‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

three

Bryan’s hand is heavy on my shoulder as he prevents me from rushing off the bus. I stop, sigh, and turn to face him. His dark eyes are hidden by his sunglasses, but I can feel the concern; he pulls the door shut so no one can eavesdrop.

“Spill it, kid.”

“Spill what?”

“You've been acting… off over the last few days. You haven't sat still for more than three seconds. You can barely focus on anything, and the instant you do, you're already off focusing on something completely different. What's going on?”

I shrug, wilting in on myself. I know it's literally his job to be observant in regards to me, but I hate how he can see something is different. And it is. It's been a little under a week since the test I took told me I'm pregnant, and I've been doing everything in my power to stay out of my own mind. I don't want to dwell on the potential reality that Niall is going to be upset - or worse, he’ll be ecstatic and my own feelings toward it won't grow. I've felt nothing but apprehension and fear since that positive sign showed up. So keeping busy has been helpful enough. Obviously, it's been worrying to others.

“Nothing, Bryan, pinkie promise.”

“You'd tell me if something comes up?”

“Absolutely!”

His expression remains sceptical, but he lets me leave without anything further. I catch up with Owen just inside the hotel’s entrance, and his arm immediately hooks over my shoulder, squeezing gently at my neck. I laugh and lean into him. Someone’s camera clicks; I mentally prepare myself for the photos and articles that will be in every tabloid this evening about how I'm cheating on my husband and screwing a dude fifteen years older than me.

Thankfully, no one bothers us as we trek up to our rooms. The lock on my door flashes green and releases with a click, and I wiggle my fingers at the guys before disappearing inside. My suitcase is already sitting on the bed, and I sigh at the sight. I know, buried between layers of clothing, is that damn test - and the other two I've taken in the last week. I drop my messenger bag to the floor, bend down to pull out my laptop, and settle in on the bed, nudging at the suitcase with my foot to give me a little extra room.

To: Ni-baby Hey, love of mine. Just got to the hotel so if you wanna Skype, I'm ready.

From: Ni-baby 10 ?

To: Ni-baby Perf. xxxxx

After fifteen minutes of staring blankly at the ceiling, my laptop starts chiming. I twitch in surprise before pulling it closer. I hesitate, just for a moment, but then click on Answer with Video.

As it usually does, my heart begins beating faster and my stomach flops over itself at the sight of Niall’s face. The last time we video-chatted was over a week ago; our schedules just haven't allowed it. Between the separate tours and multitude of interview and photoshoots, we've barely had time to send text messages throughout the day. I blink away the tears in my eyes and give him a tremulous smile, chest tightening when his brows draw together.

“What's wrong, love?”

“Nothing.”

He shakes his head. “No. I've put up with hearing that you're fine every day for the last week, because I thought since I couldn't see your face, I was imagining things, maybe even projecting. But I can see clearly that something is wrong.”

“I am fine,” I protest weakly, but all this does is cause him to roll his eyes and lean back in his seat, look away from me. I let out a sharp exhale, nodding to myself in an attempt to give myself courage. “Okay, so… maybe there's something we need to talk about.”

Niall’s lips pull down into a frown, and I can see where his thoughts are taking him. I understand why, too - after all, the last time marriage was a thing in our friend group, Louis and Nat had gotten divorced out of nowhere. I hold a hand up to stop him from speaking, try to figure out the best way to start this conversation. Eventually, I realise there is no right way to tell someone you're married to that you're expecting, so I sigh, scrub at my face with my hands. The ceiling isn't interesting, but it is much easier to stare at while I say what I need to say.

“I'm not calling to tell you I want to get a divorce, just wanna get that out there now.”

“All right. Then why won't you look at me right now?”

“I, I'm pregnant.”

When Niall doesn't speak after a long moment, I drop my head to look at him. He’s still sitting back in his chair, eyes wide and unblinking. I shift uncomfortably under his stare; the silence between us stretches on, becomes more tight and tense, and I bite my lip, wondering if there’s been a glitch in the program. The call ends with a low-pitched noise as I press the hang up button.

That went lovely, I think with a scoff, setting my laptop aside. A sharp pain races up my leg, and I hiss aloud and bring my foot up to examine the toe I've just stubbed against the corner of my suitcase. It’s not even red, but it still hurts. I stick my tongue out at my luggage and manoeuvre myself to lie down on the bed, my feet away from the suitcase. I stare at the background of my laptop - a photograph of our first kiss as husband and wife.

“Are you serious?” is the first thing he says when his face appears again, five minutes after I'd hung up, and I push myself to sit up.

“Yeah, very serious. Three tests can't be wrong, right?”

He nods slowly, his hands coming up to cradle his head. I can hear him mumbling under his breath to himself; he finally looks back up at me. “Who else knows?”

My heart sinks, and I feel like throwing up. I honestly had begun to hope otherwise, but of course he's unhappy about this - we've been married for less than a year. I swipe the tears from my cheeks angrily, stare at my keyboard. I’m aware that if I speak right now, I'm going to either start crying too hard for my words to be understandable or I will say something that would just exacerbate the tension of the situation.

“I've only told Amber,” I admit finally once my emotions are under control. “I wanted to wait until after the first appointment before I told anyone else besides you. And the only reason she knew before you is because, well, she was there. Oh, and Nat, but that was completely on accident. It just slipped out while I was venting.”

“When’s the appointment?” he asks after a moment, and I double-check the calendar on my phone.

“Uh, Friday at ten.”

“Damn it.” Niall sighs and ruffles his hair; his jaw tics slightly as he thinks. “I, I can’t get away. Not this soon.”

I shrug, pick at a fuzz on the comforter beneath me. “That’s okay, babe. I understand.”

“Will you let me know what the doctor says, please?”

I’m not expecting this, not after he’s been so quiet for the last ten minutes, and I stare at him in surprise, then blink back to myself. I nod quickly. Clearing my throat, I avoid looking in his eyes, and my fingers scratch more insistently at the fuzz.

“Can-can I ask you something?”

“You know you can ask me anything, love.”

“Are you… okay with this?”

“What? Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?”

His voice is tight, and he frowns and doesn't take his gaze off me. The thumping of my heart makes me feel like he should be able to hear it, it's thunderous to me. My mouth forms words, but nothing comes out. Eventually, my shoulders rise and fall in an abortive shrug.

“Well, we've never said whether we wanted kids or not, and we've only been married for seven months. On top of that, we've seen each other a grand total of…” I pause, thinking back to the past year, and eventually come up with a count, “twice since the wedding. So…”

Niall’s expression turns pained, and I chew on my bottom lip. His eyes are dark through the connection, and I can't tell if it's because of the fact that it's late at night where he is or his emotions; he draws in a shuddering breath that answers that question. Dragging his hands over his face, he sighs and rises to his feet. The screen fills with a stretch of white - his T-shirt - and the audio is tinged with static.

The call stabilises after a moment, and I realise he's moved to the bed of his own hotel room. I watch him move pillows around until they act as a barrier between his back and the headboard. Finally, finally, he puts the laptop on his lap, angling the screen so I can see his face clearly. His lips twist into a small, almost non-existent smile, but it falls off his face as quickly as it appears.

“I… I’m sorry that you thought I wouldn’t be happy about this. I’m, I’m definitely surprised, I didn’t expect to call you and be told I’m going to be a dad, but sweetheart, don’t think for a second that I’m not utterly ecstatic.” He pouts a bit. “I just wish I could be there with you for the appointment.”

I drop my head back and blink away the tears. I don’t want him to feel even worse about anything. It’s not his fault that I was so certain he’d be angry hearing the news; it’s because of my own worries and insecurities. A small voice in my head is still saying that I should run, that I should do what I need to do to protect myself, but it’s drowned out by the rational part of my brain telling me that Niall is different and wouldn’t hurt me again - he’s already proven that over and over again. I sniff and wipe my eyes with the hem of my T-shirt.

“I wish you could, too. It’s… it’s gonna be hard without you. But yeah, I’ll tell you everything the doctor says.”

“Why you goin’ to the doctor?”

Niall rolls his eyes as Harry’s voice fills the room, and I stifle a giggle. Of course Harry would unknowingly intrude on such a heavy conversation. His face pops up in the corner of the screen, upside-down in his attempt to see who Niall is talking to over the top of the laptop. From behind the mass of curls I catch Niall’s questioning look and I shake my head, just the slightest turn; he settles back looking almost disappointed, even as I focus on our friend.

“Hi, Hazza, nice nostrils. To answer your question, I have an annual check-up I gotta go to.”

“So, why tell Niall about it?”

I stare blankly at him, blinking slowly. “Because he’s my husband…?”

“Oh. Oh, yeah!” He laughs and disappears from sight, his voice distant as he calls out, “Miss you, Erin!”

“I miss you, too, Dimples.”

Niall and I know better than to plan on staying on the call for too much longer; now that one of the boys knows he’s video-chatting me, the others are bound to join in. And they do - Liam flopping down onto the bed and making the laptop shake, Louis scooping up the computer and moving as far away from the rest of the group as he can to talk to me without them interrupting or trying to take over. I almost ask after Zayn before I remember; it’s been months since Zayn left the band, but it’s still so hard to wrap my mind around, especially when I see the others in high moods.

Niall and I considered pushing the wedding back after his announcement that he was leaving, but he convinced us to go through with it; he claimed if we didn't do it then, we probably never would. He'd been a groomsmen, and I still love looking at the photos of that day, seeing the guys laughing and smiling and enjoying the day together.

Zayn and I still text occasionally, though it isn’t really the same if I’m not able to see him regularly. Then again, I don’t really see Harry, Louis, Liam, or Niall regularly, regardless of the fact that I’m married to Niall. I shake off the thoughts and grin widely when Haz and Lou decide to play keep-away with the laptop.

Eventually, Niall grabs the computer back, shoos our friends from the room, and waits until they’re done yelling out goodbyes and have closed the door behind them before he looks back at me. I shoot him a sad smile and raise a finger to stroke across the screen where his stubbled cheek is. He gets it, leaning his head into my “touch” without hesitation, then leans forward a bit, so that he’s able to speak more quietly while still allowing me to hear him.

“I miss you so much. Will you be home when we’re finally done with this tour?”

“Absolutely. Management doesn’t really want me in the studio until about mid-January, I think, so I’ll have a whole month without responsibilities.”

“Okay. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Ni.”

The video stills, his blue eyes and soft grin frozen on the screen for a moment, but then the call ends. I know, completely and logically, that he won’t be calling back; it’s too late for more conversation, no matter how much we miss each other. With the schedules we’ve had to keep - the early wake-ups, long drives to different destinations, the hours put into the rehearsals and shows - it just has not been feasible to spend more than an hour on a video-call once every week or so. It’s even harder now that I’m nearing the end of my tour.

I’ve enjoyed travelling around America, playing music and meeting fans, but I just… I miss my home. I miss my parents and best friends. Most of all, I miss crawling into bed with my husband, which has only happened three times since our wedding: the first two nights as a married couple and about a month into my tour, when Niall had managed to slip away from his own tour for a night between cities.

I sigh and ready for bed, ignoring the heaviness in my gut as the dot next to Niall’s name stays grey. I finally close out of Skype, crawl between the sheets, and stare at the background image. It had been an absolutely perfect day, and marrying Niall was the cherry on top. No one had argued, my friends made sure the day went smoothly even though things were still tense and uncomfortable between Natalie and Louis, and my dad walked me down the aisle like I thought was impossible for so long. The only thing that could have made it better is if Jem had been there. Seeing only Alan had hurt for a minute, but then he'd smiled that smile that was so familiar, and it eased the ache of missing Jem on such an important day.

My phone vibrates next to me, and I close my eyes, frustrated and exhausted and… needing something to change. Slowly, I reach for the device and unlock it.

From: Ni-baby Can I ask why we aren't telling the lads yet ?

To: Ni-baby I kinda wanted to keep this between us for just a little bit longer.
To: Ni-baby Like I told you, Amber only knows because she was there, she walked in on me right after I found out, and she helped me calm down, and Nat found out because I wasn’t thinking while venting to her.
To: Ni-baby I was incredibly scared and confused and just… But yeah, I’d like to keep this our secret, enjoy that we know it ourselves, for a little while more.

From: Ni-baby That makes sense. I’m terribly sorry that I’m not there with you. I wish I could be.
From: Ni-baby Telling them okay after we tell our parents ?

To: Ni-baby Yeah, after.