As always, thanks to OConnellAboo for beta and advice - You're THE BEST!
Originally published at AO3
Etta thought she'd be used to their arguments by now; after all, they bickered practically all day, every day. Walter would rant and snarl, and Peter would give him a bemused look and patiently talk him down, or match him barb for sarcastic barb until one of them had enough and stomped off.
Most days, her dad didn't seem to mind his father's ill temper, even when it was directed towards him. Etta had only a few days with Walter when he was a befuddled old man; since his brain was restored, he was sharp in every sense of the word: incisive, scarily intelligent, and prickly over everything from his makeshift lab to the quality of his red licorice.
She asked Peter about it one night when they were cleaning up after supper. Walter was puttering in his lab, and they were alone in their makeshift kitchen. "How could he be so different?" she asked him earnestly. "And how do you keep it from bothering you?"
Peter gave his daughter a rare smile as he took another plate from her hand and dried it. He gestured grandly and said "This… now… you're seeing the scientist, the brilliant Dr. Walter Bishop." He laughed ruefully, then paused for a moment. "It's my job to remind him he's still a man."
He threw this dishtowel over the clean pots in the sink and wrapped his arm around Etta's shoulder as they walked into their common room. "I've been doing it a long time," he said, "and he has a good heart in there somewhere."
These arguments were different, though. She only heard them like this on the nights when they thought she'd already gone to sleep, and unlike their squabbles during the day, her dad always seemed to be the instigator. His voice was low, but with an intensity that made her shiver.
The first couple of nights, she tried not to listen, pulling her makeshift pillow over her head. She was sure it was just a private matter between the two of them – every family relationship has disagreements from time to time – or so she'd heard; she was still getting used to the idea of having a father, and a grandfather, after so many years of being alone. But when she realized that Peter always looked more worn, more bleary-eyed, the mornings after one of these heated discussions, she decided to find out what was going on between the two of them.
She started sleeping in odd corners of the ramshackle house they'd made their home base. Before too long, she'd sussed out the spots that gave her the best surveillance of the kitchen and the lab, the men's favorite spots to clash. At first, she could only hear the tense tone of their hushed voices, but as she grew more confident of her hiding places, she crept closer and could make out bits and pieces of their conversation.
"Walter, I don't see why…"
"Just a little longer, Peter, til we know…"
"Dammit, Walter, what difference does it make?"
Walter's voice dropped an octave, into the growl she'd come to recognize as his most scornful, most scathing voice. "Because I'm not going to risk everything just so…"
She couldn't hear the rest of his sentence, but she could tell, by the sound of an open hand slapping the work bench and her father's angry footsteps pounding up the stairs, that the conversation ended on a sour note. She pulled her blanket over her head and tried to steady her breathing in case either of them walked near her nest for the evening, an old couch with worn arms and saggy cushions.
As the days went on, they gathered more information, but made little progress on their bigger objectives – how to strike back against Windmark and his cadre. And Peter was more haggard every day. He always had a smile and a hug for her, but the smile didn't reach his eyes when he told her that everything was fine.
Etta spent the next week scavenging for materials that Walter requested for the lab. Peter could fix almost anything, and it was usually easy to find old, damaged equipment in the abandoned buildings, but the wire, the chips, the soldering equipment he needed to make the repairs, was more challenging to obtain. She returned late, exhausted, and found them in the kitchen. After giving the two a brief summary, she kissed them both and curled into the nearest sleeping bag.
Her arrival had apparently interrupted an ongoing discussion; it was as if they'd forgotten that she was there minutes after she left the room.
"Walter, we have to do it now," Peter's voice was quiet, but insistent. "I can't do this by myself much longer."
"Things are better off the way they are for now. How many times do I have to explain this to you, Peter?" Walter sounded exasperated, irate at repeating a conversation they'd obviously had many times before.
"What if the location is discovered? Then what? We can't afford to wait."
She could hear him pacing in the tiny kitchen space.
"Peter, I will not jeopardize what we're doing just so you can get la –"
"Dammit, Walter, how many times do I have to explain to you that sex has nothing to do with this?"
Ella's eyes flew open. Sex? Her dad? They had to be talking about Olivia, about her mother.
"It's too dangerous. Dangerous for her, dangerous for you, for all of us."
"How can it be any worse than it is now?" Peter sounded tired, but unwilling to concede. "Etta deserves to meet her mother. And I need my partner. I need my wife, Walter." His voice had more than a little edge to it now.
"That's where you've been going, isn't it?" Walter's voice was accusatory. "What if you're followed? What if you're caught?"
"I can't do this anymore without her. I need her. I can't do this alone."
Walter mumbled a reply and stomped out of the kitchen, continuing the argument under his breath. He didn't notice Etta, a tiny lump in a sleeping bag, and continued to his lab, muttering to himself.
As he descended the stairs, the sound of his muttering grew softer. She could hear Peter in the kitchen, opening and closing cabinet doors. She heard a clink, glass against glass, and a quiet "snik" as he eased open the back door. There was a tiny, dilapidated deck tacked on to the back of the house; its most outstanding quality was that it was sheltered from the street and the neighboring houses.
She eased out of her sleeping bag and walked silently to the back door. Her father was sitting on the deck, his back against the house, knees bent, and a bottle of scavenged whisky between his legs. He didn't look up when the door opened.
"Go away, Walter, I'm not discussing this with you any more tonight," he said wearily.
Etta's gentle touch on his shoulder made him look up quickly. His stormy visage softened when he saw her.
"Did we wake you up?" he said softly, much more gently than before. "I'm sorry."
"What are you and Walter arguing about? You've been at it for days."
Peter sighed, then patted a spot on the deck beside him. Once Etta had settled next to him, shoulder to shoulder, he took a sip of his whiskey and spoke.
"It's about your mother." He was silent for a moment. "You don't ask me about her…"
"I saw your face when Walter or Astrid mentioned her. I didn't want to make you sad."
Peter sighed again, deeply, and leaned his head back against the wall of the house.
"I knew you'd tell me about her when you were ready." Etta said softly and slipped her hand into her father's larger one.
He squeezed it and flattened it out on his knee. "You're so much like her. Your smile, your hair…" he chuckled quietly. "Your tiny hands…"
Etta leaned her head against her dad's shoulder. "So…. She's alive?" she asked hesitantly.
Peter studied the sliver of night sky visible through the surrounding trees. After what seemed to Etta to be an interminable silence, he said quietly, "Yes. She's alive. In amber, like we were."
"And you've been going to see her, and not telling Walter?"
Peter eyed his daughter. "How do you know that?"
Etta blushed faintly. She usually wasn't so transparent, but she let her guard down around her dad. Rather than admit to eavesdropping, she looked down and murmured "I visit Simon sometimes… just to talk, to keep him company."
"We'll get him out, honey. I promise." He covered her hand, still resting on his knee, with his own.
"I know you will, Dad." They sat in companionable silence, looking at the night sky. Even though they were so close to the city, there were so few inhabited, illuminated buildings, it was easy to see the stars.
"It was intentional – your mom and I being ambered in two separate spots. I didn't like it… but she was right, it was the only way to ensure that one of us would make it."
Etta glanced surreptitiously at her father's face, barely lit by the dim glow of the kitchen light. He looked tired, as he did so many days lately, but there was a sadness in his eyes that she'd only seen a few times before… but always when someone mentioned her mother around him.
"Why is Wal… why is Granddad so adamant about not getting her out? And why do you call him Walter, anyway? I don't think I've ever heard you call him 'dad'."
Peter chuckled, and Etta sighed with relief. She didn't want to make him even more miserable than he obviously was already, which is why she usually avoided asking her dad too many questions – about their life before the Observers, about her mother.
"He likes it when you call him Granddad. Use that to your advantage," Peter replied with a hint of a smile playing across his face. "Sometimes Walter's not an easy man to love. He needs to be reminded of that. Frequently. "
Etta waited for a moment, then nudged his side with her elbow and looked at him expectantly.
When he realized she was waiting for answers to her questions, he shook his head ruefully. "Just like your mother. She wouldn't let me bullshit around her questions either."
"So… Walter. It's a long story." He looked down at her hopefully, as if she could be dissuaded. Seeing Olivia's stubbornness reflected in his daughter's eyes, he shrugged his shoulders and continued.
"We haven't always been… close. I didn't see Walter, at all, for seventeen years." He chuckled again. "Olivia came halfway around the world to bring me back to Boston to work with him."
He paused; from the faraway expression on his face, he looked as if he could see it happening before him. "I wasn't ready to acknowledge a relationship with him back then. Hell, I didn't WANT a relationship with him then. It just made more sense to call him Walter."
"But…" Etta nudged him again.
"Things got better. Things got worse. Things got different… " He shook his head. "It really IS a long story, and to be fair to all involved, you need Olivia's perspective, too, not just mine."
He fell silent, brooding. Etta clasped his hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze.
"We'll give you the whole story one of these days… But Walter will always be my dad, even if we don't always act like it," he said softly, and squeezed her hand in response.
Etta waited for him to continue. When it was apparent he wouldn't speak again without prodding, she nudged him in the ribs again. "Even when you argue about Mom?" she said, not backing down.
Peter looked up at the stars and blinked rapidly a couple of times, then drew a deep breath. "Walter has several theories. The Observers are watching bodies in amber. The Observers are watching for Olivia specifically. He's afraid for her safety. He's afraid for our safety. He doesn't want to use the resources to repair the equipment you used to get us out, and he doesn't want to spend the time to help me develop a new device." He sighed heavily. "There's a little truth to all of them and not enough in any of them to justify waiting."
"Will you take me the next time you go?"
"No," Peter said harshly. Etta was taken aback and released his hand abruptly.
"Honey, I'm sorry. I don't want you to see her like that. I want your reunion… well, I want it to be real." He draped his arm around her and squeezed her shoulder. Peter left the rest of his thought unspoken, and took another sip of whisky from his glass instead.
"You don't want me to remember her in amber… if something happens."
His silence proved his acquiescence.
"But what about you? You keep going back." Etta was almost accusatory. The thought of her mother being so close…
"I have lots of memories. The good ones always outweigh the bad ones."
They gazed at the stars again. It was a clear night, and they were brilliant in the night sky, like diamonds on black velvet. Simon told her it was the change in the atmospheric conditions; less industry, fewer cars, less ground light, less pollution.
The thought of Simon made Etta sigh; she missed his voice, his rare laugh. The way his eyes crinkled as he tried to suppress a smile when she did the impossible, the things he always told her not to do. She didn't know how to miss her mother any more than she had already over the last 20 years, but knowing how she felt about Simon, frozen just out of reach, she could only start to imagine how her dad felt, how frustrating each day apart must be.
"I'm so sorry, Dad," she whispered.
He squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "It won't be too much longer. We'll get them both out soon."
He looked up at the sky again. "Your mother's…" he paused; Etta could see a dozen emotions cross his face. "Your mother had a friend. She hadn't seen rainbows in over 20 years. The last time your mother saw her," he paused again, reliving the memory, "she told her to keep looking up. Not to give up."
He took a long swallow of whisky straight from the bottle, not bothering with the glass this time. "Once… where we were, your mother and I, we lost our sky. The sun was just a dull glow, and the stars had disappeared. But your mother never gave up, she never stopped hoping that we'd see the stars shining again… and she made me keep hoping, too."
He pressed a kiss to his daughter's head. "As long as the stars are shining, I have hope." He rose heavily to his feet, joints stiff from the chill night air. "C'mon, daughter. Time for bed."
Etta took his proffered hand and he pulled her to her feet.
"Yes, Daaaaad." She drew out the word just to see the smile on her father's face.
Before she stepped inside, she took a last look at the night sky, and thought of Simon… and her mother. "Keep shining," she murmured, then followed Peter into the house and quietly shut the door.