one of the pillows resting under the end table and props it against the armrest.

Zayn lays down then, flat on his back and opens his arms in invitation. Liam scrambles to join him, clambering across Zayn’s body to tuck himself between Zayn and the back of the couch, his head pillowed on Zayn’s chest as Zayn’s arms close around him, holding him tightly.

“Good?” he murmurs, and Liam nods, feeling ridiculously content. Zayn starts the movie back up and Liam snuggles closer, inhaling deeply. Zayn smells just like his handkerchief did, cinnamon, vanilla and smoke, with a hint of spice underneath that Liam thinks must be something uniquely Zayn.

Zayn cards his fingers through Liam’s hair, fingers catching on tangles in his waves and gently working them out. Liam groans softly, and Zayn laughs fondly, his body shaking which disrupts Liam’s pillow. Liam pouts, his free arm up to rest on Zayn’s chest, pressing to hold him down and mumbling “stay still please.”

Zayn laughs again, before murmuring, “anything for you, baby,” then goes quiet, Liam’s eyes drooping as Zayn continues his ministrations. He’s not sure why he feels so tired all of the sudden, but Liam decides that it’s probably not a great time to take a nap. His body must disagree though, because the next thing he knows, he’s waking up to the credits rolling, Zayn engrossed in a game of Candy Crush on his phone with his free hand.

Liam stirs, shifting and drawing Zayn’s attention away from his game. Zayn smiles down at Liam softly, hand brushing the loose hair off of Liam’s forehead. Liam hums, because the heat of Zayn’s hand feels really good. Liam turns further into Zayn, nuzzling gently before placing a small string of kisses along his chest.

Zayn’s hand pauses, and he sounds amused when he asks, “Liam? Whatcha doing?"

“Smells nice,” he mutters, wiggling up Zayn’s body until his head is tucked firmly under Zayn’s chin, and then he flips on his stomach, effectively placing himself mostly top of the older man. Zayn giggles softly, and that’s not what Liam wants at all. Zayn shouldn’t be laughing, not when Liam wants to touch him, and be touched by him.

He’ll just have to show him, and with that in mind Liam grinds down intently, tilting his head up to press his lips to the smooth skin at the base of Zayn’s neck. It seems to work too, because Zayn stops laughing instantly, and instead lets out a wounded groan from the pressure.

“Liam?” he asks again, his voice more insistent and it irritates Liam because, duh, he’s right here. He ignores Zayn, continuing to circle his hips slowly, grinding himself into Zayn’s hip.

Zayn shifts then, slipping out from under Liam and kneeling beside the couch to study Liam. He opens his eyes to peer at Zayn as he asks, “What’s gotten into you?”

Liam shrugs, lazily. “You smell good, just wanted to make you feel good,” he mumbles, his words slurring a tad and his eyes are half-lidded as Zayn’s eyes go wide.

“Liam, are you drunk?” he demands, hand tapping at Liam’s cheek insistently to get him to focus, which is just annoying to be honest.

Liam giggles anyways though, because Zayn’s beard makes his cheeks look puffy like a chipmunk. A really attractive chipmunk.

“I like chipmunks,” he answers sagely, watching Zayn’s face shift through a lot of emotions that Liam’s brain can’t decipher before he facepalms.

“Oh my god,” Zayn moans, a bit frantic, which isn’t good. That isn’t what Liam wants at all. “I can’t believe this is happening. I only gave you one beer, how did you get drunk off of that?”

Liam feels sick, because Zayn sounds very upset with him, and the last thing Liam wanted to do was make Zayn upset. His mind processes Zayn’s question slowly, but he’s going to answer as best he can. Zayn needs to be happy, he thinks. If Zayn isn’t happy, he won’t keep you around.

“Ma kidney is broke,” Liam offers, hoping that will be enough of an explanation. Maybe then Zayn will come back over and let Liam finish what he started.

But Zayn doesn’t seem too happy, he actually looks more frustrated, and Liam shrinks away, trying to curl in on himself to hide. “ ‘m sorry,” he whispers softly, not sure what to do. Zayn stops him though, with a gentle hand that cups his cheek before sliding down under his chin.

“ ‘m not mad, baby, just worried about you, yeah?” Zayn explains softly. “How do you feel?”

Not mad. That’s good, so Liam smiles. Worried though, which isn’t good. Zayn doesn’t need to have to worry about him.

“I feel funny,” Liam tells Zayn somberly, because maybe Zayn will be able to stop the nervous flutter in his stomach.

“I’m sure you do,” Zayn soothes, his face soft and kind. Liam likes his face, and tells him so. Zayn lets out a laugh.

“Thanks, Li,” and Liam can hear the smile in his voice, and see it too! What a crazy world, he thinks. “Hey, how about we sit up and go to bed?” Zayn suggests, and Liam’s head turns into static for a minute, because fuck yes that’s exactly what he wants.

Liam nods, smiling widely, and then pushes up off of the couch, sitting a bit lopsided, but still upright. He tries to stand, but for some reason his legs aren’t cooperating. He pouts down at them, but they aren’t going to listen, so he reaches out and makes grabby hands for Zayn.

“Carry me?” he pleads, eyes wide, and Zayn shakes his head before bending to haul Liam forward, hands under Liam’s thighs until he wraps his legs around Zayn’s slim waist. This is more like it, Liam thinks, arms wrapping around Zayn’s neck. The room starts to spin as Zayn takes a few steps, so Liam buries his face in Zayn’s shoulder.

Liam isn’t sure how long they walk for, or how far they’ve gone, but eventually Zayn leans over, Liam clinging to him like a koala until he feels a surface beneath him and drops onto a bed.

“Wait there,” Zayn commands, disappear for a minute before returning with a glass in his hand. “Gotta drink this, babe,” Zayn says, sliding a hand under Liam’s neck to prop his head up and holding the glass up to his lips. Liam can listen, he’s a great listener, and he shows Zayn by drinking the whole glass.

Zayn sticks a pillow under his head, and Liam isn’t entirely sure why he’s still alone in the bed. He tries to ask, but he’s feeling a bit tired again. Maybe he’ll just close his eyes for a second and then ask, he thinks, drifting off almost instantly as Zayn tugs up the sheets to cover him up.

***

Zayn is in over his head. It’s been a couple months of this strange dance they are doing, Liam overly physical but painfully insecure at the same time, with Zayn acting as a buffer to stop Liam from agreeing to anything he isn’t actually comfortable with. As a result, they are taking things even slower than Zayn initially planned, but it’s definitely necessary, he thinks.

After the first night they spent together, Zayn knew he had his hands full with the younger man. Liam had curled up against him, soft and pliant, so eager to please, and had promptly passed out ten minutes into the movie. It didn’t bother Zayn, he was more than happy getting a chance to study Liam without time constraints.

Liam had woken up on his own, and Zayn was ready to offer him dinner when the younger boy started grinding on his hip, lips trailing hotly across Zayn’s chest. Liam is a horny drunk apparently, which may have been interesting information for the future, if Liam didn’t run the risk of dying from alcohol toxicity or kidney failure by getting drunk.

Liam had been so upset the next morning, ashamed and degrading himself despite Zayn’s reassurances that he rarely gets drunk, and Liam doesn’t need to be able to drink, and it won’t affect anything between them. Liam had curled in on himself, huddling in the corner and watching his toes like a kicked puppy until Zayn pinned him up against the kitchen counter and pressed the words into his skin with his fingers.

Liam glowed after that, laughing softly and singing along to the playlist Zayn put on when he started cooking, smiling so wide that his eyes crinkled into slits when Zayn nudged fingers under his chin and wiped away toast crumbs. (And they really need to talk about Liam agreeing to something that was physically unsafe for him, all because he thought that’s what Zayn wanted, but Zayn doesn’t want to do anything to ruin how happy Liam is when they are together.)

They’ve started spending more time together in person, and Zayn is more and more convinced that Liam is one of the most amazing people he’s ever met.

Liam is a confusing combination of hard and soft, hard when he’s putting on a front in the club for the audience, and soft when he’s alone with Zayn, giving him a private show minus the stripping because Zayn complimented the way his hips move. He’s lethargic at times, sprawling across Zayn or crawling into his lap and whining when Zayn makes him move. Other times, he bounces off the walls, fidgeting, playing with Zayn’s fingers and shifting every five seconds during a movie until Zayn stills him with a firm hand.

He’s loud when they’re alone, laughing, spewing out ideas and stories, humming along to the radio, but he’s reserved in public, choosing his words carefully when he’s speaking to Griff in Zayn’s office one day during lunch.

One of the most confusing things about Liam, though, is the way he constantly shifts between doing what he wants to do, and doing what he thinks Zayn wants him to do. He notices it gradually, watching as Liam minimizes parts of himself to squeeze himself into a box that he’s labeled “Zayn’s Ideal Partner” in his own head.

Liam insists on paying for himself when they go out to coffee, pouting at Zayn until he lets the younger boy hand over a few bills for his own drink, but he blushes, whispering his thanks as Zayn buys him a fluffy white sweater that he liked from the mall.

He goes through periods where he’s less affectionate, less reliant on Zayn for physical contact, where Zayn can literally see Liam deny himself just in case Zayn thinks he’s too clingy (and truth be told, Liam isn’t clingy enough for Zayn. He’d surgically attach the younger man to his hip if he could, just to keep him in reach.)

He’s overly submissive in the bedroom too, when Zayn finally admits they know each other well enough to take things further. Liam had been so excited, his face lighting up as he drug Zayn up from the couch where they had been alternating between watching TV and snogging, leading Zayn through his house to the master bedroom.

It had been like someone flipped a switch then, all the personality draining out of Liam as he laid back on Zayn’s sheets and just waited for Zayn to do whatever he wanted with Liam’s body. Zayn hadn’t commented then either, not wanting to make Liam self-conscious, but he was careful as he spread himself across the younger boy, kissing his cheeks, lips, neck, until Liam relaxed enough to forget himself, rolling his hips up against Zayn and gasping sweetly when he came.

Zayn is determined to rid Liam of his insecurity, to help Liam see himself as Zayn sees him: beautiful, unique, and invaluable to Zayn.

It’ll be a slow process, he thinks, because Liam will shut down if Zayn brings it up directly, denying it even if they both know it’s true. So instead, Zayn is just going to show Liam that he’s allowed to act like himself, and that Zayn will still be here when he does.

***

Liam squirms in the seat across from Zayn, leg knocking into Zayn’s as he readjusts for the tenth time in as many minutes, looking around the restaurant and thumbing absent-mindedly at the cuff of his sleeve.

Zayn clears his throat pointedly, raising an eyebrow in Liam’s direction and watching as the younger man flushes under his inquisitive gaze.

“You haven’t eaten much, babe,” he comments faux-casually, and Liam shrugs, looking down at his pasta with barely concealed disdain.

“ ‘m not hungry,” he announces, eyes fixed on the table in front of Zayn.

Zayn frowns, unsure if Liam really isn’t hungry, or if he doesn’t like the food, or if there’s something even deeper going on. He drops his own fork to reach across the table and snag Liam’s left hand, rubbing a thumb across the back of it as he draws Liam’s attention.

“What’s going on?” he asks softly, and Liam’s eyes go wide as they snap up to look at Zayn. “Do you not like your pasta?”

Liam shakes his head quickly, rushing to say “no, no, it’s good, really. Thank you.”

“Then why aren’t you eating?” Zayn presses, not wanting to make Liam uncomfortable, but something is wrong, he can tell.

Liam drops his head, mumbling something too soft for Zayn’s ears.

“Can’t hear you, babe” Zayn says gently, and Liam repeats himself slightly louder. “I don’t really fit in here, I don’t think.”

Zayn feels guilty then, because Liam had stopped him when they pulled up, whispering urgently about being underdressed for the fancy restaurant Zayn surprised him with. And he mentioned when they first sat down that he was used to plainer things in life, and Zayn had just laughed. Fuck.

“Liam, sweetheart,” Zayn murmurs, “I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. We can go, yeah?”

Liam looks frantic then, blurting out “wait no, it’s fine, ‘m just being dumb” and smiling unconvincingly before shoveling in a bite of pasta far too large for his mouth.

Zayn fixes him with a hard stare, and Liam shrinks slightly as he chews, cheeks puffing out, and if Zayn wasn’t frustrated he would be smiling at how adorable Liam looks.

“Liam,” he says firmly when the younger man swallows his food, “I need you to tell me the truth. Do you want to leave?”

Zayn watches as Liam has an internal debate, no doubt, before nodding sheepishly. Zayn nods in return, a wry smile on his face as he raises a hand to call for the waiter.

He helps Liam into his coat and guides him out of the restaurant with a gentle possessive hand on his lower back, tucking him into the passenger seat of his car and striding around to get behind the wheel.

Liam reaches for his hand instantly, squeezing as Zayn starts the car and rolls into the street, Zayn squeezes back with a fond smile on his lips.

“You know,” he starts, Liam tensing at the sound of his voice, “you don’t have to lie to me when you don’t like something. I’m not testing you or anything. Just want you to be yourself, and to be happy with me.” Zayn hopes Liam can hear the sincerity in his voice.

Liam doesn’t respond for a very long time, just clutches at Zayn’s hand and looks out the window quietly until they are almost back to Zayn’s house.

“I am happy with you,” he whispers softly, “but what happens when you get tired of me being myself?”

Zayn’s heart clenches in his chest but doesn’t respond until he parks the car, turning in his seat to give Liam his full attention. He nudges his fingers up under Liam’s chin, drawing the younger man’s gaze up from his lap so Zayn can look him in the eyes as he promises, “ ‘m not gonna get tired of you. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I’m not about to give you up just because you don’t like the restaurants I pick.”

Liam flushes and bites his lip, but holds Zayn’s gaze, eyes bright. His jaw is lined with a bit of stubble, golden against his skin, and his hair is arranged carefully in a quiff to stop it from falling in his eyes. He’s beautiful, and Zayn wants to keep him forever.

“I need you to start telling me right away when you don’t like something,” Zayn insists, cupping Liam’s jaw to stroke a thumb along his cheek. “Doesn’t matter what it is, I just need you to talk to me, yeah?”

Liam closes his eyes, leaning into Zayn’s touch and breathing softly out of his mouth, his lips pink and plush, and very tempting. Zayn’s gaze fixes on them, and he almost misses as Liam replies, “All the time? Even in bed?” flicking his eyes open to reveal his hesitancy.

“Especially in bed,” Zayn murmurs lowly, eyes going dark at Liam’s tone.

Liam looks at Zayn, considering, before slowly nodding his acceptance, a devilish look in his eye and a smirk on his face. “Can we practice, then?” he asks mischievously, popping open his door and sliding out of the car, and Zayn is so, so fucked, choking out a short “yes” and scrambling out of the car to follow Liam into the house.

***

Liam loves Zayn’s bedroom. He loves the high ceilings and hardwood floors, and the soft rugs that Zayn bought for Liam when he complained of cold feet in the morning. He loves the massive plush bed with expensive sheets and a checked comforter, loves how it feels underneath him when he’s under Zayn. He loves the sliding doors that lead out to a balcony overlooking the pool, and he loves the chair that Zayn bought for him so he could sit out and catch some sun in the afternoon before it gets too cold as the sun goes down.

He loves it all, but he especially loves the left nightstand, the one that holds a charger for his phone and a bottle of water in case he gets thirsty at night. The bottom two drawers are filled with clothes, some that he’s left behind over the past few months and some that Zayn has bought for him for nights that he stays over. The left nightstand tells Liam that there’s a place for him, in Zayn’s life, in Zayn’s house, in Zayn’s head, tells him that this thing between them might actually have a chance at being permanent.

Zayn laughs softly as Liam expresses his affection for the room as they stand in the doorway, murmuring in Liam’s ear that he loves his bedroom too, or at least he does when Liam’s in it, crowding up behind Liam to wrap his arms around the younger man, and trailing his lips beneath Liam’s ear.

Liam giggles breathlessly, pressing back into Zayn’s chest and rolling his hips slightly. The older man knows just how to work Liam, to touch him and move his body to get him beside himself with arousal.

Zayn presses forward, guiding Liam towards the bed with his body, hands slipping up underneath the sweater Liam is wearing (one that Liam stole from Zayn’s closet earlier when he came over, having spent the night at his own apartment after his show) to drag his fingers across Liam’s stomach.

“What do you want, baby?” he murmurs hotly, Liam shivering at the dominance in his voice. “Whatever you want,” he whines, desperation obvious, and Liam feels like he’s going to cry if Zayn doesn’t get his hands on him.

Zayn had teased him all the way through lunch, rubbing up against Liam before backing away out of reach, kissing Liam deeply and then bringing up some mundane subject before Liam could drag him to bed, and he knew exactly what he was doing, smirking like the devil he is. “Patience, babe,” he’d said, amusement coloring his tone, “ ‘m still eating my sandwich and you don’t want to be rude, do you?” before grabbing Liam’s thigh with one hand, the heat of it searing through Liam’s jeans.

Liam had sat still, though, because Zayn was right, he didn’t want to be rude. Instead he just endured the torturous pleasure while Zayn took his sweet time finishing. As soon as he was done, though, Liam jumped him, straddling Zayn in his seat and grinding down filthy, bending to kiss hotly at Zayn’s jaw.

Zayn had let Liam continue for a while, hands gripping his hips tightly and a groan escaping his lips, until he tangled a hand in Liam’s hair to tug him away from Zayn’s neck.

“ ‘m gonna let you choose, yeah,” Zayn had said quietly, and Liam’s full attention was on him then.

“You can keep going, just like this,” he emphasized the words by rolling his hips up to meet Liam’s, “and make yourself come, but ‘m not gonna touch you,” Liam whined unhappily, pouting down at Zayn from his perch as he continued, “or, you can stop, we’ll clean up this mess, and then I’ll take you upstairs to bed. Your choice.”

It was a no brainer for Liam, but it still took a lot of self-control to remove himself from Zayn’s lap. Liam felt like a mess, like he’d already come, almost, as they cleared the table, but Zayn looked as put together as always, which made a thrill run through Liam’s body. If Zayn could wreck him with a few touches and a couple sentences, what would he be able to do when wrecking Liam was his intention?

‘Guess I’ll find out,’ Liam thinks, spinning in Zayn’s arms to face the older man, praying that he’ll take pity and do something before Liam loses his mind.

Zayn slides a hand up to cup the back of Liam’s head, fingers tangling in his hair and he pulls ever so slightly, sending a shot of heat to pool in Liam’s navel. His eyes slide closed as Zayn leans in to claim his mouth in a searing kiss, licking into Liam’s mouth, possessiveness shining through.

Liam doesn’t even realize they are still moving until the back of his knees hit the bed, and Zayn eases him down gently, crawling on top of Liam to press their lips together again.

“I think,” Zayn mumbles against Liam’s lips, pulling back to stare down at Liam, lust in his eyes, “that I want to watch you fall apart.”

And Liam shudders at the tone, the promise behind his words. Liam has no doubt that he’ll fall apart beneath Zayn’s skilled hands, and he’ll love every second of it. He grinds his hips up against Liam then, moaning softly and then whining in displeasure as Zayn lifts himself up and off of Liam.

He slides down the bed, pulling off his shirt and then reaching for Liam’s, tugging the material away and reaching down to unbutton his jeans. “Lift,” he commands, and Liam does, allowing Zayn to strip him down to his boxers.

Zayn smirks up at Liam then, nudging apart Liam’s legs and settling between them like it’s where he belongs, like he owns that space. “So pretty, babe,” he praises, and Liam flushes and squirms, causing Zayn to settle him with hot hands on his thighs.

“ ‘m gonna suck you off, yeah,” Zayn says casually, as if he’s talking about the weather and not turning Liam into a puddle of arousal, “and I want you to talk to me while I do. We’re gonna practice communicating.”

Liam whimpers as Zayn leans down to place a feather-light kiss against his clothed cock, eyes snapping shut at the visual, lest the night ends before it begins. Zayn chuckles, fully aware of his affect over Liam no doubt, because the older man always seems to be one step ahead of Liam.

“Hold still and breathe, baby,” Zayn whispers, sounding amused, but he clearly doesn’t want Liam to breathe, or he wouldn’t be nuzzling against Liam’s dick, hot breath making Liam twitch beneath his boxers. Zayn rubs a finger under the hem of Liam’s boxers and startles Liam, who can’t help but shove his hips into Zayn’s face.

The older man draws back, hands sliding to Liam’s hips to hold him down, reprimanding him with a quiet “naughty” that makes Liam want to shrink. He can be good, he can be so good, but it’s just hard when Zayn makes it his mission to unravel Liam with his fingers and his lips. For a second he’s afraid that Zayn might just leave him there to take care of himself, but Zayn squashes that fear by leaning in and licking a long stripe against his dick. He earns himself a sharp squeeze as his hips jump again, even though don’t actually move because Zayn is holding him down.

“I know it’s hard,” Zayn mumbles, pausing to press an open mouthed kiss to the clothed head, “but I need you to be good for me. And I’ll make it good for you.”

“ ‘m trying,” Liam stutters, overwhelmed by the sensation of Zayn everywhere.

“I know you are,” Zayn praises, thumbs rubbing soothing circles against Liam’s hips, “such a good boy. Love watching you get all worked up for me.” He kisses around Liam’s cock then, at the indents in his hips, and Liam shakes with desperation at the teasing.

“Only for you,” Liam gasps, grabbing at the sheets and fighting the urge to squirm, to grab Zayn’s face and grind up into it until he comes. “Please, touch me,” he whimpers, and Zayn finally, finally takes pity on him, hooking fingers into his waistband to drag Liam’s boxers down his legs.

Liam’s cock lays on his stomach, thick and red, drooling out strings of precome, and Zayn hums appreciatively before taking him in one hand, stroking firmly and milking out another generous drop. He peels back the foreskin, leans in and sucks just the head into his mouth, tongue swirling around to lap up all the precome before digging into the slit, and Liam lets out a high pitched moan.

Zayn pulls back, twisting his wrist as he strokes Liam slowly, thumbing under the head. “Feel good?” he asks softly, but Liam can only moan in response as he presses butterfly kisses against the head, coating Zayn’s lips with precome.

“Use your words, baby,” he murmurs, demanding Liam’s focus. “Need to hear you tell me what you want. What you like, yeah?”

“I like it,” he chokes out, arousal clouding his senses and making Liam feel like he’s floating almost. Zayn isn’t satisfied though, nails biting into Liam’s hips as he says, “like what Liam? Be specific.”

Liam struggles to think, because honestly everything Zayn does sets him alight with a fire unlike anything Liam’s ever felt before.

“I like when you touch the head, ‘specially the slit,” he whimpers, “ ‘s sensitive,” and Zayn hums in appreciation, murmuring out “thank you baby,” and then rewarding Liam by taking him back into his mouth, swirling his tongue around the head before taking him deeper.

Liam moans, softly, arching slightly but keep his hips still as Zayn hums around him, nudging the back of his throat. Zayn’s hands slide up Liam’s stomach, scorching as they thumb at his nipples, gently.

Zayn is careful not to pinch too hard, nails scratching lightly and sending a shockwave down to Liam’s cock, and it twitches where it rests in Zayn’s mouth.

He pulls off again with a pop, sliding his hands back down to stroke Liam gently as he blows cool air on the head, and Liam shivers. Zayn licks a long stripe along the vein on the underside, swirling his tongue around the head again, and Liam feels so, so wet with saliva and precome.

Liam looks down then, desperate to see what’s happening, and feeling overwhelmed almost instantly. Zayn’s mouth is obscene, pink and wet, lips swollen from the stretch even though he shows no sign of straining to take Liam in, and he’s smirking straight up at Liam, eyes dark.

He leans away then, dragging his beard along Liam’s skin as he kisses and bites at his inner thighs. Liam hisses at drag, but feels himself drip out more precome from the pain regardless.

“Zayn,” he mumbles, tongue thick in his mouth, dry from panting, and Zayn kisses gently at the red patch of skin before pulling away and moving to the other thigh to repeat the action.

He nudges at Liam’s balls, rolling them between his fingers as he moves back to Liam’s cock, kissing the head reverently before sucking him back down with a slurp that’s obscene, and Liam’s eyes snap shut with a groan.

He gets lost in the feeling for a minute, the slick heat of Zayn’s mouth clouding his senses, but he startles as he feels a finger sliding lower, beneath his balls to nudge at his hole. Liam lets out a high pitched keen, thighs shaking as he closes them around Zayn in an attempt to hold him. He wiggles, first away from the finger, and then into it, his body moving on its own to chase the heat of Zayn’s touch.

Zayn suckles on the head again, tongue making tiny circles around Liam’s slit as his finger mimics the motion against Liam’s hole, applying pressure but not enough to actually push in, even though Liam wouldn’t mind. Liam bites on lip, noises spilling out regardless from the sensation.

Zayn pulls his hand away, offering his fingers to Liam by pressing them against his mouth. Liam sucks them in quickly, swirling his tongue to coat them in spit as his thighs shake in anticipation. Zayn smirks around Liam’s cock, pulling off to praise Liam with a proud “good boy,” before lowering himself back down and pressing against Liam’s hole with his now wet fingers.

He teases for far too long, sliding his fingers back and forth, increasing pressure before backing off until Liam huffs angrily, tightening his thighs to hold Zayn in place and rolling his hips down purposefully. Zayn is unamused, though, taking his hand away entirely and pulling off the stroke Liam excruciatingly slow.

“Stop teasing,” he begs, hoping he sounds pitiful enough that Zayn takes pity on him.

“You wanna come?” Zayn murmurs lowly, voice scratchy from Liam’s cock, and Liam whines out a “please” in response.

Zayn hums thoughtfully, kissing along Liam’s hip and dragging his beard roughly to make Liam shiver. “You’ll come when I say, yeah?” he asks, and Liam nods quickly, although it’s not a question, and they both know it.

Zayn nods in return, though, kissing the base of his dick and then moving lower to suck at Liam’s balls gently, fingers pressing back against Liam’s hole. He circles gently, teasing at the sensitive flesh and Liam is getting ready to complain again when Zayn slips a fingertip inside suddenly, making Liam cry out.

Zayn eases inside, gently, so so gently, licking his way back up to suckle at Liam’s head. He crooks his finger carefully, stroking inside Liam’s heat before teasing a second finger, and Liam feels like he’s going to cry if he doesn’t come soon.

Just when he thinks he can’t take anymore, Zayn pulls off to murmur “come, baby,” before he takes Liam in deep in his mouth, tucking in a second finger and twisting them to nudge against his sweet spot, and Liam sees stars, gasping as he comes down Zayn’s throat.

Zayn coaxes him through it, pulling back to keep Liam’s cock on his tongue as he shudders out a bit more come. Liam lays dazed, pleasure radiating through his body as Zayn removes his fingers, thumbing at Liam’s hole. He suckles at the head until Liam whines from overstimulation, placing soft kisses along the slit before laying it gently against Liam’s stomach.

He crawls up Liam’s body then, reaching into his own pants to pull his dick out and stroke himself off, licking into Liam’s mouth possessively. He tastes like Liam’s come, which makes him moan breathlessly. Liam reaches for Zayn, pulling him closer. Zayn groans when he comes, biting down on Liam’s bottom lip as he spills thick white ribbons across Liam’s stomach.

They don’t speak for a bit, shifting so Liam can lay his head on Zayn’s chest, and they alternate between trading soft kisses and just breathing each other in. “Good?” Zayn rasps, looking down at Liam, voice rough but smug, and Liam nods, cheeks pink as he mutters out “never been better. Think you broke me for a bit.”

Zayn laughs, eyes crinkling up as he tangles a hand in Liam’s hair, planting a kiss to Liam’s nose, before murmur, “oh baby. We’re only getting started,” and Liam’s brain goes white, shivering at his tone, at the look in his eyes.

Zayn leans down to press his mouth to Liam’s ear, licking at the shell before whispering, “when we’re done, you won’t remember your own name,” and rolling them over, pressing Liam into the sheets to make good on his promise.

***

Zayn swears that it’s not intentional. It’s not like he woke up one day and decided to shower Liam in money and expensive gifts; it just happens.

It starts simply enough, just small things. Liam gets cold easily, so Zayn buys him sweaters and some throws for the couch and his favorite chair in the living room. Liam bundles up, beaming at Zayn and tugging the sleeves of his sweater over his hands before unwrapping himself to offer Zayn a cuddle in thanks.

Liam wears a hole in the heel of his favorite pair of boots, and complains about them being out of stock, so Zayn orders him a far nicer pair to replace them. Liam swats at Zayn when he hands them over, muttering about Zayn wasting money while looking pleased at the same time. He wears the boots nonstop for days to break them in, clunking around the house much to Zayn’s amusement.

Liam all but moves in after a few months, his apartment merely a formality at this point, and Zayn is eager to make him feel at home. He updates the bedroom to accommodate Liam’s habits, buys replacement toiletries for the bathroom, and sends Liam out with his assistant to pick out a new wardrobe. Liam gives him a fashion show in their room that night, eyes bright and happy, before straddling Zayn to express his utmost appreciate for the thoughtfulness.

After a show, Christian invites Liam and Zayn over to chill and play Xbox. Zayn sits back and watches Liam smile and laugh, cheeks flushed with happiness as Christian teaches him how to play a new game. On the way home, Zayn asks Liam if he had fun, and Liam gushes over the game they played, lamenting the fact that he hadn’t had the time to beat all the levels. The next day Zayn goes out over his lunch and orders an Xbox, calling Christian to ask for game suggestions. Liam squeals with happiness when Zayn guides him into the den, dragging Zayn down onto the couch and shoving a controller into his hands so they can play together.

Liam has a terrible habit of laying his phone down somewhere in the house and wandering aimlessly without it. As a result, he loses track of time quite often, panicking as he realizes he’s late for work, or a meeting with a friend. Zayn has offered to let Liam wear one of his watches, observing as the younger man admires them from a distance when Zayn gets ready in the morning, but Liam said no, not wanting to take Zayn’s possessions when he’s already given Liam so much.

Zayn isn’t having it though, knows that Liam would adore a watch of his own, and that’s how Zayn finds himself in a Hublot store in downtown London on a Wednesday night. He’d called the week before to request a custom piece, because he knew Liam would reject the gift if it was generic. He’d just tuck it in with the rest of Zayn’s watches with a smile and Zayn would be back to square one, with Liam pawing at his wrist to check the time.

“Your order, sir,” the clerk says, presenting Zayn with small box. Zayn accepts it, opening the box to examine the watch and then replacing it carefully with a satisfied nod.

“Would you like me to wrap it up for you?” the clerk asks, and Zayn replies with a “please,” glancing around the store. It’s nearly empty, closing time in the middle of the week, but it’s the perfect time for Zayn. He dropped Liam off at the club first, giving him time to change and warmup while Zayn picks up the surprise.

The clerk hands the watch to Zayn, neatly wrapped with a red bow on top. Zayn offers his thanks, and leaves the store, driving carefully back across town to park at the club. He tucks the box carefully into his pocket, smoothing down his coat before entering the building.

Charlie, the bouncer, gives him an affectionate nod as he passes, Zayn smiling softly. Word had gotten round months ago that Liam had a boyfriend who came to most of his shows, and Zayn had gotten to know the staff a bit while waiting for Liam after shows and practices. Caroline had cornered him one afternoon, threatening to skin his head if he broke the heart of her favorite dancer before blessing their relationship, saying how much happier Liam seemed.

Zayn slips into the darkness of the club, taking up a seat at his usual couch and waiting. Liam is one of the only performers on Wednesdays so it doesn’t take long before he comes on stage, the music transitioning into a popular LMFAO track from years ago that makes Zayn laugh.

Liam had told him the music selection tonight was sexy, and apparently he meant literally. Zayn watches as Liam grinds his hips back and forth, bulge obscene against the tight shorts he wears, loose singlet flowing with his movements.

Zayn’s watched Liam perform dozens of times, but Liam still takes his breath away. He’s beautiful, graceful and cocksure, which contrasts perfectly with the gentle shy man that goes home with Zayn each night.

He swings his hips enticingly, engaging the whole crowd but performing straight to Zayn, like always. After a show several weeks before, Liam had confided in Zayn that he puts more effort in when Zayn is watching, when he can perform straight to the older man.

Liam licks his lips, hands behind his head before jumping around to give the audience a view of his ass. Liam loses his clothes fluidly, stripping down to his briefs and the crowd goes wild as Zayn smiles lazily.

Liam’s abs are glistening with a mixture of sweat and body oil, and Zayn would love to crawl up on the stage, pin the younger man down, and lick him clean, but that can wait until they’re home, he knows.

The song ends shortly afterwards, Liam grinning and blowing a kiss to the crowd before disappearing backstage. Zayn rises then, ready to follow him back to the dressing room, but he pauses as he overhears a conversation nearby.

“Bet that one there is a real screamer. He looks like he needs someone to look after him”

“Heh, sure does, I’d love to teach him a thing or two in bed,”

“Seems like quite the slut. He’s just begging for a good dicking up there,”

They are all older, greasy looking men, and Zayn has to physically stop himself from confronting them to set the record straight. He knows objectively that their words mean nothing, but that doesn’t stop them from turning his stomach.

‘People see Liam like this all the time,’ he thinks to himself, ‘and they probably think the worst of him. Like this is all he’s good for.’

The thought that people might have a bad opinion of Liam, precious, sweet, happy Liam, because of his occupation makes Zayn want to punch through a wall. Instead, he turns away and marches towards the back of the club, towards Liam. He can’t protect him from the words, but he can take Liam out of this environment, he thinks.

Backstage Liam already is half dressed, lacing up his boots shirtless when Zayn finds him.

“Hi babe,” he greets, straightening up to offer Zayn a cheek for a kiss. Zayn obliges, cupping his face and smacking a kiss to Liam’s cheekbone.

“Looked great up there, Li” Zayn praises, and Liam flushes with pleasure, cheeks rosy as he giggles. “Did you like the song? Thought it might make you laugh.”

“It did,” Zayn assures with a smile, “it was very clever, babe.”

Liam grins in return, tugging on his sweater and gathering up the clothes at his feet to toss in the laundry bin. He walks straight up to Zayn then, foregoing normal personal space to press his chest to Zayn’s, tucking his face into Zayn’s neck.

Zayn wraps his arms around the younger boy, cupping the back of his head gently and swaying them in place. “How’s my beautiful boy?” he murmurs into Liam’s ear, and Liam shrugs before mumbling, “Better now.”

He presses closer to Zayn, wiggling a hand between them to shift Zayn’s coat before pulling back with a confused look on his face.

“What’s that?” he asks, pointing to the lump in Zayn’s coat, and for a second Zayn doesn’t remember, too preoccupied with the conversation, but then it all rushes back.

“Oh that,” he begins, reaching into his pocket to withdraw the box, “is something that I picked up for you earlier.”

He holds the gift out to Liam, bow slightly flattened but Liam doesn’t seem to notice or care as he accepts with a happy noise of surprise. Liam tugs off the wrapping paper to reveal the box, flipping it open to reveal the watch inside.

Liam gasps, eyes wide as he stares up at Zayn before looking back down at the shiny gift in his hands. “Zayn, what is this?” he whispers, as if talking too loudly might make the watch disappear in a cloud of smoke.

“ ‘s a watch, babe.” Zayn deadpans, and Liam huffs out an annoyed sound, glaring at Zayn until he elaborates. “Wanted you to have your own watch so you don’t have to ask me for the time anymore. It’s purely selfish on my part.”

Liam hums, clearly not buying it, fingers tracing the face of the watch before running along the edge of the band. “It‘s beautiful, but,” he hesitates, “it’s too much,” and Zayn was waiting for that.

“Well that’s a shame,” he sighs, faux-disappointed. “We can’t take it back though, guess we’ll just have to toss it out.”

Liam looks up alarmed, clutching the watch tighter to his chest. “Why can’t we just return it?”

“Flip it over, babe,” Zayn instructs softly, and Liam does, cheeks going pink as he reads the engraving on the underside.

For my baby boy, with all my love, -Z’

“Zayn, you shouldn’t have,” Liam says then, sounding overwhelmed as he looks up at Zayn with tears in his eyes. “I can’t pay you for this.”

“ ‘m not expecting you to pay for it, baby,” he murmurs, reaching out to nudge his fingers under Liam’s chin. “ ‘s a gift, because I want to make you happy. Do you like it?”

Liam nods, blinking rapidly before glancing back down at the watch. “I love it,” he mumbles softly, eyes filled with wonder as they trace the watch again.

“Good,” Zayn says gently, “that’s why I bought it.” Liam steps forward into Zayn’s arms then, wrapping his free arm around him to squeeze tightly.

“Thank you,” he whispers, into Zayn’s neck. “You’re welcome, babe,” Zayn replies softly.

“Put it on me?” Liam asks, pulling back slightly, and Zayn takes the watch, removing it from the box to fasten it snugly around Liam’s left wrist.

“It’s so beautiful,” Liam mumbles, awe clear in his voice as he stares at his own arm.

“It is,” Zayn agrees, before murmuring, “I’d love to see what you look like wearing only that later, too,” to watch the way that Liam flushes at the words. His eyes dilate, lust filling his gaze, and he shoves the box at Zayn and scrambles into his own coat, before grabbing Zayn’s arm to drag him towards the door, all thoughts of the men’s conversation forgotten.

***

Liam squirms, careful not to move too far, all too mindful of the delicate balance he needs to maintain this position. He tucks his head into Zayn’s neck, breathing out a sigh, shivering once and then closing his eyes.

Zayn hums in response, and the only other sound in the room is the clicking of his fingers against the keyboard. He’s been holed up in his office at home all day, working on some deadline for some client that he doesn’t want to disappoint, which means Zayn’s working overtime and doing everything himself.

Liam has told him several times to stop working so hard, to use the people he employs and lighten his own load a bit, but Zayn is too much of a perfectionist to let anyone else takeover. Still he’s been better since Liam moved in. He only goes in a few days a week, and spends more time with Liam than he does in the office. Griff, one of Zayn’s friends from the company, had called Liam one day to thank him for getting Zayn to relax a bit, and Liam had rambled on about how

Liam had brought Zayn lunch, just some leftover Chinese from a couple nights before, and Zayn had snapped out of his daze long enough to thank Liam with a kiss and scarf down the food before returning to his project, leaving Liam to wander the house bored out of his brain.

After picking up the clothes laying on the bedroom floor, washing the spoon, knife, and two plates in the kitchen sink, vacuuming the stairs, dusting the living room, and wasting an unholy amount of time watching YouTube videos and playing Xbox, Liam got tired of being alone, so naturally he decided that it was time for Zayn to pay attention to him.

Zayn had barely glanced at him though, looking a bit frazzled, and Liam almost felt bad bothering him, or he would’ve that is, if Liam wasn’t feeling neglected and slightly horny.

He crawled up into Zayn’s lap, kissing his neck and mumbling out, “want you to fuck me babe,” which did get Zayn’s attention, both mentally and physically if the way his cock twitched against Liam’s was any indication.

“Liam,” he groaned out, sounding regretful, and Liam deflated, confidence spilling out of him onto the floor. Of course Zayn didn’t have time, Liam had no idea how to work a real job and there he was bothering someone who runs a whole company.

He shifted to move off of Zayn’s lap, but was stopped by Zayn’s hands on his hips, digging his nails in to hold Liam in place. Zayn leaned in, his breath hot on Liam’s neck as he murmured, “you drive me wild, baby,” before latching on and sucking a mark beneath his jawline.

“Can barely focus knowing you’re in the house and then you come in here,” he continued, trailing kisses down to the base of Liam’s throat before he nudged his fingers under the hem on Liam’s shirt and then tugged it off all together.

“Should be illegal for you to use your pretty mouth like that,” Zayn licked along Liam’s collarbone, nipping at the soft skin before pulling away and turning his attention to the aforementioned mouth. He brought one hand up to trace a thumb along Liam’s bottom lip before leaning in to taste Liam for himself, hand tangling in Liam’s hair to cup the back of his head.

“ ‘m sorry,” Liam gasped out against Zayn’s mouth. “Didn’t mean to distract you,” which wasn’t the truth, and Zayn probably knew that, knows more about Liam than either of them care to admit. Zayn didn’t acknowledge the apology though, just licked into Liam’s mouth until he was breathless and desperate for more, rolling his hips down against Zayn smoothly.

“You really wanna get fucked, baby?” Zayn asked quietly, and Liam’s heart had picked up as he realized that Zayn might actually be considering it.

“Yes, please,” he mumbled, pressing his hips forward into Zayn’s stomach so he could feel how hard Liam was, just for him.

“I need to finish this proposal,” Zayn began, and Liam wanted to cry because the world just isn’t fair. Liam is a nice person, okay, and he deserves to get fucked by his beautiful, kind, hard working boyfriend. He was ready to slink out of the room and get himself off half-heartedly just to take the edge off, when Zayn continued, “but you can keep me company, yeah?”

Liam was confused, because Zayn goes off into his own little world when he works, and Liam would just be bored and in the way. Zayn didn’t seem to care though, hands running over Liam’s arms, down his bare sides to rest on his hips.

He squeezed then, looking Liam directly in the eyes. “ ‘m gonna make a suggestion,” Zayn murmured, “and I want you to say no if it makes you uncomfortable. Alright?”

Liam nodded his understanding, and Zayn smirked slightly, moving in to speak directly into Liam’s ear, voice low and full of lust. “Wanna open you up, just like this,” Zayn’s hands slid lower to cup his ass, and Liam’s mouth dropped open, the words shooting arousal down his spine. “Want you to sit on my cock, keep me warm like a good boy while I work. And then I’ll take you upstairs and fuck you into the mattress.”

Liam whined, rolling his hips down, and Zayn huffed out a laugh. “Is that a yes?” he asked, amused, and Liam could have strangled him for the smug tone in his voice, but arousal won out, and he choked out a soft “yes,” to appease the older man.

Zayn tugged down his joggers then, only to groan as he encountered the sheer lace thong Liam had slipped into before coming to the office. What can Liam say? He’s always prepared.

“Planning this, were you babe?” Zayn asked then, stroking along the black lace waistband and following it around to Liam’s ass. Fingers traced the string, pressing it against Liam’s hole, and the friction from the rough lace made Liam gasp, cut off as Zayn claimed his mouth in a hungry kiss. Zayn pulled down his joggers further, helping Liam slide them off of his legs to make him more comfortable.

Zayn tugged the string aside then, fingers finding Liam’s hole again to open him up quickly, but gently, always gently, producing a bottle of lube from somewhere inside his desk, muttering about being prepared for office sex when he started working from home because he thought this would happen sooner. His fingers were warm, slender, strong, and dripping with lube, working Liam over in the best of ways, stroking against his sensitive walls until Liam was shaking above him and whining for more.

He held Liam steady, hands supporting his hips as Liam rose up to sink down on Zayn’s bare cock, Liam squeezing around Zayn and gasping at the stretch. By now he should’ve been used to it, used to the way Zayn feels when he slips inside, but it still knocks the breath out of Liam every time.

He’d tried to move, rolling his hips slightly to adjust, but when he tried to lift up and fuck himself back down, Zayn’s hands had grabbed his waist, holding him down and preventing the movement. Liam had cried out then, frustrated because he finally had what he wanted, but there was no way he’d be able to come from just sitting on Zayn’s cock. He needed friction, movement, pressure, and Zayn knew that.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Zayn chided, and Liam whined lowly, dropping his head to Zayn’s shoulder in defeat, resigning himself to the pleasurable torture that Zayn was after.

And now it’s been ages, probably almost an hour, Liam thinks, and he’s still perched in Zayn’s lap, cock nestled inside him snuggly. Zayn isn’t showing any signs of distraction, as far as Liam can tell at least. His fingers tap steadily against the keyboard, papers shuffling occasionally, and you’d never know he had someone sitting on his cock, if you couldn’t see Liam, that is.

Liam feels wrecked, cheeks flushed, eyes blown, red streaking down his chest, and he feels like he’s been hard for years, but he’s getting no relief. Zayn told him to be good, told him he’d make it worth Liam’s while, but Liam is getting desperate.

He bites his lip, keeping his eyes closed, and rolls his hips ever so slightly, trying to nudge the head of Zayn’s cock against his sweet spot. Zayn twitches at the movement, hand coming down briskly to smack against the round of Liam’s ass.

“Baby,” he warns, his voice thick, “I told you not to move.” Liam whines softly, clenching down and whispering out an apology that he doesn’t really mean. Zayn smooths a hand up his back then, soothing, and promises, “Won’t be too much longer. Almost done.”

Liam tries to relax then as Zayn goes back to his work. He closes his eyes, imagines that he’s jelly, thick and soft, and sliding down to envelope Zayn and keep him safe and warm. He melts into Zayn, pressing forward and tucking his face further into Zayn’s neck, huffing out hot breath and pressing his lips to Zayn’s soft skin, just to rest.

Liam isn’t sure how much time goes by then, but he’s stirred from his cat nap by Zayn reaching down to cup his ass, thumbing at the stretch of his hole. Liam hisses, sensitive, and Zayn fucks up slightly, making Liam moan.

“You’ve been so good for me, sweetheart,” he murmurs, turning his head to press a kiss to Liam’s cheek. “Always so good for me.” Liam whimpers softly as Zayn thrusts up again, and he squeezes, wanting to make Zayn feel as good as Zayn makes Liam feel, and also wanted to get things moving along.

“Ready to go to bed?” he asks gently, and Liam brings his arms up to wrap around Zayn’s neck, nodding and rolling his hips down filthy. Zayn chuckles, pushing the chair back from the desk and grabbing Liam under the thighs to lift him up.

Cool air hits Liam’s exposed skin, making him shiver and burrow into Zayn’s arms, chasing the warmth lingering in the older man’s clothing. He shifts, and Zayn’s arm slips, dropping him slightly and jamming his cock further in Liam, jerking a moan from deep in his chest.

“Sorry,” Zayn mutters, hefting Liam up and moving swiftly through the house towards the bedroom.

The room is dark, shades drawn because Liam had slept in that morning, rolling over when Zayn kissed him lightly before disappearing into the office. Zayn stops at the edge of the bed, pulling out and lowering Liam down, muttering, “on your belly, baby,” before stepping back to strip out of his own clothes.

Liam flips over, grinding his cock forward into the soft sheets until he feels Zayn behind him. Zayn’s hand comes down hard on Liam’s ass, the sting shooting to Liam’s dick and he moans out as Zayn grabs his hips and yanks Liam up on his knees.

“ ‘m gonna be the one to make you come,” Zayn murmurs lowly, tucking two fingers inside and stretching his fingers as Liam gasps in surprise. Zayn is talented with his fingers, stroking and nudging at all the spots that makes Liam fall to pieces, moaning softly as his cock blurts out a fat drop of precome that sticks to the lace of the thong.

Zayn pulls his fingers out then, the prep merely a formality because Zayn is a gentleman, and kisses Liam’s shoulder, blanketing Liam’s body with his own. Liam shuts his eyes, whining and shoving his hips back as Zayn’s cock presses against his hole and then slips inside.

Zayn lowers his head to whisper directly into Liam’s ear as he slides in fully.

“Always so tight for me babe. So good,” and Liam pushes back further, wiggling as best he can until Zayn starts to move. He jumps into a nice even rhythm, shallow steady thrusts that graze Liam’s prostate and make him whimper.

Zayn kisses behind Liam’s ear, nipping slightly as he rolls his hips and claims Liam’s body for himself. He slips his hand down, then sliding it underneath the lace of the thong to graze the tip of Liam’s cock.

“Wet for me?” he asks, huskily, and Liam whines, cants his hips forward into Zayn’s fingers, Zayn following behind with his hips, not giving him a moment of relief from the press of his cock.

Zayn slides his fingers through the slick head, slips them down further to tease at Liam’s balls before withdraw the touch and bracing himself on the bed to drive his hips down into Liam. Liam gasps, feels like his skin is on fire from the sensations, the burn of the lace and his neglected cock contrasting the sweet pleasure from Zayn’s cock bumping against his prostate with every other thrust.

Zayn moves his body like an athlete in bed, like he trains just for this, to render Liam speechless with effortless flicks of his hips. Liam gasps out a wet breath, almost sobbing with pleasure, the need to come bubbling up so quickly that it makes his head spin.

Zayn can tell though, slips a hand under Liam to grab at the base of his cock and hold off his orgasm. Liam whines pitifully, desperation blatant in the sound, and Zayn slows his thrusts. Instead he grinds forward, pressing in, in, in until Liam’s knees give out and he collapses on his belly, cock pressing against the sheets.

Zayn huffs out a laugh, murmurs a quiet, “so good, babe, ya alright?” but doesn’t wait for a response, because he knows that Liam is better than alright. Zayn picks back up his rhythm, thrusting harder, tilting his hips down to angle his cock straight into Liam’s sweet spot, and Liam is floating.

He turns his head into the bed, trying to muffle his cries, because he’s loud, and he knows it, but Zayn just tangles a hand in his hair and yanks, forcing Liam to arch his back. Liam wails, the pain shooting to his cock and it twitches pitifully where it’s trapped between his body and the sheet, the lace almost too much for him to handle.

“Wanna hear you baby.” Zayn demands, voice rough and accent thick with arousal, and it’s the first time that Liam’s been able to tell that Zayn is affected by this too. That he may be just as worked up as Liam feels.

Liam can feel his cheeks go pink, but he doesn’t try to hide his face again, just moans out his pleasure, squirming into the sheet and then back onto Zayn’s dick as he grinds forward into Liam.

He lets out a sob then, can feel his orgasm rushing up again, and for a second he thinks Zayn may stop him again, may make him wait, but Zayn just murmurs, “you can come when you’re ready, sweetheart” and Liam loses it.

His eyes snap shut, too overwhelmed by the feeling to keep them open as his cock spurts thick sticky come onto the black lace. He clenches tightly, can feel Zayn stuttering in his thrusts as he fucks Liam through it, his voice white noise in Liam’s ear, until Liam can get himself together enough to tune back in.

“Such a good boy, so beautiful, perfect for me, love when you fall apart like that,” the praise falls from Zayn’s lips so smoothly, and it’s easy for Liam to pretend that he means it, that this arrangement could be permanent, that his place in Zayn’s arms will be his home forever.

Liam raises his hips up then, turning his head until his lips nudge into Zayn’s cheek.

“Come on,” he urges, voice choked, “your turn.” Zayn nuzzles into Liam’s cheek, smattering kisses along his jaw, leaving one final one against his lips before drawing back to fuck into Liam in quick, shallow thrusts.

Liam moans, feeling overstimulated, and a few tears leak from his eyes at the fire in his veins. It doesn’t take long though, until Zayn is shuddering above him, cock twitches in Liam as he spills hot and wet deep inside.

“Fuck, babe,” Zayn gasps, sounding overwhelmed, as his hips gradually come to a stop, cock resting gently in Liam, just like it all started.

They stay like that for a while, breathing heavily and recovering, until Zayn finds the energy to pull out and flop off to the side. He faces Liam, smiling softly, and Liam’s heart is filled with something he can’t describe as his eyes trace over Zayn’s features, his pink full lips and soft beard, sweaty fringe falling into his long eyelashes that frame caramel eyes. He’s beautiful, and Liam is so, so lucky to have him.

Zayn huffs out a laugh, reaching over to trace his thumb along Liam’s bottom lip before leaning in to press their lips together in a chaste kiss.

“Alright?” he asks, and Liam nods, “think my cock is stuck to the front of these underwear though,” he says regretfully, suddenly overly aware of the uncomfortable stickiness, the shifting lace dragging over his head and making him hiss.

Zayn sits up, getting off the bed and disappearing into the bathroom before reappearing with a washcloth. He runs it across Liam’s lower back and thighs, spreading his cheeks to wipe up the stickiness there, thumbing at Liam’s hole affectionately and receiving a tiny blurt of come in response.

He leans in, tongue sticking out to lap it up, and Liam jumps at the wet heat of his tongue. “Too much,” he whines, and Zayn pouts down at Liam before grabbing his hips to flip him over. He folds down the thong to reveal Liam’s cock, and slides it down Liam’s legs, tossing it off the bed.

Zayn makes quick work of cleaning Liam’s cock, considerate of the sensitive head, and then wipes himself down before tossing the cloth away and climbing back into bed.

Liam cuddles close, the room feeling colder as the heat of the moment dies away and is replaced by something quieter. Zayn holds him tight though, reaching down to tug the sheet up over them.

“So,” Liam begins, feeling cheeky as his lips nudge Zayn’s jaw, and Zayn hums in acknowledgement. “How was your day, honey?” Zayn shakes with laughter at the teasing in Liam’s voice, and Liam smiles wide, can feel his own eyes crinkling up, happiness bubbling out of him. Here, in this moment, with Zayn’s arms around him, Liam feels perfect. ‘And I’m going to miss this when it’s over,’ he thinks, closing his eyes.

***

It’s a Thursday morning when Zayn gets the call.

One perk of being his own boss is that he doesn’t necessarily have to answer, and Zayn is seriously considering letting the unknown number ring through to his voicemail, but before he can, his assistant pokes his head in to inform him that the person on the phone is a VIP calling with an invitation to an event.

Zayn has been in this business for nearly four years now, and he’s been invited to countless events. Weddings, engagement parties, anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, gallery openings, speeches, movies, concerts; you name it and Zayn has probably had an invitation for it slide across his desk at some point.

Zayn’s assistant, a charming but naive guy named Drew, also has very little concept of how to differentiate between those who are actually VIPs and those that just think they are. Still, Zayn humors him, thanking him and dismissing him with a wave before reaching for the phone.

“Hello, Zayn Malik speaking,” he answers, words crisp and accent clear, as he channels his inner important person voice that he uses when he’s around people he doesn’t know in the business world.

“Mr. Malik?” a chirpy voice asks, plowing on almost instantly, “My name is Felicia and on behalf of my employer I am calling to confirm your refusal of an invitation to the upcoming premiere of Avengers: Infinity War that is taking place at 8 pm tomorrow evening at Leicester Square.”

Zayn’s eyebrows shoot up, because he and Liam had just been talking about that movie a couple days before.

“Of course, I contacted your assistant last week but I haven’t heard back so I’m just confirming that you aren’t planning to attend so I can remove you from the list.” And wait what? This is definitely the first Zayn is hearing of this.

“I apologize,” Zayn begins smoothly, “I actually asked my assistant to confirm my acceptance but it seems to have slipped through the cracks.” Zayn chuckles wryly, and the woman on the other line titters in response.

“I would actually love to attend,” he continues, making sure his voice was absent of any of his true enthusiasm, however. That’s something Zayn learned early on in the business world; no one actually acts like they feel in the moment. It’s all blank faces and vague words, and then it all comes apart behind closed doors.

“I will make sure you are on the list then, Mr. Malik,” the woman exclaims, “I will send all the details to your assistant and also your personal email just in case.” And Zayn wishes he could steal this PA because she’s far more efficient than his own, but Zayn is also too nice to fire Drew without giving him a chance.

“Is there any way I can bring a plus one as well?” Zayn inquires, and the woman hums, rustling through some papers that rattle down the line.

“Yes, I have down that you can bring up to three guest in addition to yourself.” She informs him. “How many shall I add?”

“Just one,” Zayn replies, because Griff is out of town celebrating his mother’s birthday, and Liam is the only other person who Zayn would ask on such short notice.

“Name?” she asks, clicking her pen. “Liam Payne,” he responds, spelling out Liam’s name. “We’ll arrive together, of course.”

“I will make sure you are both on the list Mr. Malik. Is there anything else I can do for you while I’m on the line?”

Zayn debates asking if she has any PA friends looking for a job, but guilt wins out, because looking for a new PA while his is on the other side of the door would be a low blow. “Nothing that I can think of,” he answers.

“Well once again, I would like to thank you on behalf of my employer for your services and efficient expertise. Your contribution is valued and appreciated,” she recites, and they hang up after a brief goodbye.

Zayn leans back in his chair. He’d been planning on staying in with Liam tomorrow night, cooking dinner together and watching an old movie or two, but he doubts Liam will be upset at all by the change in plans. The only thing left to do, Zayn thinks, is tell Liam, and with that in mind he pulls his cellphone out of his pocket to dial a familiar number.

***

“I need a what?” Liam asks, confused because Zayn interrupted him mid workout and he’d nearly dropped dumbbell on his foot, startled by the unexpected ringtone so early in the morning. Lately Zayn has taken to calling Liam during his lunch hour when he goes in to the office.

Liam has been toying with the idea of paying him a visit one of these days but he hasn’t found the right time yet. Soon, though, he thinks.

“A suit, babe, a new suit,” Zayn’s voice snaps Liam back to the present.

“What for?” Liam has suits already, but he rarely wears them unless Zayn is taking him somewhere fancy for dinner. Still, there’s something in Zayn’s voice that makes him suspicious.

“ ‘s a surprise,” and Zayn must have something big planned if he isn’t willing to tell Liam. One of the first things Zayn promised when they started this whole thing was to be forthcoming unless absolutely necessary.

“I can hear you pouting, Li,” Zayn chuckles, sounding all too smug for Liam’s liking.

Zayn has a voice that he uses in the office, professional, crisp, and authoritative. It’s pretty sexy if Liam’s being honest, and Zayn is using it full force when he gives Liam his instructions.

“I’m texting you an address and the name of my tailor, yeah? Just call a car and go get fitted. I’ll call ahead and tell them to expect you shortly.”

“Dressing me now, are you Mr. Malik,” Liam’s voice dropping low to tease, arousal pooling in his stomach at the thought of Zayn wanting to dress Liam up just to take it off of him later that night.

“You’ve been stealing my clothes for months, baby, it’s not like I have to work too hard to get you in different clothes.” And Zayn had him there, but hey, Zayn’s sweaters are far more comfortable, even if they pull slightly tight across his chest.

“Now get up and go get the suit,” Zayn commands, shuffling on his end of the line. “I’ve got a few meetings this afternoon but I’ll try to be home early, ‘kay? We can make dinner and watch crap TV.”

Liam hums, because that sounds perfect honestly, how does Zayn always know exactly how to make him feel better?

“ ‘m going,” Liam mutters, dragging his feet as he shuffles across the floor, heading to the shower.

“I’ll have you know you interrupted me mid-workout by the way.” He says petulantly, just because he doesn’t want Zayn to hang up yet.

Zayn laughs, “aw, poor baby got interrupted trying to stay in shape for his hot older boyfriend?”

Liam rolls his eyes then, because an ego doesn’t look good on Zayn (yes it does, but still, someone needs to take Zayn down a notch or two.)

“Actually I’m trying to stay in shape for the hundreds of random men that pay to see me mostly naked multiple times a week,” he shoots back, and Zayn goes quiet for a second.

Liam is a bit concerned that he went too far, ready to apologize, because truthfully he does try a bit harder in the gym now that he’s got to keep up with Zayn in bed at a moment’s notice.

“If it was up to me,” Zayn murmurs then, all traces of humor gone from his voice, “no one would see an inch of you, apart from me.”

A shiver runs down Liam’s spine at the sheer possessiveness in his tone. It’s not something that they’ve discussed, but he knows that Zayn gets antsy at the thought of other people looking at Liam, touching him, even though it’s how they met. Still, Liam loves his job, loves the free feeling he gets when the music starts and the bass pounds through his body, and he isn’t sure what he’d do if he quit.

“Yeah?” he asks softly, “You’d just keep me all for yourself?”

“You know I would,” Zayn huffs, and yeah Liam does know that, but a part of him preens when he hears it regardless. It’s not something he ever was interested in before Zayn came around, belonging with someone, to someone, but it’s all that’s been on his mind lately.

“ ‘m all yours, Z,” Liam promises, needing the older man to understand just how much he means it. He’s gone for Zayn, even though he probably doesn’t feel the same. ‘I’ll enjoy it while it lasts,’ he thinks, as Zayn just hums in response.

“Better go get ready, baby, the suit won’t fit itself,” And Liam grumbles out a goodbye, flipping on the shower as he does.

The water is hot, probably a bit too hot but Liam needs the burn to clear his head. He loses track of time under the spray, mind going blank as he enjoys the sensation and then steps out feeling refreshed, dialing for a car to pick him up.

Zayn must have already spoken to the driver, too, because Liam doesn’t need to give him the address, just settles back in his seat to watch the scenery change from woods and seclusion to pavement and buildings scrunched together.

The car stops outside of a tiny innocuous shop. Liam steps out, mumbling his thanks and tightening his coat to ward off the chill. Wind chimes sound as he opens the door, revealing a quaint waiting area, accented by soft piano music flowing from hidden speakers.

There are hardwood floors with airy ceilings, leather couches resting against the left wall and a desk near the right wall that matches the flooring. Straight in front of him is a door that must lead to the back, where the actual fittings happens.

The woman at the counter looks preoccupied, glances at Liam before turning back to tap at her computer. “I’ll be with you in just a minute, Mr. Payne,” she informs him, her voice light and sweet. “If you’d like any refreshments while you wait please help yourself.”

She motions to small table holding dispensers of different drinks, hot water, coffee, and lime water that Liam didn’t notice before. He nods, smiling softly and the settling down on one of the couches. They remind him of the ones in the club, and Liam lets his mind wander to his upcoming performance on Saturday.

He’s been thinking of incorporating the pole more, but he needs to practice and it’s hard to find time with Zayn latching onto him the moment he gets off work, keeping Liam close when he works in his home office even.

Liam is startled out of his thoughts as the woman rises then, heels clicking on the floor as she instructs Liam to follow her to the back. He scrambles up to follow after her.

The back room was sectioned off by clean white walls into two separate fitting rooms, both door open to reveal clean, sleek interiors with multiple mirrors and plenty of seating. A third door sits to the right, but it remains closed as the woman leads him into the first room.

“Have a seat, Lydie will be in to help you in a moment,” she chirps, closing the door behind her with a soft click.

Liam looks around the room. It’s very nice, expensive but not in a way that’s overpowering or uncomfortable for someone of Liam’s status. Or perhaps he’s just getting used to the finer things in life after spending over half a year with Zayn.

Liam jumps as the door is thrown open with a bang, a tiny white haired woman bustling into the room with a garment bag thrown over her arm.

“Mr. Payne,” she exclaims, pausing to examine him from head to toe, and Liam flushes under her intense gaze. “Just Liam is fine,” he mumbles, cheeks on fire.

“You are quite the handsome chap,” she announces bluntly, “Just like Zayn said.”

Liam wiggles in his seat, preening slightly until she raises an eyebrow and he shrinks back.

“I must admit,” she continues, “when Zayn called me to ask for a fitting for someone I’ve never met on such short notice, I was tempted to say no. But Zayn is such a sweet boy, and he said you’re a real looker. Makes my job easier,” she winks, and Liam drops his gaze, embarrassed.

She thrusts the garment bag into his arms then, demanding, “what are you waiting for, get undressed! We don’t have all day.”

Liam scrambles up then, stripping off his clothes until he’s down to just his boxers while Lydie hurries around the room, dropping a handful of supplies that Liam hadn’t even noticed onto a table and dragging it towards the center of the room where mirrors were arranged for optimum viewing.

A small whistle pierces the air, and Liam can feel himself flushing down his chest. He strips for a living, but not for women old enough to be his grandmother.

“Zayn wasn’t lying then,” she crows, almost relishing in Liam’s embarrassment. “Alright then, down to business.” She claps her hands once, gesturing as she says, “get into your outfit.”

Liam unzips the garment bag to reveal a crisp navy suit jacket with a soft black undershirt and black dress pants. He dresses in a hurry, not wanting to make Lydie wait any longer, and also not wanting to stand in the face of her leering anymore.

The pants are smooth against his legs, the undershirt soft, and the jacket cool, and Lydie inspects him with such intensity that Liam isn’t sure if he should say something to snap her out of it.

Eventually she moves though, reaching for him to smooth across his shoulders and then down to his waist.

“Hmm, the jacket fits well in the shoulder but your waistline is far slimmer than I anticipated.”

She grabs her pins then, folding the fabric from the inside until the jacket just grazes the dip in his waist, flaring out slightly to accommodate his wider hips. Liam stays quiet, not wanting to disturb her. Wherever Zayn was taking him, it must be fancy to require this kind of treatment on such short notice, he thinks.

“Alright you can take the jacket off,” Lydie announces, eyeing his crotch as he shrugs out of the jacket, careful not to disrupt the pins.

Lydie hunches down, groaning slightly, and Liam jerks an arm out to help her to her knees. She reaches for Liam’s inseam, running her hand up and down his thigh, and Liam is glad he’s too nervous to even think about getting hard. It’d be weird to explain his thing for having his thighs touched to a woman who must have grandchildren. 

She reaches for her pins again, pulling the fabric of the pants so it hugs Liam’s legs a bit tighter and pinning it down.

“You have scrawny legs, darling,” she informs him, never looking up from her work, which means she misses the way that Liam blushes. Okay, so he might not spend as much time on his legs in the gym as he should, but it’s so much easier to work on his upper body. ‘Zayn doesn’t mind’ he thinks petulantly.

“Looking good, babe.”

Liam jumps at the voice, turning to see Zayn standing in the doorway. He opens his mouth to greet the older man, but Lydie whacks him on the leg, muttering, “stay still,” and Liam stutters out apologies.

“Lydie, are you picking on my Liam?” Zayn asks then, moving further into the room, still behind Liam, but now Liam can see him in the mirror. He’s dressed in a suit already, looking fit, and Liam is suddenly a bit more concerned about getting worked up while Lydie works on his pants.

“Course not,” Lydie shoots back, pins stuck in her mouth muffling the words. “Oh and I see the appeal, dear.”

She winks, grinning wolfishly, Zayn smirks, and Liam flushes instantly.

“ ‘m right here,” he mutters, glaring half heartedly at his boyfriend through the mirror.

Zayn steps up behind him, putting his arms around Liam’s waist and murmuring, “Believe me, I know,” until he’s smacked away by the disgruntled seamstress.

“Hands off, lover boy,” she commands, “let me work!”

Zayn steps back, looking like a kid that just got his hand caught in the cookie jar.

“While you’re at it, why don’t you go grab your outfit and make sure it still fits, so I can finish up without you distracting this poor boy?”

“Fine,” Zayn pouts as he leaves the room, grumbling to himself as he heads off into the store to retrieve his outfit.

Lydie works in silence for a couple more minutes, asking Liam to slip into a pair of dress shoes and checking the hem, before announcing that Liam can change back into his regular clothes because she’s finished.

Zayn returns just as he’s stepping out of his pants, letting out a teasing wolf whistle, to which Liam just rolls his eyes.

As Liam redresses, Zayn slips out of his own clothes and dons a patterned silk shirt, slipping a black suit jacket over it. He slides slim cut black dress pants over his legs as Liam watches admiringly.

Lydie frowns, circling Zayn a few times and humming, before shrugging and grabbing Liam’s outfit that needs alterations. She exits the room as quickly as she entered, calling out “no funny business on my couches boys,” before closing the door with a bang.

Zayn turns back to Liam, shrugging sheepishly.

“She’s fun,” Liam comments with a laugh, stepping into Zayn’s space to smooth his palms up Zayn’s chest and wrap them around his neck.

“Fun if you like crazy grandmothers,” Zayn laughs, hands grasping Liam’s hips and tugging him in fully.

“You look hot in this, babe,” Liam murmurs, pinching the fabric of Zayn’s shirt between two fingers and looking at Zayn from under his eyelashes.

“You look hot in everything,” Zayn responds, leaning in to nuzzle his nose against Liam’s, before adding, “and nothing. Especially nothing.”

Liam sucks in a breath before choking out a laugh and surging forward to press his lips to Zayn’s. Zayn’s mouth is plush, warm and wet, tasting of smoke and mint and something spicy that’s uniquely Zayn.

Zayn licks into his mouth lazily, like they have all the time in the world to stand there and let Zayn explore every inch of him. Liam presses closer, rubbing his hips into Zayn’s purposefully.

“Boys!”

They startle apart then, both whipping around to see Lydie standing in the door with her hands on her hips. “What did you think I meant by no funny business?”

Liam flushes instantly, but Zayn only rolls his eyes. “We weren’t doing anything,” he mutters, wrapping an arm around Liam’s waist to drag him back in.

Lydie narrows her eyes, clearly not buying it. “I need your outfit back to press it, Zayn,” she states before turning on heel. “And this time I’m leaving the door open. You have five minutes.”

Zayn huffs, looking just as frustrated as Liam feels, but he pulls away and changes his clothes without touching Liam at all, much to his disappointment.

Zayn grabs the outfit and returns it to Lydie in the room off to the right. Liam can see a sewing machine, mannequins, swaths of fabric against the wall, and various equipment that he doesn’t know the name of.

“Thanks Lydie,” Zayn calls as he steps back out, closing the door behind him and placing a hand low on Liam’s back to guide him out of the shop.

“Wanna get lunch?” Zayn asks, helping Liam into his car that’s parked outside, admitting, “I’m technically on my lunch break right now.”

“Sounds good to me,” Liam answers as Zayn starts the car, reaching across the console to lace their fingers together. “Gives me more time to figure out what this surprise is.”

Zayn glances at him out of the corner of his eyes, facing the road again to inform Liam “you’re not gonna get it out of me, babe.”

Liam smirks, squeezing Zayn’s hand and murmuring “we’ll see about that.”

***

Zayn holds out for almost the entire evening, until Liam drags him upstairs, pins him down and slurps at his cock, refusing to let Zayn come until he spills the secret. (But they both know if Zayn wanted to come with sharing his secret, Liam would’ve let him).

Liam squeals then, kissing Zayn until he’s breathless and making at face at the taste of his own come, before Liam drags him back into the sheets for another round. To celebrate, Liam insists, and who is Zayn to argue.

***

Liam is very calm, Zayn thinks. Much more calm than Zayn would be if their positions were reversed.

Liam looks amazing beside him in the outfit Zayn had selected, just as Zayn knew he would when he picked it out weeks before on a whim. The only sign of nerves in the younger boy is his jiggling leg.

Zayn reaches out to grip his thigh reassuringly, squeezing gently until Liam turns away from the window he’s been gazing out of to make eye contact.

“Excited?” he asks, smiling softly, watching as Liam melts under his touch, tension seeping out of him.

“Yeah, just a bit nervous,” he admits, lips twisting into a wry smile. “ ‘s a lot of people and I’m nothing special.”

Zayn hushes him, fingers nudging under his chin to stroke at the beginnings of a beard.

“To me, you are the most special person on the attendee list, baby. Don’t talk about yourself like that.”

Zayn knows he has some self-esteem problems, and they’ve been working on them. Liam is much better about telling Zayn what he wants now, but he has an awful habit of talking down to himself that Zayn can’t seem to snap him out of. There has to be some way to show Liam how important he is, Zayn thinks, but even then the idea that Liam is somehow worth less than Zayn is engrained in his mentality.

Liam drops his eyes, looking properly chastised, and Zayn feels guilty, dragging the younger boy closer to tuck Liam into his side.

“You know,” he begins, speaking into Liam’s temple but careful not to mess with the hairdo Liam worked on for ages, “the best way to fit into this type of crowd will be to just fake it. Nobody is really as self-assured and cool as they act like. ‘s just a confidence thing.”

“So what I want you to do is be yourself, and be confident in who you are. I’ll be right there with you the whole time. Just relax and enjoy yourself, yeah?”

Liam murmurs his assent, pressing his face into Zayn’s shoulder and breathing him in.

“I just don’t want to say the wrong thing to someone and make you look bad.” He admits, sounding too small for Zayn’s liking, and not at all like the cheeky, bubbly boyfriend that he lives with at home.

“You won’t,” Zayn promises, squeezing his arm around Liam’s shoulders even tighter. “And even if you do, it’s not like I care. This isn’t exactly my crowd either.”

The car rolls to a stop then, and Zayn can hear the noise from the red carpet filtering in through the door.

“This will be fun babe,” Zayn whispers. “Just me, you, and the Avengers. Date night.”

Liam laughs weakly, pulling back and smoothing down his suit jacket, fidgeting with his pocket square until it’s perfectly centered.

“Just don’t leave me, please.” He requests softly, and Zayn murmurs, “never,” before popping open the car door and stepping out into the bright lights, Liam right behind him.

Zayn smiles winningly, turning to make sure Liam is adjusting. He’s fairly familiar with this environment, and he knows how overwhelming all the noise and lights can be. Liam is beaming though, hiding his nerves like an old pro.

“ ‘m proud of you,” he whispers into Liam’s ear, pressing a kiss to his cheek before guiding him forward towards the center of the action with a possessive hand low on Liam’s back.

They’d already talked about taking pictures earlier, Zayn telling Liam that he had to be photographed because he wants to be more present in the film industry, and networking begins with showing your face, but Liam doesn’t have to pose with Zayn if he doesn’t want to. Liam had insisted that he doesn’t mind though, and so Zayn leads him to the red carpet coordinator.

The woman instructs them to wait near the edge of the Marvel backdrop that people are posing by for the official paparazzi photos of the evening, and step in after the couple before them are finished.

Liam wrings his hands nervously while they wait, and Zayn reaches out to lace their fingers together and press a kiss to the tattoo on the back of his hand.

“What does your company do exactly?” Liam murmurs, surprising Zayn because that’s not what he would’ve been thinking about in the moment. Liam keeps him on his toes, that’s for sure.

“I guess you could say we are a high profile matchmaking service for companies,” Zayn explains, “Basically we connect companies with people who have the skills they are looking for in short term. We only accept and represent a small number of clients with specific skill sets, and then we advertise and outsource them as needed. The companies and the clients both pay us for our services. Recently we expanded, nearly doubled the amount of people we represent. ‘s why we moved into a new building and everything.”

Liam hums in understanding. “And you got invited because..”

“Because my company helped the movie production team get in touch with the person who composed the soundtrack of this film.”

Liam nods, but before he can say anything else they are ushered forward. Zayn wraps an arm snuggly around Liam’s waist, pulling him in close and smiling widely.

“Where do we look?” Liam mutters through his own smile, tense under Zayn’s arm.

“Everywhere,” Zayn murmurs, pressing his thumb. “I usually look from left to right.”

As soon as they get the signal, Zayn leads Liam away quickly, smiling at the few familiar faces he sees but not stopping to make conversation.

Liam relaxes slightly as they enter the auditorium, receiving instructions to their seats from the usher. “I think I saw Chris Evans,” he whispers, sounding awestruck, and Zayn grins fondly.

“I bet you did, he’s probably here. ‘s a big premiere.” Zayn replies. They settle into their seats easily, Liam looking around to take in the scenery. They’ve only got fifteen or so minutes until the introductions will begin.

“Gonna run to the bathroom,” Zayn announces, “Do you want to come?”

Liam shakes his head. “I’ll just stay here.”

Zayn shrugs, standing to find his way to the restroom. Everyone around him seems to be in a rush, no one in the mood to stop and chat which is fine with Zayn. He’d rather do his business and get back to Liam.

The restroom is lavish and quiet, and Zayn is in and out quickly, hurrying back to his seat and his boyfriend.

He’s greeted by a surprise though, returning to find a male that is very much not Zayn occupying Zayn’s seat, in the middle of a conversation with Liam. The unidentified man is large, much larger than both Zayn and Liam, and his arm is stretched across the back of Liam’s chair.

Liam doesn’t look all that uncomfortable, but he’s also tense again, leaning forward slightly to escape the embrace. He sees Zayn over the man’s shoulder, relief obvious on his face as he straightens up. Zayn clears his throat then to get the man’s attention.

“Who’s this, babe?” Zayn asks, addressing Liam while reassuring him with his eyes.

The man rises, extending a hand to shake Zayn’s, introducing himself as “Jordan, Jordan Payton.”

“Zayn Malik,” he returns, smiling politely, but secretly wanting the man to vanish as a possessive part of his brain screams for Zayn to stake his claim on his boy.

“Is this your seat?” the man asks then, and Zayn can’t tell if he’s genuinely curious or just being obtuse on purpose.

“It is,” Zayn confirms, “my seat,” he gestures to the chair, “and my boyfriend,” throwing a wink at Liam, who looks out of his depth, cheeks flushed and eyes a bit wild.

Jordan nods then, but doesn’t move, much to Zayn’s frustration. “So what do you do?”

Zayn grits out his usual response, hoping that he doesn’t sound as annoyed as he feels.

“Nice man, I’m a pro football player in the States. I’m just here because one of my teammates knows someone on the production team.”

“Interesting,” Zayn replies, sure that his voice is the complete opposite of interested, but Jordan doesn’t seem all that receptive to him anyways.

“Oh, Liam and I were actually just talking about what he does for a living when you came up,” he plows on, Zayn sighing internally because he had hoped to avoid anyone looking into Liam too closely.

Jordan turns back to Liam expectantly, the younger man flushing under their combined gazes.

“He’s a model,” Zayn answers smoothly before Liam can, “and it looks like the introductions are getting ready to start so you’ll have to excuse us.”

“Of course,” Jordan says, glancing around and noticing that people are finding their seats fairly quickly. “It was very nice to meet you Liam,” he simpers, reaching down to take Liam’s hand and leaving a wet kiss on the back of it with a smacking noise.

If looks could kill, Zayn would have fried Jordan with his laser eyes, but fortunately for Jordan, they can’t. Still Zayn glares at Jordan, quirking an eyebrow as the larger man scoots out of the way. Zayn swoops in then, plopping down in his seat and wrapping a protective arm around his boyfriend possessively.

Jordan shoots them one last glance before disappearing into the crowd to find his own seat.

“ ‘m sorry,” Liam gushes then, voice urgent, “I didn’t even want him to come over, he just sat down and started talking and I froze up before I could tell him about you, and-“

“Liam,” Zayn hushes him before the younger boy works himself into a frenzy. “It's fine babe, he was just a bit too forward for my liking.”

“Mine too,” Liam mutters, curling into Zayn’s side.

A man takes the stage then, introducing the director and bringing up important people to be recognized before the movie actually starts. Liam and Zayn applaud when appropriate along with audience, Liam slowly loosening up until he looks comfortable again.

Zayn takes his hand, stealing Liam’s attention away from the proceedings, rubbing a thumb along the back of it before pressing a light kiss against his knuckles.

“ ‘m happy you’re here,” he whispers, fondness creeping into his voice. Liam beams, eyes crinkling into little crescents.

“ ‘m happy that we’re together,” he replies. “Thanks for bringing me.”

“Anything for my beautiful boy,” Zayn murmurs, kissing the back of his hand again and watching as Liam’s cheeks go pink with pleasure.

“And now, without further ado, The Avengers: Infinity War.” The man announces, the lights lowering as the opening scenes begin.

Liam turns his attention to the screen, and Zayn releases his hand to stretch his arm across the back of Liam’s seat.

The movie is fantastic, from what Zayn can see, but he spends the majority of the time watching Liam as opposed to watching the screen. Liam is beautiful and so expressive. Zayn lives the movie through his reactions, shock and excitement and suspense and happiness shining from Liam’s features.

Liam is glowing when the movie ends, practically vibrating in his seat.

“That was incredible,” he gushes, turning to Zayn with his eyes alight.

“It was,” Zayn agrees fondly, helping Liam stand before leading him out of the theater.

Liam jabbers the whole way home, talking through his favorite scenes and costumes and characterization, analyzing plot holes and comparing the story to the original comics. Zayn hums along, surprised that he’s taking time to breathe between his monologue about Chris Evans’ new uniform and Sebastian Stan’s new haircut.

“- And now I honestly don’t know if I prefer the hair from Winter Soldier or The First Avenger more, but his hair tonight was just at a really awkward length, don’t you think?”

“Definitely,” Zayn agrees with a laugh, and Liam looks up then, coming back to himself with wide eyes.

“Wait how long have I been talking?” he asks suddenly.

“Well, we’ve been sitting here in the driveway for like twenty minutes now, and you just came up for breath.”

Liam looks horrified. “Oh my god I am so sorry I got a bit carried away.”

“No worries babe,” Zayn insists, tickling his fingers up Liam’s chin before running his thumb along Liam’s jaw. “I like how excited you are. I’m glad you had a good time tonight.”

Liam is red though, clearly disappointed in himself as he curls up slightly despite Zayn’s touch and reassuring words.

“Hey,” he murmurs, “why don’t we go inside and get changed, and you can decide which hairstyle is better and tell me all about it in bed? We can stay up as late as you want, I don’t have to work tomorrow.”

“Really?” Liam breathes out, excitement in his eyes.

“Course, let’s go,” Zayn gestures towards the door, and Liam scrambles out as Zayn thanks the driver for waiting before following Liam inside.

“C’mon babe!” Liam calls from deeper in the house, “we don’t have all night.”

“Coming,” Zayn yells in return, trailing after Liam, chuckling to himself because he truly has an overgrown child for a boyfriend, and Zayn couldn’t care about his hyperactive arse any more than he already does. A nagging voice in the back of his head tells Zayn that it’s more than just caring, but Zayn shoves it down, unbuttoning his shirt and stepping into their bedroom.

***

Liam shifts his weight from right to left, grasping the bag in his hand firmly as the elevator whisks him up to the top floor. The smell of curry is strong, permeating the space, and Liam is pretty sure it has soaked into his clothes too.

The doors open, revealing a quaint waiting area with couches, magazines, and a desk for Zayn’s assistant. Said assistant, however, is nowhere to be found.

Liam debates calling Zayn for a second to see if he’s busy, before deciding against it. That would ruin the surprise. Plus he doesn’t really care if Zayn is busy or not. Liam is on a mission and Zayn’s job can wait an hour.

He doesn’t give himself anytime to second guess the decision, just taps lightly on the door to Zayn’s office before peeking in.

“I don’t care what you have to do. You knew the deadline well in advance. That’s your job, that’s what I pay you for. Just make it happen.” Zayn snaps into the phone, looking frazzled and exhausted all at once as he drops the phone into its receiver.

Zayn sighs then, sitting back in his chair and running a hand over his face.

“Hey babe,” Liam says softly, “is this a bad time?”

Zayn looks shocked at his appearance in the doorway, frozen for a second before shaking his head quickly.

“It’s never a bad time for you to visit,” he insists, rising from his chair as Liam enters the room fully.

“I brought you lunch, your favorite. Thought you sounded tired this morning.” Liam explains, extending the bag awkwardly as he approaches the desk.

Zayn chuckles, taking the bag from Liam and glancing inside before setting it down. “Smells delicious.”

Zayn circles his fingers around Liam’s wrist then, dragging him forward to wrap Liam up in a tight hug. Liam buries his nose in the crook of Zayn’s neck, closing his eyes and breathing in the older man. Zayn nuzzles into the skin behind his ear, placing a feather light kiss against his jaw.

He inhales exaggeratedly then, tangling one hand in Liam’s hair and tugging gently, sending sparks down Liam’s spine. “ ‘s not the only thing that smells delicious though.”

Liam giggles, huffing hot breath into Zayn’s neck as he drags his beard against the side of Liam’s face. Zayn’s other hand rests low on Liam’s back, holding Liam firmly in place.

“Is it okay if I eat you instead?” Zayn murmurs, sounding dead serious, and Liam melts, hissing out a “yes”, nodding and giving in to his desire to kiss Zayn. Zayn groans in approval, letting Liam lick into his mouth with reckless enthusiasm before reining him in with a sharp tug.

“Easy baby,” he chides, and Liam open his eyes to meet Zayn’s lustful gaze, narrowing his eyes at the teasing tone of his voice.

Liam huffs, feeling petulant because Zayn always works him up so quickly and then makes him slow down and wait, and Liam is tired of waiting, damn it. He didn’t come here to wait, he could’ve done that at home alone.

It’s been nearly a year now, a year of them dancing around each other, and months of them dancing together, and in that time Liam has learned a lot about Zayn. He’s learned that the older man hates mornings, but he gets up anyways because he’s ridiculously dedicated to his job. He's learn the way that Zayn takes his tea, which condiments he prefers on which foods, and his favorite brand of toothpaste.

Liam has learned that Zayn is loyal, to his company, friends, and family. Zayn is generous, giving of his time and resources to help those around him to the best of his ability. Zayn is thoughtful, deliberate in his choices. Liam knows that Zayn loves taking care of him, buying him things even though Liam has never asked for anything.

But most importantly, Liam knows that Zayn is extremely possessive, of his job, his family, his friends, and especially of Liam.

“Well if you aren’t interested in giving me what I want, maybe I’ll go find someone else,” Liam taunts, a bit cruelly but desperate times call for desperate measure, and Liam is aching with need right now. “I’m sure Jordan would be more than willing to let me visit him,” and Zayn growls then, biting down on Liam’s jaw.

His hands grip Liam’s hips almost painfully tight, Zayn gritting out “don’t even think about it,” before whirling Liam around to press him against the desk, the back of his thighs digging into the hardwood.

Zayn presses forward, leaning Liam back until he’s forced to cling to Zayn’s neck to avoid toppling over backwards, pleasure shooting up his spine from the movement. Zayn kisses him again, licking into Liam’s mouth demandingly, and Liam just takes it.

“You’re mine,” Zayn insists then, pressing their foreheads together and murmuring the words straight into Liam’s mouth.

“Yours,” Liam breathes, wondering if the older man has any idea how true it is. Liam is ruined for anyone else, and it’s going to be what breaks him.

“Don’t want you thinking about anyone else like that.” Zayn grumbles then, nipping at Liam’s bottom lip when he pauses.

“I’ll give you what you need, when you need it. You just need to trust me.”

Zayn drags his nails along the back of Liam’s neck and he gasps, feeling overwhelmed but he nods regardless. “Need you,” he whimpers, praying that Zayn will see how much he means it.

“I know you do, baby,” Zayn soothes, “I know. I’m right here.”

Liam wraps his arms tighter, trying to burrow into Zayn’s arms and rut against his hip. Zayn lets him, dropping his hand lower to palm at Liam’s arse through his joggers. Liam whines as his fingers dig in slightly, nudging up against the plug that’s nestled inside him.

He’d woke up thinking of Zayn, frustrated, horny, and alone. The plug was a gift from Zayn a few weeks prior, and Liam had been looking for the perfect opportunity to try it out, deciding there’s no time like the present. He came once prepping himself, unwilling and unable to hold off for Zayn’s touch, but that had been a couple hours ago.

Still he feels sensitive, rolling his hips back into Zayn’s hand before lurching away to grind forward against the solid weight against him.

Zayn removes his hand, nudging both hands up under Liam’s shirt to rub at the bare skin of his lower back, and Liam shivers at the heat. Zayn kisses him again, gently but possessively, the type of slow burn that drive Liam mad.

He teases at Liam’s waistband, fingers dipping beneath and encountering the lace of the underwear he’s wearing.

“Liam,” Zayn chokes out, finally sounding as desperate as Liam feels.

“Did you wear these for me babe?”

Liam hums noncommittally, kissing Zayn lazily, sure that the older man is starting to get the picture. “C’mon” he urges, and Zayn finally kicks it into gear, flipping Liam so he’s bent over the desk. Liam flails his arms out, shoving away papers and knick-knacks in preparation.

Zayn peels Liam’s joggers off then, letting them drop to the floor and pool at his ankles as he lets out a groan at the sight of Liam’s lace covered arse. “Baby,” he whispers, crowding up behind Liam to kiss at his neck and push him down into the desk, grinding his bulge forward and making Liam whimper.

“Always so pretty for me,” he praises, “love the sounds you make when you get turned on.”

They stay pressed together like that for a couple minutes, before Liam squirms, whining for Zayn to touch him, take him, and Zayn steps back. He walks around the desk, rummaging in a drawer before pulling out a bottle of lube. Liam looks closer, quirks an eyebrow at Zayn when he sees that it’s unopened.

Zayn shrugs, closing the drawer, muttering, “You’re always horny and one of us has to be prepared around here,” as he resumes his position behind Liam.

Liam shifts as Zayn tugs down his underwear then, pressing two fingers against Liam’s hole, and Liam moans loudly, dropping his head down between his arms as pleasure shoots up his spine. Zayn just chuckles lowly as he discovers Liam’s final secret.

“I’m beginning to think you planned this. ‘s quite naughty, babe, planning to come here and interrupt me while I’m working,” he murmurs, nudging the plug more firmly, pressing it straight into Liam’s prostate. Liam gasps, going up on his toes to escape the intense concentrated sensation.

“I don’t see you complaining,” Liam shoots back hoarsely as Zayn rubs against his hole, and Zayn hums in agreement.

“Course not, why would I complain about you being so desperate for me that you got yourself all ready and drove over here just to get fucked?”

Liam huffs at the smug tone. “Shut up and get in me.”

Zayn swats at his arse then, the sting travelling straight to Liam’s cock where it hangs between Liam and the desk. “Please,” Liam chokes out, “please get in me.”

“Since you asked so nicely,” Zayn mocks, grabbing the end of the plug and tugging it out of Liam’s heat, the lube he used making an obscene sound as it pops. The plug gets tossed on the desk them, and Liam is wondering if lube will stain the hardwood when Zayn derails his train of thought by tucking two fingers inside him.

Liam groans, pushing back as Zayn swirls his fingers, scissoring and stretching him out, even if it’s just a formality. The plug did the hard work, but Zayn also refuses to fuck Liam without giving him a few fingers first.

“ ‘m ready,” Liam insists, and Zayn must believe him because he reaches for the lube with his free hand, popping open the lid. He removes his fingers, thumbing over Liam’s hole one last time before slicking himself up.

He doesn’t tease thankfully, nudging the head of his cock against Liam’s hole once before pressing forward, inside. Liam moans softly, and Zayn just breathes deeply as he pushes in further, grabbing Liam’s hips to hold him still and hissing out “tight,” just before he bottoms out.

He rests there for a second, just grinding gently into Liam while they both adjust. Liam moves first, pushing off of the desk to fuck himself back against Zayn slowly. Zayn lets him, squeezing at Liam’s hips but letting him take control for a bit, take what he wants from Zayn.

Liam whines, struggling to angle himself properly but not wanting to go back to just grinding because Zayn doesn’t seem all that motivated to move.

Zayn seems to notice though, murmuring, “I’ve got you, baby,” before rolling his hips up and to the left, hitting Liam’s prostate straight on with the head of his cock. Liam moans loudly then, cock slick at the tip from precome that blurts out as Zayn snaps his hips more forcefully.

“How do you feel?” Zayn asks, rolling his hips in slower circles to alternate with his sharp thrusts that target Liam’s sweet spot.

“Good,” Liam gasps out, “so good. Always feel so good when you’re in me. Touching me.”

Zayn grins, loves making Liam feel as good as Liam makes him feel all the time. He trails a hand around to rest on Liam’s lower stomach, pulling him back as he gives a particularly hard thrust.

“Am I the only one who makes you feel this good?” he asks, wanting to hear Liam’s response.

“Just you,” he affirms, and he feels like he’s on fire, Zayn’s hand teasing at his cock before returning to hold him in place.

“Just me,” Zayn repeats, pausing his thrusts to grind forward. “So does that mean you didn’t get yourself off before coming to visit?”

Liam freezes, caught, before blubbering out “ ‘m sorry I couldn’t help it. Needed to come, got too worked up thinking about you.”

Zayn hums thoughtfully. They haven’t discussed denial yet, and Zayn isn’t one to spring a new kink on Liam without talking it over first, but also his cock twitches at the thought. Just the idea of being the sole person allowed to make Liam come, to make him fall apart, to break him down and put him back together is almost enough to make Zayn shoot off himself.

It’s another discussion for another time though.

“I understand, baby.” Zayn soothes, leaning down to kiss the back of his neck. “We’ll work on it, yeah? I know it’s hard.”

Liam sniffs, turning his head to beg for a kiss, and Zayn always gives his baby what he wants.

Zayn pulls back, Liam dropping his head and bracing himself as Zayn starts thrusting again, intent to make them both come sooner rather than later.

“Mr. Malik, this just came for you,”

The foreign voice startles Liam and he yelps, clamping down on Zayn’s cock painfully, and Zayn grunts, snapping his head around to see his assistant standing in the doorway reading a paper, clearly unaware of what he walked in on.

“Drew, what the fuck,” Zayn roars, livid as he turns Liam away and covers him entirely, shielding him from view.

“Oh my god,” Drew whimpers, slapping both hands over his eyes as the paper flutters to the ground. “I am so sorry, sir.”

“Don’t you ever knock?” Zayn demands while facing the opposite direction, Liam cupping his own cock and curling in on himself, face bright red from embarrassment.

“I heard the noise but I thought you were just watching TV,” and wow, Drew is really digging himself into a hole here. Just a different type of hole than the one Zayn is currently *ahem* invested in.

“Get out,” Zayn hisses, bellowing, “leave!” when Drew doesn’t move immediately. The man scrambles away then, clamoring for the door and slamming it behind him, mumbling apologies.

The office is too quiet then, Liam and Zayn still pressed together but the atmosphere shattered. For a second Liam thinks Zayn is going to pull out and leave the room to murder his assistant, but instead, much to Liam’s surprise, he begins to laugh, first just giggling and then guffawing, and Liam can’t help but join in.

“What on earth,” Zayn snorts out, chin hooked over Liam’s shoulder, and Liam isn’t sure if it’s weird that they are still connected, neither of them softening despite the unexpected intrusion. Zayn doesn’t comment though, just pulls out and drags Liam to position him back over the desk.

“I have unfinished business in here before I deal with that mess,” he murmurs, tapping at Liam’s hole with his cock to get the point across before pushing back inside.

And just like that, Liam is back to getting dicked down, although he’s a bit more self-conscious of his sounds now, mindful of the fact that Drew might be at his desk within earshot.

Zayn doesn’t seem to care, a stream of dirty talk mixed with praise flowing from his mouth as he pounds into Liam, not wasting any time. Liam bounces with the force of his thrusts, jerking up when he cock hits the hardwood of the desk, but Zayn pushes him back down. Liam can feel the sticky head dragging precome all over Zayn’s desk, but he can’t be bothered to care.

Zayn slows his thrusts slightly, but tilts his hips to target Liam’s prostate. Liam whimpers as he realizes that he’s right on the edge, warning Zayn by choking out, “gonna come.”

“You can come.” Zayn murmurs. “Just let go, yeah? You’ve been so good for me.”

Liam whines as he comes, splattering strings of white across the desk, sure that he’s gasping Zayn’s name as the older man fucks him through it.

“So beautiful,” Zayn praises, thrusting more sporadically as Liam’s hole spasms around him.

Liam goes slack, held up by his upper body on the desk as Zayn supports his hips, thrusts rapid and shallow as he chases his own release. Liam whimpers from the overstimulation, Zayn not knowing how to fuck him without targeting his prostate.

It’s only a couple minutes before Zayn gasps, sucking in a deep breath as he empties himself into Liam. Liam moans softly, feeling so, so wet inside as his walls are slicked with Zayn’s come.

Zayn kisses the back of Liam’s neck, breathing heavily until Liam turns his head to press their lips together.

“You made a mess,” Liam whispers against his lips, shifting his hips to draw attention to Zayn’s slowly softening cock inside him. Zayn hums, nudging forward to make Liam gasp again.

“You’re gonna be the one making a mess on the way home,” Zayn murmurs, sounding far too smug for Liam’s liking, but it’s nothing new. Zayn is obsessed with filling Liam up, marking his territory in the most primal way and letting it leak out of Liam slowly until Zayn fills him up again.

“Because of you,” Liam huffs, heart soaring at the casual mention of Zayn’s house as Liam’s home. It’s been true for months now but it still excites him to belong somewhere, with someone.

Zayn kisses the side of Liam’s neck as he slowly pulls out, Liam clenching to avoid dripping on the floor. Zayn step back, admiring his boyfriend before thumbing over Liam’s hole gently, the skin red and puffy from the stretch.

“So pretty babe,” he praises, stroking one last time before reaching around Liam to grab the plug, pressing it against Liam’s hole and pushing it inside. Liam groans softly, cheeks pink, dropping his head from the stimulation as the plug knocks against his prostate.

Zayn pats his arse then, stepping back and tucking himself back into his pants, grabbing tissues to wipe the come stains and lube from the desk.

“Not exactly how I wanted to meet your assistant,” Liam admits, blushing as he pulls up his joggers, because damn what a first impression, bent over a desk getting fucked within an inch of his life.

“I can’t imagine why,” Zayn deadpans, eyes sparkling with mischief, before he adds, “that’s not how I wanted to introduce you either.”

“Does he usually walk in unannounced like that?” Liam asks, running his fingers through his hair as he stares in the mirror on the far wall. He’s exuding a nice aura of ‘I’ve just been fucked’ judging by his glassy eyes, flushed cheeks, pink lips, and crazy hair, but it’s not like he has to talk to anyone on the way home, Liam reasons.

“Actually he does. I’ve been telling him to knock or buzz me first for months now but he just forgets,” Zayn grumbles, looking as annoyed as he can with his boyfriend within arm’s reach (not very, because Liam makes him so happy, and not even his crummy assistant can ruin that).

 “ ‘m sorry your assistant sucks,” Liam apologizes, stepping in to wrap his arms around Zayn’s waist and press a kiss to his lips. “At least we have curry?” he offers, and Zayn laughs.

“Curry and orgasms, what better way to remedy a shitty assistant,” Zayn teases, wrapping Liam up in a hug while Liam pouts.

“I was trying to help, don’t be a jerk.”

“Aw,” Zayn coos, “did I hurt your feelings?”

He leans in to kiss Liam then, but Liam jerks his face away, batting at Zayn’s chest with his hands and giggling out, “stop it.”

Zayn chases after Liam’s lips, pressing kisses to his cheek, jaw, nose, beard scratching at Liam’s skin until he gives in and lets Zayn claim his mouth in a soft sweet kiss.

“Eat with me?” he asks, and Liam rolls his eyes but nods, informing Zayn that “I didn’t bring food just for you, you know.”

Zayn grabs the bag and they settle on the couch pushed against the far wall, spooning curry and spicy chicken onto the paper plates Liam brought, feeding each other bites every so often.

When they’re finished, Liam snuggles up to Zayn, feeling warm, full, and content, closing his eyes and nuzzling into the crook of his neck. Zayn pulls him closer, resting his own head on top of Liam’s.

“Maybe we should make this a weekly thing,” Zayn suggests softly, pressing the words into Liam’s hair.

“… the lunch or the sex?” Liam isn’t opposed to either.

“Both,” Zayn decides, pressing a kiss to Liam’s forehead. “ ‘s that alright with you?”

Liam pauses, tapping a finger under his chin, pretending to think deeply before sighing. “I guess I can pencil you into my very busy schedule.”

“Thank you for your sacrifice, baby,” Zayn mocks, and Liam laughs.

“Anything for you,” and it’s truer than Liam would like to admit. He really would do just about anything for the older man, and it should terrify him, but because Liam is an idiot, he’s not scared at all. Falling is fun, he thinks, that is, until you hit the bottom.

***

 Zayn walks Liam out later, Liam blushing as they pass by Drew’s desk. Drew seems just as ashamed, ducking his head seemingly transfixed by the papers in front of him. Zayn just leads Liam forward with a gentle hand on his lower back, smirking slightly much to Liam’s annoyance.

That night Zayn tells Liam that Drew put in his two week notice, claiming that he really isn’t cut out for being an assistant, but he didn’t want to leave Zayn in the lurch when he realized it months ago. Zayn says he’s planning to call around and ask some friends for recommendations to replace him. Zayn isn’t upset at all, which makes Liam feel better about the whole ordeal.

Liam requests that the new assistant demonstrates how to knock before Zayn offers them the job, and Zayn agrees with a chuckle.

***

The room is elegant, crystal chandeliers casting soft light over the elaborately decorated ballroom. Soft string music plays, and people move about in tuxedos and gowns that probably cost more than Liam makes in a decade, men flashing solid gold cufflinks and women bedazzled with jewels, dripping from their ears, necks, and wrists.

 This really isn’t Liam’s scene, but Zayn is in his element, mingling and networking, all posh words and crisp smiles that seem to please the guests but make Liam feel icy inside. Zayn knows how to work the room, Liam feeling like an outsider, tucked into Zayn’s side as he glides around the room.

Zayn always looks incredible to Liam, and it’s no surprise that he cleans up spectacularly for formal events. He’s in a slim fitted suit, hair quiffed up and beard trimmed immaculately. Liam had spent the better part of half an hour fighting the desire to drag Zayn to their bed and convince him to skip the gala altogether. He’d mentioned as much to Zayn in the car, and Zayn’s eyes had darkened. He’d pressed promises of later into Liam’s skin with his fingers and his lips until they arrived.

And now, here they are, floating from person to person, Zayn making polite conversation while Liam smiles, and nods, and laughs when appropriate. These are Zayn’s associates, members of the industries that he works with day to day, some of whom he’s known for years. There is an overwhelming majority of old white men, making Zayn stand out among his peers, but he shines brighter than any of them in Liam’s eyes.

Liam had been a bit concerned when Zayn suggested they attend the gala together, wary of unforgiving stares and muttered comments behind their backs. It’s the twenty first century but that hasn’t magically made people inclusive or gracious towards those that are different.

Still, Zayn reassured him that everything would be fine, that he’d made his preference for men an open secret among his colleagues in the past and that no one would be intolerant. “Quite the opposite,” he’d said, “I’m afraid I’ll have to fight people off to make sure I’m the one that takes you home. You’ll turn heads, babe, always do.”

Zayn was right about the crowd not giving Zayn and Liam’s closeness a second look. One good thing about the rich and powerful is their self-absorption, meaning most people were too busy singing their own praises and polishing their jewels to look down on either of them.

 Zayn gets the boring people out of the way first, his words, not Liam’s, leading Liam around the room to shake hands with older men, asking after their wives politely before steering Liam away with a proprietary hand on his lower back before they could get too curious. Not all of the guests are bad though.

In fact, an elderly couple, the Jensen’s Zayn informs him, go out of their way to compliment them and wish them the best in the future. Mrs. Jensen kisses Zayn’s cheek, leaning in to drag Liam into a hug and whispering, “you’re a lucky lad,” into his ear, making Liam blush as she winks lewdly. Mr. Jensen shakes their hands, winking before leading his wife away with the air of a classy gentleman.

Liam settles after that, and Zayn deems him relaxed enough to meet some of his friends. Zayn laces their fingers together, drags him to a corner of the ballroom where a man their age is sipping at a glass of wine and observing the room. The man’s face lights up, pushing himself off the wall to greet Zayn warmly. He introduces himself as Niall, kissing Liam’s hand a receiving a slap to the arm and a look of warning from Zayn. Niall just chortles at the possessive look on Zayn’s face, launching into a brief synopsis of his life.

Niall, whose expertise lies in fine wine and aged cheese, is an Irishman that moved to France for a summer abroad and never moved back home, much to his father’s delight. Niall is loud, brash, and very kind to Liam, careful to include him in their conversation rather than talking over him to Zayn. Niall waves over a tall man with curly brown hair and wideset features, who he introduces as Harry before scurrying off to catch another friend.

Harry is dressed in a loudly patterned suit, which makes sense considering he’s an up and coming designer, focusing specifically in menswear. He talks slowly, tongue curling around his words in a thick drawl, but his dry sense of humor matches Liam’s own, and Liam likes the sparkle in his eye when he teases Zayn about hiding Liam away on purpose to stop anyone else from stealing his affections. Zayn doesn’t deny it, just winks playfully.

Later he tells Liam that he hasn’t been hiding him necessarily, more just keeping Liam all to himself. “I’m selfish, and I can admit that I like having all your attention.” he shrugs, and Liam is more than alright with that mindset to be honest.

They meet Louis next, who deals with music production, working with some of the most popular artists on the radio, though not all of them have made it to Liam’s personal playlists. Still, Liam enjoys his stories about divas in the studio, and invites Liam to come and watch sometime if he wants. Zayn looks pleased by the offer, nudging Liam and murmuring that he should think about it as they walk away.

Zayn orders them drinks from the bar, wine for himself and a coke for Liam, and they find a wall to rest against as a man interrupts the string quartet to thank everyone for coming. He launches into a boring speech about end of year finances of companies and charitable giving, and Liam can’t help but yawn as the man continues.

Zayn isn’t much better off, glancing at his watch every two minutes, tapping his shoe on the ground. Zayn slides closer, wrapping an arm around Liam’s waist to mutter, “this is always the worst part.”

Liam nods in agreement, nose scrunched up even though he’s trying to hide his distaste for the man droning on. Instead of paying attention, he glances around the room, observing the other guests.

A lot of them wear the same bored expression that Liam himself does, furs and diamonds not muting their obvious lack of interest. A few are still deep in discussion, particularly a couple groups of women, no doubt sharing the latest gossip about who’s sleeping with who, or who bought a summer home where, or whose gown was the least flattering.

The bartender is still pouring drinks, the speech not quenching the patrons thirst or need for alcohol to make it through the evening, and Liam cracks a grin when he sees Niall waiting in the short line.

Liam continues to scan the room lazily, chucking as he sees a woman roll her eyes and elbow her husband who had dozed off in the chairs lining the far wall.

A chill runs up his spine then, and Liam shifts his gaze to find a pair of eyes already on him, an older man almost leering at him from across the room. He begins speaking to the man standing next to him, never looking away from Liam.

The second man looks in Liam’s direction then, smirking and nodding before replying to the first man. Liam freezes, sure that they are talking about him but unsure why.

“Alright?” Zayn asks, glancing at Liam curiously. Liam chances another look in the direction of the stranger, making eye contact again and Liam jerks his head away. “Fine,” he says, voice a bit strained because the man’s gaze makes the hair on the back of Liam’s neck stand up, but it’s not worth bothering Zayn over. Zayn is already overprotective, and giving him a legitimate reason to surgically attach himself to Liam wouldn’t end well.

“So once again, thank you all for coming, and for donating to this incredible cause. Have a fabulous evening.” The crowd applauds weakly as the man finishes his monologue, stepping down from the podium.

“Thank fuck that’s over,” Zayn mutters, “my bladder’s about to explode.” He shifts from side to side quickly, mockingly, a muted version of the dance Liam did a few weeks before when they’d gotten caught in traffic on the way home from dinner.

“Fuck off,” Liam laughs, “I had to go!”

“So do I,” Zayn shoots back, eyes sparkling with laughter. “I’ll be right back, yeah?” Liam nods, waving him off, and Zayn grabs Liam’s now empty glass, plopping them onto a waiter’s tray and disappearing into the crowd in search of a restroom.

Liam smiles after him, smile slowly dropping as he realizes that Zayn has left him alone in a room where he’s virtually unknown and unequipped to fit in. He tugs nervously at the lapels of his suit coat, fidgeting with his appearance for the first time since he slipped into the clothes earlier in the evening, Zayn breathing praises into his mouth between kisses.

Liam lets his eyes wander back to wear two men had been standing, both relieved and terrified to find them missing. Something was off about them, he knows, but he tries to calm himself.

He decides to head for the bar to grab fresh drinks while he waits. The bartender remembers him from when Zayn ordered previously, pouring his coke and Zayn’s wine and sliding them across the bar with a smile. Liam thanks him, picking up the drinks and scooting to the end of the bar where he sets Zayn’s wine down. No sense holding two drinks while he waits.

Liam checks his watch absent mindedly, a warm feeling in his stomach as he remembers Zayn giving him the gift without prompting. Truthfully Liam had used asking the time as an excuse to keep Zayn’s attention on him, but the thoughtfulness of his boyfriend still amazes him, and Liam loves wearing the watch every day, keeping something of Zayn’s physically attached to him as a reminder that he’s worth something to Zayn at the very least.

“Excuse me,” a low voice interrupts Liam’s thoughts, and he spins, eyes wide to be greeted with the sight of the first man from across the room, his friend nowhere in sight. He’s tall and broad, styled without a hair out of place, and expensive clothes perfectly tailored. He smells strongly of cologne and wealth, like old money, Liam thinks.

“I couldn’t help but notice you’re alone,” he murmurs, stepping in far too close for comfort. Liam takes a step back, chuckling nervously, because What the Fuck dude. Liam isn’t sure how to respond, knowing that the man had seen him pressed to Zayn not fifteen minutes ago. Perhaps he needs a reminder.

“ ‘m boyfriend went to the loo,” Liam says quietly, adding, “he should be back any minute now.”

The man just hums, not looking interested in that information in the slightest. “You’re very pretty,” he says casually, ignoring Liam’s statement and Liam’s stomach drops. He’s had his fair share of men that don’t know how to take a hint, but for the most part they’ve been either very young or very intoxicated. This man is neither.

“I was captivated by your smile from across the room,” he continues, and Liam stays silent, unsure of how to respond without insulting the man or making a scene. The man leans closer, and Liam takes another step back, the bar digging into his spine uncomfortably as he tries to create an appropriate about of distance.

“I can just imagine the things you can do with that mouth,” the man whispers, leering at Liam, and Liam has never felt this small, not in all his years stripping. Never felt this naked and dehumanized, despite all the times he’s been far more exposed physically. Liam shoots a glance over to the bartender, pleading for help with his eyes, relieved to find that the bartender is watching their exchange, mouth set in a thin line.

The man follows his gaze, and must realize that Liam looks far too uncomfortable for their conversation to remain casual. He takes a step back smoothly, smiling charmingly first at the bartender and then at Liam. “You seem quite talented with your body,” he murmurs. Liam’s brow furrows, because all he’s done is walk around this evening, same as everyone else.

“No more than anyone else,” Liam answers weakly, praying that the man will give up, or that Zayn will hurry.

The man chuckles then. “Oh, that’s not what I’ve heard.” Liam’s heart drops, eyes going wide as the man scans him from head to toe, smirking evilly.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Liam stutters, hoping the man will think he’s got the wrong person, and move on. Playing dumb has worked for him in the past, but Liam is afraid that this man is too different to fall for it, and he’s right.

“Oh come now, I’m not here to debate your occupation. I know who you are, Liam.” His voice curls around Liam’s name, caressing each syllable and making Liam feel dirty as it leaves his mouth.

The man laughs humorously, and Liam shrinks away, fingernails biting into his palms, fight or flight instinct screaming for him to run, to find Zayn and drag him home, to the safety of their bedroom.

“You know,” the man says casually, dark eyes glinting, “I wonder what Zayn’s colleagues would say if they know he’s dating a stripper?” The man doesn’t bother lowering his voice and Liam winces, glancing around to see if anyone heard. The bartender is at the opposite side of the bar, pouring drinks for a group of ladies, and there’s no one else close enough to have heard.

Still, his heart pounds in his chest, because he’s never considered the effects of his job on Zayn’s own occupation. Would they think Zayn is a joke if they thought the only person he could find to date is a sex worker?

Doubt and concern swirls through his mind, clouding his thoughts, and that’s probably why he doesn’t notice the man is moving towards him until he’s already grabbed Liam’s wrist. Liam jerks his arm back, but the man has a firm hold, keeping Liam’s arm firmly within his grasp.

“Please don’t touch me. Let me go,” Liam begs quietly, tugging at his arm and biting his lip as the man squeezes, skin burning from the pressure. He’s getting ready to make a scene, maybe call out for the bartender or something when he hears a familiar voice.

“Liam?” Zayn is walking quickly, brow furrowed as he takes in the scene before him, Liam struggling to get away from the older man’s hold on his wrist.

The man looks at Zayn with the same level of interest, or rather the lack thereof that he regarded Liam with initially. Zayn steps straight into the man’s personal space, and he must not be expecting it because he flinches backwards, releasing Liam’s wrist.

Zayn is livid, Liam can tell, and apparently the man can too because he takes a couple steps back, holding his hands out in a placating manner.

“What the hell were you doing grabbing him like that?” Zayn hisses, fire in his eyes and venom in his voice.

”We were just having a discussion,” the man looks concerned, glancing around to see if anyone is noticing, and Liam laughs inside at the cruel irony, his action mirroring Liam’s own from minutes ago for a very different reason.

“A discussion where you felt the need to pin him in place when he’s clearly uncomfortable?” Zayn demands, clearing not buying the story the man is desperate to sell.

The man laughs shakily, running a nervous hand through his hair. “Look, I didn’t think you’d mind. We know he’s been around the block, yeah?”

Zayn’s spine goes rigid, his hand curling at his sides and Liam is too busy worrying about Zayn actually laying this guy out on the floor to be hurt by the implication of his words. “Zayn,” he murmurs softly, trying to get his attention.

Zayn ignores him though, pressing into the man’s space and fisting his shirt in his hand, pulling the man in close. When he speaks, his voice is dangerous, and Liam shivers.

“Listen to me very closely. That’s the second time this evening that I’ve had somebody imply that my boyfriend is worth less as a person due to his occupation, and it’s two times too many.”

Zayn pulls him closer, his lips twisting into a wry smile. “And what would your wife say if she knew you were propositioning someone you consider to be so beneath you, Richard?” Zayn spits his name as if it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth, smirking when Richard’s eyes go wide.

“You seem to know about my personal life, so why are you surprised that I know about yours?”

Zayn doesn’t give him a chance to defend himself though, almost snarling as he says, “This is what you’re going to do. You’re going to turn around and walk away, and if you ever breathe in Liam’s direction again you’ll regret it. I’m not ashamed of him, but you should be ashamed of yourself and your actions.”

He releases Richard then with a small shove, and the man stumbles backwards before regaining his footing. Zayn stares him down as he backs away before nodding and turning away, disappearing into the crowd.

Zayn turns around then, reaching for Liam, one hand around his wrist and another cupping his cheek. “You alright?” he asks, and Liam nods, despite the fact that it’s not entirely true. Zayn is worried enough. He rubs at Liam’s wrist before pulling it to his lips and pressing a gentle kiss to the skin, where it’s redden from the other man’s fingers.

“We’re going home,” Zayn murmurs, voice low and final, and Liam doesn’t argue, desperate to leave as well. He ducks his head as Zayn reaches for him, pressing his fingers into Liam’s waist, digging in slightly to lead him out of the ballroom.

***

Zayn is quiet on the road home, mind racing with the events of the evening, and Liam is silent beside him, looking out the window at the landscape as it speeds by.

Zayn had laced their fingers together as soon as they entered the car, slotting his hand into Liam’s and rubbing warm, reassuring circles into his skin despite the tension between them.

He’s furious. Not at Liam, of course, because it’s not Liam’s fault that Richard must have visited Caroline’s in the past, probably a regular if he was able to recognize Liam in an entirely different environment. It’s not Liam’s fault that Richard felt brave enough to approach Liam, despite his clear desire to be left alone; Liam wasn’t asking for it because of his occupation. And it’s definitely not Liam’s fault that society in general frowns upon sex workers while simultaneously demanding their services in one form or another.

White collar men flock to strip clubs and frequent pornography websites, only to treat those who are employed as second class citizens. And at the same time, they are the ones cheating on their wives with prostitutes and unfortunate secretaries, claiming moral high ground while acting as if they’ve never been taught right from wrong.

Zayn doesn’t associate with a lot of his peers in the business world, despite numerous opportunities to form relationships closer than acquaintances with many people through the years. It’s not that he’s rude or unfriendly towards people, it’s just that he’s wary of entering a friendship with someone, and having them turn out like Richard: a self-entitled, narcissistic, pompous millionaire with no boundaries.

And it’s not that everyone in the business world turns out like Richard, because there are also some nice eggs to counterbalance the rotten ones, but if Zayn has learned anything in his time as a business owner, it’s that people will lie and put up a front until you’ve let your guard down, and by the time they’ve revealed their true colors, it may be too late for your reputation as well.

Zayn couldn’t care less about his job, or his reputation right now though, because Liam is far more important than trivial things like status and appearance. Zayn brought him to a foreign environment and promised him safety only to leave him vulnerable and alone in a room full of snakes in expensive suits and diamonds.

Liam was attacked by the very type of person that Zayn is wary of himself because Zayn didn’t watch over him, take care of him like he’d promised.

Guilt pools in Zayn’s throat, mixing with a simmering rage towards the society that allows men like Richard to exist, to operate, and to prosper, apologies threatening to spill over into the silence of the vehicle.

Zayn turns to look at Liam, heart sinking as he sees the younger man curled in on himself, chin tucked, soft curls in his eyes and lashes brushing his cheeks as Liam makes himself as small as possible against the window. Zayn didn’t even notice that he’d scooted away, too busy agonizing over his own shortcomings to comfort Liam despite the knowledge that he’d just experienced something pretty traumatic and damaging.

Zayn bites his lips, feeling like twice the failure because not only could he not protect Liam in the moment, he can’t even hold him afterwards.

“Liam,” he whispers, squeezing his hand gently. Liam doesn’t respond, just closes his eyes tighter, hand holding tightly to Zayn’s as if he might float away if Zayn lets go.

“Liam.” No response.

“Sweetheart, come here please,” Zayn begs quietly, afraid to speak to loudly and shatter the fragile atmosphere.

Liam shakes his head minutely, stubborn even when he’s screaming out a need for comfort. Zayn doesn’t want to make him uncomfortable, doesn’t want to invade his personal space, but sometimes Liam fails to ask for he needs. And that’s why he has Zayn.

“Please, Li.” Zayn tugs slightly on his hand, urging Liam to come closer, and he finally relents, opening his eyes to reveal a glassy sheen across them, unshed tears threatening to fall. Liam’s lower lip quivers, his face collapsing as he looks as Zayn. Zayn lets go of his hand, opening his arms, and Liam falls into them with a nearly silent sob.

Zayn wraps Liam up, cradling the back of his head to tuck Liam’s face into his neck as the younger man whimpers, mumbling out words that Zayn can’t understand.

“Shh,” he hushes Liam, rocking them back and forth slightly, even though their embrace is awkward due to the confined space. “You’re alright. ‘ve got you.”

A few minutes pass before the driver pulls up outside their home, stopping the car and carefully not looking at the couple in the rearview mirror to give them privacy. Zayn makes a mental note to send him a gift for his thoughtfulness and discretion.

Liam must feel the car stop because he pulls back, sniffing quietly and bringing a fist up to rub at his eyes. Zayn nudges his fingers under Liam’s chin, ticking slightly and smiling softly. Liam smiles back, slightly watery, but Zayn is grateful that he’s smiling at all.

Zayn helps him inside, arm snug around Liam’s waist until they separate to strip out of their clothes in the bedroom. Liam is faster, basically ripping off his formal wear before shimmying under the covers and curling up in a ball.

Zayn slides in beside him, tapping on Liam’s curved back, fingers trailing across his spine until the younger man uncurls and rolls over to press himself into Zayn’s waiting arms.

He isn’t crying anymore, but he’s deathly quiet which is concerning. Zayn runs a hand through Liam’s hair, scratching at his scalp, fingers tangling in the waves.

Patience is an area that Zayn prides himself in, but waiting for Liam to break the silence is one of the most difficult things he’s had to do. The need to comfort and protect and attack those who threaten Liam’s happiness too strong for Zayn to say the right thing unprompted.

Liam goes slack in his arms, snuffling into Zayn’s collarbone, and for a minute Zayn thinks he may have fallen asleep, but then Liam’s voice sounds through the air, small and filled with sadness.

“ ‘m sorry,” he whispers, lips grazing Zayn’s skin, confusion coursing through Zayn at the words.

He wants to shut Liam down, insist that there’s nothing for him to be sorry about, that Richard was entirely in the wrong, but something tells Zayn that this is a deeper issue, and if he stops Liam now he may never get to know this side of Liam.

So instead, he asks quietly, “sorry for what, baby?” careful to keep his voice calm and soft, not wanting to make Liam think that the anger Zayn radiated earlier in the night was towards him.

“I make you look bad. He said people would think less of you if they knew.”

Liam hesitates, but Zayn fills in the gap. If people knew that Zayn was dating a stripper.

“And he’s right. ‘m dragging you down.” Liam closes his eyes as he whispers the words, obviously convinced that his statement is true. He’s not done though.

“If,” he swallows thickly, “if Richard visits the club and can spot me, there will be others. This will just be the beginning. And then they’ll wonder why the best that the elusive Zayn Malik can do is a stripper.”

Liam spits the word stripper like it’s a disease, despite the fact that Zayn knows Liam loves his job, loves dancing and feeling good about his body.

Zayn is a bit shocked, to be honest, that Liam seems to feel so strongly about people’s perceptions of their relationship. Liam ignores comments about himself for the most part, doesn’t seem to be bothered by demeaning words or suggestive catcalls when he’s on stage, but Zayn is starting to see that Liam puts on a façade when he performs, and behind the mask is a man who doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone.

Liam thinks he can handle things himself, and takes on unnecessary loads to relieve others of any inconvenience. So now, instead of blaming society for nurturing people who demean others for their occupation or accusing the man himself for his disgusting actions, Liam is internalizing the problem.

In Liam mind, Zayn realizes, there’s nothing wrong with everyone else. Zayn can see straight through the issue, can see all the contributing factors, but Liam is too close, is blind to all of that. In his head, it’s all his own fault, because Liam is the one who takes his clothes off for strangers regularly, and if Liam didn’t behave that way, people wouldn’t gossip behind Zayn’s back about his ability to maintain a relationship with a ‘worthy’ person.

Zayn feels sick at the realization, because he had no idea that Liam feels this way about himself, that all it would take is a brief interaction with an unpleasant person to bring these deep seated insecurities bubbling to the surface.

He’s been quiet for too long, he realizes, just before Liam pulls out of his arms and rolls away, curling in on himself to face away from Zayn.

“Baby,” Liam flinches as Zayn’s hand lands on his side, and Zayn withdraws, not wanting to make him uncomfortable physically.

“Please don’t hate me.” Liam whimpers, so quiet that Zayn almost misses it. Desperation grips Zayn’s heart then, the need to change Liam’s mind so strong that Zayn almost can’t stand it, the need to show him that Zayn could never hate him, loves him too much for that.

“Liam, darling, please listen to me. I’ll never be able to hate you. It wasn’t your fault, yeah? None of it. That guy was just an asshole.” Zayn keeps his voice level, soothing, but he’s dying to scoop Liam into his arms and keep him close until this blows over.

“He’s was right,” Liam mumbles. “I should have a normal job, something less scandalous. I’m just a liability to your career” Liam sniffles, refusing to face Zayn and speaking low enough that Zayn has to strain to hear him.

“In what world would my boyfriend’s job hurt my company?” Zayn asks, incredulous and tone probably a bit too harsh, but Zayn is getting frustrated and it bleeds into his voice. “I don’t care what people say! The business world is so fucked up, no one is going to boycott my business because you dance a few times a week.”

“Have you considered that maybe I do care what people say?” Liam demands then, sitting up and turning to stare at Zayn, and Zayn recoils at the sharpness in his tone.

“Sure, you’ll have to deal with some whispers but I’ll be the one who takes the fall in the end. Your company might not suffer, but our relationship will, one way or the other.”

“When people find out, you’ll have to be with me for every minute of every function you take me to in the future, just in case some old wrinkly man decides he wants to cop a feel of the stripper. What happens when you get tired of babysitting me at every gala and luncheon? What happens when you decide that it’s easier to just go without me? Or to stay at home and let your career suffer because you have to choose between my feelings and networking with your peers?”

Liam pauses, breathing deeply, looking determined as he continues. “What happens when you get bitter and start resenting me because I couldn’t be normal?” he whispers, sounding as heartbroken as Zayn feels in the moment. He’s overwhelmed by the onslaught of questions, of legitimate concerns that Zayn had never stopped to consider.

Liam shakes his head, expression a mixture of sadness, resignation, and pity, for Zayn or for himself, Zayn isn’t sure.

“Liam,” he begins, but he doesn’t even know what to say, where to even begin unraveling Liam’s fears, considering he’s right.

Zayn will never leave him alone at an event again, won’t risk a repeat of tonight’s events. And Zayn would definitely choose staying home with his boy over going to a stuffy event alone. Liam has him pegged to a T, and he knows it too judging by his silence.

Liam pushes himself off of the bed then, covers bunching at the foot of the bed as he pads into the ensuite without another word, Zayn watching helplessly, speechless.

***

The way Liam sees it, he has two options: quit his job, or quit his relationship with Zayn.

He could quit, he knows. His income is nothing compared to Zayn’s, and Zayn almost never lets him spend his own money these days, insisting that Liam save it for himself.

He’d have a lot of free time, enough to take up some hobbies. Zayn had suggested that Liam look into coaching one of the junior football teams after learning that he played in school. And Liam would love the chance to take some college classes, just for the experience.

But as nice as that sounds, there’s a part of him that’s terrified of becoming completely dependent on Zayn.

It’s not that Liam doesn’t trust Zayn, or think he’s not being genuine when he says that he cares about Liam, because he does. But things can change quickly, and Liam needs to guard himself, guard his wellbeing.

It’s difficult to come to grips with the idea of going from being completely independent to absolutely relying on some to supply all his needs. It’s not wise, he thinks, to make such a large commitment when he may be overly invested in this relationship in comparison to Zayn.

But his other option is to end things with Zayn.

Zayn, who is the most amazing, thoughtful man that Liam has ever met. Zayn, who treats Liam like a prince, like a person whose worthy of being showered in gifts and affection and something so close to love that Liam is struggling to see it otherwise. Zayn, who cooks Liam chicken noodle soup when he’s sick, and helps Liam make homemade curry every other Friday night.

Zayn who is rich, intelligent and educated. Zayn who built his own company, a company that Zayn runs with ease, that’s expanding under his careful direction. Zayn, whose smile could cure any ailment, whose sense of humor rivals Liam’s own, whose penchant for charity is greater than his likelihood to splash out money on material items for his own enjoyment.

Zayn has the biggest heart Liam’s ever seen. He’s generous, talented, amazing, and Liam doesn’t deserve him.

Liam doesn’t deserve someone who treats him as well as Zayn does.

Liam is nothing compared to Zayn, and Zayn deserves the best, better than Liam could ever offer.

That thought had stuck in his head as he dialed Christian, pleading for him to drive over to Zayn’s and pick him up. Christian hadn’t asked questions, not on the phone and not when Liam slid into the seat beside him, tossing a duffle bag in the back.

Liam couldn’t look, but he was sure that Zayn was watching him go, just as he had watched Liam pack enough clothes for a few days away, pleading with him to stay, and as Christian pulled away, tears slid down his cheeks, his heart screaming out for the one thing he couldn’t have, not then, not now, and certainly not forever.

Christian is careful with Liam as he helps him into his apartment, Liam almost in a daze, exhausted from the long evening and the emotional rollercoaster he’d brought upon himself. ‘Zayn is probably so upset,’ he thinks, a fresh wave of tears ready to fall as he thinks about Zayn’s face when Liam had attacked him, interrogating him with what ifs before basically telling him that they’d never work. That they are incompatible.

Liam had meant it, in a way, needed to speak the words out loud for himself, but that didn’t change the fact that the last thing he wanted was for Zayn to believe that they had no future. Not when that is the one thing that Liam wants most, even if Liam can’t see a way out of their predicament right now.

A future with Zayn would make all of Liam’s wishes come true. Zayn coming home to Liam every night for the rest of his life. A wedding, someday, with all of the family that Zayn speaks about so fondly when he gets homesick late at night. And someday, years down the road, sets of tiny feet pattering on the floor alongside Liam’s to greet Zayn after a long day in the office.

But none of it is possible. Liam ruined the one good thing he had, he could’ve had forever maybe, before he ever saw it coming. Sinking down on the couch, Liam buries his face in his hands and lets out a sob, crying for all that could be, if only things were different.

***

Liam never realized how comfortable he was in Zayn’s home, in Zayn’s life, until he left. They both have their routines, individual quirks that they adjusted to fit into each other’s lives like puzzle pieces.

It throws Liam for a bit of a loop, when no one comes in and hooks their chin over his shoulder as he brushes his teeth the day after the gala, despite the bathroom being cramped and cluttered compared to their ensuite. Liam doesn’t know if he wants to laugh or cry when he realizes that he actually refers to everything as theirs in his head, just like Zayn asked him to months before, when he was tired of Liam feeling like an outsider in the space they share.

Their couch, their kitchen table, their TV, their bathroom, their bed. Their home. Their relationship.

And Liam is throwing it all away like a child.

He knows logically that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of their relationship, that if they fight for it and compromise things will still work out. But with compromise comes sacrifice. Zayn will give up too much to make Liam happy, and in the end he’ll resent Liam for it.

And Liam has nothing left to offer, save quitting his job, but even then his reputation will still be common knowledge. A stripper turned gold digger, who clung onto the richest man he could find and then whined until the man told him he could stay at home. Or a stripper that attracted too many men and had to retire because Zayn couldn’t hold onto what he claimed.

That would almost be as demeaning as continuing, for both of them.

And it’s not that Liam would refuse if Zayn lavished him in gifts, because Liam knows that Zayn is generous with his money and his affection, but becoming a clichéd sugar baby now wouldn’t be something that Liam could stomach. He needs purpose, needs to feel like more than an accessory for his rich boyfriend now that the idea is in his head, even if Zayn would never treat him that way.

Christian knocks on the door that’s half open, learning against the frame to offer Liam a soft smile as he spits into the sink, and Liam’s heart is filled with fondness for the other man.

Liam had spent the majority of the night alternating between fits of anger and bouts of crying, and Christian had held him through it all, speaking soothing words and offering an ear to listen when he knew no words would fix the problem.

“How are you feeling?” he asks softly, voice gentle, like Liam may break if he doesn’t treat him carefully.

“Pretty shitty,” Liam answers, rinsing his mouth before he shoots Christian a wry smile.

“I figured.” Christian shrugs before asking, “Wanna cuddle on the couch and watch trash TV?”

Liam smiles gratefully, murmuring, “that sounds perfect,” before following Christian out of the restroom, towards the cushy couch in the center of the living room.

Christian settles into the corner of the couch, opening his arms for Liam to snuggle in close. Liam nudges his nose into the crook of Christian’s neck, breathing him in before sighing deeply as Christian flips through the channels, settling on some awful soap opera that won’t require any mental power to watch.

They sit in silence apart from the TV for a long time, Christian dragging his fingers through Liam’s hair occasionally, probably to keep them both from falling asleep, although it’s not successful as Liam falls in and out of a light doze. He’s tired from a lack of sleep, too busy agonizing to actually rest the night before.

“What are you in the mood to have for lunch?” Christian asks eventually, as it nears the afternoon.

Liam shrugs. “Chinese takeout?”

Christian hums, wiggling out from between Liam and the armrest to grab one of the menus sitting in a stack on the coffee table in front of them. He dials, ordering a variety of dishes before reclaiming his position, muttering that it’ll be half an hour.

They go back to watching TV, the soap opera having morphed into an awful reality show, but both are too lazy to change the channel.

“Can I ask you a question?” Christian breaks the silence, looking serious, and that’s what stops Liam from making a snarky comment about him already having asked one, nodding his affirmation instead. He waits for a questions about options, about the ways that Liam could still make things work, and he’s prepared

“Do you think less of me because I’m a stripper?” and that’s not what Liam was expecting at all.

“No, of course not,” Liam rushes to say, because he could never look down on Christian for dancing and making some extra money with his passion when he’s got time off.

“Why not? I mean, I make money by taking my clothes off and shaking what the Lord gave me for wrinkly old men.”

Liam furrows his brow, confused. “I mean it’s a job, but that’s not who you are. There’s a lot that you do outside of stripping. It doesn’t define you.”

“Then why does it have to define you?” Christian asks, holding up a finger when Liam opens his mouth to give his new default response, about the impact it’ll have on Zayn and how eventually he’ll think less of Liam because of it. “I think that you’re too hard on yourself because you don’t feel like you’re worth the love and respect that Zayn gives you.

And now that you’re facing some opposition, you’re reverting to what you’ve always thought: that you aren’t good enough and that things were inevitably going to end between you, and you are projecting that insecurity onto Zayn.”

Liam stares at the floor, trying to process what Christian is saying. It’s true, he thinks, that he’s been waiting for Zayn to get tired of him and end things for a while, convinced that someone as special and incredible as Zayn won’t be satisfied with someone as plain as Liam after the novelty wears off.

“He deserves better than what I can give him,” Liam whispers. “He’ll find someone better.”

Christian is quiet for second, before probing, “Has Zayn ever given you a reason to think that he may end things with you?”

And the thing is, he hasn’t, not even once. Zayn talks about the future often, always including Liam, whether it be for dinner plans next month or a vacation next year. ‘Zayn wants me in his life,’ Liam thinks, ashamed that he’s been dragging his feet to slow their relationship down, to prolong the eventual heartbreak he thought was inevitable.

“No,” Liam admits. “I think he wants to be with me.”

“No shit Sherlock,” Christian teases. “I couldn’t tell that from the heart eyes he always has around you, or the way he treats you like you’re his whole world.”

Liam blushes, because when Christian puts it that way it makes him wonder how he acts around Zayn. Liam is probably just as bad, if not worse, but who could blame him? Still, solving this problem isn’t that simple.

“But even if he wants me despite this mess, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m a sex worker and it will reflect on him whether I want it to or not.”

“So quit,” Christian shrugs. “Caroline’s will be fine without you, and I’m sure Zayn would be happy having you all to himself.”

“That won’t fix it, that’ll just make it look like I’m ashamed of my job, or my past.”

Christian raises an eyebrow, looking skeptical as he asks, “well aren’t you?”

Liam groans, because that’s a pretty loaded question. “I mean, yes and no. I’m not embarrassed about what I do or anything, because I love dancing, and you know I love the feeling of being on stage.

But the stigma, that all sex workers were starving children from the street, and that they had no other options. I had choices, and this is what I chose. I’m ashamed that I couldn’t find anything else to do with my time. Like you, you moved up and started dancing professionally. I could’ve tried that but I was too content with my cushy job.

And I know I never would’ve met Zayn without it, but I can’t help but think about how much easier life would be if I chose something more admirable. I don’t know.”

Liam flops to the side, throwing an arm over his eyes as he sprawls on the couch.

“ ‘m having a crisis and I don’t know how to fix it.”

“I think the first thing you need to do is go home, to be honest. As much as I love having you here Li, Zayn is who you really need. You have some talking to do, yeah?”

“Yeah I guess,” Liam grumbles. “But what, I waltz in and say ‘I’m prepared to quit my job to save our relationship but then I’ll be relying on you to provide everything for me while also smearing your name on accident by association. What do you want for dinner’ “

Christian snorts at the sarcasm dripping from Liam’s voice. “Well when you say it with that attitude, nothing sounds good.”

“You love him, yeah?” Liam freezes for a second, before nodding slowly, because they haven’t put words to it yet, but if what he feels for Zayn isn’t love, he has no clue what it is. “Good. Then you can figure it out. Just hear him out. Trust him.”

Liam sits quietly as Christian stands up to grab plates and silverware in preparation for the takeout. He has a lot to think about, and they have a lot to talk about when Liam gets home. That is, if Zayn isn’t livid at Liam for leaving in the middle of their first real fight.

Liam feels guilty, so guilty for running out on Zayn. It’s been eating at him all day slowly, the nagging knowledge that he’s not where he should be. Liam was just scared of having a deeper version of the discussion he had with Christian. Zayn has always been so patient and understanding of Liam, demanding that Liam set boundaries and stand up for his own comfort from the very beginning, but that doesn’t stop irrational fear from creeping into Liam’s mind.

Still, Christian is right, he needs to go home, needs to see Zayn and get all of this out of his head.

“You know, I was thinking,” Christian calls from the kitchen, banging a pan or two before emerging with utensils and plates in hand.

“What if you quit but didn’t hide from your past? Everyone makes mistakes, everyone does things that they aren’t necessarily proud of, but that doesn’t mean everything about that choice was a bad one. You can grow from it. Maybe help raise awareness or something. That’s what rich people do.”

Liam ponders that for a second. He knows that Zayn has talked briefly about different events that the wives of his associates hold for different causes, but would people even attend an event about the unfair treatment and stigma surrounding sex workers, when it’s held by someone who has a history of stripping?

He’s not sure, but it’s worth a shot, Liam thinks, and would definitely give him the purpose and direction that he’ll crave when he’s officially jobless. And if the footie teams still need a coach, that’s an option too.

“I can do this,” he whispers, more for himself than Christian, but Christian nods anyways, a pleased smile on his face.

“Hell yeah you can. We just need work on your fight or flight response so this doesn’t happen again,” Christian teases, knocking his shoulder into Liam’s, and Liam giggles in response because it’s true. He can admit that he may have been a tad bit overdramatic. Perhaps it’s the light of day, or the new perspective, but this problem doesn’t feel nearly as daunting as it did in the darkness with Zayn the night before.

Zayn, who’s probably wondering why Liam left, who may think that Liam is finished with him.

And it’s like Christian can read his mind or something, as he says “Now all that’s left is for you to call your lover boy and have him come get you. Time to talk it out and ride off into the sunset, babe.”

The doorbell rings, signally that the takeout has arrived, but Liam isn’t all that hungry, just eager to get home.

“Why don’t you call and then you can eat while we wait for him to come over?” Christian suggests, reading the internal struggle from Liam’s face as he rises to answer the door.

Liam nods, pulling out his phone to dial, suddenly brought back to the first time that he pressed his phone to his ear to call Zayn. So much has changed since then, but Liam feels the same nerves tickle his stomach as the phone begins to ring.

***

It’s too quiet around the house without Liam. Zayn knows, logically, that the house isn’t any larger than it was before Liam left, or before Liam came around in the first place for that matter, but that doesn’t stop the house from feeling too big for just Zayn.

The empty spaces that Liam normally fills, his side of the bed, the left half of the couch, his chair at the kitchen table at breakfast, all seem to mock Zayn as he copes with Liam’s unexplained absence.

He can’t stand to be in the main part of the house anymore, too many memories haunting him, too much temptation to drive himself over to Christian’s apartment and beg for Liam to come home, to steal Zayn’s socks and use the last of his shampoo, to nick bites of his lunch and laugh too loudly at something that’s not even funny when he’s worked up. To fill the space in Zayn’s heart that he didn’t know was empty until Liam occupied it without even trying.

Instead, Zayn is camped out in one of the guest bedrooms, flopped across the bed on his stomach, hoping to drift off to sleep because he barely got any the night before, surrounded by the scent of Liam’s cologne, walls echoing with Liam’s laughter, and of the words he hissed the night before, defensive and broken like nothing Zayn’s ever seen.

Liam needs space, clearly, time to think about what he wants and where his priorities lie, and Zayn understand that, as much as it hurts. Liam’s never ran from him, not intentionally, not like this. Zayn doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong, to be honest.

Why is Liam’s job suddenly such an issue? Sure, it’s not the easiest thing to bring up in a public setting, and Zayn is guilty of covering up the truth on occasion to spare Liam and himself the awkward conversation. And while Zayn would prefer for Liam to find something less risqué to occupy his time with, above all else, he wants Liam to be happy. And if stripping brings Liam happiness, Zayn will never deprive him of it.

Of course, he isn’t without selfish motivations for that as well. As their relationship has grown, Liam has only become more attractive to Zayn, and attending a show is a sure-fire way for both of them to end the night pressed together, sweaty and sated. But that’s less the stripping, and more the confidence that it brings Liam, Zayn thinks.

But regardless of how close Zayn feels to Liam, the way he thinks is still largely a mystery. Liam’s mind works quickly, Zayn has learned, jumping to conclusions immediately, but rarely acting on them. He’s not impulsive, but he has a tendency to think the worst about himself. And that transfers into the way he views his relationship with Zayn.

Liam probably doesn’t even realize it, but Zayn has caught him several times making comments about what Zayn will do when Liam is no longer around, as if Zayn is just waiting for a good opportunity to dump Liam and move on to bigger and better things. He’s debated calling Liam out on it, almost positive that it’s subconscious, but it’s still concerning, and Zayn has a feeling that it was the motivating factor behind his escape act the night before.

Liam has a surprisingly low self-esteem for someone so attractive and desirable, despite Zayn’s constant praise and encouragement, and Zayn knows he needs to handle this situation carefully.  Liam reacted like a cornered animal, terrified and lashing out before something bigger could deal him a fatal blow, and it made Zayn’s chest ache to watch him withdraw so quickly, even in the comfort of their own bedroom.

That pain was nothing compared to watching him leave though, he stood frozen at the door, watching Liam leave in Christian’s car without a single glance backwards.

When Liam had moved in, he’d asked if Zayn would be offended if Liam kept his apartment. Zayn had insisted that Liam do whatever it takes to make himself comfortable with their new arrangements, and Liam had beamed at Zayn, before announcing that he was planning to rearrange the whole house to make himself ‘comfortable’. Zayn had chased him down after he’d sprinted away giggling, catching the younger boy near the den and dragging him over to the couch before pinning him down and alternating between tickling him and dragging his lips across Liam’s face.

Liam hadn’t even thought about going to his own apartment though, clearly needing company from someone, and Zayn is grateful that Christian isn’t on tour yet. Zayn is rather fond of Christian, loves how he fills the big brother role and embarrasses Liam with stories since Liam’s family isn’t around. (And that’s something else they need to discuss, but Liam gets weird when Zayn tries to bring them up, and Zayn never wants Liam to feel uncomfortable in his own home.)

Christian has also been sending him occasional updates throughout the night and morning, just small things to put Zayn’s mind at ease, since Liam has forgotten that his phone exists in his panic. The last update was over two hours ago though, and Zayn is getting antsy.

Christian had said that Liam cried for a better part of the night, convinced that Zayn was planning to end things with him, and that explains his sudden outburst, but it didn’t do resolve the confusion Zayn feels in regards to why Liam would feel that way in the first place.

Liam guards his heart, just as Zayn would do if he was in Liam’s position, but it doesn’t stop Zayn from feeling upset, knowing that all of his attempts to make Liam see that he isn’t going anywhere fell on blind eyes and deaf ears. He’ll just have to keep trying, starting as soon as Liam comes home.

With that in mind, Zayn closes his eyes, curling up on his side around his phone, hoping to fall asleep, even if only for a few minutes, to rest his brain.

He must doze off, because he’s startled by his phone ringing loudly in front of him, reaching out groggily to grab it and lifting it to his ear.

He probably sounds like some kind of swamp monster when he rasps, “Hello,” into the receiver, regretting that he didn’t check the caller ID before answer, but pretty sure he knows who’s on the other end regardless.

“Zayn?” Liam sounds small but hopeful, tired above all else, and it should be embarrassing for Zayn that it only takes one word from the younger man for everything to be right in the world.

“Sweetheart,” he breathes, sitting up as his brain kicks into overdrive. Liam is calling, which means one of two things. Either he’s calling to end things, or he’s calling to tell Zayn they need to talk. “How are you?”

“Been better,” Liam admits softly, and Zayn chuckles wryly, because that’s an understatement for both of them. Just from a physical perspective, they both were probably sleep deprived. Zayn remembers when he had to leave for a business trip months before, shortly after Liam moved in, and Liam had barely slept while Zayn was gone, claiming that the bed was too empty and cold without Zayn.

Zayn wasn’t much better off, throwing himself into negotiations and pushing his colleagues to condense the subjects and negotiations into two days instead of three. He’d caught a red eye back to London, climbing into bed and wrapping himself around Liam just as the sun began to rise. Liam had been so tired, bruises under his eyes giving away his exhaustion, and he’d admitted to picking up extra shifts at the club to get out of the house. They’d slept the entire day away, curled into each other, and Zayn had resolved to either take Liam with him next time, or just stay home unless absolutely necessary.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Zayn asks, and Liam hums in affirmation, before whispering, “Christian’s bed smells weird,” as if that’s the only thing that was bothering him.

Zayn huffs out a laugh, because there’s his strange goofy boy, sense of humor still intact despite the necessary conversation that’s hanging over their heads.

“Come home?” Zayn asks suddenly, so tired of not having Liam in his home, in his arms. “Our bed only smells weird when you don’t shower for a few days.”

“That was one time, and I was sick!” Liam exclaims, voice high pitched and faux-annoyed, and Zayn is sure that Liam’s cheeks are flushed judging by his voice.

“ ‘m just teasing, babe.” Zayn knows it’s unnecessary, but the words tumble out anyways, awkward and stilted, mind growing a bit foggy because his need to understand Liam and work through his issues is warring with his need to make all of Liam’s issues disappear without ever making Liam uncomfortable by discussing them.

There’s a slightly awkward silence, just the two of them breathing into the phone, before Liam mumbles, “can you come get me?” voice dropping as he admits, “wanna be with you.”

“Of course,” Zayn scrambles to his feet, mentally running through the route to get to Christian’s apartment. “I can be there in 20?”

“Sounds perfect.” Liam says, mumbling about having to pack up and eat some takeout before telling Zayn goodbye and hanging up.

Zayn’s heart sings as he starts the trip towards Christian’s, towards Liam, feeling a bit ridiculous about his ever growing need to keep the boy within reach at all times. The night had been excruciating for several reasons, the events of the evening, the conversation with Liam and his absence all weighing heavily on Zayn’s mind, but he feels lighter now than before, just knowing that he’ll have Liam near him again very soon.

He texts when he parks outside Christian’s apartment, waiting impatiently for Liam to exit the building, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel and checking his phone far too often for no reason. When Liam finally does emerge, Zayn steps out of the car to greet the younger boy, taking his bag to throw it in the backseat first before turning to wrap Liam up in a tight hug, Liam burying his head into Zayn’s neck as Zayn kisses the top of his head.

“Let’s get you home, yeah?” Zayn murmurs, and Liam nods, stepping back reluctantly so Zayn can help him into the passenger seat, tucking him in and tickling his fingers under Liam’s chin to make him giggle softly before jogging around the car to climb in and drive away.

Liam sits in silence, but it’s different than the night before, lighter and not suffocating them with tension and unsaid words. Zayn hums along to the radio that’s playing softly in the background, offering his hand to Liam, who accepts it immediately, lacing their fingers together for the remainder of the trip.

They shuffle into the house together, drifting towards their bedroom without saying a word, clinging to each other as if one of them will vanish if they aren’t touching somewhere at all times.

Zayn slips out of his joggers, and Liam follows suit to make themselves comfortable before they make things uncomfortable with their words. Zayn slides into bed first, propping their pillows up against the headboard and leaning against them, holding his arms open for Liam to crawl into.

Liam does, snuggling up to Zayn and tugging the covers over their bare legs for warmth as Zayn smooths a hand down Liam’s arm, drawing him in even closer.

“Missed you last night,” Zayn murmurs, not intending to make Liam feel guilty, just wanting him to know that his absence affected Zayn, that Liam walking out wasn’t a positive experience for either of them. “ ‘s weird without you here, and I don’t like it.”

“ ‘m sorry,” Liam mumbles, voice apologetic and small, as though Zayn is preparing to scold him, which is the last thing Zayn intends to do.

“Just got a bit overwhelmed,” he mumbles, chin dropping a bit as he shifts his head against Zayn’s shoulder. “I didn’t want to run, just didn’t feel like I had any other options.”

And that’s not something that Zayn ever wants to hear. Liam should never feel trapped or caged in by his relationship with Zayn. Secret insecurities and lack of communication were to blame no doubt, Zayn thinks, and now it’s time to get to the bottom of it.

“I always want you to be able to talk to me,” he begins, voice soft and gentle, “but I’m glad you were able to recognize that you needed space and that you sought out someone you could trust to help you when I couldn’t. Was very brave and smart, even if it hurt me to see you leave.”

“It hurt me to leave,” Liam blurts out, voice a bit shaky at Zayn’s admission, “cried the whole way to his apartment and for most of the night.”

“ ‘m sorry you were so upset, baby. I don’t want you to feel like that, especially not about us.”

Liam nods, twisting his fingers together nervously. Zayn removes his arm from around Liam’s shoulder, grabbing for his hands instead to rub reassuring fingers against his fingers, palm, and wrists. Zayn shifts slightly to face Liam, wanting to see his face.

“Can you tell me what made you so scared and upset,” he asks gently, nervous for Liam’s response but confident that they can overcome any problem together.

 Liam tells Zayn everything, explaining it all in short, concise sentences, pausing occasionally to think before expounding on certain thoughts. Zayn keeps his hands tangled with Liam’s to ground him and listens intently, doesn’t interject, just lets Liam get it all out, all of the pent up insecurities and conflicting emotions.

When Liam finishes he pulls his hands away and waits for Zayn to speak, withdrawing slightly in the short time it takes for Zayn to gather his thoughts.

“I know it’s intimidating, stepping into this world with me. It took me years to adjust to the dynamic and I’m still learning.” and that’s ridiculously true, because Zayn remembers being the new guy on the block, being scrutinized by everyone in the room in every event he attended for a year. It didn’t help that he didn’t fit the profile of the typical businessman either, too young and attractive, and not white enough to squeeze himself into that antiquated mold.

It was nerve-wracking, wondering if people were going to accept him and treat him as an equal rather than a sideshow. And it took even more time to navigate his way through conversations and meetings with men whose outlook on life is incredibly narrow, reduced to appearances and dollar signs. Still, Zayn survived, is thriving now, and Liam can do the same.

“But I don’t want you to feel like a lesser being because of everything. I guarantee everyone has skeletons in their closet, and yours aren’t anything to be ashamed of. You’re attractive and athletic, and you used that strength to your advantage to get ahead.”

Liam looks a bit skeptical at that logic, but Zayn didn’t expect him to be sold on it right away. It’ll be a work in progress, he decides, moving on to the next issue.

“What does bother me though,” Liam flinches as Zayn pauses, clearly preparing himself for some kind of verbal lashing that Zayn doesn’t plan on handing out, ever, “is the fact that you think so little of yourself that you minimized the importance of our relationship to me in your own head.”

“You deserve better than me,” Liam whispers softly, closing his eyes to avoid seeing Zayn’s reaction to the statement.

Zayn shakes his head, frustration creeping in, because Zayn doesn’t understand. How can Liam, sweet, beautiful, talented, goofy Liam, think himself so far beneath Zayn even after all this time? He drags his knuckles across Liam’s knee to get his attention, Liam clenching his jaw tightly, knuckles turning white as he balls them into fists.

Zayn nudges his fingers under Liam’s chin thin, tickling at the scruff there and gently raising Liam’s head.

“Liam, look at me please,” Zayn asks, polite but firm in his request, and Liam is obedient, eyes flashing open to lock with Zayn’s. He smiles softly, reassuring that younger boy without speaking, and then chooses his words carefully, aware that they are at a delicate place in the conversation.

“I should be allowed to decide what I deserve and what I want. It isn’t your call or your place to choose for me Liam. If I want you, and I do, then that’s what I deserve. If you truly want me to be happy, you’ll let me be happy with you.”

Liam looks like Zayn smacked him in the face, a mixture of happiness and desperation and adoration clouding his expression as his eyes shine with tears.

Liam grabs for Zayn’s hand, squeezing tightly, urgently almost, but he doesn’t move closer to Zayn, not yet.

“Are you sure?” Liam asks, desperation and longing in his tone, emotions making his voice thick. “I need you to be sure. I don’t think I can stand it if you leave me.”

Liam looks around, eyes a bit wild as if he’s imagine Zayn abandoning him, running off with someone else, Liam’s heart still firmly in his grasp. Liam is making himself so vulnerable in the moment, opening up his whole heart and laying all his cards on the table. His voice is so small when he whispers, “If something makes you change your mind, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“You’re all I want,” Zayn insists immediately, not giving Liam time to even consider Zayn feeling differently but the words fall short of what his heart is screaming. He wracks his brain for something to say that can explain how he feels, but he comes up blank, unable to summarize his emotions in a way that Liam will be able to take to heart before doubt sets in.

And then, suddenly Zayn knows what he needs to do. He pulls his hands away from Liam, startling the younger boy as he leaves the bed, rooting around in his dresser until he pulls out a box with a triumphant noise and pads back over to crawl next to Liam.

“I wasn’t going to give you this yet, was supposed to be for our anniversary in a few weeks. But I think you need it now more than anything.”

Liam’s eyes go wide at the words, his mouth dropping open in shock. “It’s not what you think,” Zayn soothes, before Liam can panic, because it’s still too soon for that. But that doesn’t stop Zayn from dreaming a bit, images flashing in his head. Liam in a suit at a party for the announcement, Liam dancing with his sisters at their reception, Liam, tan and soft and so, so beautiful, ring glinting in the sunlight and matching Zayn’s own as they lounge together on a beach somewhere. Not yet, but someday. Definitely someday.

He cradles the box, cupping it in his hands as he faces Liam. He holds it out, unfolding his fingers to reveal the delicate etching in the top of the box that Liam traces over with his fingers.

“What is it?” Liam whispers, clearly a bit shocked by the sudden gift in front of him.

Zayn smiles warmly, hoping that his eyes convey the emotions flowing through his veins, the desperation to keep Liam nearby and happy, always happy.

“It’s a promise. A commitment, yeah? I want to be with you, and I want you to have a visual representation of that. For when your brain thinks the worst of me.”

Liam stares down at the gift, a bit blankly as he processes the words. “Why? Why me?”

Zayn tries to think of how to answer that question, because the list of reasons why he wants to be with Liam, to keep Liam close to him forever is never ending. And while Liam would probably benefit from hearing all of the things Zayn admires about him, that’s not what he needs in the moment. He needs a concise answer, something to remove all doubt from Liam’s mind. And the simplest answer is something that’s been rattling around in Zayn’s head for weeks now, every time he’s with the younger boy.

“Because I love you,” Zayn states simply, a soft smile on his lips. “You make me the happiest man in the world, and I love you. Everything about you.”

Liam’s eyes fill with tears at the admission, hands coming up to cup his mouth in a way that reminds Zayn of women who’ve just been “surprised” by a proposal that’s been blatantly filmed for posting online. Liam’s reaction, though, is genuine, a ragged gasp punched out of him as tears slip down his cheeks.

He throws himself into Zayn’s arms, Zayn nearly falling backwards from the weight of the younger boy, huffing out a laugh as he wraps Liam up into a tight embrace, still clutching the box in one hand. Zayn presses kisses into Liam’s hair as he hides his face in the crook of Zayn’s neck.

“I love you too.” Liam rushes to say, and while it’s slightly muffled by tears and clothing, Zayn’s heart still sings at the reciprocation. Liam turns his head away, pulling in a deep breath as Zayn strokes up and down his back, before admitting, “Wanted to tell you ages ago but wasn’t sure if you felt the same.”

“I do, baby” Zayn murmurs, scratching his fingers along the nape of Liam’s neck and swaying them slightly. “I love you so much more than you know.”

Liam pulls back, searching Zayn’s eyes intently for something. Liam’s eyes are beautiful, the perfect representation of love. How it feels to be taken apart and put back together by someone, all the hurt and longing and pleasure and safety wrapped up in the glassy brown staring back at Zayn. He must find whatever he’s looking for, because his face shifts into a massive grin, eyes scrunching up into watery half circles before he surges forward to press an innocent kiss against Zayn’s lips.

It’s just a quick peck, Liam’s pillow soft lips grazing his own before Liam pulls back, but that’s not enough for Zayn, and he mutters as much as he wraps an arm around the back of Liam’s neck and presses their mouths together firmly.

When they pull apart, Liam’s cheeks are flushed, eyes glassy for a different reason, and his lips are pink and swollen. Zayn smirks, thumbing over his bottom lips before holding the box up between them.

“Wanna find out what’s in here, then?” he asks, and Liam nods enthusiastically, grabbing the box, eyes glowing as he tugs off the small piece of decorative twine. He looks up at Zayn before removing the lid, and Zayn nods encouragingly, excited to see Liam’s reaction.

He couldn’t help himself, wanting something unique to give to Liam that would state his intentions without scaring the younger lad away, and when he’d come across the concept of a love bracelet, Zayn was sold. He’d chosen gold, mind unhelpfully offering up analogies of the purity and malleability of the precious metal, and how Liam’s innocent heart has made Zayn into a better man. That speech was left unfinished, and it’s far too late to fumble through it now.

Liam’s eyes are wide as he examines the bracelet and matching screwdriver, reaching out to rub a finger over the delicate edge and tiny screws before looking up at Zayn, confusion tinting his face.

“ ‘s called a love bracelet,” Zayn explains gently, reaching out to pull the bracelet and screwdriver from the box. He unlocks the bracelet, just as the man in the store had demonstrated, the bracelet popping open with a soft click.

“It’s meant to be for a couple. One person wears the bracelet and the other wears the screwdriver as a necklace. Signifies that only one person holds the key to your heart or something like that.”

“Something sappy like that?” Liam teases, eyes sparkling as Zayn sticks his tongue out at his cheeky boyfriend.

“Just for that, I’m going to wear both parts,” Zayn threatens, mimicking attaching the bracelet to his own wrist until Liam makes grabby hands at it.

“Put it on me?” Liam asks softly, and Zayn does, leaning in to press a kiss to Liam’s nose before closing the symbol of commitment, of love, around his right wrist, the gold shining against his soft skin. Liam holds his hand out then, admiring the piece of jewelry as he moves his arm so it catches the light again and again. Zayn smiles, fastening the screwdriver around his own neck.

“Do you like it?” he asks, already knowing the answer but wanting to hear it regardless.

“I love it,” Liam whispers, clearly elated, cheeks pushing up and crinkling his eyes. “I love you,” he adds, and while it sounds like an afterthought, Zayn knows it’s not. It’ll take some getting used to, the fact that they can both declare their feelings after weeks of keeping them locked inside for safe keeping.

Zayn reaches out, grabbing Liam’s hand and kissing at his knuckles adoringly. “I love you more,” he proclaims, a promise and a challenge all at once.

“Doubt it,” Liam laughs, leaning forward into Zayn’s space to connect their lips in a sweet kiss that turns heated quickly.

Zayn leans back, and gasps as Liam attaches his lips to Zayn’s neck, alternating between kissing and running his tongue along the smooth skin of Zayn’s throat.

“Think ‘m gonna need you to show me how much you love me,” Liam murmurs, looking up at Zayn from beneath his lashes with dark eyes. “Just to see who’s right.”

Zayn smirks, reaching for Liam with greedy hands, murmuring, “I can do that,” before tugging Liam into his lap. Liam wiggles in place, suddenly perched higher and whining as he’s unable to continue his progress along Zayn’s throat.

“Easy baby,” Zayn cautions, one arm pressed around Liam’s lower back to keep him closer while the other grabs at the meat of Liam’s thigh and squeezes teasingly, enticing a gasp from the younger boy.

“Gonna make you feel so good, yeah? Love you so much.” He murmurs the words into Liam’s neck, pressing a soft kiss to the caramel splash of a birthmark gracing his throat as a fond hello.

Liam sighs, nudging his hips into Zayn’s stomach purposefully. Zayn chuckles, Liam’s ever-demanding demeanor never failing to make him laugh even when heat is pooling in his navel from the firm pressure of the boy perched in his lap.

Zayn grabs the hem of Liam’s shirt, dragging it up and off before removing his own. He pushes Liam slightly, sliding him off of his lap to flop gently onto the bed, legs spread to make room for Zayn between them. Zayn takes a second to admire him, spread out so soft and willing. Liam drags a hand through his hair, pushing it out of his eyes, and Zayn’s eyes lock onto the bracelet hanging from his wrist.

A hot wave of possession runs through him then, cock fattening up at the sight of Liam and the thought of him being so eager to belong to Zayn, to stay with him forever. Zayn can’t help himself, the need to touch his beautiful boy stronger than ever now that Liam is back in their bed with a smile on his lips and love in his eyes.

Zayn settles between Liam’s legs, making himself at home as he smooths his hands down Liam’s bare thighs, curling his fingers to scratch slightly which sends a shiver through Liam’s body. He leans down to press a soft, wet kiss against Liam’s navel, just above the waistband of his boxers, tongue snaking out to lap at the salty taste on his skin.

Liam moans softly, hand coming down to curl in Zayn’s hair and push him lower, towards the heat trapped within his boxers. Zayn ignores him though, circling two fingers around Liam’s wrist to move his arm to the side, and sliding further up Liam’s body to kiss at his soft, plush mouth. Liam gasps, squirming upwards as Zayn’s chest grazes his own, so eager for contact.

Zayn pulls back, keeping their foreheads pressed together, requesting that Liam look at him.

“You asked why.” Zayn starts, referencing their conversation, knowing that Liam will follow him without an explanation. “There are so many reasons, more than I could ever state, but I’m gonna try to list off everything I love about you when I have you like this, yeah?”

Liam nods, tilting his chin up to ask for a kiss, and who is Zayn to deny him.

“Need you to be patient for me, Liam.” They both know that Liam has a tendency to get worked up too quickly, too eager for Zayn’s touch and his own release that often times he ends up in tears from frustration before Zayn finally lets him have what he wants.

“I’ll take care of you,” Zayn promises, “but I need you to listen and wait. Alright?”

Liam murmurs an affirmation, settling back and letting his body go slack. “ ‘m all yours, babe. Have at it,” he says, cheekily, words saying one thing but his eyes screaming mischief, and if this was any other time, Zayn would have taken the bait, would have let things turn rough and dirty. But that’s not what Liam needs right now, and it’s not what Zayn needs either.

Zayn ignores Liam’s challenge, pressing a final kiss to Liam’s lips before pulling back to focus on his face. Zayn stretches out a hand to stroke fingers across Liam’s cheek in a sweet caress, gathering his thoughts before speaking.

He starts with the eyes, thumbing under each of them before smoothing his finger across his eyebrows. “I love your eyes,” he murmurs, watching as understanding of Zayn’s previous request for patience crosses Liam’s face. “Can tell a lot about you from your eyes. They’re always kind, sometimes mischievous, but I love that side of you too. I love how your eyes change shades when you’re in the sun. I love how when something makes you really happy, your eyes scrunch up and crinkle here.” Zayn presses against the corner of his eye.

“I love how observant and curious you are when we go places. Your eyes dart around to take everything in, and it makes me try to see things like you’re seeing them. I love when you look at me, when you give me your full attention because it gives me the excuse to stare at you without it being weird.” Liam giggles, and Zayn moves on.

He slides his hands out to stroke his thumbs across Liam’s ear lobes gently before tracing along the shell. “Love your ears. I love how you always listen carefully and hear the positive side of things, even when I don’t. It’s cute how the tips of them get red when you go outside in the cold and forget to wear a hat even when I remind you, and I love how pink your ears get when I tell you what I want to do to you while we’re still in public and you know we can’t do anything.”

Liam flushes slightly, probably remembering some of the dirty things that Zayn has whispered in his ear over dinner or in the club after a performance. Zayn smirks, running his fingers across Liam’s forehead before dragging them between his eyes, down the bridge of his nose.

“I love your nose. It’s perfect, and I always want to kiss it, that’s how much I love it. I laugh when you reject certain foods just based off of the smell, especially when I know you’ll like them if you try them. Your obsession with having candles around the house drives me insane sometimes, but I’ll admit that it’s nice to have a nice smelling house to come home too.”

“And your mouth,” Zayn taps his fingers against Liam’s lips, leaning down to capture them in a long, wet kiss, pulling back with a soft smack. “I could write books about your mouth. I love your lips. They’re always pink on their own, even when you don’t do anything, but they get even pinker when you’re nervous and start biting at them. I love seeing how swollen I can make them too.” Zayn smirks, the implication echoing in the bedroom. Liam’s eyes go dark but it’s not time yet, because Zayn has a ways to go to get his point across.

“Your smile is one of my favorite things on the planet,” he murmurs, drawing Liam’s attention back to his words instead of memories of blowjobs. “Nothing makes me feel better than seeing you happy, honestly. If it was up to me, you’d always be smiling.”

Zayn thumbs along Liam’s bottom lip, pulling at it slightly, caught up in the way Liam lets him push and pull and manipulate his body. “You always know what to say when I’ve had a bad day. I love your sense of humor too, never thought I’d find someone as goofy as me. Sometimes you speak before thinking, and you always keep me on my toes. I love it when you sing in the shower, even though you don’t think I can hear. You’ve got a beautiful voice, baby.”

Liam huffs, cheeks pink under Zayn’s intense gaze, feeling a bit shy due to being called out. Zayn is so proud of Liam for listening though, rather than letting his insecurities win and interjecting rebuttals of Zayn’s feelings.

Zayn slides his fingers up then, tangling them in Liam’s hair and tugging slightly to watch Liam’s pupils dilate as Zayn scratches along Liam’s scalp. “Love how long your hair is. Love how sweaty it gets when you work out or dance. Sometimes it falls in your eyes when you look at me, and it makes my heart race.”

“You’re so beautiful,” he whispers, running his fingers from Liam’s hair across his temples and down further, as Liam lets out a weak plea in the form of Zayn’s name, bucking his hips up for attention.

“Patience is a virtue, baby,” Zayn chides, eyes sparkling with fondness he’s sure, as Liam proceeds to act annoyed, his tiny smile giving away his contentment with all the attention.

Zayn tickles his fingers under Liam chin, rubbing them against the scruff along his jaw. “I love when you let your beard grow out, even though I know it annoys you after a few days. Makes you look all manly and rugged. And I love it when you shave because you get oversensitive from my beard when I kiss you for too long, but I know the burn turns you on a bit too.”

Zayn kisses along Liam’s jaw before moving down to mouth at the birthmark on Liam’s neck. He’d given Liam a bit of a break lately, knowing that the younger man doesn’t like it when Zayn asks him to go to business events and marks him up too much beforehand, but this is afterwards. Zayn attaches his lips, sucking firmly and biting down as Liam sucks in a breath, tangling his fingers in Zayn’s hair to hold him there. Zayn leans back to admire his work, just looking for a moment before speaking.

“I love your birthmark. It’s delicate and delicious, and I love getting to leave my own marks beside it, just so everyone knows you’re mine.” Zayn can’t help the possessive tone in his voice, and Liam looks dazed and pleased from the thought of Zayn marking his territory on his boy.

Zayn moves lower, kissing across Liam’s chest, nuzzling at the smattering of soft hair there before nosing at his nipple. Liam inhales sharply, hips canting up, and Zayn settles him with a firm hand, breathing out hot air onto Liam’s bare skin.

“I love how much you love it when I play with your nipples. Gets you all worked up so quickly, hot and bothered and just begging me to touch you. I love how soft they are and how sensitive they are for days after you let me give them a bit of attention. Nothing hotter than watching you have to walk around in loose shirts so you don’t get hard in public.”

Liam flushes bright red and Zayn smirks, pressing a soft kiss to each nipple before rising up and settling between Liam’s legs. He reaches out, smoothing his hands up and down Liam’s arms, murmuring, “I love how strong you are, how you can hold yourself up on a pole when you dance, could probably hold me up against a wall if I asked. And I love that despite all your strength, you let me take control because you know I’ll take care of you.”

“Love your ink too, baby, and I love holding your hand when you decide you want something new on a whim.” Zayn takes Liam’s hands in his own, stroking his thumb over Liam’s palms reverently.

“I love how soft your hands are too, how delicate your fingers look when they’re laced with mine. Playing with your hands could probably entertain me for hours honestly. Love it when you want to hold my hand in public too, makes me feel like the luckiest man on earth.”

Zayn presses soft kisses to Liam’s knuckles and then each of Liam’s fingers between his sentences, licking over his thumb as a parting gift before bending to kiss at the flat of Liam’s tummy, Liam gasping from the feeling of his wet lips across the sensitive skin.

Zayn trails kisses back and forth across his stomach, giving love to every inch, hands holding Liam’s hips firmly in place to stop him from squirming to grind his cock into Zayn’s chest.

“I love how sensitive you are when I touch you here,” Zayn murmurs, lips brushing Liam’s navel. “Always so eager for me to touch you that you don’t stop to enjoy what I’m giving you.”

“I know how hard you work to keep yourself fit, not just for me of course, but I appreciate it all the same. You look so good for me, and sometimes that core strength comes in handy.” Zayn winks lewdly, and Liam rolls his eyes, pressing his hips up even though Zayn still has a firm grip on him to prevent the movement.

Zayn trails his fingers lower, squeezing once and raising his eyebrows so Liam knows to stay put, thumbing at the indentations in between his thigh and his hips. He traces lightly over the outline of Liam’s cock, straining against his boxers and wet where the tip presses against the fabric, and Liam whines pitifully as Zayn keeps moving lower to rub at his legs.

“Your legs are so precious to me,” Zayn begins, bending Liam’s knees to cage in his body, stooping from side to side to kiss at his knees. “Love your knobby little knees,” a pause, another kiss,  “and your delicate ankles,” he leans back to rub circles into the bones on both ankles,

 “and of course, your thick thighs.”

Zayn grabs at Liam’s thighs and squeezes a bit roughly, pressing his left thumb into Liam’s inner thigh where he’d left a love bite several days ago, still fading and tender judging by Liam’s choked moan.

“Love it when you get close and can’t help but keep me where I am between your thighs. When my time comes, I hope it’s because I suffocated right here.” Zayn squeezes again to emphasize the thought, but Liam hisses out a “don’t you fucking dare,” clearly not happy with the thought of losing Zayn now that he has him fully.

“ ‘m just teasing, love,” Zayn chuckles, nudging a curious finger up the leg of his boxers to rub at the soft skin underneath.

It’s time, he thinks. Liam has been so patient and obedient, and now Zayn gets to reward his boy, make him delirious with pleasure. And so, Zayn leans down to mouth at the wet spot in the front of Liam’s boxers, lapping at the salty taste of Liam’s precome and providing a teasing of the pressure that Liam has been begging for.

Zayn pulls back then, eliciting a cry from Liam as he loses the touch. “Easy,” Zayn soothes, “lift up.” Liam lifts his hips, letting Zayn drag his boxers down his legs, his cock laying thick and red against his thigh.

Zayn takes him in hand, giving him a few firm strokes, pulling back the foreskin and gathering the precome from the tip with a thumb to drag it down his length with a slick sound. Liam moans quietly, eyes falling shut as Zayn digs a nail into the slit and is rewarded with another generous drop of precome.

“Love your cock,” Zayn murmurs, and that’s an understatement. “Love how sensitive you are, especially here.” He leans down to suckle gently at the head of Liam’s cock, and Liam gasps out Zayn’s name. He presses a soft kiss to the very tip and then pulls away, admiring his work and stroking slowly, once from tip to root and back up.

“Bet you’d let me use you too if I wanted. Just sit there like a good boy and let me work myself down on you, take what I want from you.” Liam whines, cock twitching in Zayn’s hand as the dirty talk registers in his mind. They haven’t done that, Liam never expressing an interest, more than happy to lie back for Zayn whenever he so much as raises an eyebrow, but Zayn wouldn’t be opposed. It’s a conversation for another time, though.

Zayn doesn’t beat around the bush, dipping down to swallow Liam down almost all the way, a gentle hand on his navel to hold him down while the other grips the base for stability. Liam keens, body trembling underneath his hand as Zayn pulls off slowly and swirls his tongue, tracing the vein on the underside, digging into the slit before taking him in until Liam nudges the back of his throat.

“Zayn,” Liam’s voice is broken, but urgent. “Gonna come, shit, please.”

Zayn knows he’s worked up, has been since Zayn started running his hands over Liam’s body nearly an hour ago, and he was so good. He can come twice, no problem, and they both know it, which is why Zayn doesn’t pull off, and Liam doesn’t say anything else, just tips his head back, eyes slamming shut as he chokes out “fuck.”

Zayn trails his fingers down lower, teasing at Liam’s hole just for second before rolling his balls between his fingers. He pulls off enough to lick at the head, moving his hand from Liam’s navel to stroke at Liam’s cock, rasping, “come on baby, come for me,” before digging his tongue into the slit, teeth catching the head, and that’s what sends Liam over the edge, whimpering out Zayn’s name as his hips cant up and he shoots off into Zayn’s mouth.

Zayn swallows neatly, letting the last few drops rest on his tongue, crawling up to kiss Liam. Liam grimaces at the taste of himself, pushing Zayn away and muttering, “fucker”

“I’m about to be, yes,” Zayn smirks, raising an eyebrow, and Liam’s eyes go dark at the implication.

“Get on with it then,” Liam says, sounding casual but Zayn accepts the challenge in his eyes.

“I’m not finished.” Liam looks confused, shooting Zayn a look that says, ‘no shit, Sherlock,’ and Zayn has to explain. “Got distracted with your dick, but I’m not done telling you what I love about you. Now flip.”

Liam obeys, a bit sluggish from his orgasm but it only serves to make him more pliant as he settles on his belly, resting his head on his arms, looking to the side so he can still see Zayn out of the corner of his eye. Zayn spreads his legs, settling between them to smooth his hands over the gentle curve of Liam’s arse. He’s lax, warm and sleepy underneath Zayn’s hands, but he’ll wake up when Zayn starts touching him with intention.

For now, Zayn is satisfied with rubbing his fingers along his smooth skin, dipping them in to nudge at Liam hole briefly before thumbing the junction between his arse and thigh.

“Love your pretty arse,” Zayn begins. “I love it when you put on fancy underwear and flounce around the house in my sweaters to show off. And I love it when you dance and shimmy around. You know how to work it and it’s so sexy, honestly.”

“I love it when you get a bit needy and want to sit in my lap all day, acting like you aren’t trying to turn me on even though you grind back all over me.” Liam blushes and turns his face, burying it firmly in his arms to hide, and Zayn chuckles, turning his attention back to Liam’s arse.

He slides his fingers down to rub at Liam’s hole in small circles. Liam is relaxed, almost loose just from his previous orgasm, and he sighs from the attention. “Love your hole too, baby.” Liam hums softly, shifting his hips back. Zayn climbs off the bed, and Liam turns his head to watch Zayn pull a bottle of lube from the nightstand before returning to his place between Liam’s soft thighs, and continues his thought.

“Love how responsive you are, how you squirm when I eat you out. And how tight you are when I first push in, always so sensitive from the stretch but you moan like you can’t get enough of it.”

Zayn slicks his fingers up, tucking one inside and crooking it to nudge it against Liam’s sweet spot. Liam keens, hips twitching, grinding into the sheets as if he’s trying to get away from Zayn’s finger, but he pushes back almost instantly, fucking himself on Zayn’s finger. Zayn slips in a second finger and scissors them, adding, “Love how open you are for me after I fuck you, how wet you get when you let me come in you.”

Zayn leans down to lick around his fingers then, making a home between Liam’s thighs and easing his tongue in beside his fingers, and Liam moans, louder than before. He pulls his fingers out, using his hands to hold Liam open so his tongue can lap at Liam’s heat. His taste is something Zayn can’t describe, spicy and musty, not at all the repulsive flavor that Zayn would’ve associated with an arse, but he’s also a bit biased.

Liam is babbling out, begging for Zayn to touch him, to give him something as if Zayn hadn’t made him come not fifteen minutes before. He alternates between soft licks, wet kisses, and firm pushes of his tongue, stretching Liam and relaxing him with his mouth. Zayn’s tongue is wet and slick, and combined with the lube it leaves Liam dripping when Zayn pulls back, heeding Liam’s plea for more.

He adds a third finger briefly, stroking along Liam’s velvety walls, just as a courtesy, because even if Liam loves the pain, Zayn doesn’t enjoy inflicting it on his boy. Liam thrusts his hips back, taking Zayn’s fingers in fully and squeezing about them, gasping out, “get in me, please,” sounding as if he’s on the edge of tears from the sensation.

Zayn feels as if he’s going to shoot off as soon as he gets inside, but Liam isn’t better off despite his head start, and Zayn doesn’t feel too bad. He’s dragged it out enough, and Liam has to know how much Zayn cares for him, loves him and everything about him by now.

“Alright sweetheart,” Zayn murmurs, pulling his fingers out and slicking himself up, wiping his hand on the sheets before grabbing Liam’s hip, circling two fingers around himself to guide the tip to press against Liam’s hole.

Liam presses back instantly and Zayn’s head pops inside with a slick noise, both of them moaning at the feeling. Zayn thrusts in steadily until he’s nestled firmly deep within Liam, resting along his spine to kiss at the nape of Liam’s neck.

“Come on,” Liam urges, trying to rock his hips but trapped underneath the weight of Zayn. Zayn swivels his hips, grinding slowly and trying to calm himself before pulling out just an inch to thrust back in. Liam sighs, going lax from the stimulation.

Zayn sticks to the small thrusts, unwilling to pull out all the way and part from Liam’s hips, and Liam isn’t opposed judging by the whimpers that fall from his lips when Zayn nudges against his prostate.

All too soon Zayn can feel his orgasm building in the base of his spine, surprised that he’s lasted this long considering all that’s happened. Still, Zayn needs Liam to let go first, doesn’t want to leave his baby hanging when he’s been so good.

“Want you to come for me,” he murmurs into the back of Liam’s neck, reaching between Liam and the sheet to grip his cock loosely, giving Liam a tiny bit of friction.

It’s enough, though, because Liam lets out a sob and spills over Zayn’s hand, hole clenching tightly to keep Zayn pressed deep inside. Zayn keeps moving shallowly, fucking him through it until his own orgasm gets the better of him and he comes abruptly, muttering “shit,” because he’s too overwhelmed to get anything else out.

He drops down on top of Liam, cock still resting inside the younger boy as they come down from their highs, breathing heavily. Zayn finally works up the strength to pull out and roll off of Liam, dragging the younger boy off of the wet spot in the sheets to tuck Liam into his side.

Zayn sits up to grab the sheet from the foot of the bed, dragging them up to cover their bodies, fighting off a chill as the sweat on their heated skin dries. Liam pillows his head on Zayn’s chest, looking dazed and fucked out, which send a wave of possession through Zayn. He murmurs out praises to Liam, can’t even remember all of what he says, but he remembers the way Liam flushes from the words, ducking his chin and pressing a kiss to Zayn’s shoulder, part love, part thanks.

Zayn holds him tight, kissing along Liam’s hairline as Liam drifts off to sleep, exhausted physically and emotionally most likely. Zayn follows close behind, sleep darkening the corners of his eyes as the combination of his satiation from sex, his lack of sleep from the night before, and the content he feels with Liam in his arms catches to him. It drags him under and Zayn goes willingly, resting easy with Liam in his arms.

***

They wind up sleeping for the rest of the day, only waking up once in the middle of the night to drag themselves into the shower, washing the come and sweat from their bodies before staggering back to bed and passing out again.

The next day, Liam wakes Zayn up early, shyly explaining what he and Christian had talked about before asking if Zayn had any suggestions of people to contact to help get the project off the ground. Zayn is overjoyed, not that Liam was quitting the club, because Zayn would definitely miss it. But Liam was finding a new purpose in life, and the light in his eyes when he talks about making a difference in the lives of people who are at such a high risk of being mistreated, abused, and discriminated against because of their occupation makes Zayn’s heart swell with pride.

His little superhero. Always looking out for others, even if he refuses to look out for himself. Zayn says as much, and Liam blushes, before muttering, “that’s what you’re for, yeah?” a bit nervously.

Zayn smirks, the acknowledgment that Zayn takes care of Liam, of his baby, is more than enough to make him smug.

“Of course. Always gonna take care of you.” Zayn promises. “Love you.”

“I love you too.” Liam murmurs, leaning over Zayn and planting a hand on his chest to place a sweet kiss on Zayn’s lips. Zayn groans, trying to drag Liam fully on top of him but Liam pulls back, tutting.

“Ah, ah, ah. None of that. Gotta get up. We have work to do!” Liam is half out of bed before Zayn knows what’s going on, darting to their closet to pull out a soft sweater and a pair of joggers. His voice echoes off of the walls, “Can’t just sit around all day!”

“Ugh, I’ve enabled a monster,” Zayn groans dramatically, flopping an arm over his eyes. He hears Liam’s feet pattering across the floor, flinching when Liam nudges his arm.

“Babe, come on. Please?” and Zayn will never deny Liam anything, even if he’d prefer to drag the younger boy back into the bed and pin him down all day.

Zayn peaks with one eye, looking at his boyfriend who is giving Zayn his best wounded puppy impression, bottom lip poking out and eyes wide. Damn, he pulls it off well.

“Fine,” Zayn grumbles, throwing his legs over the side of the bed. “But you have to make me breakfast first.”

“I make you breakfast every morning, but okay,” Liam laughs, clearly amused, and Zayn wants Liam to sound that way forever. He dresses slowly, trailing after Liam as he heads to the kitchen, Liam babbling on about ideas and plans, and Zayn couldn’t be more in love.

***

Liam takes a deep breath, palms damp with sweat. The crowd isn’t huge; he performed for more people than this on a weekly basis, and he was always mostly naked then too, but that thought doesn’t ease his nerves.

The wealthy tend to be snooty, and Liam can already imagine them rolling their eyes and murmuring about him amongst themselves. Zayn promised he invited only the most kind and innovative of his peers, and that everyone who sent in their RSVP to their small dinner party were genuine people with exceptional spouses, but that doesn’t mean people will be receptive to his ideas. At this point though, with people arriving, all Liam can do is hope for the best.

Niall is here already, Zayn having snagged him to chat with Liam while Zayn mingled with the crowd before everyone is seated. Liam plans to do the same after his speech, offering himself up to the crowd to answer questions and discuss some of his ideas one on one with possible benefactors. Niall distracts Liam perfectly, rambling on about a luggage fiasco that occurred on his latest business trip to Spain.

“I swear, I thought the manager was gonna pop a vein when I told him I wasn’t Mrs. Debrinski and that my bag was black, not hot pink with leopard trim.”

Liam giggles, imagining a worked up pot-bellied manager trying to convince Niall that some woman’s bag was his. “Did you get it all worked out though?”

“Yup, Mrs. Debrinski’s son picked up my luggage by mistake. They called and she flipped out about some sunglasses that were in her bag. Made it back to the airport in 10 minutes flat.” Niall chuckles, shaking his head as his eyes focus on someone behind Liam.

A tap on his shoulder causes Liam to turn, and he’s swept up in warm familiar arms. “Congrats Li!” Christian’s voice soft and happy, genuinely excited for Liam and all that he’s managed to do in the past two months.

“You made it!” Liam exclaims, clinging to Christian to extend their hug, before pulling back and narrowing his eyes at the taller man. “I thought you weren’t going to be back for another week?”

Christian looks a bit sheepish, shrugging and quirking his lips into a half smile. “I may or may not have to catch a flight late tonight to make it back to Miami for a show tomorrow.”

Before Liam can scold him for skipping out on a show and therefore a paycheck just to attend Liam’s dinner, Christian holds up his hands to stop him. “But I explained everything and they gave me tonight off to fly over! In fact, they insisted because they said I’d be a miserable fuck if I missed it. Which is true.”

Liam crosses his arms, staring at Christian for a bit before shrugging, face transforming into a soft smile. “I’m happy you’re here. Even if I wish you wouldn’t miss for me.”

“I’ll always be around for you, babe.” Christian stretches his arm to drag Liam in, tucking him into his side. “Can’t see you in the club anymore, so this is my only alternative.” Christian wipes an imaginary tear from beneath his eye, as if the loss of Liam from their shared workplace was so traumatic, when in fact Christian had been one of his biggest supporters, Zayn withstanding.

“Oh whatever,” Liam scoffs, “we hang out all the time.” Christian is being overly dramatic, probably to take Liam’s mind off of the fact that he’ll be giving a speech about a very personal taboo subject in a few minutes, and Liam can admit that the easy banter between them does put his mind at ease.

“Oh, wait you haven’t met Niall,” Liam realizes, motioning to the man whose standing beside them, watching the exchange with cautious but amused eyes.

“Niall, this is Christian. We worked together at the club for a while, and now he’s my ex-coworker.” Christian elbows Liam in the side, and Liam rolls his eyes, adding “and current best friend.”

“Niall Horan, businessman and acquaintance of the lovely Liam and his awful boyfriend.”

Christian laughs at the introduction, as Liam pretends to be offended on Zayn’s behalf, kicking weakly at Niall even though he’s out of reach. Niall steps back anyways as Liam protests, “he’s the lovely one, don’t slag him off.”

“Oi, what’s this I hear, Nialler?” Zayn asks, strolling up to butt into the conversation, clapping Christian on the shoulder fondly.

“Just was telling Christian how much of a wanker you are compared to Liam,” Niall says cheekily, and Zayn just rolls his eyes.

“Niall, no matter how much you insult me in front of Liam, he isn’t going to leave me and move to France, so stop trying. He’s literally handcuffed to our relationship.” Niall’s face turns red at Zayn’s teasing, Zayn grabbing Liam’s right hand and sliding his cuff up enough to reveal the bracelet resting on his wrist.

“Just because you’re a kinky fucker that locked him up doesn’t mean that I can’t say what we’re all thinking,” Niall says petulantly as Liam blushes at the implication.

“Whatever,” Zayn says, rolling his eyes and rubbing his thumb along the skin beside the bracelet, a gentle reminder that Liam is loved for who he is and not what he lets Zayn do to him.

“Well gentlemen,” Zayn announces in a broad voice, lacing his fingers with Liam and tugging him out from under Christian’s arm. “Not that this isn’t fun, but we’ve got a dinner to host and I’m gonna need a couple minutes with my boyfriend.”

Christian and Niall nod in understanding, murmuring their encouragements to Liam before excusing themselves to find their seats.

Liam turns his attention to Zayn, admiring the slim fit of his suit, the shine of his shoes, and the way his eyes sparkle in the soft light. Liam is truly the luckiest man on earth.

“You didn’t tell me Christian was coming,” Liam says casually, “but he must have told you.”

Zayn nods, unashamed. “I wanted it to be a surprise. Were you happy?”

“Very,” Liam confirms, wrapping his arms around Zayn to breathe him in, heart suddenly racing from the anticipation. Zayn holds him closely for a couple minutes, just letting Liam rest in his arms to prepare himself.

Liam reluctantly breaks the embrace, stepping back to tug on the bottom of his suit coat. Zayn adjusts his tie, placing a kiss to both cheeks, then his nose, and finally a longer one on his lips. “Breathe babe, you’re gonna kill it,” he murmurs. “You know your shit inside and out. The worst part is waiting to get up there.”

“No kidding,” Liam mutters, running over his key points in his head one last time.

“Ready?” Zayn asks, eyes gentle as he studies Liam’s face. Liam takes one deep breath, blowing it out slowly and nodding. “As I’ll ever be.”

“Let’s do this.” Zayn taps his fingers under Liam’s chin, rubbing at the scruff that’s barely there before turning to lead the way onto the small stage at the front of the room.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Zayn Malik, as most of you know, and I’d like to welcome you this evening. Thank you for coming and showing your support for such an important cause. Liam Payne, the executive director of this project is coming to explain a bit about the foundation and future plans, so please give him a warm welcome.”

The crowd applauds politely as Liam steps forward, a nervous smile on his face as he looks out over the small group of faces, all attentive.

“Hello,” Liam begins, voice a bit shaky and he steps a bit too close to the podium, banging his knee, the sound echoing through the room. “Sorry, ‘m a bit nervous.” He chuckles wryly, and the audience laughs lightly with him. Liam spots Niall and Christian seated near the back of the room, Christian shooting him a thumbs up, but Zayn must still be off to the side because Liam can’t see him.

“My name is Liam, and I was a stripper.”

Any background noise in the room from people muttering amongst themselves suddenly disappears, the group captivated by Liam’s blunt statement.

“For several years, until very recently, my primary occupation was dancing around barely clothed for men and women that I didn’t know. But I’m not here to ask for your pity, because I don’t regret my past.”

And it’s true. Over the past couple months, Liam has had a lot of time to think about life, and what really matters to him, and he’s reached the conclusion that regardless of the other opportunities he could have pursued in the time that he worked at Caroline’s, he’d do it all over again if it meant finding Zayn.

“I chose my position, and I enjoyed it. But more than anything, I’ve realized that I am one of the few that does. Many times, people in this industry start out because they are young and in need of money for one reason or another, and they stay because they don’t have the qualifications to put on their resume to work anywhere else.”

“Partially nude dancing or adult film star isn’t exactly a coveted experience to employers these days. And even if it were, the likelihood of the individual being abused or sexually harassed because of their background would be greatly increased compared to that of someone who was not a sex worker.”

“I was fortunate enough to find someone who loves me for who I am as a person, not for who I am as a body, but there are many people out there who do not have the same luxury. I know this is a controversial subject, but this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, especially among the elite in society. Today I am here to advocate for those who are unable to stand up for themselves.”

“One of the biggest problems, even among those who enjoy working in this industry, is aging out. Once you hit a certain age, you are no longer desirable. And at that age, many are not financially stable and able to support themselves without work. There are many types of sex workers, all with varying degrees of risk attached to their profession. Our foundation wants to give them the opportunity to get out of the industry if they so choose. To do this, we plan to help fund their education, to provide them with tools and skills that will make them competitive among the industry they so desire. We will provide them with quality experiences and make sure that they have references to help them get in on the ground level.”

Liam lists off a few business that he’s already talked to that are willing to assist by providing jobs and apprenticeships, explaining that they’d like for this list to expand.

“What we are in need of right now is resources. We need people to get the word out, and while volunteering will be part of our organization, we would like to fund people to streamline the process. We need people to stay in touch with businesses to ensure their continued support, and we need people reaching out to the actual sex workers and making sure that they know they have options.”

“If you’re interested in getting involved in any of these areas, please don’t hesitate to speak with me or contact my office. Any donations will be greatly appreciated, both by my team and the people we will reach with your generous support. Thank you for your time this evening, and enjoy your dinner.”

Liam steps back from the microphone, dipping his head and folding his hands in thanks as the crowd applauds again, just as the waiters step out of the woodwork to deliver the first course.

Liam strides off the stage, aware that there are a lot of eyes on him at the moment but only looking for one pair in particular. Zayn is standing off to the side, warm smile on his face and pride in his eyes. Liam all but collapses into him as Zayn draws him into a hug.

“You did so well, baby,” Zayn praises, “honestly you’d make a better businessman than me. If I wasn’t already completely onboard, I would be now.”

Liam’s cheeks pink but he refuses to ignore the praise, dipping his head slightly to mutter his thanks. “I just hope everyone else gets onboard too. We need money to expand and I refuse to let you give me any more.”

“Just wait until dinner is over and then you can schmooze over dessert, yeah? Just go around shaking hands and saying thank you, and I guarantee checks will find their way into your pocket.” Zayn advises, before adding, “plus I’d like to eat and I know there are a couple extra seats open near Christian and Niall. Take a short break and then go get what you want.”

Liam can’t argue with that logic, stomach rumbling at the thought of food, and he’s suddenly very aware of the fact that he’s eaten almost nothing today. Zayn looks amused at the noise, taking Liam’s hand to guide him to the table. The occupants congratulate him, Christian giving him a fist bump under the table once he’s seated.

By the time they are starting on the last course, both of the couples seated across from Liam have handed him checks and offered their services.

“Just make sure to call and get in touch with my secretary. We are always looking for young eager workers,” the man seated next to Niall, Mr. Richardson, says again, handing over his business card. His wife adds, “we think what you’re doing is just fabulous. And you two are a lovely couple.”

Mrs. Richardson smiles widely at Zayn and Liam, and Liam blushes, cheeks pushing up as he can’t help but grin in return. “Thank you,” Zayn replies smoothly, bragging “he makes me look pretty good,” and the table chuckles as Liam goes even redder.

“Think it’s time for you to go meet some people, babe,” Zayn murmurs, nodding his head at a table of people who are finishing up the last of their dessert.

Liam excuses himself and stands, going around the room greeting everyone, introducing himself, explaining his vision for the foundation, and blushing every time some mentions what a handsome lad he is, and what a nice looking man his boyfriend is.

By the time the room begins to clear, Liam’s pockets are full of checks, just as Zayn said they would be. Excitement courses through him, already planning what he wants to do to start the expansion project when a hand taps him on the shoulder, a man clearing his voice.

Liam turns and comes face to face with a familiar friend. “Vinny?” he asks, astonished. “I had no idea you were here!” Liam hugs the older man tightly, burying his face into Vinny’s jacket and taking in the soothing scent of the shop that always clings to his clothes.

“Zayn mentioned it last time you were in, and said it was a surprise when he sent the invitation.” Vinny explains, and Liam grumbles under his breath because of course Zayn would make sure important people were there and Liam can’t believe he overlooked Vinny.

“Your speech was amazing, my boy. I’m very proud of you and all you’ve accomplished.” Vinny hands over a check, urging Liam to open it. Liam hasn’t looked at any of the other donations, not wanting to seem rude in front of the guest, but this is Vinny. He looks, and the amount of zeros trailing at the end of the check has to be a joke.

“Vinny,” he rasps, “this is way too much, you can’t-“  “can’t afford it?” Vinny interrupts, quirking an eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware that you were my personal accountant, Liam. Believe me, that doesn’t make a dent in my bank account.”

Liam believes him, mentally taking a quick inventory of just what he has on display in his shop and realizing that the man is far richer than he appears. “Now let me spoil you,” Vinny chides, “it’s not like I’m going to use all of what I have anyways, and your cause is more noble than most.”

Liam huffs, but acquiesces, not wanting to argue with the older man. It would be a lost battle from the start. Vinny isn’t done though.

“Also while we’re here, I just wanted to tell you that I’m very happy for you and Zayn. It’s clear that you’re smitten with each other.” Liam blushes, nodding, and he can’t help the smile that takes over his face.

“Don’t take what you have for granted, most people will never have what you two have.” The advice hits home, because Liam knows that what they have together is something special. Zayn loves him because of who he is, not what he does, and Liam can’t ask for anything more.

“Now, take that,” a nod towards the check, “find Zayn, and go make someone else as happy as you are,” Vinny shoos him away in the direction of Zayn, Liam calling his thanks as he walks backwards, watching Vinny tip his head and wink before turning away.

Liam goes to turn around and runs straight into a broad chest.

“Woah, fancy meeting you here,” Zayn teases, eyes sparkling with love and fondness, and Liam’s heart could burst right then from all that he feels for the man in front of him.

“ ‘m proud of you, baby,” Zayn murmurs, opening his arms so Liam can step forward into them. “You did so well, love. How do you feel?”

“Like I’m on top of the world,” Liam answers honestly, grinning into Zayn’s neck. “We got so many donations for the foundation, should be able to get all the upgrades finished way sooner than I thought.”

Liam steps backwards, shifting into work mode as he thinks about all that he has to do to get things moving. The sooner the better, he thinks.

“Slow down, sweetheart,” Zayn interrupts his train of thought, dragging Liam back to the present. “How about we take a night off to celebrate, and you can go do your business things and save the world tomorrow?”

Liam pouts briefly, although he knows that Zayn is right. They both deserve a break, and Liam owes Zayn some well-deserved cuddles considering all the times Zayn has had to drag Liam out of the office.

“Fine, I guess we could just chill tonight. And maybe tomorrow too? We might have a lot to celebrate,” Liam offers coyly, Zayn’s eyes lighting up and then darkening as the implication sets in.

“Maybe all weekend?” Zayn suggests, not expecting Liam to fall for it, but sue him for trying. Liam surprises him though, clearly elated as he nods his agreement, grabbing Zayn’s wrist to drag him towards the door.

All of the guests have cleared out already, Niall and Christian dipping out earlier because Liam was too deep in ‘businessman mode’, leaving only the staff. Liam calls out his thanks as he hauls Zayn out of the room, Zayn huffing a laugh.

They slide into the backseat car, Zayn having arranged a chauffeur just in case things went horribly wrong or horribly right. Liam is grateful that it was the latter, climbing into Zayn’s lap and pressing their lips together.

Zayn’s mouth is plush as always, and Liam takes his time licking into Zayn’s mouth, energy coursing through his body and flowing from his fingertips. This is his boyfriend, the love of his life, and Liam gets to keep him forever.

Liam is bit more intense than usual, and it must be affecting Zayn because his voice is a bit strained as he pulls back to whisper, “so, how about a dance for old time sake then?”

Liam bursts out laughing, Zayn’s cheeky humor never failing to make him smile. Liam is so gone for this man.

It’s funny, Liam thinks, how easy it is for one moment, one decision to change your entire life. Zayn chose to go to the club, and then made the conscious decision to pursue Liam in the face of opposition. Liam chose to accept Zayn’s advances, trusting Zayn to be careful with his body and his heart, and it’s the best thing he’s ever done.

Liam looks down at Zayn, eyes lidded and lips curled up into an easy smile as he answers, “For you? Anything.”

*****