Disclaimer: Blablabla I write fanfics because of feelings.
Spoilers: Up to 4x19 'Letters of Transit'
A/N: You know me. Feelings and angst feed my evil muse. "Letters of Transit" was wonderful in these aspects (and every other aspect *fangirly sob*), so this came out of my brain.
I've now read many theories about Olivia's fate in that future, but I started writing this before reading any of these, so I'm afraid I went for the most dramatic option again. Shocking.
Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me through the months. And my sweet Invariant, whenever you read this, this one is for you, for all these times you killed me with your kindness, and even more often with your beautiful words.
FLY, LITTLE BIRD
"The girl is special. Those of my kind must never know that she is yours."
Etta would never know that for a time, her parents considered giving her up from the moment of her birth, to place her in a family that would keep her afar from any real danger.
Back in 2012, they had no idea how bad things were going to get within the next few years, but they trusted September enough to take his warning seriously. If September said that their daughter was important for the future, it must be true, and if keeping her here with them put her at risk, then they had to protect her, no matter what.
Olivia's pregnancy was kept a secret. The sweet irony of it all was how her Alternate came Over Here again and took her place once more during the last few months of her pregnancy, when she couldn't hide her condition anymore. The Bridge would be definitely closed shortly after that; both sides had agreed on it after the Jones incident.
They were supposed to send the baby away, to send her somewhere safe. Already, the number of Observers being spotted everyday was increasing.
Olivia gave birth in the lab, a bit early and after a very short labor. From the moment she held her child against her chest, everybody present knew that she would never be able to let her go, let alone let anyone take her away from her.
"I can't…" she murmured, staring into her daughter's blue eyes, her flushed face glistening with both sweat and tears.
"Olivia, we have to…" Peter's face was mostly buried in her damp hair, undoubtedly hiding his own tears, one of his hands resting delicately upon his daughter's body.
Of the three of them, Etta was the only one who did not cry, not even that powerful wail most newborns gave upon being born.
"The child is special," September repeated then, having reappeared a few minutes ago, unseen from them all until now. Such an important moment had to be witnessed. "My kind mustn't know that she is yours."
"They won't," Olivia said categorically, her voice quivering with both exhaustion and resolve. "We will keep her safe. If they start coming after us the way you say they will, then I will personally kill anyone who discovers who she is."
She meant it.
Olivia had never been one to kill, unless it was in self-defense. But with the birth of her child, something very primeval and merciless was born within her as well, it was written all over her face. She would sooner watch the entire world burn than let anyone take her child from her, or let them hurt her in any way.
It wouldn't be long, now.
In a couple of years, the world would start to burn.
Etta was very young when she realized that she was special.
She was too young to understand how or why, but she knew it. And if sometimes, she asked her mother why they so often kept her inside, why she was only allowed to see her Grandpa Walter and Miss Astro and Uncle Belly, her mother would always say the same thing, confirming what she already knew:
"You are special, little bird."
At first, she wondered if it was because she almost never cried. Sometimes, Miss Astro took her to the park after a long drive, and she saw the other kids, and how they cried, like, a lot. Kids on TV cried a lot, too.
Etta simply very rarely cried.
Once, she had asked her father if it was normal. He had laughed and ruffled her hair, telling her about how she hadn't even cried when she was born.
"Why?" She had to ask again, because at the age of three now, she wanted to know the whys of everything. "Why I don't cry?"
"It's because your mommy is always in there, princess," he had said, kissing her head before hugging her tight.
She loved the way he hugged her. He was so tall, a giant really, and when he took her in his strong arms like this, swallowing her whole, she felt so safe and warm.
Etta didn't understand what he meant, and yet she knew. Her mother was indeed always there, in her mind, a constant shield protecting her from many things, which in turn made her feel rarely frightened or scared. Simultaneously, it made her aware of things three years old were not supposed to know.
Unlike her, her mother was often afraid, almost continuously, though she never let it show. She couldn't hide her feelings from Etta. Even at her young age, she knew that this fear had something to do with her, just like she could feel her father worrying about them both.
Etta loved her mother unconditionally. She was a very loving and nurturing mother, but she could be as fierce and severe as she was kind, which made her incredibly intimidating. She was intransigent towards most people, sometimes towards Etta, too, especially when she was teaching her all these "survival skills", as she called them.
If her mother shielded her from many things, she never shielded her from the truth.
She often told her that she was special, and helped her control the things she could do with her thoughts. She knew the world had changed around them; another notion Etta did not exactly understand but knew nonetheless.
Once, as she lay in bed with her mother, feelings so very sleepy and safe despite the chaos outside, soft fingers gently caressing her hair, she had felt her mother's intense worry.
"Mommy," she had whispered. There were screams somewhere above, but Etta wasn't scared. "Why am I special?"
Her mother had stopped stroking her hair to cup her small face in her hand, their eyes locked, and Etta had felt so warm and safe.
"Because you're all mine," she had murmured.
Etta had been too young to understand just how true this statement was, and what it implied, but it didn't matter. She hadn't really understood at all, truth be told, but after all, she was only three.
It had been much easier to simply fall asleep.
After the Bald Men took over, their lives involved a lot of running.
Etta had seen battles.
Once, she had seen blood leaking out from her father's chest, well before she was four. She had cried a lot that day.
As it turned out, Etta rarely cried, except when her father was involved.
The man she considered a giant had the ability to make her shed tears like no one else in the world, and her little self thought she ought to hate him for it, but she loved him too much to manage it. Again, she was way too young to realize that the bond she shared with her mother might have something to do with the intensity of her love for her father. The bond most definitely allowed her to know.
Etta didn't understand much, but she knew.
Her mother shielded her from many things, but never from the truth.
They were always together; when they ran, they ran together, and when her parents killed, Etta often witnessed it, as she spent most of her time perched on one of their hips, clinging to their neck.
"Hide your face, little bird," her mother would say as she loaded her gun, and sometimes, Etta would obey, burying her face into the sweaty crook of her mother's neck.
Most times, though, she stubbornly ignored her direction, staring blankly instead as her mother pulled the trigger and the Bald Men fell.
Etta knew about death.
One time, the Bold Man her mother shot was so close that they both ended up splattered with thick blood, even their faces. He had been coming after her mother, as most of them were these days, trying to do their weird mind trick, but they never succeeded.
Etta had seen what these men could do, how they stared at people and made them bleed from the ears. No matter how hard they stared at her mother, it never worked, and somehow, Etta knew that it was why they kept going after her.
That day, when they got back to the safety of her grandfather's lab, a shelter that still managed to protect them from the atrocities outside most of the time, her mother took her inside the shower to get rid of the blood on both their bodies and faces.
With the water falling on them the way it always was, so powerfully and steadily that Etta sometimes felt as if the spray was going to wash her skin off completely, she kept her eyes firmly closed, her mother's hands gently cleaning every inch of her. But Etta had never needed to look at her mother to see her. She knew her mother was crying, long before her body started to shake despite the warmth of the water, and it had distressed her more than any killing she had ever witnessed.
Shortly after that, as her mother dried her up energetically, looking both stern and heartbroken, she apologized to her.
"I'm sorry, little bird."
Etta didn't understand what she was apologizing for, and she knew that she if she asked, she wouldn't understand the answer anyway. Not knowing how to cope with her mother's melancholy, her mind jumped onto something else, the way three years' old minds did.
"Mommy, why you call me little bird all the time?" She asked, feeling suddenly curious.
Her father often called her 'princess', even though she was no princess at all, but whenever she told him that, he usually ended up picking her up, before making her spin so, so fast, all the while shouting "Make way for Princess Henrietta, first and definitely last of her name, according to the Queen Mother!", which only made her squeal and giggle a lot.
"I'm not a bird," she explained to her mother that night, in all seriousness.
Her mother smiled then, and it was a sad kind of smile. Her mother's smiles often were. She let go of the towel she had been using to dry her thin blond hair, bringing her hand under Etta's chin, using her index finger and her thumb to push her face up.
She always did that whenever she wanted Etta to really, really pay attention to what she was going to say, their eyes leveled and their minds as tied as they would ever be.
"Really?" Her mother said softly, the small smile lingering on her lips. "How come I can see your wings, then?"
Etta frowned –just the way her father did, people often said- genuinely confused by her words. "I don't have wings, mommy" she said, as if she was talking to her Grandpa Walter, who was a bit crazy sometimes, especially after smoking things.
Her mother wasn't smiling anymore. "Yes, you do," she insisted, holding her chin so firmly between her fingers, their faces only inches apart. "Sometimes, you can't always see what's there, but it doesn't make it any less true. I didn't use to think that way, but then, I got you."
Her hand had moved to cup half of her face in her palm. She was smiling again; her eyes were too bright, and she was scared and yet hopeful. Etta could feel it all.
"Never forget that you can fly, baby. They will never catch you, as long as you remember how to fly."
Etta almost saw it, then, a vision coming directly from her mother's heart and soul, a magnificent bird spreading its wings so far and wide.
She didn't understand. She was too young to understand much, and yet she knew.
She was special. And if her mother said she possessed invisible wings that allowed her to fly, high above anything that could ever harm her, then maybe it was true.
Her mother died shortly after Etta turned four.
She knew it had happened the moment it happened. She felt it in the rush that always took hold of her whenever her mother focused her every thought on her, even from a great distance. Etta was the last thing on her mother's mind, before the bullet pierced her skull.
Etta knew, because after the rush came the void.
Where her mother's mind had been for four years, nothing remained but a throbbing emptiness, a silence so thick that Etta found herself terrified in a matter of seconds, her terror so intense and deep that she could barely breathe, almost sending Miss Astro into a panic, as she had been the one looking after her that night.
She had simply never known just how prominent her mother had been in her mind until suddenly, she was gone.
Many, many more hours passed before she cried. The initial shock made her nearly catatonic, and the grownups around her were all too busy expressing their grief in many odd ways to really pay attention to her.
All, except her father.
She spent the day in his arms, with her face pressed against his neck as he went around, sometimes ran, shot a few people, or even when he stood still for long stretches of time, as if the depth of his pain had frozen his body. Unsurprisingly, he was the reason behind her tears, the following night, after he had finally fallen asleep, inconsolable and exhausted, with her still nestled in his arms. As she had spent most of the day dozing on an off against his neck, sleep simply wouldn't come for her.
Usually, she felt incredibly safe in her father's arms; she was so tiny that she knew nothing could reach her, here, hidden against his chest, lulled by the sound of his strong heartbeat. But tonight, his embrace was too tight, and as soon as she pretended to be asleep, he started crying, so strongly that his entire body shook, his sorrow hurting her as much as the firm hold of his arms on her small form.
With her mother gone, she had instinctively latched herself onto her father's mind, something her mother had asked her not to do before, and it definitely was a mistake considering his current state. But Etta was only four, and her mother had just died, what was she supposed to do, keep on feeling that frightening emptiness?
After what seemed to be hours, her father eventually fell asleep, and his grip on her loosened in his sleep. She moved up to look upon his face, then, only to find it still constricted, even as he slept, his skin glistening with tears. She splayed her hand on his cheek, the way she had seen her mother do so many times whenever he felt too sad.
But Etta's fingers were so small that they barely covered his face at all.
No, Etta did not understand much, that was true. But she always knew. And that night, her father's pain felt as sharp as a piece of broken glass plunged into her flesh, causing her to cry, too.
His fingers relaxed too, and she moved her eyes away from him and sniffled miserably when she heard something fall on the floor, having escaped a hand that had been clenched into a tight fist until then.
She slipped off the bed soundlessly and found the bullet that had rolled and stopped in the middle of the room. She knelt down and picked it up. It was so tiny, even in her small hand. Somehow, she knew this little thing was the reason why everything was suddenly so much darker, why she felt so exposed and almost frail, without her mother's constant presence inside her head.
But her mother hadn't completely left her either.
"They will never catch you, as long as you remember how to fly."
With the weight of the bullet heavy in her palm, Etta wondered if she would ever be able to fly again.
Not even a week had passed before Etta found herself crying like she had never cried before.
No one had really told her anything, but Etta knew. She didn't need grownups to use words, not now, when she could feel everything and everyone so acutely, barely able to control it these days without her mother's supervision.
Her father didn't have to use any word at all when he tried to leave her behind, pretending it was just another day, but she knew he wouldn't come back this time, that he would never come back. She could feel it, all of it. And that, she really didn't understand at all, didn't understand why he was leaving her, too, so soon after her mother.
She was beyond terrified now.
She clang to him with all her might, which wasn't much since she had been having such a hard time eating this week and was so weak, and her father kept on freeing himself from her grip, and she begged him, begged him not to go. She would be good, she promised, she would make herself so tiny no one will ever see her again, she would be so good she swore, please daddy don't go, she would be good.
Her father did say some words, or tried to choke some out, telling her how they had no other choice, how she was special and they had to keep her safe, how he loved her and was so so very sorry princess, but they had to, for their world; Etta didn't care about his words, she didn't care about the world, please daddy don't leave me, she knew what he felt and she knew that he didn't really want to leave her behind at all. She felt his anguish and all of his sorrow, it didn't make any sense at all, why he would leave without her when he so clearly didn't want to, thinking so loudly that he would rather die, too.
But too soon, her father was gone, just like her mother. Special or not, she was only a child, and she had no one left but herself to shield her from the pain. And so she began to forget, because it hurt less that way.
She kept the bullet, and made a pendant out of it once she was old enough. Very few people knew about it, but if anyone was bold enough to ask, she would calmly say :
"It's the bullet that killed my mother."
It made them look at her oddly, and she knew what they thought, that keeping the very thing that killed one of your parents was morbid, and definitely weird. But what they saw as weird, Etta saw as special.
As the years passed, she remembered less and less about her childhood, about these people who she knew would still be with her if not for the Observers. The bullet reminded her of what had been lost, of what had to be avenged. Of what could be avenged.
She was special, she knew.
And she liked it.
Twenty years after seeing her father for the last time, Etta found herself staring at him again, wondering almost in dismay how she could ever have forgotten his face.
He felt so familiar to her, even though they had only been reunited for a few hours, now hiding in one of the many shelters the rebels had all over town. The place was small and cramped, but it was well hidden from the Observers, so that was good enough for them. She had put her sleeping mat against a wall, but had given up on actual sleep a while ago, now, sitting up to observe her father instead, who was sitting in a very similar position against the opposite wall.
Because of the amber, Peter hadn't aged at all, while she had grown, in every way a person could grow in twenty years. She remembered, now, how huge he had seemed to her, so strong that he had looked unbreakable, even in the aftermath of her mother's death. It always was an odd feeling, to be reunited with the ghosts from your past; everything tended to look smaller and less impressive.
Her father might not look like the giant she once thought he was, but it didn't matter much. When he had hugged her earlier that night, she had realized that one thing hadn't changed, and would surely never change. His embrace had given her a comfort and warmth she hadn't felt since she was a girl. It had been the loving embrace of a parent.
Also, she had come to realize that he still had the unfortunate and uncanny ability to make her cry.
Like her, he was feigning sleep, undoubtedly feeling her stare on him, judging by the faint smile she saw on his lips, but she simply couldn't make herself look away. Eventually, he reopened his eyes, and simply stared back.
"You look just like her," he said softly after a while. Even though his voice was barely louder than a whisper, the others asleep nearby, it was thick with emotions.
Etta pinched her lips, feeling almost ashamed as she admitted: "I can't remember her face."
There was no judgment in his eyes, his gaze merely filled with sheer bewilderment, like it had been ever since he had realized who she was. Quietly, he moved, his hand searching the inside of his jacket as he crossed the small distance to join her against the wall. He pulled out a small wallet that hadn't aged either, before extracting a picture from its folds and handing it to Etta.
"She used to get mad at me for insisting on photographing the two of you, but I was unstoppable."
Etta's fingers were trembling slightly as she took it, her eyes instantly drawn to the image. He hadn't lied.
She did look like her mother.
She was in the picture herself; she couldn't have been older than two, she guessed, fast asleep in her mother's arms. Olivia was staring right at the camera, unsmiling indeed. She looked both tired and fierce, as if quietly telling the entire world that anyone who tried to disturb her baby's sleep would undoubtedly suffer a quick and painful death.
Etta found herself unable to move her eyes away, staring at her mother's sullen face, seeing the fear and love behind her solemn mask. Memories she had thought long forgotten were unlocking themselves in that unique mind of hers, and suddenly, she saw her mother in her mind's eyes just as clearly as she was seeing her now in that picture.
She swallowed hard, past the painful lump in her throat. "How did she die?"
She had murmured the words, as if afraid to speak any louder.
She knew how she had died, and Peter knew that, too; the hand that was not holding the picture was back to the bullet around her neck, unconsciously rolling the small object between her fingers like she often did, warming the metal up. He had noticed it back in the bus; she had seen the look on his face, but he hadn't commented on it.
He didn't ask now either. He understood her question.
"For months, the Observers were after us, especially after her. They knew we were leading the resistance, but they also knew that she was immune to their power. Your mom, she was…different. She had abilities that she learned to control so that the Observers were never able to manipulate her mind. You were very young so you might not remember it, but we ran a lot at the time."
"I remember," she said simply, still rolling the bullet between her fingers, staring at her mother's face, frozen in time. But there was no freeing her from this photograph.
"One day, William Bell…he made a pact with them. He offered to tell them why Olivia Dunham was so untouchable, at some condition."
Etta didn't need to ask about these conditions. With her job and her history, she knew all the dates, all the events; it wasn't long after her mother's death and her father's disappearance that things had gotten slightly better for the Natives. More than being a Fringe agent, she was above all a rebel herself, and she knew all the old stories. She understood now why this information had been so valuable to the Observers.
Olivia had been dangerous because, in her ability to defy them in such ways, she had given people hope.
"He told them what her Achilles' heel was…" she whispered. Her mother's deadliest weakness, hanging around her neck.
"That bullet never was her Achilles' heel," her father contradicted her softly, and he put a finger on the picture, gently tapping the sleeping toddler in Olivia's arms. "You were, princess."
Etta wouldn't have been able to speak then, even if she had had anything to say, and so her father continued:
"It was a very small mercy from Bell, not to tell them about you, after everything we had done to keep them from knowing you existed. If anything had happened to you, Olivia, she would have…" but his voice broke, unable to finish that sentence. He cleared his throat. "What Bell did was remind them that she was very human despite her abilities, implying that she could therefore be defeated with very human weapons."
Etta was now squeezing the bullet between her fingers so hard that she felt a dull pain in her flesh, but she didn't care.
"You didn't kill him," she said, more loudly, almost in disapproval.
"I tried," Peter admitted after a heavy sigh. "God, I wanted to. But I was reminded that we still needed him, for humanity's sake. He kept saying he thought we would be able to protect Olivia, that he didn't think they would act so quickly…"
Etta thought of Bell, enclosed in amber in Walter's old lab, of how if they'd had more time, more luck, she would have freed him from his prison. In her sorrow and anger, her thoughts immediately jumped to Simon, who had sacrificed himself today.
Maybe he had done it solely in the name of the rebellion, as they both had known that the man he was about to free might help them vanquish the Observers for good. But deep inside, Etta knew that Simon had done it for her.
She hadn't said a word, and yet he had known what it meant to her, to get her father back.
"The Observers…they have never been able to read my thoughts, only what I let them see…" she murmured then, ignoring the new tears that had started to quietly roll down her face. "That's why you and mom kept me hidden, didn't you? Because she had passed her abilities to me?"
She felt her father lips upon her head, and she leaned into the touch, into the comfort he was offering her, and yet, her eyes remained fixed on the picture. She had let go of the bullet to trace the shape of her mother's face.
"You were always special, little bird," Peter murmured against her hair, and Etta had to close her eyes.
Tomorrow, she would become solid as a rock again, holding her head high and keeping her eyes dry under any circumstance. But tonight, she felt like the child in that picture again, and all she wanted to do was disappear into her father's embrace. She felt like she could almost remember her mother's scent, if she focused hard enough.
What she remembered vividly now were the words her mother had told her one night, when her face had been so close to hers that all she could see was her eyes.
"I'm not a bird. I don't have wings, mommy."
Etta hadn't understood, back then. But she did, now.
She had wings, wings that she spread far and wide every time one of them tried to read her mind. They were never able to catch her and break her down because she was safe, soaring so high above them all.
No matter what, she would always stand higher than her enemies. They would never be able to take her freedom away from her, and that could make all the difference in the world.
Her mother had known it all along.
She was special.
"They will never catch you, as long as you remember how to fly."
A/N: Reviews are better than coffee tablets, and I'm sure I would quickly get addicted to those ;)