I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of your thoughtful and heartfelt reviews. I think I replied to them all from last chapter if you weren't anon and didn't have PMs turned off, but if I somehow missed you, I apologize.

Huge thanks as always to Twilly, Lellabeth, LyricalKris, and Twilightladies!

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Chapter 16 -Catatonic

Time passes in a blur after we get home from the hospital. I curl around Bella in her bed, doing my best to calm her when she whimpers and cries in her sleep. My own tears fall steadily into her hair, but I stay silent.

Alice knocks on Bella's door a few hours later, rousing me from a restless nap, and peeks her head in. "Hey. Everything o—" She cuts herself off when she sees me and gasps. "What happened?"

Sitting up, I glance down to make sure Bella's still asleep. "She had the baby," I whisper. "It's been a tough few days."

"Oh, my God. When? Why didn't you call me? Oh, my God."

"Shhh. Please, Alice. Let her sleep. She's…" I shake my head. "Just let her sleep." Careful not to wake Bella, I get up and walk out to talk to Alice.

"What happened?" she asks again once I've closed the door.

Stepping past her, I head to the kitchen and pour a bowl of cereal. I haven't eaten in… I don't know how many hours.

"Her blood pressure spiked early Friday morning, and she had to have a c-section. We knew if we called you guys, you'd come back early."

"Of course we would have. Why didn't you guys want us to know? We would have been there."

I put my hand on her shoulder. "I know, Al. She knows that too. It was all just too much. Too hard. She knew you'd all fall in love with the baby once you saw her and held her, and… We were barely handling the situation as it was."

Alice hugs me so hard I almost get milk and cereal all over both of us. "God, Edward." She sniffles against my chest. "I understand. I just wish I could've done something."

"I know. But you'll be doing a lot now. She's going to need a ton of support from all of us."

She looks up at me, chin on my chest. "What about you?"

"I'll…" My voice cracks, and my eyes sting. I want to say I'll be fine, but it's a lie. "I will too," I whisper, and she tightens her arms around me before releasing me.

Wiping her eyes, Alice moves around the kitchen, checking the refrigerator. "Let me make you some dinner." I hold up my cereal bowl, and she eyes it with distaste. "Some real dinner."

She whips up some pasta, and I go back to Bella's room. Getting down on my knees by her bed, I brush a few loose strands of hair off her forehead. "Bella," I whisper. She scrunches her nose and grimaces but doesn't wake up. "Bella, wake up. You need to eat."

"Just wanna sleep," she mumbles.

"I know. But you haven't eaten. Alice is home. She made some dinner."

Alice knocks on the door and brings in a bowl of pasta. "Hey, sweetie."

"Hey," Bella says, her voice hoarse with sleep.

"How ya doin'?"

Bella shrugs and looks down. "Thanks for making dinner."

"You're welcome. Let me know if there's anything else I can do."

"Thanks, Al," I say. She nods and leaves but comes back a minute later to bring me a bowl as well. I help Bella sit up, and she's listless as she forces herself to eat a few bites.

Still starving, even though I finished my cereal, I move to her computer chair and wolf my pasta down.

I'm just finishing my bowl when I hear a shrieked, "What?!" from the living room.

Rose is home.

She bursts into Bella's room, bypassing me and sitting down on her bed. Bella places her mostly untouched pasta on her night table as Rose whispers to her. She hugs Bella fiercely and then gets up, stopping to place a hand on my shoulder before leaving the room.

It's more than I expected.

"Do you think you can eat any more?"

"No," she croaks, sinking back down into her covers and closing her eyes.

"Okay. I'll bring you some water."

She doesn't respond.

That's how it goes for days. I help her get up to use the bathroom, I change the bandage on her incision, and I force her to eat. She mostly just stares at the wall or sleeps.

The only time I leave is to go to class and grab more clothes from the frat house. Emmett and Jasper have been filled in on the situation by Rose and Alice, and they mostly leave me be, offering silent support in the form of bro hugs when we see each other.

I study and eat and go to class. I function. Barely. I sleep on the couch in the girls' apartment when I don't accidentally pass out in Bella's bed or on her floor.

I've shown her the texts from Esme as they've come in. The first one was the same day we got home, in the evening, after they'd made it safely back to California. Esme's already sent a few pictures of Layla, and they fucking kill me, but I can't stop looking at them.

Bella can't seem to bring herself to look at them right now, which I guess I understand.


A week after being back at the apartment, Bella sits up in bed, and I take notice. She's been borderline catatonic, so it's out of the ordinary. When I look up from my textbook, she's looking right at me, which I don't think has happened since we left the hospital.

"Bella? You okay?"

Her dark eyes blink at me. "I need to go home."

"You are home, Bella. What—"

She shakes her head. "No. I mean home home. I need to go home to Washington."

"Oh." Dropping my highlighter onto my book, I stand and move to the edge of her bed. Her eyes stay on me. "Of course. You should go visit your dad. I'm sure he'd love to see you." I try to smile even though I'll miss her like crazy if she goes.

"Yeah. I just… I need to get out of here. It's…" She trails off with tears quickly gathering in her eyes.

"Too much?"

She nods, sniffling hard and looking away from me.

I bring her tissues and move to hug her, but she gently pushes me back. "I'm okay. Sorry. Thanks," she says, holding up the tissue.

"It's okay." My brows furrow at her refusal to let me hold her. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yeah." She reaches for her cell phone on the bedside table. "I just need to call my dad and figure out how I'm going to get home. Maybe the bus?"

"The bus?" I shake my head at her and run a hand through my hair. "There's no way you're taking the bus all the way across the country by yourself. No fucking way."

Bella blows out an exasperated breath. "Well, I can't afford to fly, so..."

"We'll think of something."

"We?"

"Yeah. Me and Alice and Rose. Emmett and Jasper. Between the five of us, we could probably scrape together enough for a plane ticket. Maybe your dad could pay half?"

She nods, looking down at her phone. "Yeah, maybe. I've got a little I could put towards it too." Her watery eyes meet mine again. "Thank you, Edward. For everything. I know I've been really out of it, and I wasn't the only one who gave her up." The last word is a whimper as her face crumples, and I move forward again.

This time, she lets me hold her.


Two days later, we're heading to the airport. She's scheduled to fly back a few days before classes start back up the second week of January. Almost four weeks without seeing her feels like it'll kill me, but she says she needs this. She needs the time away. She needs to be with her dad right now, and I get that. I'll be heading home to Chicago once classes are over for the semester. Mom-hugs and homemade dinners sound like the best things on Earth right now.

I'd once hoped this would be the year Bella would come with me, but the universe had other plans.

"How's your incision? Still sore?" I ask her, mainly to fill the deafening silence in the car.

"A little."

"Just don't forget to use your lap pillow when—"

"I know," she says quietly. "I'll be okay." Bella turns her face away from the window for the first time since we left. "Thanks." She reaches over and gives my hand a quick squeeze.

My lips twitch upward into an almost-smile for the first time in over a week. I've had a permanent frown etched on to my face since we left the hospital. I need to learn to put on a mask of indifference, though, because the sad face draws girls like flies to honey. And the only girl I want is the one sitting next to me. The one who's been scaring the shit out of me with her silence.

She'll feel better when she comes back from Washington, and I'll feel better when I get back from Chicago.

And then we'll talk about us.


BPOV

I thought I'd already cried every tear that ever existed in my body. But more leak out of my eyes as I stand before Edward in front of the security checkpoint.

Neither of us seems to know what to say, so he pulls me in for the tightest hug I've ever gotten in my life. Even though it's restricting my breaths, it feels good to feel something other than soul-sucking despair, and I cling to him desperately, fisting the back of his shirt until my hands almost go numb.

"Are you sure you need to go?" Edward asks, his voice thick.

Nodding, I look up into his watery eyes, the green so bright against their red-streaked background. "I'll miss you."

Crushing me to him again, he palms the back of my head. "God, I'll miss you too. So fucking much. I'm not gonna know what to do with myself without you here."

"You'll be fine," I reply with an unattractive sniffle. "I won't be a burden on you now, so you can focus on yourself and your classes."

Edward pushes me back by my upper arms and levels fierce eyes at me. "Is that why you're leaving? You think you're a burden to me? Fuck, Bella. I want to take care of you. I love you. If that's the reason you're leaving, we can turn around right now." He bends to pick up my carry-on, but I put my hand over his.

"That's not the reason." His eyes say he doesn't believe me. "It's not," I reiterate. "I'm just saying things will be easier on you with me gone."

A quiet scoff leaves him. "You're wrong."

My gaze drops to the floor. "I'm sorry," I whisper. "I know I'm probably being selfish. You've done so much for me and been there for me, but right now… I can't even…" A sob leaves my throat, and I wrap my arms around my middle. Edward runs his hand through his hair that's almost the same color as Layla's, and I put my hand over my mouth to contain another sob.

I miss her so much.

I want her back so fucking bad.

But I also want her to have the life we promised her with Carlisle and Esme.

I want to finish school and grow the fuck up and hope it makes this sacrifice worth it.

But I also want to get my baby back and live on canned beans if I have to.

I want to be with Edward so much.

But I also want to run as far away from him as I possibly can.

My head is a jumbled mess of contradictions, and it feels like it won't ever be set right again.

I need the calm and steady presence of my dad more than ever right now.

Edward pulls me back in, and I rest my cheek against his chest as his warm hands rub my back. "You'll be okay, Bella. We both will. Just please come back." He kisses the top of my head, and when I don't answer, he pulls away again. "I'll see you in January. Right?"

"January." My nod is forced, and he stares at me hard, eyebrows pulling together and jaw clenching. On impulse, I grasp the front of his shirt, pull him down, and mold my lips to his. It's desperate and all wrong, but so, so right. "I love you," I whisper against his lips. Releasing him and not meeting his eyes, not wanting to see the storm of emotions that is surely in them, I grasp the handle on my suitcase, square my shoulders, and walk away from him.

I don't… can't look back.


*more hugs* Thank you so much for reading. xoxo