Feels Like Forever



“She’s there?” Niall croaks out, too afraid to hope.

Monica’s heavy sigh crackles down the line, and Niall is sure he isn’t imagining the disappointment in her voice when she confirms that Emilie fled to Austin, Ryder in tow. He drops clumsily into a chair at the table, fingers clenching into a fist on his knee. Clearing his throat does little to get rid of the lump that’s lodged itself there.

“Did she say anything?”

“I… I can’t tell you that, Niall. I’m sorry. God, I wish I could, but Bean made me and Derek promise that we’d stay out of it.”

His voice crackles, shatters apart, as he asks, “What am I going to do?”

“The only thing I can say with certainty is that she’s not ready for the end. Not really. The question is: Are you?”

Her words are a challenge, one that demands the right decision. He can either let his little family, the one he’s found in Emilie and Ryder, slip through his fingers. Or he can fight for them.

Niall tells Monica he will call her back, hanging up without another word, then hurries upstairs. He knows his suitcase from the trip is still downstairs, but he needs clean clothes. Outfits not meant for golf or press. Packing takes very little time; he doesn’t pay attention to what he shoves into his carry-on beyond how soft the clothing is. He’s far too impatient to spare any further thought than that. All of his brainpower is strictly focused on what he could possibly say to Emilie when he’s face-to-face with her.

This isn’t what he wanted. He should have tried harder that night.

She should have, too, his brain whispers, and Niall falters in his movements. The last thing he wants to do is split the blame between the two of them, but he knows the voice is right. Traitorous and ill-timed, but correct. She should have talked to him instead of walking out.

Emilie should have called him at any point and yelled. Screamed. Anything.

Instead, she tucked tail and rain, taking Ryder with her and leaving Niall’s heart behind.

Harry and Louis are in the front hall when Niall barrels down the stairs, luggage in hand. He skids to a stop, and as he stands there staring at them, his heart hammers in his chest - from fear of being too late or hope that he still has a chance, he isn’t quite sure. Harry rolls his eyes and gestures toward the door.

“Don’t just stand there. You’ve a plane to catch.”

As Louis drives toward the airport, he glances at Niall from the corner of his eye. “I figured she left when you told me you fucked up. Also figured she’d go back to what she knows.”

“And I was ’round at Louis’s when the phone conversation happened, so we put our heads - and wallets - together to get you a last-minute flight to Austin. It leaves in a little under three hours.”

“Thanks,” Niall whispers through numb lips. “I’ll -”

“Go to Texas, win back your girl and kid, then bring them home without worrying about repaying us.”


Harry shakes his head, leaning up between the seats to stare at Niall directly. “Look, obviously you two didn’t talk about this beforehand, so this wasn’t a mutually-decided breakup. You love her and Ryder. He loves you. She loves you. We aren’t about to let you lose them for whatever reason less than you two agreeing you’re over.”

The car comes to a stop outside the airport forty minutes later, and it takes all of Niall’s willpower to move, to unbuckle his belt. Now that he’s faced with the reality of going to her, his courage is evaporating fast.

What if Monica is wrong? What is he going to do if Emilie is ready to let the sun set on their relationship?

“If it comes to that, mate, just know you won’t be alone.”

Surprised that he’s spoken his fears aloud, all Niall can do is nod at Louis’s words, though he isn’t quite sure it’s that simple. Harry claps a hand to Niall’s shoulder than starts shoving him toward the door. Their encouragement is nowhere near enough to actually give Niall strength, but he appreciates the attempts nonetheless. So he swallows thickly, pushes open the door, and takes his carry-on that Harry passes over to him.

Every step toward the entrance is painful. Each impact of shoe to pavement echoes with the remains of fragile hope drowned out by terror of love lost. Voices swell around him, crash into his senses as a tidal wave of muffled noise, and he checks the ticket that Harry had emailed to him on the drive. Finding the terminal, Niall braces himself for anything that may happen.

Monica is waiting in the car park by the time Niall has made it through security and out of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport almost six hours later. Her dark eyes are covered by the sunglasses she wears, but her lips curve up into a smile when she sees him approaching. A fluttering kicks up in his chest as she hugs him tightly.

“You made the right choice, pobrecito.”

“Then why do I feel like this is going to blow up in my face?”

“Because love is fucking hard.”

“Does she know?” he asks quietly once he’s buckled into the front seat, and Monica shakes her head.

“Telling her you’re coming would only result in her rabbiting.” She catches the questioning looks he sends her, huffs out a laugh. “You don’t know.”

“Know what?”

“Okay. He doesn’t act like it, but her dad? Loaded. I mean, not to your level of loaded, but definitely above comfortable. He’s the good kind of loaded, though. He worked really hard to get where he is, and he doesn’t believe in that whole ‘hoarding wealth’ thing. He donates so much to loads of local charities, and he paid for Emilie’s apartment so she could focus on school and Ry. He’s still paying for it even though she moved in with you.”

“That’s nice of him… I think. Was he hoping we’d break up?”

Monica snorts, reaching over to pat his hand, and swears under her breath when someone speeds past her. “Of course not. He just wanted a familiar place for y’all to stay instead of renting a hotel room whenever you visit. He just wants her to be happy, Niall. He knows you make her happy. Therefore, he is invested in your relationship. Don’t worry, he doesn’t know about this,” Monica assures him; she’s obviously read the apprehension on his face correctly.

Niall blows out a breath as the building comes into view. Rising high above the surrounding shops, the sight is familiar, even after the months since he’s been here. Monica finds a spot halfway down the block, parallel-parking with an ease that sparks Niall’s jealousy - she makes it look so simple. He stares at her hands on the steering wheel; she puts the car in park, leaves the engine running as she turns in her seat to look at him.

“When you get to the parking structure, there’ll be a small alley thing off to the right, just in front of the door. Go through there, past the courtyard, and into the main building. Fifth floor, obviously. Left, two rights, another left, and her door will be halfway down.”

“Thanks, Monica. I, I can’t thank you enough. But why are you helping me?”

She shrugs. “Because you make my Beanie Baby happier than I’ve ever seen her since we became friends. If I didn’t think you were good for her, I would never have laid my bets on you. With that said, I wish you luck.”

“Beanie Baby?”

“Stop stalling, Romeo. Go get your Juliet.”

“You know they both died, right?”

“Niall? Fucking go.”

He does. Thankfully, her directions were clear, and Niall is nearing the door he never thought he’d be in front of again. He thought when Emilie moved out, it would be permanent. This flat was supposed to be far in their past, only ever disturbed on vacations.

So many memories were made here. Their friendship, sleeping together for the first time, falling in love with her, with Ryder… All wonderful events that transformed his whole world. She and Ryder burst into his life, brought so much colour to his existence. If this ends up going to Hell, then at least he’ll have the scars made from memories of how deeply he loves them.

He wants to keep them. He wants to keep the love he’s built with her. He wants his family back.

Niall draws in a steadying breath and raps his knuckles against the door, staring without seeing at the plaque. 14-05B. He hates the numbering system here. It makes no sense. He shivers as the air-con pushes cold air through the corridor. His skin feels five sizes too small, and bile creeps up his throat the longer he has to wait. Black spots dance along the edge of his vision; that traitorous voice tells him, again, that this shouldn’t be just on him to fix.

The door slowly opens, the chain straightening with a metallic click, and Niall gets his first glimpse of Emilie in the last week. Her breath comes out in a shuddering gust, as if she can hardly dare to exist with him in front of her. The knife someone must have stuck him with twists viciously at the sight of tear-clumped lashes around eyes rimmed in red. His gaze drops to her swollen, chapped lips - evidence of where she’s most likely chewed on them to hide her emotions from Ryder.

“I’m so fucking sorry,” he manages to rasp out. His throat grows tight, and tears prickle at his own eyes. “I’m sorry, and I- I don’t know what went wrong, but can we talk about this? Please? I’m not ready for goodbye. Not yet.”

Emilie stares at him through the crack between door and frame for a long minute. It scares Niall how he can’t read her expression. He used to be able to look at her and know what she was feeling, thinking, but now, he might as well be trying to understand a brick. The floor falls from beneath his feet when she shuts the door. His breath hitches. Niall can’t breathe. He can’t think or process what’s happening.

He stumbles back, blinks once, twice, then Emilie is there again. She doesn’t say a word. She just turns on her heel and walks further into the flat. Niall’s body moves of its own accord, fear that this is a trick spurring him quicker. His feet take the steps forward, his hand shuts and locks the door, and his heart thunder under his ribs.

Everything screams for him to run to her.

To hold her as tightly as he possibly can.

To never let her go again.

He doesn’t, though. He fights the urge. She left for a reason, so he isn’t going to force himself into her personal space. As much as he aches to, he can’t do that to her. He’s already hurt her enough. He follows her into the kitchen but keeps his distance.

Ryder stops squishing mashed potatoes between his fingers as soon as Niall steps past the entry hall. His big blue eyes grow even wider, and his fists slam into the tray of his high-chair over and over as he squeals.

“Ni-Ni! An’ Em, Ni-Ni!”

“Yeah, Ni-Ni is here.”

“Ni-Ni, up! Up!”

“Do you mind?” he asks Emilie in an undertone.

The look she gives him is unreadable, then she dips her chin succinctly. Niall ignores the washcloth on the counter in favour of unbuckling Ryder, holding him close. Niall knows that there is now food all over the back of his shirt, but he doesn’t care. This is worth the mess. He buries his face in Ryder’s hair and breathes in the scent of baby shampoo.

As he wipes the toddler’s face and hands, Niall glances at Emilie where she’s stood at the end of the island. She shields herself, arms hugging herself tightly and face closed off. The last thread holding his heart together snaps, and he closes his eyes.

“Can we talk?”

Instead of replying, she disappears into her bedroom, and the door closes with a click that sounds far too final. Niall carries Ryder to the couch, dropping onto the cushions, and runs his fingers lightly over the child’s back. He wonders if this is it.

He thought he was prepared, but how does one prepare for losing the greatest love they’ll ever find?