‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End



I frown, setting my laptop aside, and drop backwards against the pillows behind me. There is only so much Reddit and tumblr a bed-ridden person can scroll through before boredom becomes overwhelming, and I’ve long since reached that point.

I have to admit that it’s a good thing that no one has found my tumblr username, even when I think my posts make it really obvious exactly who is behind the screen. I can basically shit-post without anyone calling for my head. Plus, it’s… interesting to see people’s theories about the secret relationships of the guys.

Scary, often, but interesting nonetheless.

Grabbing my phone off the nightstand, I bring up my Instagram app. I’ve never done this before, but now is as good a time as any to start. After all, it isn’t like Doctor Porter or my husband will let me do anything else. It takes a few tries, but then the Live is going. I stare blankly at the camera.

“Well, this was dumb,” I mutter, thumb hovering over the button to end it, but comments start coming in.


not dumb oh my goshhhh can’t believe we get to see ur face!

Wow!! I never expected you to do a Live! How are you?!

“Yes! You do get to see my face! Human interaction, holy shit!” I laugh and wiggle my fingers in greeting as the viewer count spikes. “More humans! Yay. So, as you may or may not be able to tell, I am incredibly pregnant and bored, so here I am. Um, I’ve never done of these before. Please be kind to me. Any questions?”

I have a question! How many onesies do you have for the baby?

where is niall?? we want to see him too!

maybe we should just enjoy seeing erin…?

Niall is cute and all, but this is Erin’s live. Not his!

I snort in amusement at the comments that pour in, echoing the sentiment. “Thanks, lovelies. Niall is… maybe downstairs cooking lunch? I don’t know for sure, considering I’m not allowed out of bed at the moment. Oh, are you kidding me? The next person who asks if Larry is real will be blocked instantly. Don’t bring that shit to my Live.

“Anyway. Nat, you are not funny. If you send another freakin’ package to our house full of onesies, I will actually cry. There’s so many, why do you hate me this much?”

It’s hard to keep up with the messages and questions; a fraction of them revolve around the baby, if we know what the gender is, when am I due. I avoid giving definitive answers to those. Beyond our decision to not know beforehand, none of this is anybody else’s business.

A majority of the comments, though, ask after my own health and well-being. Tears burn at my eyes as I read them. The hormones have gotten worse the closer I get to the end of this pregnancy, and this is the first bit of social interaction outside of Niall, our cleaning crew, and Amber that I’ve had in a while. Of course I’d be emotional.

“Okay, so Nat might know what I mean, but I feel like a turkey right now. Y’know how, like, Thanksgiving turkeys come with that pop-up thingy that lets you know where they’re done cooking? Yeah, that’s my belly right now. Look at this damn bellybutton!”

I angle the phone so the camera catches me poking at my bellybutton - which has, indeed, become an outtie instead of the innie it’s always been. Sighing, I turn the camera back to my face and skim over the comments that have come in. My face grows hot the more I read.

Every single one of them compliments me in some way. About thirty of them are nothing but heart-eye emojis and exclamation points. Clearing my throat wetly, I thank the viewers for their kind words. After the death threats I received in the beginning - after my marriage and then the announcement that I was pregnant - I certainly didn’t expect so much love right now.

blink if larry is real!!!

Is your pregnancy the reason 1D broke up???

“And you two are blocked,” I sing-song, smiling when phoenixx and callie are amongst the comments calling them out.

I blow out a breath at the twinge in my hips and focus on talking about the album, how thrilled I am that it’s in its final stages before release. Dozens of people ask if there’s going to be a tour, so I make sure to reassure them there will be. Just… not immediately. Thankfully, everyone seems to be understanding.

Someone asks what my weirdest craving has been, and I can’t help but laugh at the question. Puke-face emojis scroll across the bottom of my screen as I tell them exactly what it was: vanilla ice cream mixed with melted peanut butter, caramel sauce, and diced pickles. I have to agree with their assessment - looking back now, it’s an absolutely disgusting combination that belongs in the bowels of Hell.

That face never says anything good. What are you planning now, Casper???

“Who wants to join me on a lovely little something I call ‘hubby hunting’?”

Before anyone can reply, I set my phone down on the bed and struggle to the edge of the mattress. It’s harder than I thought it would be; my belly abides by the rules of gravity, the weight and position providing ample pushback. I’ve just gotten my feet on the floor when someone clears their throat from the doorway.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

I grin brightly, feigning innocence, but Niall isn’t convinced. As I knew he wouldn’t be. “I, uh, was just going to the other room. Oh, don’t look at me like that. I was gonna play some music for my lovely friends who have joined me for this impromptu Live. Wait, did - did Nat fucking tattle on me?”

“She might have sent a text saying you were disobeying your doctor’s orders.”

“Damn you, Natalie Reed. Okay, well, now that you’re here, help?”

Niall hesitates for a moment then he rolls his eyes. His hands are warm, strong, around mine as he hefts me to my feet, and I steal a kiss while I have the chance. Without an audience. Just us.

The hint of irritation on his face disappears, replaced with my favourite smile of his. He’s even nice enough to grab my phone so I don’t have to try; he waves shortly at the viewers, says a quick hello, then passes it to me.

“Sorry, darlings, being a beached whale tends to make moving difficult. But I’m on my way to my beautiful guitars, so not much longer to wait. Hey! Everybody, say hi to Amber who has just joined us except she’s supposed to be working.”

I AM working (a job that I just got so I’m not even supposed to be on my phone!), but Nat said you were getting out of bed when you weren’t supposed to so I came on here to scold you.

I narrow my eyes then cut my gaze to my husband. “Oh. My. Gods. Do you three have a group chat that I’m not in?”

“That information is between Nat, Amber, Harry, Liam, Louis, Bryan, my ma, and myself,” Niall replies breezily, laughing at my offended expression even as he helps me into the armchair. “Here ya go. Please call for me if you need anything else, okay? No more trying to get around on your own.”

“I’m pregnant, not dying,” I protest, though it’s weak; even I have to concede I can’t move as easily as I could before.

Niall stares at me without speaking until I finally capitulate with as much grace as I possibly can. Pouting, I lean my phone against the window so that I’m fully in view, and Niall leans down to press a gentle kiss to my lips - something that stuns me into silence.

He knows I’m broadcasting live to my followers, and he’s still kissing me? The mischievous gleam in his eyes tells me he knows exactly what he’s doing. He thinks I’ll become distracted by the comments and not have the urge to move from my spot for a while.

Unfortunately for him, I’m far more stubborn than he gives me credit for. It takes a lot more than a simple kiss to dissuade me from whatever I set my mind to. I do play Doris for a while, just like I said I would, absentmindedly strumming the strings while I wait. That’s right, babe, I’m lulling you into a sense of false security.

It isn’t until callie_styles asks if the tune I’m playing is on my album that I realise it’s the one Niall played for me a few weeks ago. The one no one else has heard before but is one of my favourites, break-up vibe and all. My fingers pick at a different progression, and I hope I’ve not ruined the surprise of Flicker for whenever he releases his own record.

“Not this one, Callie, but uh, maybe the next one. Okay, we’re gonna try this again. I swear, Natalie and Amber, if either of you tattle on me, you will never, ever see this baby. ‘Kay?”

Almost instantly, the lighthearted comments turn less so, in defence of my best friends’ honour. Some viewers say it respectfully, while others threaten to ‘cancel me’ - whatever that means. But nearly all of the messages call me out for being rude and heartless.

Yooooo she’s kidding! I know it, Amber knows it, Erin knows it. Chillllll.

You all are great and thanks for having our backs, but back off Erin.

“Yes. Exactly. I’m joking. This is how we are, I promise. Besides, if I never let them see the baby, how else would I get time to have sex with my husband? Please, let me be mean to my best friends without jumping down my throat.” I put my finger to my lips, winking conspiratorially, then tiptoe out of the room. “Be vewy, vewy quiet. We’re hunting husbands!”

Three minutes later, I’m only halfway down the stairs, but I figure it’s good enough. I had to repeatedly stop and catch my breath, or my hyperventilating would have caught Niall’s attention. And that would just ruin my plans.

He’s stretched out on the couch, his attention firmly on the television. He has one hand tucked behind his head, the other tapping against his thigh; the fact that he’s shirtless is enough to make me hesitate. I’m not entirely sure of how he will reacts if he finds me recording him - I know how he’ll react if he finds I’ve disregarded anything he and my doctor have said.

I decide to deal with that later, flipping the camera around so everyone can see him.

“As you can see,” I whisper dramatically, “we’ve stumbled upon a father-to-be in his natural habitat. With golf on the telly, he is calm, but don’t let the serenity fool you. He can turn loud the instant his football team isn’t doing well. He - oh, shit, I do believe we’ve been caught out. Heyyy, babe.”

Niall frowns and mutes the television. My heart clenches in my chest, skin rippling with heat and cold; the disappointment on his face hurts to see. I force a smile then turn my attention back to the livestream.

“And evidently, pregnant wives who don’t listen to their doctors can upset the wild husband. So with that, thanks for watching this Live, I’m really sorry to cut this short. It was fun. Love you all, bye!”

I end the stream and blow out a breath as I lock the screen. Niall’s expression hasn’t changed. My stomach churns violently, and I open my mouth to say something - anything - but nothing comes. He lets out a heavy sigh and slowly approaches.

“Why do you insist on being stubborn?”

I swallow, shrugging. “I just… I wanted to have some fun with the fans.”

“I get that, but it isn’t okay that you’ve done it at the expense of your health. Doctor Porter wouldn’t have told you to take it easy just to be a jerk. He told you to take it easy because you were overdoing it, you were putting your body at risk.” Niall sighs. “What can I do to make you see that while I understand how restless you’re feeling, it’s more important to me that you listen?”

“I’m sorry.”

His hands cradle my face, his eyes searching mine. He shakes his head after a moment and wraps me in his arms.

“You’re already down here, so I suppose you can watch some golf with me.”

“Oh, yay. Golf. Much fun.”

“Don’t quote the doge meme at me,” he laughs, leading me to the sofa. “This is your punishment for disobeying orders.”

“I’ll never do it again.”

“Too late, petal.”

As much as I find it utterly boring to watch people hit a small white ball toward a hole in the ground, I can’t find it in me to complain - not when my antics didn’t cause any conflict. And especially not when my husband is massaging the ache from my swollen ankles and feet.