‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

nineteen

Image


Niall squeezes my hand gently, and I pull myself out the loop of mindless scrolling of Instagram that I’ve been stuck in for the last ten minutes. Smiling apologetically, I exit out the app and lock my phone. He frowns, runs his thumb along the side of my index finger.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, of course I am. Why?”

“You look… nervous.” He pauses. “Love, are you still worried that Doctor Porter is going to be upset with you?”

“I’ve only gained a few pounds since my last appointment. What if he doesn’t think it’s enough?”

“You’ve been eating healthy foods, eating high-protein snacks amongst all your weird cravings, and keeping yourself somewhat active. He’s going to be happy with any amount of weight gain.”

“If he’s not, I’m gonna laugh in your face.”

Niall rolls his eyes but doesn’t say anything else. We wait in silence until Gina calls us back with a wide smile. He stays off to the side while I step onto the scale, while the nurse takes my blood pressure, while I awkwardly hop up to sit on the edge of the examination table. As soon as I’m settled in, he steps closer to my side, reaching for my hand again.

This is the first appointment that Niall has been able to come to. Between the band and then his vacation, he hadn’t had the time, but now he’s here. I tap my fingernail on the back of his hand and blow him a kiss when he looks at me. He grins, ducking down to press his lips to mine. There’s something in his eyes when he pulls back, something I can’t really read but can guess at.

“Nervous yet excited?”

“Very.”

“Just be glad you weren’t at the first one. That one was awkward.”

“Yeah? Why’s that?”

“Because the only person’s fingers I appreciate being up in my vagina are yours.”

“Well, hello to you, too, Mrs Horan.”

Niall’s cheeks flush as Doctor Porter closes the door behind him, and I give both men my brightest smile. My husband looks less than amused at my crass statement being overheard, but I don’t care - the doc will hear much worse from me over the next few months. Doctor Porter takes a seat, looks over my file. I barely manage to not squirm when he turns his attention to me.

“You managed three pounds since last month. Honestly, I… I would have preferred at least five, ten at the most, considering you were underweight to begin with. So what I want from you is to add more healthy snacks and some meal replacement drinks to help you pack on some pounds, okay?”

“Other than that, she’s doing fine, though?”

I barely manage to not roll my eyes at Niall’s question; the man worries more than he should, really. Doctor Porter takes the enquiries in stride, assuring my husband that I am indeed healthy and progressing very well even with the lack of significant weight gain. I scratch at my eyebrow as I answer the doctor’s questions about my sleeping, diet and prenatal vitamins, and the baby’s movements. He seems pleased with my responses.

“Oh! Before you go, what’s the verdict on coffee consumption?” I ask as Doctor Porter heads toward the door, and Niall sighs heavily at my side.

The doctor stifles a smile at my husband’s reaction - it’s well-known amongst the office staff that my coffee habits are a point of contention between Niall and me. I complained about it enough at my first appointment. He does look a bit sheepish as he answers me.

“As far as we know, it’s safe to ingest small amounts of caffeine a day. No more than two hundred milligrams. Studies have been done, but we just don’t have enough information to be able to say with complete certainty one way or the other. We just strongly recommend that you limit your caffeine intake as much as possible.”

With another smile, he leaves us with a promise that a tech will be in shortly for the ultrasound. I’m well-aware that I don’t need another one already - one was just done a few weeks ago - but I want Niall to be able to see the imaging in person. To hear the heartbeat coming from the life we created together. Printed sonograms and the CD made with the recording aren’t the same.

“Okay, so still sticking with not knowing?” Millie asks as she settles in on the stool.

“Nope. We wanna be surprised.”

“Although finding out might stop our... debates,” Niall counters, and I stick my tongue out at him. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you love our debates.”

“It’s gonna be a boy. Calling it now. But no. Please don’t tell us.”

Millie laughs and readies the machine. Niall squeezes my hand gently, brows furrowing at my grimace when Millie squirts gel onto my belly, but then he’s distracted by the rhythmic whooshing sounds that fill the room. As he stares at the monitor, I stare at him, his wobbly smile and eyes that glitter with tears, the pure happiness on his face as he listens to our child’s heartbeat in person for the first time.

His fingers tighten around mine, but he doesn’t look away from the screen. “That’s her.”

“Him.”

“Let me have this.”

“Fine,” I grumble without heat. “For the next five minutes, you can win this argument.”

It takes almost an hour and an absurd amount of teary eyes (mostly Niall’s), but then we’re following Bryan back to the car. I lean against my husband once we buckle ourselves into the backseat, and he angles his body toward mine. His hand rests gently on my belly, thumb stroking soft circles into the skin.

“That was…”

I understand his speechlessness - I felt much the same after the first sonogram, and that feeling flares up again every time I feel the baby moving around. “I know. Gods, we’re gonna be parents.”

“Just a little under twenty weeks to go.”

“Where we goin’, guys?”

“Home, please, Bry,” I call up to the front seat. “I need a nap.”

{-_-_-_-}


I set Doris aside - again - and frown down at my hands. It’s been a few days since the appointment, and Niall has been… insufferable, really. It’s like hearing our baby’s heartbeat in person kickstarted the bits of his personality that begs for him to be too overprotective. I can’t fault him for it, though. I know I can’t, and it certainly isn’t fair of me to be so frustrated by it.

He has been right by my side almost every second of every day. The only time I get away from him is if I’m using the toilet. As annoying as it can be, though, I keep reminding myself that I am incredibly lucky. I have a wonderful husband who doesn’t hesitate to dote on me, a terrific support system of our friends and family, and the ability to not work right up until I pop.

Sighing, I push to my feet, swaying slightly before righting myself, and head toward the stairs. Niall looks up from the guitar in his hands, grins at me as his fingers pick at the strings. I shuffle across the room to sit next to him on the couch, wincing at the twinge in my hip.

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just muscle stretching, I guess. What’cha doing?”

“Not much. Just writing a bit. Get bored?”

I exhale slowly and sink further against the cushions, but I don’t answer. He knows damn well that I’m bored. Amber hasn’t been around since before I did the interviews, Nat has been busy being a mom, my parents have their own lives to tend to. The guys are occupied with whatever they’re doing now that the band is on hiatus, which has left me with fuck all to do. I close my eyes as the tune Niall is playing turns softer, sweeter, and he shifts beside me.

“How does this sound? Then I think of the start, and it echoes a spark, and I remember the magic, electricity,” he sings, and my brows furrow as I think.

“I mean, it sounds lovely, but... also very melancholic. Like it’s about the end of a relationship.” I turn my head to look at him. “Do we need to talk?”

He huffs out a laugh, finally setting the guitar aside. “Of course not, darling. Just something I’ve been working on.”

“Not tired of me yet?”

It’s meant as a joke, but the hard kiss he gives me then tells me he didn’t take it that way. As if he’s proving his love and dedication to me. As if he is desperate to remind me that our vows weren’t just for show. I’m breathless by the time he pulls away, and my fingers wrap in the collar of his shirt to pull him right back in.

“You sure?” he whispers against my lips; I growl low in my throat in response.

“Niall James Horan, if your ass isn’t up in our bed in the next three minutes, I will not only be seriously deficient of caffeine but also incredibly devastated that you won’t fuck me.”

He at least has the decency to help me to my feet first.