Chapter Thirty-Six—The State of Recovery


Bella heard Edward click off on his end and she dropped her phone onto the passenger seat. She'd been out to see her therapist, on the way home when she received his call. The midday call from the Montana facility scared her enough to force her to pull off the street and take it.

John wouldn't call her midday unless something was wrong.

Admittedly, she hadn't thought Edward would reach that point in his recovery after such a short time. His reluctance to talk to anyone was like a concrete wall. He had been a slightly tamer version of the man he'd been when he arrived at her first facility. Yet, anger and hostility came off him in waves and it seemed to return in full force since she left him there.

She wasn't an idiot or cruel. She knew she was part of the reason for the rough exterior he erected around him once again. He felt she betrayed him and she hated that he thought that.

Her vision blurred and she tried like hell to keep from crying. She still had to maneuver through the city streets if she wanted to make it home in one piece. Closing her eyes didn't help, because permanently etched there were her vivid memories. Her hand trembled as she reached up to wipe away evidence of her sorrow, but also her relief.

It hurt to say goodbye, even though they hadn't exchanged the words. However, she was happy that he realized that he had to do all of this for the right reason, for himself.

She breathed a little easier knowing that he made the right choice. It would be a long road ahead for him and despite the fact that she wished she could be there every step of the way, she knew their separation was for the best.

"Still hurts, though," she whispered.

~oOo~

Jasper tapped his fingers along to the music on the truck's stereo. His jaw and eye stung like hell and he'd already iced it to help with the swelling. A normal person would take something for the pain, but he wasn't normal, was he? No, he was a pill junkie, an addict.

Edward's words reverberated in his head, bounced around. Threatening everything, he worked hard for in the last few years. His cell phone rang incessantly since he left the facility, and a look in the review mirror marked that too much asphalt lay between them. Bella, Alice, James, and his cousin Maggie kept it constantly vibrating in his console. He should've turned it off, but the quiet buzz was a reminder.

It reminded him of what he had in his life and nothing would be worth losing it. He just needed time to figure things out in his head.

~oOo~

Fourteen weeks and four days later

"Congratulations, Edward. Six months sober," Banner said from behind his desk. Edward nodded, rubbing all six chips together between his palms. "How does it feel?"

Edward shrugged. "Unreal sometimes," he said, but had to cough to help clear his throat. He had particularly tough session the day before, talking about the drowning, and patient he lost. "There are days it feels like that first day, you know?" He was an antisocial asshole that first month of sobriety. "Then like the other day, when I told you about Kate, it feels like it's been longer. Way longer than six damn months. It's nothing really, in the long run."

"A day, a week, a month, or six is not anything to brush off. You've done well." The doctor sat back, tossing his pen on his growing pile of paper work. Now that Edward was talking more, in their one on one sessions, he had trouble catching up. That was all right; it meant Edward was traveling the path toward recovery.

Silence settled between them, and Edward kept his anxiety to himself. If Banner noticed, he hadn't shown it. He wanted to say something but already knew the doctor would only reply with another question. Already their sessions went from six times a week to only two and eliminated group sessions when Banner realized he wouldn't talk with others without trusting them first.

He was doing well and found that he liked the ranch lifestyle, though he didn't think he'd give up city streets and lights of Seattle for mountains and meadows. At least not permanently, though a month or two a year would be nice. It would give him time to think, with not much else to do but work, ride, and watch the grass grow.

The problem was he missed his family like crazy, especially with Christmas around the corner. Ever since Banner got him to talk about them, he'd wanted to call Alice. Check on whether she'd gotten the business loan for her boutique. Drunk or not, he'd always listened when she discussed her plans. His father was up for a position with the Board of Directors the last time he talked with him, too.

His mother, he wasn't sure he'd ever be ready to face her. It still needed to happen; he knew that. There was a wall between them, one that was made of fucking steel, lined with barbed wire, and armed with explosives. For years, he tried to deny all he'd done since Nessie's death was an attempt to make her happy. To be the son she wanted him to be despite the fact that she blamed him for Nessie's drowning. Not only blamed him, but also wished it had been him instead of his sister.

The memory of the words she said to him, days after the funeral, replayed in his head.

It took a long time to come to terms with the fact that his mother, in essence, hated him. Whenever it hit him too hard, he looked for a drink. That wasn't an option anymore, nor would he let it be. He didn't want it to be one, either.

If he wanted to get over that hurdle, he'd have to talk to her, too. He needed to face her someday and he'd rather do it with Banner there to help referee the mess it would be.

"I think I'm ready to speak to my family."

"Are you?" Edward kept his smirk from showing, having called exactly what Banner would do. "All right, I can have them fly over in a few days, if you'd like."

Edward's eyes snapped up from his lap to look at Banner. "What? They can come here?"

"Of course," Banner said, typing something on his keyboard. "They all expressed interest in family therapy sessions. They can stay in one of the cabins on the property and you can spend some time with them, go to a few sessions, if you choose to do so. It's all up to you, however."

Edward felt pressure on his chest, panic setting in, as he questioned if he was truly ready to face them.

"Edward, take a deep breath," Banner stated, rounding the desk to sit in a chair. "The members of your family are not enemies."

"They are enablers, though."

Banner nodded, rubbing at his jaw and removing his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "It's good that you recognize that."

"Of course I do," Edward said roughly, jumping onto his feet to pace. "Do you know that I went through withdrawal twice under my father's care?"

"I'm aware of it, yes." Truth rang true in his words; Edward could see it in Banner's expression.

"Do you also know that he covered for the accident I ran from?"

"I'm also aware of that."

"Are you going to turn me in?" Edward was aware he was being defensive. He hadn't paid for what he'd done wrong.

"No," was all Banner said. It pissed Edward off that he had nothing more to say. He knew that the man wouldn't betray his confidence and trust. It took long enough to earn it. It was something that hadn't fully happened until he pulled him from group therapy. He tried it, but found that he was less inclined to talk with others. He wasn't ready to share his life story with everyone. One on one worked best for him, and that Banner recognized and respected that went a long way in earning his trust.

"I should come clean, though," Edward said to himself. "I hope that at most I'd have to pay a fine and some community service."

"Whatever you feel you need to do, Edward."

Edward shook his head, shrugging. "I've been feeling guilty about it since Bella told me what I'd done. I'm grateful I didn't killed anyone. It could've been a hundred times worse." Banner nodded and said nothing. Edward didn't expect him to, but it was the first time he said her name since he severed all contact with her.

Instead, he returned to the topic of Edward's family. "Would you like me to make the arrangements?"

"I don't have to go home with them, right?"

"If you feel you're not ready yet, then no."

Edward exhaled sharply, plopping down onto a couch. "I think talking to them would be okay. Especially my mother, talking to her would bring me one step closer to going home."

"It's not going to be easy," Banner said, cocking an eyebrow. "Far from it and I recommend that you have a session with just you and your mother."

"Why?"

"I want to hear her side of that day. The day she told you she said it should've been you." Banner returned to his desk and flipped a file open, lifting another thinner one beside it. He hummed at something, his eyes narrowing for a moment.

"No," Edward said, shaking his head. "Anything I have to say to her, I need Dad and Alice to hear, too. So they all know why I tried so hard."

"Your mother wasn't the one that handed you the bottle, lifted it to your mouth, and made you take a drink, or swallow."

"I know that!" Edward pounded his fist on his thigh. "I made that choice. That was all me."

Banner shook his head. "Then why are you determined to share your issues with your mother with your entire family?"

Edward's eyes fell to the floor at his feet. "I need Alice and my father's support."

"Nothing's wrong to ask for that, Edward," Banner indicated, scratching notes on his yellow notepad. "If you'd like, tell me about that day again, and I can help decide how best to proceed."

Edward spent the last half hour of his session talking about the funeral, and the days leading up to the move from Chicago.

"Sleep on this decision of whether or not to see your family," Banner suggested as Edward walked toward the office exit.

He looked back at Banner and nodded. "Maybe a call would best first."

"All right, then whenever you're ready you call them. I'll be available if you need to talk afterward."

"I'll call tomorrow."

~oOo~

"Damn it, Alice!" Bella hissed as she tried to slam the door in the woman's face. Dainty and delicate looking, Alice packed a wallop and pushed a hand against the wood. "I told you, I can't see any of you!"

"I just want to talk to you about Jasper. I won't say a word about him."

The whole, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named thing that surrounded Edward was getting ridiculous. James and even John talked around him, as if on eggshells, but it was for the best. Alice being there was against his wishes, however.

Edward asked her to sever all connections with him and yet, there stood his little sister, determined to undermine everything.

"There's nothing I can tell you about Jasper," Bella stated firmly, leaning against the doorjamb and blocking the entrance. It was a clear indication that Alice wouldn't get an invitation inside. Dressed to the nines, in a green dress that reached just above her knees, little Alice reminded her of their uncle, Garrett. Having inherited his dark, wild hair, she also had the same nose, only more feminine. Her chin was slightly pointier than his and Carlisle's square one=.

"Why?"

"If you tried calling, I would've told you that he asked not to give you any information."

Alice pouted, and Bella cocked an eyebrow. She had never seen a grown woman do that shit to get her way. "Why would he do that?"

Before her connections to Edward were cut, she had access to their family sessions. One of the things that were becoming obvious was that Alice was exceedingly spoiled and determined to do whatever it took to get what she wanted. "He needs time, Alice."

The woman's eyes widened and the pout turned into delicate frown. It looked wrong on Alice's face, and Bella could see how easy it would be for someone to give into her charms. Bella however, wouldn't.

Alice softened her voice, "Can't you—"

"No."

"Why?" Alice stomped her foot. That wasn't charming at all.

Bella tried to keep the slight disgust from her face, looking down at Alice's heeled foot. "I take it family therapy with Dr. Williams didn't go well today?"

Alice crossed her arms over her chest, shrugging. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"You're not getting what you want today, Alice."

"Why?"

Bella sighed and turned enough to grab her keys, locking up. She led the way down the stairs of her porch, not bothering to check if Alice was following. She walked up to the fancy Porsche and opened the driver's side door.

"Go home, Alice."

"I just need to talk to him for only a minute."

Bella shook her head and pulled out cell phone. She eyed the hand that Alice extended for the phone. "Not happening." She typed up a quick message and waited, within seconds Jasper answered. "I told him you were here and that you wanted to talk to him. This was his answer."

Not today, princess.

"Princess," Alice said. She covered her hands over her face, sobbing a little. "I'm sorry. I'm being such a bitch and spoiled, as everyone seems to think I am. I just wanted to talk to Jasper, to Edward! I need to see my brother with my own eyes, to be sure that he's okay."

Bella understood where Alice was coming from. She might not know the specifics of what was going on with Edward, but whatever was happening, it drove Alice to seek out another link to her brother.

She was scared.

"That's up to him." Bella leaned against the car and looked at the woman before her. "I stopped answering your calls for a reason, Alice. Please respect his wishes, as I am trying to."

"We're going up to see Edward tomorrow, even if he doesn't want us there."

"Damn it!" Bella stomped back up the porch steps of her house. "As right now, you are not welcomed here. If you ruined or set him back because of this," she threw her hands in the air and waved them toward Alice, "there would be hell to pay. Just because you don't like hearing the truth, doesn't mean you take it out on others or disrespect your brother this way!"

"I was an enabler!" Alice screamed, tears running down her cheeks.

"That's right you were," Bella said softly.

"How can I tell him I'm sorry if I can't see him?" she cried, her voice lower. "That I was part of the reason he got as bad as he did?" She stood before Bella, trembling, tears running, but the fight gone. "I need him to know these things."

Bella had a feeling that was the real issue. Alice feared to face her brother. She wanted to help her, but she couldn't.

She could offer advice.

"He will know, when you are both read, and you are definitely not ready to see him," she said. "If you were to go through with this, under these conditions, you could make things harder than they need to be, for both of you. But I am also not the one who can help you in any of this, and neither is Jasper. You need to talk to someone on your own." Alice only nodded, sniffling as she listened. "Goodbye, Alice."

Bella offered nothing more as she closed the door behind her. She watched as Alice sat in her car for several minutes, before driving away. She sent a quick text to the family therapist that would get a message to her father. She had to ensure Alice would get home safely.

Careful to lock up, she made her way upstairs and dropped down onto the bed. Lifting her cell phone from the nightstand, she called Banner.

"Bella," he said roughly.

"Exercising again?" Bella asked, amused. For years, John had tried to lose weight and eat right. It usually lasted a few weeks, but he'd been doing better.

"Trying to," he stated and she heard the sound of a door closing. "I jogged about two miles, not bad for an old man like me." He asked for a minute to grab a drink. "Now why don't you tell me the real reason for this call? Not that I mind. I do enjoy our little talks."

"Alice Cullen visited me."

She heard the deep sigh and couldn't help following suit. "Tell me what happened."

After she explained, she offered her opinion. "I don't think he's ready for a family visit. I don't need to know the details to realize that just from her visit. She's on a verge of a meltdown. Having one with her brother as witness would do more damage."

"I agree."

"You need to tell him that I didn't intend to go against his wishes."

"I will," he said. "I'll talk to you soon." They ended the call, with a scheduled one in two days.

John stood up from the couch and walked to the picturesque window. The entire north wall of his bedroom was literally made of glass, ceiling to floor. The view was spectacular and one of the few things that made him agree to a permanent position at the facility.

He watched as a large bird swooped down from the heavens to its perch on a large spruce. It allowed his mind to clear of the cluttered thoughts, organizing them into orderly files. He needed the time to come up with the best course of action.

~oOo~

"I'm not ready to see my family," Edward said the following day.

Banner sat down, and for some reason, Edward couldn't understand the morose color he wore. It was a first. Gone was the bright Hawaiian shirt that set him apart from the other head shrinkers at the facility. "Before we proceed with your session, there's something I need to tell you."

Edward's blood ran cold. His heart skipped a beat, and then restarted too fast. "What's wrong? No conversation that starts with that opener is a good one."

"As I've told you, your family has been seeing a therapist back home." Edward only nodded, oddly grateful that it had nothing to do with Bella. "Though I'm not at liberty to discuss their progress, I can tell you that your request that all Bella's connections to you be severed all connections has been broken."

Edward's face flushed, felt the heat of it choke him. His hands fisted and beat once on his thighs. "Why would she do that? Why would she break another fucking promise?"

Banner held up his hand, looking up at Edward. Up, as in he was suddenly standing. He hadn't even realized it. He turned around and counted as his anger management coach told him to do. It wasn't until he reached seventy that sound of his blood rushing through ears, eased.

"Your sister visited Bella against her wishes and yours." It took a moment for that to register. Why would Alice do anything to hurt him like that? "All I can tell you is that she was upset and she went to see Bella."

"Fuck!" Edward stood up, tugging on his hair. "What the fuck was she thinking?"

"I'll let her tell you that when you're ready."

Edward shot him a dark look. "Do you think I can call her now?"

"I think your sister, your family needs reassurance that you're okay. There's been no contact from you in six months, Edward."

"Damn, Bella wasn't supposed to know anything about how I'm doing."

"From what Bella told me, Alice didn't share anything other than they intended to jump on a plane and come to you, despite your request."

"They can't come here now!" Edward shot up again, pacing. He felt the walls closing in on him. "It's supposed to be when I'm ready! Not whenever they goddamn want to!"

"You're right. That's why I wanted to tell you. Though, I think it would be best if they hear from you that you're not ready."

Edward shook his head. "I don't know if I can now." He struggled with decision since the last session and Alice's betrayal was too fresh. "I need a few days."

"All right."

Edward voiced his reasons aloud, all the while Banner scratched notes in his file. It felt better to talk it out, having someone listen that wouldn't judge him on his issues.

"Anything else I should know?" he asked, eyeing the clock on the wall.

"Bella had one thing to say, but she'd understand if you don't want to hear it right now."

Edward sighed and rubbed at his chest. "Let me hear it." Banner repeated Bella's apology, which sounded sincere. A part of him wanted to send a message back to her, but knew it wasn't a good idea.

Not yet.

~oOo~

Almost a week later, Edward tried reaching out to his father using the landline at the facility the night before. It felt safer rather than using his cell phone that his sister sent to Mexico months before. He wasn't sure why, though a part of him thought it was easier to control the calls that way.

"Hi, Dad," he said after his father answered his cell phone.

"Son." The relief was palpable in his voice, even across hundreds of miles that lay between them.

"Thought I'd check in and see how you're doing." He blew out a breath, rising to his feet from chair he was sitting in The Call Room. It was nicknamed for the number of computers and phones that lined the entire west wall. Spread throughout the room was various chairs that allowed some privacy and he picked the closet to the window that faced the stables.

Edward leaned his forearm against the glass, looking out. Nerves crawled over his skin and down his spine. His father had yet to say another word. "Dad?"

His father cleared his throat. "I'm doing well, actually. Busy, but the hours are surprisingly better now."

"Does that mean you got the position?"

"Yes, I did." His father continued to talk, even fill him on a medical report he wrote along with a colleague that he'd be presenting at a conference in a few months.

"That's great, Dad." For the first time in a while, Edward felt like he was honest with his father. For weeks before Mexico, he lied to keep him from knowing that he was drinking again.

When neither of them said a word for a while, his father broke the silence. Emotion bled into his words, cracking as he tried to cover it up with a cough. "How are you?"

Edward watched as Emmett worked with a few spoiled rich boys from the hills. They'd been mucking the stalls for hours, something they had him do his first day there and several more after that.

Everyone played parts to keep the place running smoothly. It was tough to get the newbies to cooperate, especially when they were fresh from withdrawal. In the last few days, Edward understood why Emmett and Rosalie kept coming back to help.

"I'm working through a lot of shit," he said quietly.

"It was something I always felt you had to do," Carlisle said, coughing again. Edward heard the edge in his tone. "We tried to get you to talk to people after…"

"Nessie died, yeah, I remember," Edward said. "I wish I could say it worked. Maybe in some ways, it did, but to be honest, more than grief held me down, Dad."

His father sighed deeply. "I was warned not to push when you call."

Banner had said the same thing, too take it easy, and one call at a time. "Yeah, I hear you. I just wanted to check on you."

"I appreciate you doing that. It's good to hear your voice again."

"Yeah?"

"There's no question there, son. I'm always happy to hear from you."

"Good to know," Edward said, pulling away from the window. He plopped down on the comfortable fucking chair and wondered how a damn call could exhaust him so much. "There's another reason for the call."

"What is it?"

"I'm not ready to see you all yet," he said, hating every second of it. He felt he sounded like a pussy, but there was little choice in the matter. The set back with Alice seeing Bella fucked with the tentative trust he was trying to build with nearly everyone in his life. "Can you tell Ali I'll call her in a day or two? I just need a little more time. I'm really upset with her right now, and I can't talk to her like this."

"I understand, as does Alice. She knows she messed up." His father sighed again, something Edward pictured him doing as he pinched the bridge of his nose after taking off his glasses.

"Dad, there's something else I want to say."

His father didn't miss a beat. "You can tell me anything, Edward."

"Thank you."

Emotion filled his voice again. "For what?"

Edward sighed and rubbed at his chest, and said, "For making the decision to call for help."

~oOo~

"What do you mean you didn't get the loan, Ali?" Edward asked. For the last hour, he'd been talking to his sister, almost two full weeks after his call to his father and the tough session with Banner that had followed. She was ecstatic to hear from him when he called for Christmas days earlier, but he kept that call short. It was too much for him, knowing it was the first holiday apart in years. He only spoke with his father, Alice and his uncle, Garrett.

For this call, they kept their conversation from heavier topics, though he wanted to talk about what happened with Bella. Alice seemed determined to keep it on what they'd been doing for the last few months. It was for the best; he didn't think he could handle knowing how well Bella was doing without him.

"It's a good thing," she said after a few seconds. "I told you before that I wanted to do this on my own." He did remember that and even understood why she had to do it. He also knew their parents could finance her boutique easily. "I was denied, but like I said, it's a good thing."

"Why?"

"Well, now I'm going to go back to school in the spring, take some business classes. I don't know why I didn't think about it earlier. I'd be better equipped if I understand the business part of a running a retail store."

"That's good, sis."

"I miss you."

Edward chuckled. "I doubt that. I was a shit those last few days."

"I do. You've been my brother for my entire life, not just the last few days before you left," she whispered, her voice catching. "I'm so sorry, Edward."

Edward closed his eyes, hating the tears he could hear in her voice. "I know, Ali."

"I'm so sorry."

"Don't cry. You know how much I hate that." She said nothing a couple of minutes, gathering herself. "Thanks, Alice."

"For what?" A tiny hiccup had him picturing her face. She hated to cry; said she was an ugly crier. He wanted to laugh, as he always used to, if only to get her to join him.

"I'm thanking you for saving my life, for being my sister, and for making the call that ultimately saved my life."

She started to cry again.

~oOo~

It was almost two weeks later when Edward called his father when he knew he'd be home. It wasn't unusual for them to talk at least four times a week. They spoke for almost a half hour, deep in conversation about some of the activities he was doing at the ranch facility.

He heard someone murmur in the background and knew it was his mother. Banner had said when he felt he was ready for his family to come see him, he'd know. He even advised that it wouldn't be wise until he could talk to her on the phone. In the month since he made the first call to his father, and eventually Alice, he denied her request to talk to him. "Dad, put Mom on the phone." He strived to keep his voice steady, but needed support and chose to sit down. He closed his eyes and allowed his head to fall back in a more relaxed position. It served to help his muscles loosen, his body from going stiff from anxiety.

"Are you sure?"

"Not really, but I want to." He did, only he was scared shitless. How would he face her when he told someone else what she said? He heard his father murmur with her. Edward decided they'd only exchange a few pleasantries and ask her to come the following week to stay for a while.

The moment he heard her voice, he knew he'd barely make it through the conversation. It was stilted and as horrible as he thought it would be. He survived though and soon, he'd have to face his family for the first time in over six months.

~oOo~

Edward was pacing. When he last spoke with his family, his mother included, he asked them to come to Montana. They were due to arrive soon, and his anxiety was through the roof. Banner quietly watched from behind his desk, occasionally pecking the keyboard with two fingers.

"We're not doing a session today." Banner had stated it plainly that it brought Edward to a jolting halt that almost had him stumbling over his own two feet. He caught himself and spun to face the old man.

"Why?" A part of him was fist pumping and grateful. Another part wanted to get it over with, and wanted to treat the situation as if he was ripping off a Band-Aid.

"They've been traveling for hours, and because of the weather delay, had to wait out for road conditions to be safe."

Banner was right. It was Montana after all in the middle of January. The weather was unpredictable and his family's flight detoured to Idaho. Determined to see his son, Carlisle Cullen rented a vehicle to make it the rest of the way to him. Road conditions were hazardous. The situation didn't help his growing anxiety. He wasn't an asshole. However, if something happened to them on the way to visit him, he wasn't sure he'd be able to handle it.

"Can you remind me again how we're going to do this?"

Banner sat back, watching Edward pace. How the young man hadn't worn a weathered path in the wood was beyond him. "You indicated interest in doing solo sessions which each member of your family."

Edward nodded, rubbing his arms. It had nothing to do with the cold because the room was perfectly warm. It was obvious that he was nervous and Banner noted that if he continued in this manner, he'd have to recommend on spaced out sessions with his family. He always strongly advised it, but it was up to Edward if he'd follow that advice.

"Yeah, solo sessions," he said, swallowing deeply. He reached for the cup of water nearby. "I think my dad should be first."

"You're still angry with Alice."

He shrugged and finally fell onto a couch. "Talking to her helped, but yeah, I'm still pissed about it. I know my dad would never have agreed to some see me before I said I was ready, even if he'd never told me. I trust him the most and need to know that he's in my corner before I face her and—" he dropped his gaze to his lap, and only shook his head, saying nothing more.

"Your mother."

"Fuck," Edward hissed. "I don't know if I can do this."

"Say the word, Edward, and I will have them taken to their cabin first and you don't have to see anyone tonight."

Edward's twisted his hands, his elbows on his knees. He was thinking, his gaze on the wall behind Banner.

"I have to know that they're okay." His voice was quieter than unusual. A first, considering Banner always thought he had no concept of indoor voice.

"I will greet themselves and come see you if that will help."

Clearly conflicted, it was after another minute before he replied. "I want to see them." For the next thirty minutes, they discussed possible things he could do with his family during their stay.

"Dad will get a kick out of visiting the old mining area," Edward said, chuckling. "He loves history."

"Do any of them do any horseback riding?"

Edward's brow furrowed. "Mom used to as a kid, was in competitions and everything. An accident made it impossible for years after that." Banner hummed. "What's the hum for? Just because I love it," a fucking surprise to him, "doesn't mean I'm anything like her."

The walls around Edward fortified quickly whenever the topic of his mother came up. It would be a difficult few weeks, Banner knew, but enlightening. They continued talking as they awaited his family.

The call came less than fifteen minutes later.

Edward rose from the couch he sat on and with his hands fisted, he said, "I'm ready." He looked far from it, but Banner wouldn't call him on it, yet.

They walked the hallway, greeting a few of the other patients there. Having been there for months, Edward had made some acquaintances, but nothing Banner could call a friendship. He didn't let himself get close to anyone. Trust was earned and strangers wouldn't get it until then.

Edward heard the voices of James and Emmett and they were with his family. They were providing maps and all the info of the nearby city and some of the things they could do during their visit.

He saw them first, something Banner insisted on, since it would give him the option to bail if he couldn't handle it. He hated that he had to have the option, but it was only to protect him. He stood behind a window disguised as a mirror. He watched as his father stomped his boots on the mat, sprinkling snow from his jacket and hat. Edward had to swallow when he noticed how much older he looked since he last saw him. Six months seemed to have added ten years, and a patch of greys along his temples. Alice was complaining about the shitty weather, and that her ass hurt, making Edward remember how much she hated long drives. His mother was the last to come through the door, sedate and looking like she walked out of a salon.

That was his mother, always Stepford Wife perfection. There was no snow on her outerwear, because it wouldn't dare touch her. Every strand of her hair was in place, despite the slight dampness at her neck. She didn't look a year past thirty.

His mother looked exactly what he'd always envisioned his sister would if she were still alive. It hurt like hell to see her, much less love her, despite their issues.

"You ready?" Banner asked quietly so not to be overheard.

Edward answered by circling the windowed wall and walked into the hallway where his family spoke with James and Emmett. He cleared his throat. Everyone stilled, awaiting reactions Edward imagined at least a hundred times that day. He had to hold back the need to swallow his heart that lodged in his throat.

Instantly, Alice's eyes watered and cautiously she approached him. That had to be trying for her, because she usually went full tilt into everything. He nodded and she cried out, running and he caught her.

"I'm okay." Her arms tightened around his neck. "You cut your hair." She only cried harder. "Didn't I tell you I hate when you cry?' She laughed a little, whispering something he couldn't catch between her small sobs.

"I'm sorry," she said, stiffening and pulling away. "I'm not supposed to push, shit. I'm sorry."

Edward tipped her chin up and shook his head. "In case you didn't notice, I nodded and that meant come here." She slapped his arm, smiling up at him with watery eyes.

"Edward," his father said, patting his shoulder awkwardly. As if he wasn't sure about his reception. He looked at him, circling away from Alice to hug the man.

"Dad," he said gruffly. The man still smelled the same, a combination of Old Spice, and something muskier. He lost weight, at least ten pounds. Edward could feel it as he patted his back. It wasn't a good thing, because he looked too thin.

"It's good to see you," Carlisle said, pulling back and gazing as him. "You look real good." It didn't escape Edward's notice how his mother stayed back, shifting from foot to foot, and her eyes on the floor.

"I have to work my ass off here, but it keeps me in shape," he said and shrugged. "So I ain't complaining."

Emmett and James snorted. Edward flipped them off behind his father's back. "We'll take your bags to the cabin, and be back in a few to take you to it."

"Thanks, Emmett," Carlisle said. James left them as well, and said he'd be back in a bit.

"I suppose I should introduce you to Dr. Banner," Edward said when his mother did not attempt to come to him. He wasn't sure which he would've preferred anyway. Before he had a chance to do proper introductions, she edged a little closer.

If he didn't know any better, he'd say she was scared. Of what, he had no clue. The Esme Cullen he knew feared nothing.

"Edward, baby," she cried softly, raising a hand to cover her mouth. The endearment struck a nerve, producing memories of days long forgotten. She always called him that, or used to before his sister died.

He swallowed the lump in his throat, unsure of what to make of her reaction. At that moment, he knew he wasn't ready to talk to her face to face. He replied anyway, "Hi, Mom."


AN: I wanted to tell all of you that have stuck through the angst and continued reading, your reviews have been amazing. Thank you!