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Now Different Is Nice, But It Sure Isn't pretty

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"Hello guys! It's Niall or ‘nialldroid’,” as he was saying this, Niall's brows furrowed in a ridiculous manner and he broke into a confused smile. "I don't know how is that you actually call me, haha," he couldn't help but chuckle at his own joke; he was that kind of person. "But one thing is sure, if you have delicious food with you, you can call me anything."

Now he couldn't help but full-out laughing at himself. It was obvious, even if you where watching him for the first time that he was a really carefree person. You could trace his laugh lines as if each one of those moments of joy where mapped for your viewing pleasure.

"Okay, maybe not anything, but we can talk about it. Anyways, first of all, thank you for watching." Suddenly, that charming smirk that seemed ever-present in his face was gone. It was replaced by a look of pure wonder, something that easily destroyed the barriers between him and the one who was watching him; surrounding you with an atmosphere of unfiltered joy.

"I can't believe the amount of subscriptions I had over the last few months, it's truly overwhelming. I'm not sure I can't quite understand why you are still there, but I'm not going to question it." He grinned one of those million-watt smiles only he could accomplish, and you could read the silent 'thank you’ that was swimming in the gleam of his blue eyes. "I'll try to always step up my game for you and please know that I love you so much." He coughed a little, as if he was trying to get back on track with his carefree persona."Okay, now I'm getting sappy, pardon me."

The video suddenly cut to a new scene where he seemed to be cornered behind his desk, playfully sobbing his heart out. "I can't believe you guys love me that much” he kept repeating himself, like a mantra. His hands were roaming every inch of his face, as if he was trying to calm down a little. Then the scene cut back to where he was currently sitting, as if nothing disturbing had happened before.

"Now guys, it's been a quite tiring weekend for me but hey, I'm not complaining." He winked playfully to his silent audience, as If he was chatting with a friend, which was part of the success of his show. Everyone was a friend of Niall.

"I've got the chance to meet amazing people that have filled me with so much life and for that I'm really thankful." He proceeded, practically glowing like a light bulb in the middle of the night. It was obvious that he was getting into something that really excited him, as he couldn't seem to stop moving in his rolling chair."Yesterday morning I got up really early in the morning, even though I'm really not a morning person." He dropped his sight to the floor, seemingly embarrassed with himself as he sighed deeply. "I suck at mornings, I can barely speak, my words are all slurred and my accent makes everything I say sound like basic Chinese."

Again, there was a sudden cut in the video and a new footage appeared. Niall was laying in his bed, surrounded by multiple pillows and he seemed to be tangled in his sheets. A shrieking noise cut the silent atmosphere in a half, startling Niall from his deep slumber. Then, he started blindly palming every area surrounding his bed, as if looking for the source of his awakening. When he finally acknowledged that his attempts where futile, he stood up; dressed only in his briefs, groaning sleepily. When he finally spotted the annoying object of his interrupted sleep, he shut it down. Scratching his bare tummy, he heard his mother's shouts of 'Niall, breakfast's ready' and he tried to answer her back, managing to muster a half arsed — and unintelligible —  'comin' mam'.

The camera cut back to his sitting figure in front of the camera, smiling, completely oblivious to whatever was happening.

"Anyways, I knew that it was going to be a day full of surprises so I had to suck it up and be a proper human being, which yes, it's quite difficult."  He tried to laugh, but only managing to get a dry sound ripping from his throat, trying to seem utterly uncomfortable.

"I brushed my teeth, combed my hair to look as close as possible to something normal and washed my face as good as I could, given the early hours I've been awakened." Then, his face turned serious, as if he was going to give the audience a life-changing statement.

 

The lad was really good at creating different atmospheres that fitted with each one of his stories. He could make you feel bothered and even a little sad, or make you laugh until you need to beg your lungs for fresh air. He was an amazing actor and you couldn't help but feed from whatever he gave you.

 

"Now, for those who are as lazy as I am, I feel quite sorry to say, but you really need to take care of your skin." He touched his face as if it was a delicate piece of fabric, smiling blindingly as one of those 'Colgate' models. "The earlier in life you start doing it, the better. I use different products, and I have to be really honest here, I didn't have a single clue of what I was doing in the cleansing aisle back then when I started."

A new scene appeared, as some sort of flashback. Niall was walking around the store with a little basket where you could see a couple supplies: alcohol, cotton, a teeth-brush, a box o— was it a box of condoms? And stuff like that. His face was twisted in a frown of utter confusion, reaching his right hand to grab a small bottle of face soap. In the lower part of the screen, you could see subtitles, as if they were allowing you to take a glimpse of Niall's mind. "So, I drink this, right?" the subtitles said while he was looking at the bottle with furrowed brows. Unbeknownst to him, there was an assistant shopper coming to his rescue. "Excuse me, sir, do you need help with anything?" she asked with a polite smile plastered on his face. The sudden presence of the young lady startled Niall from his reverie and he widened his eyes as some sort of deer caught in the headlights. "Ye-yes," He stuttered, glancing back at the bottle in his hands, as if trying to make out what it said." Do you know if there are any other flavors of this brand? I'm not quite fond of grapefruit," And as if he was telling her one of the biggest secrets of the world, he leaned to her and whispered, "My stomach isn't quite friendly with grapefruit."  The assistant, who was leaning as well, trying to listen to his costumer, straightened herself and just stared at Niall with disbelief. Watching Niall's extremely confused gaze, she couldn't help herself and started laughing out loud. This boy thought that he needed to eat it. Niall's face turned as red as his favourite t-shirt.

 

Back to the present, Niall seemed a little fidgety and there was a sweet blush decorating his cheeks.

 

"Thankfully, with the help of some friends and the great ladies working at the store, now I feel confident with my choices." as he was saying this, he grabbed a bottle of his favourite brand of skincare and showed it to the camera, grinning. Then, sensing that he was going out to the tangent again, he tossed the bottle backwards and a soft THUMP! could be heard in the background. "Okay, now I'm rambling again, I'm sorry. The thing is," and his face was contorted again in a stoic gesture, as some sort of parent reprimanding his children after breaking a vase, "don't be a lazy fuck or you'll get old before you can say 'dermatologist'."

 And his face started glowing again as he started cackling loudly.

"Okay, enough with the beauty advice, I'm back on track now.” As he was trying to get on track with his tale, a faint growling sound could be heard. It seemed like someone was hungry. “Uhm, wait a minute please, I'll be back!” Niall sprinted from his chair and the sound of his bedroom door opening could be heard in the background. One of the things that his subscribers knew — and cherished — about Niall is that he loves food. With a passion that may be weird in a normal person, but you couldn’t help but thinking that his obsession with food was adorable. There was a time when he was answering a couple questions his viewers sent via Twitter and he was having a great time, you could tell by the moisture that was gathering in his eyes from laughing so much. That was until someone asked him which was his favourite food. To say that he got nervous is an understatement; one would think that he was asked to kill somebody.

When he was back, he was holding a bunch of muffins, biting one while he was sitting in front of the camera. As he was finishing with the muffin, he grinned a toothy smile to the camera.

“Okay, as I was saying...” He gasped in such a hurtful manner you would think he was being stabbed in his toe, and proceeded to pout petulantly at the camera. ”Hey, don't look at me like that! I'm a young man and I'm growing up, I need my nutrients!” he finished his little speech biting another muffin.

 

 “So, yesterday morning... I proceeded to eat my breakfast with my mam; you guys are not going to believe me, but she is the most amazing cook there is, and I'm not saying this because she's me mam, oh no. I truly mean it.”

 

Niall’s mum, Maura, was one of the favourite guests for the viewers. She was cheeky and sweet and one could see how much he loved Niall. His Irish accent was a lot thicker than Niall’s and it was honestly the cutest thing ever. Sometimes they started to playfully fight, as she was also a great prankster and those where the moments the viewers loved.

“We had these amazing muffins with chocolate chips and some waffles too. I had a glass of chocolate-y milk and a couple things more, like a piece of lemon pie and...” Niall made a gesture with his hand as if he was cleaning drool from his chin. “Okay, my mouth is watering and I'm currently eating, how ridiculous is that?” He chuckled. “Enough with the food — alright, that's a phrase I thought I would never use, but there's a first time for everything, init?” He winked to the camera, while trying to get a little bit more comfortable in his chair. 

“After finishing my succulent breakfast, I started to get ready for my day. A week ago I had called a hospital that happens to be nearby my town and I asked them if they would mind if I played a few songs to the children that were recovering in there,” As he was telling the viewers this, his whole face lighted up like a Christmas tree. He loved children. “They have a special children ward, where they take care of them and make sure they are as happy as they can be, given the delicate situation they are facing.”

He tried to straighten out in his chair, and he looked at the camera with such emotion that one couldn’t help but smile while watching him.

“The people working there are amazing, seriously, and I need to make a stop here to give a shout-out to the doctors and the nurses working at the St. James hospital.” He put his right hand in his heart and smiled gently to the camera. “I'm seriously so honored of knowing you and I hope that everyone who is watching this video can help you get funds for the hospital. It's not a big deal, I can't ask you to donate a million pounds or anything like that, and it’s not really my place.” While he was saying this, his face and his voice became quite serious, as if truly feeling that everyone could make a change. He was doing everything at his reach to help them, being it singing, entertaining the children and running a couple errands for the receptionists. “Just get over to their web page, which you can access by poking my face right now,” His serious face broke into a goofy smile, “and help with anything you can. They are one of the reasons why there's still hope in this world, and I really want to help them with anything I can. They deserve it.”

While he was talking with the camera, he grabbed a cup of something that was hidden from the view of the camera and drank from it.

 

 “As you may be aware of, I quite like doing little gigs at different hospitals around Ireland and the UK, whenever I can. I feel like there's so much power in music and I truly believe that it helps healing not only the body, but the soul.”

Suddenly, there was a blush blossoming in his pale cheeks.

“I know that I'm not the best singer in the world, but I put my all I have in my songs and I play them with every pore in my body. I only breathe when I sing, and I only touch when I play. I'm quite sure that I live because of music, and there's nothing wrong with that.”

Niall’s passion was music, and that’s the first thing you’ll come to realize when you go to his channel. There are a couple covers from other artists, but mainly, all the songs that he played were composed by him. He is really respected as a musician, not only for his talent, but because you could see that he truly loved doing that. There was so much passion burning in the screen when he played his guitar, and he practically gave it all when he sung.

Taking another sip from his cup, he continued.

“So, I drove my old car to the hospital and I struggled looking for a place to park, which took me almost twenty minutes. As I was stepping into the hospital, I couldn't suppress the smile that was threatening to overtake my face when I saw Shirley, a divine lady who is the main receptionist there. She is, without any fear of exaggerating, one of the sweetest people I have ever met.”

 

He seemed to remember something funny happening because a fond chuckle erupted from his mouth.

 

“I remember the first time I went to that hospital, even though it wasn't for such a good reason. The thing with being Niall Horan is that you have to get used to being a klutz, and that's something I have never grown accustomed to. I always loved footie, and I play it as often as I can, but sometimes my legs just want to be annoying and they are like 'lol, let's see how good your face blends with the grass' and BAM! I'm eating grass. Only that that time wasn't laugh worthy.”

It looked like his memory wanted him to remember not only the experience, but the pain he had to bear back then. His face twisted in a painful gesture and he couldn’t help but rubbing his knee.

“I managed to fall with all my weight over my dodgy knee and suddenly everything was blurry around me. I remember that Sean was laughing his arse off until he realized that I wasn't getting up. 'LADS! HELP ME, NIALL ISN'T RESPONDING!' and I could easily pick out the fear in his eyes, as I was quite sure I was mirroring it. But to be honest, I couldn't think that much. The pain was starting to get unbearable and I just wanted to rip my leg off. I started whimpering quietly, and I'm certain that I shed a couple tears but thankfully, no one teased me about that. I'm quite sure that I might have blacked out a little, because when I woke up I was laying on one of those uncomfortable hospital beds.”

“There was this little lady fussing all over me, trying to disentangle my IV and gently trying to take my vital signs. I was quite drugged up back then, so I don't quite remember what embarrassing thing I might have said, but she chuckled a little and petted my head for a while. That was the day I met Shirley...”

And yes, this video was set to break the record of the highest amount of times he blushed on camera, because he started blushing even brighter than before now.

“And I might have showed my bum to everyone walking down my ward, but that’s a story for another day, you cheeky people!”

There was his famous booming laugh, the one that thousands of fan girls (and a couple fan boys) loved. He was naturally a laughter person, as he found the oddest things funny. His sense of humor is also a great part of his success.

“After I hugged her and I saluted all the ladies in the reception, I made my way to the Children ward. It's a really special place, because unlike every other ward in the hospital, everything here was surrounded by colour. There is this thing in this certain hospital where they allowed the former patients to pain something in the wall, as a memento for the future. In there you could draw anything within the barriers of good taste, of course, or just write something to be remembered with. The wall was flooded by messages from children just like the ones who were staying there. And hopefully, they'll be one of those who can look back to the hospital and smile, while letting the marker in the wall dry out a little.”

“I said hi to a couple doctors who were residents there, and I made my way into the happy shouts that were calling my name. I'm not trying to sound cocky or anything, but it seems like the kids like me a little in there. You can see how much their faces light up whenever they see me holding my guitar case. Seeing them like that it's quite possibly one of the best feelings in the world and I can't help but soak myself into their light. When I finally found somewhere comfortable to sit, I took my guitar out of its case and I grinned to the kids who were waiting for me to start…”

In that moment, he managed to reach for his guitar case, which was carefully placed beside his bed and put it in his lap, unzipping it. When his guitar was safely in his lap, he tossed the case to the floor.  

 

“So, I don't know if you want to hear the song I wrote for them, but I feel like it's proper of me to immerse yourself in that moment,” He glanced at the screen with a little smile, one of those who were really special and started strumming a little melody. “As at this point you have grown to be a part of me.”

As he was strumming the intricate cords that composed his song, you could see his face succumbing into a deep concentration, as if every fiber of his body was blending with the instrument. The atmosphere surrounding him was changing, slowly, into something akin to whatever it is that you call home.

 

So many lonely nights I’ve been sitting here,

Tangling my fingers on these white sheets

I know I’m begging for something I can’t seem to reach,



I hold my mother close, drying out her tears,

We can’t win a war if what we fight ain't real

And ever if I’m burning under these blinding lights

I know it takes more than life to really being alive.

 

You may think otherwise, but being young is tough

What always seemed right suddenly is wrong

There are so many pieces missing after every storm

And trying to fit wrong ones doesn’t make you strong

 

And they talk to me like can’t seem to understand

But what they don’t know is that I’m finally a man

'cause what I am is not hidden on that blood test 

And I'm so much more than wires hanging from an IV

 

Let me tell you something you may not be aware

I have seen life through different eyes, and I know what to expect.

It won't be an easy fight, but I’ll have the upper hand.

'cause what I lack in years, I made up with strength.

 

 

I'm more than a diagnosis, I'm everything I have.

And I’m not ready to surrender; I’m all hyped up for the fight.

 

The last note is hanging on the air, almost tangling every space in sight like a vine of happiness. Niall’s face looks so relaxed, so childlike that suddenly you forget that he’s twenty years old. He smiles a tiny smile to the camera, almost bashful and leans down to retrieve the guitar to his respective case. After standing up an putting the guitar in that specific corner that it’s only hers, he sits down again and stares at the camera.

“I know what you may be thinking…” He says, chuckling a little for good measure, and then his voice goes almost an octave higher in an obvious mocking manner. “Hey, mate, that’s not an appropriate song for sick children!” He starts flailing around in a faux fit of rage, as if he was utterly disgusted by the display.

“But it isn’t. One of the things that I have learnt throughout my life is that children don’t like you to sugarcoat things. They prefer the harsh truth, even if it hurts. When I was a child, I had to face a lot of things which I’m not proud of, and the worst part is that nobody had the decency to look me in the eye and say ‘Hey, kiddo, you are fucking this up’. If that was the case, then maybe things would have been different right now.” Widening his eyes, he looked away from the camera, as if he was embarrassed with what he said. He sighed painfully, before looking back to the camera.

“That’s why I want them to know the truth and I want them to know that they are winners, that they are bloody brave and that I’m so proud of them for fighting. That’s why I do this, to reach each one of you out there, and hopefully, change your views. Give you courage. Igniting life inside of you.”

He raising his hands to scratch a little his scalp and grinned brightly to the camera, but you could see a little moisture in his eyes. Something broke inside of him when he was looking at the camera and everything changed. Each one of the viewers who were watching this video had been able to catch a glimpse of a life finishing in front of their eyes.

That’s what we don’t realize as we move through the motion of time and space, we die all the time. Sometimes we see how every part of our lives shatters in front of our eyes, but sometimes the broken pieces pierce our skin, infecting it with memories. And it gets to a point where we can’t fight it.

And we die once again.

“Thank you for watching, whoever you are. If you want to share something with me, it doesn’t matter what it is, then come talk with me. I can’t promise I’ll respond you, but I’ll read each comment you gave me,” He smiled a last reassuring smile and saluted the silent crowd with two fingers in his forehead, ”See you soon, guys!”

And that’s how the video ended.

Mark Tomlinson was staring at the screen of him laptop in complete awe. He couldn’t believe that so many things could happen in just a couple minutes. As a producer and film-maker himself, he knew that some things couldn’t be forced.

It’s nearly impossible to produce so much chemistry between one person and the camera in front of him. There were countless A-list actors that are still struggling to make themselves be taken seriously.

But this lad, this young lad with only a modest camera recorder in front of him had managed to outshine years and years of child actors, even some who were there before he was born.

Mark had been sitting in front of his laptop for hours, completely transfixed with the rough diamond piece coming alive in front of him. His little notebook — a small tattered child’s notebook that was gifted to him by his daughter — had been filled with different ideas and thoughts about this young lad, Niall.

He could picture a million different universes, little glimpses of life surrounding this young man and there was none of them who didn’t have him as his only centre point.

Mark was grinning from ear to ear.

He has finally found his star.

 

Chapter Text

Niall was sitting in the middle of the room, wearing a long sleeved t-shirt which was slightly uncomfortable to see as the weather in Ireland was scorching hot. He was grinning widely at the camera but it seemed as if there were tiny invisible wires pulling his features into some resemblance of a smile. His hands were tangled together, allowing his fingers to fidget in a nervous manner.

“Hello guys, it’s me, Niall,” Even his voice seemed to be a little forced, with some sort of edge tainting the beautiful Irish lilt. His eyes lacked that special gleam that was a signature for anyone who watched him.

“I’m really glad you are joining me today.”

For a moment, his eyes closed and you could tell that he was really trying to keep his sadness at bay. A huge breath was taken then, as if allowing his entire self to catch an ounce of strength. His right hand was scratching his tummy, a little gesture that signaled his utter nervousness. Finally, after what could be seen as an internal battle with himself, he opened his eyes.

“I have to say that this week hasn’t been an easy one for me. I had to face certain demons that I would have rather not seeing again and—“

In that exact moment, a gentle knocking noise could be heard from outside the room. Niall stood up from his chair and with a sigh he opened the door, allowing Maura, his mother, to access the room. They exchanged a soft smile between them and Maura pulled Niall into a tight embrace. A small whimper could be heard in the background, but which one of them emitted such a pitiful noise could not be known.

After a couple minutes, Niall disentangled himself from Maura’s arms and with a watery chuckle he gently guided her to an extra chair that was placed just beside him. When Maura was comfortably settled by his side, he smiled a little to the camera. Even if it still wasn’t one of his typical ground-breaking smiles, this one was holding a little bit more life; a humongous improvement from his previous state. A lot of the tension that was obscuring his features vanished after his embrace with his mother.

 

Maura was staring lovingly at his younger son, tilting his head a little to the side. Once again Niall took a huge breath and then, he started talking.

“Well, as you can see, I have a special guest for you today!” His eyes were suddenly flooded with love and pure adoration was laced with every word he said next. “This beautiful woman sitting right beside me is the reason why I am here today. She’s the most precious gift I had been given and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.” In that moment, his whole demeanor switched drastically, softening those worry lines that had made a path across his face. He was bursting with pride, brightening the whole room with a special sort of light; one that could only be described as “Niall”. His mother was blushing softly right by his side, her face adorning one of those special grins that seemed to be reserved for his son.

“I can’t think of a moment where she wasn’t the only source of life in my reign of darkness. Ladies and gentleman, Maura Horan.”

With a weird hand gesture, he introduced his mother, who was looking at him with a fond smile. She couldn’t help herself and chuckled at his son’s strange antics. She then proceeded to look straight at the camera with a gentle smile lightening her face. There was an odd aura of youth surrounding her, even if she was far from being whatever society considered “young”.

Tiny lines of laughter were riddling the angles of her mouth along with a few wrinkles blossoming in different parts of her face, but they weren’t ugly scars of time; they told a million stories with different endings, marking the tender skin with experience. Her lithe body was embraced by the soft Cashmere of her favourite lilac dress, casting shadows in all the right places. She wasn’t wearing any sort of make-up and her dark blonde hair managed to cascade at both sides of her cheekbones, framing her face like a precious masterpiece.

“Hello, there,” Her cheeks blushed profusely after saying this and a nervous giggle managed to escape the confines of her throat. She leaned closer to his son and placed her right hand in front of her mouth, shielding her next words as if they were meant to be a secret.

“Niall, this is bloody weird. Are you sure there are people watching this? I feel like a complete nutcase!”

Niall couldn’t help but bursting into a fit of laughter as soon as she finished saying that. Maura was rendered speechless after watching his son’s reaction, her hand still freezed in front of her. When she regained she finally seemed to regain her motor skills, she just smacked Niall on the back of his head; muttering a silent “rude” whilst doing that. Niall just tried to soothe his smacked head by softly caressing it, mumbling a tiny ‘owie!’ and pouting for good measure. Maura just grabbed his pout with both her thumb and pointing finger, cooing softly at his son’s childish ways.

“Well, I’m Maura, Niall’s proud mother and it’s a pleasure to meet you all!”

Niall was watching his mother with wry smile, as if he was sensing the moment that was soon approaching. He managed to pull himself together fast and started talking again, reverting back to his previous dark state.

“You might be wondering why I brought her here, especially on a day like this”, He said, and it was easy to see that he was utterly nervous now. His hands were hanging on both his sides and they were slightly trembling. Maura noticed that and tried to reach for his left hand, softly intertwining her fingers with it. But all attempts of calming him seemed to be fruitless. ”Well, actually, she was the one who asked me to be here…” He glanced shyly at his mother, almost looking like a kicked puppy. He took a huge breath and said, “I guess she’ll tell us why, now.”

Maura nodded in response, then she tried to sit up straighter in her chair and after a little clearing of her throat, she started talking.

I remember the day I saw my world crashing down, shattering in such tiny pieces that I didn’t have any other option but blowing the dust off, and hoping to be able to carefully craft it back again.”

She was staring directly at the camera, almost trespassing upon the barriers of technology with her soft yet penetrating gaze. She sighed softly and looked almost pained to say the next words.

“One is never trained enough to deal with the heavy weight of reality, especially when it’s placed on the tiny shoulder of your child.”

Niall flinched abruptly, widening his eyes slightly towards his mother but making no move to stop her story. With a shivering breath, he tried to get a little bit more comfortable in his chair, silently demanding his fingers to stop fidgeting so fucking bad.                           

At the end, he suppressed his reflex act by sitting on his hands, ignoring the numbing sensation that was starting to creep through his nerves

Maura seemed to not notice how abruptly his whole demeanour seemed to crumble, although she knew that something like this was bound to happen.

This needed to be done.

“I can still picture the chipped tiles of the kitchen; it was bloody difficult to clean them properly as they were really old, so you had to be really careful. It was a cold Friday in Mullingar and all the windows were closed. I managed to wake up my two sons without any problem and they were off to school. I still had this odd heart-wrenching feeling enclosed within my chest, and even to this day I can’t still explain it properly. I felt like every nerve in my body was bracing itself for the imminent crash and I was in alert mode all throughout that morning.”

Maura’s hands started to seek for his son’s warmth almost by instinct. By this time, Niall’s hands had escaped the confinement settled under his bum and where shaking almost uncontrollably. When both of their hands where finally clasped together, her grip on his hands tightened in a reassuring manner.

Niall’s eyes were casted towards the floor and it was obvious that this certain topic was something really painful for him to bear.

“Greg wasn’t going to return for lunch that day, as he was going to stay at his best mate’s house, so it was only Niall and me. I managed to round up with the house chores just in time to start dealing with lunch.”

Maura looked at his son worriedly, a plethora of emotions stampeding through her eyes. She disentangled her hand from his tight grip and reached for his chin instead, lifting his face in order to look straight to her eyes.

His eyes, the ones that after opening for the first time had created a door to paradise, had taken a glassy appearance, clouded with angst and something akin to shame.

She couldn’t believe that this was her son, the one whose soul was crafted by the sun itself as a memento for the human race.

Fighting the unbearable stinging sensation hidden behind her eyes, her fingers allowed Niall to lower his eyes once again.

“Throughout that week, Niall had been oddly quiet, eerily so. His ever-present smile didn’t seem to reach his eyes and each one of his movements was coldly calculated. Since the day he was born, I only seemed to find solace whenever the house was filled with those tiny notes of laughter that trailed behind Niall’s smile. He was sunshine and without him there was no light illuminating us. Even Greg had grown worried for his little brother, constantly trying to coax a smile out of him but all attempts to wipe the fake away from his feature were fruitless. He had to brace himself to simply watch from the sidelines, ready to sprint into action whenever he had to.”

“As a desperate attempt to cheer my little boy up, I decided to cook him his favourite dish: ‘Maura’s chicken’ as he often likes to call it.” After saying this, Maura started to lightly poke his tummy, trying to coax a smile out of her boy. She didn’t know if that little smile tugging at the corner of his mouth was because of her comment, the little pokes at his stomach or just the thought of food but she wouldn’t question it.

It was a smile, nonetheless.

”It was a simple dish, a tender piece of Chicken breast marinated in a mixture of garlic, mayonnaise, and different spices; rolled into a bowl of bread crumples and fried until it took a beautiful golden shade. As a side-dish, I mashed a good amount of potatoes, a little butter, milk, cheese and, of course, salt and pepper.”

And, for the first time in the history of their relationship, Niall didn’t react at the mention of food. Maura was astonished, to say the least but the sinking sensation of how upset his baby was over this whole ordeal still pierced her soul.

But, she couldn’t stop now.

 

Plastering a cheeky grin, she leaned closely to the camera as if she was going to tell the audience a secret.

“An advice to all of you viewers out there: if you try to get a way into my Niall’s heart by replicating this dish, you will fail. There are a lot of things I have to make sure in order to properly do this dish and they are going to be a secret for me to keep. Sometimes you just have to make sure there’s something guiding your loved ones back home, and even though I know my baby isn’t going to abandon me, I still have something that is purely ours.”

She winked softly at the invisible audience, managing to recline back into her previous position. Once he was properly settled in the chair, she continued with a warm smile.

 “I encourage you to try and make something that’s only reserved for you and him, and don’t worry, he’ll eat anything you cook him unless it has broccoli or celery.”

At this statement, Niall just stuck his tongue in disgust, scrunching his face in a cute childish way. A hint of a smile was adorning his face, glad that his mother was trying to make this whole thing a little bit lighter.

“Don’t try to make him eat vegemite either or he’ll squeal like a baby racoon.”

Suddenly, a cute blush was spreading fast across his face, even reaching his neckline. The look of outrage that was directed towards Maura was truly laughable.

“Mam, that was only once!”

“I know baby, but you looked so adorable flailing your arms and running across the kitchen with your tongue stuck out of your mouth!”

“Okay mam, we get your point!”

It was obvious that she was just trying to diffuse a little tension from the atmosphere, as she was aware of the discomfort his son was feeling while walking around those particular memories. She was so proud of his son, and she couldn’t help but feeling like he was growing up too fast for her liking.

“As the usual time of arrival was fast approaching, I started setting the table for our lunch. I was thinking of different approaches I could try in order to coax any sort of explanation from Niall. I was never one of those parents who are constantly gravitating around their children, as that kind of behaviour isn’t what I consider “good parenting”. I always encouraged them to be completely honest with me; I found that it was the only way we could really grow up as a family and as individuals. So I had to make him feel comfortable enough to talk to me.”

Finally, it seemed that the moment Niall was dreading had finally arrived. He gulped loudly and tried to pull his bravest face to the camera. Maura placed a reassuring hand on his lap and mouthed an inaudible ‘proud of you’ to her son.

“When I heard the tingling of the keys, I stood up from the couch I was sitting in and turned off the telly. I untied the laces that were holding my apron and I placed it on the small dresser that was strategically placed on the dining room. The door opened softly and a shuffling noise was heard, then it was closed again. I was waiting for Niall to enter the room and for our usual greetings to be exchanged but nothing happened. It was in that moment when I heard the scuffing of his shoes heading towards the staircase; he was avoiding confrontation.”

Maura paused for a moment, rubbing his son’s shoulders in a soothing yet firm manner. She knew that the worst was yet to come and to be honest; she needed a moment to process this, too.

Once both of them regained a grasp of tranquillity, Maura proceeded with her story.

“I knew that the sudden shift in the atmosphere meant something, I just didn’t know what it was. Or maybe I didn’t want to know.”

For the first time in the whole time the video was recording, Maura seemed to crumble. Her eyes where suddenly filled to the brim with tears and a sob managed to escape her throat, startling Niall from his self-induced oblivion.

“If I’m being honest here, I would have never wanted to know. I couldn’t bear to breathe the same air they were breathing.” Her voice was tainted with sorrow and guilt, almost pleading for mercy to them, to anyone who could give it. “I had held him in my hands when he was born, a tiny miracle that I swore I would always protect. I had dried all his tears, making sure to kiss all the pain away until it was just a memory. I had been his heroine, for so long and I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t fight when he was by my side. And even when—” She shucked a shivery breath as her hands were fruitlessly trying to wipe the tears away, “when Bobby and I got divorced, I knew that there was something that will chain us together for life, and those bright, strong chains were them, our sons. The ones we loved — we love — more than anything.”

Maura was full blown crying at this point. There was nothing holding her back now, all her strength seemed to drift away whenever reality crashed against his memory. Niall just embraced her tightly, managing to accommodate her face in his neck; allowing her to cry for his lost innocence.

What he didn’t know was that her innocence was lost as well.

Pulling himself together, Niall decided to finish the recording in that instant. He managed to untangle himself from his mother’s vicious grip and with a pat in her back, he stood up.

As he was making his way to the computer, Niall seemed to freeze in motion. The blank expression that had been accompanying him throughout the video turned into a thoughtful, almost pained grimace. There was a nagging thought painting his insides with a blurry sense of hope.

Niall found himself standing in the middle of a monsoon of memories, threatening to collapse every resemblance of future in front of him.

There was unrelenting fear bubbling in his stomach, a fire that was vandalizing every corner of his body; a sudden strength stomping into his soul, burning every trace of second-guessing living within him.

Suddenly there was a warm pressure surrounding his shoulders, and an umbrella was placed above him, shielding him from the rain. When he turned his head to give this stranger a grateful smile, he realized that he wasn’t alone.

There were countless umbrellas surrounding him, each one of the owners was looking at him with a reassuring smile plastered in their face.

They were wearing simple white t-shirts with bold black letters printed on them. After a taking a closer look, Niall was able to see that each t-shirt had a different print, almost like a signature…

‘irish_gold’

‘MojoJojo199300’

‘enzodadreamer’

‘BecauseYouCan’

‘milktea’

They were… usernames?

Realization dawned him, then and he couldn’t help but beaming brightly at the sight in front of him. They were his subscribers, those who poured his soul in the comment section of his videos, those who laughed at his antics and started playful banter between them, coaxing laughs from the Irishman every time.

They had his back on this, how could he doubt that?

It was time.

After sitting awkwardly next to his (seemingly) much calmer mother, Niall just managed to take a huge breath, trying to calm his racing heart. When he felt a little bit better, he stared straight at the camera and began to talk.

“I don’t know how to say this properly.”

A nervous laugh bubbled from the confines of his sore throat, and he couldn’t help but averting his eyes from the lens of the camera. In a sudden motion, he reached his hand to the nape of his neck, scratching it a couple of times, retreating his hand back to his lap after doing that.

“In all honesty, I never thought that I would have to face all my demons again, as I previously stated. I just tried to ignore their voices, and especially, my own voices; those who were relentlessly storing all their hurtful words for the winter.”

His hands were making lazy motions over his thighs, apparently trying to soothe his nerves.

“After you’d been told countless times how disgusting, how unworthy of love you are, well, it gets stuck in your mind. I just wanted a chance to be free from those invisible wires they tied around my throat, my wrist; tightening them with unnecessary force every time they spat words at me.”

A single tear started his trip from his eyes, purifying the path it was passing with something akin to redemption.

“I never had to face any kind of problems when I was a child. My parents managed to shield me from anything that could potentially hurt me and whenever they couldn’t do it, Greg was there, tossing me over his shoulder and carrying my shrieking self back home.”

A light chuckle escaped his mouth at that certain moment, and a delicious shade of red blossomed from his tear strained cheeks.

“When my parents got divorced, I got a taste of real life. There was no shield standing in front of me, as it seemed that my shield had cracked in a way that couldn’t be repaired. So I had to toughen up a little bit. But nothing prepared me for high school…”

 

Louis was gripping the edge of the mattress tightly as he was staring intently at the bright screen in front of him. The lights around him were dim and all the shutters were closed so no sunlight could get into the room. The sheets were lazily hugging his tiny frame, shielding his warmth from the incessant coldness that was creeping between those four walls.

The artificial lights of the laptop were being reflected by the silent tears cascading through his face, making them glisten like tiny diamonds in the sky. The hem of his tattered ‘have a nice day’ was completely damp at this point, being on the receiving end of a concentrated dose of liquid sadness.

After a long, uncomfortable silence were muffled whimpers were the only things that could be heard, Louis lifted his right hand to rub his moistened cheeks.

He had been lying on the bed for almost 5 hours, getting blissfully lost in the pixels of the screen. His pounding heart was beating erratically, setting an incessant beat that served as a theme song for the torrent of emotions that were flooding his body.

In a sudden motion, Louis raised a shaky finger to the screen, stroking softly the frozen pixels that made out Niall’s digital existence. A light smile was illuminating his face whilst doing this, allowing his beautiful features to stand out in the darkened room.

 

Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson were best friends, even if there was a side of the relationship that was blissfully unaware of this statement.