Feels Like Forever



Niall stares blankly at her for a second, then his brows furrow. Emilie’s breath hitches as he rests his hands on her shoulders, fingers pressing firmly into her skin. The pressure isn’t nearly as calming as it usually is.

“Darling, breathe. Ry woke up from a bad dream while you were outside, so I put him in our bed. It’s okay.”

She exhales sharply, nearly collapses in on herself. Her skin grows hot and prickly when she realises the others are staring her. How could she not think to look in the bedroom she shares with Niall? It certainly isn’t the first time that Ryder has slept in their bed. But she can’t calm down even with the reassurance that he’s safe.

Emilie pushes away from Niall, storming out to the patio on weak knees. Her fingernails are sharp in her scalp as she clutches at her hair, a scream rising in her throat. She bites her bottom lip to quell the sob - the bile that creeps up from her stomach, the panic and self-hatred colliding and exploding in her chest. Her knees threaten to buckle while she hurries down the steps to the backyard.

She’s thankful that Niall was there for Ryder, that he calmed the child and got him back to sleep. But she should have been. Her. As his stand-in mother, she is the one who was supposed to comfort him. Not Niall. It wasn’t his job, his responsibility, his place to do that.

She can’t get her mind to relax. Thoughts swirl, nebulous and overwhelming in their murky darkness, as her lungs grow six sizes too small. The panic tightens its grip, its claws ingrained in her gut and scratching a reminder into her heart that she is a failure. Blood roars in her ears, and she chokes on her breaths.

Emilie can barely walk straight, so she avoids going near the pool. The last thing she needs right now is to drown - though it might be preferable compared to the emotional onslaught that crashes down over her. Drawing in an unsteady breath, she tries to focus on anything but the doubts and self-disgust.

But she’s numb to the warm grass that prickles against the bottom of her feet. She can’t feel the humid heat that lingers though the sun went down almost two hours ago. Her skin crawls as she passes through the light that spreads across the yard from the large windows. Coughing to dislodge the lump in her throat, Emilie sniffles and scrubs a hand over her cheeks.

“Emilie, can you look at me?”

Her steps falter, but she doesn’t stop pacing. “N-no.”

“Please, love.”

She reluctantly lets Niall pull her to a stop in front of him, and her eyes close so she won’t have to see the concern on her face. His arms are too heavy as they wrap around her shoulders, though she rests her forehead against him and sobs. Niall holds her tightly to him, not speaking, just offering comfort and steadiness while she falls apart.

“What’s wrong?” he murmurs quietly. She flinches anyway, tugging away. “Talk to me, please.”

She forces out a watery laugh and scrubs at her face with the palm of her hand. “Nothing. Just... nothing.”

“Emilie Taylor, stop. Tell me what’s going on.”

“I just...” She sighs, slumping as she covers her face with her hands. “I’m tired. I’m so goddamn tired. I’m always so scared that I’m going to, to fail at this whole motherhood thing. Anytime I have to scold him or actually do anything besides play with him, I get suffocated by this fear that he’s going to grow up resenting me. It’s easy to ignore it most of the time - I mean, I can’t be worse than Danielle, that’s for fucking sure - but tonight just seemed to solidify that I deserve to feel this way.”

“What are you talking about?”

Emilie sniffles, closes her eyes. “You were there for him. I was too busy selfishly hanging out and smoking with Louis, having a grand ol’ time, to even know Ryder had a nightmare. But you knew. You knew, and you fixed it. You have been so damn wonderful to and for him, and god, Niall... it’s not fair to you.”

Her words echo in the silence between them, and she watches him closely, can see exactly when he realises what she means. His lips press together until they’re barely more than a jagged line in his face. His jaw tics, and she knows this is going to hurt like Hell. Goodbyes never have been difficult for her, but this... this is different. He is different.

To her surprise, he inhales deeply, steadily, and reaches for her.

“I know this is hard. It’s not easy on me, either, coming in and trying to find my footing in a family made before I ever found it. I understand the fears and constant second-guessing yourself. But I don’t want you to assume that you know what’s best for me, us, and end what we have. Because that isn’t fair to me.”

Emilie wrenches out of his grasp, laughing without humour. “Why the fuck not? It’s not fair. You didn’t sign up for this!” she nearly shouts as she gestures in the direction of the house. “You and I were content with being fuck-buddies or whatever when you had time away from your responsibilities, and then that changed. Now you’ve had me and a child taking over your house, your life. Why the Hell would you be okay with this?”

“Because I fucking love you, damn it!”

Her head snaps back a bit, and she gapes, wide-eyed and stunned into silence, at him. Niall sighs heavily and shoves his hand through his hair. Neither of them speaks for a long minute; her world feels like it’s been flipped completely wrong-side-up, and her tongue is stone in her mouth. He grabs her hand, grip tightening when she tries to pull away.

“Listen to me, Emilie. Yes, we started out as friends with benefits. Yes, that was nice. But I told you all those months ago that I don’t do casual well. I came to your flat, off my face and terrified that if you knew, you’d run away from all this because it wasn’t what you wanted. I had that necklace in my pocket that night. I bought it weeks before, but that was the night I got the courage to give it to you, and that was only because I drank so much.”

“Niall, stop, don’t do this,” she pleads, though her voice cracks.

“No, love, I’m not good with words, I know this, but I need you to hear me.” His hands are warm on her cheeks, and she closes her eyes as he brushes away the tears with his thumbs. He presses a soft kiss to her hair, rests their foreheads together. “Whatever we had between us changed, and it felt… right. Okay? I didn’t even hesitate to ask you to move in with me. I knew Ryder was an enormous part of your life, that he would always come first, but that didn’t change how I felt.

“Then you told me you couldn’t move in because you’d gotten custody of him, and it hurt. A lot. I understood why you were saying no, but it still hurt. I didn’t mind that you and Ryder came as a package. I wanted you in my life, so I wanted him in my life. You love him, so I love him. Granted, he didn’t make it very hard, he’s too perfect to not love him. He’s important to me, just like he’s important to you. So yeah, you might not think it’s fair on me, or that I didn’t sign up for this, but Em? The second I realised that casual wasn’t working for me, I signed up for whatever came after that.

“I love you, and I love Ryder, and I love that I have both of you.”

She opens her eyes to stare up at him, the deep blue of his eyes and the softness they hold. He tilts her head up, kisses her gently, and the last of her panic fades away. He pulls her against his chest, his chin on top of her head.

“I don’t expect you to say it back, not if you aren’t ready. Just… don’t try to make decisions for me, that’s all I ask.”

Emilie nods, and her tears come faster for an entirely different reason. She melts into the warmth and safety of his arms, nearly falling to her knees when he repeats the three words she herself has been trying to say for the last four months. She breathes in the scent of the warm summer night, the earth, the sweet edge to his spiced cologne. Her emotions, all mixed-up as they are, have drained her. She is utterly exhausted and wants nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep for years.

Somehow, Niall understands. He leads her across the yard, sidestepping the pool completely, and into the house. They don’t stop on their trek to the bedroom, though she does call out a goodnight to the other two men in the living room on the way.

Emilie curls up under the duvet next to Ryder, her heart feeling at peace for the first time in such a long time. Niall runs a hand over the sleeping child’s hair then leans down to press a kiss to Emilie’s cheek. She reaches up with one trembling hand, strokes a finger along his cheekbone.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, and his lips twitch before he’s kissing away her apology. “And I, I…”

Niall shakes his head with another sweet smile. “I know, darling. Take your time.”

The weight of their conversation hangs in the back of Emilie’s mind, but she isn’t as scared now. She knows there is so much promise for the future if she lets it. Niall leaves her with a quiet I love you, petal, pulling the door closed behind him.

The only illumination comes from the nightlight that Niall transferred from Ryder’s room to theirs; animated puppies smile eerily from the ceiling, and Emilie melts into the mattress and stares through the dimness at Ryder. He’s sleeping peacefully.

Pride and love bloom in her chest, and she ignores the dark voice in her head that says she can’t do this. She has to. She can’t let Ryder down like his mother has so many times before. Failure is not an option.

And having Niall by her side through all of this can only make it that much easier.