My first foray into Fringe. Liv's backstory begged to be explored, plus she's such a fun character to write. This was actually written a few months ago; I've only just gotten around to typing it up and editing it. Feedback most definitely welcome. I'm curious to know how I did on characterization and believability. That said, enjoy!
For Alex, whose badgering got this story finished just a bit faster. (Just a tiny little bit, okay? Don't get all puffed up.)
Spoilers: None, really. Inspired Olivia's revelation in "The Cure" (1x06) and supplemented by "Subject 13" (3x15).
Disclaimer: Fringe owned by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Fox, and all the other people responsible for the wonderful craziness that is Fringe.
It was late and Olivia really should have been asleep, but when he was home she never was. Hidden in the shadows of the hallway, Olivia Dunham, all of nine years old, sat outside the master bedroom, listening to the escalating voices inside.
"Who is he? Marilyn, what's his name?"
"There's no one else… No! Please! You're not yourself…"
"Goddammit, Marilyn, I'm sick of the games. I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHO HE IS. Tell me!" A pause—quite possibly, he was hitting her—and then he repeated himself, "Who is he? Or maybe it's someone new, huh? Why stop at just one? How many are there, Marilyn? How many?"
"There's only you! The way it's always been… just you," there was a scream, "Please… don't do this."
The next pause was longer, the silence filled by sounds of movement. "I want answers, Marilyn, do you hear me? Just one little name… is that so hard?"
His voice, dangerous soft, no longer made her shiver, but if Rach were here she would have covered her ears and begged to go downstairs, to their room—anywhere to distance themselves from him and his anger, from his violence and their mother's helplessness. There was no Rach to protect tonight, though—she was at a sleepover—and Olivia's arms felt strangely empty without her sister to hold. Rach's absence meant that she scooted a little closer than she normally would have, that the attention she paid to what was going on behind the closed bedroom door was absolute.
She leaned forward, trying to catch her mother's voice. That she didn't told her what she needed to know—that her mother was being gripped a little too hard, slapped a little too brutally, pushed a little too carelessly, that she would have the bruises to prove it even if Olivia couldn't hear the impact of her stepfather beating her through his increasing hysteria.
"What is this?"
"No! Please… not that…"
"It's a gift from him, isn't it?"
There was a shatter and a thud and then her mother's wail. Her body locked and she dug her fingers into her palm, caught between the urge to run to her room and urge to run to her mother. There was more shouting and then—
Olivia shrank against the wall as a sudden flood of light bathed the hall and he stormed out. She caught a whiff of alcohol and instinctively scooted further back, very aware of the wall pressing on her back, stopping her. His footsteps, heavy on the stairs, were ominously loud. As soon as she heard the slam of the front door, she ran into the bedroom.
Glittering glass shards littered the floor and at their center lay Marilyn Dunham, on her side, shaking with soft sobs. On the dresser behind her was an empty space, where a pair of graceful half-intertwined glass swans used to stand. Olivia swallowed. They had been a gift from her father. She had loved them too. She navigated the broken glass carefully and found a clear space to kneel beside her mother, trying to see, through the tears, how bad the damage was. There were no bruises yet, but blood trickled down her arms in several places where she had been cut by class and ran freely from her nose. Using her sleeve, Olivia tried to staunch the flow, but when her mother whimpered and cringed away from her touch, she realized the angle was wrong. It was broken.
She gasped. "Mommy, your nose!"
"I know, Olive, I know. It's okay. It'll heal itself. It'll be good as new in a couple of weeks. I promise."
Olivia stared. "Can't we fix it?"
"No, Olive, we can't fix it. There's nothing we can do." She started to cry again.
Olivia looked down. "I'm sorry."
"No, baby, no, no, no, it's not your fault… it's nobody's fault." She tried to push herself up but the arm she was using to brace herself was trembling too much and Olivia had to catch her and help her sit up; even so, it was a struggle. "I'm sorry, baby… I'm so sorry…" she continued to cry, "Just give me a minute… I'll be okay in a minute."
She wasn't though, and as Olivia sat with her, trying to wipe off the tears and blood, the engine sounded. The car was coming back. He was coming back. She froze, fingers stilled, no longer rubbing her mother's face, her mother's arms. Marilyn didn't notice. Her eyes were level with the drawer, and thinking of what was inside its twin, she knew what she had to do. The idea had occurred to her before. Things had been better since Dr. Walter had spoken up on her behalf, but she was still afraid and she knew this uneasy stasis couldn't last forever.
She scrambled to the other side of the bed and pulled the drawer open, reaching in. The gun was unexpectedly cold; she let go of it before she could pick it up. Glancing at her mother once more, she tried again, this time keeping her grip. It was too heavy and too large—she had to use both hands. Silently, she padded out of the room.
She waited near the foot of the stairs, near the front door. Her fingers fumbled to find the trigger as she held her breath, afraid to set the gun off and lose the advantage of surprise.
The door burst open and she sprang into action, entire body live and tense. She fired once, twice, watched spots of blood bloom on his chest. There was no grace at all to her actions and as it turned out, she was a messy shot. His face shifted from rage to surprise to contempt. She stood, transfixed. Her body still trembled with adrenaline. She knew this wasn't finished, but her hands were smarting and her arms were prone to buckle at any moment.
He came down with a rushing thud and the gun too clattered to the floor. Her breath returned in a rush. It was done. It was over now. Still, her heart raced on.
"Olive!" Her mother was there suddenly, wrapping her arms around her, holding her. "Olive, are you okay?" Through her hair, she felt her mother's wet cheeks. More tears.
Then Marilyn saw him. She pulled back and stared at her daughter, horrified. "Olive, what happened?"
Olive's eyes flew to the gun. She didn't answer. She didn't have to.
Marilyn rushed to her husband's inert form. "He's still alive."
Still alive? Yes, she could see it now, the slight rise and fall of his chest as he took weak, ragged breaths. She hadn't finished. She had known that.
She watched Marilyn making a call, suddenly afraid. She understood that her mother's hysteria and shrill pitch was not putting the situation in any better light. As if possessed, Olivia drifted towards the gun, intending to pick it up again.
Marilyn noticed. "Olive, no!" She gripped her daughter's wrist, gripped hard enough to bruise, as she returned her attention to the phone.
Olivia didn't resist. A part of her was glad to have been stopped but she couldn't tear her gaze away from his face, mean, even in this moment of weakness.
At last, Marilyn turned back to her. "Olive…" she released her hold and tilted her daughter's chin up so that they were eye to eye, "I want you to listen to me."
"Mommy, I had to."
"Oh, Olive. Oh, baby. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Her mother held her once more. "It's going to be okay." This time, Olivia almost believed her.
The foyer was a mess of paramedics and police that should not have fit in the tight space, yet, except for the handful spilling into the living room, somehow did. Olivia tried to stay near her stepfather, but with her mother sticking close and with everyone asking her to please keep out of the way, she had to be content with craning her neck from afar and trying to see and hear what she could. There was a lot of urgency in their movements, but no one was saying explicitly how bad it was and whether he was going to make it.
Inevitably, her mother was stopped and distracted. Olivia slipped away and tugged at a uniformed sleeve. "Is he going to die?"
The paramedic glanced down at her, startled.
"Olive!" Her mother reappeared suddenly and pulled her away. Her eyes were large. And frightened, Olivia thought.
An officer who had been jotting down notes nearby had overheard Olivia and intercepted them. "We'd still like to speak to your daughter, Ma'am. It will only take a couple of minutes."
Marilyn shook her head. She insisted that her daughter was just a scared little girl. She wanted to get her to the hospital first. Check to make sure she hadn't been injured. Please.
But Mommy, I'm not any of those things, she wanted to say. Nevertheless, she kept quiet, knowing that if she spoke up, she would undo whatever her mother was trying to accomplish.
When it was clear that this back and forth was going nowhere and that Marilyn wasn't going to give, the officer relented. The ride to the hospital was a silent one. Olivia found that her mother's tense presence beside her was making her nervous too. She didn't dare look at the police escort driving them.
At the hospital, Olivia was relieved when the doctor very firmly requested that Marilyn wait outside while her daughter was examined. When the door was closed and she turned to Olivia, however, she was all kind smiles. "I heard you had a rough time tonight, hon. How are you feeling?"
"Yeah? Are you hurting anywhere?"
Olivia shook her head.
"Any falls or little accidents?"
Again, Olivia shook her head.
"Alright, well I'm going to have a look anyway, just to be sure, okay?"
After the examination, she proclaimed Olivia fine and ready to return home. "But I do want to make sure you stay fine so I'm going to give your mom the name of another doctor here who's going to want to talk to you. Now you don't have to tell her anything you're not ready to tell her but I want you to check in with her once a week, okay? That's a good girl. Just give me a couple more minutes to finish filling out your chart, then I'll go get your mom."
Olivia tried to sit quietly, but her eyes roamed everywhere, not knowing where to settle. Without meaning to, she sighed out loud.
The doctor raised an eye. "Do you want to talk about what happened?"
Olivia fidgeted. "No."
"Did your stepdad try to hurt you? Is that why you shot him?"
"But he used to?"
"It's okay. I won't tell."
"Your mom's nose, he did that, didn't he?"
When she realized Olivia wasn't going to be forthcoming without further prompting, she finished the last of her comments and set the chart down. "Okay then. I'll go get your mom."
Olivia heard her mother's voice outside, but when the door opened, it was an officer who stepped in. Marilyn hovered just outside, tied up in a conversation with the doctor, shooting the occasional worried glance in. "Hey," the officer smiled at her, "Olivia, right? I want to ask you a few questions; is that okay?"
Could she tell him what happened? Did he hurt her? Where did she get the gun?
Feeling her mother's eyes on her, Olivia was slow to talk, but she knew the time for hiding and pretending was over and she plowed on anyway, trying to remain focused only on what she had been wanting to say since her stepfather had started beating them. They were easy questions really. The memories and emotions surfaced, clear and sharp. Her mother, helpless, in pain, in tears. Rach's terror. Her own fear that had so long gripped her. Dr. Walter stepping in. Her mother on the floor. Her mother among broken glass. Her mother still defending him, as if she had never known a better life, as if they life they had had before meant nothing. Her mother so tragically broken. And he, all the while, uncaring and cruel. He, always checking that gun he kept by his bed, never keeping it a secret. He, still staring at her with mockery in his eyes even as he lay there, bleeding. And despite the vividness of it all, despite her wish to reveal this deception, she tripped over the words and couldn't hold the officer's steady gaze.
Finally he laid a hand on her arm and stopped her. "Listen, Olivia, I'm going to let you in on something." He dipped his head and his eyes caught hers, demanding that she look up at him. His face, lined with crinkles, was warm and reassuring. "I'm on your side, alright? And it sounds like your stepfather's the bad guy here, and if he is, then I want to get him, just like you wanted to when you shot him, right? I want to make sure he can't hurt you or your mother anymore, but to do that, I need you to be straight with me. Do you understand? Yeah? Okay, good. So are you being straight with me?"
Sitting still at last, she nodded. "Yes."
"Then you have nothing to be nervous about, alright? You did good so far, but why don't you go over it again, okay? So we can we be clear. Let's start at the beginning. Tell me what happened."
This time she didn't think about her mother's pleading stare at her. This time she didn't falter.
The waiting room was quiet at last, the initial buzz of activity having long ago worn off and the last of the officers having left several hours ago. Marilyn was slumped in one of the plastic chairs, a much subdued but still inquisitive Olivia beside her.
"Is he dead?"
"No, baby. Thank God, no."
"Is he going to die?"
Marilyn gave her a wary look. "I don't know. The doctors are working on him. They'll let us know more when they can."
When the doctor emerged from the double doors, he looked grim. Marilyn rose to meet him. He shook his head. "I'm sorry. We tried everything, but he lost a lot of blood. It doesn't look like he's going to make it."
Marilyn swallowed. "How long does he have?" she whispered.
"Could be anywhere from a few hours to a few days."
She glanced at her daughter. "Does he remember what happened?"
"We're fairly certain there was no brain damage. He may be a bit sluggish, but his memory should be fine. We're going to finish up on him and bring him to his room. You'll be able to see him in a bit."
They waited through another round of silence. Olivia wondered if he would be awake and toyed with the idea of possibly facing him.
Finally she spoke up. "Can I see him?"
"I don't think that's a good idea, Olive." Marilyn wouldn't look at her.
Olivia didn't argue.
"Ma'am?" A nurse approached them. "You can see your husband now. He's in room 206."
Olivia stood too.
"But I'm already here."
Marilyn became very still. For several long moments, it seemed like she might not answer. "Yes, I suppose you are," she said softly.
As it turned out, she need not have worried. He was still unconscious and Olivia didn't try anything. She remained at Marilyn's side, studying his immobile form and all the machines he was hooked to. His ECG beeped steadily. He didn't look like someone about to die. But watching her mother's face crease with mixed emotions, she had to believe he would.
"Where do you think he's been?"
Olivia sighed, not in the mood for her sister's chatter. "Who?" She remained focused on her problem set.
Rachel didn't answer.
"Rach?" She looked up and realized that her sister had whispered the name. Oh. For a moment, she didn't know what to say. "He's… He's in the hospital."
"How do you know?"
"I shot him."
Rachel laughed. "Stop lying, Livvy. If you don't know, just say so."
Olivia shrugged. "They took him to the hospital to save him, but they said he couldn't be saved so now he's there waiting to die."
Rachel was no longer smiling. "Livvy, you're scaring me."
Olivia didn't say anymore on the subject.
The following week Marilyn got the phone call. Olivia watched the worry grow on her mother's face and tried to catch the conversation. Her mother shot an anxious glance in her direction and took the call to another room.
When she emerged, Olivia pounced. "What happened?"
Marilyn touched her hair absently. "Do your homework, baby."
Olivia followed her. "He's going to be okay, isn't he?"
Marilyn sighed and crouched down, looking her daughter in the eye. "Olive, there's something I want you to understand."
"Is he coming home?"
"Olive, I know you thought you were protecting us when you did what you did. And you did, okay? You did, baby. And whatever happens," she gripped her daughter's hands in her own, "whatever happens, I don't want you to do anything else. Do you understand, Olive? Nothing else."
Marilyn hugged her. "Good girl." She pulled back and smiled. "We're safe now, I promise."
But that night, her mother checked all the locks twice and bolted the front door. Over the next few days, Marilyn was constantly on the phone and that weekend, Olivia found clippings for available apartments and houses on the kitchen counter. The police filled the house again, this time asking if he had come home or been in touch with them. Olivia put the pieces together and figured out that he was gone. Maybe dead, maybe not. Her mother listened in resigned silence when she counter-questioned the police and they confirmed it.
By the end of the next month, the house was cleaned out and boxes were packed. Rachel stared out the back window of the car forlornly. Beside her, Olivia faced forward and was glad. Once an army brat, always an army brat—this was just another move. Life was normal again.
It was a small party—they had only been here a few months and Olivia was no Rach, who had made many fast friends—but when she blew out the candles, she was content. Without the continuous beatings, her mother had healed nicely and had begun to smile more. Rach, being Rach, had been miserable for the first week or so but had adjusted well and faster than the rest of them. It was just the three of them and though they were short a father—Marilyn had been showing no inclination to remarry—they were still a family.
That night, her mother handed her a plain white envelope.
"What is it?"
Marilyn shrugged. "A birthday card, I suppose. It came for you in the mail." She paused at the door. "Happy birthday, Olive. I love you."
"I love you too, Mom."
Her mother gave her a final smile before closing the door. Olivia looked down at the envelope. Her name was typed on the front. Olive. No one called her that anymore except for her mother…. And no return address. Huh. Perhaps it was from Dr. Walter. Or his son, Peter. She smiled as she slipped a finger under the flap and pulled the card out gently.
It was one of those colorful cartoony things with big bubble letters that said, Bet you weren't expecting this…. The inside sported a splattered cake, candles, frosting, fruit, and all, and read SURPRISE! Told you I didn't forget your birthday. She almost laughed. Then she saw the single sentence written on it. Happy birthday, Olive. She froze. She knew the handwriting. From anyone else, the humor would have been innocent, but coming from him, the dark message it conveyed to her was no accident. He had picked the card with very careful deliberation.
She stuffed the card back in the envelope and hid it in her dresser. For the next few weeks she would be locking doors and looking over her shoulders.
By her eleventh birthday they had moved again. Somewhere a little bigger, a little more comfortable. "From your secret admirer," her mother joked when she handed her the envelope.
"I don't have one."
Rachel snickered. Her mother winked.
Her name was typed and the return address was blank, just like last year. She looked up at her mother's and sister's expectant faces. "Maybe you're right." And ran upstairs to her room.
"Liv!" Their laughing voices followed her.
She leaned against the door and pulled out the card. Blank. But she knew who it was from.
"You know," Marilyn remarked, "I think you've gotten one of these every year since… well I don't remember exactly, but it's been quite a few years." It was the morning of Olivia's fourteenth birthday.
Olivia feigned surprised indifference. "Have I? I haven't really noticed."
"You? Not noticing? Oh, Olive, you're going to have to try better than that. So who are they from?"
Olivia shrugged. "No one important."
Her mother grinned mischievously. "Maybe I should open it and see for myself who this 'no one important' is."
Her mother raised an eye.
"It's… it's from a secret admirer. Except… not so secret."
She forced herself to laugh. "Really."
"Okay, kiddo," she acquiesced affectionately. She handed her the envelope. "You have a good day, then."
"Love you too."
On her fifteenth birthday, Olivia was expecting the card. When the mail came, she was the first to grab it. There it was, on top of the pile. Typed, no return address, unsigned. Same as always. But this year, the grief of her mother's death was fresh on her mind. She didn't open the card, just tossed it on the pile with the others.
Rach would still want to celebrate—she always did—but the magic of her birthday had long ago been stolen from her, and today, the thievery had been made complete. Today, she knew more than ever—had known since she was nine—that one day, she would catch people like him and make sure they never hurt anyone again. One day, her birthday would be hers again and the world would be a better place for it.