Feels Like Forever



Maura’s face lights up with her bright smile when she gets her first look at Ryder, who’s shifted to sit on Niall’s lap. The toddler has somehow managed to find a plastic dinosaur and is fidgeting with it as Niall greets his mother. Emilie chews on her lower lip and stifles a sigh.

She knows that Ryder is a child, one who isn’t accustomed to new people in his life - it was a one-off that he accepted Niall as quickly as he did. But she wishes he was more comfortable with it. She can only wonder if it’s her fault, if it is because of the solitary life she lead before Niall burst on the scene in an explosion of colour and love and everything she never knew she wanted.

“You’re a handsome boy, aren’t you?” Maura smiles when all Ryder does is curl into Niall’s chest. “Oh, what’s that you’ve got?”

As if a switch has been flipped in his brain, Ryder brightens and immediately launches into babbling about the purple T-Rex. Emilie can’t stop her smile, ducking her head to hide it so that he doesn’t think she’s mocking him. She presses a kiss to his hair, waves at Maura through the connection, then turns to Niall.

“You done with the tray?” she asks softly, and he frowns.

“I can get it in a bit.”

“It’s okay, you and Ry talk to your mom. Just gonna clean up a little.”

“You sure?”

Instead of answering, Emilie gathers up the tray and empty coffee mug, walks out of the room with his laughter following after her. Everything feels right, now. Her heart could sing with the knowledge that even though she has yet to give him an answer regarding marriage, Niall has given no indications that he’s going to break up with her over it.

Ryder’s enthusiastic chatter fifteen minutes later is the first sign Emilie has that he and Niall are coming downstairs. She looks up from her phone screen where she’s been absentmindedly scrolling through her photo gallery to see two of her favourite men. Niall is focused intently on Ryder, his face serious as he listens to whatever the toddler is talking about. And Emilie has never been more in love.

She sits up and holds out her arms for Ryder, accepting the kiss Niall gives her as he transfer the child onto her lap. Before he can pull away, though, her fingers carefully tangle in the chain around his neck. He huffs out a laugh but follows where she tugs him. God, but I love you, she thinks as she loses herself in the kiss.

Small hands press against the side of her face, and Ryder squeals, “No kiss! Ick!”

Emilie giggles as she pulls away, and Niall drops to sit next to her on the couch. Warmth seeps into her skin from how near he’s sitting, the press of his arm and thigh against hers, and she instinctively leans into it. Niall raises a brow at the small stack of gift-wrapped boxes on the table.

“I said I didn’t want anything but you two,” he reminds her, but his eyes are alight despite his words.

“And I ignored you. Deal with it.” Emilie scrunches up her nose at Niall’s eye-roll, then sets Ryder on the floor. “Hey, baby, wanna grab the purple one and give it to Niall?”

Niall laughs when he peels back the paper, exposing the strawberry-scented bubble bath kit. “Trying to say I stink?”

“Ry saw it on the shelf and demanded I buy it for you.”

“Bath fun!” Ryder announces, clapping his hands as he bounces on the balls of his feet.

“Yes, baths are fun, bud. Thank you, I love it.”

“We bath ‘night?” Ryder asks, voice drenched in hope, and Niall caves - much like Emilie knew he would.

The next gift is less amusing, and Emilie chews on her lower lip, squirming as he stares down at the item in the small box. She isn’t sure what the expression on his face means. He doesn’t speak for a long minute, but she watches as he swallows hard. When he looks up at her, he’s blinking rapidly, though there’s no hiding the tears in his eyes.

“This… Wow.”

“Like it?”

“I fucking love it.”

He gingerly lifts the wooden guitar pick from the velvet inlay, staring more carefully at the mess of scribbles burnt into one side. Ryder had drawn it weeks ago and proudly proclaimed it was a picture of his Ni-Ni. Seeing Niall’s reaction to that when Ryder was showing it off had given her the idea for this gift.

She’s only surprised that Niall never noticed that the drawing wasn’t hanging on the fridge for a week.

“And last one,” she announces, pretending she doesn’t see him wiping his hands across his cheeks or hear him sniffle. “This one is just from me.”

The journal is similar to his current one, and Emilie had dithered over whether or not to buy it for days. Niall glances up at her, cocks his head in question. She pointedly gestures toward the book, laughing when he sticks his tongue out at her. He clears his throat and begins reading the message she’d left on the first page.

“’Niall, you are such an amazing man. You’ve made me and Ry happier than we’ve ever known, and I can’t say enough about how much I love you. You are funny, sweet, generous, and just so loving.’ You’re also a terrific lover, and I can’t get enough of-”

“Niall James Horan, I didn’t write that,” she protests, giggling, and swats at his arm as he laughs. “Don’t add crass things, or you’ll take away from the actual message.

“Fine, fine. Sorry. ‘Even through our bad times, I knew you were the only one I’d ever love this much, this fiercely, this deeply.” His voice cracks and grows thicker the longer he reads, but he doesn’t stop. “’You became a part of me, and I love you so much. Thank you for letting us crash into your life. You make my entire world brighter, and I can’t thank you enough for that. Thank you for loving Ryder so much. Thank you for loving me. Happy birthday, darling. Here’s to many more.’”

“You, you okay?” she asks after a long minute of silence.

“I’m speechless.” Niall sets the journal aside, covers his face with his hands. “I… I just need a minute.”

“Take your time, babe.”

She reaches out to rest her hand on his shoulder, rubbing circles gently into his bare skin, and he leans into her touch. Ryder stares at Niall with wide eyes then comes closer, climbing up onto Niall’s lap.

“No cry, is ‘kay.”

“I’m okay, Ry, I promise. Thank you.” Niall blows out a breath and kisses Ryder’s forehead. “I love you so much, sweet boy.”

“Love you rainbow.”

Emilie watches as Niall’s face softens, as he blinks again. He turns his head, and his smile could light the entire world.

“Thank you. This was so much more than I expected. It was perfect.” He kisses her gently, a soft brush of his lips that sends her heart into overdrive. “Thank you for loving me, too.”

Her phone buzzes on the cushion next to her, and she wants to ignore. God, does she want to pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist if only to drown in the peaceful easiness of this moment. The tenderness in his eyes, on his face, in the kisses he bestows upon her. But he pulls away, chuckling quietly, and tells her it’s okay to respond to the text.

So she reluctantly does, unlocking the device to see a text from Josh inviting her out with the group. Her knee-jerk reaction is to close out of the thread and act like she never read it. She doesn’t, though. Josh is her friend and deserves better than that. So she sends back a “thanks, but no thanks”.

“What was that?”

“Oh, Josh wanting to see if I wanted to have another meet-up with him and the others. Told him I had plans for the night that don’t involve drinking with my coworkers.”

“What about drinking with your boyfriend?”

“That would be preferable, honestly.”

“Why don’t you go play, Ry?” Once Ryder has pouted but toddled to the toy bin, Niall tugs Emilie against his side, arm curled almost protectively around her. “I think Josh has a crush on you.”

“Huh? Why do you think that?”

“Did he ask in the group chat?”

“Well, no,” Emilie says slowly, frowning. “But that doesn’t mean anything. We all hold side conversations outside of the group chat. He and I are just friends. He knows I’m with you completely.”

Niall shrugs. “I’m just saying. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was only biding his time until we separate again.”

Emilie’s mind races, trying to put the pieces together, and everything leads her to the conclusion that Niall might be right. And if he’s right, things are going to get uncomfortable really quickly. He’ll be jealous, and talking to Josh will be awkward.

“I can pull back in our friendship, if you want me to. Make it super-clear and indisputable that he has no chance.”

“No, no, don’t do that. I’m... secure enough in our relationship at this point that I don’t have any desire to make you choose between me and your friendship with him. I learnt my lesson with Derek. Just keep in mind that it might not be strictly platonic on Josh’s end.”

Emilie sighs but doesn’t try to argue. He has a point - if she were going to want a relationship with anyone besides him, it would certainly be Derek, the one who’s known her so well for so long and understands her life better than anyone. On the other hand, he knows her too well, and she knows him well enough that there is zero attraction there. She does, however, make a mental note to talk to Josh the next time she sees him.

It isn’t until she and Niall are tucking Ryder into bed that she realises his phone hasn’t gone off all day, that she saw it this morning when his mother called but not again since. Even when they were doing nothing more than watching television, he wasn’t messing about on his phone as he normally does. He just kept her pulled into his side with Ryder against his chest, the three of them enjoying the time together.

Ryder reaches up and pats Niall’s cheek. “Night-night, Daddy.”

“Goodnight, Ry. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Emilie doesn’t bother going back downstairs; she made sure to lock the doors and set the alarm before they came up to Ryder’s room, so the rest of the night is free to do whatever she and Niall want. And right now, all she wants is to end his birthday on a high note, but the pesky voice in her mind won’t let her relax. Not yet.

She pauses in pulling down the blankets, dropping to sit on the bed while Niall brushes his teeth. Wrapping her arms around her stomach, she stares blankly at the floor and lets her brain dredge up the doubts she’s avoided thinking about all day. Oddly enough, none of them are overwhelming, just niggling little pinpricks of worry amid the comfort and security she feels in the relationship.

“How do you feel, Ryder calling you ‘daddy’?”

Niall pauses with one knee on the mattress, then he’s crawling across the bed to sit behind her; his heart beats steadily against her back, his lips warm and soft on her neck.

“It feels really… weird, but in a good way. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah. It does.” Knowing this next question will change everything, Emilie bites her lip and gathers up the courage to ask it: “Are you okay with it?”

Niall breathes evenly, and she can almost feel him thinking. But then his smile is on her skin, and he pulls on her until they’re sprawled on the bed, wrapped in each other.

“Yeah. Yeah, I am.”

Tension bleeds from her body, and Emilie inhales shakily. Her stomach ceases churning with his answer, her hands trembling as she wraps her fingers around his wrists. A hollowness settles in her bones, one that sends her floating in the stratosphere.

“Well, then,” she starts, voice wobbling, “I’m not sure if you heard earlier, but dinner tomorrow is gonna be McDonald’s. Your son wants chicken nuggets, and who am I to deny him that?”

He moves away just long enough to turn off the bedside lamp, and then he curls himself around her again. Emilie closes her eyes and melts into his touch, the warmth and safety of his hold. Niall presses soft kisses along the curve of her shoulder, coming to a stop with his lip to the shell of her ear.

“If he’s my son, that means he’s your son, too,” he whispers, nuzzling into her neck, and Emilie blinks back tears.

“He’s always been mine, I just never fully realised it before.”