A/N: The quoted poetry is from Lucille Clifton's "she understands me." No copyright infringement intended.
This isn't how it's supposed to happen she thinks, standing in the dark on a lonely stretch of road, Walter pacing frenetically beside her. This is so not according to plan. She fights the panic clawing up her throat.
Walter stops pacing. "Olivia?" He whimpers. "Perhaps – perhaps you should sit down."
"Not now, Walter."
"But – "
"Walter! Please. I need to think."
She needs to get to a hospital. That much she knows.
Olivia pulls out her phone and checks the reception. Nothing. She paces back a few steps, holding it to the side, rotates, and when that yields nothing, holds it over her head. Come on, she pleads. One bar, that's all I need. Just one.
At last, it appears, wobbling in the corner of her screen. Yes. She dials immediately, praying she won't lose the connection by bringing the phone to her ear. She doesn't, and he picks up on the first ring.
Over the line, a sigh, ragged around the edges. "Thank God – are you okay?"
Olivia bites her lip. "Um. Yeah."
"Where the hell are you? It's one o'clock in the morning. I came home and you weren't – "
"I know, I'm sorry. I was at the lab with Astrid, wrapping up some casework, and then we left, but Walter called and was worried because you weren't answering your cell and – "
"Wait, Walter called? Olivia, where are you?"
"I'm with Walter. He got turned around trying to find his favorite roadside diner and – "
"I'm sorry, Peter!" Walter interrupts, shuffling closer. "I promise I won't do it again, son. I promise."
Olivia shakes her head – not now, Walter – and turns away, pulling a hand through her hair. "His car broke down about an hour out of town. He needed someone to pick him up."
Peter's sarcastic laugh crackles over the line. "Wonderful. So you're with him now?"
"Yeah, but – "
"And you're on your way?"
"Well, not exactly."
A pause. "What does that mean, not exactly?"
Olivia bites her lip. She can feel her body tightening again, catches herself tensing against it. Relax. Breathe. You're only going to make it wor –
"Liv? Are you okay?"
"Yeah – no, Peter, it's fine. I'm fine." Liar. "But I blew a tire and we're stuck." And I'm pretty sure I'm in labor.
"But you're okay. It's just a flat tire – no accident. Right?"
"Yes. Right." Olivia blows out a breath, the contraction finally easing.
"Are you sure you're okay? You sound a little wound up."
"I'm fine, Peter," she says, forcing herself to smile around the words. "I'm just tired, is all."
"Okay. Well, tell me where you are, and I'll be there as soon as I can."
She tells him, and, after promising that she's fine (not fine) again, hangs up. That done, Olivia lets out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. Time to face Walter. Again.
"Did you tell him?" He asks as soon as she reaches the car.
"He's on his way."
"Yes, but did you tell him?" Walter grinds out, sagging with the weight of his words.
"Uh, no. No, I didn't," she says, avoiding his gaze.
"Look! Walter. I called him, and he's on his way to pick us up. He's going to get here as soon as he can, and no amount of information is going to get him here any faster, okay?"
"Yes, but you're in labor, Olivia. You can't just have a baby on the side of the road! That's not sanitary, not to mention that I haven't the slightest experience in delivering babies – I passed out when Peter was born, and I haven't gotten around to – "
"All right, enough!" she barks, even as another contraction builds. "Get in the car."
"In the car. Now. I can't think with you talking like that, and I'm not going to have this baby on the side of the road, so just get in the car and be quiet. Please."
"Yes, but – "
"Walter." Whatever he's about to say dies on his lips when he sees her expression. Sufficiently cowed, Walter crawls into the passenger's seat, though not without several backwards glances and an attempt to protest. His words never make it out, however, and he closes the door just as her contraction eases.
Finally alone with her thoughts, Olivia lets out a breath and walks around to the back of the car, wilting against the bumper.
"God," she moans, half-believing someone will hear her. This isn't how it's supposed to happen. She was supposed to have this baby two weeks from now, in a room full of Nina's best doctors and scientists who would ensure that everything went according to plan and that the cortexiphan hadn't somehow transferred to the baby…
Not that anyone knows what they'll do if the cortexiphan somehow has entered the baby's bloodstream. Knowing Nina – knowing Walter – there's probably some serum that will inactivate it, or at least dull the effects, already synthesized and waiting at Massive Dynamic. Which she won't have access to, thanks to Walter's little excursion and her body's sudden decision to have this baby now.
Get a grip, Dunham. Peter's on his way. You're gonna be fine. Both of you.
That is, if he doesn't kill her for not telling him she was in labor first.
It takes two hours, but Peter finally finds them, right where Olivia said they would be. Shaking his head, he tells the cabbie to park on the shoulder and climbs out, taking in the scene. The car is half on the shoulder, half in the grass, the right front tire blown and the whole thing pitched like a lopsided tent. Olivia, a few paces into the grass, has her back to him, but turns when she hears the cab door slam.
"Oh, thank God," she says, and he starts toward her, flicking on his penlight as he goes.
"Hey, you okay? Where's Walter?"
"He's in the car," she answers, squinting in the sudden light. "Peter, I need – "
"She's not fine, Peter!" Walter yells, clambering out of the car. "Whatever she says, don't listen to her. She's in labor, but she didn't want to tell you. I told her it wasn't a good idea, but she wouldn't – "
"You're in labor?" Peter growls, pushing past Walter to reach her. "What the hell, Liv?"
"I'm fine, Peter, really. Besides, it wouldn't have gotten you here any faster."
He stares at her, a muscle jerking in his jaw. "How long have you been in labor?"
"Peter – "
"I don't know." When that doesn't satisfy him, she avoids his gaze and adds, "They weren't bad until a couple hours ago."
And for Olivia to call them bad now, two hours out from civilization – shit.
"Damn it, Liv, you should've – "
"Yes, I know," she interrupts. "I should have told you. But I didn't, and now we need to get to a hospital. Soon." She swallows, eyes earnest against his.
Behind him, Walter shuffles forward and tugs on his coat. "She has a point, Peter; you wouldn't want her to give birth right here in the road. That wouldn't be ideal at all."
Peter closes his eyes, a muscle locking in his jaw. "Walter. Please, just get in the cab."
"Peter." She waits until he opens his eyes to continue. "I'm fine. I promise."
"Yeah, well you're also insane," he growls, trailing her to the cab.
She isn't fine. Forget what she told Peter – she isn't fine. But there's no way she's going to admit that now, not with him falling to pieces and Walter turning in circles because he's so distraught.
And so she keeps on walking toward the cab, willing her knees not to buckle.
The cabbie is waiting in the driver's seat, facing forward and flexing long fingers around the wheel. Olivia reaches the car just as another contraction hits.
"Oh – " she gasps, gripping the door handle. Peter is behind her in an instant.
"Olivia – "
"Hey, are you all right?" the cabbie asks, jumping out of the car.
Olivia's head snaps up. "—Henry?"
Henry's eyes widen. "H-how do you know my name?" He looks to Peter. "How the hell does she know my name? You don't even know my name."
Right. Olivia straightens, panting a little. "Uh. It's okay. It doesn't matter." She attempts a smile, knuckles white against the door handle. "Can we just – "
"I need you to get her to a hospital right now," Peter interrupts, fingers still clamped around her elbow. "Please."
Henry nods slowly, still eyeing her. "Okay. Okay get in the cab."
Olivia's heart squeezes briefly as she watches him reclaim the driver's seat, remembering her time on the Other Side and all the help their Henry offered her. Across from them, Walter is climbing into the passenger's seat, leaving them the back seat. She can sense Peter's anxiety behind her, can feel it in the tightness of his fingers on her arm.
"Olivia – "
"I know; get in the car."
She does, gritting her teeth against another contraction, wondering why it's going so quickly when all the books and doctors told her it would take hours, a whole day, maybe even two, depending on how unlucky she was. But this – this is so fast, if you don't count those long hours it took to drive out here, when she didn't even pay attention to her body because she was so preoccupied with finding Walter. But now she has to listen to it, and there's barely time to think, much less remember all she needs to do –
Olivia pulls in a breath. She can do this. She really can.
They aren't going to make it. Judging by the speedometer and Henry's constantly shifting posture, they're going as fast as they can on the winding back roads. Still, Olivia is getting quieter and quieter beside him, and that isn't a good sign. It's only a matter of time now before –
She sucks in a breath, a sharp one, and goes completely still.
"Olivia?" Peter shifts to face her, sees that her eyes are clamped shut, jaw clamped tight enough to crack. "Olivia? Liv, c'mon, you need to breathe. Breathe."
She shakes her head; just barely, but he sees it. Finally, she relaxes.
"Damn it, Olivia," Peter rasps, dragging trembling fingers through his hair. "You should have told me."
She doesn't reply, not even to argue, and somehow that scares him more than anything else that's happened tonight. A long minute passes, filled only with the dull roar of tires along pavement. In the passenger's seat, Walter fidgets, rubbing first one hand and then the other against his pant legs, then both at once, rocking, rocking. Normally, Peter would've tried to calm him. But tonight is entirely his fault, and Peter is in no mood for forgiveness. At least, not while Olivia is in agony beside him.
He throws another glance at her, sees her looking out the window, jaw still locked, shoulders tight.
"Hey," he says, and she turns to look at him. "I'm sorry I yelled."
Her eyes soften, and she gives that little half-shake of her head that tells him it doesn't matter. Soon, though, her expression changes, tightening, and she swallows, as if she can push back the pain that way, bury it.
Somehow, those two words, barely audible above the noise of wheels against asphalt, do more to wreck him than anything else so far.
Oh God. He feels like echoing her himself.
"Olivia? I'm right here. Take my hand – squeeze it as hard at you need to, okay?" To the cabbie, he says, "Can you go any faster?"
The driver – Henry? – shakes his head. "Look man, I'm already going twenty above the suggested limit for roads like this."
Olivia's hand is crushing his now, and with every second that passes, Peter feels panic clawing higher in his throat.
"Look, Henry? I don't know about you, but I'm not any good at delivering babies, and I definitely don't want to start practicing now. So can you – hey! What the hell are you doing?"
Henry ignores him as the cab screeches to a stop, ignores him, in fact, until he has jumped out of the cab and gone around to Olivia's side, throwing open the door.
"What's going on?" Peter demands, but Henry only ducks his head into the car and says, "Help her out – I've gotta get something from the trunk," before disappearing once more.
Peter freezes, bewildered, and it's Olivia who takes charge of the situation.
"Walter," she says, and her voice is absurdly calm considering the circumstances, "Take my phone. Call 911 and tell them where we are."
"But – "
"Walter!" He stops mid-sentence. "Call them. They'll send an ambulance." She gives him their location, down to the last mile-marker, and has him repeat it back to her before she's satisfied. "Now help me out," she says, turning to Peter.
Nearly falling out of the car, Peter bolts to the other side and helps Olivia into the cool April air. She's panting and trying to hide it, but Peter can see the sheen of sweat on her brow and feel the taut splay of her fingers across his shoulder.
Behind them, Henry is dragging himself out of the back of the car, something clutched in his hand. As he slams the trunk, whatever he's holding glints in the moonlight, and Peter suddenly realizes it's a plastic bag – vacuum-sealed – with some sort of fabric in it.
"Is that a blanket?" he asks, incredulous. Beside him, Olivia is rigid, fingers digging into his shoulder. "What do you think you're doing?"
Henry rips the bag open and shakes the contents out – yes, a blanket – before ducking into the backseat.
"Hey!" Peter yells, yanking him out of the car. "What's going on?"
Henry straightens and turns to face Peter, jaw working. "Look, man, I may not be an expert, but I helped my wife have our baby in the back of this same cab, so I can at least help out until the paramedics get here. Okay?"
"This is insane," Peter grits out, panic scrabbling at his throat. "She needs a hospital. We can't – "
"Peter." Something about her voice, the way she says his name, makes him stop and turn to face her.
"My water broke."
Olivia read a poem in high school, one by Lucille Clifton, and it opened with the lines "it is all blood and breaking, / blood and breaking." She doesn't remember anything more – not the title, not the context, not even what it said after that – but in this moment, she is sure Clifton had been writing about this, the terrible blood and breaking of having a child.
She's not sure how it came to this, camped on the side of the road at three thirty in the morning, but here they are, delivering a baby. Of the four of them, Henry is the most composed, though Peter is pulling a close second. Something – probably hearing that her water broke – had made it real for him, and he'd snapped into gear after that, helping her get ready, crawling into the backseat with her, propping her up and letting her literally crush his hand with every contraction. In the beginning, she'd tried to be stoic, but that had quickly changed, and now she doesn't even care about the noise she's making. This hurts.
There's no way she's going to make it until the ambulance gets here.
Olivia is uttering one of those awful, gut-wrenching moans again and he has no idea where Walter is – just that the call went through and an ambulance is on its way, which, thank God, because he's not sure he can take this much longer. And he's not even the one having the baby.
Henry, to his credit, is much more of an expert than he claimed to be – or at least, he's faking it remarkably well. He's got Olivia calmed down and basically told Peter what to do (shut up, hold her hand, and don't offer advice), and any initial qualms he may have had about delivering a stranger's baby have vanished in the heat of the moment. Really, they're in fantastic shape, considering.
But dammit, if he has to listen to Olivia groan like this one more time, he's going to die.
They're barely stopping now – she knows it won't be long – and she can't think about anything else, can't think at all, really, except for the fact that this hurts and she's not ready and oh God, what if something goes wrong –
And that's when she hears the sirens.
The paramedics arrive at the climax, just as the baby slips squalling from Olivia's body. Henry lets out a shout, and Peter follows, laughing through his tears as Olivia sinks back against him, exhausted. The cabbie hands the baby over to the paramedics and the confused chaos that was thirty seconds ago gives way to brusque EMTs and their medical jargon. Somehow, though, between their further instructions to Olivia and swift, flashlight-bright examination of mother and child, one of them takes the time to stop, place the baby on Olivia's chest, and announce, "You have a daughter."
Peter doesn't remember much after that – just that the medics get Olivia and the baby onto a stretcher and into the ambulance, and he must have looked pretty lost for a minute, because Henry comes up behind him and tells him to get in, that he'll take care of getting Walter to the hospital. Peter is so dazed that he doesn't even think to make sure the cabbie knows where they're going – he doesn't even know where they're going – and he ends up climbing into the ambulance without even thinking about it.
He's a father now. What else is there to think about?
At the tapping on her door, Olivia looks up to see Peter tilting into the room, watching her as if he needs permission to enter.
"Hey," she breathes, a smile stretching across her lips. "What took you so long?"
Peter smiles and shakes his head, tipping the rest of the way into the room. "Just making sure they were taking care of her."
Her smile splits into a grin. "I still can't believe it," she says as he sidles to her bedside.
"You were amazing out there," Peter murmurs, eyes intent on her face. Olivia flushes and drops her gaze, shakes her head a little.
"I was scared to death the whole time."
He laughs at that. "And you think I wasn't?" He drags a chair over and sits.
"You were pretty terrified," Olivia admits. "Also angry."
"Hey," he says, and waits for her attention. "That's all over now. You were crazy and I wanted to punch through a wall for half a second, but it's over. And she's here."
Olivia nods and half-smiles, swallows down the lump in her throat, which promptly blooms into nervous butterflies at the thought of I'm a mother, but there's no time to dwell on that fact, because there are too many loose ends to wrap up.
"Where's Walter?" She'd fully expected him to force his way into the ambulance and take care of the baby himself, but she hasn't seen him at all since this started.
"In the waiting room," Peter answers. "Henry brought him back in the cab, I think. He's pretty shaken up."
"Henry or Walter? Or both?"
Peter laughs. "Just Walter, surprisingly. Henry's handling it all quite well. One of the nurses showed him where to clean up, and he's back in the waiting room with Walter now."
They fall silent, Olivia studying her hands as she rubs a thumb along her palm, Peter watching. After a while, she looks up. "He was the one who helped me get home from Over There. Henry. That's how I knew him."
Peter nodded. "I thought it had something to do with the Other Side."
Olivia smiles softly. "When I got back, I actually went looking for him, wondering if he was the same person as Over There. He'd told me how his wife pulled him out of some sort of depression, and I wanted to know if that happened Over Here, too. But I stopped myself before I got very far into the search. I'm not sure why, but…"
"I guess he turned out okay," Peter concludes.
A soft tap on the doorframe rouses them both from the memories, and they look up to see a nurse, standing with abundle in her arms.
"Is that – ?" Olivia breathes, unable to finish the question, even though it's so obvious that yes, this is her baby – their daughter – coming towards her, fists waving and blanket protesting the movement of her legs. How strange, Olivia thinks, to experience her daughter's movements from this side. Until now, they've always been within her, so close and yet so removed, unseen except for vague lumps and smoothings beneath her flesh. Now, seeing them for the first time – it's almost more intimate than feeling them within her.
The nurse beams at them and hands the baby over, settling her in Olivia's arms, and suddenly she's there, right in front of her, all pink-faced and squiggling, like a kindergartener's first attempt at a question mark. Her daughter squints up at her, little fists waving, and Olivia finds herself remembering Ella's birth and the first time she held her niece. It was exactly like this – wonder, awe, that moment of falling completely in love with this tiny human being. But this time, this tiny life is hers. Hers and Peter's. Olivia feels a healthy dose of fear snake through her belly at the thought, but it's instantly eclipsed by the revelation that she's here. She's really here. Roadside delivery and all.
Olivia bites her lip against the emotion welling inside her, but it spills out anyway, a strangled half-sob, half-laugh sound that sets off fireworks in her gut. Suddenly it hits her all over again.
I'm a mother.
She looks up at Peter, relieved to find him in the same boat – grinning, eyes glistening with tears. Olivia surrenders the baby to him, feeling suddenly empty, but loving the way he cradles her to his chest.
"We still have to name her," she says suddenly.
Peter laughs and shakes his head. "Wow. For some reason that seemed a lot easier to do before she was here."
Olivia watches him for a moment, lets herself fall in love with Peter-the-father-of-her-child in a way she couldn't before. "What about Henrietta?" she asks softly, and Peter stops swaying, looks straight at her, wide-eyed. Olivia smiles encouragingly, not unlike she had eight months ago when she first told him I'm pregnant, and that seems to give him the permission he needs to relax, look back down at their daughter.
"You think so?" he asks.
"Yeah. I really do." Henrietta. She tries the name out in her mind, loves the way it sounds, the way it feels. He had told her five months ago about her alternate and Henry, the son he never met but still lost all the same, and they had cried together – him because he lost a child, and her, because, well… some wounds were best left unexplored. Henrietta. Yes, she likes it. She loves it.
Peter is still cradling the baby – Henrietta – gazing down at her as if to make sure that this is it, the name she'll be called for the rest of her life. "Henrietta," he murmurs, and then again, "Henrietta Elizabeth." It falls like a benediction from his lips, made even more perfect by the addition of his mother's name. Henrietta, for all that they've lost; Henrietta, for what they've gained. And Elizabeth, for the woman who loved him enough to call her his son, and for the mother who loved him enough to give him up once more.
Henrietta Elizabeth. Their daughter.
"You called Rachel, right?" Olivia asks, suddenly aching for her sister, knowing that she's the next best thing to having her mother here to share in this moment.
Peter nods. "At five thirty in the morning, while they were loading you into the ambulance."
Olivia grins. "She must have had a heart attack."
"Something like that."
"Is she bringing Ella?"
"Yeah. They're on a plane right now."
Olivia settles back on the pillows, eyes heavy. "Good." She's vaguely aware of him pressing a kiss to her forehead and telling her to get some sleep, that he'll wake her when everyone gets here, but she doesn't catch the rest because sleep comes to claim her.
She's asleep in seconds. Peter watches her for a moment longer before settling Henrietta in the bassinet and going in search of the waiting room. He hasn't actually seen Walter since before the baby was born, and needs to know for himself how his father's handling the situation. Henry had told him he was shaken up, but there's no telling what that meant.
He finds the waiting room pretty quickly, and it's Henry who sees him first. Peter shakes the cabbie's hand, thanking him again for all the help he was to them, and asks him how much he owes for the fare. Henry waves him away, says he turned the meter off as soon as he pulled the car over, and that it's nothing to worry about.
"Hey man, I'm just glad they're all right. Both of them."
"Me too," Peter says, and he doesn't allow himself to think of all the things that could have gone wrong.
"How were you so prepared?" he asks a moment later, remembering the sterile blanket, the firm instruction, the level-headed coaching on when and when not to push.
Henry shrugs, hands in his pockets. "Like I said, I delivered my little girl in the back of my cab. We got stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital, and I wasn't prepared at all. Luckily, my wife knew what to do – her sister's a midwife – but I promised myself I wouldn't ever be caught like that again. So I kep' that blanket in the back, and read up on these things, and five years later, you two came along."
Peter shakes his head, amazed.
"Your dad's over in the corner there, if you wanna talk to him," the cabbie says suddenly. "Like I said, he seems pretty shaken up. Keeps sayin' it's his fault or somethin'."
"Thanks, Henry," Peter says again, and walks over to Walter's chair. His father's shoulders are slumped, hands filled with twisted, sweaty bits of what used to be some sort of paper – maybe a tissue, or a napkin, Peter thinks. Walter doesn't look up as he approaches, and continues to ignore him, even after he says his name. Twice.
"Hey, Walter," Peter tries again, kneeling in front of the chair. He puts a hand on Walter's knee. His father rouses at that, blue eyes cloudy upon Peter's.
"I'm… sorry, son," he murmurs. "I shouldn't have run off like that. It was… irresponsible of me to think that I could handle it, and then when I finally came to my senses, I called the wrong person, and caused a mess, a terrible mess, and – "
"Walter – Walter," Peter soothes, settling a hand on the man's shoulder. "It's okay. No one's mad at you. Olivia's okay, the baby is healthy, and we're all here now. It's okay."
"Yes, but it didn't have to be okay," Walter growls, fear and anger playing counterpoint in his eyes. "So much could have gone wrong, all because I was so stupid and – "
"Walter, I said it was okay," Peter laughs, reaching up to cup the old man's cheek. That quiets him (it always does), and Walter smiles, blinking back the tears.
"It did turn out okay, didn't it?" he manages, and Peter smiles in return.
"Yes. Yes it did. More than okay, if you ask me."
"How is Olivia?"
"She's fine. Tired, but fine. And the baby's fine, too. Nina sent over the doctors from Massive Dynamic, and they've declared her 100% healthy."
"No sign of cortexiphan?" Walter asks anxiously.
"Not a drop. Though, they did attribute the fast delivery to residual traces of it."
"Yes, that did happen rather quickly, didn't it," Walter mutters, and Peter rocks back on his heels with a laugh.
"You could say that." Secretly, he's pretty sure the "quick delivery" was due to Olivia's pure cussed stubbornness; Peter suspects she'd been in labor much longer than she let on – probably longer than even she knew, the way she went on sometimes. But it's okay now, he reminds himself. Everything's okay.
Because even Olivia's badge can't change hospital policy, they're only allowed two visitors at a time for ten minutes each, with strict breaks in between.
Walter and Rachel come first, mostly because Olivia needs her sister and Walter, now that he's absolved of guilt, refuses to wait a second longer to meet his granddaughter. The reunion between sisters is bittersweet – bitter, because the memory of their mother is empty and aching, sweet because she's here, she's really here – and Walter cries into his pudding when Peter introduces him to Henrietta Elizabeth Bishop.
Next come Astrid and Ella, who promptly shortens Henrietta's name to "just" Etta. ("Because that's how names are supposed to be, and besides, now we almost have the same name! Oh… except that might be confusing.") Astrid, eyes alight and fingers covering her mouth, falls all over herself, claiming she'd baked ten pies while she waited to hear from Peter about Olivia (apparently, he'd called her at the beginning of his search, and the poor agent had been sleepless ever since).
Both Ella and Astrid end up breaking their limit, which results in a strictly regulated visit for Nina and Henry, but they don't mind. Nina, because she's eager to go ahead of the new parents to clean the house and stock the freezer, and Henry because he had only wanted to make sure they were all okay. He does seem pleased to hear of his namesake, though he begs off holding her on account that he isn't good with babies, (which they all know is nonsense but accept as truth anyway).
In the end, everyone leaves, and it's just left Olivia in the room, with father and daughter asleep in the chair beside her. Even though she's exhausted and aching in places she didn't know existed, Olivia lets herself linger over the sight: Peter, with his head tossed back and hands splayed softly over Etta's back, who lay curled on his chest, little fist pressing against rosebud lips.
True, this isn't how she planned it. And yes, she was definitely scared out of her mind for most of that roadside delivery. But in the end, Etta's here. Safe. Healthy. And everyone's okay.
Olivia falls asleep with a smile on her face.