Rating: M

Pairing: E/B

Summary: "Is that all it takes, to make someone a relative stranger again? Five-ish months of a not-so-trial separation? She'd expected it to take longer."

Unbeta'ed. Forgive me my mistakes. (HollettLA is still the cat's pajamas, though, make no mistake.)

. . .

A/N: This is something I've had chilling on my hard drive for ages, half-finished, but felt like something I wanted to wrap up. I hope you like it; it's eleven chapters in all, and I'm hoping to post one per day.

I've missed you guys. I hope you are all well, staying healthy and safe, and finding comfort in the things that bring you hope. For me, those things are community and beauty through art, both of which are here in abundance. Be well. xo

. . .




"Kids' passports?"


"Wallet? Phone? Charger?"

The last brings her up short. "Do you still have that adapter thing? For the chargers?"

"I do, yeah."

"Okay." She drags the side zipper of her carryon bag closed, mentally running her own checklist. Diapers, wipes, snacks, pacifiers, coloring books, crayons, toys, favorite stuffed animals, baby Tylenol, sippy cups, Band-Aids, extra toddler underpants…

It takes her a minute to register that he's fidgeting, in that understated way she'd once found charming: softly drumming his fingertips against his thigh, mouth twitching as he chews on the inside of his cheek. His eyes flick around the kitchen, an unreadable expression on his face.

"What?" She pats the top of her head to make sure she has her sunglasses.

"Nothing." He watches as she swipes the house keys from the scarred tabletop and winces at the audible drag. "All set?"

"All set," she replies, pulling her shades down to the bridge of her nose. "You?"


She blows out a breath. "Here we go."

. . .

The traffic on the interstate is an absolute nightmare, and Edward's knuckles are white and the bones of his hands visible where they grip the steering wheel. He glances at the clock mounted on the dash. "I told you we needed to leave by 6:15." His normally soft accent sharpens when he's stressed or irritated. Another thing she once found charming.

"We left at 6:40."

"Right, but 6:40 means we hit a slight backup at the first toll, which means we hit an even bigger one at the second toll, which means by the time we've made it through, we've added thirty minutes to the trip."

"Right. Remind me again how many people you had to pack and get out the door this morning."

"Oh, c'mon, don't start—"

"I'm not starting. I'm merely making a point."

"A point that's a bit moot, considering I'd happily be the one who—"

"Dad?" He stops before he can finish making the already-beleaguered point and shifts his gaze to rear view mirror.

"Yes, darlin'?"

"Can we get donuts at the airport?"

"No," Bella answers just as he's opening his mouth. "You already asked me that and I already said no."

From the corner of her eye, she sees him pull his lips into his mouth and turn to look out the driver's side window at the empty median. They resettle into a tense silence that holds until the car pulls into the airport's departures lane. "Short-term," Bella says, pointing, and he flicks a glance toward her, frown pulling at his brow.

"We're going to be gone a week. Short-term is a five-day max."

"I know that. A friend of mine is going to come and pick up the van so we don't have to pay for two weeks of parking."

A muscle at the hinge of his jaw twitches. "What friend?"

She tenses. "Lauren."

He's quiet for a moment. "Are we leaving the key?"

"She has the spare."

"Right." He switches lanes.

. . .

"Enjoy your trip, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen."

"Thank you," Edward says, pocketing his passport as Bella takes hers and the kids' and slides them all into the inner pocket of her bag. Edward grabs Ava and Josie by the hands while she wheels Lola's stroller along behind them.

They navigate the security checkpoint and find a short row of seats in the gate area, Bella sinking down into one and sighing as she unwinds her bag from her torso. Ava and Josie drift to the end of the row, pressing their noses against the window to watch the runway traffic. Edward disappears and reappears with two cups of coffee and a small paper sack that crinkles as he sets it on the tabletop. "They didn't have any chocolate croissants so I got you a regular one."

"Oh." It's a struggle not to let her surprise show. "Thanks."

He lowers himself into the chair across from her, blowing into the tiny hole in the lid of his cup, and they settle into quiet, Bella occasionally stopping Lola from chucking Cheerios to the floor and Edward rising every so often to retrieve one of the older two when they waft too far away, or to check the departures board at the mouth of the gate. When all that's left of the croissant is crumbs and her coffee is down to its dregs, he surprises her with an actual attempt at conversation.

"D'you reckon you'll change it back?"

"What?" She's only partly paying attention, pulling a pack of baby wipes from the backpack looped around the stroller handle.

His eyes are on their daughters at the window when he answers. "Your name."

She glances at him, then away. "Oh." She presses her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "I don't know. I don't just think of it as my married name. It's also my mom name, you know? I's the girls' name."

"Right." He still doesn't look at her.

There's a brief flicker of insult that she ruthlessly shoves back down. "Do you want me to change it back?"

His shoulders hitch. "Makes no difference to me, either way." He looks up at the television mounted in the gate area that's broadcasting a news channel they don't watch before gesturing toward Ava and Josie. "I'll take the others to the newsagent. I want a paper."


He hesitates. "Want anything?"

"No. Thanks."

He nods, once, and turns toward the older girls. "C'mon, you lot." They scamper after him, and Bella forces herself to focus on Lola, who has what looks suspiciously like a Cheerio poking out of her nostril.

. . .

"NO, I want MOMMY!" Lola screeches, kicking Edward in the thigh as she flails, small arms reaching for Bella across the narrow airplane aisle.

"But Mama," Ava whispers, tugging on her mother's sleeve. "I want you to sit next to me."

Bella looks toward Edward, who gives a helpless shrug and a raised eyebrow.

"Okay," she breathes, teeth gritted even as she sends a silent gratuitous thought out into the universe for the tiny mercy that is family pre-boarding. "Fine. I'll sit between Ava and Lola here. Josie, you're with Daddy right there."

The four-year-old's lower lip juts out. "But—"

"Daddy brought his iPad," she hears Edward murmur into his daughter's ear, and Josie immediately brightens.

"Okay!" she agrees, clambering into the middle seat and tugging at one end of the seat belt.

"iPad?" Bella frowns as Edward hands Lola to her above Ava's head.

"You really want to argue about that here, now?" he challenges, incredulous.

"No." She grabs Lola beneath the arms and turns away from him to study the middle row of seats. There are four in total, the farthest one still empty. Briefly, she weighs the benefits of putting her seven-year-old next to a stranger on a plane, but quickly realizes it's a more viable option than the two-year-old. Plus, she'll be right beside her. She glances over her shoulder to see Edward sitting beside Josie, both of them already settled and giggling as he flips open the protective cover of his tablet. "Okay, girls, right here. Ava, you slide in there, Mommy will sit in the middle."

Desperate to have everyone settled before general boarding begins, she gets Ava set up with a puzzle book and Lola entertained with a MagnaDoodle before leaning back in her seat and letting her eyes slip shut. A second later, something sharp pokes her in the shoulder. Opening her eyes, she finds Edward's long arm reaching across Josie and the aisle separating them. In his hand is a brand new packet of gum. "For takeoff," he explains, and she wraps her fingers around it, realizing that in packing everyone else's required plane-related things, she'd forgotten her own: chewing gum to counteract the havoc that altitude wreaks on her inner ears.

"Thanks." She's surprised by the small kindness, and the evidence of it is there in her voice.

He doesn't say anything, leaning back in his own seat and returning his attention to the iPad cradled lovingly in Lola's small arms.

While he's distracted, she considers him. He's had a haircut since she saw him last—over a week ago—and he looks a bit thinner in the shoulders than he did the last time she bothered to notice. There's stubble peppering his jaw—more than stubble, the beginnings of a beard, it looks like—and she's unexpectedly hit with a memory of arguing with him about shaving before trying to get her into bed so that she didn't have to go to preschool drop-off the next morning looking like, in her words, a "goddamn lobster."

Hadn't mattered anyway, in the end—the mood that night had been effectively killed.

He glances back at her and raises an eyebrow in question. She shakes her head and looks away, strangely embarrassed at having been caught. Is that all it takes, to make someone a relative stranger again? Five-ish months of a not-so-trial separation? She'd expected it to take longer.

Refocusing on the girls, she says a silent prayer for an uneventful flight and retrieves a magazine from the seatback in front of her.

. . .