Chapter 20 – They Don’t Understand

“It was weird, like we were this really close family,” Louis said, leaning forward in his chair a little. “And then suddenly Niall was shutting us out, like he didn’t want our support even though it was clear he needed it, and… I’m sorry, isn’t this sort of intervention something that should have come before his overdose?”

The boys were all sitting in Niall’s hotel room the next day. Following Jessica’s advice, they were having a session where they were able to talk openly about what they’d experienced while Niall was going through his addiction.

In true form, as soon as Louis had gotten the chance to speak he’d been unable to keep his blunt opinions on the situation to himself.

Niall sighed and slouched down in his chair, seemingly with guilt.

“Well it’s not like Niall would have let us do this before… isn’t that kind of the whole point? That he shut us out?” Harry asked, glancing at Louis and then over at Niall almost apologetically.

Niall just sort of shrugged, knowing that Harry was right on the mark.

Jessica kept her head and nodded at Louis. “Harry’s got it right. This is a way for you to let Niall know how you’re feeling, but it’s also an opportunity for you to get anything that you’ve been holding in off your chest. Because I’m sure this has affected all of you as well and it’s important to talk about it.”

Louis kept his arms folded over his chest for a moment as he eyed Jessica. It was clear he still wasn’t sure if he could trust her or not, but eventually he conceded. “All right,” he said. “It was just hard that he used to lean on us so much for support. That’s what our friendship is built on, that we’re there for each other. And then he let it get to the point that Liam and I found him unconscious in his hotel room.”

Jessica nodded and looked at the others as they all nodded in agreement.

Liam nodded, but then quickly turned his head. He looked out the window – the image of Niall lying unconscious on the bathroom tile was something he’d like to erase from his memory.

“How did that make you feel?” Jessica asked Louis.

He sighed. “I remember sitting in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and thinking about how we could have let it get to this point. How did we fail him? Because we all used to be so close, but I felt like I didn’t even know this person and at the same time I was praying so hard to not let God take one of my best friends from me.”

“I’m sorry,” Niall muttered, looking at the ground as tears pooled in his eyes.

“You damn well better be,” Louis snapped at him, but cracked a smile a little so Niall would know his comment wasn’t meant with malice.

“Liam,” Jessica said, turning her head towards him. “You and Louis both found Niall. Do you have anything you want to add?”

Liam considered that for a moment and quickly glanced over at Niall. He couldn’t tell if he was imagining things, but it looked like Niall was breathing heavily, almost afraid of what Liam was going to say.

He didn’t know what else he could add that he hadn’t already said to Niall tearfully in the hospital. But at the same time, he felt like he hadn’t even scratched the surface of what he’d gone through over those months. “I…” he started, but faltered when he tried to find more words to continue. “Louis was right… I just felt like I had failed him…”

“Looks like we’re going to be flatmates, then,” a blonde boy with crooked teeth said with a grin as Liam entered the small room. He’d never encountered anyone so seemingly carefree before. His hair was so bright and it was obvious that it wasn’t naturally that colour – but Liam didn’t care. It only added to the happiness that surrounded this boy.

There was happiness all around, really. After all, Liam was surrounded by people who had made it through to Boot Camp on X Factor. But this boy… there was something about him. The way he was smiling and the way his eyes were lit up with hope.

I’m Niall,” he said, sticking out his hand for Liam to shake.

Liam,” Liam said, accepting the hand shake.

Niall grinned and pulled away after a moment. “It’s great to meet ya, Liam! I hope you win it. Well, I hope you come in second, you know.”

Liam laughed. “Yeah, same to you.”

Liam gulped a little as he continued to look at Niall. “He’s my best friend… or he was my best friend before all of this and I just…” he breathed shakily, looking away from Niall. He glanced around at the others. Harry was watching him intently, waiting for him to continue.

He couldn’t help but remember Harry screaming at him in the hospital after Niall had been admitted. How Harry had flipped out and told him that he was selfish and how his selfishness had nearly gotten Niall killed. How he should have said something but he couldn’t say anything. How could he? He had to keep everything inside and even though this was supposed to be a free space where they could get everything off their chests, Liam knew he couldn’t.

He couldn’t, he couldn’t, he couldn’t…

“I can’t,” Liam said, standing up quickly. “I’m sorry.” he walked briskly out of the room as the others watched in shock.

Niall’s eyes were wide with near panic. For a moment he’d been afraid that Liam was going to spill everything. He didn’t even know why, because he was convinced that all of that had nothing to do with any of this.

No, that was just something stupid they’d done in the throws of his addiction.

It couldn’t be affecting Liam this much… could it?

No. Niall was sure of it. No.

“Um,” Louis said, coughing slightly and breaking the silence. “I think I’m going to go make sure he’s okay.”

Jessica nodded and looked around at the others as Louis left. “Should we continue, or is that enough for now?”

“No,” Harry said, glancing over at Zayn and then back to Niall. “Louis will make sure he’s okay. I think we should continue.”

Jessica nodded. “Okay. Zayn, why don’t you tell us about your experience?”

Zayn started talking, but Niall was no longer listening. Instead, his mind was on constant replay of Liam running out of the room. He was focused completely on that one moment and how much his heart had broken upon seeing it.

Above anything that that had happened between the two of them, they were friends. Best friends even, and Niall hadn’t been fair to him though any of this. He sighed a little, hearing Zayn continue to talk in the background. If he was going to begin to heal, he was going to have to face Liam and come to terms with what they’d done and what (if anything) that meant for their relationship.

***

Liam walked briskly down the hall until he got to his hotel room, Louis was hot on his heels, but he didn’t care. He opened the door to his room and slammed it shut before Louis had a chance to catch up to him.

Of course, Louis was never one to give up so easily. No sooner had Liam closed the door was Louis banging on it.

“Come on, Liam,” he heard Louis say. “Open the door.”

“Go away Louis,” Liam said wiping the tears away from his face. He knew he was acting childish, but he didn’t really care. He was certain going to that session had been a huge mistake, and the last thing he wanted to do was talk any more.

He heard Louis sigh. “Come on Liam.”

“I told you to go away!”

There was silence after that, but not for very long. “For God’s sake Liam!” he heard Louis shout. “You’ve seen what happens when we shut each other out, you saw what happened to Niall because he wouldn’t let us be there for him. So bloody well open the door before it’s you we’re finding in a pile on the floor, because I don’t fancy doing that ever again -”

The comparison to how Niall had acted to how he was acting now was all it took for Liam to open the door.

“Christ,” Louis finished, albeit more silently than the rest of his speech had been. He glanced up at Liam as he walked into the room and gently closed the door. “What is the matter?” he asked with slight exasperation.

Liam sighed, blinking back more tears in his eyes as he glanced around the room. There was nothing to really focus on, but he didn’t dare look at Louis. “I don’t know.”

Louis wasn’t buying it. “You don’t know? You must know, because you were were in a hurry to get out of there. I know what happened was awful, Liam. But Niall’s getting help, you have to have noticed the change in him.”

Liam scoffed. “Oh believe me, I have.”

Louis furrowed his eyebrows, not quite understanding what Liam was getting at. “You and Niall even had a heart-to-heart when he was in the hospital, I thought that we’d moved past that…”

Liam gulped. There was no way Louis could understand what he was going through. The image of Niall lying there seemingly dead was something he would never forget. And even though Louis seemed to have made his peace with it, it still made Liam’s stomach churn.

Because the thought of losing Niall forever was far too much for him to ever bear.

“You don’t get it. I can’t even think about that day without… he’s not…” Liam struggled to find the words to explain to Louis how he felt without actually telling him the truth. Tears fell out of his eyes again and splashed onto the dark hotel carpet. He looked down at Louis. “If the situation was changed, if it was Eleanor who we’d found, would you be able to even think about it, let alone talk about it?”

Louis’ eyes widened in realization. Even though Liam clearly hadn’t meant to, he’d just admitted the very reason for his outburst and his behaviour as of late.

“You’re in love with Niall, aren’t you?” Louis asked slowly, and at that, Liam put his head into his hands and sat down on the bed, crying as he went.

Louis sighed, feeling a new kind of sorry for his friend. He truly couldn’t understand what Liam was going through, so he just sat down beside him. “How long?” he asked gently.

Liam shook his head. He wiped his hands on his jeans and looked at Louis. “I don’t know,” he said honestly.

“Does Niall know?” Louis asked, putting his arm around Liam and rubbing his shoulder softly.

Liam nodded. He hadn’t actually said those words to him – but he knew that Niall knew. How Niall felt about it? Well, that was a whole other road that Liam wasn’t ready to go down.

“Oh God,” Louis said.

“I’m sorry,” Liam said quickly.

“Sorry?” Louis asked him in disbelief. “Liam, why on earth are you sorry about that?”

“Because,” Liam sighed, trying to stop himself from bursting into tears again. “That is what caused this whole mess, isn’t it? Because I wanted to try and help him myself and because I was letting my feelings for him control the situation.”

Louis shook his head. “No, that isn’t what caused this mess. You heard it yourself – it was Niall shutting us out. But he’s getting help and you can’t keep blaming yourself.”

“I can,” Liam said darkly, terrified of what he was about to admit to Louis. “If it’s that Niall shut us out it’s because I pushed him to…” he sighed, looking at Louis. Louis didn’t say anything, instead he waited for Liam to continue. “The night that I found out Niall was doing cocaine, something happened between us… I think it scared him and I think that’s what caused him to overdose.”

“Liam -” Louis started, but was cut off by Liam.

“The fact that I love him only hurt him.”

Louis took a deep breath and gave Liam a long look. “You’re being a right drama queen,” he finally said with a slight laugh.

“It’s not funny, Louis,” Liam said irritably. How could Louis crack jokes at a time like this? And he was one to talk about dramatics – he was the group’s resident drama queen!

“No, it’s not, but Liam you’ve got to see how you’re acting,” Louis sighed, giving Liam a look of concern and near wisdom. It was a look that Louis only wore when he was completely serious, so Liam shut up and let him talk. “Something happened between you two, you kissed or something and you think that automatically means it’s your fault he went off the deep end? Niall needed help, Liam. Normal people don’t go overdose themselves just because they had a romp in the sack or whatever with one of their friends and they’re upset or confused about it. He already had problems he didn’t know how to deal with, and that’s the real problem – Niall needs to learn how to deal with things and not just ignore them.”

Liam nodded as he took in everything Louis was saying. He knew his friend was right – he was blaming himself far too much for a situation that really wasn’t his fault at all. “I just love him so much, Lou,” he said quietly, because really it was the only thing he understood at the moment.

“I know,” Louis nodded sympathetically. “But he’s going through a lot right now, and I don’t know if he reciprocates, but you’ve got to give him time.”

“I know,” Liam replied, even though it was difficult for him to admit. “It’s just hard because I want to be there for him, I want him to let me love him.”

Louis just nodded, not knowing what else to say.

“Thank you,” Liam said, leaning over and wrapping his friend in a hug.

Louis smiled as he hugged Liam back. “You’re welcome. It’ll get better, I promise. I mean, it can’t get any worse.”

At that, Liam had to laugh a little. He supposed that was fair. “You’re right about that.”

Louis grinned cheekily before getting up to leave. “I’m always right.” He opened the hotel room door and his smile softened a little. “Well,” he said. “Speak of the devil, I suppose.”

Liam glanced up and his eyes widened. Standing out in the hall was the very boy he’d run from earlier.

Niall.

“Uh, hi,” Niall said awkwardly. “Can I come in?”

Louis looked back at Liam, who nodded eagerly. Why was Niall here, and what did he want?

Niall smiled slightly as he snaked past Louis and into the room.

“Well, I’ll leave you two alone then,” Louis said with a nod, before leaving and closing the door behind him.

There was a thickly awkward silence in the room after that. Liam didn’t know what to say, and considering Niall was the one who had come to seek him out, he decided it was best to let him do all the talking.

“Sorry,” Niall said. He was still standing and unsure if he should sit down. “I didn’t mean to upset you by having that group session, and I just wanted to come see if you’re alright.”

Liam just nodded. Truthfully, he wasn’t alright, but he didn’t know how to say that Niall without seeming completely self-involved. “I was just uncomfortable having all that stuff dredged up.”

“Yeah, that sucks doesn’t it?” Niall said with a slight cynical laugh.

Liam looked at him in almost horror. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“It’s fine, Li,” Niall said, waving it off. “I was only having a laugh.”

Liam sighed with a bit of relief. How had he and Niall gotten to this point? They used to be so close, and now they were dancing in circles around each other, afraid of offending one another and unable to casually joke like they used to be able to.

Niall studied Liam and sat down next to him. He hated what he’d done to his friend and how guilty he’d felt when Liam had run out of the session. The distressed pout on Liam’s face made it all the more worse and Niall’s confusion was doubled by the fact that he sort of wanted to kiss Liam and make it all better.

What scared him even more was that the thought had popped into his brain out of nowhere. All he’d done was come by to see if his friend was alright, because he really did want to repair things between them, and now he was having these thoughts again.

Niall sighed a little, wondering why things just couldn’t be so simple.

“What did you talk to Louis about?” he asked cautiously.

Liam shrugged, because he didn’t really want to come clean to Niall about the fact that he’d come clean to Louis about well, Niall.

“He said ‘speak of the devil’ so I assume you were talking about me…” Niall gulped a little, not really wanted to ask the question, but finding himself needing to know. “Did you tell him…”

Liam nodded, because there was no way he could deny it, and he didn’t really want to. Not when Niall was on the brink of actually having a real conversation with him about all this.

“What did you tell him?” Niall asked shakily.

“I just told him that I had feelings for you that were more than friendship,” Liam said honestly. “And that some things happened between us that might have scared you and I didn’t know what was happening with us.”

Niall nodded, and Liam half expected him to flip out. He didn’t. Instead he just nodded and absorbed the information. Inside, he was nervous as all hell, trying to figure out what Louis thought of him, and what he thought of himself now that he really couldn’t deny that it had happened anymore.

“I’m sorry, Li,” Niall said honestly.

“For what?” Liam asked, as though the very notion of Niall apologizing for anything at this point was absurd. “You haven’t done anything.”

Niall knew that Liam was wrong, and whether Liam truly believed that or was just lying for his sake didn’t matter. “That’s just it. I haven’t been fair to you, because all this mess was happening, and I took advantage of your feelings for me and I acted like what happened with us didn’t matter and that I could just ignore it.”

Liam felt his heart jump into his throat, because he couldn’t quite believe Niall was saying these words. Honestly, Niall couldn’t quite believe it either.

“I’m really sorry about all that Li, but I just can’t right now. It’s too much for me to deal with and I just need time. I can’t figure out what my feelings for you are before I figure out what my feelings about myself are.”

Liam nodded. It wasn’t exactly what he’d been hoping for, but he understood it. When he looked at Niall, the Irish boy’s blue eyes looked clearer than they had in a long, long time.

“Don’t worry about it, Ni,” Liam said, pulling his friend in for a hug. “Take all the time you need, I’ll be here.”

Niall blinked back a couple of tears, feeling better than he had about Liam since before all of this had started. “Thanks, Li. I’m trying my best.” He pulled back and wiped the few stray tears from his eyes. “So,” he said, trying his best to crack a smile. “You up for a round of Fifa?”

Liam grinned. If nothing else, he was happy to have their friendship on the mend. “You bet.”

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