‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

seven

I lean into Niall’s side and close my eyes. We spent all day finishing up packing and making sure our belongings made it to the new house in one piece, and, as I have been for the last couple of months, I’m growing a baby. So all my energy is out the window right now. He huffs out a laugh when I push closer, his arm immediately coming up to wrap around my shoulders.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?”

“No. I don’t wanna wake up so early,” I whine, pinching his side when he chuckles at my petulance. “It’s not funny, babe. I’m exhausted.”

“We can go to bed now if you want.”

“But, but Great British Bake Off!”

“Which we can watch on the flight in the morning.”

“But I wanna go to bed with happy, fuzzy feelings.”

“And being my wife and pregnant with our child doesn’t induce those feelings? Petal, I’m hurt.”

“Shut up, asshole. You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I do.” He kisses my temple then gently moves me aside so he can stand. “Tea?”

I pout and grumble out a request for water. I am so incredibly sick of peppermint tea, considering it is practically all I’ve been drinking since my tour finished. Niall’s lips twist into a sympathetic smile, but he doesn’t say anything else, heading to the kitchen. I grab the pillow I brought from the bedroom, tuck it closely to my chest, and flop to the side to watch Mel and Sue talking to the contestants.

“Love? It’s time to wake up, c’mon.”

“Five more minutes,” I mumble, burying my face into the pillow, and Niall laughs softly.

“No doin’, darling, you said that five minutes ago. We’ve got a flight to get ready for.”

Whining even as I push myself to sit up, I let him haul me to my feet. He pushes a mug into my hands, and my groaning gets louder at the aroma of peppermint spiralling from the top. He has the patience of a saint as he reminds me that I usually get nauseous within the first hour of being awake and we probably won’t be able to get more than a ginger ale on the plane - which doesn’t work, I’ve tried. I reluctantly accept his logic, taking a sip, then hand him the drink before shuffling down the hall to the bathroom.

My body aches this morning; having fallen asleep on the couch is proving to have no benefits for this whole “human incubator” thing, especially when adding in the constant exhaustion. According to Doctor Garnett, who I just saw a couple of weeks ago, it should get easier to handle the hormone changes and all that by the start of the second trimester, although he was reluctant to even imply any sort of promise. Then again, he wasn’t pleased with the fact that I would be flying overseas at fifteen-weeks and moving to the United States. To be fair, I can’t blame him: The US health-care system sucks.

I hurry through brushing my teeth and using the toilet, though it seems to take eons for my bladder to finally feel empty. Once done, I wash my hands then make my way back out to the kitchen. Niall passes me my mug while finishing up putting away the kettle. I lean against the counter and drink the tea slowly, my gaze following my husband as he moves about the kitchen.

There is hardly anything left to do besides grab our bags on our way out the door, but Niall continues to find things to occupy himself. I know how nervous he is, so I don’t try to convince him to relax. He takes away my worries by shouldering all the worries and responsibilities, and as much as I want to take away the stress, I can’t. All I can do is try to make things easier on him.

“I love you.”

He freezes in the middle of taping up the box meant for storage at his mother’s, lips slowly curving into a sweet smile. “I love you, too.”

“Come here.”

“Can I -?”

“No. You can’t. Come here.”

Huffing out a laugh, he drops the roll of tape and strides across the kitchen. I set my mug aside, loop my arms around his shoulders as soon as he’s close enough. He rests his forehead against mine, and I swallow past the lump in my throat. Fuckin’ emotions, I think as I stretch up on my toes to kiss him gently.

“Thank you so fucking much for everything you’ve done for us, for me. I can’t ever tell you how much it means to me that you’ve loved me the way you have for the last three years. You’re going to be such a wonderful dad, and our kid? Luckiest little one in the entire galaxy. And I’m insanely lucky to have you in my life. Thank you.”

“Is everything okay?”

I shake my head, grinning up at him. “It’s perfect. Everything is absolutely perfect.”

Watching the house disappear from view behind us is painful, bittersweet. So many memories have been made in that house - our first kiss, our first time, our first anniversary… We have a lot to look forward to now, between the baby and our careers, but it’s hard to leave behind what we’ve had.

I turn back around to face the front of the taxi, and Niall’s hand tightens around mine, reassuring me that he’s still right here with me. I let my head drop to his shoulder and breathe out slowly. It does nothing to dispel the lump in my throat, the tightening of my chest, and the fluttering of nerves in my gut. The cabbie glances in the rear-view mirror, smiles when our eyes meet. I grin back, then sigh blissfully, close my eyes.

{-_-_-_-}


“Welcome home!”

Amber throws her arms around my shoulders, yanking me in for a tight hug. I giggle wildly and sniffle as tears fill my eyes. It’s been almost two months since I’ve seen my best friend, and I nearly choke on the emotions that well up inside. Warm hands on my shoulders pull me away from her, and I don’t get the chance to protest before Liam is embracing me.

“Okay, so everything is inside, and I’ve got a lot of the dishes put away.” Amber removes two keys from her keyring, passing one to Niall and the other to me. “I had Brett run to get some breakfast, he should be back soon.”

I nearly melt at the thought of food; though I know I’ll regret trying to eat anything, I’m hungrier than I’ve been in a long time. “You’re a fucking godsend.”

“Hey, this house isn’t gonna get itself set up!”

“Oh, my gods, Bryan is here?”

“And she’s off,” Liam mutters as I hurry up the sidewalk to the front door.

True to my prediction, I only manage to swallow three bites of my breakfast sandwich before the nausea kicks in. Amber hands me a peppermint candy, her face twisting up in sympathy. We’ve found it isn’t quite as effective of the tea, but it does well enough to ease the upset of my stomach. I suck on the candy as I make my way through the house, leaving my loved ones sat on the dining room floor.

The house is much prettier in person: Bright morning sunlight streams through the large windows, making the rooms appear more open. As I go room to room, I conjure up images of what our home will look like once everything is set up properly. The last room upstairs brings me to a slow stop, and I walk to the centre of the room, let my head fall back, and unthinkingly start going through the musical scales.

My voice echoes quite nicely in the space, and it only solidifies my belief that this is the perfect room room for our music endeavours. It’s easy to imagine where everything will go, guitars against the far wall and piano by the window. I pace around the room and try to figure out an organisation system; between my husband and myself, we have over thirty different guitars, and while I love him to pieces, he is not allowed to touch mine.

My thoughts are interrupted by footsteps nearing the room. I turn to see Niall in the doorway, smiling softly at me. He comes to my side when I wiggle my fingers in his direction, and I lean heavily into his side. I know that soon enough, we will have to focus on the nursery, but it’s a distant worry in my mind.

“Music room?” Niall murmurs softly, and I shiver as his breath ghosts along my skin.

“Music room.”

“I’ll go tell the others then.”

“Ni -”

“The quicker we get this room set up, the quicker you have something to do while we bring in the furniture.”

“I can’t do anything?”

“Of course you can, darling.” His hands rest on my shoulders, and hope blooms to life at the sweet smile he gives me. “You can play Doris and relax.”

“I hate you, go away.”

His laughter is bright, infectious, and I find myself giggling along even as he steers me from the room. Amber keeps me distracted in the kitchen, the both of us working together to finish putting away the rest of the dishware that she hadn’t gotten to yet. We sing along to her Pandora as it plays through Blind Melon’s discography.

“And when your deepest thoughts are broken, keep on dreaming, boy. ‘Cause when you stop dreamin’ it’s time to die.”

“And on that rather maudlin note, it’s time for me to interrupt.”

“Goddamn it, Liam!” I throw a dishtowel in his direction then lean against the counter, crossing my arms over my chest. My chest physically aches from the fright. “You shouldn’t sneak up on people and scare them like that.”

“I’m sorry, love. Niall just sent me down here to let you know that the room is somewhat set up, so you can go relax.”

Sighing, I scratch at my eyebrow before letting my hand fall to the gentle curve of my belly. “I don’t need to relax. I need to do something. It’s not going to do any harm at all if I help unpack.”

“Come here.” Liam steps closer and holds me tightly to his chest. “He’s just worried, that’s all. He doesn’t want to risk anything happening to either you or that baby. Just… let him be overprotective, yeah?”

“Shut up. Fine. But if it gets worse, I’m sending him to live with you until this baby is ready to be evicted from my uterus.”

His and Amber’s laughter follows me through the house, and I count it as a victory even as I climb the stairs. By the time I reach the landing, my breathing is unsteady; I make a mental note to start going for walks or something, or this pregnancy might actually force me to sleep on the couch.

The room is… it’s a mess. Honestly, it is. An armchair sits by the window, leaving just enough space for the piano when it arrives, and large boxes make a path through the room. My favourite guitar is already in its stand nearest the chair. I squeak happily and make my way to the gorgeous, beat-up beauty. Tuning the strings is familiar, easy, and I settle into the plush cushion of the chair before strumming the beginning notes of Long Way Down.