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"That was funny," said Liam on the plane a few days later, on the way back from the US; slumped in his first class seat, ankle shoved over to invade the bubble of Zayn’s pod, foot resting on top of Zayn’s. Sometimes Zayn liked the privacy of these fancy pods they got in first class, that they could just curl up flat and sleep, like the tour bus; but sometimes he missed how it was when they were shoved in close together, knees and shoulders bumping, all giddy tiredness and excitement as they flew to new countries.

"W’was," mumbled Zayn, jostling his foot under Liam’s, not to make him get off, but as, like, acknowledgment. Foot greeting.

"The thing," said Liam, then yawned. "With the whip. Indiana Jones."

"That was months ago, Liam," said Zayn, sleepily confused as to why Liam was bringing it up now.

"Yeah, I know, but, like, it was funny to see it again. On screen. I bet other people found it funny. The fans, like."

"Yeah," said Zayn, more awake now. Liam had done this the first time around, after Zayn’d done it; kept saying how funny it had been, Zayn being Indiana Jones and whipping Liam on the bottom, kept sticking his bum out like Zayn should do it again then bouncing off laughing.

Liam did that, sometimes, Zayn had been noticing. Kept bringing some things up. Part of that was just Liam – if something was funny, he was delighted with it, especially if he was involved, and would bring it up long after any normal joke would have died, which might have been annoying with anyone else but it was just sort of endearing with Liam - and Louis never knew when to let any joke die so the two of them were a bloody pair.

But he did it especially with – some things. Like when he’d let Zayn and Andy and them draw all over him; he’d gone all quiet and smiley during, then giddy afterwards, and hadn’t wanted to wash the drawings off the next day, and had kept talking about it for weeks. Same with the whipping. That sort of thing, things that involved Liam like that, things that might be sort of humiliating, or embarrassing, Liam seemed to love. Maybe it was part of the issues he still had with friendship – growing up without much peer affection, he glommed on to anything that showed direct attention like that. Or maybe he just – responded to that sort of ownership or dominance over his body, and didn’t quite know it, or know exactly how to deal with it, so kept just – laughing about it, wanting to pay attention to it, wanting others to, but not wanting it to be a thing.

Or maybe Lim was just being Liam, but – it was interesting. Zayn watched Liam through half-closed eyes. Liam was twisted to face Zayn, and he grinned, made a ‘whuh-tshh!’ sound and mimed a whip, foot jostling Zayn’s as he moved.

"Yeah," said Zayn slowly. "It was really funny."

"Right?"

"But I swear to god, Liam, if you don’t be quiet and let me sleep, I might just do it again right now."

Liam’s whole face lit up. "You wouldn’t."

"I would. And it’d bloody hurt this time."

Zayn watched, fascinated, behind a mask of indifference, as Liam bit his lip and darted his eyes around. He wondered if Liam would call his bluff – if Liam knew how much he wanted to, and wanted Zayn to have not been bluffing – but after a few moments Liam rolled his eyes and huffed, settled down in his seat and closed his eyes.

Zayn closed his eyes, too, and let his brain mull over it.

--

They spent so much time together when they were working, especially coming off tour where they’d lived in each others’ pockets, that they didn’t often hang out when they were off, but it also wasn’t unheard of. Zayn found himself going over to Liam’s flat one Saturday a week or so later for a DVD night. Andy wasn’t there, nor anyone else, actually, so Zayn reckoned Andy didn’t want to put up with any more superhero films and Liam was on a Batman kick, which happened every few months.

Liam didn’t seem in the mood for a film, though, kept bopping around the flat like an overcaffeinated Louis. "Zayn, c’mon, let’s go out. I wanna go out. Mate, Andy says there’s this sick new club—"

Zayn just raised his eyebrows, and Liam sat down with a huff, drummed his fingers on his thighs, then popped up again and went over to his DVD shelf.

"I came over to watch a film, Liam, dunno why you think I’d wanna go out."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," said Liam, rifling through DVDs seemingly at random. "Sorry." He flicked a look back at Zayn, and – it wasn’t like Zayn had forgotten the thing on the plane, exactly, he’d just been sort of overwhelmed by how nice it was to be home, hadn’t had the mental energy to think about much else. But now – Liam’s eyes were bright and somehow needy, the same way they’d been peeping across the plane at him when Zayn had said he’d make it hurt.

"You need to calm down, bro," he said decisively. "Stop running around like a brat."

Liam turned around and frowned. "Hey, " he said. "I’m not—"

"Nah, think you are, though," interrupted Zayn. "Think you need to sit down and be quiet for me, and if you aren’t, think I might have to make you."

Liam blinked, gone all still, standing over by the DVD shelf but all his attention on Zayn. He looked unsure, like he wasn't exactly sure what Zayn was getting at, but – willing. Going along with it.

"Think--" he said, then cleared his throat. "Think you can?"

Zayn stood up, something buzzing underneath his skin.

"Yeah," he said, "reckon I do, actually," and went over to Liam, coming up behind him. Liam stayed facing the DVDs, but his head was still turned towards Zayn, and Zayn could feel the jolt run through his whole body when Zayn grabbed hold of his upper arms roughly.

Zayn leaned in, watching Liam’s eyelashes flutter, leaned in close enough that he could smell Liam, his aftershave and hair wax, and said quietly, "Tell me to stop, bro. Any point, I mean it, tell me."

He waited til he could see Liam nod, jerky dip of his head, then tugged on his arms. He pulled Liam stumbling backwards across the room, and stopped by the sofa.

"Are you gonna behave?"

Liam swallowed, then shook his head, arms tensing in Zayn’s grip. "No," he said, voice defiant, cheeks colouring up.

"Dunno what a bratty little boy needs, really," said Zayn, slowly. "Think maybe taking over someone’s knee and given a slap, I do."

Liam’s eyes squeezed shut and he huffed out a breath, shoulders hunching like his chest was caving in, and Zayn felt almost dizzy with it. Yeah, he thought.

Zayn sat down on the sofa, tugging Liam down with him, who fell to his knees on the floor just in front, gave Zayn a bright panicked glance before looking down.

"Alright," said Zayn, getting a hand round the back of Liam’s neck and tugging him into place, until Liam was folded over Zayn’s spread knees, one arm bracing himself on the floor, one on the edge of the sofa, head hanging down.

His breath was coming short and hard, and his shoulders were all squirmy, and Zayn wanted him still, still and quiet for him, so he went with the instinct and cracked his hand down hard on Liam’s arse, the peeking little swell of his bum over his too-low belt.

Liam let out a noise, a "Gahh!", and dropped his head down, jolting all over, shoulders falling still.

"That why you wear your trousers like this, bro, is it?" said Zayn tapping the flat of his palm over Liam’s bum, the bit covered just by his pants over his waistband. "So anyone could just push you down, tan your hide whenever you deserve it? That what you're looking for, every time you act up?"

"Zayn," gasped Liam, sounding anguished, and his knees shifted restlessly on his pale plush carpet.

"Thought I told you to keep still," said Zayn. "Don’t think just my hand’s gonna teach you a lesson, is it."

Liam’s breath caught in his throat as Zayn shoved his hand underneath Liam's hips, and Zayn fumbled with his belt buckle, opening it deftly and slipping it out of Liam's belt loops til he had the gleaming black length of it in his hands. He doubled it over, admiring the supple expensive leather and absently shushing Liam as Liam made a cut-off noise in his throat.

He held the two ends of the belt in one hand, and with the other pushed Liam's jeans down to his knees, going easily without the belt. His thighs were pale and vulnerable underneath the black of his briefs.

The looped end of the belt made a loud, shocking snap noise when he cracked it down over Liam's arse, and Liam jerked like he'd been electrocuted, crying out loudly, hand on the couch fisting hard into the couch cushion and the one on the floor flying to clutch helplessly at Zayn's ankle. Zayn felt a deep, hot sort of satisfaction curl through his belly as Liam panted over him; Liam was so broad and strong, his chest firm and warm pressed against Zayn's knees, and he felt both massive and absolutely fragile under Zayn's hands.

"Shh, you're alright," Zayn soothed quietly as Liam's breath hitched, and brought the belt down again.

He kept hitting Liam with the belt, hard enough that he knew it had to be really hurting, but not putting anywhere near his full strength into it, just in case - it wasn't like he knew, really, what he was doing, running on a giddy pure rush of instinct. Liam was nearly wailing on his lap, noises ripped guttural and unfiltered from his throat, and Zayn could feel him heaving for breath, see the corner of his face screwed up and tense.

But after a fair few strokes, enough Zayn could feel it in his arm - perhaps twenty, maybe more - Liam got quieter, no longer tense and gasping and yelling, but growing heavier on Zayn's lap, head swaying down and sounds tapering off into deep sighs. Zayn was hitting as hard as before, the sharp smacks of the belt over Liam's arse - which must be throbbing by now - as loud as before, but it was like Liam was relaxing more with each hit, shoulders loosening, until his full weight was slumped over Zayn, his fingers curled loosely against the carpet. He was quiet, breathing deep and strangely slow, just the occasional hitch of breath and unngh whimper if Zayn hit what must've been a tender spot.

Zayn stopped, and the silence in the room was deafening. He dropped the belt on the floor and hovered the palm of his hand over Liam's bum, still covered in his briefs, and he could feel the blazing heat of it. He touched, gently, and Liam just sighed.

"You alright, babe?" sad Zayn quietly. His heart was pounding a pleasant, deep rhythm, and his mouth was a bit dry.

Liam just sighed again, and his fingers twitched on the carpet. He was gloriously still, every bit of him draped over and held up by Zayn, and there was a peace in him that was unfamiliar, but sort of fantastic. Something he needed, something that Zayn gave him.

"Cmon," he said, carefully pulling at Liam's shoulders. "C'm up here." He coaxed Liam, dazed, all slow blinks and heavy limbs, to sit up on the sofa next to him. Liam hissed slightly when his arse made contact with the couch, but he mumbled, "M'okay," when Zayn made an enquiring noise, and curled up sideways into Zayn.

Liam was hard, Zayn could tell, the distorting swell of his erection clear in his pants, the shape of his swollen cockhead pushing at the waistband. It was deeply almost scarily intimate to see, but Liam didn't seem particularly aware or bothered; it wasn't the point right now. Zayn was chubbed up a bit, too, from the intensity of the situation, but it was Liam who was important right now. Liam curled up next to him, breath fanning softly over his neck.

They sat for a good ten minutes like that, before Liam shifted next to him, like he was coming back to himself. Zayn rubbed his fingers along the short hair at the back of Liam's neck.

"Better, bro?"

"I, uh," said Liam, then grinned a bit bashfully. "Don't think I quite realised I needed that."

"S'alright," said Zayn. "What I'm here for, innit? You can just ask for it next time. You know, now we know, like."

Liam looked up at that, like he hadn't realised there could or would be a next time - but Zayn, though he didn't want to speak for Liam, didn't want that to be the only time. He thought it might be something he could need as much as Liam, if the heavy warm thump of satisfaction that hadn't yet faded from his stomach was anything to go by.

"You sure?"

"I'm sure."