In a State of Denial: Chapters 8 & 9

EIGHT

“You are lying,” Victoria says simply. “I know everything about Niall Horan. I’ve watched all of the YouTube videos, I follow all of the official Twitters and Instagrams, even the unofficial ones, and I am the co-founder of the One Direction fandom website. There has never been one hint of a relationship with anyone before. And you expect me to believe—”

“Yes.” Niall’s voice seems to spook her because she gives a small lurch backward as he slowly makes his way to his feet, wincing several times as his hand comes to rest on the knot at the back of his skull. “Secrets are only secret if you don’t tell anyone about them.” He nods in your direction but never meets your eyes. “She is my girlfriend.”

Victoria’s brow creased until the line down the center of her forehead was so deep you could have mistaken it for a canyon. “I still don’t believe you.” There is hesitance in her expression but her voice is unwavering.

“I don’t know what else to tell you. It’s true.” Niall sighs as Zayn shifts onto unsteady feet, followed quickly by Luke who must have decided to give up the charade when you did.

“What about you?” the girl asks gesturing to Zayn with a flick of her strawberry hair. “Does he really have a girlfriend? I will know if you’re lying to me. All of your fans, your true fans,” she corrects herself, “know your tells.”

A pair of nervous brown eyes dart toward you, both panicked and calculating. “To tell you the truth,” he says at last, “I didn’t really know.”

“Ha.” The girl smiles viciously, revealing two identical rows of overly symmetrical teeth. It is quite an alarming smile, you have to admit. Almost like dentures. The thought itself is hysterical, but you don’t dare laugh.

It is four against four as far as you can tell, and you have three grown men on your side; but you went to public high school—you know there is no counting for the strength of a young teenage girl when something gets in her way; especially when the object of her affection is of the opposite-gender-who-happens-to-have-tons-of-money-and-fame variety.

“It doesn’t surprise me though,” Zayn continues, startling both you and Victoria. “I always suspected something was going on. After all, the first night she joined our team and was introduced, yeah, Niall didn’t stop staring at her once. We made fun of him for hours, but he just kept saying ‘it’s nothing’, ‘it’s nothing’. He stared at her a lot, though—more than just that first night.” He looks at Niall and shrugs, an expression of mild guilt on his face as he swings a hand out to clap Niall’s arm. “Sorry man, I guess…secrets…I guess they’re just not my thing.”

Now it is Niall’s turn to look annoyed. But the thing is he actually looks annoyed.

“Thanks a ton, mate,” he says under his breath and now the guilty expression you had thought you had seen on Zayn is fifty times more pronounced.

“Prove it.”

You wince at the girls nasally words; not because you haven’t been expecting them, but because you have. And you know that this isn’t going to end well for anyone.

She pulls something out of the pocket of her denim shorts and you can see the easily recognizable shape of an Iphone. “If you are in a relationship like you say then you won’t mind posing for the camera. You know, so your fans can support your love.”

“You think they will be supportive?” Melanie pipes in, and the other girls frown at her with obvious distaste. Their glares all say the same thing: it doesn’t matter.

Funnily enough, your first thought is whether or not she can even get signal. This is your first time looking around at your surroundings (something you truly ought to be ashamed for, but you can’t seem to be able to make yourself angry at your own lack of awareness as a bodyguard. There is something more pressing on your mind.) The walls themselves are cement, as are the floors. A basement perhaps? Maybe the boiler room of the hotel? But how would they have gained access? You are certainly still in the city of Boston. It has that Boston smell; you don’t know how to explain it, it just…exists. Something like rust, pollution, and salt water. Not necessarily a good or bad smell, just a familiar one.

“I don’t know how to prove to you that it’s true,” you say, but this is a lie. You know exactly what she’s thinking; or, at least, you have an inkling where this is about to go.

Her lips lift into a smile that makes you want to punch her in the face a little bit. No, correction, a lot a bit. “Kiss.”

“Kiss,” you repeat. Yes, this is it exactly. The thing you knew she would say. The thing you were hoping she wouldn’t.

That’s why it is such a surprise to you when you hear Niall say, “Okay.”

“Okay,” she repeats slowly and he nods. “Of course.”

“And you would be willing to show that to the entire world?” She lifts her phone higher and he swallows.

“I guess that’s up to her.” He finally meets your eyes. Guilt. That is what you saw. Guilt and something else. Is that hope?

Over Niall’s shoulder you can see Luke watching you carefully. Clearly he hadn’t been expecting this. Well, none of you had been expecting this, but the information about your ‘relationship’ with Niall seems to be throwing him off.

It’s not like it’s the truth, you remind yourself. After all, you are not in a relationship with Niall Horan. You just…made out once. That is a thing that people do, right?

But not you.

You don’t casually kiss people, and certainly not when you have been given a job to protect them from people like, well—you look around—like these lovely ladies.

“I will lose my job.” You are not sure what makes you say it, maybe the small hope you have left that the girls will put their phones away and act rationally, or maybe your subconscious wants—needs—you to hear this at least once. So you will finally admit that it is true.

You have to make a choice: the guy or the job.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to invoke Victoria’s sympathies.

“Then I guess you are going to be fired. Of course, that’s if you do kiss him.”

“And what if she doesn’t?” Zayn’s face ripples with frustration and you want to smack him on the arm. Doesn’t he know not to antagonize the teenage terrors? “What could you really do to us? You realize there are three grown men against you four…” He trails off when Victoria starts laughing.

Laughing! And it’s the maniacal kind!

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she snorts. “Of course I realize that physically you could easily overpower us. And we don’t want any harm to come to you both,” she gestures only to the bandmates. “We are only here because we love you so much. You have to understand that we did this because that’s how much we—”

“What? Love us?” Zayn scoffs. “Now you’re being ridiculous.”

With a subtly angry expression that is almost worse than if she had started screeching, Victoria crossed her arms over her chest.

It isn’t Victoria who responds but Melanie as she stomps one foot on the ground and cries, “Just do it! A kiss isn’t that hard, right? Stop being such babies about the whole thing.”

“Yeah, we don’t have to publish it,” chirps another—a girl who has yet to be named. Piper, you discover, as two of the other girls begin to scold her.

You make eye contact with Luke who shrugs. He says nothing to you, but his gaze winds its way toward Niall and stays there, his lips setting into a hard line. “Niall,” he says suddenly and the blonde turns toward him, stepping forward. “It is my suggestion as one of your protection team you tread very carefully. Perhaps it would be better to kiss her now.” His eyes shoot toward you and then back again.

“Fine,” he says, his voice low, and he covers the few feet between you in what feels like less than a second. “Close your eyes,” he commands; bizarre, but you comply.

Your mind immediately vaults back to Niall’s hotel room…what, several hours ago now? The feeling of his lips pressed against yours, the warmth of his hand on your back. Your heart begins to beat a little faster and you hope that he cannot feel it. Humiliation rises to your cheeks in the form of a blush and you mentally scold yourself, but it isnt’ an honest scolding. Because if you are being truthful with yourself, you will admit that you are beyond caring.

There is the sound of a scuffle, of side-stepping, a grunt—Niall’s maybe?—and a hand clamps over your eyes as a deep voice says, “Keep them shut”.

“What is hap—?”

Your question is cut off by a kiss. It’s rough, lips tugging at yours insistently. Your heart sinks. It’s almost calculating the way he is kissing you; unfeeling; for show. And then it’s over.

The hand is removed from your eyes and you blink rapidly, hoping to find some answers in his eyes. Anything in the mix of blue that can tell you what has changed between then and now. But you find no answers, at least none in Niall’s eyes, because the blue has been replaced by deep brown. Eyes that you know.

Eyes that belong to someone who should not be kissing you.

You practically choke on his name as you gasp out, “Zayn?”

 

NINE

A wave of girlish screams nearly topples you over and you jerk to the side, away from the source. There are more girls—more than just the four you had seen—and it appears the sight of you kissing Zayn has pulled them out of hiding. It is like they live in the walls, crawling out of the woodwork like pests. Or…cement work, you guess. Ugh, expressions.

“What a-a-are you doing?” Someone shouts as Victoria pushes her way through the crowd of girls that has emerged (maybe there is a trap door you can’t see?), but you don’t get a chance to look around because the sting of a hard slap soon lands on your cheek and you draw in a sharp breath.

“How dare you, you home wrecking tramp!” Victoria’s eyes are huge, burning into your skin like flames. Zayn attempts to step in front of you, but he can only manage to half-block her path. She can still reach you if she tries hard enough, but at least he has caught her attention.

“Why would you do this to Perrie?” she cries, eyes brimming with tears. “How could you do something so low? Was it because she tempted you?” Her glare shifts to you and the air goes cold. You have dealt with plenty of angry people in your line of work, but never this…this crazy. “Hmm?” she presses. “We can get rid of her if you want, we won’t ever tell!” There is desperation in the way the words spill from her lips, and if you remember anything from the three days of hostage training you received almost a full year ago, it is that desperation is dangerous.

Without warning her hand reaches for something in her pocket, only this time she does not pull out a phone. There are a variety of yelps as a few of the girls jerk backward, clearly unaware that this kidnapping plot was going to turn into anything more serious. The glint of the small knife in her palm as it reflects the florescent lights above says otherwise.

Training kicks in and you immediately step forward, reversing your positions and shoving Zayn behind you. He begins to protest but you shush him with a lift of your hand. This is not the time or place for either of them—you glance toward Niall whose face is flushed red as he glares in your direction—to act the part of hero.

“Drop it,” you growl but she doesn’t.

She smirks, taking a step forward. “Or what?” Her next steps take her in a new direction, her shoulder moving backward just enough so that her knife is now edging closer and closer to Niall.

What happens next is some kind of strange blur.

You don’t know how you do it, but as soon as the idea comes to you, you are already at his side, wrapping your arms around his torso and hugging tightly. Perhaps it is wrong of you to choose one boy over the other, a good guard would not have. But for you the choice is just so easy, and this frightens you a little.

There are shouts, screams, the sound of weapons being drawn, a flash of light, but through it all you never once take your eyes away from the girl with the knife. You can hear Zayn’s breathing falter behind you as Niall shifts to the side, rather forcefully, toward something you cannot see.

Stop moving, you want to say. It’s dangerous!

When a hand, large and warm, clamps down on your shoulder you do not wait; you lunge. With the full force of your body, you round on the person behind you, slamming them forward onto the cement floor—Victoria and her crazy eyes momentarily forgotten as the large man looks up at you, blinking and choking.

“What is going on?” you demand as Paul slowly rises himself into a seated position. It takes you that long to notice that both Victoria and her knife are gone.

And so is Niall.

You spiral around, head snapping from side to side as you observe the commotion that was happening behind you. There are girls with their wrists bound by plastic zip ties, others lying unconscious on the ground at their feet that the guards aren’t even bothering to tie up, and one other—a little bit further away from the rest—whose wrists and ankles have both been detained by the plastic restraints. You recognize the red hair immediately.

“Niall?” you pant out, but there is no response.

“I’m fine.” You feel him before you see him as he wraps his arms around you from behind, pressing his face to the center of your back where your shoulder blades are bunched up with tension.

“Careful,” a voice near you hisses and Niall lurches backward. Zayn’s eyes are shadowed but you can see there is something like annoyance in them. His words are barely a whisper as he says, “I didn’t save your asses just so you could throw it in my face.”

It takes a little longer for you to dawn the meaning of his words, but Niall immediately stretches out a hand. “Thanks, mate. But what about you? Mate, Perrie—”

“Perrie will get it when I explain it to her. But Paul…” All three of you glance over at the large hulk of a man who has already picked himself up off the floor, and is staring at you with a compressed brow. “He might hear you out, but you won’t be able to work together again.”

“Yeah, but that Victoria girl was threatening to go public with the image,” you protest. “If that had been you and me—”

He shrugs. “We could have lied; told ‘em all she made us. Which she did. But I guarantee Paul would have been ten times more suspicious if it had been Niall you had been snogging and then suddenly you keep showing up places—”

Niall grunts in protest, crossing his arms. “No one was snogging.”

“Wha’ever. I’m just saying, I did you guys a favor and now you owe me one.”

You smile, though with the circumstances you have a feeling it looks rather forced. Zayn must take pity on you because he smiles back. “Thanks,” you say and he nods.

“Good luck,” he whispers before allowing himself to be shuffled out of the basement (there is a door, hidden behind an alcove in one of the walls that you hadn’t notice), with twice the normal amount of security surrounding him.

They come for Niall next and Paul grabs hold of your elbow, steering you along with the group as the last of the security team exits the basement and the Boston PD take over.

“Are you alright?” he asks gruffly and you nod. His lips press into a thin line and he shakes his head, sighing sharply and lowering his voice. “I don’t know what happened, but for the safety of the boys there needs to be additional security for the time being. I will be hiring in new guards but until then would you mind staying as Mister Horan’s personal bodyguard? I realize it is not in your job description, but after this incident I do not want to take any unnecessary risks.”

Your stomach clenches and you bite down hard on your lip. A happy dance would be suspicious, you think. Yes, definitely suspicious.

“Only for the North American leg of the tour?” you ask and he nods in assent.

“Just until I can find someone trustworthy to guard each of the boys carefully; it should be weeks at the most.”

You note he omits exactly how many weeks, but you don’t press the issue.

“Yes,” you say after a rather long silence. Niall has disappeared up ahead, probably tucked safely inside the tour bus with the others—or maybe to get medical attention—there are ambulances everywhere, crowds of panicked hotel customers surrounding them. By now it’s obvious to everyone that there never was a real fire, and the hotel staff is beginning to organize the chaos.

You clear your throat, trying again. “Yes, I believe I can manage that.”

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