A/N: As I'm sure any of you who've been reading my stories for a while could guess, most updates will not be quite this quick, but I had this second chapter nearly finished, so I figured I wouldn't wait to get it posted for you all. I hope you enjoy!
Three days later, Natalie set her suitcase down on the front steps of the familiar, yet somehow still somewhat imposing, townhouse facade. Glancing down at her son sleeping peacefully in her arms, she marveled at his ability to look so peaceful in the face of both the chaotic city streets around them and the crumbling disaster that was, once again, his mother's life. It had taken her nearly 72 hours driving aimlessly around Pennsylvania and New Jersey, sleeping in cheap motels to avoid using her credit cards, to figure out where she wanted to go. Even as she knocked on the massive oak door in front of her and waited for it to be opened, though, she wasn't completely sure she'd made the right decision.
"Natalie?! Oh my God, what are you doing here? Are you alright?"
Natalie shook her head and almost cried at the honest concern in her older brother's voice when he opened the door.
"Hi Kevin," she said, her voice trembling. "Can I, uh…can we come in?"
"Of course," Kevin said, reaching out and grabbing her suitcase before stepping back to allow her into the entryway. "Natalie, Mom said you disappeared without a trace. Everyone in Llanview's been worried sick about you these last few days."
"I left a note," Natalie said defensively. "And not everyone's worried, I'm sure."
Setting the suitcase down, Kevin took a hard look at his sister as he took in her haggard appearance, shaking his head at the cuts and bruises on her face and the deep purple marks that were glaringly obvious on her neck, not to mention the bags under her eyes and the pale color of her skin that indicated she had probably not been eating or sleeping well for days.
"Oh Natalie," he sighed. "What the hell happened to you and Jessica?"
"I screwed everything up again, what else is new?" Natalie asked scornfully. "Apparently trying to find a little bit of happiness in the mess that I call my life was the wrong thing to do, at least as long as it doesn't meet with her approval."
"Natalie, Jessie loves you, you know that's not…"
"You know what, this was a mistake. I shouldn't have come here," Natalie said, reaching out for her suitcase. "I'm going to go. I'm sure Jessie will appreciate all the support she can get. She's real family, after all."
Kevin shook his head and grabbed her wrist before she could reach the bag. "Jessica has Mom and Dad for support," he said. "And what the hell is this about real family? Are we back to that crap again, Natalie? You are my sister, whether you like it or not."
"I know that, but…"
"No buts," Kevin interrupted, watching her face carefully. "What the hell did Jessica say to you? One fight and we erase the last ten years?"
"She wasn't entirely wrong," Natalie said. "Dad refused to give Brody his blessing. They're never going to accept us. They're making me choose between my family and the father of my child. Can you honestly say they'd do the same if it were Jessica? Or you? Or Joey?"
"Natalie, they love you, they just want…"
"You married Joey's wife," Natalie pointed out. "Did they try to disown you when you did that?"
"No," Kevin admitted. "But no one's going to disown you, either, Natalie."
"You didn't hear Dad," Natalie said.
"Natalie, I can't speak for Mom and Dad," Kevin said. "And maybe it's because I've had the benefit of being thousands of miles away for most of this, but you should know that no matter what happens, you're my sister. I don't care who you marry or how many fights you and Jessica get into, you are my sister and I've got your back."
"You really mean that?"
"Of course I do," Kevin said, reaching out and hugging her before taking Liam out of her arms. "Now, how long are you two planning to stay?"
Natalie shrugged. "I don't know, a couple of days maybe," she said. "I didn't really think anything through when I got on that plane. I just knew I needed to get as far away from Llanview as possible, and I couldn't think of anyplace else to go."
"Alright," Kevin nodded. "Then can I make a suggestion?"
"You're going to anyway," Natalie said knowingly.
Kevin laughed and nodded. "Stay a couple of weeks," he said. "I think maybe you need some time away from everything and everyone back home, including Jessica and Brody."
"I don't know…"
"Natalie, don't take this the wrong way, but you look like death warmed over," Kevin said. "You need some rest, you need some time to yourself, maybe a little time with your favorite brother…"
"That's right, Joey's in London, isn't he?" Natalie asked, earning a scowl from Kevin before they both started laughing.
"Come on, I'll take some time off," Kevin said. "We'll go be tourists together. We'll take goofy selfies in front of the guards at Buckingham Palace and have high tea at the Ritz and ride the London Eye. And then we'll make Joey and Kelly babysit Liam while we run off to Paris to eat chocolates and croissants and drink way too much red wine. And we won't talk about Jessica or Brody or weddings or fights or anything to do with Llanview. You can't tell me that doesn't sound like fun."
"Oh all right," Natalie conceded. "But if I can't fit in my pants when we're done because of those croissants, I'm going to hurt you."
The next morning, Kevin paused in the doorway of the living room as he watched Natalie curled up in the corner of the couch, an empty look in her eyes as she stared aimlessly out the window. He hadn't thought it was possible at the time, but if anything, she looked worse than she had when she'd arrived the night before.
"So," he said gently, sitting down next to her. "I noticed you're not wearing an engagement ring."
Natalie nodded as she held up her hand and looked down at her bare finger. "I left it on the kitchen table," she said. "With a note, of course."
"What did the note say?"
"Not much," Natalie said. "I just told him I was sorry, that I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't stick around and watch my family fall apart because of me. I told him Liam was safe with me, that I'd call when I was ready, but that he shouldn't look for us in the meantime. And then I asked him not to hate me."
"Natalie, I'm sure Brody doesn't hate you," Kevin assured her. "Does this mean you're not going to marry him?"
"I don't know," Natalie admitted. "Probably."
Kevin sighed as he wrapped his arm around Natalie's shoulders and pulled her against him, frowning when he realized that despite the cool London morning, she was sweating. "C'mon, Natalie, it's me, your big brother," he said. "You can talk to me. What really happened? How did you go from being ready to marry the guy over the objection of most of the family, to leaving a note and running away, in a matter of hours?"
"I was pregnant," Natalie admitted quietly, resting her head against Kevin's shoulder so she wouldn't have to look up at him.
"You were what? When?"
"Pregnant," Natalie repeated. "When Brody proposed, I was pregnant. I'd known for a few weeks, but hadn't figured out the right way to tell him yet. Honestly, I'm not sure I would have said yes if it hadn't been for the pregnancy."
"Why not? You two already have one kid together."
"I know," Natalie agreed. "And logically, that was enough to start the relationship, so it should have been enough to say yes to marrying him. When I found out I was pregnant, though, it just felt different somehow, like now we were really tied together. I know it doesn't make any sense. We already had Liam, but this one was different. I can't explain it, it was just a really strong feeling."
"So what happened?" Kevin asked.
"The fight," Natalie said, taking a breath to stave off the tears. "I thought I was fine, but Brody insisted I go to the hospital to get checked out, and when he was out of the room, I told the doctor about the pregnancy. They ordered an ultrasound, just to be safe, but by the time they got the machine into the room for the scan, I'd started cramping and bleeding. It wasn't much of a surprise when they couldn't find the heartbeat."
"I messed everything up, Kevin," Natalie said, the tears now running down her cheeks despite her best efforts. "I finally was in a good place with my relationship with John, and I screwed that up by lying to him. And then when he wouldn't forgive me and Jessica was off the rails as Tess, I tried to make things right with Brody, and to build some sort of family for my son, and then that screwed everything up with Jessica, who's never going to forgive me, and Mom and Dad have turned against us, and then…then to top it all off, I got another innocent baby involved, and I even managed to screw that up before it could even be born."
"Natalie, look at me," Kevin said, turning her chin so she was looking up at him. "This was not your fault. Yes, you probably made some mistakes along the way, but everyone makes mistakes, even Dad and John and Jessica. But that miscarriage, that was not your fault. Believe me, I know how much it hurts to lose a child, and if I could take that pain away from you, I would do it in a heartbeat. I can't do that, but I can promise you that it was not your fault, and I am going to tell you that every day - multiple times a day if you need it - for as long as it takes to get you to understand that."
"I just feel like I can't think straight anymore," Natalie said. "It's like for a minute, everything was so clear, and now it's just all a foggy mess."
Kevin nodded as he hugged Natalie and kissed her forehead. "You're really warm, Natalie," he said in concern.
"I was just thinking it was cold in here," Natalie said.
Shaking his head, Kevin stood up quickly. "Come on," he said, holding out his hand to her. "I think you've worried yourself sick, literally."
"Where are we going?" Natalie asked, not having the energy to argue as she was led out of the room.
"You are going to bed," Kevin said. "I'm going to get a thermometer and have Neville bring you some soup, and then I'm going to call the doctor."