Chapter 19 – Permanent Stain

 “He’s my best friend,” Niall insisted, lacing his fingers with Alicia’s and pulling her towards him slightly.

Still, she hung back. “I know,” she nodded, her soft London accent shining through her words as it always did. “But… you and I don’t get to spend very much time together. Wouldn’t you rather just…” she trailed off, still holding Niall’s hand, but not meeting his eyes.

But Niall knew better than that. “You don’t have to be shy,” he said, smiling at her and raising his eyebrow. “Like I said, he’s my best friend. It’s going to be fine. Besides, you’ve met him before.”

“Yeah, I know,” Alicia said, shifting uncomfortably. “But that was always just in a big group of people. Not a double date where it’s just the four of us.”

Niall continued to grin at her, not wanting to give up. “Relax, Lish,” he said, dropping his hand from hers and rubbing the ides of her arms. “Liam’s the most welcoming person in the world, and Danielle is just the same. You’re going to love them.”

Alicia sighed a little and nodded. “All right.”

Niall stared out the hotel room window. The pitter-patter of rain outside did little to distract him. He wondered slightly why there was this sudden downpour in the middle of their summer tour, and thought about how strange that was.

Then again, nothing about this tour had been normal.

“Niall?” Jessica said gently, leaning in a little from where she was sitting across from him in one of the desk chairs.

Niall looked at her and gulped a bit. He’d nearly forgotten that he was sitting with her in the middle of a session. That in itself was slightly weird, given that the reason he’d gotten lost in a memory was because of a question she’d asked him.

“If you don’t feel ready to talk about her, it’s okay. We don’t have to,” she said, her soft tone sitting easily within the walls of the room. Even during the discussion of such a touchy subject (and one that had been the catalyst for his entire downfall) she still managed to make him feel at ease.

Not many people had that superpower. In fact, the only other person who did was Liam.

And Niall definitely wasn’t ready to go down that route with Jessica. In fact, he was going to do his very best to leave that part of the story out. Because really, it wasn’t important and didn’t have anything to do with anything.

He was certain if he kept telling himself that, he definitely wouldn’t have to tell anyone else.

“No, it’s fine,” he said, nodding to assure her that he was okay. He took a deep breath. He wasn’t quite sure where to begin, so he started with the only logical place.

“I met her on my nineteenth birthday,” he said, recalling it like it was yesterday. It was strange for him, given that nineteen years old seems like decades past now, with all that had happened. In reality of course, it had only been a couple of years.

Jessica nodded, and waited for him to continue.

Niall sighed, trying to think about what he could say that wouldn’t dredge up awful memories. Alicia’s memory for him had largely been tied to all of the things that had led to their downfall and his fallout. Still, he knew that there had been good times. They were just hard for him to remember being buried under so much guilt.

“She was beautiful,” he said, recalling the first time he’d ever laid eyes on her. “And as soon as we started talking I knew… she was someone who I could just talk to for hours. We were so in sync like that because we were so different. She was always analyzing her actions, and I’m always rushing into things. Everything has to be an adventure all the time.”

Jessica just nodded as Niall smiled slightly and continued. “I mean, I don’t know how else to put it really. I’d say she was like my best friend, but I suppose that doesn’t make much sense since she was my girlfriend.”

Jessica shook her head when Niall paused, looking at her for affirmation. “I don’t think that’s true. I think a lot of people would call the person they’re with their best friend, and that’s okay.”

Niall shrugged, not really caring to link the idea of the person he was with with his best friend.

Because he knew how that story ended.

Well, actually he didn’t. But he wasn’t at all interested in finding out. At least that’s what he told himself as he shrugged off the thought. He was supposed to be focusing on Alicia, but instead his mind kept drifting back to Liam. That was decidedly worse, and it made Niall almost cringe at the thought. How had his life gotten so confusing that the thought of Liam was more awful than the thought of Alicia?

“I guess,” he muttered.

Jessica looked at him skeptically, but she let it go. Instead, she prodded Niall to continue. “Tell me more about Alicia,” she said.

“I don’t know,” Niall replied, unsure of where to continue now that his train of thought was sufficiently derailed. “ I loved her,” he said simply. At least he was sure of that much. Even if it didn’t mean anything now.

Jessica nodded. “I can tell that you did.”

Niall raised his eyebrow, thinking that was a crock of psychologist shit. “How?” he laughed slightly. “You didn’t even know her.”

“No,” Jessica replied, never faltering from her position. “But you still speak highly of her, even after all that happened between the two of you. And you still smile when you say her name.”

Niall nodded. That sort of made sense, he supposed.

Jessica continued. “I mean, it’s the same look you have when you talk about your career or the other boys in the group.”

Niall furrowed his eyebrows. That was something he could have done without hearing. “I’m not in love with any of the boys in the group,” he said a little too sharply.

Jessica was taken slightly aback by his sudden change in tone. “I didn’t say that you were,” she said calmly. “There are all different kinds of love-”

“Right,” Niall said, jumping up from his seat. “But there is no love for anyone in the group. No kind of love at all – Not romantic or platonic or whatever.” He ran a hand through his hair and paced around a little, trying to gather his thoughts.

Of course he knew why Jessica’s innocent comment had set him off so easily. Because it was the very thing he’d been struggling with in his mind just moments before. The thing that he’d been trying to tell himself wasn’t there at all.

When apparently, it was written all over his face.

“Okay,” Jessica nodded slowly, conceding to what Niall was saying. “I’m sorry to have assumed.”

Niall just nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. He was grateful that Jessica didn’t pry any further into why he had reacted that way, because he didn’t know what he would have said to her. Especially to make it believable because she was evidently so good at reading him.

He sat back down in the chair across from her and took a deep breath. “Sorry,” he muttered, glancing up at her apologetically. After all, it hadn’t been her fault.

“It’s okay. This is going to bring out a lot of emotion for you, and I understand that.” She sighed a little, looking at him. “But you know, this has brought out a lot of emotion for other people as well,” she said cautiously. “Is it okay for us to talk about the others?” she asked.

Niall just raised his eyebrow, curious and slightly nervous as to what she was going to say. He nodded his head slightly though.

“I did want to have a session with the five of you as well, so they can have an open forum to talk without about what they experienced when you were going through your troubles.”

Niall inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. That wasn’t so bad. He could deal with a little bit of after the fact intervening. After all, he was already well aware of how the others felt. A little too aware, but it wasn’t like any of that would come up. “Yeah, okay.”

Jessica nodded, seemingly accepting his answer. “But before we do that, I’d like to get back to what happened with Alicia.”

Niall shrugged. That part was easy. “Well… she got pregnant…”

***“What do you think they talk about in there?” Harry asked, glancing around at the others.

They were all sitting backstage at the venue. Louis was immersed in the soccer game that was playing on the big screen TV, Zayn was quietly texting Perrie and Liam was pushing around food on his plate.

Louis looked back at Harry, who was fiddling with a book in his hands. “What?”

“You know,” Harry said, nodding as if the others knew exactly what he was talking about. “Niall, back at the hotel with the therapist. What do you think they talk about?”

Louis raised his eyebrow. “Well if I had to guess I’d say they talked about how wonderful his life has been up to this point,” he said sarcastically.

Harry just nodded, accepting the answer because his mind had already wandered onto something else. “Do you think he’s going to shag her?”

Louis gave him a look, Zayn glanced up from his phone and raised his eyebrow, and suddenly Liam was even more uninterested in his food.

“What?” Louis asked incredulously.

Harry shrugged as though what he’d said was totally normal and not at all ridiculous. “Do you think Niall’s going to shag… what’s her name again? Jennifer?”

“Jessica,” Liam said, his teeth were nearly gritted together at the audacity of what Harry was saying. Of course he wasn’t really angry with Harry – that kind of lewd comment wasn’t out of the ordinary for him. It was the very thought of what he was suggesting that annoyed Liam – because he wasn’t so sure it was out of the realm of possibility.

“Right, Jessica,” Harry grinned. “Do you think he’s going to? Because if I was stuck in that hotel room with her every day I’d definitely make a move. She’s hot!”

The others rolled their eyes when it became clear that Harry wasn’t at all interested in having a remotely serious conversation.

“No, Harry,” Louis said with a sigh. “I doubt he’s going to shag her.”

Harry shrugged. “Why not? That’s what Niall does lately – he’s more of a pimp than me!”

Louis shook his head and rolled his eyes slightly.

“Shut up, Harry,” Liam muttered, feeling more annoyed than he should have. He knew deep down that Harry was just trying to have a laugh because that was how he dealt with things like that. Still, the thought of Niall going back to his manwhore ways irritated Liam.

Harry shrugged and dropped the subject, but not without giving Liam a little bit of a strange look.

There was silence once again after that apart from the noise made by the stage crew, that is. Louis went back to concentrating on the soccer game, Zayn continued to text Perrie, Harry went back to reading his book (or fantasizing about Niall’s therapist) and Liam…

Well, Liam continued to push food around on his plate while he wondered about the question Harry had initially asked.

What did Niall and Jessica talk about in their sessions?

Liam was sure that he knew the answer to that. They probably talked about Alicia, his life, and what pushed him into such despair. It broke Liam’s heart to think about because he wanted to be the one that Niall felt safe with. He wanted to be the one to take his pain away and talk him through healing.

His friend was getting help, and he was grateful for that… but he wished that there was something more that he could do. He wished that he could show Niall he could be there for him too.

Liam continued to half-heartedly eat his dinner, until Niall came wandering backstage.

“Hi lads,” he said, eyeing all of him.

Liam looked up at him and gulped a little. Every time Niall greeted them awkwardly, he felt slightly sick. This wasn’t the same Niall who entered a room and made his presence known.

This wasn’t the same Niall he’d fallen in love with.

“Uh,” Niall said, shifting a little and glancing over at the catering. “So I was just chatting with Jessica and she said that maybe it’d be good if all of us talked. I guess…”

The four boys glanced at each other. “You mean, like join you on one of your sessions with her?” Zayn asked.

Niall nodded, and Liam nearly felt his heart leap out of his chest.

“Yeah, I guess tomorrow, if that’s alright,” Niall said, shrugging and trying to avert his gaze from Liam.

Liam, who felt over the moon at this information. Because finally, they were going to have the chance to sit with Niall and be a part of his recovery.

It was as if at least part of his wish was coming true.

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