The Heart Never Forgets

What’s worse than watching the one you love die? For Liam, it’s having to stand by while they forget who you are. Zayn is dying, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and Liam goes from being his best friend to his caregiver. Somehow, their friendship becomes intimate, and while it should be good, it isn’t, because they know that Zayn will forget about them soon enough. While the mind may obliterate the memories of their love, Liam believes - hopes - that the heart never forgets.

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4. IV

 

Liam was happy, smiling in fact, as he laid on the couch on top of Niall, Zayn, and Louis, with Harry seated on the floor in front of them all. Watching the morning cartoons, tangled together as they were, it was as if the events of yesterday never transpired, and he was perfectly content to forget about said matters.

Unfortunately, reality wasn’t as sympathetic, as their peaceful morning was interrupted by insistent banging on the door. Exchanging curious glances at everyone as if to ask if anyone was expecting company, Liam quickly got up and made his way to the entrance. He opened the door, if only to silence the unnecessarily loud banging, and was greeted with his executive manager. A very angry Simon Cowell, judging from the looks on his face.

Without saying a word or even extending a greeting to invite him inside, the unwelcomed visitor barged in at once, making his way to the living room where he expected to find the other boys. Liam followed cautiously, unnerved by the sudden intrusion.

“Explain yourself, Malik,” was the opening Simon spat out.

“What do you mean?” it was all Zayn could say in response, given the complete lack of information Simon had offered in his outburst.

“What’s this I hear about some disease you’ve caught?” Zayn’s eyes widen in fear, as if Simon’s words were an oncoming vehicle and he was a frightened doe. Liam couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, because this was certainly not going to turn out well.

On the floor, Harry let out a whispered curse.

Shit,” he said wide-eyed, glancing back and forth between Zayn and Liam in a form of apology. “I’m so sorry, I was just so upset and hurt about yesterday morning, I was sort of ranting to the guys and Paul was there… I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinking, I didn’t realize-” his words caught in his throat as his tears fell guiltily.

“It’s okay, Haz,” Zayn said, reaching out to rub his shoulder reassuringly before returning his attention to Simon. “I have Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Okay,” he said, pacing the room, “so we just get you medicated and have it cured.” Liam’s jaw dropped.

“In case you weren’t aware,” Liam said with a voice full of disgust as he stepped into view and stood beside the rest of the boys. “It isn’t something that can be cured. It’s irreversible.”

Simon glared at him.

“How long have you been aware of your little illness?” Simon asked.

“About a month now, I think?” he asked, glancing at Liam for confirmation. Liam nodded his head.

“And when, exactly, were you planning on letting the label know?”

“Soon,” Liam said for him. “We were going to tell you soon, we were just going to wait until he was ready… it isn’t as simple as you’re imagining it to be, Simon.”

“And how long does he have?”

“Until what?” Liam asked, because really, there were several stages of the disease; Simon was going to have to be a little more specific if he wanted the answers he sought. Sensing that Simon clearly didn’t know anything about Alzheimer’s, he decided it’d be in everyone’s best interest that he educate him.

“The disease works in stages, it will start with his memory, wiping away short and long term memories. Between then, he will forget how to do certain things, perform certain skills, like walking or talking, let alone singing and dancing. And then, well, after he’s forgot everything else…” he couldn’t go on; he didn’t like thinking of what would happen at the very end. He liked to imagine it would happen when they are both old, despite the naivety of the idea.

“And how far along is he with that, then?”

“I’m not sure,” Zayn answered. “Doctor Elisha is going to do a progress check during my next visit.”

“How long will it be until you can no longer fulfil the band’s needs?”

“That’s not fair,” Niall said suddenly. “You can’t blame or punish him for this, it isn’t his fault.”

“Might I remind you, Mister Horan, that you are all under contract, one that does not expire for another four years. Disease ridden or not, if he breaks his contract, rest assured I will be suing.” the lack of concern for Zayn’s health made Liam furious. The knowledge that Simon was only here on business matters, rather than to care about one of his clients was mind-numbing. He was about to throw a punch when Zayn caught his wrist.

“I have no intentions of breaking our contract,” Zayn said patiently, in a quiet voice. “I don’t know how long it will be before I’m unable to meet the band’s needs, but I’ll do everything I can to satisfy them until then. I’m sure we can figure something out to accommodate everyone, yeah?”

“You had better hope so, Malik,” Simon said. Realizing the matter was resolved, at least as much as could be at that point, he made his way to go, but not before saying over his shoulder, “just try not to forget about what I said about suing you too soon. And I don’t want a word of this getting out to the public.”

And just as suddenly and unexpectedly as Simon came, he left, taking with him the happy euphoria the guys had felt that morning.

Liam wanted to scream, to shout, to cry out in anger because it just wasn’t fair! How could Simon be so insensitive? How could anyone be so insensitive?! But he couldn’t, because he had a responsibility to keep, one of being Mr. Sensible Daddy Direction. More importantly, he had a responsibility to Zayn, who needed him now more than ever.

Taking his mind off of Simon, he reached down and grasped the hand that still held his wrist. He turned and bent down to face Zayn directly, the other boys mirroring his action from their respective angles.

They came together with a single purpose, though different than the one shared that morning, the effect was still the same. They came together to comfort one another.

“I’m so sorry,” Harry whispered, his voice dripping with guilt, much like his tears. “This is all my fault.”

“Nah, it’s okay,” Zayn promised. “It was bound to happen sooner or later, right?”

“But it shouldn’t have, not yet,” Harry protested, clearly wanting Zayn to be mad at him, assuming he deserved the older boy’s hatred rather than sympathy. “It wasn’t my place.”

“It was an accident, Harry,” Zayn assured him, reaching out for his hand to give it a gentle squeeze. “I don’t blame you, okay? Let’s just forget about it, I know I will.” he finished with a crude laugh, attempting to lighten the mood.

“That isn’t funny,” Louis said beside him.

“I know,” Zayn agreed. “But it’s true.” everyone flinched at that, making Zayn chuckle with mirth. He stopped after a moment, taking in their sordid expressions, before letting out a sigh.

“Listen, guys, I love you all, you know that, right?” Zayn asked as he looked at each of them for confirmation. Unwilling to interrupt Zayn’s serious tone, they all nodded in agreement.

“Then you guys are going to have to stop being in denial and accept things for what they are. I am going to forget, it is as simple as that. I really need you guys to understand that, because I can tell that you’re all trying to ignore it and pretend it will go away, but it won’t.

“I’m going to forget everything, from the way Niall likes his sandwiches to the way Louis will cry if he sees a fan wearing the same shirt as him; I’ll forget how good with the ladies Harry is, to how Liam still has tea dates with his toys every weekend. I’ll forget everything, from the little to the things that really matter, like you guys.

“But as long as you’re resisting it, pretending that what I have will go away, you’re just going to make it harder on everyone. On yourself, on me, on everyone around us. I don’t want to forget, but I will. I accept that now, as much as I don’t want to. I accept that I will forget, and that I will die, and you guys need to accept it too.”

Zayn paused, letting the importance of his words sink in. Liam found that Zayn was right, he was in denial – they all were, but why shouldn’t they? Why should they have to accept that they were going to lose one of their best friends, one of their brothers? And before they lose him, they’d be forgotten themselves. It was a lot to ask for, a lot to accept, but damnit, Zayn was right. It would only make things harder on everyone if they kept on pretending that Zayn was fine, that he’d get better or that nothing major would happen for a long time. He could forget anything at any time, and there was nothing anyone could do but accept that.

Liam let out a beaten sigh, hanging his head in defeat. Why did Zayn have to be okay with all of this? Why was Zayn the one being so reasonable and level headed about it all? Why was Zayn the one comforting everyone else? Shouldn’t it be the other way? Zayn was the one suffering – they should be comforting him. instead, it was reverse, and Liam couldn’t help but hate himself for not being able to take care of Zayn properly, to make Zayn have to worry for him – no, them - when it should be vice versa.

“We’re sorry,” Liam said. sorry that you’re suffering, sorry that you’re the one that is being strong, sorry that we can’t be there for you, comforting you like you deserve, sorry for –

“It’s okay,” Zayn said, reaching for Liam’s chin to raise his sunken head up. Their eyes locked and Liam was certain he was crying but fuck, why did it have to be Zayn? Why does it have to happen to him? What did Zayn do to deserve this? He’s the greatest person in the world, so caring and loving. He deserves to live a long life and yet here we are.

“I just don’t want you guys to suffer because of me,” Zayn finished, and Liam was more than positive that he heard four hearts breaking collectively. He cares about us so much… he’s more worried about us than he is about himself. Zayn is the one that will be suffering, that will be dying, yet here he is thinking of everyone else but himself, making sure they will be okay.

No one said anything after that, as there was nothing else that could be said. Instead they all clung to one another, tears staining each other’s shirts and hair and faces. They clung together with a single purpose, one they did frequently during the duration of their friendship, whether they were happy or sad or anything in between. They hung on for comfort, and what greater comfort could there be than to be entangled within four loving individuals.

 

                +*+

 

The remainder of the weekend was uneasy for everyone within the household, as everyone tried in their own ways to accept Zayn’s condition as permanent and terminal. Liam was shocked at how patient Zayn was being, how understanding he was. It wasn’t an easy request he was asking to be filled, however fundamental it may be. Zayn recognized that everyone would need to come to terms with it on their own, in their own way and at their own pace, but Liam knew Zayn was hoping it’d be sooner rather than later.

Zayn just wanted everything to go back to normal. Obviously, not a traditional normal, where Zayn was perfectly healthy, but a new normal that included his condition, one where they still co-existed peacefully. Zayn’s new normal was that they could have fun together, hanging out and having a laugh without any awkward tension or concerned expressions clogging up the atmosphere, inevitably leading to a reminder that, oh, you have Alzheimer’s and you’re going to die. No, Zayn didn’t want to constantly be reminded of his condition, or anything related to it.

It was a reasonable request, one Liam would not argue with. If Zayn’s days and memory were limited, he’d want to spend them with his closest friends and have the time of his life. That, however, would prove impossible if said friends fretted over him every step of the way. Liam realized that the others had yet to grasp the idea of celebrating life for what it was. Instead they feared it, simply waiting for death to take them, or in the present case, Zayn.

But it wasn’t Liam’s place to tell them that; he had to learn it on his own, though the discovery was made easy by closely observing Zayn. Liam had faith in his friends, though, and was convinced that with enough time, they would accept matters as is and they could all go on with their lives, even if that meant pretending they weren’t worried about when one of those would end.

No, it wasn’t an easy request to fulfil, but for Zayn, Liam would do anything.

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