One Struck

Gwen Evans is looking forward to summer - until she finds the One Direction, England's top-selling band, hiding in her barn. Now, she has to deal with rock star egos, an unwanted admirer, and the dark force that sent them into hiding in the first place.


7. eating pizza

The pizzas arrived in what was probably record time, and Gwen ended up using a sizeable chunk of the "Emergency Money" that Max and Sue had left with Sydney to pay for them. She decided it was well worth it, however, when she opened one of the boxes and breathed in the deliciously wonderful smell of cheese and pepperoni; being deprived of pizza for so long certainly constituted an emergency in Gwen's books, though she doubted Sydney would agree. Her sister had taken one disgusted look at the boxes before fleeing to her bedroom with a bowlful of salad and a Vitamin Water. Gwen could only speculate as to what was going through Sydney's head during this time, but she suspected that Harry' little confession regarding his eating habits had been a strong blow to the perfect image her sister had built up of the Marauder in her mind. Most likely, her dreams of bonding over sushi and tofu had been crushed, and Gwen was quite certain that Sydney was currently fretting over how she and Harry would coordinate their opposing diets once they were married.
"Sydney!" Gwen called up the stairs. "I'm going back to the barn now."
She waited for a reply, and wasn't entirely surprised when the air remained silent. Carefully, she picked up all three pizzas and stacked them against her chest. "Are you really going to make me carry all these myself?" she shouted, louder this time.
Still nothing.
With a sigh, Gwen turned and wrangled the door open, leaving Sydney to her moping. There was no point in wasting her energy; apparently, One Direction or not, Sydney wouldn't set foot anywhere within twenty feet of a box of pizza.
The moon was full in the sky, casting a soft blue light on the field as Gwen trekked out to the barn. The air was pleasantly warm, and the scent of the pizzas in her arms made Gwen fall into such a deep, food-driven trance that she almost forgot who she was taking them to. She barely even realized when she reached the barn door and several sets of eager hands quickly relieved her of the pizza boxes.
"Thanks, Firecracker—you're the best!" said Harry, who'd already opened the pepperoni box and was biting into his first slice. Zayn was devouring a Nimbus 2000, the most extravagant array of toppings that Gryffindale only local pizza store had to offer, while Louis had opened a box only to find the promised love it pizza inside, complete with mushrooms, onions and green peppers. His face fell momentarily, but then he shrugged and stuffed a slice greedily into his mouth. Gwen stood by and watched them as they ate, looks of pure joy evident on their faces. A strange sort of satisfaction filled her, especially as Liam sat up and gladly accepted the slice that Harry offered him. While Niall took a whole box of pizza and eat it less than five minutes.
Gwen cleared her throat awkwardly, and a couple of One Direction gave her their attention. "I'll just be going now," she said. "Err, if you need anything else, just... Well, knock on the door or something, I guess." She turned to leave, but Harry' voice stopped her.
"Wait! Aren't you going to stay?"
Gwen bit her lip. "Stay?"
"Well, yeah." Harry coughed. He held the pepperoni pizza box out to her. "I figured you'd want some of this."
He was right about that, Gwen thought, but she could hardly bring herself to stay here and eat dinner with One Direction, least of all without Sydney here to keep everybody entertained (and annoyed). Still, that pizza looked awfully good, and she'd hate for that git Harry Styles to have it all to himself...
Finally, she shrugged. "Alright, I guess I will." With that, she strode forward and pulled two large slices of pizza out of the box in Harry' hands, perched herself on the edge of the farthest hay bale and sank her teeth into the cheesy goodness. It was heaven—all that delicious pepperoni, all that cheese, all that grease... It was exactly the sort of thing Sue would have thrown out the window the minute it graced their threshold.
"Where's Twiggie?" Zayn queried through a sloppy mouthful of toppings.
Gwen, surprised that he'd asked, gave a grim sort of shrug. "Hiding from the pizza, I imagine," she said. "Probably thinks you can inhale the calories or something…"
"Ahem." A tiny cough came suddenly from the doorway, and Gwen paused mid-bite to see her sister's brown head sticking through the crack. Sydney looked terrified as her eyes shifted around the barn uneasily, coming to rest on the open boxes of pizza. Finally, with a tremendous gulp, she shuffled inside. "Hi," she squeaked.
"Want some?" Louis offered, shoving the love it in her face. When she squealed and jumped over a hay bale to get away from it, Niall let out a booming laugh. "Seriously, you're mental. This stuff is life." He savagely tore off another bite, causing Sydney to grimace in disgust.
"No, that's like death in a box," she corrected.
"Nomflensh!" said Zayn through a giant mouthful of pizza. "Ah' fo' foogrmphs in wuh plafe! Wha'more could-joo wah?"
"Some manners, maybe," replied Sydney, wrinkling her nose. The smell, Gwen could see, was causing her sister extreme discomfort; she was barely breathing at all. Gwen would love to see somebody force feed her a slice of pizza, but there was no way Sydney was touching any one of the pizzas unless...
"Come on, you've got to try one slice, at least."
At the sound of Harry' voice, Sydney whipped as though an elastic band had been released. He'd just grabbed the vegetarian out of Louis's hands, leaving the pudgy Marauder looking pathetically indignant with tomato sauce all over his face and crust hanging out of his mouth, and now held it out to Sydney. She looked utterly at war with herself; her eye twitched a couple of times, and her hands balled up into fists as her morals waged war with one another. At last, she relaxed slightly, stepped forward, and said, "Well, one slice couldn't hurt..."
With trepid fingers, Sydney reached out and pulled a slice free. Gwen almost laughed when half the cheese from the adjacent slice came off with it, at which point Sydney squeaked. She wasted no time, however, in strolling over to the corner, pulling off every last scrap of cheese, and dropping it onto Gwen's pizza. Gwen, was used to being the recipient of Sydney's scraps, shrugged, picked it up and dropped it into her mouth. Sydney, who was watching, failed to suppress a shudder.
"You know, that hardly counts as pizza now," Zayn pointed out, eyeing the barren, tomato-sauce-smeared piece of crust in Sydney's hand.
Blatantly ignoring him, Sydney lifted it to her mouth and managed a little nibble, eyes glued to Harry all the while. For a few moments, no one spoke, and the seven teenagers ate their pizza in silence. Somehow, Zayn had almost polished off the entire Nimbus 2000, and he was patting his stomach happily. Louis was still munching away on the love it, and between Harry, Niall, Gwen and Liam, the pepperoni had quickly disappeared. Finally, there was a slight cough from Harry' direction and he broke the silence.
"Listen," he said, addressing Gwen and Sydney. "We were having a bit of a talk, and we decided that… well, we decided you deserve to know the truth. Err, that is, if you want to hear it."
At this, Gwen snapped up; he had her full attention. "Go on."
Harry and Zayn exchanged glances. "How much do you know?" Zayn asked them.
"Not much," Gwen admitted. "We heard a news story about the Dal-Mart opening ceremony; apparently DeMort was pretty based off that you didn't show."
At this, the Niall hissed, Harry clenched his jaw and Louis looked frightened. "Dal was the one who got us started as a band," Harry confessed bitterly. "He loaned us money, paid for media exposure, studio time – all that sort of stuff."
"We were kind of idiots back then," Zayn added. "Thought he was just being generous—but there're always strings attached with Dal. We should've known."
Harry nodded very seriously. "Once he'd gotten us on our feet, we asked if there was anything we could do in return. He just sort of laughed at us—turns out anyone who gets anything from Dal DeMort is automatically in debt to him for the rest of their lives."
There was momentary silence, in which the barn seemed to grow colder. Gwen shivered. "In debt—how do you mean?"
"He wanted our endorsement," Liam explained in a tired voice. "Basically, we had to publically support everything that DeMort Enterprises stands for."
"Like a walking advertisement," Niall put in bitterly.
"We didn't really know all about it back then, to be honest," said Harry. "We just knew he was some sort of business tycoon—so we figured it wasn't that much of a problem. We got along okay for a couple of years, until we realized just how bad it was."
"But you still went along with it for years after that," Gwen couldn't help but mention. If One Direction had learned the truth when Harry claimed they had, then that meant at least three years had gone by in which they'd done nothing about it, simply continuing to support Dal DeMort. Gwen couldn't fathom why.
When Harry turned to look at her, his eyes were fiercely imploring—even a little angry. "You have to understand, we really wanted to ditch DeMort altogether—but we couldn't. We'd gotten ourselves into a huge—"
"Pickle?" Louis offered, desperate to contribute something to the conversation.
"Yeah, only it was a lot bigger than that," said Harry, his eyebrows drawing together.
"Cucumber?" Louis suggested.
"Shut up, Lou," said Zayn, smacking his bandmate on the back of the head.
"Anyway," said Harry, "the point is, there was no way out. Once you become an endorser, you stay an endorser... until you die."
An eerie silence fell over them; Gwen fidgeted uncomfortably before voicing her skepticism. "Isn't that pushing it a little?" she asked. "I mean, no offense, it's just... DeMort's only human. There must be some way to... I dunno, slip past unnoticed? It's not like he kills everyone who gets in his way..."
Harry shook his head impatiently. "Look, you don't understand. He's a maniac. He's got followers everywhere, and believe it or not, anywhere you go, he'll find you. And he doesn't let go of grudges easily."
Gwen couldn't argue with that. After all, she'd been personally opposed to DeMort's ways for years, and knew from what she'd read and seen on TV just how heartless he could be.
"So what made you ditch, then?" she asked. "At the grand opening, I mean."
Zayn chuckled darkly. "Oh, I don't know. Why didn't we play at the grand opening of the apocalypse?"
"It was too much," Liam agreed. "There was already so much opposition to the Dal-Mart franchise, and if we'd shown our faces there, told everyone we supported the cause—we'd have been pretty much done for as musicians after a couple of years."
"Plus," said Harry, "if we got tangled up in Dal's biggest scheme yet, you can imagine, we'd only be digging ourselves deeper into the whole mess. We had to get out."
"So what happens now?" asked Gwen, afraid to hear the answer. "What happens if he finds you?"
The One Direction—all except Louis, who was gazing absently at the roof with his mouth hanging wide open—looked at one another solemnly.
"It's hard to say," Harry finally answered, looking at Gwen with such a defeated look in his eyes that a pang of pity struck her painfully in the stomach. "He could just force us back into the deal, but that would be letting us off easy. He might try to enslave us or something, or... or he could just deal with us the usual way."
Nobody spoke for a long moment after that as everyone digested the information that had just been laid out on the table. Gwen felt an overwhelming sense of fear for the One Direction, even though, up until very recently, she'd harbored the same sort of resentment toward them as she did toward Dal himself. But if they were telling the truth, then they'd never intended to get mixed up in that sort of business—and, she realized, had been even braver than she'd thought in running away from it.
While Gwen mulled it over, Sydney sat beside her with tears in her eyes, looking at Harry with enormous amounts of adoration and sympathy.
"That's horrible!" she cried. "Why would anyone want to... to kill you?"
"Absolutely no idea," said Niall through gritted teeth. "Did you even hear anything we just said?"
Sydney ignored him and continued to gaze at Harry, who was tactfully avoiding her eye. "I just don't understand," she whimpered. "You're such a good person..."
"Um, hello?" said Zayn. "There are five of us here! The One Direction aren't a one man show, in case you haven't noticed—we're all going to die if DeMort finds us. Bloody, Twiggie! Get that into your head!"
While Sydney finally acknowledged Zhan with a glare, Gwen sat silently and contemplated the situation. Practicality wanted her to come up with a solution to the problem, but this one wasn't quite so easily solved. For now, she knew—as much as she hated to do it—there was only one thing that could be done.
"Well, you held up your end of the bargain," Gwen announced as she stood up. "I suppose you can come back inside now, if you like."
Sydney perked right up at that, and began to jump up and down with glee.
The One Direction shared a look.
"Are you sure?" Harry asked. "We don't want to be an inconvenience, really..."
Gwen shook her head. "A deal's a deal. I'm not saying I'll enjoy it, but it's not all that much trouble. Just... stay out of Mom and Dad's room and you're fine."
Sydney squealed and bounded out the door with an excited exclamation of "I'll go set up the sleeping bags!" trailing in her wake.
Gwen looked back at the One Direction, who were looking at her curiously.
"What?" she demanded. "What's your problem now?"
"You're not just going to kick us out again, are you?" Harry asked.
"Why the hell would you ask that? Do you want me to change my mind?"
"Just checking," he assured her. "It's just, you've been a bit bonkers over the last twenty-four hours, and we don't want to risk the walk if you're just going to send us back." He was grinning by the time he finished the sentence, and so Gwen simply rolled her eyes and turned around.
This time, it was Zayn. Gwen swung around to face him, raising her eyebrows.
"You're not going to turn us into DeMort, are you?" he asked suspiciously. "Because I hear he offers some pretty sweet cash rewards for stuff like this."
Gwen was appalled. "You're mad," she declared. "If you're going to be staying under my roof, we're going to have to get one thing straight—I hate Dal DeMort just as much as you lot do."
Harry grinned at her. "Well, that settles it. We're going to make great friends."
Gwen sighed and turned her back on him, making to exit the barn. "Not so fast, Styles. I said you could come back inside—I never said anything about friends." With that, she stepped outside—wondering, for the billionth time since One Direction had arrived, just what she was getting herself into.

Later that evening, the seven of them were sprawled about the living room, mostly content to simply bask in the feeling of lethargy that inevitably followed a big meal. One Direction were spread out across the sofa and a couple of beanbag chairs, lounging in that careless manner typical of teenage boys, while Gwen was curled up in the comfort of Max's recliner. Sydney, however, stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the lazy tranquility – she was sitting ramrod straight on the edge of the couch, leg jiggling up and down as her eyes practically burned a hole in the Dance Dance Revolution box sitting on their TV stand.
"Sydney, would you please spare us and just do your sodding exercise?"
At the sound of Gwen's voice, Sydney jumped. She made a face in response, but she seemed to be considering her sister's proposition; her eyes slid sideways again toward the dance game, and Gwen fought the urge to roll her own eyes. Her sister's diet and exercise compulsions were bordering on unhealthy, and she knew how much it must have been killing her to laze about after consuming something as stereotypically fattening as pizza.
Sydney did nothing but confirm these suspicions when she finally caved in a moment later, leaping off the sofa and lunging for the box without a word.
The flurry of movement roused Louis, who lifted his head a little. He squinted at the game, wearing an odd sort of expression on his face. "Is that DDR?"
Sydney, who was untangling the controllers, barely looked at him. "Yeah," she muttered offhandedly, unfurling the mat and positioning it on the carpet.
"Not that dancing game?" It was Harry who spoke this time, and Sydney's reaction was a complete one-eighty from the one she had just displayed. She ceased her actions completely, snapped her head in his direction, and flipped her brown hair over her shoulder a little.
"Have you ever played it?" she asked eagerly.
Harry smirked, and Gwen felt her hackles rise a bit at the infuriating expression. "They sent us about ten copies after we agreed to let them use Best Song Ever as one of the songs. Played it a few times on tour – Management told Niall to have a go at it to lose a few pounds."
"Thanks for sharing that," Niall muttered irritably.
"Best Song Ever is my favorite!" Sydney gushed, totally ignoring Niall's comment. "I play it all the time!"
"She's obsessed," Gwen tossed in blandly from the corner. And it was true: Sydney had spent hours upon hours memorizing every single step to the One Direction's hit song. Gwen often felt that if she heard the lyrics "maybe the way she walked into my heart" one more time, she might throttle someone.
And so of course, when the game started up and Sydney began flicking through the list of songs, she skipped over the first half in a fluid motion of the controller and promptly settled on a block of text that read: Best Song Ever – The One Direction.
Gwen groaned loudly, but Sydney ignored her. She readjusted her sweater, tucked her hair behind her ears, and used her foot to tap the start button on the dance mat. "Good choice!" exclaimed the game appraisingly.
"Thanks!" Sydney replied in a cheery tone, shooting Harry a wink over her shoulder. Gwen rolled her eyes.
Having One Direction in her living room might have been a dream come true for Sydney, but once those multicolored arrows started zooming across the television screen, the rest of the room's occupants might as well have been houseflies for all the attention she paid them. Gwen decided after some thought that this perhaps wasn't the best analogy where Sydney was concerned, considering her vendetta against all things with more than two legs. Still, her eyes were fixed so intently on the screen and she was concentrating so hard on stepping in the correct patterns that, even if there were a thousand houseflies in the room, she wouldn't have noticed. Gwen had no idea how she did it; the screen was a mess of arrows to her, all jumbled together and so confusing that she wouldn't even know where to step first. Sydney, on the other hand, read them as Gwen would read a book—and despite her lack of muscle could move her legs at the speed of light, and with the accuracy of a practiced archer. To be perfectly honest, though, Gwen didn't find the ability to step on arrows particularly enviable or impressive.
Apparently, neither did Harry. He became quickly distracted, picking at a loose thread on the sofa, staring absently at the ceiling, whistling to himself, tapping out various beats with his foot. Sydney would have been furious if she'd turned around, both at the destruction of the furniture and the fact that her key audience member wasn't even watching the show she was putting on for him. Luckily, there was no way her eyes were coming unstuck from that screen until the song was over.
Sydney finished with a near-perfect score, after missing a couple of arrows when Zayn shouted out at random, "A hundred pounds I'd whoop your butt at this!" and letting out a monstrous growl when she did. (This happened to be the only point at which Harry acknowledged her at all, smirking at her fury and exchanging a fist bump with Zayn.)
When the score came up and a giant "AA" flashed across the screen, Sydney whipped around furiously.
"Just so you know, I've gotten a full combo on this song seven times." This was mainly directed at Zayn, who simply raised his eyebrows and shrugged. Sydney turned next to Harry, her face softening. "Best Song Ever is like, really is the best song on here. Want to have a go? We can play together." She indicated the extra mat tucked away under the TV stand and gave him a winning smile. Gwen almost gagged.
Before Harry could answer, however, Zayn spoke up.
"Scared of versing the master, are you?" he said. The challenge conveyed in his words was palpable. "You're just preying on Hazza because he sucks. Let me have a go."
Sydney's eyes narrowed and her every feature stiffened, though she refused to look away from Harry. Clearly, she was torn between her competitive nature and her obsession with Harry; eventually, however, she turned to look at Zayn and said, "Fine. But don't think you're going to beat me."
Zayn leapt up out of his bean bag chair and started doing a couple of ridiculous warm-up exercises while Sydney set up the second mat.
"No, really, Malik," Gwen felt the need to put in, "don't get your hopes up. She plays this thing like twenty-four seven. Thinks she's going to the Olympics for it or something."
Sydney, who'd just plugged in the extra controller, spared Gwen a glare before standing up and getting her head back in the game.
"Alright," she said curtly, nodding at her opponent as though they were about to do serious business. "Best Song Ever again, I presume?"
"Yeah," said Zayn, his eyes turning into slits, "but this time I reckon we should do it on expert—you know, unless you're too scared."
Sydney's eyes widened briefly, but she simply nodded again. "Fine. It's no difference to me." With a few taps on the controller, she made the necessary changes, but hesitated before pressing the start button, glancing distastefully at her opponent. "Make sure you don't go too hard on the mat," she told him. "They break really easily."
Zayn looked outraged. "What's with all the bleeding fat jokes today?" he burst out.
"Oh shut it, you know that's not what I meant." Sydney rolled her eyes. "Just don't break my mat, or I'll kick your fat butt."
The arrows began to race across the screen at a dizzying speed, and a flurry of heavy footsteps on plastic filled the room as the two dancers started to battle it out. Zayn was surprisingly good – his score remained pretty much on pair with Sydney's. What was hilarious, however, was how blatantly different their strategies were. While Sydney's movements were calculated and stiff in their learned precision, Zayn’s were wild and sloppy. He flung his feet across the mat in some demented sort of jitterbug, limbs flying everywhere like an out-of-control whirlwind. It looked as though he was failing dismally, and yet somehow he hit every note with perfect accuracy. It was quite a show—Niall gaped, Louis smile like a madman, Harry stopped whistling, Liam opened his eyes, and even Gwen found herself strangely engrossed in the match, mostly just praying that Zayn would beat Sydney and give her ego that little pin prick it had been needing for so long.
Sadly, though their scores were very close indeed, Sydney came away victorious.
"HA!" she exclaimed, pointing a finger into Zayn' face. "Beaten at your own song!"
"You got to warm up," Zayn huffed, looking infuriated. "I demand a rematch!"
Sydney preened, adjusting her charm bracelet and flattening her hair. "Oh, don't be such a poor sport," she replied airily, oblivious to the utter hypocrisy of this statement. "If anything, I was at a disadvantage. You hadn't just played through an entire song – it's tiring, you know."
Zayn shot her a scowl, crossing his arms. "Oh, put a cork in it."
Sydney glared. "Sore loser."
"Are you two finished?" Liam broke in, sounding slightly weary. The feuding pair shut their mouths and glared daggers at one another.
After an instant, Sydney recomposed herself, allowing her expression to soften. "Did you want to play a round?" she asked Harry, sounding hopeful.
Harry coughed. "I don't think I'm quite… up to your level, Sydney – but maybe against somebody else…" He caught Gwen's eye from across the room, and she froze. "You up for it, Firecracker?"
Sydney's expression morphed from one of utter shock to looking as though she'd swallowed a lemon. Finally, after a few moments of shell-shocked silence, she seemed to regain her power of speech. "Gwen doesn't want to play, do you, Gwen?" she bit out, talking through gritted teeth.
Gwen really didn't – but she wasn't about to let Sydney order her around, and so she stuck a phony smile on her face and said: "Sure I do."

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