Monday, March 26, 2012

Like Breathing

Niall was depressed before anything even happened.

A/N: This is AU. Based on fun.’s ‘We Are Young’: lyrics can be found here.

Niall was depressed before anything even happened.

He was outside a nightclub, looking at the streetlamps creating pools of light on the road. The black sky made the snow look like a dull grey and he really didn’t feel so well and wondered if he threw up right then, would anyone come out and check if he was alright. Probably not, he concluded.

He remembered Harry’s excited tone earlier that night repeatedly saying, ‘Tonight is going to be fucking awesome,’ and Louis’ gay responses like ‘Right you are!’ and ‘No doubt about that, Hazza’ and Zayn walking along the road alone because he didn’t want his new boots ruined by the snow. And then there was Niall, laughing at everything, but feeling somewhat distant, not wanting to admit it was because a very important part of tonight was missing. Nobody said anything though, not with Harry singing nonsense and Louis trying to aim snowballs at Zayn’s feet. (“I swear to God, Louis, one more time and you’re dead.”)

They all trekked through peaceful neighbourhoods, snow crunching under their feet, their voices the only thing that disrupted the quiet air. Finally, as they reached town, they picked the busiest club, of course, which Niall wasn’t thrilled about. When they entered, they all dispersed into the crowd, while Niall tried to escape from it, feeling as claustrophobic as ever, and ended up sitting by the bar.

He sat there, his mood getting edgier by the minute, maybe because it was so damn hot in here, or because of all the people all cramped on the dancefloor, or the fact he wasn’t getting tipsy yet. And then there’s that lingering feeling again telling him that all of this wasn’t right, not without a certain someone he hadn’t seen for a while.

And it was like irony kicked him in the ass because he saw a swift movement at the corner of his eye. At the entrance of the club, Niall’s eyes caught sight of Liam, who seemed to have just walked in, with a girl he brought along with him. Liam scanned the room for a brief moment as well, and his eyes flashed when he saw Niall, alone by the bar, and Niall suddenly felt mortified or exposed or something he couldn’t really express.

They locked gazes for only a few seconds but everything was suddenly a blur of colours except Liam, who was clear and focused and the same as always. It’s only been a year, twelve months, but Niall felt like he had been tugged at the edges, worn down by these twelve months. Things change, but Niall felt relief, relief that Liam hadn’t. His brown hair was still a tad messy, his expression still just genuine and kind, and this just gave Niall comfort. Comfort in some way, for some reason he can’t pinpoint. Maybe because Liam had always been a source of comfort.

Niall decided he needed another drink, so he turned away and tried to mute the noise but still heard a buzzing in his ears. He hoped that was just the alcohol and not the sinking feeling he felt throughout his body. He threw back several drinks, and finally, when he felt a little mindless, a little shaky, he stopped and looked around. Fresh air, he thought, and got up as quickly as he could, passing everyone in the bar. He paused for a moment when he walked by the girl Liam had come with, who was sitting prettily at the other side of the bar, talking intently, hands running through her hair. The seat beside her was taken by a handsome guy wearing sunglasses, but it wasn’t Liam. And Niall tried to ignore his feeling of lightening off his shoulders. He pushed past and squeezed through the pumping crowd and really wanted to barf all over them. He swung the entrance open, practically falling out of the doors.

And so here he was, exhaling puffs of air in the cold, watching cars pass by. He smells cigarette smoke from the people a few feet away from him, and he’s freezing but he doesn’t mind. He wants to concentrate on his breathing, something that’s as simple as air moving in and out of his lungs. But of course, more complicated things wash over and he can’t help it but remember. He remembers a bright and warm smile at him. At this time of year last year, he remembers an arm around him, tucking away all of his little problems and letting him feel okay. He believes that being around him was maybe as easy and simple as breathing.

And Niall just thinks, this really isn’t the time to reminisce and be nostalgic. The winter winds against his pale skin are starting to feel good rather than the opposite, and the numbness feels the best of all. The liquor is kicking in because his eyes are getting a little woozy, and he feels like he’s hallucinating when a figure approaches him, a figure that’s all too similar.

“Hey Nialler,” the figure says, a smile hovering over his lips.

Niall’s eyes are unfocused and icy and he’s still staring at the cars on the road. Liam’s laugh though, brings him back to where he is, and he notices that Liam is standing in front of him and oh god, his limbs are beginning to betray him.

“How have you been, mate,” Liam speaks to him again.

“Hey Liam,” Niall pauses to look at him, to take in all his features but the damn alcohol is starting to alter his vision. “I’ve been alright,” and now his head is swimming with thoughts and he’s going to drown in them, “How about you?”

“I’ve been good. I’m home for the holidays,” he shoves his hands in his pockets, “Thought you guys might be here.”

Niall’s cheeks are turning pink because the wind is blowing hard and Liam notices; “Do you want to go inside?”

Niall shakes his head, “No, I hate it in there,” he says very seriously except Liam laughs. Niall manages to smile too and says, “But yeah. We’re always here when holidays start. Have you seen the rest of them yet?”

“Yeah I did. And I asked them why you were stuck alone by the bar while they’re all in the washroom doing God knows what.”

Niall can’t help but be embarrassed, “Yeah, well, usually you would keep me company when they were doing stupid shit. Unless you were showing your sick moves on the dancefloor,” and then they’re both laughing.

Liam’s eyes crinkle a bit, and his dimples are showing and Niall takes note of all this when he asks, “How do you like it out there?”

This question catches Liam off guard as everything vanishes from his face and he replies, “It’s good. You know, I like it,” and he looks up at Niall, “But I miss here too.”

Niall doesn’t feel himself, doesn’t feel like going over easygoing topics, because he just wants to know the truth, not the bullshit Liam’s feeding him right now.

He doesn’t mean to say it, but it does, and he’s plowing on, “Why did you stop calling?” Niall stops abruptly, and continues in short stutters and bursts, “Like. You stopped talking to us. And like. Stopped keeping contact in general.”

He remembers how natural it felt. When Liam went away for school, it wasn’t like one day, he stopped talking to everyone. It was just gradual and slow, like a shadow retreating back into the darkness, going unnoticed. And it never really hit Niall like a ton of bricks, it was just a place in the back of his mind that was fading away and he just continued on with life, with all its normal routines. And the weeks bled into months and Niall started feeling almost accustomed to Liam not being there anymore.

Niall didn’t know about Zayn, Louis or Harry, or how they dealt, but when the leaves turned colour and a new school semester started, Niall felt like he wasn’t dealing well at all. He started being honest with himself, that he missed the way Liam would lean in close and mutter a side comment in his ear during class, and Niall just laughing in return. He missed his warmth and how he listened and his way with words.

And Niall could’ve easily called him, or texted him, but that quickly became old because Liam rarely responded and he didn’t visit once, and Niall thought that maybe Liam didn’t want to come home at all.  

And here’s Liam in front of him, and there’s suddenly a rising fury coming from inside and he’s trying not to choke out angry words.

“Well, I tried,” Liam starts slowly, “For the first few months.” And suddenly, Liam’s relaxed composure is becoming tense and his usual charm is escaping him, “And I met this girl, Danielle.”

“Danielle.” The name passes through Niall’s lips and it leaves with a bitter taste. He faintly remembers Liam telling him in a hurried text, I have to go now, meeting with Danielle and Niall never recalled who Danielle was, that this was the first time Liam had mentioned her and he found himself completely disconnected to Liam’s life.

Liam nods, trying to keep the conversation afloat, but he feels himself sinking, “Yeah, we were together for a bit.” Yes, I know, Niall thought, grimacing a bit. “We’re just friends now. We’re not together anymore,” Liam concludes lamely.

Liam is searching for a reaction in Niall, but can only see his blue eyes not as clear as he remembered, but hazy and clouded. And then the snow is falling from the sky above, and he watches as snowflakes gently land in Niall’s hair and eyelashes and he’s hoping that Niall doesn’t see Liam’s obvious longing in his expression. He wants to explain himself so bad, he wants to say the right things, he wants to apologize without large gaps and flaws.

“How are you getting home?” Liam asks.

“I’m walking,” Niall replies.

The snow is coming down in large, fluffy chunks now, the way Niall loves. It’s falling everywhere and there’s no wind anymore, so the night is still and silent.

“I’ll take you home,” Liam offers. And his tone is so honest and so Liam-like and Niall’s walls falter a bit because he doesn’t want to act like this anymore.

But he has to. He doesn’t want to dismiss the fact that Liam forgot about him, doesn’t want to crawl back into him, as if was weak. So he raises his eyebrows at him and says, “No thanks.”

When Liam opens his mouth to rebuttal, he’s interrupted by three boys stumbling out of the club clumsily. Zayn is laughing like a wild hyena and Louis looks absolutely livid and Harry is calm, but looking highly confused.

“You can’t just fucking whisper ‘boobies’ repeatedly into girls’ ears, you fucking creep,” Louis yells, and Zayn is cackling all over again.

 “I didn’t know that was a crime,” Harry states defensively.

Zayn is wiping tears from his eyes that seem to be bloodshot, “I can’t believe she reported you.”

Harry is ignoring the both of them until he spots Liam and Niall standing a short distance away. “Liam! Niall!” His eyes light up and he looks unbelievably happy. He runs up to them and hugs them tightly, which is unexpected to both Liam and Niall.

“Don’t leave me alone with these bastards ever again,” he whispers into both their ears, “I swear they spiked my drink and I’ve been doing some creepy shit all night and I don’t feel like myself.”

“Harold got us kicked out.” Louis is all of a sudden behind all of them and Harry turns around so fast that his curls whip over Louis’ face.

“And you call me a fucking creep,” Harry mumbles.

“Well I needed to get away from Mr. I-handle-alcohol-so-well,”—mimicking Zayn’s smooth tone of voice—“he’s puking everywhere,” and they all look over to find a disoriented Zayn, leaning over a garbage can and belching out his stomach.

Harry’s grinning, “So much for keeping his boots clean.”

“What are we, in high school? Jesus.” Louis shakes his head in disgust.

“So wait. You got kicked out?” Liam questions.

Harry is scratching the back of his head, attempting to feign innocence, and Louis is glaring at him. “Yeah, we didn’t spike anything of yours you dipshit, so you can stop blaming us.”

Harry is ignoring everything coming out of Louis’ mouth and tries to sneak a peak at garbage disposal. “Zayn? You okay, buddy?” he calls out and his tone is quite cheery. Zayn doesn’t take his head out of the garbage but instead sticks the middle finger up.

“So rude,” Harry mutters.

It’s unexpected but despite Niall’s previous emotions, he’s laughing really hard. He doesn’t know if it’s the drinks in his system or if he’s going mental, but he doesn’t really care at all. He doesn’t care that this feeling will maybe only last a second; he just knows he’s holding on to it.

Liam is listening to Niall’s quirky laugh and he’s smiling. And he feels amused as he gets a glimpse at Zayn who is now done barfing, standing up and wiping his mouth. And he looks over at Louis who is trying to fix Harry’s hair and then the sound of Niall’s laugh is ringing in his ears.

Tonight
We are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun

Amidst his heavy heart, Liam finds that his year long absence had nothing to do with the problem. Moreover, it was his ignorance and neglect of his friends. Maybe he wanted to grow up, wanted to get real, that he didn’t want to be the most sensible, he wanted to be around lots of other sensible people.

But that was all so boring, and he was trying to accept that reality is boring, but now, as he’s watching all of them in a blur of movement, he feels this is the best reality he could have. He’s peering at Niall again, his eyes, and the way they are clear as ever. And Niall looks over his shoulder to stare back at Liam, and there’s an understanding. An understanding that yes, Liam had been arrogant and overlooking, but it doesn’t matter because he knows that this is right, that is this how it was supposed to be.

It’s the rush you get when you come up for air after being underwater for so long. It’s exhilarating and as simple as breathing.

Liam is dusting off snowflakes from Niall’s hair and the snow is falling to the ground. Harry is shrieking when Louis drops ice down his pants and he’s running away, further and further. And in split seconds, they’re all chasing after him.

The moon is on my side
I have no reason to run
So will someone come and carry me home tonight

They’re running fast, all of them, but all slow down when Harry is about to fall over. They stop and realize they’re in secluded street and there are only a few faint glows emitting from house windows. The only sound are their hitched breaths under the white moon and none of them know where they are but they just keep going.

Zayn is walking alone on the road again. They all look at each other and decide to collide into him, following him on the street. He’s shoving them saying “Leave me alone,” and he’s pretending to brood but his façade slips and a smile is there. It must be only midnight or so but they’re all shitfaced and Liam is surprised nobody in the neighbourhood has called the cops yet.

Yet, nothing could stop this. They’ll just continue being who they are. Louis’ hair is astray and messy and Harry is making snow angels now and Zayn is pulling out a cigarette. And Niall is beginning to lean into Liam.

The angels never arrived
But I can hear the choir
So will someone come and carry me home

Niall feels tired but alive. He is telling himself this is weird, why am I doing this, I haven’t seen you in a year. That the year isn’t reversible but he doesn’t mind anymore. He doesn’t care about letting Liam take an easy way out or whatever, he doesn’t care about punishing Liam for what he did or anything like that; he’s just moving on. He knows it’s the cliché, and he hates clichés, but it isn’t just forgetting and forgiving, it’s about moving forward. It’s about being thankful for even being here, for being put together like this, for being friends and being young and having fun.

Liam’s eyes are in crescents again and there are distinct lines running through his face as he’s chuckling at the others. He looks at Niall and throws an arm around him. It’s comfort, Niall thinks, that he feels. It’s similar to the comfort of his bed sheets after a long day or playing guitar for hours on end, and he places his head at the crook of Liam’s neck.

Tonight
We are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun

It’s five people against the world, the flickering streetlights above them, casting dancing shadows. And maybe that’s why young people are looked down upon, Liam thinks—because they are naïve enough to think they are invincible. But Liam doesn’t see the problem in that anymore, because what’s wrong with feeling good, with feeling unstoppable?

So if by the time the bar closes
And you feel like falling down
I’ll carry you home tonight

Enthusiasm is leaving Niall as he blinks slower and wearily, and Liam is holding him a little closer. Under Niall’s eyelids, he watches as Liam leans in and presses a kiss on his forehead.

And everything in his body is at ease, and he finds that everything is as simple as being alive.

By noeu