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i wonder (if some day you'll be by my side)

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“This is such an American high school movie cliche,” Niall groans, and hopes he manages to hide the excitement he still feels despite it. Wearing Shawn’s jersey to a game gives him exactly the same thrill now as it did the first time he imagined it, years ago, long before they were even together.

“It’s romantic, shut up,” Maren says. She’s got Hayes on her hip, pulling on her hair, and Niall still can’t really believe he has this many friends who have kids. Even Zayn and Gigi’s daughter is almost a year old already. It makes him realise he is in fact 28 years old, more so than all the weddings he’s been invited to over the past few years.

“Do you think it’ll spoil it?” Harry asks worriedly. “Like, will he figure out what’s gonna happen too early?”

Niall shrugs with a smile. “Maybe. But it’s not like this is gonna be a surprise anyway. It was basically a done deal after the first two months of lockdown last year. We’re on the same page here.”

Maren nods. “That’s what it’s all about anyway.”

“I smuggled in the skates,” Hailee announces from behind Niall. “Do you regret not letting me practice with you yet?”

Niall huffs. “It’ll be fine. I don’t have to skate far.”

“We’ll all have our cameras trained on you anyway,” Louis says cheerfully, “So no pressure or anything.”

Niall isn’t sure anymore if bringing all their friends along to this was such a good idea.

The teams skate out onto the rink and Niall sees Shawn’s eyes widen when he spots the big group around Niall, but then he just shakes his head fondly and waves at them. When Niall blows him a kiss, he pretends to catch it and presses the hand with the kiss to his heart. Niall is so in love with him it aches sometimes.

“You’d think they’d have moved past that sickeningly cute stage by now,” Liam murmurs behind Niall and Zayn whispers back:

“Good thing they haven’t, considering.”

The game is a relatively regular one, but the audience is in a great mood anyway - it’s been this way at pretty much every live event Niall’s been to since they’re possible again. People are just happy to be out and to be allowed to go to events after a very long drought. 

Shortly before the end, Niall takes the skates Hailee offers him and makes his way towards the opening in the banister around the rink carefully. He’s spoken to Shawn’s coach and the ref to give them a head’s up, and apparently the one security guard in this place knows too, because he only winks when Niall approaches.

He sits down on the stairs to change out of his shoes and into the skates, and stays there until the match is over so he’s hidden from view. The players usually stay on the ice for a few minutes, and he’s sure Shawn is already on his way over to their friends and has noticed that Niall isn’t with them. He waits a few minutes anyway and gives people some time to leave or at least head towards the exit. He’s not doing this here because he wants a big audience, after all.

When he stands up and wobbles a little, the security guy laughs at him. “Good luck, mate.”

“Thanks,” Niall says, but he knows he’ll only need luck for the stretch of ice between him and Shawn. Everything else, he’s sure about. 

Unfortunately, Niall hasn’t magically gotten better at ice skating, so he holds onto the barrier for a few moments while he finds his footing. He was right, Shawn is standing at the edge of the rink and chatting to their friends. He’s taken his helmet off and looks as radiant as ever, so Niall pushes off the barrier and out onto the ice, if only to get closer to him. 

Very carefully, he skates across the ice, slowly and a little wobbly, and sees his friends looking at him more and more obviously. Maren’s already taken out her phone and seems to be recording his slow approach.

Shawn turns around with a confused frown, probably wondering what everyone is looking at, that turns into an equal parts delighted and worried look when he spots Niall. Elegantly, he turns around and hurries towards Niall.

“Babe, what are you doing? You’re gonna fall!”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Niall grins, but he takes Shawn’s offered hands gratefully. “Hi.”

Shawn smiles. “Hey. What are you-?”

Niall gets down on one knee.

The noise from the people left at the ice rink immediately takes on a different quality, but Niall doesn’t pay them any mind, he only sees Shawn’s face. He doesn’t look surprised, just very excited - exactly like Niall expected.

“Now?” Shawn asks, and there’s a giddy laugh in his voice that Niall feels bubbling up in his chest too.

“It was the closest I could get to the three year anniversary of the first time I saw you play,” he explains.

Shawn’s smile goes soft. “You old sap. And in my jersey too!”

“I figured I should do something special, since we’ve both known where this is going for ages anyway.”

“And where’s that?” Shawn whispers. His eyes are shining and Niall kisses the knuckles of his hand that he’s still holding.

“Us. Forever.”

Shawn squeezes his hands harder. “Exactly.”

“Isn’t the one on one knee supposed to do all the talking? And the asking, especially?” Niall asks teasingly, and Shawn throws his head back with a laugh before he looks at him again. Niall’s glad he’s already on his knees, because that look still makes his knees weak, sometimes.

“Ask me, then.”

Niall takes a deep breath. “I know you’re still so young, and if any of our future kids want to make this kind of decision at 23, I’ll absolutely tell them to think twice, but I also know that you and I feel the same way about this. Three years and two days ago we didn’t even know the other existed. And last year, we spent months locked in our flat together, just the two of us, and even though we kind of went stir crazy, we never got sick of each other. I would take that - not being allowed to see anyone else - over a world without you in it any day. You’re my world, and I love you so much. I don’t ever wanna be without you.” He lets go of Shawn’s hands and takes the small velvet box he’s been hiding in his sock drawer for weeks from his pocket, opening it to reveal the simple silver band inside. “So Shawn, will you marry me?”

“Yeah,” Shawn says without hesitation, nodding, “yes, of course!”

He holds out his hand for Niall to put the ring on his finger and cheers rise up around them. Neither of them really notices. Shawn captures Niall’s face between his hands and kisses him, whispers against his lips, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

“I love you too,” Niall whispers back, holding on to Shawn’s wrists and stroking the warm skin on the inside of it with his thumbs. “Will you help me stand up so I don’t fall in front of all those phones recording us?”

Shawn laughs, pressing their foreheads together. “You are my favourite human ever,” he tells Niall earnestly, and then pulls him up and into his arms in one swift move.

Niall wraps his arms around Shawn’s neck, both to keep his balance and because he wants to be closer still, while Shawn pulls him in by the waist.

“I’m marrying you just for your strength and your balance on ice, I hope you know that,” Niall whispers into Shawn’s neck, who presses his grin into his shoulder. “You’re my favourite human too, though, in case that wasn’t clear.”

“Pretty clear,” Shawn grins and kisses him again. 

Niall lets himself get lost in it for a few moments, wants to keep their little bubble from bursting for as long as possible, but eventually, they both pull back.

“Ready to face the world?” Niall asks, meaning mainly their friends, but also Shawn’s team that’s still on the ice with them, and the rest of the audience that was left when Niall skated onto the ice. They’re still applauding, for some reason.

Shawn takes his hand. The feeling of the cool metal on his ring finger against Niall’s skin gives him thrill like no other, and he can’t wait to wear a matching ring. “With you? Always.”