‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

twenty-eight

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To: Baby Daddy
Since you won’t let me do ANYTHING, can you please bring me a glass of water? I’d get it myself, but I’m not allowed to.

“I am not having conversations via text messages. And don’t you dare respond in a text.”

I groan and drop my phone to my lap. “I’m annoyed with you.”

Niall shakes his head as he exits the bathroom, climbing onto the bed to sit beside me. Contrary to my words, I immediately lean into his side. I know my frustration isn’t really warranted - at least not to the point of taking it out on him - but being confined to bed for hours upon hours sucks.

“Really?” He picks up my phone and laughs. “’Baby Daddy’? When did you change it?”

“A few days ago when you yelled at me for doing laundry.”

“You shouldn’t have been doing laundry. And I didn’t yell at you.”

“Oh, right.” I snort and twist the band around his finger. “You just freaked out and threatened to have Bryan carry me to bed.”

“I guess I overreacted a bit, didn’t I?” he murmurs sheepishly after a long pause, and I pat his stomach.

“Don’t worry. I’d think it was cute if I wasn’t so miserable.”

“Only a couple more weeks to go.”

“Couple weeks too long. I’m ready for this to be over.”

Niall kisses the pout from my lips and pushes my phone into my hands. With an order for me to call for him if I need anything - “Yes, even cuddles because you’ve gotten so clingy and I love it” - he leaves to finish cleaning up from the latest batch of baby-stuff packages. I watch him go then sigh once he’s out of earshot.

He is supposed to be in the studio, but instead, he’s here at home with me. A part of me is selfish and thrilled to have more time with him before Baby comes. The rest of me isn’t quite so happy about him derailing his schedule. There have been many instances of him scribbling down lyrics and trying to write music while I “napped”.

It isn’t a lot of time away from me. He’s the only one able-bodied enough, and not on bed rest, to finish preparations and basically be at my beck-and-call. Evidently, the pregnancy has made me harder to please.

Blowing out a breath, I decide to take a nap. The more I sleep, the quicker time will fly by. Right?

“Hey, babe?” I shout, waiting until I hear his muffled acknowledgement. “I gotta pee.”

The next two days pass by in a slow blur. The hours meld together, and I can’t pinpoint a single thing that happens at any specific time. Niall tries his best to keep me company, but eventually, his presence becomes incredibly irritating.

So I do what any heavily-pregnant, annoyed-at-her-husband-for-being-so-perfect person would do: I banish him from the room.

“Call Haz, Lou, whoever. Just… go. Get some time away from me. Please, before you drive me fucking nuts.”

And as perfect as he is, he doesn’t take it personally. He just kisses me softly then makes sure I have everything I could possibly needs before leaving the room. I stare blankly at the bag of lozenges, frowning. The last time I needed them, I was barely twenty-three weeks along, and I’d had a minor cold.

I definitely don’t need them now.

A sharp pressure spreads through my abdomen as I bring up Netflix, clicking on the next episode of GBBO. Unfortunately, even Mel and Sue can’t keep the boredom at bay. And, since nothing else in my queue catches my attention, I don’t even bother.

So I open Skype instead. Another tightening. Blowing out a breath, I ignore the sensation. There’s a face I’ve not seen in a while, and I am seriously missing her now.

“Natty, save me.”

Natalie smiles tiredly and pushes her hair from her face. “What happened, Casper?”

“He won’t leave me alone! I get it, ya know? He wants me and Baby to be okay. To actually make it through this pregnancy unscathed, but holy hellballs, I just wanna be able to breathe without him in my face, or I might actually smack him in his.”

“Erin, he’s just worried. Lou was the same way, and weirdly, so was Goose. Hell, even Garrett. Everybody cares about you.”

“I know.” I sigh and shift awkwardly as the pressure finally eases. “I just want this to be done, so I can actually do things. I’m tired of lying about and constantly using the damn toilet. And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to have a healthy sex life. Anyway, tell me what’s going on over there.”

As Natalie tells me about how big Levi has gotten in the last five months, I relax as much as I possibly can, though another wave ripples through my belly - one that I’m hoping but also doubting is the baby. She holds up a finger when a cry comes from the background, disappearing from the frame before I can reply. I can’t help but laugh - her attention span has never been very long, but at least now she has a valid reason for it.

“What’s wrong?” Nat asks quietly to not disturb the sleeping baby in her arms, her lips tugging down into a frown.

“Uh, nothing.” Somehow, my voice remains steady even through my wince. “Just Braxton Hicks, that’s all.”

She grimaces in sympathy then freezes. Her head tilts. “Those aren’t common this far along. How often have you had them?”

“Um, every, like, seven minutes or so since about twenty minutes before we started this Skype call.”

Her eyes dart away for a split second. “Erin, those aren’t Braxton Hicks, oh my god. Where’s Niall?”

“He’s - ow, damn - he’s somewhere. I kicked him out for a while.”

“Babe, you need to text him or something. Tell him what’s going on.”

“I can’t. Nothing is going on. It-it’s just false labour. It’s fine. I’m fine. Nat, I can’t do this.”

She doesn’t bother replying to me. My heart starts racing as I come to the conclusion that maybe she’s right - maybe this isn’t Braxton Hicks. I struggle to breathe, unable to draw in enough oxygen, while she shifts Levi in her arms to bring her phone to her ear.

“Hey, I don’t know where the Hell you are, but your wife is currently upstairs having contractions.”

Within thirty seconds of her hanging up, a loud thud comes from downstairs, shouting, footsteps pounding up the steps. Then Niall is skidding into the room in his socked feet. Harry and Bryan are close behind, Grace bringing up the rear.

“Best of luck, Casper,” Natalie says over the cacophony of voices suddenly filling my room; her face disappears from the screen, but not before I see her smile and thumbs-up.

Grace’s hands are cold, tiny, on my cheeks as she instructs me to breathe in - out - in - out - in - out. Everything goes blurry through the tears in my eyes, and all I can do is shake my head. Someone curses, then Harry pops into view, holding up my hospital bag.

“C’mon, sweetie, up ya go.”

Bryan carefully hauls me to my feet, and I manage to stay upright even as I stumble down the stairs. Niall practically glues himself to my other side on the trek down to the car. I try to calm down like Grace so obviously wants, but -

“I can’t do it,” I whimper, my voice so quiet and small. “Niall, I can’t - this wasn’t meant to happen for two more weeks. I’m not ready, holy shit, I can’t do this.”

Niall climbs into the backseat before me, helps me to get settled in while Harry tosses the bag onto the floorboard and closes the door. Bryan doesn’t bother saying goodbye to his wife; he just slams the SUV into gear and eels away.

“Darling, look at me.” Niall presses his lips to my forehead. “You can. It’s gonna be hard, but I know you can do this. Okay, I have faith in you, and you won’t be alone.”

“I swear, if you leave my side -”

“I’d never do that. Not in a million years. Just breathe, all right? Breathe.”

His grip on my hand is steady, grounding, and I cling to it tightly through another contraction. He pushes my hair out of my face and whispers encouragement. I do the only thing I can think of: panicking. I was supposed to have at least another couple of weeks.

Doctor Porter all but promised I wasn’t near the time for delivery.

“He didn’t say that, love.”

“Man, do you really wanna argue semantics right now?” Bryan asks from the front seat, the derision in his voice strong enough to break through my anxious haze.

Niall wisely doesn’t argue.

Through a feat of magic only he is capable of, Bryan gets us to the hospital with no tickets, no accidents, and no traffic jams in our way. He is out of the car within seconds, helping me out onto my feet. Niall shuts the door then opens it again to grab the bag. I lean heavily into Bryan’s side as he tells my husband to get a nurse and a wheelchair.

Once Niall is gone, Bryan kisses my hair. “He’s right, y’know. You’re strong enough to do this.”

I gasp, “Wait! My parents!”

“Gracie is calling them. They’ll be here as soon as possible.”

“Bry, I thought I was ready, I really did. But I’m not. I’m scared.”

“So’s that boy. But he’ll be right there by your side the entire time, even if he faints.”

“Think he will?” I can’t help but giggle - the mental image is funny, even with my panic.

Niall takes over keeping me upright once we get inside the hospital. A nurse arrives within seconds, all but pushing me into the wheelchair, and Bryan wishes me the best before going to find a seat in the waiting room. I breathe through the pain and discomfort, focusing on keeping my thoughts from spiralling. Niall practically vibrates out of his skin as he follows the nurse.

“Ow!”

The nurse hides her smile. “Sorry, hun, had to check your progress.”

“And?”

“The doctor will be in soon,” she promises before exiting the room.

I reach for Niall’s hand, my own trembling violently as I wrap my fingers around his. “Do you really think -?”

“Yes.” He ducks down to card his fingers through my hair, smiles that gentle smile that I’ve loved since I met him. “I really think you can do this.”

“Well, I fucking hope you’re right, because I don’t think I have much of a choice.”

“Knock, knock.”

I look away from the clear blue of Niall’s eyes - the ones that hold my future and past and everything I’ll ever be - to see Doctor Porter striding in. He quickly scrubs his hands and uses sanitiser before approaching. Squeezing my eyes closed, I exhale slowly as he checks me over.

“Well, Mrs Horan, are you ready?”

“No.”

He smiles sympathetically. “It’s time.”