A/N: Hello, and happy Saturday! This update is for my geeky kitchen ninja, mshavisham79, and callmepagliacci, who's totally moving up to my neck o' the woods in the spring! Will there be mayhem? Oh yes, yes there will.
All standard disclaimers apply
The next day, workers came to lay pipe and install the hot tub Carlisle and Esme had given them—but mostly Wisp—for Christmas.
Wisp didn't like this.
She hid from the strange men in their beat-up Carhartt's and boots, burying herself under blankets in her little cave under the kitchen table, shaking with fear. Edward wished he could hold her, but he had to be in and out of the house, answering questions as the men began their task. Carlisle had promised they'd build a roof to go over it later, something like the pergola covering Emmett's tub, though not as elaborate. They didn't have a back deck like his, after all.
A quick call to Esme soothed at least some of his anxiety. She was more than happy to come down to the cabin, crawling into the blanket-fort with Wisp and holding her. Wisp didn't want to be read to, but she turned in Esme's arms and clung to her, and Edward knew he'd done the right thing. "Mother" might be a new concept to his Wisp, but she'd definitely claimed her choice to fill the role.
It wasn't until one of the workers stepped inside the house to use the bathroom, the scent of a newly-smoked cigarette clinging to him, that Wisp completely lost it.
She saw nothing more than his muddy, booted feet; neither Edward nor Esme could say definitively whether it was the strong, acrid smell or that quick glimpse that set her off. A low moan grated from her throat, thick and choked, and she tightened her grasp on Esme to the point of pain. "No!" she gasped. A raw breath heaved her chest. "Nononononononononono!"
Edward quickly pointed the man to the bathroom, then squatted down next to the crack in the sheets where he could just make out Wisp hiding in Esme's arms. "What happened?"
"No!" she insisted before Esme could say anything. "Bad! Bad!"
"Little Wisp, please. Everything is okay, I promise." He reached for her, his arm slipping into the dark little space to touch her socked foot. "Wisp?"
She squealed and jerked away from the unexpected brush of his fingers. "No!"
Fuck, were they back to that? Was she again refusing to let him comfort her?
"Edward, I don't think she realized it was you." Esme sounded breathless as Wisp squeezed her. "Shh, baby, it's okay. You're safe, sweetheart. Look. It's Edward."
"Edward!" She jerked in Esme's arms, and then her tearful face peeped out of its hiding spot. "Edward..."
Wisp released Esme, who looked relieved, and lunged for him.
"No!" She fell into his arms with an awkward lurching motion, and Edward had to brace himself to catch her. His hands slid under her arms, pulling her close, and she buried herself against his body. "Bad!" Her little fingers dug at his skin, her arms trembling with the force she used. An aching sob bubbled from her throat, followed by another.
"I'm gonna take her upstairs." Edward rose, letting her wrap her legs around him, holding her close. Hot, moist breath blew against his neck. "Little Wisp, sweetheart, it's okay. No one's going to hurt you, I promise."
"What do you think—" Esme's question was cut off by the worker exiting the bathroom. Wisp caught a glimpse of him over Edward's shoulder and her cries rose in pitch, a high, shaky wail vibrating through her body.
"Whoa!" The man froze, the smell of cigarette smoke strong in the small room. He backed slowly toward the door. "Sorry—hey! Isn't that the girl that was on the news?"
Edward gritted his teeth as he moved, holding a crying Wisp close as he pushed by the man and headed for the stairs. "Yes," he heard Esme say behind him. "I'm sorry—she's very scared of a lot of things."
Maybe she was. But Edward refused to hold it against her.
"Hey, sweetheart. Come on, it's okay. You're fine." He stepped into his room and shut the door behind them. She burrowed into his arms, refusing to move or loosen her grip. Whatever it was about that man—his look, his smell, or something Edward couldn't even guess, he didn't care at the moment. He slid one hand through her long hair as he took a seat on the bed, urging her out of her hiding place. "Come here. Let me see those eyes."
She resisted for only a moment, giving in to the gentle tug as he tipped her face up. Her wet brown gaze was wary, shifting from him to flit around the room, eying the closed door and the emptiness, only herself and Edward, no strangers.
"No one's here. You're okay." Edward rolled his long sleeve over the heel of his hand and touched it to her cheek, wiping at her tears. "I know. I know you're afraid." The worker himself wasn't the problem, Edward was fairly sure. She hadn't recognized him, she'd recognized something about him. While any meltdown was bad, he truly believed actual recognition of someone from her past would be far, far worse. "I'd love if you could tell me. Can you?" He moved his head, catching her gaze again. "What scared you, little Wisp? What was bad?"
"Bad." She shuddered and pushed against him, as if she wanted to crawl inside of his skin to hide. "Bad."
"Yeah, I got that part. What is it, though?"
"Bad, Edward." A shaky, heaved breath turned into a hiccup. "Bad."
"Okay. Okay, sweetheart." He let her nestle against his shoulder once more, hiding in the curve of his throat. Maybe he'd get a better answer out of her later, after she calmed down. "You know you're safe here with me, right? You know I'd never let anyone hurt you?"
Another hiccup was the only answer.
"There are all sorts of different kinds of people in the world. Some of them hurt, but a lot of us don't. I'd love it if you could understand that. Most of the people you meet, even strangers, won't hurt you. A lot of them would even help if you needed it. That's what people mean when they talk about humanity. A basic...a basic willingness to do something without personal gain. The people who hurt on purpose, the ones who like watching other people suffer—they don't have that humanity inside them. There are countless reasons—genetics, environment—and fuck if I know why the monsters in your past did what they did. All I know is, it's not going to happen anymore. We're going to keep you safe, little Wisp, and give you everything you should have had from the start. Okay?
"Yeah?" He craned his neck to catch a glimpse of her expression. Her skin, red from screaming, was slowly calming to its normal color.
"Yeah." That warm, gooey feeling only she could evoke oozed up inside him again. "I definitely am. I promise."
"Thimble?" Her voice wavered, pleading and soft.
That...was a strange thing to ask for. "Thimble?" Had Alice been at her with a sewing kit or something? "I don't think I have one." Esme might. If a thimble would make her happy, he'd get her one. He'd get her a whole package. Where did one buy thimbles? How many were in a pack?
"Thimble." Wet brown eyes stared at him in entreaty. She frowned, then lifted her head and placed her lips against the line of his jaw. "Thimble."
She smelled like the cinnamon toast she'd had for breakfast, sweet and mellow, and she nuzzled his cheek gently with her nose. Edward turned his head, brows drawn together slightly. "Kiss," he said, attempting to mimic the slow tone Emily had used to introduce new words yesterday. "That's a kiss, sweetheart, not a thimble." He pecked the tip of her nose. "Kiss."
"Thimble." She pointed to her cheek.
Edward chuckled, but he tipped her chin up slightly and kissed where she requested. "I'm gonna have to ask Rose about that one, I suspect." No one else spent an appreciable amount of time alone with her, not even Esme. "Are you feeling better now? Not so scared?"
Not quite the answer he was hoping for, but it was better than screaming. "Come here, pretty girl." He tucked her close and felt the deep sigh that flowed from her body as she returned her head to his shoulder.
"Good Edward," she murmured.
"I'm glad you think so. You know, you're the sweetest girl I've ever met, of any age."
Her nose nuzzled the side of his neck as he heard footsteps approaching the bedroom door.
There was a soft knock, then Esme poked her head in. "Everything okay now?"
"I think so." He rubbed Wisp's back slowly. "She won't say what scared her about him, but she's calmer."
"I think it was the cigarette smell. We really couldn't see anything from under the table." Esme stepped further into the room and closed the door behind her. "I opened the windows to air everything out, and I told people to use the restroom up at our house if they need to. They seemed to accept the explanation that we had someone with special needs in the cabin."
Edward didn't really care what they thought, as long as they left Wisp alone. She didn't usually react quite so badly to strangers, but that didn't mean she liked them.
"Do you want to try taking her back downstairs?"
He shook his head. "Not now. I want to make sure she's completely calm first."
"Do you want some grilled cheese and soup for lunch?"
Edward smiled. "I think she'd like that."
What she didn't like, however, was going back into the bathroom that night.
"No!" she said, clamping her hand down around her nose as Edward carried her in.
"Honey, it doesn't smell bad, I promise." He took a deep breath. No, there were no lingering traces of smoke. Esme had aired everything out well, and besides, the man had only been in the house for a few minutes. "Just try. I promise, it's okay."
When he set her down on the bathmat so he could turn on the taps, she made to crawl out of the room. It was the first time he'd ever seen her refuse a bath.
"Wisp." He tugged at his hair. "Come on. It doesn't smell like smoke."
She refused to respond, crawling from the bathroom and into the hallway. Edward followed her, letting the water run. Wisp moved to the kitchen, where Esme had left a bottle of Febreze on the counter after airing out the cabin. Inspired, Edward picked up the spritz bottle and knelt down.
"Look, little Wisp. I'm going to give you this, okay? You can get rid of that smell." He put his finger on the trigger, careful not to point the bottle at her, and gave a quick tug.
"Oh!" She flinched away from the resulting mist, but as soon as the clean smell hit her nose, she brightened.
"See? It'll be okay, I promise." Edward gave her the bottle and pulled her into his arms. "Come on. I swear it smells fine, but you can spray all you want."
Once she saw where they were headed, she did. Edward's eyes watered a little even though the smell wasn't as cloying or strong as a lot of other air fresheners. He set her down and watched as she crawled into each corner of the bathroom, even opening the cupboard under the sink to spray inside. As a precaution from whatever chemicals were in that bottle, he flipped on the bathroom fan.
When she decided finally that the air smelled clean enough, Wisp offered him the bottle. "Good." She sounded very satisfied with herself.
"Good," Edward agreed. "Will you take your bath now?"
She pulled off her socks and shirt as Edward turned off the water, and he watched as she finished undressing and crawled awkwardly over the rim of the tub, sliding into the water. Though she'd never slipped—so far—it always worried him until she settled in, melting into the water and sinking chin-deep.
"I'm glad you like baths," he said, lathering a washcloth and offering it to her. She obediently began washing, starting with her toes, though she did her best to keep as much of her body submerged at a time as possible. "It's one thing you don't have in common with your cat." She was also much better than Pet at taking meds. He'd finally given up trying to give the cat pain medication. She wouldn't eat her food if it was mixed in, and when he tried poking pills down her throat like the vet suggested, he just got bit for his trouble. "Hey, do you think we could talk a little bit about what happened earlier?" Her fear of the smell of smoke lingering in the bathroom gave him a pretty clear picture of what she'd been afraid of, but he wished she could tell him directly.
"Ow." Wisp held out her arm, an angry little red scratch near her wrist, courtesy of a too-rambunctious Pet. Edward kissed it, which was what she'd wanted. "Good Edward." She switched hands holding the washcloth and moved to scrub her knees. "Good Pet. Pet sorry."
"Yeah, I know. She doesn't mean to hurt you, she just gets carried away sometimes when you're playing." Edward gave up on asking her questions. He didn't know how to word them using her very limited vocabulary. "I wish I had a way into your head." He held her hair up so she could scrub her shoulders and back. "But not in a creepy Being-John-Malcovich sort of way. I just...I'd love to know what the world looks like to you."
The slosh of water against warm skin was his only answer.
That night, Wisp had her first nightmare since being sick. Edward had sort of hoped they'd magically gone away or something, but when he woke up to the low, keening sound of Wisp's cries and a rigid little body on top of him, he knew better.
"Wisp," he said softly, digging at his eyes with one hand while pressing her close with the other. "Wake up. Wake up, sweetheart. It's not real."
She whimpered into his chest as he sat them up, leaning against his headboard. It had been a while since they'd done this, the thick silence of the night pressing in on them, Wisp's rigid little body trembling as she cried. Assuming that they'd never do it again, though, was stupid. Edward knew that. Recurring nightmares didn't just go away on their own.
He exhaled as he tipped Wisp's head toward him , dipping his other hand in the glass of water by the bed and flicking the cold drops at her face. She squealed, flinched, and woke with a jolt.
"Hey. Shh, sweetheart, you're fine. Whatever you dream about, it doesn't happen here."
She caught her breath in several heaving gasps, wide-eyed, her face shadowed to him in the dark night. "Edward?"
It was a plea, a cry for help, and he ached to answer it. She usually did not talk after a nightmare—whether that made this moment significant or not, he couldn't really say.
"I'm right here," he promised. "Right here with you, sweet girl."
Whatever she was begging for, he didn't know and couldn't guess. If she wanted reassurance, he was doing his best to give it to her. If she wanted to stay in his lap, he wasn't fighting her. He held her close, hugging her little body against him, wishing he knew exactly what he could do to fix this. "You're safe," he murmured into her hair. "You're here with me."
"Edward?" Her thin arms wound around his shoulders, and she hugged him as tightly as she could. "Edward?"
"I'm here. I'm right here."
Her hands gripped fistfuls of his t-shirt, and for a very long time she didn't move. Edward didn't make her. Until she could express otherwise, he'd do what she always seemed to want him to do—hold her and reassure her with soft words and touches. Affection was what she craved the most—from him, from Rosalie, from Esme—and he never wanted her to feel like it wasn't freely given. They had more than enough for her—more than she could comprehend.
"Edward?" Her nose brushed the skin of his throat, and he felt her inhale deeply, breathing in the smell of him. Her hands tightened and relaxed their grip on him, almost like a kneading kitten.
"I'm here," he promised. "I'm here. Sweet little thing, where would I go?"
She moved her head, her lips following her nose, kissing where she'd nuzzled him. "Edward?"
"Whatever you want." He dropped his mouth to speak against her hair. "Whatever you want, it's yours."
Neither of them went back to sleep, the workers returned to continue installing the hot tub and building a roof overhead, and by the time Emily knocked on the front door, both Edward and Wisp were sleep-deprived and cranky. She wouldn't nap, barely picked at her food, and refused to move from Edward's lap for longer than it took to use the bathroom. Edward wasn't upset with her, but he hated the situation. The sounds of construction from the back yard weren't helping.
"It's open!" he called when Emily knocked. Getting up was difficult with a full-grown girl refusing to let go of him.
Emily stepped inside, and one black eyebrow quirked when she saw Wisp huddled in Edward's arms.
"You saw her on a good day last time."
"This is a bad day?" Emily sat on the couch, but not too close. Edward appreciated that.
"This is the day after a nightmare." One shoulder hitched in approximation of a shrug. "She doesn't want to do anything except sit with me, and she won't sleep until she can't fight it anymore."
"Hello, Wisp," Emily tried. "How are you doing today?"
Wisp eyed her, but remained silent.
"She doesn't talk after a nightmare." Edward didn't mention the way she'd begged in his arms upon waking. She hadn't said anything since, so it didn't seem all that important.
Emily waited, but Wisp did not speak. Edward wanted to say he told her so, but he refrained. That was his own lack of sleep and crankiness, not Emily's fault.
"Maybe you'd like to draw, or paint, instead?" Emily offered paper and a case of watercolors from inside her messenger bag. Wisp looked at the supplies for a long moment, then buried her face against Edward's shoulder again.
"Sorry." Edward managed a lopsided smile. "I'd love if you could help her when she's like this, but I don't think paint is gonna do it."
"Well, you and I can talk for a while, then," Emily said. "We'll see if she gets more comfortable after a while."
Edward doubted it, but he kept his mouth shut. She was the professional here.
"I spent most of yesterday and this morning going through our first official session and coming up with recommendations to start. I don't want to push her too hard at first. The goal isn't to alienate her, but to get her used to a new routine."
"Sounds good." Edward was adamant that, whatever happened, they weren't going to scare her. That would be counterproductive, to his mind. "What sorts of things are you thinking about?"
"There are some fairly big changes that need to be made, and I think you'll agree with me, even if you don't particularly like them. Also some smaller things that can be worked into her day to help her learn and grow."
"What sort of big changes?" Edward asked warily.
Emily's honest eyes looked right at him. "She needs to be in her own room, Edward."
Yeah, he knew—had known from the beginning. But she was terrified to sleep alone, and she wouldn't use a bed without him between her and it. It was too much, too big a fight, and he hadn't chosen to tackle it on his own. Plus, what about the nightmares? What would happen if she had one and he wasn't there? He was a pretty heavy sleeper, most of the time. Would he even be able to hear her from across the hall, two closed doors between them?
"I know. I know. I can see by your face that you don't like it. But you do understand, don't you?"
Edward nodded. Yeah, he did. "When we were sick, Esme put her next to my bed on an air mattress. What about something like that?" It was a compromise, right? Something in between?
"It's better than nothing," Emily said, "but she needs her own space. It's not just about the bed, though you know as well as I do that it's inappropriate for her to keep sleeping in yours. I understand that you don't touch her sexually, and you never would. But it won't look good if a judge ever gets involved, and it's not fair to her. She needs to learn what society says is appropriate, so she can internalize and adapt. A young woman doesn't sleep with a man she's not romantically or sexually attached to. She needs to learn this. You're her caregiver, not her boyfriend."
"I know that." It came out maybe a little more harsh than he meant, but fuck, this was a sore subject for him. "Physically she might be twenty or whatever, but mentally she's just a baby. I'm not some sick fuck—I don't want to touch her like that!"
"No one's suggesting that you do." Emily remained calm. "Not here, anyway. Not me, or her social worker, or any of your friends and family. But remember those boundaries we talked about last time? This is one of them—an important one. She doesn't need lengthy explanations right now, but she needs to know that sleeping in your bed is no longer okay."
"And when she cries? When she comes to the door, or kneels by the bed, and cries?"
"Then you give her a hug and put her back in her own room. It may take a few times, but she's intelligent. I think she'll learn quickly."
Edward truly, honestly didn't know if he was capable of that—capable of pushing her away when all she wanted was the reassurance of his touch. His jaw tightened, one thumb stroking the soft fleece of her shirt.
"The key is to make sure her room isn't a place of punishment," Emily went on. "She's taken to that little fort under the table, and that's good. It shows that she understands your arms aren't the only place she can find safety, though I understand you're still the first place she turns most of the time. If we make her room a good place, somewhere she wants to be, the transition will be a lot easier."
Edward still wasn't sure. The rational part of him knew Emily was right and Wisp needed her own space, but the other part of him understood that her meltdowns were something he couldn't ignore. Especially not when she was crying for him. "What do you suggest?"
"Get your friends and family involved. Make it an event, a happy thing. Clear out the room and do a little redesign—maybe paint it her favorite color. Pack it full of her things. Her books. Her paintings. Let her make choices about what she wants and where she wants it. Make it a gift for her. I'm not saying it will make the transition completely painless, but it will help. If she won't sleep on the bed by herself just yet, an air mattress or something similar is fine. As long as she knows that that's her space. It's where she needs to be at night, and where she's free to be during the day if she wants."
Edward didn't like it, but he was big enough to admit that he'd seen this coming. It needed to happen. As much as he now found it soothing to feel her gentle weight on top of him at night, she needed this. They both did. He hugged her close. "Okay," he said finally. "When?"
"As soon as possible. I know you can't get something like that together in a day, and that's okay, but I don't want it to turn into an excuse. Does a week sound reasonable?"
Yeah. Considering how eager Esme and Alice would be, a week sounded more than reasonable. They'd love getting Wisp's room ready for her. He nodded.
"Good. Thank you, Edward. I know this isn't easy for you. We can move on to something less stressful, if you like?"
"Please." The warm weight of the girl in his arms eased his nerves, but he was done talking about this. If it needed to be done, it needed to be done. Talking it to death wouldn't change that.
"I'd like to work on her autonomy in some other areas. You said she's working toward bathing and dressing herself, and that's great. Food is something I'd like to try now, too. You said she eats what you put in front of her, when it's offered. She doesn't ask for it, is that correct?"
"Yeah. She's started to ask for more every now and then, but she doesn't ask to eat." Edward suddenly wondered if he'd been doing this wrong all along. Did she feel too afraid to ask for food if she was hungry? Did she not even consider it an option?
"I'd like you to put a container—a basket or a plastic bin—in one of the lower cupboards, where she can reach it, and fill it with ready-to-eat foods that she can take whenever she wants. Single-serve packages of crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars, that kind of stuff. Even some fruit is okay as long as you check often to make sure it doesn't spoil. I'd like her to be able to choose her snacks—what she eats and when she eats it. I realize meals are more difficult. Cooking with her is a great way to get her involved, and you mentioned that you and Esme began to do that recently."
"Yeah, that's a great idea." Edward felt a lot better. Wisp couldn't climb up on the countertop to rifle through the upper cupboards on her own, so it made sense to put a container of snacks where she could easily reach. For the first time that afternoon, he felt a real smile tug at the corners of his mouth. She'd love it. And maybe, just maybe, it would take some of the sting out of her move across the hall.
A/N: No, we haven't forgotten about Dr. Gerandy and the police search, I promise! Mwah! Love you, duckies! Oh, also, go vote for the best 90's Twific here: u/4333674/SLMR90sTwiFicContest I'm not allowed to say which one might or might not be mine. *zips lips* ;-)