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It takes a day and a half for the authorities to locate Juliette’s plane and bring her safely home, and for those agonising thirty-something hours Avery does not dare sleep, does not dare eat, barely dares to even breathe. Glenn is still in L.A., having stayed behind in Juliette’s stead to deal with the response to her honest interview and her early departure from the Oscars…and now the missing status of both the plane and Juliette herself. Emily, thankfully, has flown home to take care of Cadence for him, and he gladly lets her, his mind whirling and Avery unable to concentrate on anything but the fact that Juliette is missing.

No one thinks to put the bouquet of flowers he purchased from the gas station into a vase, and, unable to sleep, Avery watches them wilt on the kitchen counter, the mixed bouquet becoming almost as lifeless as he is. They had been an impulse buy, purchasing them a way to fill the time between Juliette’s plane taking off in L.A. and arriving in Nashville, a somewhat lacklustre attempt at showing her just how much he loved her. With nothing to do but think, Avery can’t believe that he got caught up in Layla’s lies, can’t believe he’s the one responsible for not reuniting with Juliette sooner. If he’d agreed to try again when she asked a month or so ago, he and Cadence would have been in L.A. with her, ordering room service whilst everyone else went to an Oscars after party. Her plane never would have gone missing, and she’d be safe, safe and loved, and they’d be happy. In the early morning light, Cadence asleep and the house quiet, and with no updates as of yet, Avery is certain that he’ll never know how it feels to be happy again.

Will stumbles in when Juliette has been missing for eighteen hours, laughing as he drags Kevin by the hand into the house. The afternoon has given way to early evening, Emily silently preparing something for dinner, food she knows Avery will hardly touch. He’s managed to locate his wedding band in the drawer he hid it in after Juliette told the press of their plans to divorce, and the feeling of the metal against his skin grounds him somewhat, keeps him sane. Will’s laughter stops abruptly as he takes in the scene in front of him, brow furrowed. Avery supposes that he’s been too caught up organising his impromptu rally and, from the looks of it reuniting with Kevin, to check the news, but he doesn’t offer an explanation for his sombre appearance. He knows he’s an utter mess, with bloodshot eyes and greasy hair, but what’s the point of a shower if Juliette never gets to hear him tell her how much he loves her ever again? What the point of anything if she’s gone? He’s aware that he’ll have to carry on, if only for Cadence, but Avery just cannot summon the energy. Not now. Not yet.

“Juliette’s missing,” Emily tells Will and Kevin quietly. She sniffles, biting down hard on the inside of her mouth to keep the tears at bay. “Her plane went missing 90 miles outside of Nashville yesterday night.”

Will inhales sharply, a hand coming to rest on Avery’s shoulder. “Avery…” is all he can seemingly say. Avery swallows thickly, unable to reply. His phone, a photo of Cadence set as his background, sits idle on the table, devastatingly silent. The authorities are currently scouring the forest where Patsy Cline’s plane crashed over fifty years ago, with no sign yet of Juliette. He wants to laugh at the irony of it all – her performance as Patsy had been brilliant, Avery leaving Cadence with Emily one night so he could sneak into the cinema to watch a late night screening of the movie, but that’s no reason for her to leave them in the same way. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if she’s dead. After everything, after all the pain and the anguish, they were finally working their way back to each other…and now that chance has been ripped out of their hands. It isn’t fair, but he’s too tired to fight against the injustice of it all.  

Will places an open beer in front of him, the alcohol sliding smoothly down Avery’s throat. He shouldn’t be drinking, not when he’s had little to eat over the last day, but he needs something to numb the ache in his heart. He should have told her not to fly back, should have told her to stay in L.A. until morning. He should have gone to her, like they’d planned, even though she refused his calls and told him not to. He squeezes his eyes tightly closed, Emily talking quietly to Kevin in the kitchen and Will silent as he sits beside him, picking at the food Emily has prepared.

He polishes off the rest of his drink, before announcing, “I’m going to take a shower.” He doesn’t want to, but he needs to escape the palpable uncertainty in the room. Besides, if he weeps in the shower, no one will know. The tears will merely wash down the drain as if they are meaningless, not wet his cheeks and linger. Emily merely nods, the baby monitor in her hands. Cadence hasn’t been unsettled at all by the last eighteen hours, his daughter blissfully unaware that her mother is missing. She’s sleeping soundly in a way Avery can only be envious of, her teething pain thankfully abated for the moment. He runs a hand over her blonde hair before he goes to shower, her hair so very alike Juliette’s. He hopes, not for the first time, that it never darkens. Cadence is not even a year old, and yet her mother could quite possibly be gone from this world, Cadence left to grow up without her. He knows how painful it was for Juliette to grow up with a mother hardly present, a father buried before his time. He doesn’t want the same for their daughter. He wants Juliette to see her grow up, wants her to send Cadence off to her first day of school, to hold her tight when her heart breaks for the first time, to see her happy with her own family. He doesn’t want Cadence’s only knowledge of her mother to come from what she gets told about her, or, god forbid, the Internet.

The tears that he's been blinking away hours once more well in his eyes as he stands under the shower, the water far too hot but the scalding pain welcome nonetheless, if only so he can feel something other than grief. He doesn’t try to stop them from falling, merely clutches at the wall for support as he sobs, unable to comprehend it all. How could it be possible that Juliette could be gone from their lives, when they were just about to start again? Is God or whatever higher being there could possibly be really so cruel as to snatch her away? They’ve always had terrible timing, but he really thought that this time, they were going to get it right.

He shouldn’t be as surprised as he is when Emily knocks repeatedly, insistently on the bathroom door. He considers ignoring her, because the door is locked and he really just wants to be alone, but she continues knocking, calls his name until he finally gives in, turns the shower off and wrapping a robe around his body before opening the door, hair dripping on the back of his neck. Cadence is now awake due to Emily’s knocking, making soft noises from her crib, but when Emily flashes her phone at him and his eyes register the latest text from Glenn, he doesn’t care at all that his daughter is unlikely to go back to sleep now, doesn’t care that he’s dripping water everywhere.

They’ve found her, the text reads. I’d have called, but there was no time. She’s got a sprained wrist, but other than that they think she’s okay. Tell Avery they’re taking her to Kindred Hospital. 

The tears start afresh as soon as he realises what Glenn's message actually means. “Oh, thank god,” he tearfully murmurs as he lifts Cadence up out of her crib, holding her tight. Emily’s own eyes well with tears as she hurriedly replies to Glenn, Cadence energetic in his arms. “She’s safe, Cady,” he tells her, pressing a kiss to her temple. “Mama’s okay.”  Cadence grins up at him, more awake than ever from his jostling. He cannot help but grin back, for soon enough, it’ll be Juliette that will be in his arms, not just their daughter.

Avery dresses hurriedly, hair still dripping wet from his shower when he leaves the house, less than five minutes after he read Glenn’s message. Cadence is bundled into a warm jacket and shoes, quiet as he places her into her car-seat. “Let’s go see your mama,” he says as he buckles her in securely, Emily taking advantage of the distraction Cadence provides to slip into the driver’s seat. He doesn’t argue, because he is far too overwhelmed by the revelation of Juliette’s survival to dwell on anything else, let alone something so trivial as who drives them to the hospital. He doesn't think he'd be able to concentrate on the road anyway.

Hours later, when he and Cadence are finally alone with Juliette after her various examinations and persistent questioning on behalf of the police, she bursts into tears at the sight of them, uncaring of her sprained wrist as she envelops them both into her arms. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” she repeats into the crook of Avery’s neck, her clinically clean scent unfamiliar but still entirely welcome. She strokes a hand over his hair, presses a kiss to Cadence’s forehead.

“Never again,” he murmurs, and Juliette nods in understanding, tears in her eyes.

“Never again,” she agrees, shifting over to make room for him on her hospital bed. He slips an arm behind her, Cadence in his lap. It is a scene reminiscent of her pregnancy, when he would hold her as Cadence’s movements kept her awake until the early hours of the morning, and Avery cannot wait to take them both home.

Home, where they shall be a family once more.