A/N: Hello, lovelies! Is everyone having a lovely weekend? I always think of things I want to say in A/Ns but then when I'm ready to post, I forget. So we should just get on with the chapter, yes?
All standard disclaimers apply.
Edward gave Wisp a snack of crackers and peanut butter which, to his relief, she ate happily. She offered a sticky finger to Pet, who gave the peanut butter a halfhearted sniff before turning away.
"I don't think cats like peanut butter." Edward smiled, relieved that Wisp seemed to be okay despite what he had asked her to draw. He'd taken the drawing away so she didn't have to look at it anymore, putting in on the blanket-topped kitchen table for now. In the morning he'd call Emmett, though he doubted it would do much good. She'd drawn this tattooed man before, after all. Without a name Emmett probably wouldn't be interested in stopping a media campaign, and Edward was unwilling to push her any more tonight. Jasper said she was getting better, but they had to remember that she was still sick, and treat her gently. Forcing her to remember things she didn't want to remember didn't seem very gentle to him.
"Sleep?" Wisp yawned, turning her face into his shoulder.
"Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good idea to me. It's late. Did you sleep much before you came upstairs?"
Her answer was ambiguous at best, but Edward didn't care. She was in his arms, talking to him, and she seemed happy—at peace. It was all he really wanted in that moment. "Sleep," he agreed. "But first, we have to clean you up a little."
Wisp cast an interested look at the bathtub when Edward carried her into the bathroom, but she didn't complain when he set her on the counter and turned on the sink instead. He wet a washcloth and rubbed the stickiness from her fingers, then let her scrub her face with soap and warm water. She smiled, dripping, as he patted her cheeks dry with a soft towel. Some of the long hair around her face invariably got wet when she washed, but it didn't seem to bother her. Very little, in fact, seemed to bother her. Esme was right—she didn't complain about her food or clothes, the medicine she had to take, or her daily activities, such as they were. Day to day, she was very easy to care for...as long as no one tried to take her outdoors or keep her from her cat. Rousing her from sleep wasn't always the easiest thing either, but Edward could hardly blame her for that. Who liked being woken up?
"You're a sweet thing." He touched her cheek, pink from scrubbing. "No one deserves to be hurt like you've been, but I can't believe somebody could look at your face, now or years ago, and deliberately..." He shook his head. "I'm sorry. Sorry for everything you've been through." He wished more than anything that she could have had a normal life—parents who loved and protected her, close friends, a good education—despite the fact that, in that scenario, he'd probably never meet her. It didn't matter. If he could somehow turn back time and keep all of this from happening to her, he would.
But he couldn't.
"I guess all I can do is promise to do my best going forward," he told her as he carried her upstairs. "To help you achieve whatever normalcy, whatever happiness, is still possible for you."
Edward chuckled. "Yes, and Pet, too." He set her down in the bedroom, then dutifully returned to the living room to fetch the cat. It grumbled about being moved, but Edward was just glad it didn't try to bite him. He'd felt those sharp little teeth more times than he cared to.
Pet was deposited on the end of the bed, and then Edward turned to Wisp. She hadn't slept in his bed for a while now, unless crying on top of his legs earlier counted. Her air mattress was still downstairs, under the kitchen table, and he didn't particularly feel like moving it. "Well?" he asked, eying the girl seated on the carpet. "What do you want?" If she asked for her mattress or her cave, he'd do it.
"Sleep?" She raised her arms to him.
That seemed pretty clear. Edward picked her up and settled them both in his bed. She cuddled into his arms with a soft, contented hum, exhaling a breath that seemed to leach everything from her body. Soft, pliable, she melted atop him, her long hair spilling over his chest and onto the mattress.
"Good Edward," she murmured as he drew the blankets around them, tucking her in securely. "My Edward."
Her good mood lasted into the morning, when Edward was roused by the sound of Pet crying fretfully, standing at the edge of the bed. Wisp was nowhere to be seen.
"You know," he told the cat, "you're going to have to get used to doing things with that cast. You'll be wearing it for a while."
Pet only meowed louder, and she skittered out of the room, awkward on her cast but moving faster than yesterday, the moment he lifted her to the floor. With a chuckle, Edward pulled a sweatshirt on and followed.
The stairs were also a challenge, but Pet navigated them fairly well, and once she trotted into the kitchen, there was Wisp waiting with Pet's breakfast.
"Pet," she said, putting the cat's dish on the floor with a smile. "My Pet." She sounded proud. As far as Edward was concerned, she had a right to.
"Yes, she's yours," he agreed. "I think she's happy to have her food. Do you want some breakfast, too?" He pulled coffee beans and a filter from a cabinet. Screw it—if Wisp could eat regular food, he could have coffee. "Do you want to help make some pancakes?"
"Help," Wisp echoed, as she had the night before. Edward still had no idea whether she understood or not, but he was happy to hear her voice either way.
"Yeah, you can help make breakfast. I think pancakes would be a good celebration this morning." They had plenty of things to be happy about. Pet was found. They were both getting better. Wisp was talking to him again.
After he ground the coffee beans and started the machine, Edward lifted her to the counter. They could worry about hygiene later—did it really matter if she brushed her hair before or after breakfast? He gave her the empty cat food can and showed her how to rinse it and the spoon in the sink, then got out the box of pancake mix and a big mixing bowl.
"Here," he said, "you can measure." He handed her a spoon and a measuring cup, and after a quick demonstration she happily began spooning the dry mix. Edward added the water, let her dump the mix in the bowl, then handed her the whisk. "Knock yourself out," he told her as he heated up a pan and melted a little butter in it. Yeah, he knew you weren't supposed to overmix pancakes, but he wasn't too concerned. Esme was an excellent cook, but he'd picked up very little from her over the years and he hadn't killed himself with his own cooking yet.
She settled into her task, spilling very little as she stirred, and Edward smiled. She seemed to enjoy helping. Once she brought her finger to her mouth, licking away a spill of batter, and grimaced at the raw-flour taste.
"I know," Edward said, chuckling. "They're not good until you cook them. Here, watch." He drizzled three small blobs of batter into the hot pan, enjoying her look of mystified delight. The warm sweet-starch smell of pancakes drifted around them.
"Oh!" Wisp pointed to the pan once he'd flipped the pancakes. "Um!"
"Yeah, do you remember when I made these for you before?" He smiled. The world seemed softer somehow—kinder, brighter—when she was happy. Not just content, but actively happy, even joyful. Wisp's excitement triggered his own in a way he didn't understand, but he didn't need to. It was enough to enjoy the late morning, making breakfast together, the smells of pancakes and coffee drifting around them.
Wisp snitched one of the first batch of pancakes as Edward was plating the third, piling them all on one plate. She took a big bite, then offered him the other half. He took it from her fingers, and she patted his cheek softly before he pulled away. "Um," she said again, chewing happily.
"Do you want to try?" Edward handed her the spatula and let her flip the next batch. She was nervous about the hot stove, which he rather liked—less chance that she'd burn herself—and she handled the utensil awkwardly, but she managed to flip the silver-dollar pancakes without too much trouble. "Pancake." Edward held one up before offering it to her.
She took a bite before scrabbling with the spatula to take the pancakes out of the pan. "Pancake," she said through her mouthful. "Um."
The mixed batter made a big pile of little pancakes, and when they were done Edward turned off the stove, melted some butter in a ramekin and put syrup in another, then lifted Wisp to the floor. She crawled to the coffee table without being told, waiting patiently while he brought food to the table. She liked to eat the little pancakes with her fingers, dunking them in the condiments, and Edward didn't see any reason to stop her. He poured her apple juice, fixed his own coffee, then settled on the couch. His job today was keeping Wisp quiet, which shouldn't be a problem. She had her cat back, and there was no reason to take her anywhere. She could watch Peter Pan as many times as she liked, or nap, or draw, or play with her kitten. He'd read to her if she wanted. And feed her as much as she'd eat—Jasper had been very clear that she needed to stop losing weight.
Not that that seemed like a problem this morning. She devoured her pancakes, which made Edward feel bad. Even if she was used to eating very little, her poor body must be starving now that she was feeling better. He probably let her eat a little more than he should, since small, frequent meals were best, but he couldn't help it. Not when she seemed so delighted to eat the meal she'd helped make. Wisp leaned over and sniffed at his coffee when he set it on the table, but when he offered her a sip she wrinkled her nose at the taste. "Uck," she told him, reaching for her juice.
"Yeah, it's an acquired taste, I think." He wasn't too concerned about it. Plenty of people didn't like coffee.
When she was finished Edward wanted to take her to the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth and hair, but Wisp had other ideas. She reached for him, all but climbing into his lap as he obliged and helped lift her. She smelled syrup-sweet as she licked her lips and settled back in his arms. "Um," she said, tucking herself close. "Pancakes."
"Yeah, I thought you might like those this morning. Did you like helping?"
"Help," she agreed, sucking a sticky spot on her finger.
"What do you want to do now? Do you want to watch Peter? Would you like to draw, or paint?"
She didn't answer, instead burrowing further into his shoulder, and the little sigh she exhaled told him exactly what she wanted to do.
"Okay," he agreed easily. "I know, you're still sick. You can sleep if you want." He pulled the throw blanket off the back of the couch and offered it to her. She gladly helped tuck it around herself, nuzzling his jaw gently with her nose before settling down. Within a few minutes, she was asleep.
Edward waited until he was sure she was fully asleep, then lay her down gently on the couch. Part of him wanted nothing more than to hold her while she rested, but the realistic part of him knew he had things to do. He cleaned up the breakfast mess, poured himself more coffee, and sat slowly at the kitchen table.
Wisp's drawing from the night before stared back at him, and he glared at the man rutting into a clearly terrified and unwilling girl. When Wisp drew these things, she was so matter of fact about it. Was that normal? He didn't know. Maybe Emily would, if he asked her. Not that he was really looking forward to meeting her again, after how he'd acted the last time.
"Who are you?" he muttered, narrowing his eyes at the drawing. Wisp hadn't been able to give him a name and, yes, he was disappointed, but he couldn't be upset with her about it. She'd tried; she'd really tried. Whether she was just too scared to say his name, didn't remember it, or hadn't known it in the first place, he couldn't say. But the failing, whatever it was, wasn't her fault. That much he knew.
Knowing it was likely a lost cause, he called Emmett anyway.
"Ed! How you doing? I was just going to call you. The Chief wants to meet with you and Scott this week, the sooner the better. I told him that your schedule pretty much revolved around little Wispy, but I wanted to double check with you before he and Scott set a time."
Edward grit his teeth. He knew what they were going to talk about at that meeting, and he didn't want to do it. Not at all. "She drew for me last night."
Emmett was silent for a moment. "Yeah? What?"
"I'd rather you come over and take a look."
"Is it as fucked up as the other one?"
"Worse." Much worse. "Em, I don't want her face plastered all over the TV and newspapers."
A long exhale crackled over the connection. "Dude, we already talked about this. I know you don't like it, but Scott's gonna agree with the Chief. You know he is."
Yeah, Edward knew that. Which was why he had to try to stop them. "It's not safe. What if James' accomplice sees and goes into hiding? Or worse, tries to take her back?"
"You gotta let us handle that stuff, Ed. I get it—you worry about her. But the Chief, he knows what he's doing. If he and Scott both think it's a good idea, don't you trust them?"
"No," Edward said flatly, "I don't." Why should he? He didn't know them, not really. And yeah, he got that legally Wisp wasn't really his. The final decision was Scott's to make. But he was convinced that nobody cared as much about her—her needs, her wants, her safety—as he did. The police chief's priority, after all, was solving his case. "Look, you can come back and try to talk to her. Bring Garrett by again. Ask her to draw whatever you want. But don't involve the media. It's not right."
"Sorry, Ed. I'll come take a look at her picture, but you know this is too important. We gave you a lot of leeway—letting you in on meetings, giving you a tape of James' interrogation—but this? We can't, man."
"What if Emily says it's bad for her?" Edward knew he was running out of ideas. He didn't care. He had to try.
"Emily? Rosie's friend Emily?" Emmett sounded puzzled. "What's she got to do with it? Is she Wispy's shrink now? I told Rose you'd never go for it."
"If it means maybe changing your minds about putting her picture out there, I'm willing to take a chance."
"Well, hell." The sound of Emmett scratching his neck reached Edward's ears. "I dunno. I don't think the Chief would change his mind. Scott might. But Ed, you can't get her a shrink just for that."
Edward didn't care. "I'm calling Scott now."
He hung up on Emmett and dialed Wisp's social worker.
Scott didn't answer, but Edward left a message, then called Rose since he had no idea how to get in touch with Emily. Rosalie agreed to bring her over, but only if she stayed to "mediate"—Rose's words, not his. He agreed because, really, what choice did he have? This was the one thing he could think of that might save Wisp from having her picture disseminated to the world.
Rosalie and Emily arrived before Scott returned Edward's call, and he let them in with a quick touch of his finger to his lips to warn them that Wisp was asleep. "Voices don't usually bother her," he said as they settled in chairs, "but I don't want to be too loud." He took his seat in the corner of the couch, Wisp's socked feet brushing his leg.
"Look..." Rosalie scowled. "I didn't want you to meet like that. It was just...don't take this the wrong way, Ed, but you have no clue what to do when she freaks out. I thought if she was so upset, an expert couldn't hurt."
Edward swore Rose got bigger every time he saw her. She really looked pregnant now, not just like a girl with a big belly. He did his best not to scowl back at her. "I'd like to move forward, not look back. Wisp needs a therapist. I've known that from the beginning. It's up to her to decide who she likes." His eyes flicked to Emily. "I'm Edward Cullen, Wisp's caretaker right now."
"Emily Young. You remember my credentials? I can repeat them."
Edward shook his head. That wasn't necessary. He dropped his hand to cup Wisp's foot through the blanket, holding on gently. "I guess I'm wondering what sort of plan you have—recommendations, whatever. I'm also concerned about a proposal from the police." He explained what they wanted to do, and why he didn't like it. "I was hoping you could tell them, or tell her social worker, that it's not a good idea. I know it's bad for her, but I don't have the right degree so they don't pay attention."
"Well." Emily regarded him. Wisp's dark eyes were a soft, sweet brown, where Emily's were sharp and black. It was a little odd for Edward, but she wasn't threatening. "Can I ask you a question?"
"In general, you trust the local police, right? You believe they're competent, you feel safe in your home and around town?"
Edward nodded again.
"And Emmett, he's your friend. He doesn't spend all day with Wisp like you do, but he knows her, doesn't he?"
"Yes." Edward suspected he knew where this was going, and he didn't particularly like it.
"So, if you trust them with your safety, why does it seem as if you don't trust them with hers?"
Because her safety was far more important than his own. Because he didn't have filthy monsters potentially looking for him. Because he'd promised her—promised—that she was safe with him. "I get it," he said, jaw tightening. He rubbed his thumb over the warm blanket covering Wisp's foot. She shifted underneath, but did not wake. There went his hope of avoiding the media. Emily wasn't going to back him.
"It's normal to feel concern for the safety of those in your care." Emily's voice was smooth and calm. She wasn't lecturing at him as Dr. Lawton had tried to do. "In some ways, you must feel almost like a parent to her. Am I right?"
"Yeah." Edward squeezed her foot gently. "I mean, yes and no. It's complicated. I don't know. I'm not her dad, but I'm responsible for her. Does that make sense?"
"Of course." Emily smiled. The scar tissue on one side of her face pulled tight and Edward wondered if it hurt, but he wasn't rude enough to ask. "I'm sure you're tired of hearing it, but your situation is very unusual. I'd be surprised if you weren't confused." She folded her hands together and tapped them against her mouth. "To start, let's talk a little about the technical stuff. Wisp is currently a ward of the state, correct?"
"Yes." Edward glanced at the girl sleeping beside him. "Emmett says the only way to really change that is adoption, which..." He shrugged. "I don't know. It doesn't seem right. I'm not her parent and I don't want to be, and we're so close in age, I think if I tried the courts wouldn't say yes anyway."
Emily nodded. "I'm not judging. I just want to keep everything above-board as far as the red tape goes. If she's a ward of the state, it's the state's job to assign her a therapist, not yours. I can't imagine her social worker disagreeing with whatever she wants, considering she needs to be able to trust her therapist, but it's still a hurdle that needs to be jumped."
"I've already put a call in to him," Edward said. "I imagine he'll call back sometime this afternoon."
"Well, assuming he agrees, I'm willing to give this a try." Emily glanced at Rose, then back at Edward. "We've got some...sticky ethical issues, though. She seems unable at the moment to make decisions about her own medical care—would you agree?"
"Yeah." Edward squeezed Wisp's foot again. He didn't like to admit it, because he knew she was intelligent. But right now she just didn't have the language skills to comprehend those sorts of questions or communicate her desires. "I don't know...sometimes it feels like she understands a lot more than she says. Other times she's just...blank. I can't really describe it, but yeah. She can't make those decisions for herself. Not right now." Later, he hoped, they'd get her there. Someday.
"Then, once again, it's her social worker's job to decide who can sit in on therapy sessions with her, or receive information afterward." Emily turned to Rose and grinned. "Sorry, sugar. I know you want to be there for her, but her social worker probably won't agree."
Rose made a face. "Yeah. I figured. He's a pansy, but he seems to have a thing for the rules." She air-quoted the last two words.
"It's kind of his job, you know."
"Whatever. He's gonna let Edward stay, right?"
"How would I know that?"
Edward felt a surge of panic. It hadn't occurred to him that he might need permission to stay with Wisp during her therapy sessions, or that Scott might not grant it. Nobody else understood her like he did. She didn't trust anyone else quite so far, not even Esme. He didn't like this. Didn't like it at all.
"Look, I'm not going to lie to you." Emily turned back to Edward. Her intelligent eyes were frank as she looked at him. He saw her gaze flick down to his hand on Wisp's foot, then back to his face. "No matter who she chooses as her therapist, this is gonna be hard on both of you. All of you. The thing people don't understand is, most of the time, therapy isn't something that happens in isolation. It's a tool that can be useful if done correctly, and the best way is for everyone involved in a situation to participate. That might mean you and Wisp together sometimes and apart sometimes. It might mean group sessions with the people closest to her, the ones you'd consider like family to the both of you. It's also going to mean a lot of work, and a lot of change. My job, the job of any good therapist, is to offer support while pushing forward. To prevent stagnation. Backsliding and regression are inevitable, but they can't be allowed to halt progress permanently."
Edward thought he understood what she was trying to tell him. Things would have to change. Wisp would have to be pushed. He didn't like it, but he recognized that keeping her safe in this warm little bubble wasn't a long-term solution. Not if she was ever going to move forward, to be more than a pet, a child, something in need of constant care. He didn't mind the caregiving, but she deserved the chance for more. To become the person hiding inside, the person he saw last night when she held his face in her hands and stared deep into his eyes. It wasn't going to be easy, but he couldn't stand in her way.
"I don't like it," he said. "I don't like the thought of anything causing her pain or frustration. But I don't have to like it. I just have to make sure it's not harming her."
Emily nodded slowly. "Then, Edward, I think we can probably work together. One thing I—"
She was interrupted by the rattling of the front door, and Wisp flinched and woke as Emmett strode inside. "Not cool to hang up on the police, Ed."
Edward opened his arms as Wisp scrambled into them, gathering her close and tucking her blanket around her again. "It's okay," he said as she rubbed her face against his shoulder, her sleepy eyes squinted in confusion. "It's just Emmett. You know he's loud."
"I am not!"
"You are, too," Rose said. "You woke her up."
"You're not even supposed to be here," her boyfriend challenged.
Wisp whimpered at the loud voices, and Edward tightened his arms. "Shh," he whispered. "It's okay. You know they're always like that."
"Yes, pretty girl. I'm yours, and you have nothing to worry about." He kissed her forehead, and her tense body relaxed minutely.
"Sorry, man." Emmett perched on the arm of the couch. "Didn't mean to scare little Wispy. But you were telling me about her drawing and then you hung up. I didn't know if you still wanted me to come over or not, so I did."
Right. Wisp's drawing. Edward jerked his chin toward the kitchen. "It's on the table in there. Be careful, I don't want her to see it again." Drawing it had been enough.
"She drew something?" Rose levered herself out of her chair. "Lemme see."
"I'm not so sure you want—" Edward gave up. She wasn't listening to him anyway.
"Motherfucker!" Rosalie bit out a moment later from the kitchen. Wisp flinched; Edward held her tighter. "Did she give you a name? Emmett, I swear to god, when you find this bastard, you keep him the hell away from me unless you want the mother of your child going to jail for murder."
"No name." Edward watched as Emmett came back into the living room with the drawing. He handed it to Emily. "I asked and I really believe she tried to answer, but she couldn't."
"What if you—"
Edward's phone buzzed in his pocket. He managed to dig it out while still holding Wisp, though she whined a soft complaint at being jostled.
"Hey," Edward answered. "Thanks for calling me back."
"No trouble at all, Dr. Cullen. I'm glad to hear from you. Dr. Whitlock says you're both on the mend."
"We are, thank you." Edward held up a hand to the other people in the room. "I had some questions for you—I'm going to put you on speaker, okay?" He turned on the speaker, then put the phone on the coffee table. "Emmett and Rosalie are here, and someone named Emily Young. She's interested in being Wisp's therapist."
"Hi," Emily said. "Sorry to dump this on you so suddenly. I'm a friend of a friend, I guess you could say."
"Scott Williams," came the answer from the phone. "Wisp's social worker. I'm with Adult Protective Services for the state."
"I'm a PMHNP. I'm sure Edward has your contact information, I can send you my credentials and we can talk later."
"Yes, thank you. Was that what you wanted to discuss, Dr. Cullen?"
The room was silent for a moment after Wisp's declaration. Edward couldn't help his smile. Yes, he was hers. She had him wrapped around her little finger—everyone knew it, denial was pointless.
"Well, hello, Wisp." Scott sounded about as surprised as Edward felt. "I didn't expect to hear from you today. How are you? Do you remember me?"
She slid down from Edward's lap, kneeling next to the coffee table, and stuck her head close to the phone. "My Edward," she repeated.
"I don't think anyone disputes that. Edward, how is she?"
"Tired and still running a low fever as of last night, but she's eating and I can tell she's feeling better."
"That's good. And the cat?"
"Back. Broken leg, but back." Edward exhaled slowly. "I got it microchipped. I don't want anything like that to happen again."
"Pets go missing. I know she didn't take it well, but I'm not sure there's anything you could have done to prevent it."
"Pet," Wisp piped up. "My Pet. Mine."
"You're talkative today. You must be feeling better." Scott sounded pleased. "Are you glad to have your pet back?"
"Pet hurt," she told the little black rectangle sitting on the coffee table. "Ow. My Pet. Help."
"She's really taking ownership of the cat," Edward said proudly. "She's fed her own her own twice now, and I don't see any sign that she wants to stop."
"I have to tell you, Edward...what you've managed to do with her so far—it's more than I ever really expected, to be honest. When we first saw her at West Highland and when I hear her now, it's like night and day. You've done a remarkable job."
"She's done a remarkable job." Edward smiled at the girl kneeling on the floor in front of him. "I haven't really done much."
"You've made her feel safe and comfortable enough to come out of her shell. That's huge. I know you've had doubts but, for what it's worth, I don't. I think you're quite possibly the best thing that's ever happened to her."
Considering the drawings she'd made and the nightmares she had, Edward doubted that was saying much.
Scott paused. "My schedule...I'm pretty full today, but I can stop by tomorrow if that's okay with you?"
"Whenever you want." Edward didn't mind Scott's visits as long as he didn't bring Dr. Lawton along. "Have the Forks police talked to you lately?"
"About disseminating her picture? Yeah."
Edward tried to hold in the scowl that wanted to crawl across his face. "I don't like it."
"I figured you wouldn't. But what do you suggest? They'll try to keep her as sheltered as possible, the chief already promised me. They'll just circulate a photo and ask for information—they won't say anything about her situation."
Emmett had already told him that, but Edward didn't care. He still didn't like it. "I'm not trying to be obstructionist, I swear. I just don't want her getting hurt."
"Nobody does. We'll keep her protected, Edward. That's my job, and theirs as well."
Edward already knew he didn't have a choice. But it didn't make him like the situation any better. "She drew another picture," he told the social worker. "Last night. You can see it tomorrow." Hell, he could take it, or give it to the police. Edward didn't want that thing in his house any longer than it had to be. "The same guy with the tattoos."
"Still no name?"
"No, no name." Edward chewed on the inside of his cheek. "She said the word 'own,' though."
"Own?" Scott sounded intrigued. "Not Owen?"
"No." Edward was fairly sure about that. He could hear her soft little voice in his head. Own, Edward. Own. Not Owen.
Wisp's head snapped up, dark eyes going wide, and she pushed back against the couch. Her arms encircled one of Edward's legs, hugging it to her body. "No!" She held on tightly. "No, Edward! Bad!"
"Hey, little Wisp, it's okay." He picked her up, and she buried herself against him. Her thin little body trembled in his arms. "What's wrong? A word can't hurt you."
"No," she pleaded. "Bad! Hurt!"
"Okay," Edward said, "okay." He didn't want to push her right now. Preventing a meltdown was more important. He pointed to Emmett, then to the little black cat asleep under the coffee table. "You can have Pet, okay? You're fine. You're safe."
Emmett lifted the cat wordlessly. When she saw it, Wisp opened her arms and clutched the animal close. Instead of biting and wiggling away as Edward half expected, Pet let herself be hugged. He wondered if maybe the little furball knew when it was needed the most.
"My Pet." Her voice was adamant, forceful. "Mine. My Pet, my Edward. My home. No own. Bad!"
"Shh, I understand, sweetheart." Edward held her as she cuddled her cat and hid her face in its black fur. No, he didn't actually understand, but he knew the word upset her and that was enough. "Calm down, please. You're safe here."
"I'm very interested in that picture now." The connection crackled, static muting Scott's voice for a moment. "Does eleven or so work for you, Edward?"
"Yeah, it's fine." Whatever. He had more important things to worry about right now. "Look, I think—"
"You do what you have to do." Scott didn't sound offended. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Once everyone left, Edward turned to the girl in his lap, holding her black cat and stroking its fur. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I did my best, but it's not my decision to make. If it was, no one but our friends and family would know where you are."
"My Edward." She smiled up at him. The open sweetness in her eyes made his heart hurt. "Good Edward."
He just hoped she'd still think so in a day or two. Once her photo went out, they had to be prepared for just about anything.
He wasn't prepared at seven-thirty the next morning, though, when Emmett shook him awake, looking grave. Without a word, Edward eased a sleeping Wisp to the mattress and covered her with his blankets before following his friend downstairs.
Without a word, Emmett handed him a folded, handwritten piece of paper.
To Whom It May Concern,
Officers from your police department came to my house several weeks ago, asking for information about a man by the name of Gerandy who might be a doctor or have something to do with a young assault victim. I know you must have plenty of leads and a lot of work to do, so I apologize for giving you more. I thought a lot about it before writing to you. When the officer came to the house, my husband was home. I didn't want to say anything in front of him. He doesn't know how I feel about his brother, or why.
I wish I could give you something clearer, but this is what I have. My husband Daniel's brother, Leonard, was a dermatologist before he gave up his license as part of a malpractice lawsuit. I don't know what the suit was about, only that he stayed out of criminal court by agreeing to a settlement. I also don't know what he does for a living now, he's very evasive on the subject and my husband has told me not to pester him.
I wouldn't have even thought anything, but your officer mentioned a young victim. I don't know how young, he didn't give many details. But...this is what my husband doesn't know. I've always been uncomfortable about the way his brother looks at our children. I have asked them many times, especially when they were younger, and they've always told me he's never touched them inappropriately. And how can I tell my husband my fears without any evidence? I thought for a long time that I wouldn't call or write to you, that I'd leave you alone to do your work. But something, I don't know, maybe it's the mother in me, wouldn't let me forget. I don't know how old your victim is, and I don't know what the man you're looking for has done to her. But I'm a mom, and if I was in her mother's place, I'd want everyone to speak up, even if it might be nothing. Because you never know. My children are older now, but I remember how I felt when they were little and I'd catch their uncle looking at them. I can't explain it and maybe I'm paranoid, but it just never seemed...right.
I apologize if I've wasted your time. I wish you the best of luck in your case.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who helped me with legal stuff in this chapter! And thank you to all my lovely reviewers! I'm continually blown away by the way you've opened your hearts to these characters!
BUT, to the anon "reviewer" who keeps telling me to write Glee stories instead, please stop? I can't respond to you because you don't login. I've learned that I can only handle one fic at a time right now, but that doesn't mean I've abandoned anything. Pushing doesn't help. I'm sorry if you're disappointed.
On a happier note, let's support a new author! CrazyKitteh (crazykittehcat on Twitter) is not new to the fandom, but she's JUST started writing. It's a vulnerable time and a big transition - let's show her some love? s/8914604/1/I-Don-t-Love-Anyone
Mwah! Love to all of you!
Oh, ONE more thing! The Christmas outtake comes after this chapter. I may try to move it, I may keep it where it is. But if you haven't read it, now's a good time. :)