*Winner of Movellas' Fanfiction Royale Competition* "How many nights does it take to count the stars?" | As the boys sit down and pen the final song for their album, they're asked to reflect back on the sudden departure of one of their own members. *Songfic Entry for Fanfiction Royale Competition*


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It was late in the night, almost sunrise. The band wouldn't know it though, adrenaline still pumping in their veins and their covered windows sheltering them from the outside world once more. Music producer Julian Bunetta took note of this as he watched the boys settle in, attempting to make the barren hotel room a home. There was sleep in their eyes, but a restlessness in their bodies. It was obvious as Harry tapped out a beat on a nearby table, and Liam started scribbling in a notebook. There would be no sleep til the early hours of the morning, no matter how much they tried to fight it.

Julian and his team had thwarted the four boys' attempt at settling in on purpose. They had made a make shift sound-proof wall out of their mattresses, making sure sleep would be out of the question. The tour bus had also been parked further away, and all other rooms were off limits. They were contained within that single, barren, mattress lined faux studio. It did not matter if they had a concert mere hours before hand, it did not matter how tired they were, they had an album to finish. Although Julian knew it was cruel to treat them in such ways, he knew it suited them best being awake when the rest of the world was in their habitual slumber. It was when they produced their best work, it was the hour that most writers and artists tended to create after all.

And this particular night, as the four boys sat on the floor, their limbs spread out before them, entangled in each other, Julian sat before them, his spineless, almost ragged journal upon the desk. It wasn't often that this occurred, so they knew before he even spoke why they had all been gathered there. He had tried this already twice before, the boys convincing him to leave this til the album was nearly complete. To make this the final track that they produce. Of course he had obliged, figuring that it was perhaps too soon, that the anger in Louis hadn't dissipated and the sadness in Niall hadn't waned. He knew that pressing the matter would lead to sub par results, and that was the last thing the boys and the team wanted.

So Julian waited, he waited until the last possible moment. And even though he did, he knew the boys still weren't ready. He sighed loudly, knowing that they just didn't want to be there. That the last few months had been hell and that they had lost one of their own. But they needed to finish, they needed to show the world that they could rise from the ashes and keep going on even after everything that's happened. 

"Look." Julian finally spoke, interrupting the silence that had been looming in the room,"We're going to do this a different way than we usually do, okay?"

The boys nodded, all except Louis that was. Louis crossed his arms and rolled his eyes, never having planned to contribute to this no matter how much time had passed.

Julian could sense the uneasiness among them, even with the placid smiles from Niall and Harry,"I know it's late, but there's no show tomorrow, right?" 

"Yeah." Liam mumbled.

"Good. Okay." Julian responded, nervously twiddling the pen in his hands. He had been thinking of ways to get the boys to write about this all these weeks, and he had come up with only one way that could actually work. Everyone told him it was a long shot, that only Harry would go along with it, maybe Niall. But he couldn't think of any other way,"I want all of you to close your eyes."

"What?" Harry said, clearly in disbelief, which took Julian aback. Harry was supposed to be the one that went with it, wasn't he?

"I said we're doing this a different way this time, okay? Trust me." He said, putting his pen down and facing the boys directly, trying to establish some authority.

"I'm just going to pass out." Louis muttered under his breath.

"No you're not." Julian said in a breath, "Just listen to my voice and relax."

"Harry, did you teach him this hippie bullshit?" Louis whispered.

"Shhh." Liam tried, for Julian's benefit of course.

"Alright, you're going to close your eyes-"

"They're closed." Louis retorted bitterly.

"I want you to clear your minds, just leave them completely blank."

"What the hell is this, why am I even-" 

"Shut up." Liam said, roughly punching Louis in the arm, "Just go along with it already. You know we have a bloody deadline."

Louis huffed, but relented, which made Julian feel at least a little bit more at ease. So he continued, "Forget the anger for right now. Don't think about the emotions you have towards him now, I want you to think of him before all of this. Before he left."

The boys were quiet, Niall's brow furrowed a bit, he looked troubled.

Julian nervously asked, "Niall? You okay, mate?" He was starting to regret this. The boys were too quiet, he could hear his pulse in his ears, the blood rushing through his veins. There was never this stillness about them, and it unnerved the young music producer.

Niall shook his head, "I just..."

He didn't want to open his eyes, but at the same time it was as if he was back in England. He saw Zayn in his house, the night after they found out their schedule for the year, after they signed over yet another 365 days of their lives. He was the only one who stayed over, the rest of the boys needing to go see their families or their girls. Zayn, as always, just wanted to be in his white walled house, yearning to fill it with something other than just more moving boxes. He wondered if the boys felt the same anxiety at recalling those moments with him, even though months had passed

"It's okay." Liam said, his own eyes still closed, but his hand blindly reaching to grasp Niall's shoulder. Liam could see it too. Him and Zayn, the past five years as if they had passed by in an instant. The last time they spoke, the first time he noticed something wrong. He shook his head, not wanting to think so badly about his friend, but he couldn't help it. All he could see in perfect clarity was the moment that he watched him walk away. How he ran after him, how he left anyway. He felt his stomach drop, remembering the words Zayn had told him. He felt his stomach tighten and hoped that this nauseating feeling would pass. 

Harry had been unusually quiet, considering he usually made a quip or two by now. All he could see was a starry sky, and a half asleep Zayn attempting to count constellations with him. He couldn't possibly think of anything negative. No matter how many times Zayn had ignored him, no matter how many times Zayn pushed him aside, Harry knew he was hurting, that something was wrong. He couldn't blame him for that. But at the same time, the last time that he and Zayn had been close was under that starry sky two years ago. How could he possibly wonder if Zayn thought of any of them when he made his choice, how could he not fault him for being selfish? He didn't want to, but so many nights he had spent tossing and turning, watching as Zayn turned more and more into a person he didn't recognize. He didn't want to blame him, so his thoughts tried to deviate from the bad moments, they just wanted to show him the good. 

Louis was a whole other story though, his anger was so strong that even his memory was tinged with red. He didn't want to relive it, he didn't want to see his face again. He had let Zayn get to him for the last time.

"I'm not doing this." Louis muttered, opening his eyes and going to get up.

Before Julian could say a word though, Harry grabbed Louis' arm, eyes still closed. He didn't say a word, but his grip upon Louis' arm said everything he could have ever needed too. They hadn't talked in months either, the distance between them too vast after everything that had happened. But Louis still relented, he sat down. Harry didn't move his hand either, he kind of just entangled his arm in Louis' to keep him grounded. Just like before, but different. 

That was the problem Julian realized as he watched the boys, all somehow touching each other, all with their eyes closed. They wanted everything to be just like before, but it couldn't. Everything was different. 

It didn't have to be, that was thing. All they wanted from Zayn was the truth. Everything else wouldn't have mattered. He still could've left, he could've still chosen to have been a normal 22 year old. But he could have told them. 

All they ever wanted was the truth.







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