Warnings: Canon spousal abuse.
Spoilers: Assume general spoilers for everything aired, more specific ones through 2.10, "Grey Matters".
Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.
Author's Note: A little out of season and not the story I'd originally expected it to be when I started writing, but I love Rachel and have wanted to write about the bond between Olivia and Rachel for a while.
Eight Christmas Eves
Rachel had been restless all night, tossing and turning and unable to settle, so Olivia wasn't surprised when her sister abandoned her bed and crawled into Olivia's. Not that Olivia was asleep, herself. She was just better at pretending.
"Is Santa gonna come?" Rachel asked before she'd even tugged the blankets over them both.
"Of course Santa's going to come," Olivia said with the certainty of someone who'd been through this seven times to her sister's four.
"There's no snow." Rachel squirmed up to peer out the window, looking out at the green expanse of their yard just like she'd been staring at it hoping for snow to appear for the last week. "Can he get here without snow?"
"He has magic reindeer," Olivia said. "He can get anywhere." She pulled herself up to join Rachel, kneeling on her pillow and resting her hands and chin on the windowsill. The Florida night was quiet, a few clouds wisping over the stars when she peered up into the sky. Olivia had always wanted one of those Christmases she saw on TV, but although it wasn't warm enough to open up the window it was too warm for snow, no matter how hard either of them wished for a white Christmas.
Rachel stared at Olivia, wide-eyed and trusting. "Really?"
"And when we get up..." Rachel trailed off expectantly.
"There will be presents, just for us. But we've got to be really quiet and pretend we're asleep or he won't come."
Olivia crawled back under the covers. After a moment Rachel joined her. The bed squeaked softly underneath them as she wriggled. "Can't sleep. Will he leave us presents if I can't sleep?"
"Shut your eyes." Olivia waited until her sister closed her eyes, then said, "I'll tell you a story."
"A scary story?" Rachel asked with an anticipatory shiver.
"No, silly." Olivia lightly tugged Rachel's hair. "A Christmas story."
"I like Christmas stories." After a few final wiggles to settle herself, Rachel stilled and waited.
Smiling, Olivia leaned her head against Rachel's and whispered stories of Santa and magic reindeer and two girls having adventures and saving Christmas until they both fell asleep.
"He's still yelling."
"I know." Olivia didn't look up from the doorway she was watching. She'd been sitting on the cold and dusty floor for the last hour, listening to their stepfather insult their mother and trying to work up the courage to stop him. It had been bad the last few months, but Christmas had brought out the worst in him. She wrapped her arms tighter around her legs, resting her chin on her knees.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Rachel peering down at her worriedly. "Santa's not going to come this year, is he?"
"He'll come," Olivia murmured, wondering how long it would be until the house settled. Hours, maybe. "I'll make sure he'll come."
"If Santa really existed," Rachel whispered, her voice sad and too matter-of-fact for her years, "Daddy wouldn't have died. And Momma wouldn't have married him."
Olivia lifted her head and twisted to look at her sister. "Rache—"
"'S okay, Livvy." Rachel crawled out of bed, dragging the blanket with her. She draped the blanket over both of them and laid her head on Olivia's shoulder. They both winced at the sound of fist on flesh, huddling closer together as the yelling got louder. Olivia only realized her fingernails were digging into her palms when Rachel clutched her fist and pried open her fingers. Her sister peered down at the raw crescents but didn't say anything, just clutched at her hand. Olivia squeezed back, trying to transfer through her grip a reassurance she didn't feel.
After a while, as much to distract herself as Rachel, Olivia tried, "At least there's snow. It looks all Christmassy outside."
Rachel nodded, shivering, and tugged the edges of the blanket tighter around her. "It's cold. I didn't know snow would be so cold."
"But if we got all bundled up we could build a snowman." Olivia knew among their Christmas presents were coats and hats and scarves better suited for the winter up here, but first their stepfather had to stop yelling long enough to let them open their presents. Or even long enough to let their mother put them out in the first place.
Olivia shook that thought away and focused on Rachel, who had lifted her head to look at Olivia. "Tomorrow?" Rachel asked, her eyes brightening.
"Tomorrow." Olivia nodded. "And when we get too cold we'll go inside for hot chocolate."
Rachel grinned, then cocked her head, listening. "It's quiet."
Olivia abandoned the blanket to edge forwards. There were no sounds now from down the hall, and when she cautiously poked her head out she saw the living room was dark.
Olivia turned, a finger to her lips to shush her sister, then pushed the door open. She still didn't hear anything, so she crept down the hall and peered into the room. No one was in there, but when she stretched to see around the corner she could see their stockings were full and gifts were piled under the tree, almost like Santa had found them after all.
Rachel, who had followed, craned her neck to see around Olivia and gasped. She put a fist to her mouth, biting down and glancing towards their mother's and stepfather's bedroom. Her eyes shone in wonder.
Olivia swallowed, her eyes stinging. "Merry Christmas, Rache."
Rachel nodded vigorously.
Hand in hand, they padded back to their bedroom.
"I hate you!"
Olivia looked up from her AP History notes and at her sister, who had flounced, arms akimbo, into the middle of the room. Rachel was dressed to go out—barely dressed, really, in a seasonal mix of red and green that made her look like an R rated version of one of Santa's elves—but from her scowl her plans had been thwarted and she knew who to blame. Olivia sighed, marking her place as she closed her notebook. "You don't."
"Little miss perfect." Rachel stabbed a finger at Olivia, a perfectly manicured bright red fingernail jabbing her in the chest. "If you're so perfect, why don't you have any friends? A life?"
Rachel's words might not be entirely true, but they came closer than Olivia liked to admit. She forced her lips into a careless smirk. "Guess you're not giving me a Christmas gift this year, huh?"
"Who would want to give a gift to a freak like you?"
Olivia closed her eyes, swallowed. Reminded herself that Rachel was sixteen and hormonal and inclined to be dramatic. When she finally spoke, her voice came out even. "I'm sorry I ratted you out, but you have to understand—"
"They're my friends."
"They're using you."
"Why do you care, anyway?"
"I'm trying to protect you," Olivia said through gritted teeth, not raising her voice. Rachel didn't deserve to be yelled at, but sometimes the temptation was almost overwhelming.
Rachel didn't have any such reservations, yelling loud enough to be heard throughout the house. Probably across the street, had the windows been open. "You're trying to control me. Cut it the fuck out." She turned on her heel and flounced out of the room, slamming the door shut with a bang that rattled the walls.
When Olivia heard the window in Rachel's room open an hour later, she stared at the door, flipping her pen back and forth. She should go to their mother, but Rachel's words played havoc with her stomach. She closed her eyes, listening to Rachel shimmy down the drainpipe and sneak across the backyard. "Damn it, Rache," she muttered. Sighing, she raked her hand through her hair, wistfully hoping that Rachel at least had fun, and settled in to hold vigil until her sister returned.
Rachel took one look at Olivia and squealed. "You got in?"
Olivia grinned. She'd almost called when she got the letter, but she'd known she was seeing her sister in five days and this was the type of news she had wanted to give in person. "I got in."
"My big sister, the FBI Agent!" Rachel grabbed Olivia's hands and danced her around in a circle, nearly knocking both of them into the coffee table and bookcases before they tripped and tumbled onto the couch. They both collapsed into giggles. "Can you say best Christmas gift ever?" Rachel said when their laughter subsided.
"For which of us?" Olivia leaned her head back and tucked her legs underneath her, still grinning and a little giddy. Hardly the sober image a Federal Agent should project, or a Marine Special Investigator for that matter, but it was a relief to shed that skin for a while.
"You, silly! And me. Oh, I'm so proud of you." Rachel flung her arms around Olivia and hugged tight. "Not that I had any doubt."
Caution reasserted itself. "It's not a fact yet." Olivia ducked her head, glancing sideways at Rachel. Her sister's enthusiasm was contagious, but Olivia knew exactly how much work she still had ahead of her. And exactly how many didn't make it through. "I still have to survive new agent training."
Rachel waved that away. "You aced boot camp, you'll ace that all that FBI stuff, physical and academic. You've only been fixated on it since high school."
Olivia shrugged. "Something like. But what about you?" Olivia held up Rachel's left hand, letting the ring she'd spotted glitter in the light. Not a huge diamond or an extravagant ring, but elegant in its simplicity. "Greg?"
Olivia smiled wryly, taking in Rachel's pleased, almost shy, smile. "He moves fast, doesn't he?"
"Why wait when we're in love?" Rachel dropped her hands to her stomach and Olivia knew what her sister was about to say before the words came out. "Livvy, I'm pregnant."
Olivia studied Rachel, who was staring with astonished wonder at the still-flat area under her hands, and quashed every single doubting word she wanted to say. Rachel was happy, and that was what mattered the most. Olivia steeled herself against an unwarranted, entirely unanticipated stab of jealousy.
"Congratulations." Olivia quirked a grin. She pulled out the champagne she'd brought for their celebration, now doubly appropriate, and waggled the bottle. "Guess your part of the celebration will be the nonalcoholic variety."
"You can drink for both of us." Rachel took the bottle and headed for the kitchen, adding over her shoulder, "All three of us." She pulled out glasses, humming some show tune under her breath as she poured champagne in one and apple juice in the other. When she came back she held both glasses aloft triumphantly before handing one to Olivia and settling back down beside her.
Olivia raised her glass and took a deep breath. "To health and happiness?"
"For all of us," Rachel declared as the glasses clinked together.
Olivia didn't know if the contented glow that suffused her sister was pregnancy or happiness, but either way, it suited her. She allowed herself to feel hopeful for the future. After many years, Rachel had found what she was looking for. Maybe, just maybe, they both had.
"You're not coming." Rachel didn't sound surprised. She did sound disappointed, more so than Olivia had expected. Olivia had known things with Greg were rocky, but now she suspected Rachel had been underplaying just how bad they really were.
For a moment Olivia second-guessed her decision to stay in Boston this year and considered paying the exorbitant price for a last minute flight to surprise her sister and niece. Considered trying to have a happy Christmas with her family. The thought made her stomach clench and her heart twist. No, she was better off staying here. Reliving her first date with John then watching him commit murder in cold blood had ripped the scabs off whatever peace she thought she'd found. Olivia couldn't take the chance of her misery ruining Rachel and Ella's Christmas.
"I'm sorry. It's just with my new assignment and everything it's too difficult to get the time away..." Olivia didn't go into any details and left out John. It wasn't fair for to add to Rachel's burdens.
Rachel snorted. "Figures. Livvy, you work too much."
Olivia laughed with only a trace of bitterness, shifting the phone to her other ear as she sorted through files. "Yeah. I probably do."
"We never get to see you anymore." Rachel's tone was a balanced mix of fondly exasperated and wistful.
Olivia hadn't seen Rachel or Ella in... she furrowed her brow, trying to remember. Last spring. She'd intended to take a weekend during the summer but she'd started dating John and then— she tore her mind away from that line of thought. "Why don't you and Ella come out here? See Boston." Spend a week away from Greg, get some perspective, she thought, but she didn't say it. Didn't need to.
Rachel hesitated before asking, "Are you sure? If you're busy I don't want to get in your way."
"If you're here I might be able to sneak in some time to see you," Olivia responded promptly. "In the evenings, at least, and maybe I'll be able to take an afternoon off. It'll be fun." Once Olivia put Christmas behind her, she would be happy to have Rachel and Ella to fill the lonely stretches between getting home and going to work. Maybe their warm and real presences would chase away the phantoms that haunted her.
Or at least comfort her when she balanced on the edge of sanity.
She swallowed and closed her eyes, pressing the heel of her free hand to her forehead. "I really want you and Ella to come, Rache."
"Then we'll be there. Maybe second or third week of January?"
"Whatever works. Just let me know when and I'll make the time."
When Olivia hung up the phone she pretended she didn't see the flicker of John at the edge of her vision and buried herself in the files he'd hidden from her.
Olivia didn't bother looking at the ringing phone, just picked it up and answered absently, "Dunham," as she flipped another page.
At Rachel's question, Olivia glanced at the time, blinking. She'd intended a quick review of the reports of Walter's kidnapping, just to see if she'd missed something, and she'd lost two hours. She shoved the pile of files to the side, gathering up her coat and the gifts she'd wrapped earlier. "I'm on my way."
"Really?" Rachel asked with amusement.
Olivia rolled her eyes as she pushed open her front door. "I said I'm on my way."
Rachel laughed. "Because if something comes up—"
"Rache!" Olivia shook her head, juggling keys and gifts as she shut her door with her hip. "I said I was going to make it this year, and I'm going to make it. Besides, it's only across town; if something comes up they can call me."
"I was afraid you'd call off. Again. You've been distracted lately."
Olivia paused with the outside door half open, blindsided by a flood of memories of Charlie, the shapeshifters, her visit to the other reality. Choosing Walter. The weight of her failures, so many failures. So many people she might have condemned to death. Her hands clenched, and she forced herself to sound casual, to close the door and start moving down the walkway to her car. "I could use the distraction."
She didn't manage to fool her sister, apparently, because Rachel's tone went from light and teasing to serious, just like that. "What's wrong?"
Olivia closed her eyes, thought 'everything', then pushed that aside. "I can't talk about it."
"Are you okay?"
"Don't lie to me and say that you're fine."
Olivia snorted, a reluctant smile tugging at her lips. The order had been in the same tone her sister used on Ella when she was being particularly stubborn. "I really can't talk about it."
The silence stretched between them. Olivia refused to give in, concentrating on opening her car door and placing the gifts into the back seat.
Finally, Rachel sighed. "Okay," she said gently. "Can you at least drink some heavily spiked eggnog to drown your sorrows?"
Olivia let out the breath she'd been holding, more relieved than she wanted to admit that Rachel wasn't pushing the issue. She let the car prop her up and nodded, despite the fact that her sister couldn't see her from the other end of the line. "I think I can manage that."
"And give yourself a break once in a while, would you? Whatever's eating you, it can't be the end of the world."
Olivia stared up at the dark and cloudy sky, hoping that Rachel was right.
"I like Walter."
Olivia studied Walter and Ella cheerfully hanging popcorn garlands around the huge tree that graced the front room of the Bishop's house. She didn't want to think about how much work it must have taken to get the tree into the house. Nor would she have doubted Walter was the one who insisted it was the only tree that would suit, even if Peter hadn't texted her a running commentary of sardonic complaints about the entire affair. "So do I. Most of the time, anyway."
Rachel took another sip of wine, glancing around the gaily decorated first floor. "This was a good idea."
"Thank Peter. He's the one that came up with it." Of course, Walter had taken the plan and run with it, enlisting Astrid, Peter, and even Olivia to pull it off. The result was nice, she decided, if it a little odd. Rachel and Ella had met Peter a few times, and Ella had met Astrid once, but this was the first time all of them had been in the same room. Olivia still hadn't made up her mind whether intermingling the two halves of her life was a good idea, but she was going to make the most of Fringe Division's unanticipated break from the macabre and enjoy spending time with all her favorite people.
"Hmm." Rachel was watching Olivia over her glass, the corners of her lips lifted in a knowing smile. "I'll let you pass on my thanks. And maybe you should maneuver him under that mistletoe over there when you do."
Olivia narrowed her eyes. "Rache."
"What?" Rachel gestured towards Peter with her glass, the wine sloshing up but not spilling over the rim. "He's cute, he's available, he's totally in love with you."
Olivia shook her head, both in denial and exasperation. "He's my partner."
"He's not FBI."
"He's close enough."
"He makes you happy."
Olivia started to deny it, then stopped and studied Peter, who had picked up Ella and was lifting her to place the star on the top of the tree. "Yeah," she admitted softly. "He does."
"Then what are you waiting for?" Rachel nudged Olivia with her elbow. "Maybe if you've been a good girl this year Santa will wrap him up and leave him under the tree for you."
"Rachel!" Olivia tried to give Rachel a stern look, but the laughter that bubbled up diluted the effect.
Rachel smirked, unrepentant. "And if you're really good, he'll be wearing nothing but ribbons and a big bow right where—"
Olivia smacked Rachel on the arm, fighting to breathe through her laugher.
And blamed both Rachel and the wine when she couldn't get the image out of her head for the rest of the night.
When she regained consciousness, she was staring at a white ceiling with the familiar pinch of an IV in her arm. Even through the drugs dulling her senses every muscle of her body hurt.
She was alive.
Panic took hold, and she tried to sit up despite the pain that flooded though her. Did they succeed? She thought she remembered closing the gate, remembered deploying Walter's device and severing ties between the two realities, but she couldn't be sure. Not until she talked to Peter. Did everyone else make it?
Did Peter make it? He'd refused to retreat to safety, refused to leave her side. Her breathing stuttered at the thought that she could have survived when he did not.
A worried voice, a gentle hand on her shoulder. Familiar and comforting, even welcome, but not belonging to the person she wanted to see. "Peter?" she choked out.
"He's all right." Rachel smoothed Olivia's hair away from her face, pressed her back to the bed. "Well, a bit beaten up, but nothing that won't heal."
Olivia swallowed, nodded. Forced herself to relax into the pillows, to stop clutching at the bed. "He's not here?"
"He's been haunting the room but had to go out to settle down Walter. He'll be back soon." Rachel smiled, her expression full of worry and relief and a glimmer of humor all mixed together. "He said he was sure you'd be contrary enough to wake up when he wasn't here, too."
Olivia smiled slightly and closed her eyes with a sigh.
Rachel settled back into her chair but kept her hand on Olivia's. "Saving the world, huh?"
"Yeah." No point denying it anymore. Not when their final showdown had been captured on national news. "We stopped it." Olivia paused, giddy as the enormity finally hit her. "We stopped it."
"It's over, then?"
"Yeah. I think so."
Rachel's voice turned amused, even if the humor sounded a little forced. "I suppose being in the hospital during the aftermath is a good reason to miss Christmas."
Olivia laughed despite the pain in her ribs and opened her eyes to see Rachel smiling down at her. "You'll give me a pass due to the circumstances?"
"This time. But don't think that we're not going to come and visit tomorrow. Ella's worried about her Aunt Liv."
"I look forward to it."
Rachel squeezed Olivia's hand, some of her worry ebbing from her eyes. She smiled again, this time mischievous. "You finally gonna make it official with your so-called partner?"
No more invasion, so no more Fringe Division. No more having to work with Peter, having to pretend their feelings didn't go deeper than friendship. Assuming he didn't want to clear out of Boston now that there was nothing holding him there. "Maybe," she murmured, the drugs making her more honest than she would have preferred. "If he'll have me."
And even if he wouldn't, for the first time in years she could think about the future again, make plans that didn't involve stopping a near unstoppable war.
They were all free to move on with their lives.
Rachel shook her head at Olivia. "I sat with him through your surgery and while waiting for you to regain consciousness," Rachel said, and the trace of fear lingering in her eyes and the ghost of pain in her voice showed more than any words how hard that wait had been. "Trust me, he'll have you."
"Really?" It was drugs that had Olivia asking that, drugs and self-doubt and too many memories of those she had lost.
"Okay." A smile tugged at Olivia's lips, and she looked anywhere but at Rachel while she tried to keep from grinning like a loon.
"So..." Rachel trailed off, then continued hesitantly, "What happened? Now that it's out, can you talk about any of this top secret work you've been doing?"
Olivia rubbed her mouth, thinking. Tilted her head and considered Rachel, remembering all the steps she'd taken to protect her sister and niece from the truth.
Rachel deserved to know.
"Rache," Olivia said, patting the bed beside her, "let me tell you a story."