Warnings: Pain!kink, D/s, and a little bit of blood. Pain used as a coping mechanism. Liam is seventeen.
Summary: Once, on a dull night off, Liam tries asking Google on a whim. He stares at the blinking cursor in the search bar for a while, trying to figure out how to phrase it, because something tells him "why does my mate like it when I hit him" won't bring up a lot of helpful results. (~14,300 words)
A/N: EXPERIMENTS IN SUB!LOUIS. Sort of. Many thanks to tracedust. ♥ Title from Hot Chip's 'One Life Stand'.
Louis can't know that it's what he wants, not until it happens. But he's pretty sure. He's had an inkling for a while, ever since sixth form when he and Hannah used to wrestle playfully and he enjoyed it maybe more than he should, when she'd knock the wind out of him or pin his arms above his head or tickle him 'til he cried mercy. He's usually pretty competitive, but this was different, because he never really felt the urge to fight her or try and beat her at the game. At the time he figured it was maybe just because she was a girl or something, but in retrospect it's really just because he didn't want to. He liked the physicality of her attacking him, and he didn't need to make any effort, really, to get that to happen.
It only became obvious that he liked it when The X Factor started and he found himself missing their playfights almost more than he missed her. He tried hurting himself a little bit as an experiment, tugging on his own hair like she sometimes would or pinching himself hard, and then at some point he found himself doing those things while wanking furtively and after that it was pretty easy to connect the dots. It just felt good, made him come harder, and he was always so much more relaxed afterwards.
The complicated part came when he connected a few more dots and realised he'd been trying to goad the others into fighting him all this time. He honestly hadn't even been aware he was doing it, at first, thought it was just boyish roughhousing brought on by the way they were all so physical with each other anyway. But then he realised no one was actually joining in, that he was just doing it because he wanted someone to retaliate, and he couldn't stop—can't stop—and that's maybe a bit weird.
But it's just small things, mostly. He gets Zayn into a headlock sometimes and messes with his hair, but even though that'll piss Zayn off he just tends to call Louis a wanker and kind of half-heartedly bat at him, too distracted worrying about the damage Louis's done to bother with payback. Niall's tricky too, because Louis can never really bring himself to hurt him. Usually he'll just be as irritating as possible instead, in the hopes Niall might lose his patience and shove him away, sick of Louis singing Ke$ha songs directly into his ear all day or whatever else Louis has deemed appropriately annoying. Niall has endless patience, though, and for the most part he just seems to find Louis's antics hilarious, and not maddening at all.
So then there's Liam, and Harry, and if Louis's honest with himself he will admit that he goes for them the most. He's not sure why, because he's definitely not getting anywhere with them, but there's just something that draws him to them more often than Zayn and Niall. Liam, he likes to slap across the face, and he likes to pinch his nipples too, twist them 'til they sting. It's partly just because his reaction is amusing, the way he'll always act so startled even though Louis does it all the time, but of course Louis is secretly hoping one day Liam will react with something other than vague shock and actually do it back.
Harry is nearly impossible. Harry puts up with anything. Louis learnt this quickly, after a couple of weeks of fruitless harassment. He doesn't know if Harry just has a very high tolerance for both irritation and pain, or lacks the normal human fight-or-flight response, but even hitting him in the balls has little effect. Harry's response to that is just a lot of groaning and clutching at himself without ever considering getting revenge. He'll be cuddling Louis again ten minutes later, and Louis just doesn't understand what's wrong with everybody and what they have against putting him in his place.
He tickles Niall for what feels like half an hour, once, and Niall just sort of wriggles about and laughs like a hyena and tells Louis to stop a couple of times through hysterical giggles, but never actually makes any attempt to get him to. Eventually Louis gives up, slumping back on the sofa and lamenting, "Why doesn't anyone just like, kick me when I'm being annoying?"
"You were sitting on my legs," Niall points out, which is a fair point, and then, "also, we're all a little scared of you, mate."
Louis lets out a frustrated whine and stomps off, which probably seems like a bit of a weird response, but Niall doesn't question it. Which is annoying, really, because maybe if they talked it out Niall would agree to hit Louis round the face or something just so Louis could get this thing out of his system, finally know how it actually feels. But Louis can't exactly bring it up with anyone; it's embarrassing to think of saying it out loud, easier to let his body do the talking even though no one seems to listen.
It's not fair on the others, this whole thing, but Louis doesn't know what else he can do. He needs this. He can still hurt himself, but that's not really right, that's something he can control and expect and what he wants is for it to be unpredictable. Still, it's better than nothing, pulling at his own nipples while he's bringing himself off, biting hard into the soft flesh of his own arm, deliberately keeping his palm dry around his cock so it drags a little on the downstroke. He's always in this weird mood after, where he's happy to just sit still and listen to things and let the world go on around him. The only thing he can really compare it to is how it felt when he went to the hospital after he got stung by the sea urchin in Marbella, and they put him on all these powerful meds that made it feel like everything was good and nothing really mattered. Which is funny, really, because actually being stung in the first place felt pretty similar, and it seems odd for both pain and pain medication to put him in the same frame of mind.
Louis's really starting to pick up on patterns, starting to figure this thing out. He's realised that if he gets twitchy during interviews it'll help for him to pinch himself, the pain a distraction from his boredom or his agitation at having to sit still or his frustration at the reporter for asking the same questions as everyone else. If he's too hyped up on a night out or after a concert he'll find himself being a little more reckless with his own body, a little less spatially aware, and if he knocks into some furniture or goes over on his ankle it just calms him down, somehow. Pain seems to be able to bring him back to earth or make him drift off somewhere else, depending on what he needs it to do, and he's pretty sure it's not the effect it's supposed to have—other people get upset or angry when they're in pain, but Louis just...welcomes it. It does different things to him, but as far as he can tell, they're all pretty good. He doesn't know if that means some wires are crossed wrongly in his brain or something but if he's honest, he doesn't really care.
For the most part, anyway. Sometimes he worries about it, because he does so many things without thinking, just follows an impulse and it really feels like someday he could injure himself badly. By the time they're halfway into the X Factor tour he feels like he's losing his mind. He and Hannah have been drifting apart for months, Louis's busy schedule putting a lot of strain on their relationship, and they've finally decided to just take a break and see if that solves anything, but Louis feels like he needs her now more than ever. It's starting to feel like no one will ever ask him about this thing, and everyone is just going to go on acting like it's perfectly fine that Louis is regularly tormenting them for no apparent reason. It's not even something he feels he can control, he's just needling everyone all the time and being a total nuisance and he sort of hates himself for it but he can't fucking stop. Everybody's getting a little testy with him and Zayn yells at him a few times but that's it; they just seem to be going from one day to the next without anything ever actually happening. The shows help to get out some of the frustration, the excess energy Louis seems to have, but he's still aching for something else, something it's starting to feel like he might never get.
And then one day, Liam breaks. Louis's in Liam's hotel room after lunch on a day off and just nagging at him, trying to persuade him to come on an adventure with him outside and see how long it takes them to get lost, and even though it's pretty obvious that Liam's really not in the mood, Louis can't make himself shut up.
"C'mon c'mon c'mon," he pesters, "just for a bit, like, see how far away from the hotel we can get in twenty minutes."
"I want a nap, Louis," Liam says, and his voice sounds a little tight. Before, he was apologetic, telling Louis how sorry he was that he was a bit tired and how he'd maybe rather have a bit of a lie-down before dinner, but now his patience is clearly beginning to wear thin.
"Liiiiiiam," Louis whines, giving him a little half-hearted shove, hands on his chest.
Surprisingly, Liam responds to that, shoving Louis back—just a little, even more gentle, not like he really means it but even so—
"Come on," Louis demands, shoving Liam a little harder in the shoulder. "C'mon c'mon c'mon." He punctuates each word with a slap to Liam's cheek, and Liam is smiling, rolling his eyes, putting up with it—but when Louis brings his hand back down and gets in Liam's face, fluttering his eyelashes ridiculously, suddenly Liam slaps him back, for the very first time. He laughs like it's a bit of a game as his palm swiftly bats Louis's cheek, and Louis loses all of his remaining sense in about two seconds flat.
He knows, logically, that the best thing to do would probably be to play it cool, to act like Liam's won and leave it for another couple of days and then go through this all again, get him to reach breaking point for the second time. Or maybe to slap Liam right back, turn it into a little fight. But in the moment, he just can't control his reaction. His eyelids flutter again but it's involuntary this time, and he hears himself hiss out a "Yesss," and then he's saying, "do it again," before he can stop himself.
"Wh-what?" stammers Liam, taking a step back, the goofy grin vanishing from his face. "Why?"
"Just—" Louis is impatient, now that he's felt it he just wants it again, and again and again. He doesn't want to talk about it. "Just—do it Liam, come on."
He finds himself tilting his head, offering his cheek, the one that's still tingling.
"Why?" asks Liam again, bewildered.
"Just," Louis says, knowing he can't possibly explain, especially not now when his whole body is thrumming with something frantic, a hum of promise, "I want you to do it again."
"But I don't—"
"Liam, I liked it, c'mon please—" Louis's begging before he even realises what he's saying, crumbling into pure desperation right before Liam's eyes, "please please please, just fucking hit me."
Liam is looking at him with a sort of fierce confusion and Louis is too far gone to even feel ashamed of pleading with him like this, too hungry for it. He watches, begging with his eyes, and Liam seems to be bracing himself, jittery with something just like Louis is, tapping his foot against the carpet. The rhythmic sound of it is sending Louis crazy; he grabs for Liam's hand instinctively like he's going to somehow draw it across his own face but just as he takes it Liam snatches it away and then suddenly there's a fresh jab of pain in Louis's cheek, a hot sting that spreads.
Louis gasps and his knees buckle; he stumbles back a step and drops onto the foot of the bed without thinking, dazed and staring up at Liam, Liam who still looks completely bewildered but hasn't left, hasn't told him he's a freak and gotten the hell out of there. Louis feels a sudden rush of gratitude.
"Again?" he says hopefully, and Liam's face goes tight, brow wrinkling.
"Louis, I don't understand," he says helplessly, "what's this about?"
Louis heaves an impatient sigh. "I don't know, alright?" he says and it comes out harsh. "Can't you just do it without asking questions?"
Liam looks taken aback, hurt, and Louis immediately feels guilty. "I just don't want to hurt you," Liam says in a small voice.
"But that's what I want," Louis snaps back without thinking, and then he does think, and realises maybe he's just being selfish, and maybe he was an idiot to think Liam would actually be willing to do this. He might've learnt how to box to beat up bullies but these days he wouldn't hurt a fucking fly.
Liam sighs and he sounds frustrated now, fists clenching. "I just don't get it."
"Do you have to get it to be able to do it?" Louis asks, his heart sinking.
"Well, yeah," Liam says hesitantly, "yeah, I think so, 'cause otherwise I feel like it's just—for no reason and I don't—"
"Alright, alright, whatever, I'm a weirdo, I get it," says Louis hurriedly, cutting him off and getting to his feet, feeling embarrassment beginning to creep up his spine.
"No, Lou, don't just—are we okay?" Liam says in a sort of broken voice that just makes Louis inexplicably angry.
"Yeah, just, leave it for a bit okay? Let me go stew in my own shame," Louis tries to turn the sentence into a joke halfway through but it falls flat, and Liam is looking at him with something like pity, which Louis can't stand.
"Don't be—I mean it's not—I'm just confused."
"Yeah, well, I can't help you with that," Louis says, still trying to keep the tone of his voice jovial, but he knows Liam can see straight through him. "See you later for dinner, all right?"
He goes for a wander around the hotel because he doesn't really want to face any of the others like this, but eventually his feet take him back to his and Harry's room where he slumps face-first onto his bed and lets out a frustrated groan. Harry comes over and, after two aborted attempts at trying to find out what's wrong, stops asking questions and just cuddles him, and after half an hour Louis is starting to feel better. He doesn't really want to have to see Liam again right now but they're going out for pizza, the five of them, and he just has to grit his teeth and bear it.
Liam is annoyingly gentle with him, walking on eggshells like Louis is someone who has to be treated delicately all of a sudden, like some crazed mental patient who might suddenly throw down his pizza and demand that Liam slap him in front of the entire restaurant. It's humiliating, and Louis hates it, and it doesn't pass. Louis can't help not wanting to be alone with him, not wanting to engage with him for any longer than necessary when he can see the concern in Liam's gentle eyes and sense the apologies on the tip of his tongue.
It's made worse by the fact that he can't just put the whole thing out of his mind, can't just forget what happened and put it behind him. He can't stop thinking about it; it drifts into his mind when he's wanking off in the shower in the mornings and he'll brace himself against the tiles and remember the sting of Liam's palm on his cheek and it makes him come so hard that his thighs tremble and his knees go weak. He needs it, now that he's had a taste of it he needs it to happen again. He's climbing the walls without it and it's driving him crazy.
Harry's concerned about him, he can tell. He doesn't pry, and he doesn't get all patronising with his worry like Liam, but he sticks by Louis's side more lately, offers more cuddles, encourages him to share his bed at night for comfort. Louis has the feeling he's waiting, patiently waiting for Louis to open up to him, but Louis wouldn't even know where to start. It makes him wonder, though, whether this is something Harry could do for him after all, if Louis only asked. Harry accepts Louis—and everyone—just the way they are and Louis knows he'd never judge him, would probably be willing to give Louis what he wants even if he doesn't understand why he wants it. Louis just doesn't know how to ask, and he knows he'll have to, because slapping Harry around has absolutely no effect. Harry will never retaliate, unless perhaps Louis explicitly asks him to.
They're curled up in Harry's bed together one night, Louis gazing at the ceiling and chewing on a fingernail while Harry makes his way through a reread of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, heavy book balanced on his bare chest.
"Haz, would you," Louis spits out suddenly, and they've both been silent for so long that Harry actually starts a little at the words and then laughs at himself. Louis tries not to be thrown off track, rolling over to look Harry in the eye. "Would you like—would you ever, y'know, like...hurt me?"
Harry frowns, eyebrows drawing in and forehead crinkling, confused. "No," he says then, sounding almost aghast. "Like—no, Lou, 'course I wouldn't."
Louis's heart sinks as he realises Harry misinterpreted the question, but it feels too late to clarify now, especially with Harry looking at him like hurting him is the last thing he'd ever be willing to do.
Harry puts the book down, open on his chest, and then shuffles closer, pulling Louis to him. "Why would you even think that?" he murmurs, kissing Louis's temple.
"Dunno," Louis mumbles. "Just. Never mind."
The frustration bubbles up in his stomach again as Harry holds him close.
The show the next night is brilliant. Like, really brilliant. They've been having a lot of fun on the tour so far but it hasn't quite felt like they actually know what they're doing until tonight. Tonight they're just on, they all sound so good and the crowd is wild and for the first time Liam can properly taste it, can see them doing this all by themselves on a headline tour. He knows the others all feel it too, he can sense it, they're all on the same wavelength and every time he catches someone's eye they end up grinning like idiots at each other, overwhelmed by it all.
It's hard coming down after a show anyway but tonight it feels impossible. Everybody piles into Zayn's room and ransacks the minibar because out of the four of them who drink, only half are actually legally allowed, so they can't go down to the bar or anything. Liam's heart thuds in his chest with leftover adrenaline as he watches the four of them galloping around the room, Louis mixing Harry a drink with far too much overpriced rum in it and then trying to pour it into his mouth. He watches Louis the most, actually, pleased by how happy he seems for the first time since what happened between them. He's been so distant, and it's sort of a relief to see him acting like a twat again. Liam keeps a close eye on him and notices he only has one drink, a splash of vodka in some Coke that he abandons after only a few sips and it's strange, because Louis's usually the first to get totally pissed, but it seems like he doesn't need it tonight, like the high from performing is enough.
Liam starts to get a little concerned, though, as the night goes on and Louis doesn't wind down. It always takes him longer than the rest of them, but there's usually a noticeable decrease in his excitement levels even if he is still buzzing by bedtime, and tonight he seems exactly the same as he did when they got offstage. The others are getting sleepy, Zayn already half passed-out, sprawled across his bed, and Louis is turning the music up louder and trying to get Niall to dance with him, even though Niall is so far gone that he can no longer co-ordinate his limbs. There's just something wild in Louis's eyes, some kind of hectic desperation like he doesn't want to stop, or more like he can't, and Liam doesn't know what to make of it, of the way he went from snapping at everybody before the show to this.
"Liiiiam, Liam, come dance," Louis demands, as Niall gives up and flops down on top of Zayn. Zayn grumbles half-heartedly and Harry, who recently joined him on the bed, lets out a drunken bark of laughter.
"I'm good," Liam chuckles. He doesn't mind watching the rest of them try use up their lingering excitement but their methods have never worked for him; he prefers to just sit and be still and let it all simmer down.
"Nooo, come on," Louis pesters, trying to heave Liam up off the bed. Zayn half-heartedly takes a hold of Liam's ankle in solidarity, but Liam shakes them both off.
"I'm gonna go to bed actually I think," he says, getting to his feet.
Louis pouts at him. "Uh uh," he protests. There's something frantic in his eyes and it's unsettling, especially after a whole week of Louis seemingly avoiding him, even when Liam was trying so hard to be nice.
"Uh huh," Liam insists. "I'll see you all in the morning. Don't choke on your own sick or anything. Zayn, make sure they don't choke on their own sick."
Zayn lifts his head, says, "Will do," and then drops it back into the duvet. Liam is unconvinced, but this has happened before and they've been even more intoxicated, and he knows he can trust them.
"Alright," he says with a wave, "night night."
Louis is still looking at him with a weird sort of angry desperation, and all the way back to his own room Liam is waiting to hear the door opening behind him and Louis chasing after him, but it doesn't happen. In his own hotel room he finds that he's still wired, not ready for sleep yet, and he considers taking a bath so he'll be forced to do nothing but lie there and relax. He paces the room agitatedly, wondering if he should've stayed with the others. It seems so quiet now.
Just at that thought, there's a sudden hammering on the door. Liam almost wants to laugh but at the same time there's a tight spiral of anxiety twisting up inside of him as he heads to let Louis in, knowing without a doubt that it's him.
"They're all just falling asleep and it's boring and I'm bored and I can't fucking sit still and I want—" Louis babbles, stumbling through the doorway, "—I just wanna do something, Liam, I'm like—I'm going out of my mind."
Liam realises, then, with a shock to his system, how distressed Louis seems. He's on that concert high that's very familiar to Liam but it's like he's not actually enjoying it anymore, like it's eating away at his nerves and that's not something Liam's ever seen in him, Louis always embraces it and refuses to let it get the better of him.
"Alright, okay, um," Liam says, taking Louis hesitantly by the shoulders and trying to guide him towards the bed. "Maybe just—maybe try and sit still for a minute and just breathe—"
"No," Louis cries immediately, shaking him off, "no, I fucking can't, I'm like—Liam can we go do something, can we like—fuck, I don't know, run somewhere or like, I need to move, I feel like I'm crawling out of my skin."
He laughs and it sounds sort of hysterical and Liam's anxiety spikes. "Are you—Lou, are you drunk?"
"No," Louis says again, with heavy emphasis, "I don't—I had the tiniest bit, it was making things worse."
"Okay," says Liam, still floundering, wondering what the hell to do. It's not like Louis's never had moods like this before, but he's never asked for help with them, he's just gone with his instinct and done ridiculous things to get it out of his system, cartwheeled down hotel corridors. The way he's acting now, it's almost like a panic attack of some kind, like he's overwhelmed by the energy thrumming through his own veins and scared by the way he can't get rid of it. He won't stop moving, even now, shifting from foot to foot and picking at his fingers, revved up and twitchy and if Liam didn't know him he might think he was on some kind of drug.
"Liam," says Louis in a hopeless sort of voice, "Liam I know you don't want to but I really—I think I really need you to hit me."
Somehow Liam's not surprised, when he hears it, like in the depths of his mind he already knew that might be what Louis was needing. And he knows Louis isn't manipulating him into it, knows that whatever Louis is feeling right now is genuine and a little out of control and—Liam doesn't understand how it could help, Louis had gone all frantic when he did it before, like someone had lit a fire under him, but—then Liam remembers the way Louis went all dazed after the second slap, sunk down onto the bed, going still.
Louis draws in shaky breath after shaky breath, bouncing on the balls of his feet, and Liam does it, surrenders because he doesn't know what else he can do, and slaps Louis across the face. It's not harsh, more of a light thud of Liam's hand against Louis's cheek, but the reaction Louis has is—is incomprehensible. He relaxes instantly like the tension has drained right out of his body, lets out this little sound of relief, and goes still, limbs loose.
"Thank you, thank you," he says then, exhaling loud. "Shit. Okay. Again?"
Liam clenches his teeth and tells himself once more and obliges, and Louis's chest heaves with it as he sighs with some sort of relief. He goes and sits down at the end of Liam's bed, and for a moment he looks happy, but then almost instantly his expression switches and he looks—sort of scared, or ashamed maybe, dropping his head down into his hands.
"Lou, it's okay," Liam says, his voice wavering a little as he steps closer to stand before him. "I—it's okay, you're okay. We're okay."
Louis nods, but he seems distant again all of a sudden, like he's somewhere else.
"Lou, just—just tell me this isn't like, a weird self-harm kinda thing," Liam says softly, placing a gentle hand on Louis's shoulder. Louis brings his own up to cover it, his eyes fixed on Liam's, pupils full-blown. "Like I don't, I don't want to do this if it's because you feel like...you deserve it or something. Is it because you're unhappy?"
Louis keeps staring at him for a further moment, and he looks so out of it that Liam's starting to think maybe he didn't even hear him, but then Louis shakes his head, back and forth, slow and very deliberate. He takes a firmer grip of Liam's hand and at first Liam thinks he's just holding it tight but then he drags it down, skimming over his torso to settle down between his legs. He keeps it there, Liam's palm flat over himself where he's hot and achingly firm beneath the fabric of his jeans. Liam's mouth goes dry and he goes to pull away, and Louis allows it, his own hand going slack and letting Liam's go. His gaze is still focused on Liam, intense, and Liam forces himself to look down, down to the very obvious bulge in the front of Louis's trousers. He can even make out the shape, just about; the long slight curve of Louis's dick, trapped tight and surely painfully hard.
"Oh," he hears his own voice say, faintly. "Oh, um."
"Yeah," Louis's reply is faint too, breathy, and Liam drags his eyes back to Louis's face. His cheek is slightly reddened from Liam's hand and Liam can't fight down that instant welling-up of guilt even though he knows just how much Louis wanted this, knows now exactly how he was affected by it.
"I don't, um," stammers Liam. He has no idea what to say. Surely Louis doesn't expect him to—help, with this?
"Just—just—I need," Louis says incoherently, and then sort of whimpers, helplessly, "it hurts."
He's fumbling with his zipper and Liam's heart leaps into his throat; he averts his eyes instinctively but Louis's just alleviating some of the pressure, getting his fly open and breathing out shakily.
"Okay. Sorry. Shit." Louis seems to be trying to slow his breathing down and Liam thinks of how he'd relaxed instantly from just that one slap, wonders how many it would take for him to calm down properly. "Li," Louis says, "can we—I need more."
"Right, yeah, okay." Liam feels slightly dizzy, trying not to think too much about how hard Louis is, trying not to let his eyes flick down and see whether it's even more obvious now with just the thin fabric of his boxers covering him. He doesn't know what to think about the fact that this is—sexual, doesn't want to know what that means for his own involvement.
Louis shuts his eyes and lifts his chin, offers the right side of his face, and Liam sucks in a deep breath and takes Louis by the jaw. He didn't think to do that before, but now that they're actually doing this, properly, he needs to make sure they're being safe. He can remember certain stuff from when he used to box when he was younger, stuff about fractured jaws and cheekbones and he knows there's a difference between hitting someone with a fist in a glove and doing it with an bare palm but either way the thought of breaking bones is terrifying.
He holds Louis steady, slaps light with his other hand and then harder, and then again, feeling the raw heat of Louis's cheek. He turns Louis's face the other way, thinking he should keep things even so that in case the redness lingers it won't look so strange, and he's so focused, counting, that it takes him a second to notice that—that Louis's touching himself, his hand shoved down the front of his boxers and stroking rapidly.
"Louis," he chokes out, stunned, "Louis, stop."
And Louis does, instantly, and that shouldn't shock Liam even more but it does; he's left floundering for a moment trying to think of a single other time that he's told Louis to do something and he's obeyed, and he can't. And yet this was instantaneous. He knows Louis is probably just aware of his discomfort but it's jarring, unsettling, to see him do as he's told without question or protest or mockery.
For a long moment they just stare at each other. Louis inches his hand out of his boxers, the waistband snapping gently, and Liam tries not to look down.
"Fuck. Liam, I just—I really, I really need to come, I can't—" Louis says weakly, and Liam can see from the tension in his shoulders how much effort it's taking for him to keep his hand away from himself and that's—Liam doesn't even know what that is. He doesn't know how to deal with that at all.
It's not that he doesn't want Louis to, but he's not sure he can cope with him doing it right in front of him either. But at the same time he has this feeling, he knows with absolute certainty that he can't just leave—can't just slap Louis 'til he's burning up and then shut the door on him.
"Liam," Louis is whining, properly whining now and Liam's never heard him sound like this, "Liam, please, please, fuck."
It's—bewildering, really, the way Louis is begging, begging for permission, instead of just doing what he likes and not caring whether or not it makes anyone uncomfortable, which is his usual attitude. Liam isn't used to this at all, doesn't know how to react; it's throwing him off completely. Louis keeps up this litany of please and curses and Liam's name, and Liam can't stand it, has to make him stop.
"Okay, okay, you can," he says hurriedly, and Louis shuts up, thankfully, but his hand goes straight back inside his boxers and Liam's eyes can't help but follow. He catches a glimpse of the flushed, shining head of Louis's cock poking out from the waistband as Louis fumbles to get his fist wrapped right around it.
Liam looks frantically away, then, but it's like everything gets intensified, he can hear his own blood rushing in his ears and the slick sound of Louis's hand working his cock, the stuttering of their breath, almost hysterical.
"Liam, I need you to," Louis pants out and this time Liam doesn't hesitate, doesn't even think, so worked up and on edge from it all that it's instant, his hand taking a firm hold of Louis's head to keep it still as he slaps him harshly across the face.
Louis whimpers, trying to nod in Liam's tight grip, and Liam can see the way his hand is moving frantic and clumsy in his boxers and it's—this is—it's all so wrong, Liam shouldn't be doing this and Louis shouldn't be liking it. But Liam can't stop, not now; the knowledge that he's bringing Louis closer is urging him on and he doesn't even know if it's because he wants this to be over or because he just wants Louis to get off. He bites down hard on his own lip and tilts Louis's head and dares to hit him just that little bit harder, almost too hard, and Louis's hips buck and he sputters, and swears, and comes. Liam tries to resist but he can't not look, his eyes drawn to where Louis's black boxers are going darker with wet and his wrist is glistening.
Louis is breathing heavy, almost wheezing, and he turns his face into Liam's hand, nuzzles against it like a cat. His skin is fever-hot and flushed so dark, his hair plastered across his forehead with sweat, and he's smiling, dazed and blissful and absurd, his shoulders slumping heavy.
"Fucking hell," he sighs out, "thanks for that."
Liam just sort of nods, speechless, and sinks down onto the bed beside him. Louis's head immediately drops down onto Liam's shoulder and he wriggles closer, and Liam reaches out shakily to put an arm around him and hold him there, close. He sits, and listens, until Louis's breathing returns to normal, and then he says quietly, "Are you okay?"
It's maybe a stupid question, because Louis seems utterly elated.
"Yeah," says Louis, and his voice is small and weak but he sounds sure. "Can I—can I sleep here?"
"Oh," says Liam, "yeah, um. Yeah, of course."
Louis stays resting on him for a bit, coming down, and then heads into the bathroom on wobbly legs to clean himself up, comes back in a pair of Liam's pyjama trousers and flops into bed. He's even more cuddly than usual that night, curving his body alongside Liam's under the sheets, carelessly tangling their legs. He's always been this kind of sleeper, even when they all shared beds for the first time at the bungalow and hardly knew each other he had no qualms, in his sleep, about snuggling up to one of the boys like a lover. Liam felt a bit weird about it back then, especially when Louis revealed during a drunken game of Truth or Dare that he'd fancied guys before, but after a while it became clear that it wasn't really about that. This is just the kind of person Louis is; he craves the touch of other people, and Liam's learning now that it doesn't always have to be tender.
But tonight Liam saw him come, tonight he felt the hardness of Louis's cock through his jeans, and now Louis's curling up with him in bed, using Liam's chest as a pillow. Liam can feel it again, that discomfort he had around Louis at the beginning, and he tries to push it out of his mind because he knows this doesn't have anything to do with him, it's just the pain that got Louis off, but—still, he can't relax enough to fall asleep. He can feel the heat of Louis's cheek against his chest even though the sheets, and he just hopes the redness will have gone down by the morning because he doesn't think Louis can claim sunburn in February.
While Liam lies awake, his brain busy and his body shifting because he can't get comfortable, Louis is utterly still. It's bizarre to see him like this. Liam has seen him sleepy before of course, exhausted even, but this is—different. Usually when Louis gets tired he gets grumpy, like everything's drained right out of him and he's miserable about it, getting snippy with everybody. But this isn't that at all; he's just so calm, and contented. It somehow makes Liam feel better and more nervous at the same time.
It's different the next day, too. Usually Louis springs into action in the mornings, but when the two of them wake up the following day he's sprawled and lazy in Liam's bed and Liam has to remind him they've got an interview. He gets up without complaint though, and is strangely quiet all day. It's not like he's mardy, or stuck in his own head, he's just—chill, and it's so unusual for him that Niall actually demands to know who he is and what he's done with Louis.
It carries on, Louis's weirdly blissed-out mood. It's almost like a sort of sleepiness, only he's able to summon energy when it's needed; he's not having any trouble with rehearsals or performances or anything. He's just—for the most part—settled and satiated, sort of tranquil. Liam might be disturbed by it, but Louis's still himself, still cracking jokes and acting like a bit of nutcase on occasion. His madness is just different now, like it's not controlling him anymore, and that definitely seems like a positive change.
Liam doesn't get it, doesn't get why being hit across the face could have this much of an effect on Louis's attitude. He can't stop thinking about it, trying to puzzle it out. He supposes maybe it just brings Louis some kind of relief, helps him get out of his own head and focus on something other than his own thoughts for a while, but it still doesn't really make sense.
Once, on a dull night off, Liam tries asking Google on a whim. He stares at the blinking cursor in the search bar for a while, trying to figure out how to phrase it, because something tells him "why does my mate like it when I hit him" won't bring up a lot of helpful results. In the end he sort of stumbles around cyberspace reading about the psychological effects of face-slapping, about pain and endorphins and trust and control. Some of it sounds familiar, some of the safety stuff he learnt from boxing but the rest still doesn't make a lot of sense to him. He reads for a long time trying to understand and storing information away in his brain because he has a feeling that whatever this is, it isn't over.
He wonders if maybe he should make it be over but he knows if Louis asked him again he'd do it right away. He wants to. That doesn't make a lot of sense to him either, but it's—it's just so good to see Louis calm for a change, to have him relaxed and not leaping around all the time and yelling. He's never really felt comfortable with Louis's mania; even though they've known each other for more than half a year now he still can't relax fully in his company, because he never knows what to expect from him. He's also always suspected that it might be more of a problem than Louis lets on, something not entirely genuine. It seems like a sort of mask of reckless insanity that he can put up and hide behind to keep people at a distance, but one that he's been wearing so often for so long that he no longer feels in control of it. Liam's seen him vulnerable and quiet a couple of times before, of course, but it's nice to think there's a way to make that happen, especially if it's something Louis feels the need for every so often.
Liam tries not to think about the sexual side of it, because that part is a lot harder for him to deal with. He doesn't know what it really means for him that he's willing to participate in something that Louis actively gets off on, doesn't know what it means for their relationship if he does something to Louis that gets him so turned on he has to wank off right then and there. Liam keeps telling himself it's not him, really, that Louis would probably still get horny even if it was Simon Cowell slapping him across the face (though Liam shudders to think) because it's not a reaction he can control.
And as long as Liam keeps his distance from that side of things, he thinks he'll be okay, but he can't help but think about it sometimes, about the sight of Louis's hand stuffed down the front of his boxers and rubbing at his cock, or the feel of it when he put Liam's hand over it through his trousers, or the look on his face when he came. It keeps coming back to him when he's with Danielle and he tries to shove it out of his mind because he needs it not to become an issue, he needs to keep these things separate. He tries to distract himself with Danielle for a while, but they don't have anything serious that he can really throw himself into. It's too complicated with the tour, difficult to find time for dates, and instead he finds himself thinking about Louis a lot—too much—watching and waiting for his usual hyperactivity to return and wondering what he should do when it does.