Feels Like Forever


“Happy birthday, wonderful dad of mine!”

Jackson’s soft chuckle crackles down the line, and Emilie does a small dance in her place at the victory. “Thanks, Emmy. I really enjoy being dragged away from a board meeting to have my daughter screaming ‘happy birthday’ at me.”

“You know damn well that you do. Board meetings are boring as Hell, and you know I make your life interesting.”

“You have since the day you was born, kiddo.” Her father pauses, and the sound of voices in the background fades. “So I heard about Danielle.”

“I… I don’t want to talk about her, Dad. What’s new with your life? How’s work?”

Emilie listens as her dad talks shortly about the new things his company has been doing, but it isn’t all that interesting to her. She just loves to hear his voice. Their contact has been sporadic at best over the last year, and it’s understandable - she’s had a full course load, and he has been going through a divorce. She still feels guilty, though, for having let the conversations dwindle instead of making time for him.

Emilie makes a mental note to call her mother later, since it has been over two weeks since they last spoke on the phone. Her thoughts are derailed, dragged away from listing out what they can talk about by her father clearing his throat and asking after her own life. She hesitates, picks at the seam of her pyjama pants.

“Not much. I haven’t done anything besides go to school, talk to my boyfriend, hang out with Derek and Monica. Y’know, the usual.”

“Back up, wait. Boyfriend? When did this happen?”

She huffs out an awkward laugh. “Uh, it’s been a few months. I, um, I actually went on vacation last month and spent a week at his place.”

“Let me guess, it’s that Niall kid.”

“It is, yeah.”

“He treatin’ you right?”

“Of course he is, Dad. He’s… he’s been nothing less but a gentleman,” she assures him, her cheeks flooding with warmth as she remembers the way it felt to have him moving inside of her, holding her close and kissing her breathless. “He’s really sweet. I think you’d like him.”

“What happened to him being just a friend?” Jackson asks lightly, and Emilie can hear the smile in his voice.

“That, well, that kinda went ass over teakettle, not gonna lie.”

“Ah, shit. Okay, Emmy, I gotta get back to the meeting. I’ll call you tonight. I wanna hear more about the kid who’s stolen my girl’s heart.”

“You’ll always be my number one guy, Dad, don’t worry ‘bout that.”

After exchanging love yous and byes, Emilie hangs up with a wide grin on her face. Her dad has always been incredibly wonderful about her relationships - unlike her friends’ fathers, Jackson has never once threatened her boyfriends with bodily harm if she ended up with a broken heart. Her mother, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: She is vocal about her role as protector and boasts about being a mama grizzly.

Emilie frowns at her books and laptop. She doesn’t want to do her homework, but she also doesn’t want to fall behind in this class; struggling like she had last term is not something she wants to repeat. Dragging her stuff closer, Emilie brings up the Pandora app, changes to the Niall Horan station, and settles in to do her coursework while listening to the sultry beat of Slow Hands.

… … … … … … … … …

Emilie bites back another sigh when Ryder lets out an ear-piercing screech, leans down to pick him up and hold him to her chest. He’s been battling an ear infection for the last two days, and while a rotation of acetaminophen and ibuprofen takes away most of the pain for him, he has cried and screamed every time she puts him down. Tears sting at her eyes, and she sniffles as she starts rocking Ryder gently.

A knock sounds on the door, and she stares down at her godson. After very little hesitation or debate, she sets him down in his playpen, and he whimpers. Emilie shushes him and heads toward the door. She almost thinks she’s gotten away with it when he starts crying loudly. She feels like the absolute worst person in the world as she ignores it in favour of pulling the chain back and opening the door a crack.

“Niall isn’t here yet,” she says, unsurprised by the sight of the two men on the other side - this has been planned for the last few days - and Harry nods and shrugs. She sighs, steps back to let him and Louis in. “C’mon in.”

Both of the guys wince at a particularly loud shriek, and Emilie hurries to get Ryder back in her arms. He snuffles and buries his face into her neck, his cheeks sticky with tears and snot. Her hand instinctively rubs circles on her godson’s back, and she glances longingly at the door to her bedroom, desperate for sleep. She turns back to Niall’s friends. Louis avoids looking at her directly.

“You, er, have a little...something in your hair,” supplies Harry when she gives them a quizzical look.

She knows instantly what it is and sighs. She knows she doesn’t have the time right now ー or the ability to get more than five steps away from Ryder ー to shower, so everyone is just going to have to deal with it. Emilie gestures with her free hand toward the couch, sitting at one end with Ryder curled up against her chest, and leans her head back.

“Sorry I’m not much company today,” she whispers, “but Ry’s been dealing with an ear infection, so I’ve not gotten more than an hour or two of sleep in the last couple of days.”

Louis pats her knee. “No worries, love. Do you want us to watch him so you can take a shower or nap?”

“Nah, I’ll be okay. Just gotta get through today, and I’ll probably cave and let him sleep in my bed again. Maybe tonight’ll be different!” she announces in a falsely-cheery voice, not even believing herself; she knows the night will be just as awful and long as the last two.

The group sits in silence for a long while, and eventually, Emilie realises that Ryder has fallen asleep, his mouth ajar and drool slipping from the corner onto her skin. She grimaces but doesn’t move. Louis’s words come back to her, and she wonders if the child is in a deep enough sleep to not notice being transferred from her arms to his playpen. Biting her lip, she shifts slowly, gingerly, and rises to her feet. Ryder stirs, but his eyes stay closed. The adults all seem to hold their breaths as she carefully sets him down on the blankets and waits. Emilie feels like she’s going to cry when he snoozes on peacefully. She runs a finger over his cheek, red from the fever he’s been suffering from, then turns to Louis and Harry.

“Okay, I’m going to take a shower. I stink, I’m covered in bodily fluids from a sick toddler, and honestly? I just need a break. Niall should be here soon, so can one of you let him in?” At their nods, she rubs at her eyes. “All right. Thanks. If Ry wakes up, just… knock on the bathroom door or something to let me know.”

Emilie passes the remote to Harry with a warning to keep the volume low then makes her way to her bedroom. She doesn’t bother stopping to grab clothes, the idea of seclusion and hot water too tempting to want to delay it. After making sure both doors are closed tight, she twists the knob and strips as the water warms. Stepping under the spray feels like stepping into an entirely different world; she turns her face up to the showerhead and cries as two days’ worth of sweat and filth slip from her skin.


Niall knocks on the door and waits patiently. It doesn’t take long before he hears the lock sliding from place, and his lips curve into a smile as the door is pulled open. His grin falters when he sees Harry’s face instead of Emilie’s on the other side.

“Hey, mate. She’s in the shower.”

Ryder lets out a massive shriek from where he’s standing in his playpen, tears streaming down his chubby cheeks, and Niall steps inside and pushes the door closed, locking it quickly behind him. Emilie had warned him that Ryder was ill, which cut into their socialising because she was often too busy taking care of her godson to send texts. When the child sees Niall, his shrieks turn into babbling and more crying.

“Ni-ni, up! Ni!”

Louis is staring at the kid with an expression of fear on his face, and Niall rolls his eyes. Ryder’s cries get louder after a second, and Niall crosses the room quickly to scoop up the toddler. He hushes Ryder, holding him close enough that he can hear Niall’s heartbeat. Once the shrieking and sobbing has slowed, stopped, Niall turns to his friend.

“Lou, you have a child. What the hell, mate?”

“I haven’t ever had to deal with this,” he protests with a wild gesture to Ryder.

Niall presses his hand against Ryder’s cheek. It’s startlingly warm, so he makes his way to the kitchen to look at the dry-erase board that Emilie keeps on the wall. There’s a small list of times and letters: 7:30 I, 11:30 A, 3:30 I written on the board in her neat print, and Niall turns and finds two bottles of children’s medicine on the counter ー ibuprofen and acetaminophen. He double-checks the directions for the Tylenol then measures out the appropriate amount; Ryder doesn’t even fight him on swallowing it down, and Niall is surprised. His nephew always squalled and struggled against taking medication.

Once Ryder has a child’s cup of juice that Niall retrieves from the refrigerator, Niall settles in on the sofa with the child and slides his fingers through the sweat-matted hair. The shower is still running in the bathroom, the sound loud in the quiet of the apartment. Niall waits a few minutes then frowns. There have been plenty of times that Emilie has texted him a “brb” before she took a shower and been back within ten minutes; she said it was an after-effect of growing up with a big family.

“How long has she been in there?”

Harry and Louis exchange glances, and Niall’s concern grows when Louis checks his phone screen. When he says that it’s been forty-five minutes, Niall nods succinctly and pulls Ryder back enough to look in his eyes.

“Hey, bud. These are my friends. I promise they’re nice. Can I leave you with them while I go get Auntie Emilie?”

Ryder’s face screws up in consternation, but he doesn’t cry, just says in a wobbling voice “An’ Em?”

“Yeah, I’ll go get An’ Em. But you gotta let Hazza and Lou watch you for just a minute, okay?”

The child gives the other two suspicious looks but nods reluctantly. Niall sets him on the couch and stands, tousling Ryder’s hair before he walks away. He knocks lightly on the bathroom door, hesitates when there is no reply, then knocks louder, testing the knob at the resounding silence. He takes a step into the bathroom and closes the door behind him; he turns around and sees something through the slit between the curtain and the wall.

Emilie is sat on the floor of the shower, leaning against the wall, eyes closed. The water is still going, and minute shivers rock through her body as she sleeps. He rushes to the shower, slides the curtain back, and presses a hand against her skin. The spray from the water is ice-cold, and her flesh is barely any warmer. Niall hurriedly turns off the tap, reaches for a towel. Emilie doesn’t wake even as he drags her from the tub onto the mat on the floor. He scrubs at her body with the towel, trying to ignore how hard she’s trembling. If he focuses on that, his worry is just going to get worse. Eventually, she stirs, her eyes fluttering open, and she stares up at him in sleepy confusion.

“Niall? What…?”

“You fell asleep in the shower. Are you okay?”

She nods shakily and leans into him as he wraps a dry towel around her shoulders; he waits until her knees are pulled up to her chest before he pulls her closer. “I… I’m just so fucking tired. Danielle dropped Ry off almost three days ago and didn’t bother telling me he was sick, so I had to find out the difficult way that he has an ear infection, and I haven’t gotten much sleep. I’m, I’m tired.”

Niall’s brows furrow, and he bites back the anger that surges up at the mention of Emilie’s former stepsister. He knows very little about Danielle, but everything that Emilie has said involving Ryder’s mother has left a nasty impression. He helps Emilie to her feet and guides her to the bedroom, standing between her and the door so the others don’t see her. She sits on the end of the bed and sighs heavily, stares at her closet. The dark circles under her eyes seem to grow even darker, but Niall is sure it’s just a trick of the light. Instead of making her move, he heads to the dresser and pulls out underwear and a tank-top, then a pair of black-and-red sleep pants from the closet. She doesn’t even fight him as he helps her get dressed.


Emilie forces a smile at Niall’s concerned expression, but she knows it falls flat by the way he brushes her hair out of her face after fixing the straps of her top. She sits still as he brushes her hair gently; her vision blurs with hot tears at his gentleness, the care he’s showing her. She sniffles and closes her eyes. Ryder squeals from the living room, the sound causing her shoulders to slump. She feels like a terrible godmother ー she forgot about him. Niall scratches at her scalp softly, and she looks up at him.

“I can keep an eye on him if you want to take a rest.”

She shakes her head, wincing at the pounding that’s starting behind her eyes. “No, I… I can do it. Only a few more hours, and he’ll go to bed, right?”

He leads her back out to the living room, and Ryder screeches in delight when he catches sight of his An’ Em. Though she’s so, so, so exhausted, she feels her face split into a smile, and she scoops him up into her arms. The flush to his cheeks has disappeared with his rest, and she kisses her godson’s forehead softly. He isn’t nearly as warm as she feared he would be when she first got in the shower. She gives Niall a questioning look, and he shrugs.

“Figured you wouldn’t mind if I gave him some medicine since it was after the scheduled time.”

Her throat tightens, and all she can do is nod, touched by his consideration. She sits on the couch between Niall and Harry, leans into Niall’s side, and takes the proffered sippy cup from Louis’s hand. Ryder latches onto his cup, sucking greedily at the Pedialite that’s inside. Emilie listens to the guys talking amongst themselves, occasionally adding something to the conversation but mostly just enjoying the sound of them talking and their presence.