I am so unbelievably happy that I FINALLY found the opportunity to at last update this story. Thank you guys for your patience, I know, it's been awhile - but I am back from dead. Also, as noticed in the reviews, there was some confusion that is completely on me. Some of you are asking if Mads' was the same vampire that took our little girl back to the Cullen's. To answer that - no. This is a COMPLETELY different vampire that happened to be in the same location as her and also happened to be in possession of some compassion for human life... to some extent.

Anyways, here is a nice, long chapter for you all. Hopefully not too long. Enjoy!

The voices bothered her. They taunted her, teasing mercilessly at her hearing. Esme squirmed. The walls around her were thin, but the conversation was still muffled and unclear as it fed into her ears.

Esme needed to know what words were being exchanged between her husband and the nurses.

She wanted to know that the child was alright. No, she needed to know.

There was no certainty if her heart was still even beating – it had pulsed so weakly before, when Esme had found her in the forest, simply a tiny heap of trembling skin and ragged bones.

And now she paced a deserted waiting room, the rapid flutter of her shoes against the tile floor echoing a manta within her ears. She clung to the noise despite of the irritation it created – she needed the distraction. She was desperate for one.

"She will be alright."

Her pacing became still at once and with a flit of her neck, she settled her eyes upon her husband. He stood in perfect alignment under the glare of the fluorescent lighting, catching his hair, appearing as a halo upon his crown.

Yes, he was a saint – but what a dampened soul he was.

His lab coat was wrinkled, as was his dress shirt. His hair, usually drawn back in gentle waves, was now tousled from the racking of his hand.

Esme battered her lashes against the burn in her eyes "Are..." She pushed down a lump of venom and tried again. "Is... I didn't mean – I... I have done it again..."

With a subtle tilt of his head, Carlisle spoke softly. "It was coincidental," Faintly, the corner of his lips lifted. "Personally, I find it symbolic that she has returned to us."

Her eyes stared past his weakened smile – through the wall behind him and to the events that occurred a mere two hours ago. Now that her mind was no longer cobwebbed in her urgency to rescue the child, it suddenly struck her that there was something peculiar about her scent. Woven between the heavy tones of damp earth and dry blood, Esme detected a unfamiliar odor. It was husk and exotic. Much like cologne, it clung to every stitch of the little girl's tattered clothing.

"She... She smelled different when I found her." Esme rasped out then, her insides raw with distress.

Her husband exhaled deeply, equally as caught in turmoil. "Yes, I noticed that as well."

"...You don't believe...?" She whispered.

"I do," A current of sorrow swept across his face, his lips tightly pursed. "It is very peculiar that she was found..." He winced in pain. "...Unharmed..."

Alive, was the word that he kept locked away. Uttering it, as both of them knew, would arouse an unspeakable heartache.

A furrow was dug between her eyebrows as a single, potent thought swirled in her mind: A vampire had come in contact with the child – not Mads, but a complete stranger. Did the creature save her? Esme wasn't certain, but what she knew was that there was no possibility that a mere toddler could walk miles from her foster home to the wilderness of their property.

She couldn't rid herself of the visions of the child if she hadn't found her that night. She would lay limp and ashen, cradled within the arms of a vampire, a crescent bite engraved into her soft flesh...

Warm fingertips grazed at her wrist and it cleared her mind of the violent imagery. Now in reality, Esme found herself weak, craving the child's presence even more. Without her permission, her legs carried her forward into the waiting arms of Carlisle.

"She's safe now," He cooed soothingly from atop of her head. "No one can hurt her – Alice told me that her future is much clearer now."

Esme frowned against his shoulder, yet she couldn't help but bask in the relief that came with his words. "She called you?"

"Just a few minutes before you arrived. As a precaution, I am assuming." He murmured and twirled a strand of her hair delicately around his finger, lost in thought.

Esme was unable to grasp at the context of his declaration - she was far too taken by turmoil, and she hated herself for it. Drawing in a sample of Carlisle's scent into her lungs, she held it - savored it and then released it. Usually, it tamed her unease. But here she was, on the very edge of losing herself.

It was confusion that brought her this madness, and she didn't have the slightest clue as to how she could eliminate it. It was beyond suffocating, not being able to know how everything would turn out in the end – if the child would leave their life's once again... or perhaps even join it. The endless 'what would happen?' and the 'what if's?' were an incurable tumor that laid heavy in her brain.

"Can I go see her?" She whispered then, and her hands kneaded at the folds of his dress shirt, trembling and desperate.

He drew her back a little and dropped his dampened gaze to her's.

"Certainly," He allowed softly, and stroked the pad of his thumb against the inside of her palm, soothing her.

"But I must warn you, she has been sedated – to prevent her from going into shock when she regain consciousness. She is suffering from severe sleep and nourishment deprivation, and now that she is asleep, her body is utilizing that opportunity to restore that damage. "

His words threw gasoline to that dying flame of unease and it was ablaze once more, a pulsing ache within her chest.

"I still want to see her." She insisted, and Carlisle silently gathered her hand, leading her to the little girl.

The heavy weight of disinfectants and naked blood clinging to the air was numb upon her senses – and it didn't matter to her. How could it have a meaning to her, when it was the child who had rein over all of her thoughts and desires?

With every step across the hospital corridors, she gained a grain of strength. Yet her husband's pace slowed then, bringing them to a stop before an open door. In that very instant, all her newly found courage was gone.

Lead replaced the bones in Esme's legs, and she stood there, weakened, not knowing how to make herself cross that threshold. She wanted to see that little girl – in fact, it burned with every passing second that Esme wasn't there by her side. But she was also terrified for the sight that she would be soon greeted with.

Distantly, she felt Carlisle's fingers tighten around hers. "If you are feeling uneasy, we can-"

"No." She whispered aloud, and with a push of her feet, she brought herself forward, inching shakily into the room.

The soft tempo of the child's heart beat pulled Esme further into the room, and as her eyes connected with her tiny body, she refused to move any closer.


That was the first word that came to her mind when she first saw her.

Frailness basked every limb and fiber of that child. The flesh of her hollow cheeks were a match to a pale sheet of pink tissue paper and exhaustion wore heavy at her eyelids. Under the soft glare of fluorescent over her head, she appeared even more breakable and it was a miracle how her bony little arms could withstand the number of tubes and needles that clung to them.

For a tense passing of minutes, Esme was bound to the sterile tile of that hospital room, frightened that even breathing from where she stood could bear the strength to harm the slumbering child. Slowly, and painfully careful, she crossed the distance between herself and the bed.

With timid curiosity, she brought her finger tips close to her tiny hand and she was crushed violently with relief at the little girl's warmth. Esme was very near sobbing at the soft and steady whoosh of air leaving and entering her lungs.

She was alive – and that was all that mattered.

And for the next hour, Esme simply sat there, her gaze unflinching upon the little girl's quiet face, the murmur of her organs composing the most beautiful lullaby.

During the span of that peace, Carlisle's voice trickled in quietly. "She went missing yesterday morning – at a community park in Bellevue," Those words had her head whirling to face him, and her soul both froze and ignited at the force of this upheaval.

He was unmoving in his stance next to Esme, and although he had his arms positioned behind his back, the subtle wringing of his hands didn't not escape her piercing eyes. "Her foster family was not aware of her disappearance, and by that poor state of her well-being, I reckon they will facing a number of charges."

Esme parted her lips, yet words were entangled on a thick coat venom and she gathered just enough strength to move the stiff muscles in her neck to display her searing displeasure.

"How... How could anyone-" A tepid growl slipped from under her tongue and she quickly suspended her vocal cords, clasping a hand over the faint curl of her lips in shock.

The heat of her embarrassment was slow to taper from her cheeks and with a timid lift of her eyes, she lowered her voice to a meek whisper. "How could they not see how damaged she is? The poor thing was probably frightened by her surroundings and ran off. How could they have been so blind..."

Shifting her eyes toward the hospital bed once again, a spur of harsh regret struck her like lightening as Esme looked over the tiny brunette girl. She seemed far more delicate now, knowing that she had been so overlooked, faced with nothing but loneliness and a lack of warmth. Her hand, laying so weak and forgotten, stirred a need within Esme to hold it within her's. To pour her damaged soul with every lake and ocean of her love was something that she ached to fulfill. But she wondered if her wish would even see the light of day.

It made every millisecond with her even more meaningful, and yet still, it pained her, not knowing when the child's sweet soul would be stolen away from her again.

With such foolish hopes, Esme prayed she never would.

"You still seem so grief-stricken, my love..." A shudder of content quivered at her frame at the gentle combing of her husband's fingers through her tangled hair. "Tell me what's troubling you."

For a fleeting second, she allowed her eyes to close. "I... I don't know if I can do it this time," Each syllable of her confession came out as a soft, defeated drawl. "...I don't know if I can let her go."

Venom seared from beneath her eyelids, but she found herself too weakened to cry. Once again, the awareness of her inability to foresee the future had come back to shred her down to her last thread of self-worth.

"You still have time," Carlisle said softly, so frustratingly optimistic that it made her green. "She won't be going anywhere for a few days, she is only at the beginning stages of her recovery."

Her breath trembled delicately as a new threat of sobs began to ascend up her throat. When he came to crouch before her, it took the tender lift of his hand against her cheek to beckon her eyes to meet his.

"Esme, the future is not always set in stone, and even if it is, stone can be broken."

His eyes, even though deary, still glistened, and he looked so fierce in his faith that it took every muscle of her being to not break down in front of him.

He grazed his thumb over the lavender bruising under her eyelids as though to wipe away at invisible tears, and Esme couldn't help but sigh. How confusing this all was, and even more startling – how exhausted it made her. She closed her eyes.

She felt the warm touch of his hand upon her back, his fingertips running across the ridges of her spine. "Esme?"

Her eyes drift open to find him gazing down at her, his own eyes both distant and sharply present, he lowered his chin to examine her more closely as though she were one of his patients.

"How much have you been feeding lately?"

She blinked at the pure oddest of his question and shook her head in confusion, but she answered him anyways. "I had a few does a couple of nights ago. Then a bobcat last week." She offered in a tone of slight hesitance, a little startled as a single, blond brow quirked upward.

"A few?" He pressed, a sliver alarm seeping through the lightness of his voice.

"Two..." She turned head away shamefully and he tutted gently in disapproval.

"That isn't merely enough, my love – not adequate for a month. You must be feeling some discomfort."

Esme flinched at the harsh reality woven in his words, still, she shook her head, her eyes set intently on the child. As her lips parted to reassure him, he interrupted. "You need to feed." He told her softly, his eyes only mildly stern.

She was quick to protest. "I won't hurt her." She whispered.

"I know you won't – I would never doubt your control for even a second. But you do need some time away from the hospital, to process all of this," A note of pain was found there in the near quiet of his voice. "If you won't do it for me... will you do it for her? She is in a very delicate state right now, Esme. Children are very sensitive to emotions. If you are distressed, the child will become distressed as well. She needs this calm in order for her to heal."

Esme breathed deeply, shakily, squirming under the intense pleading of his eyes. He was doing this for both of them, she realized then. "Are you certain she won't wake up if I leave?"

"I am very certain," Carlisle said immediately. "The medication will keep her asleep for another five or six hours at the least. Here-" He reached into the pocket of his pants and offered her his keys. "Take the Bentley. I reckon Alice and Edward are very eager to see you."

She felt as though cement had replaced the venom in her veins as she lifted hand to take the object from him hesitantly. With one last, lingering stare to the child, Esme forced away the urge to cry and began to cross the distance toward the door.


She turned to him, almost tempted to rush back the child's bedside again, but she didn't and listen to what Carlisle had to say.

"I won't leave her side until you return."

They were huddled on the floor as though they were refugees of war – that was how Esme found Edward and Alice when she walked through the front door. The lights had been turned off in her absence, she didn't even think when she switched them back on. She could see in flawless clarity either way, but it seemed almost like a second nature – it seemed human.

None of them blinked as the front foyer was bathed once more with a seemingly violent light. In fact, Alice had her eyes shut, her face hidden in the crevice of her tiny knees. Edward had her tucked against his side, both were near statues in their stillness, expect for the rhythmic movement of his hand along her hair.

Suddenly, Edward moved, his face casting in the direction of the front door, where Esme still stood numbly. "How is the girl?" He asked her in a hushed tone, concern pulling at his brow.

"She had to be sedated, but nothing... life threatening." Esme moved closer to them, but paused at the flash of hardness that settled across Edward's jaw, the gentle hue of gold in his eyes dissolving slowly to black as he pierced her.

"She looks even worse than before she left us," He hissed and Esme made a haste to obscure her thoughts of the child, but it wasn't quite possible – they were engraved to the walls of her mind. "They treated her horribly – if they don't get charged with failure-"

"Don't." She flinched away from the memories, thankful when Edward didn't protest any further. Instead, he sighed quietly and lifted a rigid hand to tug at his hair, seeming almost frustrated as he unraveled himself from Alice to stand, who remained motionless on the floor.

"I won't," He murmured. He closed the distance between and Esme tensed a little in surprise when he drew her into his arms, his words muffled softly against her shoulder. "There is just so much injustice in this world, Esme."

She pinched her eyes shut, a sigh rattling from her lungs. "I know, sweetheart. I know." Esme held onto him for a little long – a little more tightly, shivering as he finally pulled back.

"Where are the others?" She asked him, almost tiredly, noticing just then how listless the house was.

Esme frowned as he tensed. "They are all searching the surrounding area for the vampire who brought the girl here... but they can't find anything because of the rain. He might have left the country."

"...He...?" She blinked at this information. Their eyes flitted toward the now spirited Alice. She stared, a look of defeat and shame dwelling heavily within them.

"If he wasn't him for being there at that time, she would have... died," She shuddered and gripped at her jeans. Her voice barely touched at a whisper. "But everything would have been better if Mads' didn't decide to come. Her future was so clear, I saw her being so happy – so carefree. It turned straight to black the second he chose to visit. Do you know how close we all were to... not -"

Her voice, so wispy and ashamed, hitched onto a straining sob, her eyes a pool of liquid gold as she turned toward Esme, her chin shaky. She didn't have to even think to move before her core was crushed by the tiny, fierce arms of her daughter.

"I...I am so sorry, Esme. I am sorry I couldn't catch it sooner," Esme cradled her firmly against the tremors that seized her small frame, fighting off the fresh storm of sobs that spawn as a tight ache in her throat. "My god," Alice moaned then. "She could... she could have died. He was so close to killing her – that vampire that found her. I am-"

"She is safe, Alice. What's done is done..." Esme's voice was lost to that reign of broken cries and she didn't even bother to restrain it.

"I am sorry, Esme." She repeated again, her voice rough yet steadier. Esme shook her head. She couldn't bear the sounds of her daughter's burden. She wished for it to be over – for everything to slow down and stabilize again.

She stroked her back and felt Edward take her hand. Embracing her for another moment, Esme released her with fond peck to her cheek and turned to him. "Shall I take you hunting?" He suggested gently.

With a hesitant nod, she was led back into the forest while Alice stayed behind, wanting to prepare an over night bag for her. Edward was slow with Esme in despite of her haste and carelessness. She finished half of a doe, not knowing the creature was sickly until he told her – she didn't care for the burn of her thirst. She just wanted to be with the child again. It didn't surprise her when Edward had grown quickly irked by her lack of care for herself, it drew to a last attempt where he had to capture a mountain lion, end it's life swift and painlessly, and hand it corpse to her as though she were a stubborn toddler. He made sure she had drained every last drop of it's blood and went to fetch her another. By the time they returned, her body was swelling with the nourishment. Strangely, her mind felt clear, like someone had swept cob webs away from her brain. She felt more calm – more sane, even.

This time, it was Alice's turn to take Esme's hand. She took her upstairs to the bathroom with hot water already cascading readily from the shower for her wary form. Afterward, she was beckoned to take a seat on her and Carlisle's master bed while Alice combed her hair and weaved it beautifully into a french braid.

"Do you feel better?" She asked softly.

Esme sat silently, unsure about the set of emotions that swirled within her. "Calmer, I suppose." She murmured at last in response, twirling a finger absently around the tip of her braid.

"She will be okay now," Esme twisted around to face Alice. Her lips were curled into a rare smile. "Everything will be right as it should be again."

There was a rain filled silence throughout the morning when consciousness finally came to the child – even after the many hours of her sitting there, waiting in a fidgeting mess of eagerness for her to wake, she still felt wholly unprepared for it.

When Esme had returned to the hospital those few hours ago, Carlisle was still there by the child's bedside, seeming plastered in that exact same chair and that exact same position, except for one hand that was settled close to her tiny one. As though time had predicted her return, his pager had gone off and she left alone with the girl.

When the weight of the medication finally wore off and she at last woke, it brought a tidal wave of sobs that she had never witnessed from the child before. The very instant her eyes opened, she descended into a sudden panic. She was caught in a relentless surge of tremors, her wails a shrill of invisible pain as Esme had watched her, unable to break from the confines of her disarming shock.

Still bruised and restrained, the child had managed to fold herself into a tight ball on the very edge of that cheap mattress, away from Esme, trapped within a spell of terror that was unknown to her.

It was unspeakable, the sight that unraveled before her. It strangled and twisted at Esme's insides in all the most agonizing ways. There was nothing more breathtakingly violent than the girl's haunting, broken yowls and the uncontrollable flail of her limbs as she fought to escape from some devilish phantom.

Her husband had found her there a mere moment later, her voice nearly snared on a sob as she leaned over the little girl, unseeing in her desperation to calm her.

Esme didn't want to believe him when he told her that she was asleep. A night terror, he had diagnosed it as.

She attempted to reach out a hand toward her – to do anything to bring an end to her suffering. She paused at the sound of Carlisle's voice.

"It's best if we leave her to come out of it on her own – she'll only become more frightened." His fingers were hinting upon her wrist and she lowered it in defeat, a thick sleet of venom sprouting across her vision.

Peace was painfully slow to finally reach the child. Twenty minutes it took for the thrashing to dissolve into isolated twitches. Her cries wore down to hoarse whimpers, and she was at rest once more. Esme couldn't wrap her mind around this swift change from blind terror to calm slumbering, nor could she bleach it clean from the fresh memories of her tantrum.

It didn't take long for her to wake up again – she simply shot in a sitting position and in that moment, Esme was waiting tensely for her screaming to erupt again. But she turned toward, slow and so blissfully unaware.

Every muscle beneath her ailing skin grew tense within a matter of seconds at the sight of Esme. She found herself sitting frozen along with the child. She felt corroded to her very core for sitting there, bound to that plastic chair, not doing anything to prove to her that she was there. It was painful just how violent disbelief shinned in her eyes.

"It's me, sweetheart – it's really me. Esme." She tired to string her words out soft and steady, but it cracked.

A sudden, powerful storm of sobs came rushing from the child then. It took her delicate shoulders and shook them to the point where Esme feared it would hurt her. She wrapped herself tightly with her arms, shivering and trembling at the exact same time. Helplessness was pegged there upon her tear stain face, she seemed so uncertain – so lost and confused in the middle of that bed.

All it took was for Esme to stand up. Her feet were stationary, she intended to simply grab the quilt from the duffle bag. It was enough to put an abrupt stopper to her crying. She seemed to stop breathing all together and then in another instant, she was heaving herself to the edge of the bed, arms outreached, her whines desperate and broken.

She thought Esme was leaving her. For the oddest of reasons, this brought a disgraceful wave relief and delight crashing into her core. The child needed her. How desperately this poor girl wanted her brought her a sudden urge to cry.

"Shh... I am right here, darling," She whispered as her hands worked shakily to bundled the child in the quilt. The weight of it upon her shoulders made her sob harder.

"There now... do not cry. Everything is okay now. I am not going anywhere – I won't leave you, I promise you, sweetheart. Shh..."

Even after her sobs settled, that expectation of Esme leaving her still lived strongly in the poor child. Strokes of panic would rise with even the slightest twitch of movement. She would stare at her with those moist, dreading eyes when her own eyes were occupied elsewhere– it was how she spend most of their first day together. No speaking, barely any movement, just simple staring. Nothing of it brought discomfort to Esme, she was just deeply concerned that it would never end.

Nurses came and left throughout the day, and the child would hide under the quilt. When Carlisle had come, a panic attack was swift to come. Every little jerk of her heart made Esme tense, she found herself fussing over her quiet whines and timid fidgeting. It was foolish of her to act this way. She believed herself to be at least a bit experienced. She was a mother – she had given life to a human, and when that title was taken away, she was earned with it once more as met and birthed love into each of her eternal children one by one. It was oddly simple to parent them, and it only took her until now to realize that they had all come into her life fully developed and independent.

Another awareness struck her then – far more violent and disturbing as it bore into her chest; Esme was never a mother to begin with. At least not an authentic one, she was at one point in time, but she had very little need to act as one in this life.

Esme didn't deserve to be a mother to her son then, and she didn't deserve to have the little girl now.

But she needed her and when the sun at last plunged into twilight, the child was closer to her. She didn't speak during that time, she didn't make any attempt to touch her, she just listened as Esme read aloud the biography of Vincent Van Gogh's life to her.

Her head would dip down to her chin every so often, but it was swift to rise again, fighting off her body's plead for rest with her every atom and fiber.

"Why don't you lay down, hmm?" Esme closed the book and the child jolted awake once more. She turned to her, staring with a sudden nervousness. "You're dosing off, my love – you need to sleep." She continued softly, but she tilted her head at her words, her thumb wedge between her lips.

Esme climbed onto the bed then, abandoning her shoes and curled up against the slant of the head frame. The child, startled by her rapid closeness, scampered to the edge of the mattress. Yet after a few pages of the book, she slowly moved closer, mimicking Esme's position and rested her head heavily the abundance of pillows that were brought by the nurses.

After an hour of relentless struggle to keep awake, she finally allowed her eyelids to wilt in defeat.

There was a slumbering hush that swelled in the corridors of the hospital and her husband took that stillness as a moment to take Esme to a deserted room down the hall. She hesitated, but his reassurance was strong enough to lull her worries. He promised to bring her back before the child could even open her eyes.

"She has no fractured bones – there is nothing what so ever that even indicates physical abuse aside from her bruises and the markings on her back."

A series of x-rays pierced blindingly before a light board and Esme simply stared, the disclosed information sitting heavy in her flustered mind.

"Is that... a good thing?" She offered in a whisper. She caught the hidden weight of his frown, and it sparked a sharp tingle of anxiety in her core at the sliver of uncertainty that settled in his distant gaze.

He observed the images in a deep, rigid silence – it made her uneasy. She grazed a finger over his elbow. "Carlisle...?"

"Physically, yes," He let out at last, the words rough and troubled. His voice faded to barely a whisper. "Yet this means that they abused her psychologically and emotionally."

A weight of words sat on her tongue, but they didn't need to spoken aloud – because this notion had been so obviously clear to Esme ever since she first found the child. Held captive by their kind or not, her abuse would always resort to that particular branch of cruelty.

Her past was still vastly unknown to them and the density of it made her tremor. Esme forced in several deep breaths to tame the looming threat of sobs that quivered in her throat. She held herself tightly, her eyes closed against a spell of certainty.

"There is so much we don't know about her." She whispered, more to herself than to her husband.

He took her into his arms then, almost shaking as he cradled her cheek. "Forgive me, Esme." It startled her, how moistly pained his eyes were, the way they seemed to weep for that unknown forgiveness.

Breathlessly, she demanded. "What for?"

He looked so agonizingly flustered as he shook his head. "For giving you false hope – for making you believe that the child was safe. I couldn't bear to see you so grief-stricken. I had my doubts. I just knew that something was wrong. She was so vulnerable when we surrender, so frail and helpless. How could I not worry about her?"

"I know you worried."

He fluttered his eyes at her, startled, almost bashfully. "How...?" This time, Esme reached to cup his cheek.

"How could I not notice?" She whispered. "It looked as though the lights in your eyes had gone out when she left – they were always so far away. You would stand in your office for hours at a time without ever moving, several times a day."

He bowed his head under the weight of the shame that Esme didn't understand. "I am so sorry."

Esme was exhausted of the endless apologizes. Praying that this would be her last, she kissed softly at his frown. "Don't apologize for the things that you can not control."

She smiled on the second day. It was small and quivered in uncertainty, seeming as though she couldn't quite make sense of what was occurring. But it was a smile, and it was one of the most beautiful things that Esme had the chance of seeing.

With a slow stretch of her arm, she handed the anxious girl another piece of banana. The size was far too cruel to give her – barely even a bite, but any morsel larger would be rejected by her stomach, so Esme bit her tongue and didn't complain too much to Carlisle about it.

The child tore at the soft chunk of pale yellow mush and brought a pinch of it to her lips, allowing it to linger there for a few seconds before desperately suckling it clean from her fingers.

Just a mere two hours ago, she had refused to even touch the fruit. The sight alone had her poor body quivering.

She lifted her sweet doe eyes then and her face – although hallow and stained with bruises – revealed a soft glow of content. Her lips twitched again, and it injected Esme's heart with the most delightful warmth.

Today, she found the rubber duck that had helped them all those weeks ago in the duffle bag that Alice had packed for her. A dose of delight was found with the discovery of each thoughtfully placed item as she gradually pulled them out.

Esme shook her head. It was astonishing how a simple piece of plastic could hold the power to put a stopper to a child's fear.

The day blended easily into the evening of their third day, bringing in a wealth of injuries and illnesses to the emergency department. It was a few corridors away, behind many heavy door, but she could still hear the commotion of painful coughs and the wails of unrest infants.

Her husband must be drowning at the force of their needs, but Esme knew he took immense pleasure in relieving their pain. It was the type of delightful high that was far out of the reach of a jonesing drug user.

There was a tiny bathroom across the hall from her room, and Esme took advantage of the tub at the very second the girl was strong enough to walk. There was a very ailing trust in the thought of her being bathed during her stay with her foster family.

It was likely that they didn't give her anything at all, and her nerves twanged at that possibility.

The nurses offered their assistance, but they all knew deep down that it would be fruitless. It took Esme almost every word in the dictionary to reassure her that the women were not going to take her away - that they simply wanted to detach her from the IV tubes so she could bathe with ease.

She caved in eventually, her whines were present until the moment the nurses left the room, and the instant the duck was placed in the rising water, there was a noticeable calm with the girl's heart. Tiny feet shuffled close to her side and in a fluent effort, Esme had her undressed and placed in the tub.

She sat in confused silence while she was given her second bath. Not a whimper escaped her, she just curled her knees loosely to her chest, eyes focused on the duck that bobbed against the light ripple of water.

Every so often she would bring a finger to it's head, petting it as though it were a live animal and she would smile. Esme never saw her so content before.

For a sliver of a moment, Esme abandoned the wash cloth to rummage in the bag that she had plunked in the sink.

There was a sudden thrash of water and her eyes snapped toward the tub in alarm. For all the bruises, cuts, and woeful aches that were sure to leave the child sluggish in discomfort, she was startlingly fast. A breath of salt now clung heavy in the humid space, and Esme was disarmed to find her there, leaning so dangerously close over the edge of the tub, on her knees, panting out desperate little noises.

One thin arm was stretched out toward her, tiny fingers opening and closing desperately – pleadingly.

Esme withdrew her hand from inside the bag and knelt down. "You are just fine... There is no need to panic, darling. Not at all – I am right here. I am here... I am not going anywhere."

Her body, at last, grew weary from the aching tension and she sunk back into the water. The residue of worry finally evaporated as her shivers tapered off into stillness and she brought her chin to rest against the porcelain ledge of the tub, her stare fixed upon Esme's return.

"I have a surprise for you, darling."

From the towel that laid beneath her knees, she brought three differently coloured rubber ducks out of hiding and placed them on the ledge before the girl.

She perked up a little in interest – but it was still blended with a dose of uncertainty. Her spine hardened only slightly as her eyes swept over the new objects laid in front of her. She lifted a hand, inching it forward, led by curiosity. And in a flicker of a second, she yanked it back and curled it against her chest.

Esme winced in pity for the child. She wore a sleet of tears in her brown eyes. That hope – that fleeting moment of new found content and normality was gone. It was torn away from her by fear. There wasn't a cure to eliminate it in one fell swoop. She knew this of course, and the pain was indescribable, knowing that there wasn't much that could be done to quicken her healing.

Unable to produce words that would reassure the child, Esme reached out and took her hand instead. Her skin quivered under her touch, and her eyes flitted upward in startled confusion, but she didn't attempt to pull away.

"These are yours to keep," Esme placed the blue duck in the center of her palm and urged her tiny fingers to enclose around it's miniature, plastic form.

She heard the shaky inhale of her lungs, watching as the child peered down at the toy in her hands. They trembled, and when Esme caught her gaze again, there was a stream of tears on her flushed cheeks.

Still shaking, she held out the duck to Esme. She was still so uncertain.

Esme shook her head, a fierce and sudden burn kindling moistly behind her eyelids. "No, baby – these ducks are for you. All of them. And no one will ever take them away."

Every inch of her body exhaled the comforting scent of Johnson's baby shampoo when all was set and done. It was the only thing that seemed to lighten the heartache of her being imprisoned to those IV's and that scratchy hospital gown again.

But in her hands, she still cradled that blue rubber duck.

The child had a new found obsession with the window. Every passing day had presented a dismal view of occasional rain and seemingly permanent cloud cover.

Today was different, because the sun finally gathered the strength to tear back the heavy gray sheet, leaking a solid blue across the sky.

Her quilt was draped snug around her shoulders as she sat there on the bed, curled in a loose ball. She blinked very little for she was so engrossed with the appearance of the sun. Her tiny form sat in a patch of it's luminous warmth, and she would give small whimpers of displeasure when it would disappear behind a mass of moving cloud.

Many wouldn't react in such a manner to an occurrence of this normality. It made her reactions ever the more endearing – so far more heartbreaking.

"Good morning."

Esme knew her husband was there before he even spoke. He had been like her, bewitched in silence by the child's sedated state of wonderment.

He took a careful step in the room, and somehow it was his near silent entrance that startled her. A jolt shot through her frame, her awe instantly swept away by the sight of his lingering form as she peered warily over her shoulder.

The little girl was by Esme's side in an instant – not touching her, but simply cocooned in her quilt, nothing other than a sliver of her forehead showing.

Carlisle, as always, was completely unfazed by her sudden spike of terror. He morphed his lips into a gentle smile even though she was not looking, his arms laid loose at his side, merciful hands open and exposed to show that his intentions were pure. This time, however, one hand was preoccupy with a shopping bag and a folder of papers.

Esme would forever be envious of his inborn talent at reducing fear. But it didn't quite penetrate the child – she was practically vibrating against her side.

He glided forward another step, slow and considerate as he crossed the room to settled himself in the empty seat next to the bed.

"I see that you are enjoying the sun," Carlisle observed with a soft, fond chuckle. "We'll see about freeing you from all these tubes this afternoon, then you can go outside for a nice breath of fresh air."

The heap of fabric began to quiver and Esme would have stroked her back, but the sudden contact would undoubtedly jolt her, so her hands remained fidgeting in her lap.

It hurt her to see the child so mistrustful of Carlisle, yet in despite of all the whimpers and wide eyed stares of dread given to him, it was never a discouragement to him. He would still kneel down before her and talk to her in hushed, gentle tones, as though none of it bothered him.

It was his goal to wear away at her mistrust of him, that was what he told her. Even if it was so little as a taper in her whimpers, it was still progress to him.

Carlisle bent down to the bag at his feet, rummaging through it's contents. "I brought you a little something to brighten your day, my dear – well, Alice did,"

The quiet crinkle of plastic seemed to capture the child's attention as she shifted the quilt a little, poking a bit of her face out to watch him.

"I am certain you remember Alice." He abandoned his searching for a moment to catch her eyes. Something beyond Esme's sight aroused a smile upon her husband's lips, and she quirked a brow at him in eager inquiry.

A slight, hesitant movement from the girl prevented any answer from being spoken. They watched silently as she rose a hand to her head, raking her fingers through the short strands of brown hair shakily. She stopped herself quickly, and she brought herself to hide beneath the material once more.

Confusion was left in the wake of her mute response – only Carlisle seemed able to decode it.

You are absolutely right, sweetheart. Alice has short hair, too – just like you. You're a very smart girl, you know that? Very smart indeed."

She remained rigid and her husband continued onward, paying no attention to her short-lived interest in him.

"All she has been talking about was you..." His eyes wore a notable twinkle, Esme noticed, as he began to pull out each item from the bag.

There was two full piece pajamas, one was adorned with a floral print while the other was a simple, solid pale blue. A loose pair of sweat pants and sweatshirt came out next, accompanied by a few sets of socks and a single pair of shoes.

There was something shared among all the clothing that laid neat and folded on Carlisle lap – they were all incredibly small. Esme tackled down the lump in her throat at the sight. It was so heavily surreal, noticing now just how malnourished the child actually was.

"What do you think, little one?" Carlisle asked her softly, managing to steal a another peek at her eyes as they appeared once more from beneath the folds of the blanket.

With a flit of her head, she turned to Esme, mistrust strong in her wide stare.

Esme smiled, but inside, her veins felt impossibly colder – as though liquid nitrogen was flowing within them. "The clothes are for you, darling – all yours. Alice bought them just for you."

Confusion sprouted and blossomed behind her brown eyes. It struck Esme with a spasm of pain, but She kept the heartache masked behind a gentle smile.

"Oh." Both of them shifted their eyes to the puzzled bow of Carlisle's head over the bag and the girl's breathing became to race.

He dove a hand to the bottom, fishing out a small, plush dog that jabbed her with a spike of pleasant familiarity. Clutched by a wave of curiosity, Esme leaned closer, watching as a small slip of paper appeared along with the toy.

Opening it carefully, a noticeable surprise swept across her husband's features and he looked up at the child – her face now hidden – and then at her, swallowing back his shock.

"It's from Edward," He said to them softly. A quiet shimmer of delight was there in his eyes as he peered down once more to the stuffed animal. Esme was startled when he passed over the mysterious piece of paper into her hand.

Although weightless, the note was a heavy load, sitting there in her limp grasp. She breathed deeply before reading.

I kept catching glimpses of this in your thoughts. You saw it on the window display of a specialty shop and I have noticed how much you think back on it – how much you wished to buy it. Yet you couldn't, because you believed you had no one to gift it to. It was especially great upon your mind on the night before you found her again in the forest. I am tilted as a mind reader, even so, I know I will never understand the depths of your grief or love for this child – and for that, I know that no words of apology that will be sufficient for me to forgive myself for being so indifferent. Hopefully this toy will offer her some security.


Her vocal cords were brimmed with words, but they were lost upon her tongue. With a struggled swallow, she looked at Carlisle again. Her smile, although pained, put his worried tension to rest and he reached forward a hand in silent request to see the short letter. She gave it willingly.

"Unexpected," He said as he laid the paper aside and he returned her smile. "But still wonderful all the same."

The gift was indeed both extremely unexpected and wonderful. However, for some reason, Esme couldn't shake the fear that this note was hinting at Edward's desire to leave again and before she could ask Carlisle if her son was acting strange when he last saw him, another heart beat could be heard in the crowded space.

"Doctor...?" A small, blonde nurse was fidgeting in the doorway, looking shameful as she took in the scene. "I hate to... to interrupt, but there is an accident coming in – EMT believes that the victim might have ruptured their spleen..."

Carlisle placed the small heap of clothing aside and rose swiftly to his feet before the woman could finish her nervous rattling. "How long before they arrive?"

"Five minutes." The nurse stuttered quickly.

"I'll be right there." With a jerking nod, the woman flitted from the room. From down the corridor, a sudden rise in action could be heard from the emergency and trauma ward as preparation was being swiftly made to greet the new patient.

Her husband leaned in for a quick kiss, but he stopped himself at the whimper that came from the quilt. The child was watching him, unmoving, nerved by his sudden closeness.

He gave her a hasty, reassuring smile. Instead, he gathered Esme's hand and pressed his lips to the back of it. "I am sorry." He murmured to them, releasing her hand as he moved toward the door, vanishing like a golden bolt around the corner.

In the wake of his departure, Esme was startled by the unexpected ghosting of tiny fingers on top of the hand that had just been freshly kissed. The child's stare was intense and unsettled as she peered down at her, startled. Her lip was firm beneath her teeth, her eyes searching anxiously at her face.

Esme understood quickly. "I am okay – Carlisle didn't hurt me, honey. Watch..." She was careful and slow as she lifted the child's hand, and she followed her movement sharply, tense and wary, her eyes shut tight in a cower when Esme brought it close to her lips.

Silence placed a heavy weight upon the room – not even the girl was breathing, she just sat rigidly, realization slowly crept into her bones, easing her tension as she blinked her eyes open. She looked up at Esme, puzzled.

"That is called a kiss," She told her quietly, her words hoarse. "It's how we show someone we love them – and you, my darling – are very loved."

The arrival of their visitor came during the calm recess of morning, in between the wedges of the child's waking fits of silent panic and the blissful stretch of inactivity before a nurse would come to perform her daily checkup.

Her arms and hand were now absent of needles and the chaos of tubes. It made her cheeks appear more flush, her smiles a little more fearless. The transformation from feral to a true little girl, although subtle, never failed to surge Esme with joy.

It pulsed even more strongly with the sight of her grasping a spoon within her tiny fist, her cheeks bulging a little with oatmeal. A morsel of the brown mush had slipped from her spoon due to the intensity of her shaking in the early moments – she had froze, then cowered as she awaited her punishment. It took Esme nearly an hour to get the poor girl to uncoil herself and convince her that she was not at fault.

Esme noticed the woman lingering in the doorway, her husband a distance behind her. She had rich brown hair that was collected into a pony tail, a daisy printed briefcase dangling causally at her side.

Her very being exhaled a casual air, there was nothing upfront that spoke of her professionalism until she strode forward into the room.

"You must be Esme Cullen. It's such a pleasure to finally meet you." She bore a warm smile that voiced understanding, and she paused in the middle of room, hearing the sudden arrival of whimpers that fell frantically from the child.

She trembled, her spoon now abandoned on the floor. Esme picked it up and found that she had moved closer to her, their legs nearly touching. It didn't surprise her to see the quilt snugged tight around her body, the fabric covering her eyes.

Esme turned to the social worker and returned the smile, however it felt unsettled on her lips. "As am I," The words were heavy on her tongue. Swallowing thickly, she made a polite motion with her hand. "And you are...?"

"Jessica Marshal," The woman said quickly. "From the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services in Port Angeles."

Nodding quietly in response, Esme watched as the social worker ventured closer and crouched down at the foot of the hospital bed.

"-And you must be the little girl that Dr. Cullen has been telling me about. I am your new social worker."

There was a long spread of silence that latched onto Ms. Marshal's last word. She simply waited for a few moments, patiently still as she waited for a response to emerge from the child. But she hasn't uttered a single word since Esme had scooped her off of the forest floor – she was prepared to part her lips and explain this to the woman, yet the girl fidgeted next to her then, peeking at her from a small hole made in the folds.

She stared at the stranger. She didn't blink, but her chest shook with the movement of her unsteady breathes. She tilted her head at her, as though to try to understand her intentions.

The social worker hadn't looked away once. She moved closer, barely an inch, yet it still made the girl fidget in unease, a series of frightened, rough little sound falling quickly from her quivering lips. Esme felt her push her tiny body closer, her knees now pressed against her rigid thigh. She found herself pleasantly startled. The strength of her hold on the helm of the quilt drained her fist to a solid white. The female nurses had never stirred such a fear in the child before – a whimper, yes – but never something of this magnitude. Carlisle was standing quietly at a distance, the child had looked at him once, but her fear of the woman was far more stronger – she didn't seem to care for his presence at all.

"I am getting a little close for your liking, hmm? Sorry about that, sweetie. Here, is this better?" The social worker moved away, her back now pressed lightly against the wall before them.

The child hid her face in the folds once more, the charge in her distance not even denting her mistrust.

Ms. Marshal was unfazed, her suddenly on a slant as she watched her. "I can see that you are very afraid," She said softly. "Everyone gets scared – it's very normal. But I am sure you would like to feel safe – not afraid. That's why I am here, to help you feel safe again."

Silence was all that came from the child.

Esme cleared her throat softly. "She...hasn't spoken once since I found her."

The lie rolled smoothly off of her tongue, but it was only a single, small deception. The girl had utter all but one word after their reunion – her name. There were stray words spoken before Alice's vision – but now she was mute again.

"That is rare, but not uncommon," The woman said easily and turned her attention to the small, rigid lump of a quilt on the bed. "Nothing to worry about – many of my kids aren't into talking either. Talking can be very scary sometimes, but I am sure we can make you not afraid of it again."

Nothing of a response came from the quilt – again, the social worker was unfazed. She bent down then, and gathered something from her floral printed bag. A small red teddy bear. It's appearance was greeted by a squeal of fright, and the girl was no longer beside Esme, but shriveled in the quilt at the very back of the bed, an endless supply of gasping whines emerging muffled from within.

"Oh, dear," The social worker clasped a hand to her mouth and was very quick to hide the animal back in her bag, instead drawing out an identical one with brown fur. "Sweetheart, I am so sorry for frightening you – it was my fault for being so careless. The color red does tend to make people uneasy."

The child was too occupied with her panic to care, not even when Esme and Ms. Marshall tried to coax her out with the new stuffed bear. "I think that will be enough for today," She said quietly after another failed attempt. "She is clearly overstimulated, and rightly so," She casted a long look of sympathy to the rigid, whimpering and broke away, shifting her attention to Esme. "Mrs. Cullen, is it alright if I speak to you in hall? And you as well, Dr. Cullen?"

"Of course." Her husband parted from his stance against wall, but Esme fidgeted hesitantly in her spot on the bed. A fresh wave of panic was going to arise if she moved, and a small yet violent tremor tore up her spine at the image of the child's wide, tearful eyes and pleading cries. She turned away, uncertain if she could even will herself to stand up.

Carlisle noticed, quickly smoothing over the confusion of the social worker at Esme's hesitance. "She has a tendency to panic if Esme leaves, even so much as standing up puts the poor thing into hysteria."

Esme was startled by the sudden smile that emerged on the social worker's lips. "Separation anxiety is never a good thing, but in this situation, it is – she trusts you. We can stay here. To start, the family that took her in has been removed of their foster parenting rights. And the fact that she was severely malnourished and dehydrated when she was admitted is enough that they might be facing some charges."

A tension that Esme wasn't even aware of dissipated almost instantly at this news. Behind her, she heard the silent release of Carlisle's breath, his hands coming to squeeze her shoulders.

"And is there any additional treatment that the child is needing, Dr. Cullen?" The social worker questioned then.

Carlisle shook his head and smiled softly. "She is doing exceptionally. I reckon I can have her discharged in the next day or two."

"Excellent! Because I am wondering if you two would be interested in fostering her."

Hopefully this chapter satisfied your hunger - until next time, my lovely readers! Xoxo.