‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

fifteen

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“How about this?”

I stop strumming as Niall reaches for the guitar, settling it on his knee. His fingers pick at the strings in a more upbeat yet rocking tune, reminiscent of something Melissa Etheridge would play, and I find myself bobbing my head along to the beat.

Pulling my notebook closer, I mark down the new chords and rhythm before singing the line I’ve had stuck in my head for days. His voice joins in with another line; I scribble down the words as he continues. Amber moves around us, but I keep my focus on the task at hand.

I’d been surprised to see her standing on our front step this morning, and all she’d done in response to my unasked question was hold up the video-camera. I rolled my eyes but let her come along anyway.

She’s always loved documenting our life on the road and in the studio - even when Complete Irrationality was little more than a locally-known band, she wanted to get as many pictures and videos as possible. It had been awkward at first, but now it’s second nature to just let her do what she’s going to do.

“Life without you means nothin’, but girl, this sure is somethin’,” Niall croons quietly.

I hum along to the guitar, my brain racing and twisting words around in a desperate search for the right combination. “Tell me this is real, the way you make me feel… Fuck,” I mutter when I lose the thread of what I was singing, and Niall laughs though he doesn’t stop playing; his nose crinkles up, and I can’t stop my own laughter when he starts swaying on the stool, his foot tapping against the floor to the beat.

“I really love to fuck you, but we’re in the studio now, so let’s go to the house, so I can show you what I can do.”

“What the Hell?” Giggles escape, and I throw my pencil in his direction. He ducks it easily even as the strings squeal when his fingernails scrape across them. “Niall James!”

“Sorry, sorry, I’ll be serious now.”

He resumes strumming, and I watch his fingers picking at the strings. It’s been a long morning already, both of us having woken before the sun even peeked over the horizon; it felt right to wake up in his arms, and the uneasiness that I’ve been struggling with since he first left is now gone. Having him so close, being able to look over and see his face… it is most definitely the best thing in my life right now. I plan on cherishing what I have with him until I die.

“Everything you are brought us this far,” I sing quietly, write the words down; Niall’s fallen silent, though he doesn’t stop playing, and I’m lost enough in my thoughts that the words are coming easier now. “My love for you is… is a promise on the stars.”

I glance up when Niall’s voice sounds, his eyes on me and captivating me with their clarity and seriousness. “I didn’t know the truth when you came into my life. Now that I’ve found you, there won’t be another lonely night.”

His fingers slow on the strings. He sets the guitar aside after a moment, and the room is quiet save for our breathing and Amber’s footsteps as she moves around. I almost forgot she was still in here. My attention is dragged away by my husband reaching for my hand.

I let him tug me over to the couch, settling into his side the instant I’m sat next to him. This feels like home, the one place in this world I will always belong. Closing my eyes, I rest my head on his shoulder and listen to his humming, his hand on my belly as our baby kicks enthusiastically. Yep, this is perfect.

_____________________


A knock sounds on the door, and I adjust the front of my dress before crossing the room to answer it. Niall stands on the other side, dressed in a white button-up and black slacks; his hair is perfectly done, and there’s the slightest hint of stubble on his jaw - he’s shaved, I think even as I lean up to press my lips to his. He brushes a curl from my face, pulls me in for a deeper kiss. My breathing is ragged when we finally part. He holds his hand out to me.

“You are so lovely.”

My lips quirk up into a smile, my cheeks burning at the compliment, and I let him lead me down the hallway. “Thank you. You look amazing, yourself.”

A gasp bursts out of me when I see the way our dining room has been transformed: A long white cloth is draped over the table, and three candles flicker merrily in the semi-darkness. Two of the chairs have been pulled to the side of the room; he helps me sit in one of the remaining chairs, kisses my temple, and rounds the table to sit across from me.

I look down at our plates and smile at the meal - everything is something I’ve mentioned loving to eat. I sniff back the tears that come to my eyes and reach for my fork. We don’t speak as we start eating. I stop mid-chew at the realisation that he’s learnt how to make spaghetti squash instead of using pasta. I meet his gaze. His eyes look almost white in the candlelight, and warmth consumes me as I stare at him. He squirms in his chair, shrugs with a small smile.

“I, I know you like spaghetti, but I figured it would be healthier this way.”

“I love it. I haven’t had spaghetti squash since I was, like, fifteen.” I clear my throat, take a sip from my wineglass. The sparkling cider’s bubbles tickle my nose as I swallow. “I… gods, Niall, this is so amazing.”

“We haven’t had a date in a while, and, well, I know it’s my fault -”

“No, babe, it’s not.”

“I’m the one who was backpacking across the world instead of being here with you.”

“Niall -”

He inhales sharply. “No. We’re not doing this. I want tonight to be as wonderful as possible, and that doesn’t include arguing over whose fault it is about our lack of dates.” Niall nods to himself and grabs for my hand, lacing our fingers together. “Anyway, as I was saying. We haven't had a date in a while, and I just… I wanted to spend the evening with just you and me - no friends, no family, no paparazzi, just us. And we can't exactly have that if we go out. So I thought, why not do it here at home?”

“It's perfect. When you told me to wear something nice, I-I didn't think you'd pulled out all the stops for a romantic night in.”

“You deserve it.”

Once we’re finally done eating, which takes longer than usual because of the fact that the baby is very active and Niall keeps rounding the table to hold his hand to my belly every time it happens, he swats my hands gently before I can pick up the dishes. I frown, confused - he’s never been one to leave dirty dishes on the table. He’s only done it once during our entire relationship, the morning he left for his vacation.

My thoughts get derailed by the tender kiss he presses to my lips, and I blindly follow him into the living room. His arms come up to wrap around my waist; I rest my forehead on his shoulder and sway with him to the soft music that starts playing. It isn’t much, not in comparison to other dates we’ve gone on, but this is by far the most perfect. The privacy, the forethought that’s gone into his planning… it’s all wonderful. I sigh happily, close my eyes against the dim lighting of the room.

“Give to me your leather, take from me my lace,” I sing along quietly with Stevie, and Niall’s lips press to my hair.

“You in the moonlight, with your sleepy eyes. Could you ever love a man like me? And you were right. When I walked into your house, I knew I’d never want to leave.”

My heart aches with how much he means to me. His support and love have become everything. If I’d been asked almost three years ago if this was where I saw my life - married to the man I could barely tolerate when we were on the outs, pregnant with our baby, and being a solo artist - I would have laughed myself senseless and suggested the person lay off the drugs. Remembering all that we went through feels a lot like watching a movie. I know it’s in our past, and without it, we probably would never have made it this far; but the memories have a softer edge, blurry with time and emotion.

I lean back, gaze up at Niall. “I love you. And for what it’s worth, I’m so glad you chose me to live your life with.”

His fingers stroke across my cheek with a feather-soft touch, and I shiver as goosebumps race up my flesh. He kisses me gently, whispering against my lips, “It means everything.”

I let him take me by the hand, lead me up the stairs and down the hallway. I lean against the wall as he reaches over and twists the tap on the tub. While the bathtub fills, Niall turns to me, helping me loosen the sash to my dress, and and I stand still as he pushes the sleeves from my shoulders. The fabric pools on the floor at my feet; his hands are roughened with calluses but so gentle, trailing worship along my skin. I arch into his touch, the searing kiss he presses to my lips, then step into the tub with his hand wrapped securely around mine.

His body is solid behind my back, and I let my head drop until it rests on his shoulder. The baby flips and kicks, but I pay very little mind to it, instead focusing on the looseness in my muscles and how Niall’s breathing fills my ear. I do place his palms against my belly so he can feel, though. He doesn’t get to experience this all the time like I do, no matter how badly I wish he could. And I know it’s just going to get worse once he goes back into the studio.

“Stop thinking so much, love,” he murmurs into my hair, and I let out a heavy breath. “Just enjoy where we are right now, and we’ll figure out the rest as we go. Together.”

“How do you always know what I’m thinking?”

“Because I know you better than I know myself.”

“I love you.”

“And I’ll always love you, no matter what. D’you remember what I told you that night, when you met us in Ohio a couple weeks after you told me you were pregnant?” When I shake my head, he sighs and tightens his hold on me. “I told you I’d remind you every single day of all the reasons I love you, that I’ve been in love with you since we met. That loving you is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. This is me reminding you that you’re the greatest thing I have ever been lucky enough to have in my life.”

The tears come quickly, and I give a shaky nod. I can’t speak - my throat is too tight, and what can I possibly say in response to that, anyway? So instead of saying anything, I force myself to relax, to focus on the warmth of him behind me and the proof of life in my belly. The life we created almost six months ago.

{.:.:.:.}


Amber’s hair is an utter mess when I pull open the front door the next morning, and I have the oddest feeling that my best friend has begun trying to channel her inner Albert Einstein. The grin on her face gives me pause; it never bodes well for me when she looks that excited about anything. The sense of foreboding strengthens when she grabs a laptop off the coffee-table. I don’t get the chance to tell her that that one belongs to Niall before she realises it herself, setting it aside with a soft curse and reaching for mine.

I make my way to the kitchen and grab my mug of tea. By the time I come back to the living room, the video camera is on the table, plugged into my computer, and she waves for me to sit next to her. I wince when she yells for Niall, and she apologises but it doesn’t stop her from calling his name again.

“Okay, so, thanks for finally getting your Irish ass down here,” Amber says once Niall joins us. “Anyway, you remember how I was recording you while you were in the studio writing the song together?”

“Uh, yeah. It was just yesterday. Lambchop, what is this?”

Instead of replying, she taps the space bar on the keyboard, and I frown though I do pay attention to the video that begins to play. It’s black-and-white footage, and we watch in rapt silence as Niall listens intently to me singing, as he grabs the guitar from me, as we laugh and sing together and enjoy the time we spent with each other. Tears sting at my eyes when the video comes to an end. It’s rough and full of disjointed snippets of conversation, considering the editing Amber did to it, but I’m in awe of it anyway.

“Do you like it?”

I gape at the screen then turn wide eyes on my best friend. “Holy shit, Amber, it’s… it’s amazing. Did you stay up all night to do this? What made you do it? Oh, my gods!”

“It’s not that good,” she counters, but Niall shakes his head, placing his hand over her mouth.

“It’s wonderful. Ew, don’t lick me!”

Amber cackles as he removes his hand, wiping his palm against the sleeve of her T-shirt. I roll my eyes but stay out of their weirdness. It’s always best if I keep myself distanced when they get like this. Amber sobers within a few seconds, and my heart hurts with the hesitant hopeful expression on her face.

“Really? Then, good. Because I have some more ideas. I have the original recording already, so I figured you two could, like, maybe record the song today, and then Dave and I could overlay the track to the video, and I can splice in clips from you guys recording the vocals?”

“Amber, I fucking love you. If I wasn’t married to Niall, I’d totally kiss you right now.”

Niall shrugs, nudges me with his shoulder; the way his eyes glint mischievously warns me that I’m not going to like what he’s about to say. “Go ahead, kiss her. I mean, you kissed my best friend, so why not kiss your best friend.”

“You ass!” I protest even as he dissolves into gleeful, impish laughter.