Feels Like Forever


Niall watches his girlfriend as she dances through the living room, singing loudly and off-key to make the toddler in her arms giggle. Ryder stares up at Emilie as if she’s the only one in the world. Niall doesn’t blame the child - he has often found himself enraptured by everything about her over the last two months.

A twinge of worry flickers beneath his breastbone when the smile on her face slips, but then she’s steadying herself. She does drop down onto the couch next to Niall, though. He assumes she has made herself dizzy with the dancing, so he doesn’t question it, just tugs her into his side.

Ryder cuddles between them, fingers coming up to play with the ends of his aunt’s hair. “An’ Em done?”

“Yeah, baby, Auntie Emilie is done dancing.”

Niall takes a closer look at her face. Despite the flush to her cheeks, her skin is pale, sweat beading along her hairline. She must feel his scrutiny; she glances at him, brows drawing together. He shakes his head, unable to voice a concern he can’t put into words. She nods slowly then settles further into the cushions. The music and bright colours of the cartoon capture Ryder’s attention, and he snuggles closer to the adults as he focuses on the television.

“Lemme get him to bed,” Niall murmurs when Emilie checks the time on her phone.

“You sure? You’ve been doing it every night since we moved in.”

“I’m not sure what your point is, but if it’s that you feel like I’m doing it against my wishes, you and I will be having a very serious discussion once he’s asleep.”

It’s meant as a joke, but the contrition on her face tells Niall he’s hit the mark. He suppresses a sigh - it isn’t her fault that she worries about that. He just wishes she could trust that Niall would never do something he absolutely did not want to do. He presses a kiss to her temple, frowning at the warmth of her skin.

“Petal? You feeling okay?”

“Hmm? Yeah, I’m fine. Tired, I guess.”

Niall wants to push the conversation, wants her to tell him everything, but he doesn’t. The trust has to go both ways, he knows, so he shoves the words back down and rises to his feet. Ryder whines when he’s lifted off his aunt’s lap, though he lets his head fall to Niall’s shoulder without protest.

Emilie is already asleep in bed by the time Niall is finally able to leave the child’s room. Ryder had wanted story after story, lullaby after lullaby. It wasn’t until Niall got halfway through So Long for the second time that Ryder’s eyes closed and stayed that way.

Niall hurries through his nighttime routine, wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed next to Emilie and fall asleep with her breathing steady music in his ears. She doesn’t stir even as he slides in between the sheets, and Niall’s concern ramps in intensity when he throws an arm over her waist. She’s even more warm now than she was half an hour ago.

Pressing a gentle kiss to her temple, he settles in behind her and hopes that this is all just his mind playing tricks on him.

“An’ Em? An’ Em! An’ Em ‘kay?”

Niall jerks to consciousness at the frantic voice, and he scrambles out of bed. Heart racing painfully beneath his sternum, he blinks rapidly in the face of unexpected light, searches for where the voice is coming from.

“Ryder? What are you -”

He doesn’t need to say more. He scurries to the doorway of the bathroom, pulling the toddler away from where Emilie is curled up on the floor next to the toilet. Her cheeks are splotched a brilliant ruby, and she shivers as she sleeps. Scooping Ryder up into his arms, Niall stares down at his girlfriend for a moment then turns, hitting the light switch on his way out of the room.

“An’ Em!” Ryder whines, struggles against Niall’s hold.

“I know, bud, but Auntie Emilie isn’t feeling well right now, so we’re gonna leave her alone for a bit, okay?”

“No ‘kay. I want An’ Em.”

Niall presses a kiss to the child’s soft curls before setting him in his high-chair. Ryder pouts even after Niall sets a bowl of his dinosaur-egg oatmeal in front of him. It takes all of Niall’s willpower to not just go back upstairs to care for Emilie; she will be okay for a few more minutes. Blowing out a breath, Niall drops into the chair next to Ryder.

“I know that you’re not happy right now, but we want Auntie Emilie to get better real fast, right? That means you have to be a big boy and eat your breakfast while I go help her. I promise she will give you the biggest cuddles as soon as she’s no longer ill.”

“Em’s not feeling well?”

Niall shakes his head, handing Ryder his spoon. “Nah. I woke up to Ry panicking because she’s fast asleep by the toilet.”

“I can watch the tot if you need to go take care of her,” Mully offers, and Niall blows out a breath.

“Thanks, that’d be great.” Catching Ryder’s eye again, Niall forces a smile. “Please eat, sweet boy. I’ll be right back.”

“An’ Em kiss!”

Niall promises to give Emilie a kiss for the child then hurries back upstairs. She hasn’t moved at all by the time he turns the light on, and his heart finally stops pounding so hard only to stutter at the pained groan that comes from her. He drops to his knees at her side, presses his hand to her flushed cheek.

“Fuck, darling, you’re burning up.”

“Go away,” Emilie moans even as she pushes her face further into the cradle of his palm.

“Not gonna happen. Think you can move?”

She doesn’t reply, but he didn’t really expect her to. Niall gingerly tucks one hand under her, looping his other arm around her, and pulls her to sit up as slowly as he possibly can. She whines low on her throat, and Niall apologises more times than he can count while helping her to her feet.

Emilie sways unsteadily as he walks with her to the bed, coming dangerously close to crumbling to the floor. He tightens his hold on her before easing her onto the mattress. Her body starts shaking harder, and Niall tucks the blankets in tightly around her. He promises to be right back then reaches for her phone.

“Tiny Tots Nursery, this is Elaine.”

Niall startles at the chirpy voice abruptly in his ear, cursing when hot water splashes over his hand. “Don’t repeat that,” he says over his shoulder to Ryder, who giggles and shoves a spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth. “Hi, uh, I’m calling for Emilie, she works there.”

“Oh! You must be Niall, then. What can I do for ya?”

“Yeah, I’m calling because Em isn’t going to be able to come in today. She woke up sometime in the night feeling poorly, and she’s currently running a high fever.”

“Oh, no! Well, I’ll let Desiree and Gloria know. Please tell her we all wish for a speedy recovery.”

“I will. Thanks.”

“What are your plans for today?” Mully calls from the living room, and Niall sighs, hangs up before dropping Emilie’s phone onto the counter.

“I… didn’t think about it, really. I mean, as I said, I woke up to my two-year-old screeching and then I panicked because I found my girlfriend asleep on the floor.”

“Why don’t you take Ryder over to Louis’s today? I don’t really have anything to do, so I can stay here in case Emilie needs anything.”


“Don’t argue, mate. I’ll win.”

Niall doesn’t argue.

He finishes the tea and grabs the bottle of ibuprofen before kissing Ryder’s forehead. Ryder holds out his spoon, and Niall doesn’t think twice about taking the offered bite. He reminds the toddler to finish his breakfast then heads back up the stairs. It’s a struggle, but he manages to make it to the bedroom without spilling the tea much.

Emilie has burrowed herself into the blankets, the fabric quivering where she lies. He sets the cup on the nightstand, sits on the edge of the mattress. She grumbles and groans, and it takes a few minutes, but Niall finally wakes her enough that she can sip at the tea and swallow the medicine. He pushes sweat-soaked hair from her face.

“Love, I am so sorry that it took me so long to take care of you,” he says softly.

“Shuddup, it’s ‘kay. I feel like shit,” she grumbles and flops to side, closing her eyes.

“I know, and I’m sorry. I’d make you feel better if I could. But I’m going to take Ryder to Lou’s for a bit, keep him out of your hair so you can rest. Stay in bed, sleep as much as you need to. Mully will be here, so please text him if you need anything, okay? If you need me to come home, let me know.”

She mumbles unintelligibly, already back to sleep, and Niall huffs a laugh. Making sure she’s comfortable and her drink is within reach, he tiptoes from the room, closes the door as silently as he can.