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This Town

Chapter Text

As we go on
We remember


All the times we
Had together


And as our lives change
Come whatever


We will still be
Friends Forever

~ ~ * ~ ~

 

“… 15 minutes to landing at JFK,” announced the Captain. Eleanor Calder, Niall’s Personal Assistance/Best Friend, turned with a grin on her lips at him, and squeezed his hand. Niall sighed to the back of his plane seat, looking out the window at the skyscrapers of New York City.

Niall was heading to New York for the promotion of his debut single, This Town. The single, released just two months ago, had hit the top charts across the globe, been number one in more than 37 countries, had already been nominated for countless awards, not to mention it was the soundtrack to several movies being released this year such as Sing, How To Be Single, Bad Moms, and countless others Niall cannot remember as of now.

Steve Barnett, the Chairman and CEO of Capitol Music Group, thought Niall had potential. Steve, as he insisted to be called when Niall first met him, believed he had something spicy, something along Of Monsters and Men, Imogen Heap and Passenger, or even a little daring such as Imagine Dragons and Hozier. Therefore, Steve took him under his wing and soon Niall discovered he had much more leeway, and wriggle room with Capitol Records than Sony, and all the other sub labels, and he has been having a blast.

His career was going great, so great in fact that when he got a phone call from Billboard to perform at their upcoming event in two weeks, he agreed without hesitation. However, it was only recently when he had finally stopped to breathe in and reflect on his life that he realized his personal life was a mess.

Or rather, his personal life with the boys.

There was no story with the boys without thinking about March, 2016, the month that Zayn Malik, their former bandmate, called it quits. He remembered that night clearly. Very clearly.

They were touring somewhere in Southeast Asia, on their OTRA tour, performing at sold out concerts, and still topping charts, and whatnot. Slaying, like they always do. The following day had been an off day and therefore they had gone to do whatever they each did on their free time. For Niall, that meant exploring the city along with Harry Styles, buying souvenirs, trying out local cuisines, Harry taking far too many photos on his phone, and generally, learning about the magical cities they were touring.

He had come back, calling it a day instead of going out clubbing with Harry and Liam, and on his way to the back to his hotel room Paul gave him a ring on his phone. Zayn has left, he had said on the phone. He did not believe him. He’s gone Niall, he had repeated.

And as far as Niall can remember, that was the start of the end. The rest of 2015 was a blur to him. He went from laughing at interviews to avoiding answering questions regarding Zayn’s departure. He went from strumming his electric guitar hard as Zayn played with his nipples to still strumming his guitar but with the band now. He went from being the happy-go-lucky Irish lad to the barely-smiling Irish cooking chicken with no seasoning.

And Niall thought that was the end. But, really, it was only the start.

He did not know how they got to the point where all of them agreed that they should take a hiatus but. It happened. They were talking out of their asses in the wee hours of the morning in Louis’ backyard, swimming in their glasses and, most definitely, conversations in the A.M. were not his favourite. In fact, he hated drinking in the wee hours of the morning ever since that night, the night, as he now knew it, when One Direction died.

It seemed as if everyone was doing well with the bloody hiatus. Harry was an actor in Dunkirk and was already auditioning for his next movie, Louis was becoming a father and doing the final touches to his production company, and Liam was, well, Liam. And what about him? What washed doing with his life? He was nothing. Everybody had left and suddenly he felt all alone.

After the (stupid) hiatus he called up the few friends he had left and decided to backpack across Asia. Sort of like Eat.Pray.Love but different. Ish. He began with India, starting off with the capital New Delhi, then heading to the South, passing Calcutta, Mumbai, Bangalore and ending the Indian part of his tour with Chennai. Next was Myanmar, followed by Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia where he spent a larger part loving, laughing and living.

It was when Deo, his best mate, was debating whether their next trip should be to Papua New Guinea, or Philippines that he heard it on radio. He heard the song. PILLOW TALK had just premiered on the radio and it had been a little while since he turned on the radio. Listening to the song, listening to his voice, he was floored by it all.

Except he was the only one.

On their WhatsApp group, where Louis had notoriously removed Zayn from the group, blocked him, and then changed the group name to “4/4 ONE DIRECTION”, the three of them were bashing the song. He was of a different opinion.

 

 

 

LOUIS: Have you heard his song?

(The boys never mentioned Zayn’s name, ever, as if it was saying Voldemort’s name or summat.)

HARRY: TRASH TRASH TRASH

LOUIS: AND HE SAID HE WANTED TO BE A “NORMAL 22 YEAR OLD.”

HARRY: HE’S A SHITTY LIAR! LIAR LIAR LIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR!!

LIAM: HAVE YOU SEEN HIS SHIT VIDEO?

(At his point, Niall was wondering why they were writing in all CAPS!)

HARRY: HE HAS A VIDEO?! TO ACCOMPANY HIS SHIT SONG?

LIAM: HE DOES! HE’S IN IT WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND WHATSHERFACE

LOUIS: WHAT DOES GIGI EVEN SEE IN HIM? HE’S NOTHING BUT A TRAITOR, MANIPULATOR, AND A TRAITOR!

HARRY: DON’T FORGET ASSHOLE. AN ASSHOLEY LIAR!

LIAM: WHERE IS NIALL?? HE’S ALWAYS AROUND WHEN WE TRASH TALK HIM

Niall, over the months, got a little tired on trash talking the singer of PILLOW TALK. It was fun, at first, because he was releasing his anger and it felt good to vent out his feelings to people who felt the same way about March 2015. But not anymore. Now he just felt numb to it all.

HARRY: WHO DUMPS SOMEONE OVER TEXT? TEXT MESSAGE?

LIAM: WE ALL HAVE SOME DECENCY! NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU HATE SOMEONE!!

LOUIS: EXACTLY!

Niall snorted at that. For what he put Eleanor, his ex-girlfriend, through this was hilarious. Bloody hilarious, really.

HARRY: I DIDN’T DUMP TAYLOR OVER TEXT, EVEN IF I WANTED TO FUCKING KILL HER FOR SPREADING CHEATING RUMORS.

LIAM: WE KNOW THE TRUTH, HAZ.

LOUIS: AND THE TRUTH ABOUT THE FUCKER!

Getting off the bed, and heading to the fridge for a can of Guinness, he had scrolled past down that part of the conversation and landed on where they continued talking about him, except, more.

HARRY: I SAY WE BLOCK HIM!

LIAM: I SAY THAT TOO!!

LOUIS: I ALREADY DID!! EVER SINCE THAT FUCKTARD DECIDED TO INSULT ME BEHIND NAUGHTY BOY’S TWITTER ACCOUNT, HE WAS DEAD TO ME.

HARRY: HE DID HAVE THE GUTS TO EVEN SAY IT WITH HIS own ACCOUNT!

NIALL: Maybe it was Naughty Boy typing.

HARRY: WE TYPE IN CAPS NIALL!

LOUIS: NAUGHTY BOY CANNOT INSULT ANYONE FOR SHIT. HE’S A PATHETIC SUASAGE THAT LEECHES ON PEOPLE’S TALENT AND MAKES IT OUT AS HIS OWN!!

LIAM: I AGREE. WE BLOCK HIM!!

HARRY: WE BASICALLY RUINED HIS CAREER ANYWAY!

LOUIS: HAHAHAHHAHAHAHA

LIAM: ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER SLAAAAAAAY

HARRY: BLOCKED ZAYN?

LIAM: CHECK

LOUIS: CHECK

HARRY: NIALL?

It was here where the conversation had been left, all three of them awaiting his response as if he was the Prime Minster with nuclear codes just waiting to press the red button. Tipping his head back to drink his beer, he said, fuck it, and typed out his response.

NIALL: CHECK

LOUIS: 4/4 ONE DIRECTION

HARRY: (:

LIAM: 100%

And he had never felt so guilty for blocking him for absolutely no reason.

 

~ ~ * ~ ~

 

Back in his hotel room, there was a knock on the door. He walked to the it, Eleanor standing on the other side, and he invited her in.

“Why aren’t you dressed?” Her eyes raked down his what looked like PJs. “The Jenny Pacman show is literally in two hours and you need to go in for make-up and a—”

“I will.”

Eleanor sighed, one hand on her hip, as Niall plopped on the bed. He picked up his phone, unlocked it, and just stared at it. He shook his head out of his trance and opened his Twitter app, and as if on autopilot, typed his name on the search bar and his Twitter page loaded.

@zaynmalik is blocked. Twitter told him. Do you really want to see his tweets? Seeing @zaynmalik’s tweets won’t unblock him.

He clicked on his the option of viewing his Tweets, but did not get far as Eleanor snatched his phone from his left hand and looked down at the screen.

“You can’t keep looking at Zayn’s Twitter page constantly, Nini! You’re driving yourself mad over this.”

“Not really,” he half-heartedly protested, staring at his phone in her hand. “I—I just want to see what he’s up to.”

“That’s what blogs, online magazines, and Youtube is for.”

“He has 11 million views on PILLOW TALK already. Did you see?”

She presses two digits to her forehead. “Niall.”

“I know,” he mumbled. “Sorry.”

She sat to his left, wrapping an arm around his shoulder, and laid her head on his shoulder. “Life’s not fair, obviously. It’s not fair Zayn left, not fair how he left, leaving a space in each of our hearts, but he did. But stalking him on Twitter, Instagram, reading every article ever written about him, replaying PILLOW TALK on Youtube so has to increase the views and even taking screenshots of his new profile pictures will not make Zayn come back.”

He deeply sighed. “It might.”

She lifted her head of his shoulder. “Zayn left, Nini. He left all of you and, while no one knows the absolute reason apart from him, he still left.”

“I just wish we didn’t all hate each other. I wish we could go back to the good ol’ days when we were announcing our world tour, or summat.”

“Maybe this is the way of things now. Without Zayn, without One D, without dumb love songs with nothing but memories. Our lives change, Niall, and we change with it.”

Niall did not want that. He did not want change if it meant all this hositility, all this animosity amongst people he considered his brothers. He did not want it at all.

 

 

The Jenny Pacman show turned out to be a modelling show that Eleanor should have informed beforehand so that he would have cancelled last minute. He chuckled to himself then. Of course Niall knew that Eleanor knew that the Jenny Pacman show was a modelling event and she knew he would have cancelled and so the reason for her silence.

He sighed loudly as Sandra, the assistant organizer, told him that he shall be escorting a New York model by the name Charlotte Rhodes down the walkway. He sent a quick text to Eleanor informing her the different ways in which he would happily kill her.

Eleanor: you love me too much xx

NIALL: Whoever told you that is a liar.

He sat down in front of a mirror with far too many make-up brushes and things that he absolutely had no idea were, and lights. Lots, and lots of light bulbs that were blinding him with every minute he sat in the chair as his hair was done.

As one of the various make-up artists did his hair (adding far to much gel to make his fringe stand), he pocketed his phone out and like clockwork, went straight to Twitter, typed his name, and it loaded. He clicked on “See Tweets” and there was nothing new. Nothing new he had tweeted since Eleanor snatched his phone back at the hotel.

He pocketed his phone to the back of his designer jeans he was forced into, seeing as they were too tight for his liking (and body), paired with an vomit-inducing olive green color button-up that washed him out. He took a deep breath in, said to himself while looking at the large mirror with many light bulbs, that if he wanted to be successful, with the likes of Lana Del Rey and the Eagles, he had to do cringe-y things such as being a half-model at a show with some gorgeous model but he would 99% not date.

Even if he did not understand how this was promoting his debut single.

The event went in a blur and he found himself searching for Eleanor at the afterpart of the Jenny Pacman show. He stopped his search upon discovering there was a bar. A free bar. He boozed up, chugging down beer after beer, and soon he was laughing with people at the party. Just like Niall’s sober personality, he managed to hold everyone’s breath with tales of One Direction tours instead of, say, promote his single.

The night dragged on, the only reason it was still on was because of Niall’s entertaining tales of the good ol’ days of One Direction. As he was talking of the time Louis and Zayn were pranking Liam in the bus, he spotted Eleanor amongst the crowd vividly listening to him. Suddenly his humour stopped and he remembered why he was brought to this stupid event.

“Why would you not give me a heads up?” he growled at her once they were both in the limo heading back to the hotel. “You and I are a team. You give me a heads up when the stupid Chairman says I have to do—”

“This is part of the promotion period, Niall, you need to put yourself out there. Though I doubt you’ve done much since all you talked about was One Direction.”

“One Direction was the greatest time of my life,” said Niall and he is floored by the candour of his words.

“It isn’t anymore. Now it’s all about This Town and getting it to number one in all the countr—”

“By making me a dumb model at some show? With a shirt that washes out, no less. Do you know how white I am?” He leaned further back in the limo seat. “Who the hell even is Jenny Pacman?”

“Who cares?” she scoffed at him. “No one cares in this world and you know that better than anyone else. All anyone cares is what you are and how you can help them. Haven’t you learned the ways of this industry?” she lightly joked.

“How did you help me?” he asked and Eleanor for the first time did not have a response.

“I’m sorry. I know we are a team, it’s us against everyone else. You helped me when Louis and I were breaking down and once again when I was looking for a job when Max and I had issues with our blog.”

Max and Eleanor, best friends forever, had started a blog titled The Trend Pear. It was essentially a lifestyle blog, talking of fashion, fitness, food, everything really. However, it soon turned ugly with Max wanting the whole blog to himself and through lawsuits, Twitter insults, brawls and various other uglies, Eleanor quit before she could lose her baby.

How Niall found Eleanor was still a mystery, how they got to work with each other was beyond Niall, but they did. Niall sometimes wondered if he made Eleanor his PA because she reminded him of a part a time in One Direction but then he shook his head. It is much more than that, he told himself.

Eleanor was friendship, she was a constant in his life, a constant that he appreciated and cherished and when Eleanor told her that she wanted to start a travel blog, he said, “I travel the world a lot. Join me!” and she did and it has been an adventure since then.

Her Youtube channel, in a mere two, three months, was now the second most subscribed Youtube channel, after Zoella. She has several tales of her trips from New Delhi, to Abu Dhabi, to Perth, across the ocean to Cancún, several major cities in USA, and much, much more. The more cities she travelled to, the more people watched her Channel, more people loved her travel adventures. It got to the point where cities asked her to come and explore and talk, chat, picture their beautiful land and she did – with Niall in tow.

Her and Niall quickly became the best of friends, surprising everyone including Louis, who narrowed his eyes and wondered what Niall was up to.

“I don’t like her like that,” Niall had reassured Louis, with a definitive eye roll.

“Then why are you so chummy chummy with my ex?”

“Your ex and I are just friends. Trust me,” he had insisted.

Louis had responded. He never listened because he was honestly bored by all of it. He continued traveling alongside her and when they had landed in Cairo, he decided to start his solo career. To fill in the time, really.

“Sorry for being angry,” he apologized, the limo stopping at a red light.

“It’s just that every time I see you on your phone, nine out of ten, I know you’re on Zayn’s Twitter account, as if waiting for his tweet. Like, you’re waiting for a phone call that’s never going to come. And it makes me sad.”

“I just wish that we’d all get along like before. Just because we took different paths doesn’t make us enemies.”

“You’ve got to understand, they are still hurt.” She laid her head on his shoulder. “And it’s going to take a while for each of the boys to come around.”

“It’s been a bloody year since he left.”

“Why haven’t you done anything about it?”

“Because.” He stopped. He looked out the window as the limo drove down the road. He truly did not know the answer. He did not know why he did not just unblock Zayn, follow him, and then tweet him. He did. Not. Know. “I don’t know.”

“You’re scared.”

“Sacred?”

“Scared of what the world will say. Scared of what Louis will think, what Harry will do and what Liam shall say. You’re scared of Directioners, of the people you work with, of everyone because everyone also hates Zayn and if you follow him – or even dare talk to him – it is an act of betrayal.”

“I can’t lose Liam, Harry and Louis. Nor the fans. I can’t lose everyone.”

“You won’t lose me,” she said and there was something in her voice. Something that sounded as if it would be okay if he dared to do what he thought he should do.

“I know that. But. I’m afraid.”

“It’s up to you, Nini.” She reached out and held his fingers with hers. “You control this whole thing. Whether you want to be friends with Zayn again or not, whatever you choose, make sure it’s what you want and close the door.”

“What if I be friends with Zayn, then lose Harry, Liam and Louis in the process? Or what if my attempt at friendship with Zayn sucks so bad and they hear about it and I lose all four of them?”

Eleanor sighed somewhere near Niall’s left ear. She brought their hands onto her lap and said nothing for a while. The limo reached their hotel and they both made their way up to their floor, Eleanor holding on Niall’s elbow.

“Cuddle tonight?” asked Niall. Eleanor shook her head. She then took off her 6-inch heels, left foot then right foot, and happily sighed. “Why wear those things when you hate them?”

“No pain, no gain, you know the motto.”

“Wearing tight jeans was painful,” he chuckles. Just then, she straightened up and locked her eyes with Niall’s blue ones.

“Forget everybody for a moment, Niall. It’s your life, do what you want.”

 

The words resonated within him, thinking about them over and over and over as he walked into the hotel room, changed into his PJs, brushed his teeth, combed his hair and drowned a beer as he watched If I Stay on the hotel TV. Laying his head on the pillow, he unlocked his phone and headed straight to his Twitter account (surprise surprise).

The words @zaynmalik is blocked. stared back at him.

He minimized and goes to the WhatsApp group with three of his mates.

 

HARRY: I’m literally going to spoil your son, Loubear! Going to buy him all the nicest clothes, and those cute socks!!

LIAM: Oh Boy!! You’d Think It Was You Who Is Pregnant, Not Louis.

HARRY: BABIES ARE AMAZING, LI, OF COURSE I AM EXCITED. Who wouldn’t be excited?

LIAM: Probably Briana?

LOUIS: She kept the baby, so I’d say she is excited.

HARRY: I’m much MORE excited because I know I won’t do all those ugly baby stuff like changing diapers. Waking up at ungodly hours. UGH.

LIAM: Or When They Accidentally Burp And You Have Puke All Over Your Shirt.

HARRY: BUT when after all that, and you’re watching them sleep in their crib, it is all worth it.

LIAM: No It’s Not.

LOUIS: Give it up Liam. You’ll never convince Haz otherwise. I swear he sleeps, drinks, talks, eats babies.

HARRY: YES!

LIAM: That Sounds A Little Weird. “EAT BABIES”?!?!

LOUIS: It’s all he does.

Niall scrolled down the conversation, Harry still gushing over Louis’ soon-to-be-born baby. At the back of his mind, he wondered if all they do is stay online, chatting the day away, or if they do do something during the day. Like, go to work.

LOUIS: THE FUCKTARD BLOODY TWEETED ME! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?

Niall rolled his eyes. Back to hating on him then.

HARRY: I KNOW! HOW DESPERATE CAN YOU BE?

LIAM:  I HAVEN’T SEEN HIS TWEET. WHAT DID HE SAY?

LOUIS: TALKING ABOUT HOW HAPPY HE IS THAT I AM GOING TO BE A FATHER AND ALL THAT. FUCKING BULLSHIT!

HARRY: PEOPLE SHOULD KEEP THEIR NOSE IN THEIR OWN BUSINESS.

LIAM: WHERE DOES HE GET THE RIGHT TO CONGRATULATE YOU?

HARRY: SCREW HIM!

LIAM: NO LOVE FOR HIM H?

HARRY: HE GETS NO LOVE FROM ME!

LIAM: WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU NIALL? YOU’RE MISSING OUT!

He really was not, if he was being honest. He sighed and scrolled to the bottom of the messages and typed out his message.

NIALL: Goodnight lads!

LOUIS: It’s so early Nialler.

NIALL: I’ve got iHeart Radio tomorrow morning. I’ve got to be fresh in the morning or I’ll clonk out right there in the studio.

HARRY: Night Niall. All the love!!

LIAM: Talk Tomorrow Buddy. How Long Will You Be In NYC?

NIALL: Not long. Why

LIAM: Thought I’d Fly To LA For Studio Session With J.Cole

LOUIS: SIIIIICK!!

NIALL: That’d be great. Tell me if you decide to then we fly to LA together.

LIAM: Alright. Night Nighty!!

 

 

Niall shut the WhatsApp App and logged back to Twitter. Eleanor’s words, forget everybody for a moment Niall. It’s your life, do what you want, played through in his mind. If he truly forgot about everyone – everyone – he had himself left. So what did he want?

If he was being honest, what he wanted is for all of them to be brothers again. For the five of them to get along like they did before, like they did when they were all in One Direction. Niall wanted all of them to be brothers and that was it, really.

With that in mind, he unblocked Zayn on Twitter with bated breath. Zayn’s Twitter page rolled up, and Niall’s heart beat rapidly underneath his skin and bones.

His profile picture was that of his upcoming album, Mind of Mine. His twitter status was fuck whoever tells you no ! do you, be proud and love lots ! :) and his most recent tweet was two days ago: a reply to his girlfriend, Gigi Hadid, about his latest music video, PILLOW TALK.

He scrolled past that tweet, and kept scrolling, drinking everything in, tweet after tweet, image after image, even going through his likes. Every. Single. One. Niall was not joking.

After reaching the bottom of all his images, he went back to the first image, and the follow button called out to him, like a loud trumpet.

forget everybody for a moment Niall. It’s your life, do what you want.

He clicked on the follow button, the icon turning blue, and he locks his phone before Hell began.