‹ Prequel: Feels Like Forever

Feels Like Forever (one-shots)

[turn and face the strange]


“Hey, bud, where’s your mama?”

Ryder doesn’t look up from his book, pencil scribbling furiously across the worksheet as he writes the answers. “I don’t know.”

He won’t meet Niall’s eye, and Niall knows his son is lying. Ryder has never been a decent liar—he has too many tells, namely avoiding eye contact and the back of his neck gets red. The flush crawls across his skin now. Niall stifles a sigh. He has a feeling he knows why Ry is lying.

“Ryder Alexander.”

“In the kitchen,” mutters Ryder as he ducks his head further. “Sorry, Da.”

Niall ruffles Ryder’s blond hair and makes his way to the kitchen. True to their oldest son’s word, Emilie is in the kitchen with the twins. Naomi perches on the counter, scrolling through something on her mother’s phone screen, while Ethan stirs milk into what looks like butterscotch pudding mix. Em’s latest craving.

Niall crosses his arms over his chest, watches his little family. He remembers that day in the coffeeshop, when he’d stopped by her table and asked if he could have a seat. He’s never admitted that there were three empty chairs in the front of the shop. He could have taken one of them.

But he’d seen a gorgeous woman surrounded by papers, and something told him he had to at least say ‘hello’. He never could have guessed how quickly she would steal his heart. Even knowing she was effectively a parent to a toddler didn’t sway his immediate affection for her. Hell, Ryder stole his heart just as effortlessly.

Losing Emilie and Ryder, short though the separation was, had felt too much like his heart being ripped from his chest. His world crumbling around him, burning to ashes while he choked on smoke. He still wakes in the night coated in icy sweat at the memories. At the voices whispering What if she never came back?.

Then she’d proposed to him. Half-asleep, it had taken his brain a minute to register what she said, to realise it wasn’t a trick question or part of the dream he’s had since he first called Ryder his son. It had been a slip, but Mully never mentioned it. So why should Niall have taken it back?

Ryder was as much his back then as he is now.

Emilie was the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen as she walked down the aisle. As she held their newborns and took care of Ryder like she’d done since he was born. As she sits up in bed every morning to children clambering over their parents, her dark hair tousled and sleep-filled eyes lighting up.

His family is perfect, everything he has ever wanted, and now there’s one more on the way.

Niall clears his throat. “Aren’t you supposed to be relaxing?”

Emilie freezes then slowly turns. “I am.”

“Right. Because cooking—Are we having a feast?” he asks, thoroughly distracted by the multiple serving platters and bowls.

“No. But John’s coming over, and I never can decide what to make when we have guests.”

“It’s Bird, love. He’ll eat anything you put in front of him. Besides, he’s family at this point, isn’t he?”

Emilie pins him with an unimpressed look before moving to the stove. Niall watches her closely; she’d been told to take it easy when she nearly went into labour two weeks ago, but here she is fretting over dinner. Her rather large belly makes it difficult for her to reach the pot on the back burner, so Naomi scoots over to grab the spoon.

“Thanks, Mimi.”

“You’re welcome, Mama.”

Niall glances at Ethan who rolls his eyes. Niall knows what that means: Emilie has been far too busy for too long. Ethan is a worrier like his mother, and no amount of reassurance will ease his mind. Niall presses a kiss to his son’s forehead then steps up behind his wife. She leans back against him, blowing out a soft breath.

“C’mon, darling, you need to relax. Go take a bath, and I’ll finish up dinner.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Besides, I know your feet must be killing you, so when you’re finished, I’ll give you a massage.”

“Even if John’s here?”

He laughs, kissing her hair gently. “Even if.”

“Fine. Don’t let the chicken burn. It has—”

“I can read a timer, Emilie.” Niall swats at her butt if only to hear her giggling. “Go on. The kids and I can handle this.”

Emilie sighs and stares at him for a long moment. Her dark eyes—the ones who’ve kept him captive since they met in the coffeeshop that fateful morning—soften as her lips spread into a smile. Niall likes to think he knows his wife, can read the reluctant gratitude in her facial expressions. So he kisses her again before shooting her from the kitchen.

Once she’s waddled toward the stairs, he takes initiative. He plucks the phone from Naomi’s hands with a ‘You’re too young for this’, asks the twins to set the table, and calls for Ryder to come help. Homework is important, Niall knows this, but he also knows Ry needs breaks or he will get too frustrated to learn.

John has arrived with a bottle of sparkling juice by the time Niall realises it’s been too long for Emilie’s bath. Even when she uses bath bombs and takes her time to soak, it hasn’t ever gone over half an hour. He checks the time then asks John to keep an eye on the kids. John readily agrees—he’s always loved being a “nuncle”, as Ethan called him three years ago.

“A nuncle?” Niall had asked. “What’s a nuncle?”

Ethan, only four at the time, rolled his eyes and stomped his foot, shrieking as if Niall should already have known: “A not uncle! A uncle who isn’t really a uncle.”

It was clever of Ethan, but that’s just who he has been since he learnt to talk. Clever and eager to gain knowledge.

“Em?” Niall knocks on the bathroom door again. “Emmy, you’ve been in there a while. Everything okay?”

“Ye—yeah, everything is fine.”

Her voice trembles, cracks, and a low whimper cuts through the air. Niall decides to Hell with her privacy. He twists the knob, pushing the door open as soon as he’s able, and stumbles to a stop just inside. He was right to barge in, he thinks.

Emilie’s eyes are scrunched shut, and her knuckles are white where her fingers grip the edges of the tub. Her chest heaves with her breathing—unsteady, rapid. Tears slip down her damp cheeks as she gasps aloud, crying harder. Her legs spasm against her chest.

Niall remembers.

He sprints to the top of the stairs, shouting for John and Ryder. Both rush into view, and he barely pauses before launching into orders. Ryder nods, so solemnly for a thirteen-year-old boy, and disappears from view. Heading off to watch his siblings like he was told to do. John hurries up the stairs, following Niall into the bathroom.

It’s a testament to Emilie’s distraction that she doesn’t screech for their friend to leave the room. Instead, she clings to John and Niall’s arms as they haul her to her feet and out of the tub. They lead her into the bedroom, and John leaves long enough to grab towels. His phone is pressed to his ear as he comes back.

“Okay, they’re sending someone,” he announces. “They want to know how far along she is.”

“Thirty-seven weeks.”

John relays the information then grimaces. “They, er, they said you’ll have to check and see… how dilated she is.”


Niall’s brain stutters to a stop when John puts his phone on speaker and the operator’s voice comes through. Emilie shakes her head at the instructions. She protests the entire time, but she has no say. Niall knows it needs to be done, so he orders John to hold Emilie’s hand while he obeys the operator.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the woman says, sounding genuinely apologetic, “but you’ll have to deliver the baby yourself.”

“No!” Emilie whines. “It’s supposed to be in a hospital with people who know what the fuck they’re doing.”

“Sorry, the best you’re getting is me,” Niall grits out as he covers her with a towel, dropping to his knees at the end of the bed. “What do I do?”

Poor John is the last thing he thinks before his mind is occupied by something far more important.