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.

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10. rematch

Gwen sighed, put down her fork, and decided to get right to the point. "Look, I've been thinking... about your situation. With Dal DeMort." A shadow seemed to pass over each of boy’s faces at the very mention of their potential chaser. "And I think we need to come up with some sort of plan."
There was silence. Finally, Harry spoke up.
"... We?" He wore a look of cautious interest.
Gwen pressed her lips together. "Unfortunately, Sydney and I are a part of this now, whether we like it or not," she admitted sourly. "And let's face it—you lot can't stay here forever. Mum and Dad will be back in about a week and a half, and then what?"
"The lady makes a veer point," Louis announced, nodding sagely.
Zayn snorted. "Yeah, Lou, we know. We were just talking about this yesterday, remember?"
"But why can't they just stay here?" Sydney looked mildly distressed. "I'm sure we could convince Mum and Dad—"
"No." Harry' tone was firm, and Sydney seemed a little startled to hear him shut her down so bluntly. "We can't keep sitting on our butts and hiding from all this – it isn't going to just magically go away."
"So... what do you suggest?" Niall asked, glancing between Harry and Gwen with a weary look that suggested they had already been through this discussion multiple times, to no avail.
Gwen swallowed a mouthful of orange juice and set down her glass with resolve. "We need to do some research," she announced. "See what we can dig up on DeMort and the way he operates. I think we should figure out how much of a threat he actually is before we make any decisions."
"I don't understand why we can't just call the police," Sydney put in, and Gwen resisted the urge to roll her eyes; it was so like her sister to place her faith in the hands of whatever institution was relevant to the situation in question.
"Yeah, why don't we just waltz into a police station and tell them that Dal DeMort is out to kill us?" Zayn shot back, his tone heavily sardonic. "That ought to be a smashing success."
"I think Gwen has a point," Liam cut in, clearly sensing the now all-too-familiar beginnings of a pointless Zayn-Sydney showdown. "We need to get a handle on just how bad this thing is."
"Are you kidding me?" Zayn wore an expression of incredulity. "I think we came to the conclusion long ago that it is indeed very bad."
"Apocalyptic, if you will," Louis added.
"No, they're right," Harry countered, raising his head to look at Gwen. "Right now, we really just need to do something. And research isn't a bad place to start – actually, it's pretty logical."
For a moment, Gwen was taken aback by his support. She cleared her throat. "Alright then," she announced after a long pause. "Why don't I just do up the dishes and then we can get started?"
At the mention of chores, Sydney immediately rose to her feet and began to casually sidle out of the room. Zayn, amusingly enough, had a similar reaction. "Twiggie!" he called. "DDR rematch?"
Apparently, beating Zayn at DDR again was higher up on Sydney's priority list than her morning jog, because she pulled her running shoes off instantly, eyes narrowing into a competitive glare. "You're on."
In a clamor of thundering footfalls, the two of them bolted into the sitting room.
"Does everything have to be a competition with those two?" Liam asked, directing his question at nobody in particular. He followed at a much more leisurely pace, Louis trailing behind him as usual. Than Niall afterward.
"Need a hand?"
Gwen glanced up and almost dropped the stack of plates she was holding when she saw Harry behind her. He was clutching a couple of glasses that she hadn't been able to collect up for lack of space in her arms.
"You? Help with the the washing up?" She gave a little snort. "Do you even know how?"
"Yes," Harry sounded slightly miffed, "believe it or not, I am quite capable of doing dishes."
Gwen wondered for a moment if she had offended him. "Sorry, I just assumed you'd have servants back at your mansion to do that sort of stuff for you."
Harry shot her an odd look and set the glasses down on the counter. "Okay, I don't know where you're getting your information from, but I definitely do not live in a mansion."
"Sorry, your castle then," Gwen corrected herself with a dramatic eye-roll, and yet he was still shaking his head. "Penthouse apartment?" she tried again. "Six-stores beach house?"
Harry made a face resembling a grimace, his cheeks ever so slightly pink. "Actually, it's a little bungalow in Surrey." He exhaled and made a gesture to encompass the Evans' home. "Smaller than this, even."
Despite her efforts, Gwen could not hide her incredulity. "Really?" she queried as she turned on the tap and poured some dish soap into the rapidly filling sink. She pulled a tea towel out of a drawer and chucked it at Harry, who caught it deftly and moved beside her as she began setting dishes into the hot water.
"Yeah." His response was a bit delayed. "Money was always tight growing up. Obviously things are a lot better now, but Mom refuses to move."
"How come?" Gwen asked, overtaken by genuine curiosity.
"My dad left when I was young," he said, and Gwen felt her eyes widen in surprise and sadness. "His things are still all over the place – she could never bring herself to move them or get rid of them. That house... it's sort of a connection to him, I guess. Makes it difficult to let go of."
Gwen wasn't sure what to say to that. She couldn't quite reconcile the sympathy she was feeling with the mental image she'd always had of the high-and-mighty Harry Styles. And why was he being so open with her, anyway?
"Oh," she said awkwardly. "I'm sorry. That must be hard."
"It's alright," Harry said, as though he'd dealt with this reaction far too many times to count. "I mean, it was years ago, so we've learned to get on quite fine. Most of my sister don't even remember that far back."
The glass Gwen was washing slipped out of her hands and into the suds, and she quickly picked it back up. "You have sister?" she asked in surprise. "Yes, and a step brother Mike” “As in siblings?"
Harry looked at her strangely as she handed him the glass to dry. "Yes, I do. Honestly, did you think I was dropped into the recording studio by a stork or something?"
Gwen felt her cheeks filling with color. "You'd be surprised what pictures some people have in their minds," she muttered, remembering the three girls in the park and their tweens fantasies. She cleared her throat. "So how big is your family, anyway?"
"Well, I’m the oldest—Gemma is seventeen—so we pretty much banded together after dad left. She was actually doing her own thing and went to be a singer too ... Anyway, then there's Mikey, he's fifteen. Biggest troublemaker you've ever seen—almost as good as me and Zayn in our prime, I reckon. Gem pretty much hate us right now because her friends won't stop begging them for tickets and autographs."
Gwen smirked. She suspected she would get along just fine with Gemma. "Don't your sister like your music?" she asked.
Harry laughed. "Are you kidding? They made their own YouTube channel just for One Direction song parodies. They're basically our biggest haters. Only, you know, we actually get along most of the time."
Laughing, Gwen handed over another glass. "I had no idea you had such a big family," she admitted, considering this revelation. To be honest, Harry seemed to be blowing away all of her preconceptions one after another these days. Suddenly, he was just Harry, a regular teenage boy with brother and sister and a little house in Surrey, as opposed to Harry Styles, the arrogant rock star with a bestselling album and zillions of dollars to burn. She had to admit – she liked this new Harry a whole lot better.
"It's a blessing and a curse," Harry returned, toweling off the glass and setting it on the counter, where it gleamed in the sunlight. "My siblings drive me nuts sometimes, but I miss them like mad when I'm away."
This stopped Gwen in her tracks. All of a sudden, she found herself thinking about the current situation in a whole new light. "Do they... know where you are now?" she asked, voice soft.
"No." Harry shook his head abruptly. "Not specifically, anyway. They know we're hiding, but that's about the extent of it. Telling them would only put them at risk."
Silence. There was a muffled sound of dishes clinking underwater as Gwen pulled out a plate and began to scrub. "... I'm sorry," she finally said.
Harry met her eyes. "Nothing to be sorry for," he returned. "It's our own fault." He let out a deep breath full of resentment. "Sometimes, though, I wonder how the hell we got ourselves into this mess."
Gwen held out the last plate, pulling the plug and listening to the water gurgle out of the sink and down the drainpipe. "Well, you're going to get out of it eventually," she told him.
Half-smiling, Harry took the plate from her hands. "I hope so."
They put away the dishes mostly in silence, with Gwen pausing on several instances to show Harry where certain things went. It was amazing what a difference it made having help – in under ten minutes, everything was clean and put away.
Gwen turned to face Harry. "Well... thanks for your help."
"No problem." He stuck his hands into his pockets. "It's the least I could do, really. I know we haven't said it much, but we really do appreciate everything you're doing for us here."
Whatever comment sprung to Gwen's mind concerning the soap-opera-sequel quality of this statement was quickly washed away by the genuineness with which it was said. She raised her eyebrows a notch and opened her mouth to say something, but the words got all jumbled up on the way out and she snapped her jaw shut. She had no idea how to address this new—and incredibly baffling—side of Harry Styles, and so she shifted her gaze away from him and cleared her throat. "Well, like I said, you won't be stuck in our basement forever. Everything will be back to normal before you know it."
With that, Gwen turned awkwardly and led the way into the living room, where a rapid techno beat and the sound of feet stomping on plastic mats greeted her ears. Sydney and Zayn were in the middle of an intense showdown, bodies moving like wildfire as they as they danced to the bass-dominated rhythm. Both wore looks of concentration so intense that they were almost maniacal. It was quite a scene to walk in on, and Gwen and Harry exchanged a fleeting glance of quiet amusement.
Not a moment later, the music came to an abrupt stop and there was a loud cry of anguish as Zayn fell to his knees in frustration. "Damn!" he yelled, raking his hands through his hair. Beside him, Sydney was doing a passionate sort of victory dance.
"What's that now? Five to me?" she asked in a would-be-casual tone, staring down at him with fiendish eyes.
Zayn let out a noise of extreme annoyance, rising to his feet. "This game is rigged," he spat. "Come on, one more!"
"You know I'm going to beat you again," Sydney threw back, crossing her arms. "Why can't you just admit that I'm better?"
Zayn' eyes nearly bugged out of his head. "Because you're not!"
"Guys!" Harry jumped in, eyeing them with a mixture of amusement and exasperation. "It's just a game."
Zayn was flailing his arms wildly. "You don't understand, mate, it's the most frustrating piece of crap in the universe!"
"Then stop playing." Harry stated the obvious, looking at him blankly.
Vehemently, Zayn shook his head. "No, I have to win." With that, he stomped on his controller a few times, selecting a new song in less than a second. "Time for round two," he muttered, sounding slightly psychotic.
"Round six," Sydney corrected as the strains of a new tune began to pour out of the speakers. "I guess counting isn't exactly one of your strong suits either, is it?"
This seemed to send Zayn right off the deep end. With a snarl, he began attacking the mat so hard that Gwen was sure it was going to catch fire – or explode.
"I already told you, Malik! If you break it, you're buying me a new one!" Sydney shouted over the music.
If anything, this only seemed to make his footfalls even harsher; the entire house was practically shaking.
Gwen and Harry exchanged another look, only this time, it was one of wide-eyed alarm.
"Disturbing, isn't it?" Liam commented from where he sat on the couch with his arms crossed.
Gwen coughed disbelievingly. "That's putting it mildly."
Unfortunately for Zayn, despite his deranged dancing skills, Sydney's score was still slightly higher as the song came to a close.
"What? No! How?" The dark-haired boy burst out, holding his head in aggravation.
Sydney smirked. She looked calm and composed by comparison. "I'm just better, that's how."
"Rematch!" Zayn demanded, making to select a new song.
Gwen couldn't take it anymore. In a few short strides, she propelled herself forward and yanked the power cable out of the wall. The screen fizzled to black. "That's enough!" she exclaimed, staring at the two of them in disbelief.
"Thank you," Liam muttered from the couch.
"I think we have bigger issues than DDR to worry about right now," Gwen continued scathingly, the cord still dangling from her hands. "Dal DeMort ring any bells?"
"Yeah, yeah," Zayn drawled. He seemed distracted, glaring daggers at Sydney.
"Guys, where's Louis?" Harry asked, his tone suggesting that he had only just realized the boy's absence.
Niall frowned. "Oh yeah, he left as soon as I got in here – like ten minutes ago. I thought he was going back to see you guys."
"He wasn't in the kitchen," Gwen said. "We thought he was with you."
At precisely that moment, the boy in question waltzed into the sitting room, pausing momentarily to readjust his Tuesday Hat before flopping onto the sofa. Louis was painfully oblivious to the six sets of questioning eyes that were on him. He stared out the window for a while, eyes bunched up in something resembling concentration, and then began humming a jaunty little tune under his breath.
"Uh, Louis?" Harry finally broke the uncomfortable staring session. "Where were you?"
Louis looked mildly startled. "Oh, bathroom," he replied. "I... couldn't figure out how to flush the toilet."
The awkward atmosphere that was left in the wake of this statement was broken very suddenly when the phone rang.
Gwen and Sydney exchanged a look of alarm.
"Great, that's probably Mum and Dad," Gwen murmured under her breath. As the phone continued to ring, she felt a mild panic spreading through her veins. "Okay, cleaning then cookies, right?" she demanded of Sydney.
Sydney looked confused. "Wasn't it cookies then cleaning?"
"It doesn't matter – just pick one!"
"What the bloody hell are you two on about?" Zayn looked between the two of them as though they were speaking another language.
The phone rang again, and Gwen let out a sound of desperation. "Okay, everyone shut up!" she cried. Barely pausing to take a breath, she raced into the kitchen and lunged for the cordless.
"Hello?"

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