‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

ten

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Sighing softly, I burrow further into the warmth against my back and try to go back to sleep. I hadn’t tossed and turned all night like I have been lately, but I’m still so exhausted. Niall makes a snuffling noise, his arm tightening around me, and I shiver as his breath skates across the back of my neck. A smile tugs at the corners of my lips, the comfort of having him home filling me.

Unfortunately, I know I’m going to have to get out of bed within the next twenty minutes - the fact that I’m comfortable evidently means very little to the tiny baby currently demanding sustenance. Moving from Niall’s arms, however, means the day is going to start, and that means saying goodbye again is on the horizon. I know he really deserves the break from the spotlight for a bit, but what can I say - I’m a selfish creature.

He only came back for a couple of days after visiting his mom for almost two weeks; Maura had been upset that I hadn’t joined him, but she understood once I explained that it had nothing to do with me not wanting to see her or the family and everything to do with the fact that my morning sickness still hasn’t abated enough that I could handle an eleven-hour-long flight without puking. I promised her that the instant I’m able, I will be on the very first plane to Ireland to visit her. It’ll be nice, I think, to spend time with my mother-in-law on her turf for once.

“I can hear your thoughts racing,” my husband mumbles against my hair, his voice thick with sleep and his accent muddled.

I bite my lip, whispering, “When did you become a psychic?”

“I’m not, I just know you that well.” He kisses my shoulder and pushes himself to sit upright with a soft grunt. “What time is it?”

I reach for my phone on the nightstand, press the button so the screen lights up. He groans when he sees the numbers proclaiming it’s barely past seven, and I roll over to face him. I’m going to miss him while he’s gone again - the soft smiles, the way his eyes display what he’s feeling so easily, the gentle kisses… The fact that he’s all mine and will be until we die.

I will never understand how I got so lucky, but I’m not going to question it. I drag my finger over the stubble along his jaw, pout when I realise he’s most likely going to shave as soon as he gets out of bed.

“You can go back to sleep, babe.”

He shakes his head. “I’m okay. I know you won’t be coming back to bed.” He tugs me closer, kisses me softly, murmuring, “and what good is sleeping in if your lovely, wonderful, amazing, pregnant wife isn’t there with you?”

“Mm, you’re such a sweet-talker, Horan. And as much as I’d love to spend the next few hours in bed with you, and believe me when I say I’d love nothing more, your child is not quite so amenable to those plans. So what sounds good for breakfast?”

“Why is the baby only mine when it’s inconveniencing your plans?” he grumbles, but the mischievous gleam in his eyes is proof that he doesn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth.

“Because you inconvenienced a lot of my plans. I was content with knowing you but not liking you, and then you had to burrow under my skin and into my heart. Sure, it ended up damn perfect, considering I have you for the rest of my life, and now we’re gonna have a baby. But still, the point remains, so of course your child will take after you and do the same.”

“And you call me a sweet-talker,” he huffs, rubbing his thumb over my cheekbone. “So what does my child want?”

“Bacon. Lots of bacon.”

Niall laughs and shakes his head, but he doesn’t stop me from shoving the blankets back and scooting to the edge of the bed. I pad down the hallway, shivering at the coolness of the wood floor beneath my bare feet. The sound of the pipes starting up follows me down the stairs; I shake away the mental images of my husband nude and soaking wet. It isn’t the time right now, not with the way my stomach sounds like it’s trying to eat the rest of my innards.

I manage to not burn myself terribly while the eggs and bacon cook, though there is a sensitive spot on my thumb from a particularly hot bit of grease, and Niall joins me in the kitchen by the time it’s done. He takes the platter to the table while I grab the bag of grapes and the pitcher of juice from the fridge. We eat in silence, side-by-side, as the kitchen steadily fills with the warm sunlight of the morning.

Niall doesn’t let me get up even once we’ve finished eating. He wraps an arm around my shoulders, pulls me into his side; kissing my temple gently, he murmurs an I love you into my skin, and my eyes burn with impending tears. I sniffle as quietly as I can, but of course he hears it. He hooks a finger under my chin and turns my face toward him.

“I don’t have to go.”

“Niall, yes. Go. I’ll be fine.” I wipe at my cheeks with trembling fingers. “It’s the damn hormones, I swear.”

“Love…”

“It’s okay. I promise. Go, have fun, see all the sights you didn’t get to before, then come back home to me.”

“I always will.”

To my surprise, he leaves the dishes on the table as he steers me toward the living room. His arms are strong, steady, warm, and I lean against his chest. There’s no music, but that doesn’t stop him from swaying, from dancing without moving his feet, pulling me to move with him.

I can’t stop the tears from slipping down my cheeks; no matter what I told him, having him gone is going to suck so much. The only reason I’ve been able to get through the last few months is because of him. Because he’s been by my side.

Our hours together come to a close, signalled by the insistent beeping of his phone’s alarm. Niall hesitates at the door, bag by his feet, and I shrug awkwardly. It seems to break the tension between us. He pulls me in for a tight hug, and I pretend I don’t notice the way his shoulders are shaking under my arms.

When he steps back, I give him as real of a smile as I possibly can with my heart breaking; he kisses me softly then drops to his knees to rest his forehead against my belly. I slide my fingers through his hair, swallow thickly.

“Be nice to your mum, little one. I love you.”

I stand in the doorway, wave once he’s in the Uber, and watch as the better half of me disappears. I sigh and close the door before the passersby on the sidewalk catch sight of me and start gawking. The house is too quiet without anything to distract me from my loneliness. My hand falls to my belly, and I blink back tears. Being alone hasn’t ever bothered me before.

Now? Now it’s a miserable experience.

I exhale sharply and make my way to the kitchen where my phone is vibrating on the counter. Glancing at the screen, I decide to ignore the call. Talking to Amber right now isn’t high on my list of priorities, no matter how much I love her. I tell Siri to open Pandora as soon as the call goes to answerphone. Cleaning up after breakfast takes surprisingly little time, considering how easily I get lost in thought.

“Wait a fucking second,” I mutter to myself apropos of seemingly nothing as an errant realisation slams into my brain, scooping up my phone and rapidly typing out a message.

To: Nat-boo
MY WEDDING?!?! Seriously?!!!!

From: Nat-boo
What can I say? It was a beautiful ceremony.

To: Nat-boo
I’m not sure if I should feel complimented or freaked that you two did the do AT MY FUCKING WEDDING NATALIE

From: Nat-boo
Would you have felt better if we had named him after you guys?

To: Nat-boo ……….no and how dare you scar me like that, you asshole

From: Nat-boo
The last shred of hope I can offer you is that we at least waited til we were at my hotel.

To: Nat-boo
< I guess that’s good enough for me.
< Except now I’m always gonna know you two did the horizontal tango and made a baby because of my wedding
< Anniversaries will never be the same….

From: Nat-boo
You’re welcome

To: Ni-baby
Natalie and Louis are gross and disgusting and will never ever be allowed in our house until they make up for the fact that Levi?? Totally conceived at our wedding.

From: Ni-baby
Are you kidding me ???

I screenshot the conversation with Natalie and attach it to a text to Niall. His response is a stream of emojis: angry, wide-eyed, crying, and cry-laughing. I stifle a laugh and shake my head, sending I miss you already as I make my way upstairs to change into a clean pair of leggings and one of his sweaters.

Once I’m wrapped in the scent of my husband, I head to our music room - management still wants me in the studio in a couple of days, and while I’ve tinkered with some melodies over the last few weeks, I haven’t actually sat down and written anything that’s worthy of being recorded. At least I’ll have the rest of the band to help with that at the studio.

“Hey, you home?”

I laugh and continue strumming, listening as multiple sets of feet near the room. Harry appears in the doorway first, his dimpled grin on display, followed by Amber. She presses a kiss to my forehead on her way to perch on the stool by the window while Harry reaches for one of the acoustics resting in its stand. His fingers pick at the strings lazily; I shake my head but focus on the tune that’s taken over my brain, coming out in the strings.

“Niall left, I take it.”

“Yeah, a couple hours ago.” I sigh, slow my movements. “It sucks. I thought we’d be used to it by now, y’know? The whole having to deal with the separation and being alone thing. I dunno why it’s so awful now.”

“Probably because you’re carrying his kid,” replies Amber, and Harry nods along enthusiastically.

“Who knew pregnancy would change things so much.”

“Literally everyone who’s ever experienced pregnancy in any form.”

“Shut up,” I grumble, throwing my pick at Harry’s face, scowling when my friends only laugh harder.