Feels Like Forever


“Are you sure?”

Louis pins Emilie with a flat look and pointedly shuts the bedroom door in her face. Niall’s hand tightens around hers, and she reluctantly allows him to pull her toward his room. The holiday festivities finally wound down to an end when the clock struck midnight, though Freddie and Ryder fell asleep hours ago, carried to the guest room by Niall and Louis while Emilie had chatted easily with the others, even Melody.

The other woman seems to be warming up to Emilie’s presence, though Emilie isn’t sure if it’s going to last. The only thing she plans on doing is making sure she doesn’t say anything to make herself look like a fool. Paul, John, and Mully certainly help with that - they keep her laughing too hard to be able to speak.

“I feel bad,” Emilie whispers once she’s curled into Niall’s side under the blankets, and his arm tightens around her. “Louis has to share a bed with two toddlers.”

Niall snorts, presses a kiss to her hair. “Believe me, if he had a problem with it, he woulda told us.”

Emilie sighs and closes her eyes as Niall shifts to get more comfortable. The steady cadence of his breath is comforting, soothing, and she lets it lull her into peacefulness. Her muscles slowly relax, though her mind hasn’t quite caught the memo that it’s time for bed and thoughts to stop racing. She blows out a breath.

“Can we talk?”

Under her ear, his heart-rate kicks up, but his voice remains steady when he says yes. She hesitates then pushes away so that she can meet his eye. The shadows brush the edges of his face a hazy softness, and she catches herself wondering again how she got so lucky.

“I know I’ve apologised already for it, but -”

“Don’t, Em. Just… don’t. Okay? You have nothing to apologise for.” He sighs, his hand gentle as it rubs along her arm. “But for what it’s worth? I think Ryder is fine with being here, even though it’s a new place, and I doubt it’s just because he’s resilient. I think it’s because you made him feel safe and secure enough that he isn’t afraid.”

“I know. He loves it here. He loves being able to be around you. Which is why he keeps ending up in bed with us,” she says on a quiet laugh.

The amusement doesn’t last long; within seconds, Niall’s face loses its smile, and he scratches idly at his hairline. “If you really don’t want to move in, tell me, and I’ll drop it forever. I won’t be angry. We could figure something else out. But, Emilie, I’d really love it if you’d think it over, really think about it, instead of just saying no because you’re scared of fucking Ryder up. Because, darling? That little boy is only as amazing and safe as he is because of you.”

Emilie swallows thickly, but there’s no way to stop the tears that burn in her eyes. She buries her face into his neck; his breath escapes on a soft puff, and Niall rolls onto his side to hold her closer. She tries so hard to not fall apart. It isn’t successful, and she isn’t sure why she is even crying. Admittedly, his words mean the world to her - she’s doubted her ability to care for Ryder since he was born, and those fears have only grown since Danielle was arrested - but they shouldn’t be affecting her like this. She’s stronger than this.

“I’ll think about it,” she promises, her broken whisper swallowed up by the dark of the bedroom and the daunting unknown that awaits, no matter what she chooses.

The next few days catch Emilie constantly wrapped up in her own thoughts. Niall’s words echo in her mind on a loop, assurance and challenge wrapped up in one. It hasn’t gotten any easier to try to make up her mind: Playing house with Niall makes her crave this domesticity in a permanent capacity, but her fears still linger underneath. If something goes wrong, if she and Niall don’t work out... they won’t be the only ones hurt by it. Ryder will be caught in the crossfire and the upheaval of their lives - again.

The more time that passes, though, the harder it is for those doubts to make themselves heard over everything else. And Emilie is so tired. Tired of pretending she doesn’t want what Niall offers, that she’s perfectly content with the current arrangement, that she would be okay if this all fell apart without giving it an honest try.

Derek is no help; she tries to talk to him about it via a FaceTime call, but the only thing he says is she better not come back to Austin unless it’s to pack. He does nothing to help her sort out her thoughts, nothing to assuage any fears she confesses. Monica, however, spends half an hour on the phone with Emilie, and with their brainpower combined, they come up with a pros and cons list. Emilie can’t deny that the pro column is much, much, much longer than the con.

Staring at Niall from across the room, the sound of their friends laughing and talking, the kids screeching with delight as they run around and demand attention, Emilie allows herself to make the decision. It’s really the only choice that makes sense. Someone bumps into her, and she drags her gaze away from him, smiling in thanks at the glass that Paul shoves into her hand. Everyone is already drunk, and Emilie wishes she could join in. But there are two toddlers who require supervision, so she’s stuck with mostly sparkling juice.

Lewis wraps an arm around her shoulder, grinning widely. “Glad you could make it.”

“So am I. I’d hate to miss this much drunken fun. I mean, when else am I going to see John and Paul having a twerking competition? Oh, and now my boyfriend has joined in. Fantastic.”

“He’s going to hate that,” he remarks lightly, and Emilie smiles even as she continues recording the men’s antics. “Send it to me.”

Lewis rattles off his phone number once the dancing has stopped, and Emilie sends the video before slipping her phone back into her pocket. She winks conspiratorially at the singer and slips through the crowd to refill her glass then make her way to her boyfriend’s side. Niall had mentioned before she arrived that his friends would want to congregate here at his - something about them wanting to meet Ryder and see Emilie again - but she didn’t expect ten extra people to be in the house. At least they’ve all been pleasant, she thinks as she steals a sip from Niall’s beer, nearly spitting out the mouthful with a laugh when Niall and Lewis all but fall against each other, kissing quickly before launching into song.

Louis catches her eye when the first tantrum starts; she didn’t see what acted as the catalyst, but everyone notices the boys slapping at each other. She sets her drink on the counter and hurries to help Louis separate Ryder and Freddie. Both kids pout and fuss, though they aren’t successful in their attempts to get free. She carries Ryder over to Niall, and her boyfriend instantly puts his drink aside to hold the fretting child. Emilie swallows the lump in her throat as Ryder melts into Niall’s arms.

She gestures for Louis to rejoin the party downstairs, and he hesitates but ultimately ducks out of the room. Freddie whines quietly when his father disappears, but Emilie shushes him with gentle hands. The music has lowered, only the faintest strains reaching her ears now, and she settles in between the two toddlers and hums under her breath. It doesn’t take long for their breathing to even out, faces going lax in sleep. She kisses their foreheads then gingerly crawls off the bed.

“They asleep now?” Melody asks as Emilie flops down onto the couch next to her. “Niall loves that boy.”

“That’s what Mully said, too.”

“It’s easy to see why. He’s a good kid.”

Emilie has no idea what to say to that, so she nods succinctly and stares down at her hands. Melody huffs out a laugh, pushes to her feet. After checking that Emilie doesn’t need a drink, the other woman saunters off to find someone else to have a conversation with. Emilie gazes around at everyone gathered in the living room. Drunk they may be, but they all are making concerted efforts to speak quietly. That isn’t to say there aren’t the occasional loud bursts of laughter or good-natured ribbing, it’s just... softer than what it could be.

Niall appears in front of her an hour later as everyone stands, the last minutes of the year ticking away. He tugs her to her feet, kisses her with abandon amidst the protests from the others. Melody’s voice is loudest, telling them to knock it off and wait for the ball to drop. Someone makes a crude joke about balls dropping, which sends everyone into uproarious laughter; Emilie, drunk off the kiss and not giving a damn about anything other than the heat that flares in her veins, flips them off over Niall’s shoulder and pulls him closer.

The party winds down shortly after the strike of midnight and another liplock between Lewis and Niall; Louis uses his fatherhood as an excuse to go to bed, and Emilie and Niall shamelessly latch onto that reason as well. She rushes through washing the few dishes that sit in the sink while the others gather up the empty bottles and cans. Within the half-hour, there isn’t any reason to linger downstairs any longer, so she laces her fingers with Niall’s and ignores the catcalls that come from behind them as she leads him up the stairs. All she can think about is just how good of a start this new year is going to have.