Right from the start, you know I got you
For the first time in her life, Niall was the new girl at school.
She’s standing on the far side of the road to the side entrance, eyes glued to the sign that looms over the open gates. There’s barely anyone else wandering around, most of the other students having gotten here earlier or chosen the main entrance.
Behind her Niall can hear Louis shuffling around in the backseat, grumbling to herself about "what a terrible start to sixth form this is" and how she "couldn't possibly have lost all her textbooks already."
Niall leans back against the boot of the car, bracing her arms against the boot in an attempt to stop the way her hands are shaking.
She can do this.
Niall adjusts the straps on her back pack, the heavy weight dragging at her shoulders a comforting familiarity amongst so much newness; the huge new campus, the stiff new skirts, the fact that starting sixth form is already kind of terrifying without changing schools.
But everything is fine. Great, even. Everything is perfect and fine and Niall is-
"Finally!" Louis half-shouts, slamming the car door shut behind her and making Niall almost jump out of her skin in shock, "Took me forever to find the History text book, but I also found my denim jacket that I lost ages ago."
"Hey, Ni?" Louis' voice is softer this time, "You okay, babe?"
"Uh," Niall blinks, tearing her eyes away from the school gates to look at the girl who's moved to stand beside her.
Niall is probably not actually handling this as well as she could be.
Louis is looking up her, her eyes laced with concern as they peek out from behind the long swoopy fringe of her pixie cut. Louis gives Niall a considering look up-and-down, taking in her bitten lip, chipped light blue nail polish and freshly scuffed shoes and undoubtedly concluding that Niall is nowhere near fine.
With a curt nod of her head Louis takes her hands out of her jacket pockets and flings her arms out to the side, "Bring it in, Horan."
Niall relents easily, no use pretending that Louis can't see right through her and shuffles into the other girl's arms not a moment later. Louis has risen up onto the tips of her toes so she can wrap her arms around Niall's back. The hairspray-hardened tips of her hair crunches under Louis' hands, and her lip gloss has rubbed off a little on Louis' denim covered shoulder, but Niall can't bring herself to care. At the end of the day her best friend's arms will always be far more comforting, offer far more security, than her usual defences.
"C'mon love," Louis mumbles from where her Niall has managed to crush the smaller girl to her sweater clad chest, "We do actually have to go to school."
Niall shakes her head. There's a bundle of nerves rolling heavy in her stomach, less butterflies and more stampeding elephants.
"If we don't go now, they're be no time to meet anyone before class," Louis says, stepping backwards just enough to look up at Niall.
Niall shake her head resolutely, there is nothing she would rather do less than meet new people right now, "Need the loo."
"Okay, pretty sure they’re just in the first building on your left," Louis says, crossing the road and into the school, giving Niall no choice but to follow.
"Can you show me?"
"I believe you can do it," Louis replies, "You went on the same introductory tour last week that I did.""
"Please, Lou," Niall lets some on the panic she's feeling show in her eyes,
"Niall Horan" Louis stops walking and turns are you seriously asking me to hide out with you in the school toilets until class starts?"
"Lou," Niall pleads.
"Well of course I'm going to do it," Louis says, rolling her eyes and grabbing Niall's hand before turning into the nearest building and walking down the hall, "I just wanted you to know how ridiculous this is."
Louis pauses outside the toilet block, hovering just outside the disabled toilets.
She turns back to Niall, a soft but questioning look in her eyes, "After you."
Niall just smiles and reaches over to solidly push open the door to the female toilets and walks in.
All things considered, the day hadn’t been a complete disaster. Yet.
Not that there way much to consider, given the only thing her and Louis had down was be handed their timetable and sit and the back of their “homeroom” wasting time for half an hour as the teacher went over the ‘important dates for the semester’.
They’re currently trying to navigate the way to their literature class, or rather, Niall is desperately staring at the map given out in homeroom while Louis complains about “Not being able to see over the head of all these fucking giants.”
When they do eventually find their classroom, hidden at the far end of the building via a side door, Niall stops just outside.
“Niall?” Louis says, her hand on the door handle, “What are you doing?”
“I’m - uh-” Niall pauses, trying to ignore the rising wave of nerves building in her stomach, “Give me two seconds.”
“Nope,” Louis says, “I’m not letting you do this again.”
Louis reaches out with her free hand and grabs Niall’s shaking hand, “C’mon, it’s like a bandaid yeah? Get it over with quick and it’ll be easy from here.”
Louis waits for Niall to nod her agreement before dropping the other girl's hand and opening the door. She doesn’t pause once inside and turns to walk to the back of the classroom where some of the only empty seats are.
"Hey," she says, turning to the only person who's sitting in the back room, a boy slumped in the corner with his head down and sketching away at his book, "Are these seats free?"
“Sure are,” the boy says, smiling as he looks up at them, "I'm Zayn, by the way."
"My name's Louis," Louis says, throwing herself into the chair beside Zayn, "and this is Niall."
"Nice to meet you," Zayn says, nodding at Niall as she sits down on the other side of Louis, "Are you new here?"
"Is it that obvious?" Niall asks, shuffling her books around in an attempt to make it look like she's somewhat prepared.
"Nah,” Zayn says shrugging, “I just haven't seen you around before."
Louis leans forward in her desk a little bit, “Yeah, we both transferred this year."
"Cool," Zayn nods slowly again and Niall can't help but wonder if that's one of the only things he does, "A mate of mine transferred here last year, so if you have any questions we'll definitely help you out."
"Was it hard at first, you know, for your mate to make friends and stuff?" Niall asks.
"Nah, not really," Zayn shrugs before pointedly looking at the front of the classroom where a large group of student had congregated, "But Harry has always been a bit of a people person."
Niall turns to follow Zayn's eyeline. In the middle of the group, head sitting above the rest, was someone laughing and animatedly waving their hands as they talked; the mysterious Harry.
"Is Harry’s homeroom in building twelve?" Louis asks, looking in the same direction as Niall with a considering look on her face
Zayn nods. Again.
"Yeah, I think we have homeroom together," Niall says catching on, faintly remembering long legs in dress pants and the same unruly mane of brown curls.
"Well, you should sit with us at lunch then," Zayn says, "We usually sit at one of the picnic tables outside the arts building."
Louis turns to Niall with raised eyebrows, trying to gauge how comfortable Niall is hanging out with relative strangers. Niall makes sure she looks completely at ease, knowing how excited Louis is to start making friends.
"That sounds...really great actually." Louis says
"Great, you can meet Liam as well then."
"Thank you," Niall says, perhaps a bit overly sincere for a lunch invitation, but in a way it's a lot more than a lunch invitation, "We really appreciate it."
Zayn smiles though. It’s a kind of goofy one that takes over his entire face and has Niall and Louis smiling in return.
Niall can't help but think that Harry is a bit like a hurricane. Her and Louis are already sitting at one of the picnic tables outside, Zayn and his friend Liam sitting on the other side. They’re chatting about quietly about their timetables, trying to work out who has classes together and where.
So when someone sits down beside Zayn, nothing more than flurry of hair and limbs and laughing at seemingly nothing, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Niall and Louis flinch a little in their seat, but Zayn just sighs.
“Niall, Lou, this is Harry,” He says, “Harry, this is-”
“Wait!” Harry interrupts, throwing up both hands to cut Zayn off, "Let's do a name around!"
"No way, Haz,” Zayn shakes his head, “You know I hate those."
"C'mon Zayn." Harry whines, eyes wide.
"Everyone already knows each other, Harry" Zayn says, grumbling and slumping against Liam, “But whatever, do what you want.”
It’s all a bit melodramatic but Liam is smiling at them both, seeming amused as if this sort of thing happen often.
"Sorry, a what?" Louis asks.
"A name around!" Harry says again, smiling widely, "It's a way to get to know new people. Basically you go around the group and you say your name, your pronouns and then a fun fact about yourself."
Harry's enthusiasm is met with blank looks from the two girls, and exasperated fondness from the others.
"Look, I'll start," Harry concedes before sitting up straighter at the table and stating, "My name is Harry Styles, I use neutral pronouns like they and them, and I work at a bakery."
Harry nods once pleased, and turns their head, “Liam?”
"My name is Liam and I use masculine pronouns,” Liam says in response, “And I'm trying to start my own makeup line."
"I'm Zayn Malik and I use he/him pronouns." Zayn says, only to be met with a glare from Harry.
"And?" Harry prompts.
"Harry, do i have to-?” Zayn resists, but Harry’s raised eyebrow is too strong, "Fine. I speak Urdu. Happy?"
"Thank you, Zayn." Harry says, a beatific smile on their faces as they turn to face the other side of the table, "Who's next?"
Niall and Louis meet each other’s eyes briefly, before Louis says, "I -uhm - I'm Louis. I use feminine pronouns and I was the captain of the co-ed football team at my old school."
"My name's Niall. I use, uh, my pronouns are she/her, and I play guitar?" Niall tries not to let her voice shake, but it probably doesn't work so well because Louis is quick to reach under the table and link their fingers in a reassuring grip.
"See? That wasn't so hard, was it?" Harry’s smile is practically blinding at this point and Niall’s not sure she’s ever met anyone so easily excited in her life.
"Speak for yourself," Zayn grumbles, but there’s no real harshness in his tone.
The conversation settles back into a quiet hum as Zayn asks Liam about the some holiday homework they were supposed to do, and the rest of them begin to eat. It’s only as Niall starts to open her lunchbox that she realises her hands are still shaking.
"Hey,” Louis says, resting her head against Niall’s shoulder and voice soft, “Are you alright Ni?"
"Uhm yeah,” Niall flicks her eyes up, thankful to see that Zayn and Liam are still talking and Harry is tapping away intently at their phone, “Just, the name around thing, you know?”,
"I thought you'd have found it good?" Louis asks, and Niall looks over to see concerned wrinkles forming on the other girl's forehead.
"I did, but it's weird to be in like a group of people who do things like that and think it's important thing to ask for pronouns and stuff." Niall replies, and it’ must be louder that she thought because Harry looks up from their phone with a questioning look.
"It's just-," Niall takes a deep breath, "I'm trans? And I moved schools so I wouldn't have to hide that or be around all these people who only knew me before I started to transition. So, to not have to lie about my pronouns, or my sexuality, or whatever - it just feels really good."
As she speaks, it feels like some kind of weight Niall never knew she was carrying has been lifted off her chest. Harry is looking back, meeting Niall’s eyes in a way that would be almost overwhelming if they weren’t tinged with understanding.
"Yeah,” Zayn says, turning to talk to Niall instead, “It's something Harry and I learnt at one of the queer youth groups we used to go to."
Harry nods, “It’s a really easy way to make sure people use the right pronouns and stuff."
"You used to go to a queer support group?" Niall asks.
"Yeah, I went to one on and off when I was younger and trying to reconcile being muslim and bisexual," Zayn says, "Then when Haz started to question their gender we started going together on a more regular basis."
"Are you thinking about going yourself?" Harry asks.
"Maybe," Niall shrugs, "I'm sure Louis would come with me."
"Huh?" Louis turns away from the conversation she had struck up with Liam.
"Was just talking about a queer support thing Zayn and Harry used to go to."
"Sounds great, babe," Louis says, smiling at Niall before turning back to Liam, "Have you gone to those?"
Liam laughs in response, "Nah, 'fraid I don't quite qualify."
"Yeah, Liam's our token cis het white guy," Zayn says, throwing an arm around the other boys shoulder.
"Yeah, you know I'm all about stereotypical masculinity,” Liam says raising a groomed eyebrow and gesturing at his perfectly made up face .
"Sorry," Louis says, blushing, "I shouldn't have assumed."
"It happens all the time," Liam replies, shrugging, "But I do appreciate the apology," .
"I was going to ask about that actually." Niall says.
"Oh?" Liam says, turning his attention to Niall.
There’s a sharp edge to his voice and Zayn’s hand tightens a little bit where it’s wrapped around his shoulder. He looks defensive, as if he’s ready to be mocked or harassed, and that’s when Niall realises how her words might have sounded.
"Not in a bad way!" Niall says, hands up, "I just wanted some tips about how you get your eyebrows like that."
"Oh, sorry,"Liam says, instantly deflating, “Well I'd be more than happy to help you out whenever you want. You should definitely come over to mine sometime."
"Yeah, Liam's always willing to have some models to experiment on." Zayn says.
"You're just tired of me harassing you about it."
"That is one hundred percent accurate," Zayn says, turning to face Niall, "My cheekbones are perfectly fine without being contoured."
Liam turns to Louis at the same time, saying, "My one goal in life is to get eyeliner on Zayn."
"It's not going to happen." Zayn says, moving his arm and leaning back with all the weariness of an argument that's been had a thousand times before.
The end of lunch bell rings just as Niall begins to pack up her lunch.
"What have you got next?" Zayn asks Niall and Louis as he stands up and gathers the rubbish off the table.
"I have Drama," Louis responds, "I think it's in the arts building?"
"Yeah," Liam says, nodding, "I have music tech in that building, I'll show you the way."
"Cheers" Louis says before turning "What have you got Ni?"
"Math," Niall responds, already anticipating how horrible it was going to be, "In Room 206."
"That's where I'm going!" Harry says, rounding the table to Niall’s side, "We can be math buddies!"
Harry links their arm through Niall's and leads them away from the table without a seconds pause.
“I’ll see you after class Ni!” Louis calls after them, “Text me if you need anything!”
Niall lets out a cackle as Harry starts to skip, their arms still linked together, “Bye Lou!”
Even though I know you'll never be mine.
The rest of the week continues in much the same way.
Louis drives Niall to school, they go to class, hang out with Liam, Zayn and Harry, and then go home.
Niall is the happiest she’s been in a very long time. It’s been five days and not once has she had to deal with a teacher or childhood friend misgendering her. She’s been able to wake up every day and put on a dress and makeup without even having to think about it.
Not to mention how great it is to have friends beside Louis who are accept her unquestionably. Liam who offers her advice on how to change the shape of her face, and is always ready to tuck her under his arm when Louis tries to tickle her. Or Zayn, who can seem a bit silent and surly but is actually goofy and offers fantastic advice.
And then Harry. Fantastic wonderful Harry who in less than a week has already entwined themself completely in Niall’s life. Harry who is endlessly charming with a huge smile and arms that wave around with every story they tell. But most importantly, Harry who was the first person that knew what Niall was feeling. Who knew the bone deep hatred of your body, who knew the stigma and the struggle, and the beautiful relief that was acceptance.
Niall’s more than happy to cling to Harry a little bit. To sit side by side at lunch or be dragged off one way or another. To whisper and pass notes and giggle instead of doing their work in class. Because she can feel that maybe Harry needs this to; that there’s a difference between trying to understand and actually understanding; that what they have blooming is a different kind of understanding and acceptance.
So Niall is happy.
So, so happy to be caught up and swept away in this glorious new beginning that she doesn’t have time to pay attention to the things that could be missing.
It’s Friday afternoon and Harry’s invited her to come over so they can try to finish the maths homework they just got lumped with last period. Harry’s waiting for Niall at the side entrance she used the first day, but first Niall’s got to tell Louis she won’t be coming home with her.
The parking lot is almost empty when Niall walks into it and Louis is leaning against the driver's door of her car
“You ready to go, babe?” Louis says, standing up when she spots Niall walking towards her, “The kids are at Nan’s and Mum’s got a date so we’ve got the place to ourselves for the night.”
“Actually I just came out to tell you that I’m going to Harry’s for a bit,” Niall says, “Sorry.”
“But it’s Friday.” Louis says, smile dropping from her face.
“I know, but they offered to help me out with my maths homework,” Niall says, “You know I’m bad at maths, Lou.”
“But it’s Friday,” Louis says again, as if Niall hadn’t heard the first time, “You always sleepover on Friday.”
“So I’ll come over when we’re done,” Niall shrugs.
“We were going to marathon the High School Musical movies though,” Louis says, “We won’t have time if you go to Harry’s.”
“We can do some other time,” Niall shrugs again, shifting her backpack onto her other shoulder, “I don’t mind.”
“What if I mind?!” Louis shouts suddenly, stepping closer to Niall, “What if I mind that you’re brushing me off?”
“What?” Niall asks, shocked at the sudden shift in tone, “I’m not brushing you off, Louis. We’re just going to do homework, chill out.”
“Chill out?” Louis shouts, and there’s a bitterness on her face that Niall doesn’t understand, “You want me to chill out?!”
Louis is angry, that much is obvious. She’s stalking the space between the front of her car and where Niall is standing, her hands waving in the air.
“What’s wrong, Lou?” Niall steps forward cautiously, reaching her hand out to the other girl's shoulder and having it instantly brushed off, “Hey! What’s your problem?”
Louis turns sharply, “My problem is that you’ve forgotten about me because you’ve got some new shiny toy to play with!”
“Are you talking about Harry?”
“Of course I’m talking about Harry!” Louis answers, spitting out Harry’s name like it tastes bad, “All we ever do is talk about Harry.”
“That’s not even true,” Niall says, “This morning we talked about music the entire time.”
“No, you talked about that new hipster band Harry got you into while I sat there silently and nodded my head.” Louis scoffs.
Niall pauses, trying to recall their conversation this morning and realising that it actually had been completely one sided.
“Lou,” Niall starts.
“Whatever,” Louis spits out,” go fucking bond over how fucking special and different you both are. See if I fucking care.”
Niall’s emotions do a full 180, any hint of remorse disappearing when she finally registers Louis’ words, “What the fuck did you say to me?”
“You heard what I said,” Louis says, her gaze hard, “Go cry about you’re the only people who could possibly understand how you feel and how no one else is good enough for you. ”
“Fuck off, Louis,” Niall yells, dropping her bag to the ground, “You think being trans is some special, fun thing I chose because I wanted to be different? You think I like the dysphoria that makes me want to rip my skin off every damn day?”
There’s a deafening silence after Niall stops yelling. It feels heavy in the air and the small space between the two girls feels more and more like a chasm.
“It’s not about that Niall,” Louis says, her voice dropping as it becomes obvious she crossed a line.
“It is about that,” Niall shouts back, “You made it about that.”
“It’s not. Niall, it’s not I’m sorry I said that,” Louis steps forward, she’s calmed a bit but still visibly pissed off, “It’s about how you’ve started to ignore me because suddenly you’re best friends with Harry now.”
“Louis, I wasn’t ignoring you,” Niall says, but there’s an element of truth to Louis’ words and the denial tastes like ash in her mouth, “But I might start now to be honest. What you said about me and Harry was out of line.”
“If you’re not ignoring me, prove it.” Louis says, punctuating the ultimatum by throwing her arms out to her side, “Come back to mine like you promised.”
“Harry’s waiting for me,” Niall says instead of answering directly, “I don’t want to keep them any longer.”
“Are you serious?” Louis says, dropping her arms like she almost can’t believe what Niall is saying, “Are you seriously picking Harry again, after all of that.”
“Yeah, I am.” Niall says, picking up her backpack and slinging it over her shoulder, “At least Harry won’t say the fucked up shit that you did.”
“Niall, please,” Louis says, reaching out as Niall backs away.
She sounds devastated, almost on the verge of tears, and Niall is getting whiplash from how drastically Louis' moves are changing.
“I don’t even know what we’re arguing about anymore, to be honest,” Niall tells her, “I might come over later and we can talk about it then.”
“Please, Niall,” Louis repeats, “I’m sorry, please.”
Niall turns away and leaves Louis behind her. There’s a noise that sounds a lot like Louis falling to her knees and it breaks Niall’s heart. She so desperately wants to turn around and gather Louis in her arms. To sit there on the ground in the fucking parking lot and talk it out, but the sharp pain of Louis’ words still burns bright, so she keeps walking.
When she meets up with Harry a few minutes later, it’s obvious that there’s no way that any kind of homework's going to be done. The hot tears stinging behind Niall’s eyes spill over as she collapses into Harry’s arms, wishing desperately the last fifteen minutes had never happened.
We are who we are, when no one's watching
Niall’s standing out the front of Louis’ house.
There’s a huge part of her that really doesn’t want to be here, would rather do anything than having to deal with Louis right now. But it's not like she can go home either.
Her mother would be there and Niall can’t answer her questions about why she’s not sleeping at Louis’ on a Friday night for the first time in forever. It’s not just that she didn’t want to, of course, but also because she herself couldn’t really answer them. There’s just too much uncertainty weighing heavy on Niall’s shoulders and clouding her mind.
They’d always been a solid thing, her and Louis.
The one unshakeable foundation that Niall felt she could cling to while everything else changed and moved. When her body was foreign, her family distant, Louis was still there. They'd made it through every petty fight and tantrum together, every problem that comes from puberty and divorced parents, every issue that could've torn them apart before, they had fought against. Louis had still been there no matter what, through everything.
So maybe that’s why Niall lets her feet move towards the door. That's why, as she fishes out the spare key from the pot plant next to the pile of shoes that seems to be a permanent fixture at the Tomlinson household, her breathing stays steady.
The house looks empty when she walks in, Louis’ parents having gone out and her little brothers at their grandparents place. But as Niall walks down the hallway she can hear the shower running in the bathroom, meaning Louis is still home. If this were any other Friday night, Niall would have crashed through the house, announcing her presence at the top of her lungs and probably headed straight to the kitchen.
But it’s not a normal Friday night, so she doesn’t.
Instead she takes the stairs two at a time and makes her way to Louis’ room. It’s mostly dark, with the only light coming from Louis’ laptop that’s sitting on her desk, music leaking out softly into the air .
There’s something so achingly familiar about the room that brings Niall almost to tears. This is hardly the first time the two girls had fought, but it was the first time that the words they flung felt like lashes, that the weight behind them settled like a heavy burden in Niall’s stomach. This is the first time it felt like her and Louis had every really been on shaky ground, but in this uninterrupted moment as Niall goes about getting ready for bed surround by Louis' belongings, it feels a bit more like something she can handle.
Niall unclips her hair extensions and puts them on the desk beside Louis’ laptop, not caring enough to brush them out like she usually would. Next is taking a makeup wipe from her backpack and wiping the residue of mascara and lipstick off her face. Then finally stripping off her school uniform and letting her skirt and dress shirt fall to the floor.
Niall flinches slightly at the sound of the stiff material crumpling, can hear her mother’s voice in the back of her head, but her limbs feel too heavy to pick them up and fold them neatly. Instead she pulls open the bottom drawer of Louis cupboard and finds her favourite pair of the other girl’s sweatpants and pulls them on, before unclipping her bra and letting it join the pile of clothes she’s created at the end of the bed.
Standing in Louis’ bedroom in just a thin singlet and sweatpants; make up removed and hair short, is something Niall’s done a thousand times before. But now, there’s a blanket of vulnerability creeping over her skin that makes her shoulders turn in and the skin on her arms itch.
Everything she does feels different and unsure now.
It’s obvious that Louis fucked up. She said horrible things that she has to apologise, but she wasn’t the only one in the wrong here. Niall had fucked up too. She’d let herself be carried away in how new and exciting everything was while completely forgetting about Louis.
How could she ever forget about Louis? How could she ever leave behind the one person in the world who had stuck by her through everything?
There’s the sound of a door closing downstairs, meaning that Louis has finally made her way out of the shower, and the sharp sound pushes Niall into action. She moves, half-throwing herself on the bed and crawling quickly under the covers, curling tight into a ball the far side of the bed. She’s tucked herself right up against the wall, staring ahead blankly.
The door to the bedroom cracks open slowly; light from the hallway shining in and illuminating the miserable lump that Niall was forming on the bed.
It was obvious the moment that Louis noticed that there was someone else in the room, letting out a small gasp that echoed like a whip crack in the quiet room.
“Niall?” Louis asks, shock obvious in her voice.
Niall opens her mouth to say something, anything, but she can’t. There’s something ugly and toxic stuck in her lungs and it feels like sorrow and anger, but also heavy like a hangover of rejection. Instead she manages to let out a warbled kind of sob that escapes her throat and is muffled into the pillow shoved against her face.
“Oh, Ni.” Louis’ voice is soft in the darkness as she slides under the duvet behind Niall, the bed shifting with her added weight, “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
They’re not touching, but they’re close enough for Louis’ soft breath to ruffle the baby hairs on the base of Niall’s neck. Louis’ voice is calm but her breathing is a little erratic, the only indication at how affected she really is. It comforts Niall in the oddest way; a reassurance that Louis really does care about her, about them.
The silence surrounds them; an uneasy weight on both of their shoulders. The music playing softly in the background from Louis’ long forgotten laptop changes, switching to a softer guitar melody Niall recognises the tune instantly; it was one of her favourite pieces at the beginning of last year. She’d made Louis listen to it on repeat pretty much every time they’d hung out together. The other girl had always said she didn’t really like it. (“What’s the point of music without words, Niall? Honestly, you and your love affair with guitars.”)
Niall lets out a deep sigh and felt the small knot of tension ease between her shoulders. She rolls over; her eyes level with the sharp dip of Louis’ collarbones.
Louis’ hand lands softly on the front of Niall’s shoulder, and both of the girls pause.
“Niall, I am so sorry. First of all, what I said was completely out of line. God, if someone else said that to you I would have punched them in the face. I can’t believe I said that about you and Harry. I know that being trans is something you are, not something you chose to be trendy or cool. And I’m sorry I was a complete arse and talked to you like I was trying to ignore the struggles you’ve gone through to get where you are.’
“Secondly, I had absolutely no right to be angry with you just because you were making other friends. I was being possessive and like, kind of controlling, which is not on, and I know it’s not right. I want you to know that I didn’t mean it to be like that at all.”
There’s the distinct sign of tears gathering at the corner of Louis’ eyes, but she doesn’t flinch as she looks at Niall. The fingers resting on Niall’s shoulder have wrapped themselves around the thin strap of Niall’s pale pink pyjama top, thumbing softly at the well-worn fabric as she speaks.
“I know how important it is for you to make new friends at school. God, especially people like Harry. You know, people who can understand and help you in ways that I never can. And I like Harry, I really do, they’re so nice and funny and I’m so glad that they’re hanging out with us. Zayn and Liam too, it’s just-” Louis’ voice catches in her throat.
A single tear falls from the corner of her eyes, trailing slowly along her cheek and onto the pillowcase they're both resting their head on. Niall reaches out to thumb softly at the tear track, letting her hand cup Louis’ cheek fully. Louis finally looks away, closing her eyes as she brings her free hand up to cover Niall’s.
“I- I guess I was just scared of losing you.”
“Oh Lou…” Niall sighs.
“It’s just that you’re my best friend, you know? Like you are literally my favourite person in the world and I got a bit selfish,” Louis smiles to herself in the wry way she perfected years ago, “And I’m so sorry, Niall. Please, please forgive me.”
“Louis,” Niall says, and it seems like the other girl’s name is the only thing she’s said in hours, “Louis, of course I forgive you. You know what you said wasn’t right, and I know that the way you felt when you said that wasn’t really you. You said that because you were hurt, and because when you’re hurt you don’t think and you say stupid shit that you regret because you want to make someone else hurt.’
“And I’m sorry that I ever did anything that would make you feel like that. I’m sorry if you ever felt like I was ignoring you, or that suddenly I didn’t care about you or anything, because that’s just not true.”
By this point Louis is crying openly, her tears silently but consistently tracking down her cheeks, and Niall feels her own set of tears welling again behind her eyes.
“It’s not true, Louis, I promise. You’re my best friend and you’ve been my best friend since I was eight years old and you moved next door. You were my best friend when you moved across town, and when my parents split and you were my best friend when you were the first and only person I had come out to as trans. You’ve been my best friend through everything and there’s absolutely no way that could ever weaken or go away, no matter how many cool new people we meet.”
Louis opens her eyes again, blinking slowly to try and clear some of the teary haze. Her mouth opens once, twice, but nothing really comes out. Instead, in one swift motion Louis clutches at Niall, her arms moving around Niall’s back and her head dropping onto Niall’s shoulder into the small gap between soft blonde hair and the pillow. Niall doesn’t waste a moment in holding Louis back, one hand snaking around to cradle the back of Louis’ neck while the other spreads over the bare skin between her shoulder blades. She throws a leg over Louis’ and tucks her head into the curve of Louis’ neck, pulling the other girl impossible close.
She can feel Louis start to properly sob into her shoulder as she strokes her hand softly over the crying girls back.
There’s nothing really to do but wait.
They’ve said all the important stuff that needs to be said and now Louis just need to cry out all the tension and fear she’d been carrying around far too long. Niall knows this, so she stays quiet, pressing the softest of kisses along the line of Louis’ shoulders, waiting for them both to drift off.
We messed around until we found the one thing we could never ever live without
The morning after their fight arrives with a strange kind of fragility.
Niall wakes just as the sun starts to break over the horizon. Louis’ arms are a heavy but not unwelcome weight in the dip of Niall’s waist, and the smell of breakfast (coffee and bacon, probably pancakes too) is drifting up from the kitchen.
Louis’ breathing is soft and steady against the back of Niall’s neck, still in a way that only comes with sleep, so Niall is careful when she turns over in Louis’ arms. She’s trapped between the bedroom wall and the other girl’s body, but Niall can’t bring herself to care very much. It’s not often that Louis is quiet and still, usually rushing off one way or another and throwing herself headfirst into everything she does.
So yeah, Niall doesn’t mind too much and instead relishes the opportunity to catch Louis in a soft unguarded moment. The short cut of her hair means there are clumps sticking up in every direction from Louis’ tossing in the night, and it’s nothing but hopelessly endearing. A longer strand from the front has fallen over her face, and it must tickle Louis’ nose because it twitches every few seconds. There’s also the slightest of creases between her brows and Louis’ lips are pushed out in a small pout
Not for the first time Niall is struck by how utterly gorgeous her best friend is. It’s something she’s always noticed in the back of her mind as they grew up together.
Niall met Louis when she was nothing but a rough-and-tumble eight-year-old with hair to her waist and jeans cut off at her knees. Niall had just moved into a new neighbourhood after her parents separated, and Louis was living across the street.They were both energetic kids who loved to play on the front lawn of their houses as their single mothers watched on, so it was almost inevitable that they met.
When they did, it was on a summer afternoon hot enough to result in an open invitation to the kiddie pool set up at the Tomlinson's’. They’re mothers talked as Louis and Niall splashed and chased each other, and soon enough their play dates became regular things. Niall was enrolled into Louis’ school and the rest, as they say, was history.
Niall got to watch as Louis grew up and evolved into the best person Niall has ever known, with short hair and scabbed knees and perhaps the world’s largest streak of loyalty to ever exist. It’s that fierce loyalty that meant that when Niall decided to move schools for her final year so she could finally be out as a transgender girl, Louis changed schools with her. Even though she didn’t have to, and it would mean leaving her friends behind and having to join a new soccer team and a whole bunch of hassles Louis didn’t need, she’d done it anyway. For Niall.
Never once, in the almost ten years they’d been friends, did Louis stop being the best person Niall has ever known. Even when they were screaming at each other in the middle of the parking lot, Niall could still remember the way Louis had held her the first time she ever admitted out loud she was “probably-transgender-what-the-fuck-do-I-do-Louis-help-me.” She can remember tight hug, every whisper reassurance, every laugh they shared twisted under blankets as they talked.
Even when Niall was pissed off an angry she still loved Louis with all her heart, and she knew Louis felt the same. They were best friends.
“You’re watching me sleep aren’t you?” Louis says, startling Niall out of her small reverie.
“Uhhh, no?” Niall says, thankful the other girl's eyes are still closed so she can’t see the blush riding high on Niall’s cheeks.
“Riiight, Louis says, sitting up and drawing the word out as she stretches her arms far above her head, “Sure you weren’t.”
“I think you’re mum’s made breakfast,” Niall says, finally sitting up as well and eager to change the topic.
Louis hums and takes a deep breath in, “Lovely.”
“Oh, Niall is here” Louis’ mum says when they walk into the kitchen a few minutes later.
She’s standing at the stovetop, a plate of bacon, eggs and pancakes piled up beside her in a beautiful greasy mess that makes Niall’s stomach growl.
“Of course she is mum,” Louis replies, crossing the room to the fridge and opening it with furrowed brows, “Where else would she be?”
“Oh don’t get in a bunch, Lou,” Jay says, “I just noticed the spare blankets still in the closest this morning is all.”
“Yeah,” Louis says, her head buried in the fridge, “We both just slept in my bed.”
Louis says it like it’s nothing - which it is, just to friends sharing a bed like they have for years- yet still Jay raises her eyebrows slightly and turns to look at Niall.
“I uh- I guess we just kind of crashed before we thought about grabbing them?” Niall offers, moving to sit down at the kitchen table as Louis follows her, a glass of juice in each hand.
“It’s alright love,” Jay says, putting the pile of food in the middle for them to eat off, “Big week, huh?”
Niall looks over to Louis who’s sat down so they’re facing opposite each other, ‘Yeah, you have no idea.”
Niall walks down the stairs around lunchtime, having freshly showered and washed off the final remnants of last night's’ drama.
“Hey mum, is it alright if some of my friends from school came over this afternoon?” Louis asks, her voice echoing out from the kitchen where she’s probably busy searching for more food.
Niall looks into the lounge room, spotting Jay sitting on the couch with a sewing kit strewn out in front of her. She’s sewing patches onto the jeans of a small pair of jeans, and takes the needle out of her mouth to answer.
“That’s fine, love. Just try to stay up in your room or the basement; I’m going to try and clean a bit before your brothers get back. ”
Niall opens her mouth, about to offer to help Jay out but she’s cut off by Louis who’s suddenly appeared beside her. There’s
“Thanks Mum! You’re the best!” She says, grabbing Niall’s hand and half-guiding half-dragging her back upstairs.
The still-wet edges of Niall’s hair cling to her shoulders as they take the stairs two at a time, but Niall’s focus is on the slightly sweaty grip of Louis’ hand and trying not to trip and she follows the other girl. When they get to the bedroom Louis drops Niall’s hand and walks straight over to the bed.
“Since when are the others coming over?” Niall asks, shutting Louis’ bedroom door behind her.
“I sent Zayn and Liam a text when you were in the shower,” Louis replies, “You should text Harry and invite them too.”
“Sure,” Niall says.
But instead of pulling out her phone she circles around to the other side of the bed where Louis is very carefully fixing the sheets on her bed. If Niall didn’t know better she would probably think that Louis actually cared about the neatness of her hospital corners. But she does know better, and because of this she reaches out and stills Louis’ arms.
“Lou, what’s this about?”
“Can’t I want to hang out with our new friends?”
“Of course you can, but that’s not all is it?” Niall tries to meet her eyes, but Louis’ gaze is fixed on where Niall’s hand is loosely holding her wrist.
After a moment, she lets out a heavy breath and sits down on the bed, her eyes still pointedly fixed downwards.
“After you fell asleep last night, I stayed up a little trying to think about something I could do and I thought it’d be good if we could all hang out,” Louis says, her voice gone quiet, “I need to apologise to Harry as well.”
Niall sits down beside Louis on the bed, letting their shoulders knock together.
“Did you tell them what happened?” Louis asks.
Niall nods, “Yeah, I had to. They asked as soon as I got there, you know I’m not good at hiding when I’m upset.”
Niall smiles because it’s true. Her pale skin meant she always got flushed super easily and her puffy red eyes were impossible to get rid of without a good night’s sleep.
“Niall-” Louis starts but the rest of her sentence gets caught in her throat.
“I really did go there just to study, you know.” Niall says.
The words sound a bit spiteful though, with Louis so obviously nervous and vulnerable behind her, so Niall reaches out and takes Louis’ hand in hers, linking their fingers together.
“Honestly, Niall,” Louis says, squeezing the other girl's hand softly, “You need to stop being so nice to me. You did nothing wrong here, please just let me feel miserable while I try to fix it.”
Louis shifts, tucking one her legs up onto the bed so she can face the other girl. When she meets Niall’s eyes her gaze is filled with remorse. It’s all a bit too much for Niall, who is already halfway to forgiving Louis, but she’s willing to milk it a bit more if it means that Louis is willing to try harder to be friends with Harry.
“We knew this year was going to be tough yeah?” Niall says.
“Just maybe not for the reasons we thought.” Louis replies, lips quirking a little in what could only be a rueful smile.
“Yeah, who thought me finally being able to go to school as a girl would be the least dramatic part of this week?” Niall says smiling back, because they’re going to joke about this and it’s going to be okay.
“Oh, go on with you then,” Louis says, pushing Niall’s shoulder a little, “Just text Harry will you?"
I'm feeling proud so without a doubt, I can feel you.
“I can’t believe we’re actually watching High School Musical,” Liam says, not for the first time since he arrived over an hour ago with Zayn, Harry and two large boxes of pizza.
“Do be quiet, Liam,” Louis says over the sound of Zac Efron singing his heart out about basketball.
“Yeah, Liam,” Zayn says, like he also hasn’t been complaining on and off for an hour, “Do be quiet.”
They’re all sitting on the floor of Louis’ room, empty pizza boxes cast aside in favour of the pile of Louis’ blankets thrown over their lap. Louis’ laptop is set up on her desk and they’re leaning up against her bed side by side. Liam and Zayn and are sitting closet to the wall, while Niall is tucked up between Harry on her left and Louis on her right.
Liam and Zayn are still grumbling away to each other, but Niall does her best to tune them out until they start throwing pillows.
There’s a lot of back and forth before Liam cries out, “This lipstick is MAC! I am not smudging it on Louis’ cheap cotton pillowcase.”
“Oi, Liam,” Louis pipes up, “Watch out or I’m not letting you near my cheap linen ever again.”
“Thank god,” Liam grumbles beneath his breath, but he turns his attention back to the movie anyway.
Niall hasn’t stopped smiling since she caught Harry and Louis talking in the kitchen before under the guise of getting them snacks. She hadn’t heard what they said, but she knew what Louis looked like when she apologised. They two had shared a quick hug as well that Harry had initiated and Niall had had to try and not squeal a little from where she was spying on them behind the kitchen door.
It was still baby steps, but a good start none the less. The fight had opened up wounds they hadn’t even known were festering, and it’ll take work and lots of communication to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. But Niall is willing to work for it, and she knows Louis and the others are too.
Because right now it was hard to imagine how she could ever want anything that wasn’t this; tucked up safe and happy, surrounded by people who loved her and accepted her unconditionally.
The sun was setting behind the group, the soft light filtering in the window and filling the room with warmth, and for now that was more than enough.