Chapter 58: Ready to Run Through the Dark

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The mourners filled the hills and valleys in every direction for miles around the eldritch priory that contained Modest Management's offices. Word had spread quickly on tumblr that today would be the last day of One Direction--that the directional bonds were being formally broken and that the greatest band of all time would soon be no more.

Hope had dwindled for weeks, as Zayn's mysterious and sudden disappearance had stretched on unsolved. Even so, those who were truly 1DAF held out, steadfast in their faith. Surely he would return, surely the answer to his whereabouts would be revealed--a publicity stunt, a jealous fan, sudden onset amnesia. A fan's love is strong enough to overcome any hurdle--if they just maintained their belief in him, their belief in the power of One Direction, then he would be returned to them, and all would be right again, and 1D would continue on, stronger and handsomer and more talented than ever before.

But it was grim day when the official news went out, the declaration of the formal parting of ways. The fans made their pilgrimages from all over the countryside to sit outside the monastery walls and bear witness as the last good thing about life on this planet died. They dressed in black and held vigil, some alone and some huddled in groups, some quietly sobbing and some beating their breasts and wailing, holding flickering candles and iPhone lights, carrying signs that said BRING US BACKSTAGE and THE END IS NIALL and LOUIS DO YOU AND HARRY NEED A BABYSITTER and LIAM WHAT ARE YOU DOING AFTER THIS.

Any minute now, the thick plume of black smoke would rise from the Modest Management chimney, signalling the formal end of the enchantment that kept One Direction spiritually linked as a band. Everyone kept their tear-filled eyes trained on the top of the highest tower, waiting. Scarcely able to breathe.

Which is perhaps why few people noticed Kim and Michael Clifford picking their way through the crowd, a very limp Zayn Malik hanging from their shoulders as they slowly made their way towards the heavy mahogany and iron doors of Modest Management.

"Hey guys, excuse us, sorry!" Kim stage-whispered as she gingerly stepped over someone's white Vans, dragging Zayn's feet across their legging-clad legs. "Just tryna get through here! Heavy cargo! Excuse us!"

The despondent mourners were briefly irritated at this intrusion--they were SO SAD, couldn't they just be left to mourn in peace undisturbed these last few moments before life was no longer worth living? But people begrudgingly moved their legs and made room for these fellow travelers to pass.

"Thank you, so sorry, kind of in a major hurry here."

"Gotta Zayn," a young girl named Talia instinctively replied. She blinked, suddenly realizing how dark a joke this silly phrase people had been repeating on the internet suddenly seemed now. As soon as she heard the words come out of her mouth she was horrified and wanted to apologize. But she looked up, and locked eyes with Zayn Malik, and no more words came.

Talia opened her mouth and tried to speak but literally nothing happened so instead she clutched frantically at the girl next to her, digging her fingernails into her arm. The second girl looked over, annoyed, then looked where Talia was looking, double-taked, triple-taked, and gasped.

Her gasp caused other people nearby to look over and see what they were seeing and gasp, and the gasp flitted through the crowd like a wave, a great inhalation of disbelief building speed and strength and intensity in every direction as it rippled out around them, like everyone was breathing again for the first time in weeks.

It was Zayn. Zayn had been returned to them. It was clearly him, and even after so long away he was still just as Zayn as ever, although he was clearly different - broken, weakened, changed by whatever he'd been through. It wasn't just that he could barely stand on his own, that his arms were draped around the shoulders of Kim Kardashian and some other guy. There was something different, something lost, something haunted in his eyes now. He had not been returned to them unchanged. But everyone longed to take care of him, to take him in their arms and fix him and help nurse him back to health.

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