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Louis stumbles into the small gallery because the wind is so biting it's taken his breath away. His eyes are immediately drawn to a painting on the back wall and he knows instantly that he has to have it. Christmas is only a month or so away and it's perfect for Harry. 
 
The curator tells him the price and Louis staggers back out the door, back into the cold, It's entirely too expensive for Louis's limited budget. He gets along well enough, but not that well. He can't help feeling as though he's let Harry down, ridiculous as that sounds.
 
 
 
He keeps going back.
 
There's just something about it that he can't shake. Louis finds himself making inane detours just so he can walk by the gallery again, take a glance. One of those times, when he's standing outside the window (third time this month, the curator is starting to get suspicious, Louis thinks), he runs into Zayn.
 
Or rather, Zayn strikes up a conversation when he comes outside to smoke. In the end, Louis ends up telling him why he keeps coming around, how he's knows fuck all about art but there's this one piece that he just can't shake. Zayn, taking the last drag off his cigarette and crushing it under his heel, looks up and says, "s'my piece, you know," followed by an offer to see his studio.
 
Louis laughs and asks if that's Zayn's way of saying I've got some etchings which makes Zayn blush a little and laugh in return. No, no, he tells Louis. He just honestly wouldn't mind a fresh pair of eyes. His manager and the curator are up his ass; they just want him to sell so they make money. But Zayn's been working on some new stuff, a new style, and he's not quite sure about it. Louis protests; like he said, he doesn't know much about art. Zayn tells him that's exactly why he should come. Art is about feeling and that's what Zayn wants to see - what it evokes in Louis.
 
So Louis goes.
 
*
 
Zayn's new stuff is...different. Still abstract, but there's definite recognizable shapes and visuals. It's a series, the first ones starting out pale, all pinks and tans but with a splash of color. The panels shift into warmer tones, reds so dark they're nearly black. It's not blatant, but there's a level of eroticism that makes Louis blush even though he doesn't know why. A bit of purple starts to seep into the frames, until that's all there is. It makes Louis's chest ache a little, until he comes round to one that's pale, pale lavender, one corner fading into a yellow so light that Louis mistakes it for white until he stands close enough. Zayn's standing by the last canvas, unfinished. It's a swirl of yellows and golds; rich, vibrant colors. A spark of blue sits straight in the middle.
 
Zayn just stares at him and Louis can't help blurting out, "Who was she?" Zayn looks startled for a moment before answering, "No one." That makes Louis laugh.
 
"Obviously that's not true." Louis glances back at the line of canvases. "If this is what she inspired." Zayn just shrugs, his hands twitch like he needs another cigarette. "Doesn't matter," he finally tells Louis. "I wasn't what she wanted in the end."
 
Louis studies Zayn, takes in the rail-thin lines of his body, the slice of his cheekbones, the curve of his mouth and the paint on his hands and says, "Her loss then."
 
Zayn looks a startled at that, eyes widening. A second later, he laughs. Nodding, "Right you are, mate."
 
His hand doesn't shake at all when he reaches for Louis.
 
*
 
The thing is that when Harry falls, he falls hard and he falls completely. He's never been the one to hold himself back; it's not something he believes in, really. When you love someone, you love them with everything you have.
 
This means that when things end, a lot of them times it's messy and terrible and Harry always ends up losing a part of himself. It's not a horrible thing though, because to Harry, whatever he's lost of himself, a piece of his lover belongs to Harry, too. An even trade.
 
It makes sense in his head anyway.
 
Louis, though, is a different story. Harry's actually been in love with Louis since approximately two seconds after they met. Louis is easy with touches, free with his affections, but something in his eyes always made Harry hesitate to try something more. And by the time Louis had figured himself out, was comfortable in that, Harry figured their time had passed. And he's happy with Louis, happy that Louis is happy. Louis is his best friend, his best mate, do or die until the end of time and all that. Harry is perfectly okay with that really. He's had Caroline and Nick and a handful of others that were his for a time, that are still in his life because Harry couldn't stand to lose them completely.
 
Harry is perfectly okay with the status quo until Zayn Malik.
 
Zayn is everything that Harry is not. Quiet, mysterious, broody. He's pretty like a girl, only lazy with three day's of stubble and paint. There's always paint everywhere now. Zayn is an artist.
 
He stares at Harry like he wants to deconstruct him, find out what makes him tick. He stares at Harry like he knows exactly how Harry feels.
 
Harry wants to hate him. He does.
 
Only.
 
Only he makes Louis happy. And Harry catches them all the time, Louis talking a mile a minute and Zayn just watching him, a stupid half-smile on his face. He touches Louis like he's precious (because he is, the voice in Harry's head shouts) and Harry can't help but hate him just the tiniest bit.
 
Only he finds that after a while, he can't even do that. Because they get in a day long argument about why Superman is a million times better than the Green Lantern. Seriously, Zayn, who picks the Green Lantern? Zayn tells him he can't have any respect for a man who wears his underwear on the outside of his pants. So, of course when Louis finally comes home it's to find Harry wearing briefs over his trousers and Zayn nearly crying with laughter.
 
Harry watches Louis's face light up at the two of them getting along so well. He watches Louis curl around Zayn and thinks that maybe, just maybe, he really has lost Louis for good this time. Zayn's fingers slot around Louis's ribs and he grins up at Harry and Harry finds that it hurts less than he thought it would.
 
 
 
It's only when he stops by the gallery one afternoon, Zayn's face brightening with a smile as he drags him back to the studio to show him this new piece he's almost finished. "-you'll love it, I swear."
 
He does.
 
It's signature style, broad strokes and bold colors. It's Louis, abstract but obvious and so brilliantly done that Harry has Zayn pressed against the wall before he knows it.
 
Zayn fists his hands in Harry's jumper, kisses back, and everything goes to hell.
 
*
 
Zayn knows that Harry's in love with Louis. He'd known it the second he'd shook Harry's hand.
 
He'd definitely known it when Harry had pulled him to the side and warned him that no one would ever find the body if Zayn hurt Louis. Zayn was fairly sure that Harry wouldn't actually hurt a fly, but he'd swallowed and made his promise.
 
Right now Zayn wonders if it counts as breaking that promise when the reason he's breaking it is Harry's fault in the first place.
 
 
 
He and Harry have only kissed. Except--
 
Except it keeps happening. It's rushed, frantic, Harry's mouth slanting over his like he's desperately searching for something. It makes Zayn's chest ache.
 
To appease his own guilt, Zayn paints Louis's body with his hands, with his mouth. He takes the hunger and anger and pain that's burning in his bones and presses Louis into the mattress, makes him pant and moan and beg.  Makes him fall apart underneath Zayn's body. He doesn't think about why he can't seem to stop whatever is happening with Harry, just tries to make up for it in any way he can find.
 
 
 
The inevitable happens.
 
It hits him, right in the middle of Louis's stunned face and the warm line of the body pressed into his, exactly what Harry was so desperately searching for every time. Zayn moves away, stopping briefly to press his lips against the razor line of Louis's cheek. It's quiet enough that his, "It doesn't mean anything, Lou. Not when he'd rather be kissing you," carries clearly across the room.
 
Two sharp intakes of air echo in the room and Zayn walks out the door.
 
 
 
He paints for days after that. At one point, he's fairly sure he passes out from lack of sleep and food, waking up in the middle of his studio with a frantic hand on his shoulder, the curator yelling at him. He wants to laugh at himself. Zayn, the Lovesick Fool. Zayn, the Tortured Artist. He wants to laugh, but all he does is stand up and start painting again. It happens again, but this time Zayn wakes alone.
 
He continues to paint.
 
He finishes and finds himself sitting, surrounded by his latest work, as the first rays of morning make their way across his floor. And it's too much, when he looks up. It's too much to view, everything inside him on display. His bones and guts and his heart so neatly there for all the world to see.
 
For Zayn to see.
 
He must go a little mad then, but he doesn't ever really remember it.
 
When he comes back to himself, it's to a studio in chaos - canvases scattered, easels broken, and his brushes snapped in pieces. It's to Louis's hands on his face and Harry's breath warm on his neck, arms tight around him. There's someone whispering, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," over and over again and it's not until Louis presses his mouth to Zayn's that he realizes it was him.
 
They sink to their knees, Harry's quiet, "It's not your fault," marking his skin.
 
Zayn comes back to himself with ragged breaths, to hands on his skin, and warmth surrounding him. He comes back and this time, he's not alone.
 
It's a start.