Will has a sister AU, Part Three
It’s such a treat to get to introduce Milly to each of the dogs in turn and watch her pure, unbridled delight with every one of them that for a while Will forgets to pay attention to a word their mother is saying. The woman has not stopped chattering since they stepped inside, apparently too used to being ignored by one child to pay Will’s inattention any mind, or possibly just remembering his taciturn nature and lack of eye contact at the rare few birthday parties and belated Christmases she attended and assuming he’ll absorb whatever relevant bits of what she’s saying through some kind of empathetic osmosis to be parsed later.
She is not entirely incorrect either. He catches enough to understand the gist of what she’s saying—some plan fell through, or she lost her last job or her last boyfriend, something along those lines, blah blah, the same old story her brother must have heard a thousand times both before and after she dropped a mysterious infant nephew unceremoniously into his lap and took off again a couple hundred bucks richer. It took awhile for Will to figure out that those surprise holiday visits she occasionally paid usually coincided with times she needed to “borrow” some cash, but once he did he’d resented her all the more for it.
He and his dad got by, of course, but they weren’t made of money. Those visits tended to result in a couple of hard weeks of Norman squeezing his paycheck tighter than usual, barely scraping enough together to ensure something made it onto Will’s dinner plate every evening at least if not his own. He could only be thankful that those visits were few and far between, the woman only ever seeming to show up on their doorstep as a last resort after she’d exhausted all other options.
Looking at it in that light, he realizes her eventual reappearance was inevitable. With Norm’s passing, it’s only logical that the torch should pass to Will as Lorraine’s new rainy day provider. He only wonders now how long it will take her to work up the courage to ask. He wants to be angry, offended by it even, and had she come here alone he would have probably tossed her out on her ear faster than she could longingly lay eyes on his wallet.
She didn’t come alone, however. He thinks of the little girl, currently trying to play hide-and-seek with Will’s lovable pack of mutts in his living room, spending who knows how many nights already in that cramped Mustang outside with their mother. He thinks about her being gone from his life forever just as quickly as she appeared, and knows that his decision has already been made.
“Do you guys want to crash here for the night?” he asks, getting the words out quickly before he can rethink them. He nearly offers the guestroom upstairs, but the possibility of one of them coming downstairs for a midnight glass of water and witnessing him in the throes of a nightmare makes him think better of it, and he offers the pullout couch in the center of the living room instead, resigned to moving back upstairs himself for the immediate foreseeable future.
He is shocked into silence by a pair of feminine arms clasped tightly around him. Her head is beside his, both staring at opposite walls over each other’s shoulders, for which Will is grateful because it means Lorraine can’t see the mostly terrified and slightly pained expression he is currently directing at a bland painting the last owners left behind of a bowl of fruit.
“Thank you so much, baby!” she says, her hair uncomfortably tickling his cheek, voice choked with achingly sincere gratitude and relief, enough to make him feel guilty over the things he thought about her earlier. It’s easy for his memory to paint her as a villain, selfish and self-absorbed and casually cruel because of it, and all too easy when she’s actually here to remember that she is still all of those things, yet also—painfully, warmly—fragile and human. All of which, of course, makes her just as impossible to hate as every other monster that occupies his headspace.
“I’m sorry,” she says quietly after a minute, having finally noticed his stiffness, and pulls back from him. “I forget you don’t like being touched a lot either.”
“It’s more that I don’t like surprises,” he amends, wondering if she is thinking back to the same moment he is, when they first “met” a couple of years after she dropped him off. Will had been four, and he still remembers it with the vivid clarity of that four-year-old, when the world was too big and colorful and strange. He remembers the bright, cheerful creature—with hair cropped short then, allowed to bounce naturally in its tight, springy curls and dyed a shiny, coppery red—spreading its arms wide and calling him Billy-bear and naming itself Mommy as it scooped him up without warning.
He remembers how he had screeched and thrashed wildly to get away—his adult mind making itself heard again for just a moment here, to point out what a small miracle it was that she hadn’t dropped him then and there—his fingers snagging no-doubt-painfully in her curls while trying and failing to claw at her now turned away face, desperate to hurt the monster so it would let him go.
He remembers his daddy rushing in to the rescue, taking Will’s continued thrashing and screaming in his own arms in stride, knowing better than the boy that this was not the time to put him down yet, not until the gentle rocking and soothing murmur of his voice broke through to Will at last, making him realize it was his daddy’s strong, dependable arms around him now and that the scary red witch wasn’t going to try and snatch him up again.
It was one of his earliest childhood memories and had left an indelible scar on his psyche. Strange though, that he had never once before today considered what sort of scar it must have left on hers as well. Or perhaps not so strange—he has, after all, made a point of looking through her eyes as little as possible throughout his life and marked his overall success at it as a peculiar point of pride. He does not remember what, if anything, his father must have said to Lorraine after Will had calmed down. He does not remember seeing her much the rest of that day at all.
He thinks back to earlier this morning, when she had grabbed Milly’s arm and somehow been surprised, yet also resigned, by her daughter’s reaction. He thinks that Lorraine doesn’t learn her lessons well, but she does learn a little. A little, but not enough.
He tries to push the thought away by telling himself it’s not fair to judge an allistic parent with an autistic child too harshly, even as his brain whispers traitorously that his dad managed it pretty well and did a much better job. Even as his brain whispers treacherously that he could do a much better job, and not just because he is also autistic and can empathize.
He clears his throat. “Come on, I’ll give y’all a quick tour of the house,” he mumbles, and does not allow himself to look at either one of them for as long as such dangerous thoughts continue to linger too close to the surface.