Chapter 35

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Niall

"Aren't you the guy who used to be Niall Horan?"

Asked the customer with a broad smile and a head full of ginger hair. Niall ducked his head lower, pretending to concentrate on mixing up the caffeinated beverage with its flavored syrups and a neat frothiy top. He shook his head slightly and thanked his lucky stars that no one wore name tags in this café. He felt the inquisitive stare of the customer, noted her accent and immediately recognized it; just as heavily Irish as his own. He made a mental note not to speak to her at all. He barely looked up as he handed her the drink she's ordered, and he deeply wished he had long ago died his hair back to its natural brunette state.

She lingered for a moment before him, waiting for him to lift his head and speak; he had grown accustomed to this particular stare, the skepticism in it; the pity and the disbelief that someone could fall so far so fast.

"I have no idea who that is actually." He threw his voice, giving himself a drawl as he had heard in cowboy films and flashing the girl a brilliant smile which she returned. "Should

I be flattered?"

To his chagrin she scoffed and shook her head no.

"Maybe two or three years ago you might have been," she shrugged and joked, her words sank in to Niall's mind and he felt his heart constrict in his chest; the pain of being confirmed as a has been. "Now though the fella is a druggie...on trial for murder too if I'm not mistaken. Given that fact I suppose you couldn't be him could you? He's locked away no doubt...it's a shame too, I quite fancied him."

His smile and jovial demeanor were not affected by her words, he was an actor after all. He simply shrugged and forced himself to chuckle.

"Well here's hoping he gets himself together and becomes worthy of your affection again."

The girl rolled her eyes and waved as she left. Niall watched after her for a moment, mulling over her words as he stared, trying not to allow them to sink in too deeply.

But they were too revealing; they gave him an insight he never intended to have; the public had not forgotten him, his inability to book jobs had not translated into anonimity; perhaps he was no longer as famous as he had once been. Perhaps now he was infamous, known more as yet another fading drug addicted star turned criminal than the fresh faced and promising young superstar in the making . He bit down absentmindedly on his lip, not knowing until he tasted his blood and was brought back to reality.

By the end of his shift he had managed to push the thoughts away enough to focus on his work and serve coffee and lattes to college students and writers, a blur of young and unfamiliar faces, many of whom looked at him as though he were familiar, but thankfully no one else asked him about who or what he may or may not have been in the past. They all seemed unable to quite put a finger on where and when they'd seen him; he was just a vaguely recognized face, they could easily convince themselves that they had imagined the connection. Niall was happy to have them wander away, unphased and uninterested.

He didn't particularly notice the many faces of the customers in the always crowded shop, but rather he ignored them and focused on mastering the process of mixing the cafe drinks and working the various machines that made expressos, lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos and various other coffee based drinks possible. He'd been in the shop less than a month and remained anonymous despite the fact that the brother and sister who owned it knew who he was. They were far too liberal and concerned with selling organic, fair trade coffee to care much about the fact that a fallen idol worked with them.

He picked up as many hours as he wanted at the small and cozy cafe and walked the two blocks down to Meg's apartment whenever his shift ended. The rare book store he meandered past on his way home always made him think of his skinny friend and the books he sometimes read, sitting quietly in the dark of the apartment over the laundry mat, reading by the light of the street lamp outside. He wondered as he wandered passed the store that day; what had become of his friend.

His heart sank for the second time that day at the idea of that lanky frame lying lifeless in a park or alleyway, wasting to nothingness, no longer capable of a sarcastic comment or a cynical smirk. Dead. He shuddered even in the warm temperature of the summer day. The idea chilled him far more than any wind he could remember.

"Hello!" Meg spoke in a cheerful tone, walking around her apartment in business like heels and a navy blue pencil skirt. Her hair was pinned up into an intricate and elegant looking bun, perfect to show off the Peter Pan collar of her shirt. Niall noticed the details of her outfit and smiled a genuine smile, thinking of how nice it was to be home. "You must have taken the long way back."

She smiled at him, putting on her earrings as she looked into the mirror hanging over the buffet server in her dining area. He nodded.

"I just had a lot on my mind."

"Everything is going to be fine Niall. You'll see, this meeting is just to go over the details of your case and to determine how we'll proceed without Harry's testimony."

He nodded again, feeling his stomach churn at the mention of going over the details of his case; he more than dreaded the idea. The truth was that without Harry's testimony they didn't have much of a defense; Harry would have been able to tell the court that Niall harbored no ill will towards Winston, and that in fact Niall had been going to the location of the murder on his request. Niall believed that Harry would help if he could, but Niall also understood that since having disappeared Harry couldn't help anyone; not even himself.

They walked down the city streets laughing and joking in their way, their similar sense of humor making the tension of the situation dissipate. They rode the tube and spoke of reality tv; Niall didn't remember to be nervous until they were a stop away from the law offices.

"You'll do fine."

She reassured him, sensing his worry and as he caught sight of her kind smile and the brightness of her eyes he was tempted to believe that she was right.

"GET UP YOU! Aye! Get the hell out of the way you fucking bum!"

Niall and Meg turned towards the other end of the car, where a heap lied on the floor, blocking the doors to get off the train. Even as annoyed passengers prodded the body with their feet it didn't move, it didn't respond at all, it simply laid there in a faded black tshirt with holes in it and sweat pants far too worn to be decent to wear in public. The figure had no shoes and the soles of its feet were black. Niall took his turn to feel that nagging sense of familiarity; he recognized the position in which the body laid, he had seen it resting on the floor of his apartment enough times to know it almost immediately.

Meg looked at him in confusion as he stood from his seat and made his way down the car to the small crowd gathered around the body. He easily pushed away those who kicked at it and snarled for them all to back off and shut up. He kneeled down, heartbroken at the sight of his friend, his dirty matted hair and grimy face, despite everything they'd been through he had never seen Harry look so bad, so unclean. But the dirt could be washed away, the gaunt and drawn appearance of his face was far more disturbing. Niall suppressed a gasp and placed his fingers at his friends neck.

The skin was cold, and Niall was prepared to be terrified and appalled when he felt a delicate hand rest upon his shoulder and then the calming presence that seemed to always accompany Meg. She kneeled beside him and pushed the shaggy brown curls of hair that had fallen into Harry's eyes out of his face.

"His eyelids just fluttered. He isn't dead yet."

She sounded as relieved as Niall felt, and her words energized the lad out of the stupor he'd been in a moment ago. He yanked Harry up by his shirt collar and slapped him in his face as hard as he could. His eyes opened slowly but only a sliver, not even enough to make out their usual green color. Niall's hand again connected with the face of the skinny man, now even skinnier than he had been, and his mouth opened; a small groan escaped his chapped and peeling lips. As the train came to its stop Niall lifted the groggy body off of the floor, draping him over his shoulder, his body so light that despite his height this was no difficult thing to do. Meg hurried after him as Harry continued to groan, although as he came around to consciousness his groans were peppered with words and phrases.

"Perverts...they pervert everything, even me...especially me."

His body became slightly heavier as he passed out again, and Meg led the way towards the lawyers offices. People of course stared as Niall carried the unmoving body of his friend down the crowded city streets, but it didn't matter. He ignored them and rushed towards the building, hoping his friend could be helped once inside.

H. A Harry Styles A.U.Where stories live. Discover now