‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

five

The screaming of the audience is deafening as soon as I step up to the side of the stage a couple of weeks later, and I wince at the volume; someone nudges me, and a pair of earplugs are pushed into my hand. I mouth thanks to the tech, shoving them into my ears. My gaze immediately scans over the stage. It takes a moment, but then Liam moves out of the way, and I see Niall for the first time since our video call when I showed him the sonogram.

He’s singing his heart out, voice clear and strong. My heart tightens in my chest, and I blink away tears. Seeing him in his element, seeing him so happy and obviously enjoying what he does, has always been one of my favourite things to witness, even when we weren’t talking. I follow him with my eyes, laugh aloud when he grabs at his rear when they sing “and talking out of our asses”.

The set eventually comes to an end, and the boys bow and wave to the cheering crowd. I step back further into the shadowy spaces, waiting. The thundering of my pulse is loud in my ears; my palms are sweating, and I realise that I’m actually nervous. This is the first time I’ll be seeing Niall in person in the last three months and since telling him we were going to have a child a few weeks ago. He’s been happy while on our phone and video calls, but it can always turn out to be completely different now that we’ll be face-to-face.

I wipe my hands on the front of my leggings - the only thing that seems to fit properly any more - and chew on my lower lip. The screaming from the fans drowns out any other noise, but I don’t care about that, not when Niall is now within reach. He takes a towel from one of the crew, drags it over his face, and smiles brightly at everyone around him.

Once he passes by where I’m hiding, I follow him. Harry catches sight of me, his eyes widening and mouth falling open, and I wink then reach out to give my husband’s sides a gentle pinch.

“What the hell?”

I clap both my hands over my mouth, but it does nothing to stifle the snort before I dissolve into giggles. Niall whirls around; his face melts from irritated to overjoyed in less than a second. I squeal when he flings his arms around me, drags me in for a bone-crushing hug. I bury my face into his sweaty neck, sniffling as tears fill my eyes, and I hold on tight.

We ignore the others while they pass, too wrapped up in ourselves to pay any attention to them. He pushes me back enough so that he can kiss me; I nearly melt to the floor at the first touch of his lips against mine.

Three months. Three damn months. It’s been too long since we’ve been together, and it is overwhelmingly intoxicating to have this right now. A ball of discontent in my gut, one I wasn’t even fully aware of, fades into nothingness the longer we stand there.

Eventually, the sound of someone clearing their throat behind us forces us to separate. I groan into the kiss but pull away. Niall’s cheeks are flushed, his blue eyes dark as they roam over my face, and I lean up to kiss him gently.

“Nope, move it.”

I roll my eyes, turning to pout at Bryan who looks completely unmoved by my reaction to him ruining my life. He just shoves at our shoulders until we start walking down the corridor. Niall doesn’t take his arm from around my waist; I lean into his side and relish the feeling of having him so warm and solid against me.

Liam, Louis, and Harry instantly yank me away from Niall and wrap me in a four-way embrace. They all talk over each other, their voices blending together in a chaotic mess, and though I can’t understand what any of them are saying, it feels wonderful to be with them again. Louis pouts when I wiggle my way out of the hug and move to sit on the couch.

I take my cue to close my eyes when Liam takes off his shirt; Niall protests loudly at our friend’s actions, but I giggle and let my head fall back. It isn’t the first time I’ve been with them in their dressing room after a show. After a few minutes, I’m given the all-clear, and I barely have my eyes opened before Harry is asking for details about my tour. The next hour is spent helping the guys gather up their stuff - seriously, how can their dressing rooms be so damn messy when the lads hardly spend any time in them? - and discussing the venues I’ve performed in and the upcoming studio session.

Niall stops me before I can pull the curtains back once we’ve boarded the bus. “That’s, er, that’s Louis’s extra bunk.”

“Oh…’kay?”

He grabs the duffel bag from my hand and places it into a lower bunk on the other side of the aisle. When he turns back to me, I snake my arms around his waist, tug until he steps closer. There is no hesitation as he ducks down to kiss me. I’ve missed this so much. Just being able to touch him, inhale the scent of him… My heart feels like it could burst with how extraordinarily elated I am to be here with him right now.

The bus rumbles to life under our feet, and I sway as it starts moving. Niall’s arms tighten around me, keeping me steady. I rest my ear against his chest once we part and listen to the rhythmic beating of his heart. After a long minute, I pull back, smile up at him.

“I’ve missed you.”

{:.:.:.:}


I clap a hand over my mouth, spin on my heel, and shove past the people standing at the edge of the stage. By some miracle, I make it to a bathroom and am on my knees in front of the toilet before I can no longer hold it in. My stomach revolts, forces up everything I’ve ingested today.

The door opens as I dry-heave, spitting bile and saliva into the toilet. Cool hands press to the back of my neck; I drape my forearm over the seat, resting my head against my arm, and groan miserably. The person next to me hands me a wet paper towel, and I take it from them to clean my face. Finally, I look up.

Stefanie stares down at me, brows pulled together over worried eyes. I shrug and push myself to my feet, and she reaches over to steady me when I sway dangerously. I force a smile, make my way to the sink, and rinse my mouth out with water from the tap.

My skin is clammy, and I scrub my hands over my cheeks to get some colour back into them. As soon as I’m finished towelling my face dry, Stefanie engulfs me in a warm hug.

“You okay, sweetie?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Erin… is, is there something going on?”

“No,” I reply quickly; judging by the way her eyebrow raises, it was too quick of a response. I sigh, smooth out the hem of my shirt. “I’m fine.”

Her gaze is unwavering, scrutinising. She finally glances away from my face - down to my belly. “Are you pregnant?”

My stomach plummets. How does she know?, I think as I struggle to find words. I don’t even know what I can say. She’s staring at me, waiting for an answer, and eventually, she seems to take my silence as answer enough. She brushes my hair from my face and smiles.

“Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me, I promise.”

“How did you figure it out?”

She shrugs, holds out a pack of spearmint-flavoured gum. “Honestly? It was mostly a wild guess. But the fact that you’ve eaten nothing but healthy food, haven’t had any coffee in the time you’ve been here, and you’re nauseous seemingly out of nowhere kinda led me in that direction.”

I don’t say anything as I chew the gum. Thankfully, she doesn't expect me to speak. Her arm comes up to wrap around my shoulder, and she leads me from the bathroom. We make our way to the side of the stage; the guys are still performing, but Niall keeps glancing over into the wings.

Stefanie leaves me there with a pat to my shoulder, going back out to the area between the stage and audience once she has her camera in hand. I take the water bottle that Paul passes over, taking a small sip and hoping like Hell it stays down.

The concert finally ends, and it doesn't take long before Niall is at my side. I catch the inquisitive look that Liam throws him, but I don't get the chance to think about it - I'm too busy trying to dodge the way Niall’s hands are fluttering about as he frets. I sigh and grab his wrists, yanking them down. He opens his mouth in an attempt to protest, but I raise an eyebrow.

“Later.”

His lips turn down at the corners; regardless of his upset at not having answers now, though, he nods succinctly and moves to stand behind me. I lean back against his chest, melt into the solid stretch of warmth at my back, and give the other four a smile as they troop off the stage. Louis darts forward to kiss my cheek softly, and I know Niall is listening in.

“You disappeared. You okay?”

“Yeah, just ate something that wasn't quite right. ‘S’all good, Tommo.”

“Okay. What do you say we ditch this tosser and go have some fun?”

I laugh at the ridiculous way he waggles his eyebrows at me, shoving ineffectually at his shoulder. “Go away, you freak.”

His blue eyes sparkle with amusement even as he does; the rest of us follow him down the hallway to the back entrance. By the time we’re all boarded on the bus on our way to the hotel for one final night of rest before the tour is over, I’m exhausted. I yawn widely as I amble toward the bunks with a request for someone to wake me up when we arrive. It takes nothing more than lying down and curling up to put me to sleep.

Shuffling through the suite, I follow Niall into the room we’re going to share. The nap I took on the bus has done nothing to alleviate the exhaustion that courses through me, weighs down my entire being. He puts our suitcases by the wall as I stretch out on the bed. A moan escapes when my body seems to melt into the mattress. Niall huffs out a quiet laugh, leans down to kiss my forehead, then disappears into the attached bathroom. I don’t remember when he comes back out - I’m already asleep.

{.:.:.:.}


The clock on the nightstand says it’s almost one in the morning, but I’m wide awake after two trips to the toilet to pee. Niall’s so clearly tired, there’s no way he can hide it without his yawns proving him to be a liar; it doesn’t stop him from being awake with me.

He slides his fingers across my belly, murmurs something I can’t hear. My quiet laugh echoes slightly in the silence of the room, and he mock-glares at me before turning his gaze back to my belly.

“Ignore your mum, little one. She just doesn’t understand. She isn't cool like us. But… She’s amazing, though. You’re gonna love her. I do. So much, more than I can put into words.” His fingers are gentle as they stroke over my skin, leaving goosebumps in their wake. “She's smart and brave and strong, and I hope you're as beautiful as she is. You are going to be so loved, did you know that? Between your mum, me, your family, there won't be a day that you'll ever be alone. I can't wait to meet you.”

“Ni…”

“Would you hush, woman? I am trying to bond with our child.”

I roll my eyes, gesture for him to continue. It's actually really sweet, and I won't admit it, but my heart is definitely a pile of goo listening to him speak to our baby. Any anxiety I've felt has all but gone, at least when it comes to whether he is accepting of the pregnancy.

I know it's hard for him to not tell our friends, but I'm so grateful that he's willing to wait. He lays his palm flat against my stomach and goes quiet. I frown, run my fingers through his hair, and wait for him to speak.

“I can't believe this is real,” he whispers into the dark.

“Neither can I.”

“Still worried?”

I shrug and twist the ends of his hair around my finger. “Yeah. I mean, we’re, well, we’re so young, and we didn't exactly plan for this.”

With a sigh, Niall kisses my belly softly, murmuring an I love you already, and shifts until his head is on the pillow instead of at my side. His hand finds mine, and he squeezes comfortingly. I exhale slowly as he pulls me into his chest. We lie wrapped in each other without saying a word for a long while. I let myself relax in the comfort of his arms, and my mind automatically conjures up thoughts of what our child will look like.

“Love… I know this is a massive surprise, but I am so incredibly excited for this. Okay? I don't care that we haven't even had our first anniversary yet. Hearing you say that I'm going to be a dad is the best thing I've gotten to experience. Well, it's tied for hearing you say ‘I do’, but either way, isn't it obvious? The most amazing events in my life include you, and I don't want you to think otherwise.”

“I'm… I'm terrified. What if I fail at this?”

“Oh, love. You're going to be amazing. You've had a wonderful example your entire life, and if you’re anything like your mother, then our baby will be the luckiest child in the world. There is literally no one else in this world who I’d rather be married to and raising a baby with. We’re young, yes, but… Erin,” he murmurs, kissing the top of my head before nudging my face up with a knuckle, staying silent until I look directly at him, “I have been in love with you since practically the first moment I laid eyes on you. Even through all the bad times, when we were at each other’s throats or not talking…

“I still wanted and needed and loved you, regardless of the fact that I didn’t know it myself. I can’t put into words just how much I love you. I will always love you, and I’m telling you right here and now that I will tell you every single day all the reasons that I love you if it helps you remember that marrying you? Easily the best thing I’ve ever done. No contest, hands down.

“It would kill me to lose you. Do you hear me? I could lose the fame, the fortune, even the band, and I’d be fine. But I wouldn’t survive losing you again. All this baby is going to do is make my love grow stronger. I don’t want you to ever forget that.”

I nod, breathing shakily as tears stung my eyes. He murmurs in protest when I close my eyes, but I can’t bear meeting his gaze. Somehow, he’s been able to assuage fears I haven’t even voiced, let alone considered myself. I let out a shaky breath, scoot closer to him.

The scent of his cologne and skin, the soft even cadence of his breath, it’s all so comforting, and I breathe it in. I’m almost back to sleep when my eyes snap open, and I groan aloud, shoving back the blankets and stomping petulantly across the room to the bathroom for yet another pee-session.

{.:.:.:.}


The reflection in the mirror is no help. I turn to face the opposite wall, hoping a different angle will give me a better answer than what I’ve gotten so far. To me, the slight swell to my belly is blatantly obvious, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve seen my body regularly over the last month or if it actually is visible. I heft up the hem of my shirt higher, let my body relax, and squint as I stare at the mirror.

It’s been three days since the tour ended, and it has gotten so much harder not to let the secret out now. I know it’s only a matter of time before I can’t hide it any more - the bump is going to get harder to keep from sight - but…

I sigh and shift again, turn more to the side; my belly isn’t nearly as flat at the bottom as it was before, and that part is definitely not just my imagination. I can feel it as I run my hand over the area. I wonder idly what it’ll feel like the further I get into the pregnancy.

“Occupied!” I yelp, but it’s too late: Liam’s already halfway into the bathroom. I drop my shirt down, hoping against hope that he hasn’t seen. “Dude, have you never heard of knocking?”

“Sorry, sorry, I thought you were in the bedroom. Wha…?”

I squirm as he stares at me, and his eyes narrow in thought. When his jaw drops open, I realise he’s figured it out. To my surprise, all he does is hug me tightly and kiss my hair. Then he ushers me out of the bathroom.

I walk down the corridor to the living room with a small smile on my face. Louis gasps dramatically, bounces on his knees on the ottoman once I collapse to sprawl on the couch.

“Erin, please, c’mon! You have to go with me, you’ll love this place!”

“Lou, last time I went out clubbing with you guys, I ended up all over the internet as a scandalous slut.” I wave lazily as Liam rejoins us with a snort at my words, then turn my attention back to the hyperactive Lou. “What do you think they’d say if I, a woman now married to one of your closest friends, went out clubbing with you without Niall anywhere around?”

“Well, he can come, too.”

“I don’t want to,” Niall calls from the kitchen where he’s letting some peppermint tea steep; it’s been the only thing I’ve been able to tolerate with my nausea lately.

“Oh, come off it, why not?”

“Because I don’t want to.”

“Louis, please, just… not tonight.”

“One good reason, and I’ll drop it, I swear.” Louis’s lips jut out in a pout, and he clasps his hands under his chin. “Please, Erin? Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, plea -”

“Holy shit, dude, no! I’m pregnant!” I finally let out, frustrated and at the end of my patience, just as Niall shouts, “Mate, she’s pregnant, now stop!”

The silence that falls at our outbursts is deafening. Louis stares at me, eyes wide and mouth dropped open; Harry stops messing around with the kazoo in his hands. Only Liam looks unsurprised by the news.

I sigh, accepting the mug of tea Niall passes over, and slurp noisily to break up the awkward quiet. Niall shoots me a flat glare but doesn’t say anything. Eventually, Louis’s mouth shuts with a click of his teeth.

“Are you serious?” he breathes, and I nod, taking a quiet sip of my tea this time. “When are you due? Is it a boy or girl? When did it happen?”

I let Niall take over answering the questions, leaning back into the couch with my eyes closed. A tiny belch escapes me, and one of the others laugh. I ignore them and relax further. Though I can hear them talking, I’m more interested in getting some more rest. Growing a baby takes a lot out of a person.