Disclaimer: No one ever reads this anyway, but if you were wondering, I still do not own Fringe or any of its characters. Also, in case Anna or Jasika happens to read this: HI, I LOVE YOU!
Spoilers: All the way up to the end of season 4.
Rating: T, mostly for violence and blood.
A/N: I had this one cooking in my head since May; I finally started writing it about two weeks ago, particularly inspired when Anna Torv hinted in an interview that the Olivia/Etta reunion might not be what we expect it to be. As you can see, it is a big story, so it took me a while to get it all out and make it readable.
I've gone back and forth with the idea of splitting it, but I planned and wrote this as a ONE piece story, so asking me to cut it in half is like asking me to cut my baby mid-torso, and then post it one body part at a time. Lovely imagery right there! But you get the idea xD Anyway, emotional people, get some tissues, particularly those of you who may have some mother issues; this one is rough (trust me, I wrote it X_X), but never completely devoid of hope either ;)
Thank you to my sweet horcrux Ferris, for bravely attempting to go after all my awful typos. And a special heartfelt thank you to Jordan, for the endless moral support she gave me when I kept texting her about how this story wouldn't stop making me weep like a baby, and she never doubted once that I would dunham its ass.
HIDE AND SEEK
There is blood pouring out of her mother's nose.
Olivia has long ago learned to see the beatings without really seeing them, as they have been happening repeatedly through the years, and there's nothing she can do to stop them. Her entire body is aware of the situation, but her mind is somewhere else, though always ready to snap right back in at the slightest indication that he might have decided to change his target. It all could have gone on like this for another few years.
But tonight, it's different.
There is blood, a lot of it, and it changes everything. It eventually leads Olivia to become more than an observer, and to take action against the man who has thrown his fist into her mother's face hard enough to break her nose and make her yell in agony.
He leaves shortly after that.
Her mother is crying now, and the mixture of tears and snot and blood flowing out of her nostrils is nauseating; Olivia watches as the gooey substance gushes out, spreading all over her mouth and chin. Soon, it also starts to drip along her mom's shaky fingers, when she automatically brings a hand to her broken face.
Olivia watches from her bedroom's doorway, which happens to be facing the living room. She's clenching the doorframe so tightly that her knuckles have turned white, like they always do. All along the frame, there are tiny, almost invisible marks carved into the structure. They are the result of too many nights spent watching the fights with her nails digging into the wood.
She doesn't stand there because she enjoys the show. She does it because even though her step-father hasn't hit her in years, for reasons she cannot remember, he has tried to go for Rachel before. She has learned that standing in his way usually stops him, since he refuses to touch her.
Tonight, like all these other nights, Rachel is crying somewhere behind her, lost in the dark. She always cries when their mom screams; it's a constant that never changes. She's probably under her bed right now, or in the closet. Olivia is the one who taught her that years ago, when things started to go downhill, and their step-dad went from being mean-spirited to physically abusive.
"Let's play Hide and Seek," she would say to her terrified sister as their mom screamed nearby. Most of the time, it wasn't long after Rachel was safely curled up in her hiding place that he'd grab Olivia by the hair and teach her whatever lesson needed to be taught that day.
Tonight, Olivia stares at the woman crumpled on the floor, nearly in hysterics, and it's as if she's mesmerized. Any other night, she would have gone to her mom right away and tried to help her in any way she could as soon as he was out of the house.
Not this time.
This time, there is blood, so much blood, and she's almost hypnotized by the disgusting sight.
For the first time in years, and for the last time in many more years, she thinks of Nick Lane. She doesn't think of him by name, though. She remembers him fleetingly, a memory briefly escaping the powerful blockage her mind has put on that period of her life.
She sees him sprawled on the ground with his face covered in blood –fake blood, though she'd had no way of knowing that back then, and the image blends with what she's seeing now.
That's when she hears the car.
Nothing proves that it is his car, it could very well be any of their neighbors'… but she knows it's him. When you live with someone you fear beyond measure, and hate even more, you learn to recognize every little detail warning you of their upcoming arrival. This is definitely the sound of his car coming back.
And it's her mother's blood that changes everything.
Nick's face might already have disappeared from her mind again, but the feeling it brought back hasn't, that guttural feeling that urges her to protect the people she loves from harm, at any cost. And her mother is in danger, that much she knows, because he has hit her in the past, hit her time and time and time again, but it has never resulted in so much blood.
It always results in their mom screaming, though, and as soon as he leaves the house and she calms down enough, Marilyn Dunham always says the same thing:
"It was the last time. I promise, Olive, it was the last time. I'm not letting him set a foot back in this house again."
The saddest part is Olivia knows she means it. It's probably why she allows herself to believe it, too, to believe that their life will soon be free of him, of his angry hands and vicious words, because for every time he doesn't hit her anymore, he puts her down with a nasty comment.
But their mother always lets him come back, may it be the next morning, or two weeks later. He always comes back. To Olivia, the feeling of betrayal she then feels is just as raw every single time, when she realizes she has been a fool to trust her mother.
"I love him,"is her excuse for everything."You're too young to understand."
What she understands right now, as her mother's blood drips on the carpet and his car approaches, is that love freaking stinks, and that he's about to impose himself back on them with or without Marilyn's permission.
He has to be really furious to come back so fast before he's had any time to calm down, and she doubts he will stop this time before one of them is dead. Since her mother is already a helpless, weeping mess on the floor and he's usually reluctant to touch her, her thoughts goes to Rachel. Marilyn is too much of an easy prey to him now.
Rachel will be feisty. She will fight back, if only for a few seconds, and he has to know Olivia will be upon him in an instant if he dares put a hand on Rachel, and she doubts he'll hold back this time if Olivia 'starts it'.
He might be furious, but all of the sudden, Olivia is even madder.
She's furious and desperate and terrified and the car, the damn car is coming to a stop and she just wants him gone, she needs him to be gone, gone, gone.
She goes for his gun because that's what she always imagines herself doing in her fantasies, whenever she's standing in that doorway, her cheek pressed against the frame, watching him beat her mother senseless. She pictures herself holding up his gun and shooting him right in the head.
She's so worked up that, had the dormant drugs in her brain been active, she probably would have turned him into a human torch right on the spot. She has no recollection of her abilities, however, which is why she goes for his gun.
Above all, she goes for the gun because she's only nine, and a gun really is the only thing that can stop a grown man.
Later, she will not remember much of the shooting itself; once again, her brain proves how good it is at blocking out the most traumatizing events of her life.
She will always remember his stare, though. Not the first one, not the legitimate surprise that widens his eyes when she pulls the trigger for the first time –missing the head.
The look that will carve itself into her brain and flesh the way her nails have carved half-circles into her bedroom's door frame, is that look of disdain, the one he has been using on her day after day, year after year. He's daring her to finish, all the while making it clear that he knows she won't, because he knows exactly what she is, what she always was, and always will be.
And in a way, he is right. Because she doesn't finish.
She can't, and so she fails.
Another thing she will always remember as well is what comes next. The odd trance she was in abruptly comes to an end when her mother starts screaming again. But she isn't screaming in pain anymore, and the sounds she's making are even worse, because she's screaming in horror and disbelief and desperation. She's throwing herself atop his leaking body, and the words she is shrieking finally come through to Olivia.
"WHAT DID YOU DO WHAT DID YOU OH GOD WHAT DID YOU DO?"
Her mother's hands, already covered with blood, are pressing down upon his wounded chest, trying to stop the flow, and Olivia finds herself thinking about the blood-brother ritual for a fleeting instant,my blood, your blood, and it's such an odd thought to have in that moment. When her mom turns her crazed eyes to her and stares at her with the same horror that rings in her screams, that's when Olivia drops the gun.
Soon, she's on the ground too, kneeling only feet away from the mess she's made. And though her mom's screams have turned back into sickening, frantic sobs as she clings to the lifeless body of the man who had broken her nose only ten minutes ago, what she's moaning couldn't be any clearer.
A minute or two passes before Olivia answers. She doesn't have to, but she feels like she should.
"I had to make it stop…" she whispers, too far gone into shock to realize that she has started to rock slightly back and forth on the spot.
Her words never reach her mother's ears.
After that night, nothing she says ever really does again.
There is blood pouring out of her mother's nose.
This, however, is not exactly what worries her mom the most at that instant; Etta cannot tell exactly what the nature of her worry is, but it is very intense, and linked with a strong sense of survival instinct.
Being a complete emotional sponge when it comes to her mom, Etta finds it hard to breathe, with her chest compressed by that feeling. Any other –normal- three year old in that situation would mostly be worrying about not falling right now, clinging to their mother's neck with all the strength their small body could muster.
Despite the insanity going on around them, Etta never thinks once that she might fall from her mom's arms; whenever they are on the run like this, especially when they are both scared, it is almost as if Etta is glued to her, and nothing or no one could ever pull her away. It is one of the many, 'funny' tricks she has started to display ever since things began to change so much a few months ago.
It is undoubtedly that 'gluing' ability of hers that explains why she was able to stay firmly in her mother's arms when one of the bad guys who had stormed the street pointed that weird kind of stick to her mom's face, before activating it. Curled up against her neck, Etta had felt the energy blast brush the top of her head, less than a second before it hit mommy in the face, sending them both flying into the air.
Her mom had hit a wall, before crumpling to the ground on all fours –or three, as her left arm had still been tightly wrapped around her daughter, who was miraculously unhurt.
That's when Etta sees the blood, dripping abundantly from her nose to the ground in gooey tendrils; that's also when the pain really explodes in her mother's body, instantly affecting Etta, too.
Despite the shooting pain and her gushing nose, her mom starts moving again right away, though she can't do much more than crawl for the first minute or so, moving away from the fight still going on so close to them. If Etta hadn't been so overwhelmed by the intensity of her mother's pain and fright, she usually would have sent some kind of distress vibe to her dad, because he had been in the street with them, along with a bunch of other people when it had all gone wrong; but now she has no idea where he is, and all she can do is cry against mommy's neck as she manages to bring them back up, swiftly retreating into what appears to be a very stinky and very dark alley.
Being only three and exceptionally adaptable –like she is exceptionally everything, Etta now barely remembers the way they used to live before, only a few months ago. Nowadays, they spend most of the day time waiting in moldy places, and when they move at night, they often end up running. The whole world has changed around her, and she doesn't understand it, but she has always thought that as long as mommy and daddy are with her, she's pretty okay.
Nothing's okay right now.
Right now, every wobbly step her mom takes is accompanied with pain, and then more pain, and Etta cries against her neck, tears her mom would probably be crying herself if she could do anything but worry and feel that pain. Right now, Etta thinks hard about their house, the one they haven't gone back to in forever; there had been a big yard with a swing set, and she remembers how she used to tell daddy while he pushed her so high on it that she was pretty sure she could fly, and he had said not to try though, because mommy would get mad at him and she would never get a brother or a sister.
She remembers their huge bathtub, too, and how awesome it had been to take bubble baths with mommy, putting bubbles all over her face so she could pretend she had a beard like daddy did on some days they called Lazy Sundays, the one that scratched her skin when he blew air against her belly until she screeched with laughter.
She misses her house, and all her toys and stuffed animals -though she had been allowed to keep Mr. Snuggles of course, and all she wants to do right now is go back there. But they're stuck here instead, and even her vivid imagination cannot take away the feel of mommy's blood slowly soaking her shirt, as her nose keeps on bleeding profusely.
And that pain… Etta has been lucky enough –and very well protected- so she never had to experience a lot of physical pain in her short life, except for the occasional bruises and scratches. Being so strongly attuned to her mother, she has felt her pain in the past, but mommy usually always asks someone to take her away until she feels better, knowing how much she affects her; it had never been so bad, though, and there's no one around to take her away. Etta feels stunned with the intensity of it all as her mom keeps on moving.
There's a slight shock that reverberates through her when her mother's body almost collapses against a wall again, and they start sliding to the ground, her mom's back against it this time. Etta still hears all the fighting noises coming from the main street, which seems to be just outside the alley they're in; she knows mommy hears them, too, because her panic gets even worse, and despite how weak she obviously feels, she still manages to hold onto her more firmly.
She speaks, then, whispering directly into her ear, "Time to play Hide and Seek, baby."
She doesn't have to say it twice. Distressed as she feels, she knows it will work right away. All she has to do is think really, really hard, the way she had been thinking about their house, except that this time, she has to think about how she doesn't want anybody to find her or mommy. If she does it right, she knows they will become invisible to people. Her body gets strangely feverish whenever she does that, and she always feels a bit nauseous and tired when she stops, but she knows it's important.
Above all, she's protecting mommy, just like mommy always protects her.
Not even a minute passes before her camouflage is put to the test, no less than three people entering the alley. She keeps her face against her mother's neck; all of her focus is directed towards their Hide and Seek game, a game that has become noticeably gloomier these past few weeks, especially since her parents have realized that she has the ability to literally hide.
She doesn't see the men, doesn't know if they are the Bald Men or the others that work for them, the Low List or something, but when she's like this, she sees things without even having to use her eyes; she feels them. And she knows the men come really close to the place where they are curled up against the wall, but she must be doing a good job because they don't see them.
Eventually they leave, and when she finally lets herself relax a little, she realizes things have quieted down in the main street, too. What hasn't stopped, however, is the throbbing pain coming from her mother. It attacks her again viciously, and she thinks she might start screaming soon if it doesn't stop.
Uncurling herself from against her mother's chest, feeling a bit shaky after what she did, she finally gets to really see her face for the first time since she got hit, and she's momentarily frozen in terror at the sight.
Like many other things, she's had to get used to the sight of blood, and even though her young mind can dismiss it pretty easily now when it's coming out of a bad guy, there is something truly terrifying in seeing so much of it on mommy's face, leaking out of a nose that looks really odd and puffy, with a huge darkening bruise on the upper part of it; the bruise has already started to spread on each side of her nose, creating dark hollows under her closed eyes. What little skin of her face isn't bruised or covered with blood is extremely pale.
Just like Etta feels her mother's pain as her own, she knows her anguish is felt as well; it isn't long at all before mommy speaks again without even reopening her eyes, in a voice that sounds as odd as her face looks:
"I'm okay, honey…I'll put a band-aid on it."
She tries to smile for her daughter, but the slight curve of her lips quickly morphs into a grimace of pain. Despite her abilities, Etta is unable to tell what causes her so much pain; obviously her nose is definitely a big part of it, but she guesses there must be other places in her body that have been wounded, especially after the blast when she hit the wall so hard.
All that really matters right now is that the pain is smothering her, smothering them both, and she cannot take another second of it or she will start screaming, and no hiding will be enough to keep them safe then.
Etta acts on pure instinct, like she often does when these kinds of things manifest themselves –and naturally, they usually first manifest themselves when she's with her mom, and in the middle of a particularly distressing situation.
She raises her hands, and places them both on her mother's face, one on each cheek, where the skin is surprisingly unstained with blood. Etta starts to focus hard again; she had barely started to cool down from her Hide and Seek game, and the odd warmth starts building under her skin right away again, especially where her palms rest on her face, pooling where their skins touch.
This causes her mom to open her eyes at last, and she looks hazed, as if she's not really there with her anymore. What she sees in her daughter's eyes brings some focus back in her gaze, though, along with some definite incredulity.
"What are you doing, baby?" she whispers softly, frowning now.
"I'm making it stop," she answers in all simplicity.
Despite her many unusual talents and what her father refers to as an 'authentic Bishop brain', Etta is still only three, lacking the words to explain why she's acting the way she is, and most of all, lacking the overall understanding of her own actions.
To her, it's as simple as that: mommy is in too much pain, she feels that pain, too, and really doesn't like it, something in her tells her doing this will make it stop, so she's making it stop.
It starts to happen, then. The slow leak dripping from her mother's nostrils stops altogether, and her nose itself, a bloody, puffy mess at this point, begins to change. There are some weird and muffled cracking noises, and as the ugly bruises start to fade, the shape of her nose goes back to what it usually is; the swelling decreases progressively, until it's completely gone. The other injuries Etta cannot see are healing as well; she feels it in the way the pain recedes at last. It is also noticeable in the way her mother's mind becomes clearer, more alert and awake.
When the pain is completely gone, Etta finally comes out of her trance. She's really shaky now, and slightly sick, like she always is. She offers her dazed mother a proud, sleepy smile, though, before dropping her hands so she can curl back against her chest, the way she always does; she fits there so perfectly.
Mommy still smells of blood, of course, because even though she has made it stop, she wasn't able to do anything about the blood that was already all over her, over them both; but that's okay. When she presses her nose into the crook of her neck, she's still able to smell the most comforting scent of all.
And there is something else that is extremely comforting, a knowledge that comes to her, then, and makes sleep even more tempting.
"Daddy will be here soon…" she whispers against mommy's skin, and even if she doesn't hear her, that's okay, because she's letting her know without words, too.
And as she drifts off, one of mommy's hands already lost in her hair, stroking it slowly the way she always does when she's falling asleep, she thinks she hears his voice, and she knows she can let go.
She's awakened by her mother.
Olivia recognizes her frail, raspy whisper as she calls out her name again, and despite her exhaustion, she's almost immediately alert. She doesn't open her eyes right away, though, clinging to that ephemeral sensation that is always strongest upon waking, that one hopeful second when she can convince herself that she has somehow transported herself to another place while she slept, preferably to another time, too.
Though in all honesty, she has a very hard time remembering a time in her life that was any better than this. Such is her reality; sad and gloomy.
She knows she hasn't magically been transported somewhere else, hearing the already familiar sound of the beeping machines. And there is that smell permeating the room now, one that is always noticeable, no matter how much time she spends in there- the smell of a quickly decaying body.
Olivia is tired.
She's only fourteen, but she is so very, very tired, and being afflicted with as many conflicting emotions as she is certainly doesn't help.
The fact is Olivia loves her mother. She loves her so much that she shot a man for her when she was nine, even if it irrefutably ruined what was left of their relationship.
She also hates her mother. Probably partly because she had to shoot a man for her.
It's not the same kind of hate that she felt for her step-father, and still feels every year on her birthday. That is a kind of hatred so visceral, deep and primeval, that it can lead you to shoot a man, and you won't feel too bad about it while doing it.
The hate she feels towards her mother is more of a pathetic kind, a frustrated, desperate one, one that takes its roots in that endless feeling of betrayal, incredulity and disappointment she's been feeling for years, which only gets worse with time. Her mom simply doesn't seem to realize that everything Olivia has done, she has done for her, to protect her, and to protect Rachel, because she obviously wasn't going to do anything about it.
What is most ironic is that she has done all of these things to prevent her mother from dying, and now, she's letting herself die anyway.
According to her doctors, with treatment, she could have lived probably another year. Without treatments, they said it shortened that year down to four months. Maybe more, maybe less.
It's only been nine weeks. It's almost as if she's trying to die as fast as possible, now.
Olivia has begged her a few times to take the treatments, but she always says the same thing.
"I'm just too tired, Olive. It's not worth it."
That is a good example of why she hates her mom, at times. Just like she could never comprehend how she could allow her stepfather to stay or to always come back, despite the pain he was inflicting on her and her children, she cannot comprehend this. How can fighting as long as she can for her daughters not be worth it?
That's why she doesn't open her eyes right away tonight, when her mother calls her name. Because sometimes, when it's dark like it is now and she's not entirely sure if she's dreaming or not, she hears his voice again.
She even pictures him at times, bending over her mother's bed, one of his big hands clasped over her mouth and nose. He's smothering her to death, finishing what he has started years ago, draining the life out of her, or what little is left of it after his years of abuse, anyway.
What's even more terrifying is that Olivia isn't sure she wants to stop him this time.
She finally opens her eyes, immediately sitting up on that old armchair one kind nurse had brought into the room some time ago when she realized Olivia intended on spending most nights here; it's small, old and bumpy, but still more comfortable than the iron chair placed next to her mother's bed, the one she goes to sit on now, feeling a familiar sense of guilt over the way her mind was drifting seconds ago.
"What's wrong?" she immediately asks quietly, glancing at the machines. "Do you need me to call the nurse?"
Her mom shakes her head. She looks ghostlier than ever, in the pale, eerie moonlight coming from the partly shaded window. She has lost so much weight in such a short amount of time, the skin of her face looks saggy over her bones. Olivia cannot stop thinking that she looks like a skeleton wearing a cheap human costume.
She knows it won't be long, now, and her mother knows it, too.
Olivia is terrified.
"The drawer…" She's motioning toward the nightstand with a feeble hand that promptly falls back upon the covers.
Understanding what she was trying to say, Olivia opens the drawer; she immediately recognizes what's inside. It is small, but it shines in the soft moonlight. She glances back up at her mom.
"Take it…" her mother rasps, and Olivia swallows hard, shaking her head almost imperceptibly.
"It's yours, Mom," she whispers.
Her mom is shaking her head, too. "Take it," she repeats, closing her eyes. For a second, she just looks dead. But she speaks again, then. "I know…things have been…bad, between us, but I love you, no matter what. I need you to have it. It will keep you safe."
Olivia doesn't try to argue. She picks up the silver cross and puts it around her neck, instinctively enclosing it in her fist, before taking her mother's bony fingers in her other hand.
She doesn't think about how bad exactly things have been between them these past few years, her mother trying to reconnect with her and with the rest of the world, but failing inexorably. She doesn't think about how she herself often was too lost and angry to try and reach out for her anymore, because her mom was never really able to look at her the same way again after she shot that gun.
She doesn't think about how much she hates her, sometimes.
Because ultimately, she will always love her more.
And she's dying.
She holds her hand, and thinks of the few good memories they shared together instead. She pretends they are enough, pretends they balance up and even surpass seeing her sink into depression, until even the thought of her children wasn't enough to make her want to live.
She thinks of those times, more than a decade ago, when Jacksonville was overtaken by thunderstorms, and she would creep into her parents' bed. Her father was never there, of course, but her mom had been, and she was all Olivia needed; her and the comfort she had felt, nestled against her chest while thunder growled outside.
She thinks of the first time she had let her hold Rachel in her arms, when she couldn't have been more than a few hours old, and Olivia had been in awe of her baby sister, already deciding she would never let anyone hurt her. Her mother had stroked her hair tenderly, telling her how she had always known she would be a great big sister.
She thinks of that time her mom had taken her to the movies for the first time, and how safe and loved she had felt, staring at that red curtain, feeling like the luckiest girl in the whole universe at least.
Olivia lies to herself the way she must, because long before the sun rises that day, her mother dies.
She's awakened by her mother.
Etta knows she's in the room long before she sees her. When she opens her eyes, the darkness is thick around her, and for a few moments, she panics a little because she doesn't know where she is, and the thing that woke her up, that intense sadness that does not belong to her but to her mother, seems to be getting worse by the second. Her eyes starts adjusting then, brightening the night-light her father had plugged into one of the walls a few hours ago, and she remembers where she is. She rolls over in her bed, and finally sees her mom.
She is standing in the doorway; her body is leaning against the frame, and she's holding on to it with one of her hands, a cheek pressed into the wood. She's staring at her so intently that she's not even blinking. She's still too far and the light isn't strong enough for Etta's blurry eyes to be able to really make out her face. The sadness, though…it's coming out of her like huge waves, causing Etta's eyes to prickle and her skin to erupt in goose bumps.
"Mommy?" she calls out in a small voice that is still thick with sleep, and slightly scared.
Mommy smiles, then, but she doesn't mean it. Etta knows these things.
She pushes herself off the doorframe and walks quietly into the room, coming to sit down on the bed, and the extra weight causes Etta to sink even more into the mattress. Etta loves that bed. She's gotten used to sleeping mostly in mommy's or daddy's arms for the past year or so, so she has to admit that Miss Sharp's guestroom's bed always feels awesome.
All thoughts of comfort are gone from her mind right now, her mom's distress having made her completely alert already; she's expecting to be scooped out of bed any moment now, and then they will be outside and her mom will start running, maybe asking her to make sure no one can see them. But she doesn't pick her up; she just sits there, watching her, with that aching pain surrounding her like a bubble made of needles.
Daddy had already acted weird when he'd put her to bed earlier tonight, giving her extra hugs that were even tighter than usual; she's starting to really worry. It isn't the first time they let her spend a few days at Miss Sharp's house because they have 'important things to do', but she has never felt these kinds of vibes coming from either of her parents before.
"What's wrong?" she asks, and again, her small voice reflects not only her young age, but also a deeper comprehension no child of four should have.
She's always been special like that.
Mommy smiles again, but it is such a sad smile Etta really feels like crying now, even though she hates crying.
"I wanted to give you something before I left," she tells her softly. She opens her hand then, revealing the necklace that is normally always around her neck, hidden beneath her shirt; the one with the bullet.
Etta knows that necklace well, because whenever she's in mommy's arms, she often ends up pulling it out of its hiding place so she can play with it, making it roll between her tiny fingers. It's been there for as long as she can remember –which isn't long, young as she is, and it is really, really weird to see it in her hand instead of around her neck.
"But…it's yours," she tells her, honestly confused.
Her mom shakes her head slowly. "It's yours, too, sweetie," she says, her free hand now playing with Etta's hair, tucking messy 'bed-head' strands behind her ears. When she realizes that her daughter is simply more confused than before, she starts explaining: "When I was pregnant with you…someone shot me. I could have died, should have died, but I didn't. And to this day, I still believe it's because I had you inside of me. You were always my special girl. I want you to keep the bullet, so you'll always remember it."
This is one of the things she's always loved about her mother-how she rarely tries to make up silly stories to explain things, how she tells her the truth even though they both know she's way too young to understand most of them. She knows her dad doesn't really approve; he's always the one telling her bedtime stories about princesses and dragons, and how the princesses always 'kick butt' no matter what.
What her mom has just told her about the bullet still doesn't make much sense to Etta, but it doesn't really matter right now; once again, she finds herself simply too stunned by the strength of her mother's pain to be able to focus on anything else. When her mom moves with the intent of putting the necklace around her neck, Etta moves too, sitting up so she can place the chain over her head. It falls upon her chest, and it feels heavier than she thought it would.
Very soon, she's entrapped in mommy's arms, and just like daddy had, she's holding her too tightly.
"I love you so much…" she whisper's into her little girl's hair. Etta is so in tune with her that she knows right away that she's crying, mostly because she has started crying too, despite the fact that she still has no idea what's going on.
"I love you too, mama," she answers automatically, with that sweet authenticity that goes with being four. She is still completely bemused by her pain, and by her tears, because her mom so rarely cries.
It is a kind of pain she has never felt before, different from the one she had felt a few months ago in that alley, for example. This one is worse, rawer; it comes from a much deeper place, and all she wants to do is help her mom feel better.
As soon as she starts relaxing her embrace a little, Etta frees herself from her arms, pulling away just enough so she can bring her hands up and place them on mommy's face, the way she had that time her nose had been bleeding and she had felt so bad. She feels the wetness of her tears under her hands, still warm. She focuses, focuses hard, trying to make the pain go away.
But it remains just as throbbing.
Mommy smiles then, and even if it's mostly a sad smile, it feels more sincere this time. She mimics her, cupping her small face in both her hands, wiping her cheeks gently with her thumbs as she shakes her head almost imperceptibly.
"It won't work this time, baby girl…" she tells her softly, and there is a broken quality to her voice that scares Etta more than anything else right now.
Mommy leans down, pressing her lips to her temple, near the corner of her eye, the way she always does. One of her hands has left her face to rest on her back, stroking it slowly. When she speaks next, she does it directly into her ear.
"I want you to be very careful, Henrietta. Always listen to Nina, and don't…" she stops, taking a shaky breath, before straightening up slightly, her hand going back to her face and staring intently into her eyes. "Don't go looking for trouble, okay?" Etta frowns, not understanding, but before she can think of something to answer to this, her mom continues. "I know you are very, very brave, but these men out there are very dangerous, and you know it. You have the ability to hide from them. Use it. Use it whenever your instincts tell you to, you understand?"
Etta really doesn't, but she nods anyway, because what she understands is that her mom is almost breaking in half with worry and pain, and she thinks she's also starting to understand why.
"When are you coming back?" she asks in a very small voice, unable to keep her lower lip from trembling, and she feels like a cry-baby, but she really can't help it.
Mommy's face constricts in pain then, and she shakes her head slowly. "I don't want to lie to you, baby." She never does, and Etta loves her for that. "Daddy and I will be gone much longer than usual."
She doesn't throw a tantrum, doesn't beg her to take her with them, even though most children her age probably would have, even though part of her wants to. Because that feeling making it so hard to breathe doesn't only come from her mother anymore; it's her own fear, her own sadness. But she doesn't scream, nor beg, because she knows mommy isn't doing this because she wants to.
She's still overtaken with doubts, though, with the horrible sense that she will never see her mother again after tonight. "But…what if Miss Sharp moves? What if we go to another city while you're away? How will you find me?"
She's holding Etta's face very tightly now, and she brings her face even closer to hers as she says: "I will find you. When the time is right, I promise I will find you."
For weeks and weeks after that night, Etta would wonder if the right time would ever come, waiting for her parents to come back for her, for her mom to find her like she promised she would.
When months turn into years, she simply stops waiting, realizing they are now lost to her, like they are lost to the rest of the world.
Eventually, when a decade or two will have gone by, she will become the one looking for them.
But for a very long time before that, and for a long time after she begins searching, she feels like the lost one, too well hidden for her mother to find her.
After all, she has always been the best at Hide and Seek.
She stands unseen, like she often is.
The ceremony being finally over, what Olivia now witnesses is a gathering of small groups. Freshly graduated High School students meet up with their parents, siblings, and any other kinds of relatives. There are hugs, and flashes striking the air every two seconds, as pictures are taken everywhere. There are laughter, and squeals of excitement, protests from teenagers embarrassed by their family members' behaviors, and she thinks she hears some of them singing the school's hymn somewhere in the crowd.
Olivia starts to walk through this sea of family units, clenching her blue cap in one hand and her diploma in the other, unnoticed and completely alone. All she wants to do now is go back to her dorm, where she can change and start putting those years of boarding school behind her. In a few months, she'll be at Northwestern, another place where she'll let herself fade into the crowd; she's actually really looking forward to it. Here, she's always been an outcast, by the fact alone that she's a year younger than the other students of her promotion. Then, there is the fact that she's always been more interested in her studies than into sneaking alcohol into her room or talking about getting laid someday, and that apparently makes her look like an alien to her classmates.
Despite her careful efforts to try and navigate through the crowd unnoticed, there is a sudden motion to her left, another family backing off to be photographed, and as she steps aside to avoid a collision, she accidentally bumps into one of her fellow students, who ends up tripping on her gown, causing her cap to fall off.
"Seriously, Han, get a pair of glasses!" the brunette exclaims, as she readjusts her outfit, accepting the hat her mother is handing back to her.
"Oh come on, Stacy, it's a real jungle out there, I'm sure she didn't mean it," the father says, offering Olivia a smile that is kind enough, but she's already moving on, not even bothering with a pointless apology.
Maybe in a bad High School movie, she would have spent the next ten minutes with these people, being questioned about her life, and pitied over her obvious lack of family, and she would have daydreamed about being their daughter and being a happy cheerleader, while she and Stacy threw each other dirty looks fueled by years of disliking each other –for the dramatic effect.
She walks away without a second thought instead, while dear Stacy mutters "Whatever!" behind her.
She keeps on walking as if she didn't care at all, pretending it really doesn't matter how some of the parents present here have travelled hundreds of miles to be at their children's graduation. She tries her best, but ultimately, she cannot help but care.
She's a loner and always has been, actually enjoying being on her own most of the time. But on a day like this one, when the cliché concept of the happy family is rubbed in her face so obnoxiously everywhere she looks, it causes her insides to twist in the worst way.
Oh, she knows Rachel would have come if she had been given the chance. They don't see each other very often anymore, with her being in boarding school while her little sister stuck around with their latest foster family, which had been a good one, to be fair. They still talk every weekend, though, Olivia calling her every Sunday to check on her, making sure she's okay and studying as much as Rachel can ever motivate herself to study.
Rachel would have loved to come for sure, but she probably doesn't have more than ten bucks in her pocket right now, which she's likely saving to buy herself a new outfit or a makeup kit. There's no way she could have travelled a few hundred miles to be there today. And that's okay.
Long before she's out of the crowd, though, her throat starts to clench a bit too painfully, and she tries her very best to keep her eyes on the ground. But her gaze is inexorably drawn back up, always stopping on all these mothers, everywhere, women with teary eyes and rosy cheeks, and those giant grins plastered on their faces. They are all gazing down –or rather up- at their offspring, with so much pride in their eyes that it is nothing short of nauseating.
Olivia hides in the crowd, the way she always does, unseen and unimportant; alone.
As bile burns the back of her throat, she reminds herself for the hundredth time that even if her mom had been alive, she probably wouldn't have come anyway. Or if she had, they would both have felt awkward and out of place here, her mother's empty eyes a travesty compared to all these happy faces. Neither of them would have been able to even remember the last time they had hugged each other and really embraced one another.
Olivia has just graduated with honors, a year younger than the rest of her peers, and she has a good summer job already waiting for her. Yet, she knows with sickening certainty that there wouldn't have been a trace of that validation she would have been so desperately looking for in her mother's eyes.
Olivia became invisible to the rest of the world the day her mother stopped seeing her, and that had been years prior to her death, when she had let her own demons devour her from the inside out.
Why does she miss her so much right now then?
She knows why.
No matter how awkward they'd both have been, or how her mom would have been completely incapable of showing her the appreciation she needed, she would have been there. She misses her. She misses her mom, like she always does when forced to recognize her own orphan status, and the alienation it makes her feel.
Walking alone back to her dorm, her cap hanging at the end of her hand while the other clenches her brand new diploma, head bent down so the occasional passerby can't see the wet trails on her cheeks, she finds herself thinking what she always thinks every year on Mother's Day, or Christmas, or even that stupid 4th of July: she will never have children.
She doesn't want children.
There really is no point in perpetuating that messed up tradition.
She stands unseen, like she often is.
This month's Protocol Six is finally over, and what Etta now witnesses is the typical gathering of small groups, the way it always happens as soon as the Observers are gone. Parents run to their children, most of them crying, entrapping them in what looks like breathtaking embraces the instant they can get their hands on them. They move then, leaving the street in a hurry, most of them literally running, desperate to get back to the phony safety of their homes.
Etta never runs back home, mostly because she's not worried. She stands there in the open, hard to dismiss really, with her pale skin, her bright blond hair and piercing blue eyes. But the Observers' vacant eyes always skim over her with complete indifference, as if they don't really see her. While most of her peers are rightfully terrified of them, especially on a Protocol Six day, she's not.
Every third Friday of the month, they come into one of the few remaining Native schools of the city when classes are dismissed, and randomly pick a kid out of the crowd. They then Wipe this unlucky child until she or he bleeds to death on the ground. Since this has been going on for years, parents are always gathered at the gates on Fridays, any Friday of the month, in case the Observers decide to change their schedule –which is a stupid thing to think, because they really never do. Being huddled like that against the gates, the parents of the dying kid are always easy to spot because they are usually the ones screaming and begging, obviously.
Etta keeps thinking these people should be smart enough to shut their mouths, because as soon as they start acting up, they are automatically Wiped too; she guesses seeing your kid die, sometimes children no older than six or seven, tends to make you scream.
There is no escaping this, like there is no escaping all the other Protocols and endless Rules. Parents cannot even protect their children by keeping them away from school, because even though Natives are regulated by the Fringe Division, schools are closely supervised by the Observers; they control what is being taught, and who attends classes. If you don't send your kid to school on a Friday, your whole family ends up dead, and you becomes an example of what you should not do.
Etta hates this, of course. She hates many, many thing about the way their world is being ruled by the Observers, but Protocol Six has to be one of the most sadistic aspects of it.
It's also one of the smartest.
It is a clear and efficient threat to the Natives. They are basically reminding people of that one very basic fact: "Try to fight us, and we will kill your children."
Children always are people's biggest weakness in situations like this one, because they also are their only hope. They are their future. Or lack of one, really.
Miss Sharp gives her plenty of books to read, books she's not supposed to be reading, Old ones that have been forbidden; a couple of years ago, she had read a series about children being used like that, to keep people who were under a dystopian regime from rebelling, forcing these kids to kill each other in an arena, and that was exactly the same kind of statement they were making.
It's kind of creepy, the way fiction merges with reality. Etta also knows it would be highly unrealistic of her to hope for a rebellion here, because reality has a way of always sucking more than fiction.
She's not too worried about her own survival, though. The Observers never see her during Protocol Six, even when she ends up standing in the first row of the crowd of kids they always form. She often does, because she's tall for her age, and the other brave and tall ones –there aren't that many of them- always try to stand on the outside to keep the little kids on the inside.
That crowd is quickly dissipating now, as anxious and yet very relieved parents drag them away in a hurry. For a moment, she keeps her eyes on the three dead bodies on the ground. A girl and her parents; blood is still slowly coming out of their ears. That's when she notices that the mother's nose is bleeding, too. It probably got broken when she tried to fight her way to her daughter.
Something happens then, inside of her, something that hasn't happened in months, years, even. Suddenly, as if she had just been punched in the gut, she remembers something, fleetingly recalling her own mother's face with the same kind of injury. Even though the image is brief, she's left breathless for a moment.
Feeling shaky and uncharacteristically vulnerable standing there on her own now, only feet away from the bodies, she quickly starts to walk away, knowing that Fringe agents would soon be there to clean up the mess. They won't see her any more than the Observers do if she chooses them not to, but she simply cannot stand the sight of these dead people right now, of that mother with her broken nose and unseeing glassy eyes, lying atop her daughter's dead body.
It is as if even in death, she's still trying to shield her from harm.
She tries her best to shake off the uneasy, heavy feeling that has settled somewhere deep inside of her. But as she walks away with her shoulders hunched forward and her hands shoved in the pockets of her jacket, the way no eleven year old is supposed to walk -with the weight of loss and singularity heavy on her shoulders- her gaze keeps on falling back on these small groups of people, already getting lost in the distance.
Parents taking their kids home, where they can go back to their life of pretends. They'll pretend it's not that bad. They'll pretend that the next time the Observers stop at their child's school, it won't be their son's or daughter's turn to be picked.
Let them all hope, stupid fools. Let them all gather together, hug each other, comfort and protect each other. She doesn't need any of this, anyway, she's fine on her own.
Except that she's not, not really. It had been a while since she had felt like that, to the point of having that big, painful lump lodged in the back of her throat, and she doesn't like it at all. That's why she promptly decides to make a detour on her way back 'home', to Miss Sharp's residence.
Her ability to become invisible has a lot of advantages, one of them being that she can walk around with more freedom than any of her fellow Natives, and she has done a fair amount of walking around these past few years. There is this one building she likes best, only a few blocks away from where she lives; she likes it because she can climb all the way to the top using an old, rusty fire escape.
The climb is long and probably quite dangerous, but she's not the kind of girl who gets scared easily. She likes the thrill of it, too, of taking a risk, both with her feeble human mortality, and with the fact that she's breaking the Rules.
But what she loves the most is how once she's on top of the building, the whole city unfolds in front of her eyes. In the dimming light of day, she is able to see a glimpse of its former beauty.
She sits near the edge, unafraid of the height. Just like when she was a little girl, she sometimes feels like she could really fly, if she tried. She brings her legs up against her chest, hugging herself tightly as the wind makes her hair dance all around her head. Despite the fact that it's early May and the weather is far from being cold, she has started to shake again.
She feels so minuscule when she's up there. More importantly, she feels like she doesn't have to pretend, here, because this is a true hiding place, where you don't need to be special to disappear from the world; she knows no one will ever find her.
And that's kind of what's troubling her so much, what hurts so deeply.
She sees these parents again, in her mind's eyes, as they run to their children, embracing them with such sickening relief, and she hates them all.
Most of all, she hates her own parents.
It's been seven years since she has last seen them, and their faces are a blur in her mind, just like the city below her is now a blur in her misty eyes.
One of her hands has reached for her chest, clenching the bullet in a death grip, and not for the first time, she imagines herself pulling it off her neck, throwing it into the void beneath her with all her might.
You can have it back! she would scream at the top of her lungs. I don't want it anymore!
She never does it, though. Instead, she hugs herself harder, rocking slightly back and forth as she hides her face against her knees and lets the thick, expensive fabric of her pants soak up her tears, thinking about how much she hates them, both of them, having forgotten most of their features but never her mother's last words to her.
You promised, mommy, she thinks in agony. You promised you'd come and find me.
In moments like this one, when she truly feels like the orphan child that she is in this hard, unforgiving world, she truly hates them both.
Above all, she misses them.
She misses them terribly.
She breathes in deeply, as the pain finally begins to recede.
Olivia knows it's only temporary. After over four hours of this, she's starting to get the hang of it, though it does not mean she's okay with it, at all. With every passing minute and hour, she feels like she's slowly but surely being overtaken by something huge she has absolutely no control over, making her a mere spectator of her agony; yet, she has rarely felt so raw and aware of her own body and human condition. She feels out of control, and more vulnerable than she has been in years.
Basically, this sucks.
When she's positive that she can stand on her own again, she lets go of the tree she had been clinging to for dear life only moments ago. She doesn't even glance back at the car before getting her cell phone out of her pocket, ready to do what she has come here to do. Or as ready as she will ever get, anyway. After dialing the number, she brings the phone up to her ear, having turned around to lean heavily against the trunk, her free hand automatically coming to rest over the enormous bump that has replaced what used to be a lean stomach.
Unsurprisingly, an assistant answers the call.
"I would like to speak to Nina Sharp, please," she asks, and she sounds pathetically breathless.
"I'm afraid that won't be possible, Miss Sharp is currently-"
"Spare me the crap, I know she's not busy," Olivia cuts her off right away, having no time to spare indeed, knowing the next contraction will come too soon, and she would very much prefer if she could say what she wants to say before it happens. "Tell her it's Olivia Dunham, and that's she's in labor, that should make her pick up the call."
"Very well," the woman says, completely unbothered. "Please hold."
She does just that, head now thrown back against the trunk, too, eyes closed. She barely realizes that she has started to sway again, one of the few movements she finds soothing at this point, since the aches never completely disappear even when she's between contractions. She's glad to be out of the car, though; even though the ride had only been sixteen minutes long, the two contractions she experienced in there had not been fun. She stills again when Nina comes on the line.
"Olivia, are you alright?" She asks, not even trying to hide the worry in her voice. "Evelyn said you're in labor."
"I only told her that so she would forward the call," Olivia says, annoyed, for no legitimate reason at all, except for the fact that she has no control left over her emotions.
"So…you're not in labor."
"Oh, I am," Olivia says with a dry chuckle, before letting out a hiss, her daughter back to kicking her insides, as if she wasn't already uncomfortable enough.
"Shouldn't you…go to the hospital?" Nina sounds cautious now, obviously unwilling to unleash the tiger.
"We're right in front of the birth center," Olivia informs her. She skips the part where she explains that she decided months ago that she would rather not be forced to give birth in a hospital if she could help it, while not feeling confident enough to attempt a homebirth with a qualified midwife. The birth center turns out to be the perfect alternative, but she doubts Nina cares much about all that. "Peter is there, too, just waiting for me. I wanted to call you before I went in."
As she says those words, she does reopen her eyes, finally glancing at their car, in which Peter is still sitting. Through the windshield, she sees him staring at her with that same dark, disapproving look, while he distractingly chews on the nail of his thumb.
If it were up to him, she would already be in the building, naked and in the birthing pool or something, probably would have been for the past three hours. But as it so happens, this is not up to him at all, and since she has been very aware of the progression of her labor, her midwife has suggested that she stayed home for as long as possible before coming in. When she had asked Peter to wait in the car while she made that phone call she needed to make, he hadn't had any other choice but to agree –or rather obey.
"What can I do for you, then?" Nina asks her, cordially enough.
Olivia briefly bites her lip, trying to muster the courage to dive in and say what she wants to say. It turns out to be much harder than she expected, though, and it isn't that surprising; she has never been one to easily talk about her fears and insecurities, and she already feels so exposed and raw right now that she's afraid this is going to cause her to simply breakdown on that lawn.
The truth is, she really is terrified, and she desperately needs to talk to someone about these fears. Peter would listen and care if she confided in him, the way he always does, but she knows this is simply something he cannot fully comprehend. Not the way Nina can.
"I wish I remembered," she says at last, and the words come out too fast, almost in a panic. She closes her eyes again, going back to taking long and deep breaths, her hand still spread over her round stomach. Her baby girl is still kicking, as if she was getting really impatient now and just wanted to be out. Olivia needs her to remain in there a little bit longer though, even if she's already over a week overdue.
"You wish you remembered…what, sweetheart?" Neither of them misses the slip.
It had been almost a year now since she had last called Olivia anything but her name, even going with 'Agent Dunham' at times when acting particularly coldly towards her. However, the current situation and Olivia's obvious distress seem to have caused the motherly side of her to resurface.
And that is exactly why Olivia had needed to call her.
Her infuriating sense of helplessness worsens when she feels tears already building up under her closed eyelids, forcing her to scrunch up her face almost as if in pain again to keep them from rolling down. She's really looking forward to that time in a distant future when her hormones will settle down again.
"I wish I remembered…the years we spent together," she admits in a thick voice. "You, taking care of me and Rachel."
Like she expected, there is silence at the other end of the line, and she can't help but feel a twinge of guilt. It had been her choice, after all; even if she probably couldn't have stopped the overwriting of this timeline's memories if she had wanted to, she had accepted it and chosen to remember another life in which Nina had never become her guardian. And she doesn't regret her decision. The feel alone of her child inside of her is more than enough reason why she knows she chose right.
It doesn't mean she hasn't lost precious things along the way.
"You…were at my High School graduation, weren't you?" Olivia asks her, when it becomes clear that Nina is not going to talk.
"I was," she confirms quietly after another few seconds of silence. "Rachel and I both were. I embarrassed you quite a bit, actually, praising your prowess to any parent who happened to be within my reach, when all you wanted to do was go home and change."
She hears the smiles in Nina's voice, and finds herself smiling too, though it is a very bittersweet smile, one that vanishes very quickly, because the recollection she has of this is too faint, too insubstantial.
"That's the thing…" she says so softly that her voice is almost down to a whisper, "I can remember you being there, like I can remember pieces of everything else but…there's no feeling attached to these memories; it's like they aren't even mine, more like traces of someone else's dreams. I don't know what it felt like, to have you there. What I remember of my High School graduation is how lonely I felt, because my mom had already been dead for three years by then, and I was on my own. But even when she was alive, she and I just weren't-" She wipes the tears off her cheeks with an impatient hand, taking a shaky breath before trying again. "I'm really not one for self-pity, but I have to be realistic. I've studied enough, and seen enough to know that some dynamics repeat themselves from generation to generation, and I-"
This time, what stops her is the inevitable return of a pain she should have been expecting, especially since her baby has gone still for the past thirty seconds, always an infallible sign of an upcoming contraction. The cramp knocks all the air out of her lungs, and she barely manages to groan "holdonaminute" into the phone before the tree she is leaning against becomes her only solace again.
And again, on top of the very real and physical sensation of being torn apart, she feels like she's being vigorously scraped raw to the core with some potent sandpaper, until she has nothing left to hide behind. No more anger, no more cool practicality.
She is just one scared woman burdened with too many issues, having to face the looming menace of impending failure.
Her tears have taken advantage of this moment of vulnerability and total incapacity to start running down her face completely freely now, and even when the pain subsides at last, they do not.
She keeps on clinging to that tree desperately as she tries to slow her breathing down, her entire body shaking quite noticeably now, and she knows she shouldn't wait much longer before getting inside that building. But she's completely incapable of moving, even if only to turn around and mention to Peter to come and help her, paralyzed by her terror.
All she manages to do is bring the phone back to her ear, and when she speaks, she sounds everything like the lost child she once was, and never really ceased to be.
"I don't know if I can do this. I don't think I'll be a good mother, I'm too messed up. What if I screw her up?"
"Oh Olive…" is all Nina can say at first, obviously moved by her distress, "Sweetheart, don't say that. Yes, it's been statistically proven that it's impossible for parents not to wrong their children at least once in their life, but when it comes to repeating the same negative patterns, I think its utter nonsense, especially in your case. And I really wished you remembered, too, because then you would remember how much you taught me what it meant to be a good mother."
Sniffing a bit pathetically, Olivia frowns. "What do you mean?"
Nina sighs, then. It isn't an exasperated kind of sigh, more one that indicates that she's recalling something that holds a lot of meaning to her. "You have to remember that when I decided to take you and your sister under my care, I was already well in my forties, and my entire adult life had been devoted to my work. You and Rachel had been through so much already, and your mother had just passed away. I was…panicked, for lack of a better word. Not even two weeks after you arrived, Rachel became sick. Nothing really serious, just a bug that was going around, but to me, it was the most terrifying thing that could have happened. When you realized I had no idea what to do, you joined me and took over, feeding her, helping her bathe, staying at her bedside, until you were confident that I could do it on my own. And that's the way you were about everything. Olivia…" She sighs again, and there is so much warmth and confidence in her voice now. "There never was a trace of doubt in my mind that you were always meant to be a mother, and a fine one."
It takes Olivia a few moments to be able to speak again, once again overwhelmed by her emotions. Even when she manages to regain some control, all she can do is whisper her next words into the phone. "I'm scared."
"Of course you are." Nina's voice remains warm and kind. Motherly. "But you know what else you and your sister taught me? You taught me that while there is nothing quite as terrifying as being responsible for a child, there's also absolutely nothing that compares to that kind of love. Loving a child…it's extraordinary, and what's even more incredible is the way they love you back. But I'm sure you know that. You and your daughter will have something very special. You probably already do."
There really is no better word to describe the nature of the bond Olivia feels does exist between her and the child who has been growing inside of her for so many months.
And she really cannot thank Nina enough for reminding her of that, and for everything else she said. She feels calmer than she has in ages, despite the fact that she cannot be more than a couple of hours away from giving birth. Another contraction begins then, as if to prove a point.
Even if it keeps on stripping her of her every defense, like it has for the past few hours, this time, she doesn't feel completely powerless either, filled with a renewed desire to fully surrender to it and help her baby be born.
Once she can speak again, she does offer a few weak thanks to Nina, who seems to realize that she is now way too focused on what she's going through to be able to talk anymore, because after wishing her the best of luck, she lets her go.
Olivia finally looks back at the car, only noticing now that Peter has actually stepped out of it at some point, though he hasn't come any closer. He looks almost in pain himself, forced to stay away from her while she was obviously going through some intense physical and emotional distress.
But she's ready to let him in again, just like she's as ready as she will ever be to welcome her daughter. So she gestures to him at last, letting him know that he can join her.
She's very glad when he does.
She breathes in deeply, as the pain finally begins to recede.
Quite honestly, it doesn't exactly make her feel better. Coming out of unconsciousness to find out that you have a splitting headache and a general body ache is never enjoyable. She cannot contain a low groan of pain when she tries to raise a hand to her head, stopping mid-movement and letting it fall back limply upon her leg. That's when she becomes aware of the vibrations.
She's back in the car.
"Everything's okay, Etta," Simon says just then, his voice coming from the driver's side. She notices right away that it's not a question but an affirmation, which instantly and brutally brings her back to the present.
She finally opens her eyes, swallowing back the brief nausea that follows when she forces her brain to focus on more than her own body. She turns her pounding head to the side to look at Simon, who seems as grave and alert as ever.
"What happened?" She manages to mumble, grimacing in discomfort when her hand goes up for attempt number two, and she touches the throbbing side of her head. She feels blood under her fingertips, followed by a new flash of pain, which somehow succeeds in waking her up completely, all the while making most of her body go numb.
"You hit your head pretty hard," Simon says. She would have rolled her eyes if she hadn't felt so shitty; that much she had deducted on her own. "Had to carry you back to the car, though we can pretend it never happened, like that time I didn't save your arse in Chicago...or that other time in Detroit I hallucinated. How are you feeling?"
"Like someone who just hit her head pretty hard," she grunts grimly as the car jerks, thinking that now really isn't a good time for him to be reminding her of all the times he has indeed saved her arse. She's really never been good at letting people save her; she likes to do her own arse-saving.
He's really driving fast, she realizes then, almost as if they were on the run. Which, all things considered, they probably are.
She suddenly straightens up, only to be blocked by her seatbelt, which in turn causes her to let out another grunt. Moving more carefully, she stretches her neck to look at the back seat, expecting to see more people in the car. "Where are the others?"
"In the van," Simon replies, taking a rather sharp right turn. "They needed the medical equipment in there."
Etta remembers almost everything now, despite the fuzzy quality of it all; she also feels like she really might get sick soon if Simon doesn't slow down. But all of that seems very irrelevant now, her thoughts focused on one single thing; inside her chest, her heart is suddenly thumping madly.
"We got her out, didn't we? She's out?" She instantly dislikes how anxious she sounds, but she cannot exactly help it.
For a second, she thinks he's going to turn his head towards her, and his face is going to be even sterner than his usual 'Agent' mask, the way it always is when he has to deliver bad news; he's going to tell her their plan has failed.
But when he briefly glances at her, there's a hint of a smile on his lips. "We got her out," he confirms. "And Doctor Bishop said she should be okay."
Etta slumps back into her seat, letting out a loud sigh of relief. When she closes her eyes, fragments of what happened earlier begin to flash in her mind. She thinks it might have been a technical functionality that sent her flying that way just when they were getting her mother out of the Amber.
She doesn't care much about the why at the moment, because what she sees now is what she had seen then.
She and her mother had fallen to the ground almost at the same time, only separated by a few feet. And a second before people started rushing over to inject her, Simon already reaching for Etta, her mother had briefly opened her eyes.
Their gazes had met in that semi-conscious state they had both been in, and Etta knows that during that fleeting instant, they had recognized each other for who they were.
"Are we being chased?" she finds herself asking Simon then, her voice slightly hoarse.
"We should be in the clear," he says. "But after what happened last week, we all figured a swift exit was safer."
Etta realizes that she simply cannot bring herself to discuss the details of what happened today, or last week, or the week before that. Her head simply throbs too much, and her heart is still racing, unable to think about anything else but that exchanged look and everything that is to come. She decides it is safer to simply remain quiet and to close her eyes, focusing on keeping her emotions -and stomach- under control, as she waits for them to reach their hideout.
Unsurprisingly, the van has made it back first; it's a common trick when you're trying to confuse anyone who might be chasing you: if you have more than one vehicle, always go separate ways. The other group had taken the fastest road, for obvious reasons.
They find Astrid less than two minutes after getting back inside, and she informs them that everything has actually gone exceptionally well.
"Olivia is still unconscious, but Walter is positive that she'll be fine," she tells Etta with a reassuring smile; the rims of her eyes look red, as if she had been crying.
Etta can understand. From what -little- they have told her, she knows her mother was gone for quite a while before they all ended up trapped in Amber. Having waited two decades to get her back, she definitely can relate.
Astrid's smile falters a little when she takes in the bloody gash on her temple. "You should get to the infirmary, too," she says, pointing at her wound. "That needs to be cleaned out."
She should, indeed. After all, both her parents are in there right now, together, something she hasn't witnessed in twenty years.
Isn't it what she has been waiting for, for so long? After years of searching, she's finally getting her family back, almost all at once. It had started with her grandfather, swiftly followed by her father and Astrid; she truly had felt almost ecstatic with relief and joy that night. And now, after she and her father went back to get Simon two weeks ago, they have just succeeded in getting her mother out of the Amber, too. By all means, she should be absolutely thrilled right now.
Except she isn't.
She is relieved, there is no doubt about it. But her thrill has suddenly been replaced by something close to fear, a reaction she really hadn't expected.
"I'll get in there soon," she lies to Astrid with a fake smile. "We need to make sure we weren't followed, though, I'll check the perimeter."
"I can do that, you should-" Simon's attempt is quickly cut off by one of her famous cold stares, and he knows better than to argue with her right now.
Etta goes into their 'control room', and stays in there. They have hideouts all over the city, but this is one of their best; it is well equipped, well hidden, and actually has an infirmary and a working kitchen. Cameras are hidden all around the building, and she spends a ridiculously long time standing there, despite her aching body, checking the screens without really seeing them.
She knows they haven't been followed, and she fully realizes that what she's doing has another name. It's called hiding.
She's not even surprised when Simon joins her after a while; he always finds her hiding places.
She exchanges a brief look with him, before bringing her eyes back to the screens.
"Your mum's awake," he says then, coming to stand beside her. She looks at him again, just as he crosses his arms over his chest and starts staring attentively at the screens, in a very good imitation of what she's been doing. If she hadn't been busy feeling like her heart was suddenly attempting to escape her body through her throat, she probably would have punched his shoulder not so gently for the way he is mocking her.
She swallows hard instead, taking a steadying breath. It doesn't do much; her voice still sounds a bit off when she asks: "She is?"
He nods, glancing at her with a small, friendly smile. "Haven't talked to her, though, she's still in the infirmary with your dad."
She nods, too, but she quickly averts her eyes again, bringing them back to the screens, even though there truly isn't anything to see on there.
"You should really take care of that wound," he says, next.
"It's not bleeding anymore," she contests, quite pointedly.
"It might get infected."
"I already got one over-protective father back, in case you hadn't noticed in the past two weeks," she almost snaps, offering him a sideway glare.
She can immediately tell that he doesn't exactly approve of how she's insinuating he's acting like he could be her father. It's that much more inappropriate considering the nature of their relationship, which cannot be farther from a father/daughter relationship at times, particularly whenever their crazy lives allow them to try and have some normal human interactions together, like flirting.
"Sorry," she apologizes, recognizing that it had been a terrible comment. "My head's killing me."
Like it could excuse everything, really.
"One more reason why you should get your snappy arse in there," he insists, now sounding like her boss again. "I would offer to clean it myself, but I'm afraid you might cut off one of my hands if I dare try."
She smiles slyly at him. "See, you're learning."
For a moment, they simply stare at each other, and even though they both keep on smiling softly, she quickly realizes she's not fooling him. She feels like he's reading right through her, something he's always been a little too good at. Even if it is one of those things that make him particularly irresistible, it also tends to make her feel a bit too vulnerable. Which is why she eventually averts her eyes again.
She doesn't bother pretending there is anything interesting on these screens anymore, though. She simply lowers her gaze, her smile soon disappearing completely.
Soon, his shoulder is bumping hers gently. "What are you so scared of?" He asks quietly.
Her breathing briefly hitches, but she's quite good at looking perfectly composed when she actually feels like she might fall apart at any moment. She raises her head, looking up at him. "I'm not scared," she says a bit defiantly.
He tilts his head, offering her a look. She's really not fooling him.
She shrugs, then, definitely feeling too exposed now. And most definitely scared. "I just…" she swallows with some difficulty, "It's been a long time."
"It had been a long time with your dad, too" Simon says, still speaking quietly. "I mean, I was too busy being Ambered for a week to see how you were behaving around each other at first, but if the way the two of you are acting together now is any indication, I'm sure everything will go well with your mum."
Etta is now nibbling on the inside of her lip, eyes lost in the distance, and she briefly shakes her head.
"Things are different between me and my mom."
"What d'you mean?" He asks, curiously.
She can't explain it, mostly because she's not sure what she means by this herself. Spending so much time with her father these past few weeks has helped her regain some of her childhood memories, especially since he's very fond of telling embarrassing stories about her two or three-year-old self, but there still are so many missing pieces.
What she knows on a fundamental level though is that the relationship she used to have with her mom was…special.
And she cannot stop thinking about the shadow that always crosses her father's face whenever she probes him about what they had done between the time she had last seen them and the time they had been Ambered. She has gotten a general explanation to why her mother had been Ambered on her own instead of with the rest of them, but none of them are really willing to talk about the real reasons, least of all her dad.
From what little she has gotten out of him on the matter, she has understood that her mother apparently did not deal well with having left her behind.
Well, Etta hasn't dealt well with having been left behind either.
It is one of the many reasons why she finds it so hard to go into the infirmary now. And with every minute she spends here instead of there, it becomes more difficult for her to imagine them sharing the kind of spontaneous reunion she'd had with her father.
She can't stay here, though; Simon is going to nudge her until she either gets her gun out or caves in, and neither of these choices is appealing.
That is why she lies to him again, telling him she's going to go take care of that cut. The cut part isn't a lie. She is going to take care of it; she's simply not going to do it in the infirmary.
The lie comes from the unsaid, because what she insinuated was that she was going to confront her fears head on and meet with her long-lost mother, when what she does instead is what she often does.
Because inside of her, there still is a little girl waiting for her mother to come find her.
Everything is quiet and dark.
After the intensity of the previous day, Olivia is grateful for the silent night that envelops both her and her child. She walks slowly; at first, it is mostly because she is mindful of her very sore body. The longer she paces with the sleeping infant in her arms, the less she even feels these aches, though, as if they were fading away. Her slow pace soon becomes natural, the way every parent moves when holding their sleeping child.
They had left the birth center in the late afternoon, only a blessed five hours after she had given birth, and Olivia fell asleep the moment her head touched her pillow. She wasn't surprised in the least to find out a few hours later that Peter hadn't slept at all, keeping a vigilant eye on their daughter, who had just started fussing again, and only because she was hungry. As she was still a complete novice when it came to breastfeeding, she had told him to go to sleep now, knowing from their previous attempt that it would take them a while. He had complied without much protest, soon collapsing upon their bed.
The feeding was slightly more successful than the first time around, but Henrietta had gone back to sleep after only a few minutes of tentative drinking, apparently feeling as exhausted as her mother. Olivia doesn't blame her; it had been one hell of a ride.
One of the most rewarding of her life, too.
She has been asleep for a while now, and Olivia knows she should put her back down and get more sleep herself while she can. But it appears that she is completely incapable of separating herself from her child for the time being. She is now curled up against her chest, her face pressed into the crook of her neck. Her midwife told her it is one of every newborn's favorite spots, because their mother's scent is the strongest there. It's obviously true, because her daughter seems to have gone into a deep slumber ever since she placed her there.
Nobody had warned Olivia about how much she would love it, though. With her face nestled there, she feels her fast, steady breath against her skin, and she's able to keep her nose close to her baby's head, finding herself equally intoxicated with her scent. Realistically, she should have expected this, this feeling. But having spent most of her pregnancy worrying about not feeling like an adequate mother once her daughter was born, she wasn't prepared for this. She started to love her the moment she realized she was pregnant, but this is something else.
She is utterly and profoundly in love with her daughter, with her smell, her touch, every inch of her pressed against her own body, and she feels like she could burn the world down for her –literally.
The only negative aspect of having her sleeping in that position is that she cannot see her, and as it turns out, Olivia cannot go more than a short amount of time before she has to look at her.
Gently so as not to wake her up –though she doubts anything can right now- she slowly moves her from her neck to the crook of her arm, where she fits just as perfectly. She is so, so small, despite the fact that she was overdue; the newborn sized onesie they have put her in looks too big on her, but she has the most adorable chubby cheeks to prove that she did spend some extra time in there. She already looks like Peter.
She's tiny, but absolutely perfect, evidently the most beautiful baby to ever be born according to her father. Olivia inwardly agrees wholeheartedly.
She lightly traces the smooth skin of her face with a finger, basking in that love hormone called oxytocin. It is the kind of feeling that makes you believe for a while that absolutely everything will be okay, and that nothing wrong will ever happen to any of your loved ones. It also eases brand-new, worried mothers into realizing they might not do such a bad job at raising their child after all.
Truthfully, there is nothing quite like having successfully pushed a seven pounds and a few ounces human being out of you without any pain medication to make you feel like you can pretty much accomplish anything.
It doesn't make years of insecurities disappear, though. Even through the soft, hazy veil of love that is distorting her every thought, the same doubts prevail, no matter what. It's always that same fear of not being good enough. Now more than ever, having just become a parent, she understands where these fears take their root.
Even though one birthday has gone by and she has gotten the confirmation that he really is gone, here in this timeline, it doesn't miraculously erase her deepest scars. She still hears his voice, like she inexorably will for the rest of her life whenever she doubts herself.
She remembers it in the look he had given her the night she had failed to kill him, and she feels it in the memory of her mother, who had never felt strong enough to fight back, never strong enough to fight for her.
But at that instant, Olivia knows Nina is right. She doesn't have to repeat the same pattern, and she already knows there is no way she ever could.
She will fight for her child.
Maybe she won't be a perfect mother, but she doesn't have to be a bad one either. She will try her very best, because she deserves nothing less.
For her, she is willing to do anything.
What she doesn't know yet is that anything will eventually lead her to make the hardest decision of her life; she will have to let go of her child in order to protect her.
But she doesn't know it, yet. Thank god she doesn't know.
Right now, she's still all hers, her own flesh and blood, the result of a love that is honest and true.
Lowering her head, Olivia presses a soft kiss on her baby's temple, her lips brushing the corner of her eye. She lingers there for a moment, as she inhales her scent again, and let's herself drown, drown, drown...
"I'll try, baby girl…" she murmurs against her velvety skin. "I'll try for you."
Everything is quiet and dark.
Etta has chosen this particular bathroom because she knew there was a first aid kit in here. Incidentally, this bathroom also happens to be the farthest away from the infirmary.
She truly enjoys the silence and dim lighting, though, as her head still throbs rather insistently, and her brain is grateful for the absence of any unnecessary stimuli. However, the lack of light quickly becomes a problem, as she has yet to develop the ability to clean wounds in the dark.
She turns the light on over the sink, and her head protests at the sudden attack of clarity by pounding even more furiously; she ignores the complaint, just like she keeps on ignoring everything in her currently screaming in distress, because both her parents are in this very building, especially her mother whom she hasn't seen in twenty years, and yet, she still stubbornly refuses to do anything but hide in the dark.
Grimacing at her reflection, she examines her wound; it does look quite nasty. She also looks generally dreadful, her little fainting spell having done nothing to help her face get some color back; it has actually managed to make the dark circles under her eyes even more prominent. She has been working so hard on planning out their 'rescuing mission' that she hasn't gotten much sleep these past few days.
And this is how she rewards herself.
Right now, she feels as pathetic as she looks.
She eventually gets the kit out and begins to tend her cut. The blood has traced dark lines all the way down from her temple to the lowest part of her jaw; it has clotted over the laceration, which means she has to clean it all off if she wants to avoid infection or a bad scar.
It is a slow and painful task. She is so focused on what she is doing, and on swearing profusely under her breath every time she touches raw flesh, that she does not immediately realize she's not alone anymore.
Her instincts do kick in after a while, making the hair on the back of her neck prickle, and she instinctively turns away from the mirror to see what has caused it.
Her mother is standing in the doorway.
To be precise, she's not exactly standing, as she's obviously leaning most of her weight against the frame, holding on to it with one hand; these are clear signs indicating that she should probably still be in the infirmary. But she's not.
She's in the doorway, and she's staring at her.
She's staring at Etta with a keen intensity she's suddenly remembering from her childhood, and quite vividly. The small prickles she had felt on the back of her neck immediately spread to the rest of her body, until every inch of her is covered with goose bumps.
There also is a look of bewilderment on her face that isn't entirely new to Etta; it had taken days for her father to stop looking at her that way, and even now, she sometimes catches him staring at her like that when he thinks she's not going to notice. It makes her feel incredibly self-conscious, but realistically, she knows she doesn't look anything like the four-year-old they had last seen, and that seeing her as a grown woman is going to take them some getting used to.
After all, she will need time to get used to this. In all these years, her parents haven't changed at all, and yet, she finds herself completely stunned.
This is probably why she's staring back at her mother with such wide eyes, suddenly glad lungs are made to function on their own, because she would definitely have forgotten to breathe for a while there.
Her mother is the first to speak. When she does, her voice is soft, and it sounds as dazed as she looks.
"I was looking for you."
Spending years working with Simon has made her prone to coming up with quick and witty replies, comments that usually escape her mouth so fast she rarely has time to think them through.
What she almost answers is:'Well, you obviously found me.'
She never utters these words, though, because the moment they cross her mind, she becomes aware of their full meaning, and she actually does forget to breathe for a few seconds.
You found me
She has no idea what emotion her face decides to display as a result, but it causes her mother's face to constrict slightly. Then, when she realizes Etta isn't going to speak, she smiles softly.
There is something inexplicably sad in that smile.
"Your father highly suggested I went after you," Olivia says, still very quietly, as if afraid of speaking any louder. "He said you have apparently inherited my…'tendency to retreat when faced with emotional situations', to quote his words. He also said that if I didn't come to you, we would spend the next few days avoiding each other."
Despite the fact that she is still definitely shell-shocked, Etta feels a smile pull at the corners of her mouth. Her eyes also begin to prickle alarmingly, not to mention the way her heartbeat has become completely erratic. There is simply too much truth in her mother's words, and she doesn't know what moves her the most, the fact that her dad already understands her so well, or the fact that she now knows who she has gotten this trait from.
Then of course, there is the fact that her mother is standing only a few feet away from her, and it is not a dream.
She wants to speak now, she really wants to get a grip on herself and speak back. Maybe she should tell her that from what she remembers of her childhood, and she's remembering more by the minute, she's pretty sure her mother is the one who taught her how to hide.
"He's very perceptive," is what Etta says instead, with a voice that sounds horribly hoarse, and she seriously cannot remember having ever felt that shaky before.
At her words, Olivia's smile actually widens for a moment, and Etta wonders again how someone can look so sad while smiling.
"He always was," she nods, with genuine affection. "It's reassuring to see some things haven't changed."
This innocent remark unexpectedly sends a jolt of pain through Etta's chest, and she actually has to grip the edge of the sink for support, her legs having apparently changed into cotton in the past two minutes. She quickly averts her eyes, swallowing hard.
Her mother probably hadn't meant to make it sound like she was talking about her, but there is no denying the fact that Etta obviously is one of the things that has changed the most in the past twenty years. And she cannot do anything to calm the renewed fear in her heart, the doubts and insecurities that have everything to do with how she desperately wishes to have her mother back, but she has to face the hard reality that twenty years separate them now.
There is almost nothing left of the little girl she was when they had last seen each other. She probably imagined she would turn out much differently.
One thing for sure, nothing could have prepared Etta for her mother's next words.
"You probably hate me."
Her voice is barely louder than a whisper now, and there is such a note of pained certainty in her tone that Etta suddenly feels like she's been stabbed in the guts.
When she swiftly raises her head to look back at her, all traces of a smile is gone from Olivia's lips, and what she had heard in her voice is displayed all over her face.
She looks…heartbroken, really.
Etta just feels stunned all over again.
"Why would I hate you?" she asks very quietly, barely hearing her own words over the sounds of her heart, thumping so furiously against her ears.
Olivia briefly pinches her lips together, before shaking her head almost imperceptibly with another one of her painful smiles; it is clear that she's feeling too much right now to be able to speak, least of all explain herself.
Etta feels equally overwhelmed, truth be told; right now, she can barely stand the pain emanating from her mother. She hasn't realized yet that they are both starting to become attuned to each other's feelings already.
All Etta knows is that she needs to speak, because she needs to make the pain stop.
"I don't hate you," she tells her softly, and truthfully, because she really doesn't. But… "Not anymore, anyway," she continues jokingly, with a smile that is ultimately more bitter than sweet. "You should have seen me ten years ago, though. I went through that phase when I was angry all the time and hated absolutely everything and everyone. That's about when Nina's hair turned white."
Her feeble attempt at being humorous is lost, though. For one thing, she realizes now that her mom hasn't seen Nina Sharp in twenty years, so she has no idea what she's talking about.
There is also the fact that they are both acutely aware of how Olivia was indeed not there to witness and deal with her daughter's mood swings through the years, and there really is nothing funny about that.
There is too much pain in her mother's eyes, just like there is pain in Etta's heart, and she feels stupid for having said that at all. The truth is she had been angry, so angry.
It had started in her early teens, and she was closer to being sixteen than fifteen when she had finally begun to calm down. It had been mostly thanks to Simon, whom she had first met around that time.
He had already been part of the Fringe Division back then, though obviously not as highly ranked. The reason they had met was because at the time, Etta had been very busy being a lone rebel, and a reckless one. She had been taking advantage of the fact that her abilities made her essentially uncatchable to create as much chaos as she possibly could, being angry instead of being smart.
Being a Fringe Agent and part of the real Resistance, he had been aggravated and rightfully annoyed by her recklessness, that much had been clear on the night he had actually managed to 'catch' her.
That's what had been so different about Simon from the start. He had seen her, when she had been invisible to so many for years.
He had also been ten years younger than he is now, which explains quite well why Etta had developed such a strong crush on him back then. And she had known they understood each other on an unspoken level the moment he had asked her where her parents were.
"Gone," she had simply replied.
And he had said just as solemnly: "Yeah, mine too."
Then, he had asked her to stop trying to piss off the Observers.
It wasn't long before he was encouraging her to put her talents to better use by joining the Resistance, and by the age of nineteen, she was becoming an official Fringe Agent. Feeling useful and less alone had helped her find some peace of mind. And when she had learned about the legendary Missing Team and realized that these people sounded just like the missing pieces of her heart, she had found her purpose.
Trying to find her family had shaped most of her adult life. She guesses it's natural to feel so shaken after having succeeded in her quest.
Everything is simply a bit too overwhelming now, and the growing tension between her and her mother in the aftermath of her 'little joke' only makes it worse. This shouldn't be so hard and awkward. And yet, it most definitely is.
Unable to hold her mother's gaze any longer, Etta turns her eyes back to the mirror, hardly seeing her reflection. She's just desperate for a distraction at this point, needing something to do, instead of simply standing there gawkily. Obviously, she had been right to worry, things are too broken between them to be fixable, and she really just wants to go hide somewhere else now.
She raises the gauze back to her cut with trembling fingers instead, resuming her cleaning; she barely even feels the sting of the antiseptic anymore, most of her body having gone numb again.
"Can I help you with that?"
Etta looks back at her mother; she looks as uncomfortable as she feels which is both reassuring and disheartening. She also looks very pale, and Etta thinks again that she probably should go back to the infirmary. But she's obviously trying to reach out for her, trying to push past both their tendencies to 'retreat' indeed, even when they are in same room.
The last thing she wants to do is make things more difficult than they already are.
"Sure," she eventually breathes out, briefly thinking about the look there would be on Simon's face if he could see her accepting help willingly.
Looking around, it quickly becomes obvious that there aren't many places for them to sit beside the edge of the old, rusty bathtub. Etta sits down, and very soon, Olivia joins her, her movements slow and careful. Etta hands her the gauze she was using, feeling terribly shaky again, with her mother sitting so close to her.
She tries to keep her eyes down, but when one of Olivia's hands gently touches the uninjured side of her face, her gaze is drawn back up, finding herself staring directly into her mother's eyes.
She looks so young, an inevitable after-affect of the Amber. In comparison to the youth still present in her every trait in spite of her evident exhaustion, her eyes -which are a startling golden-green- look almost ancient.
She has the eyes of someone who has lived more than one lifetime, and who's being haunted by every single one of them.
The most troubling thing of all is the way she's staring back at her with a look Etta knows only a mother can give. She's seeing right through her, and studying every detail of her face with barely concealed awe. All of a sudden, all Etta is able to feel is the warmth that seems to be growing where her fingers rest on her cheek.
Once again, she's so overwhelmed by it all that she can barely breathe. She forces herself to drop her eyes, aware that the lump now blocking her throat probably is the premise to a massive breakdown, truly feeling like an over-emotional child at that instant.
After a moment, Olivia begins cleaning her wound; she does it with such delicacy that Etta almost wants to tell her that she's doesn't have to be so careful, that she's had much worse, and that she's definitely not four anymore. She remains quiet, though, because part of her is almost entranced, having forgotten what it felt like, to be taken care of that way.
She cannot help but wince in pain when she starts cleaning the deepest part of the cut, though.
"I'm sorry," Olivia says, and she sounds so remorseful indeed that Etta realizes right away she's not simply referring to her flesh wound.
She forces herself to look back at her, and her heart breaks a little more when she sees the pain constricting her mother's face.
"It's okay," she tells her softly, and she means it. There really isn't anything they can do about the years they have lost. All she wants is for her mom to understand that, to understand that she's not bitter or angry.
Right now, she can hardly make herself believe this is really happening, and her mother's pain is like a sharp knife that keeps on slashing her insides, creating hundreds of invisible wounds.
Olivia shakes her head, then. "It's not okay," she whispers with a hint of despair. "You were alone for twenty years."
Etta forces herself to smile, which results in something close to a grimace, because in reality, she is much closer to tears than anything else. "I was always well protected," she says, trying to put conviction in her words. "That's a luxury few people have in our world these days."
But Olivia shakes her head again, obviously refusing to accept this as a valid alternative, and when she tells her so, her voice is almost breaking with emotion. "You deserved more than being simply protected." She has dropped the gauze, and she's now bringing her second hand to her face, cupping both her cheeks; her eyes are shining with tears she can barely keep in. "I became an orphan when I was fourteen, I know that feeling safe doesn't make up for having parents who nurture you."
Etta tries to turn her face away when she feels the first traitorous tears roll down her cheeks, the knife having hit home this time, reopening wounds that never had a chance to heal. But her mother's grip on her face is too firm, and she has no other choice but to look back at her, unable to hide from her anymore.
"I'm so sorry, baby…" she whispers with painful difficulty."When you were born…I promised myself I would try my best not to do to you what my mom did to me, and now look at us…"
Etta thinks she understands now, what she had meant earlier when she had said she must hate her, and it takes all of her willpower not to yield to the pain, hers and her mother's. She fights to remain composed long enough to say what she needs to say.
"I don't...blame you," Etta articulates eventually, silently begging her mom to believe her. "I won't lie and say that it wasn't hard, living without you and dad, or that I didn't feel like you had abandoned me at times. But I survived, and I grew up. I grew up in a world where people don't even have the freedom of thought anymore, where kids have to watch their parents be killed in the street, or the other way around. I know you and dad left me with Nina to protect me, and I know you were trying to find a way to get rid of the Observers."
She even manages a smile then, telling her in all honesty: "I'm just grateful to have you and dad back. Most people never get that kind of second chance." And her voice breaks when she says: "I've missed you, mom."
This seems to be the permission Olivia was waiting for, because very soon, she's pulling her face closer and pressing her lips to her temple, just under the cut, near the corner of the eye; a kiss from the past. Etta doesn't hesitate any longer, her arms finding their way around her mother's waist. She holds on to her tightly, letting her know that its okay, that she needs this, needs her to hold her back.
And she does.
She embraces her fully, tenderly, breathtakingly, and Etta soon finds herself with her nose pressed against her neck. As she breathes in, her lungs and heart fill up with a scent that is so profoundly familiar and comforting that all of a sudden, she's four again. In the loving embrace of her mother, she finally breaks down, letting her tears roll free at last.
And she doesn't know if she's crying for the time they have lost, or for the time they're getting back.
What she knows is that it's definitely going to take them both time to adjust to that twenty years gap that has kept them apart, and to find their balance again around each other. But they will be okay; Etta feels it in the way her entire body is warming up from the inside out, filled with an intense sense of belonging, to the point where even all of her physical aches seem to fade away.
The feeling is exceptionally strong...almost too strong.
Her mom seems to feel it, too, because she eventually pulls away slightly and there is a small frown of incredulity on her tear-stained face.
Her eyes don't find Etta's; they stop on the place where she knows the cut is instead, and her slight confusion morphs into pure astonishment. She brings one of her hands up to Etta's face, soon tracing her temple…and Etta feels none of the pain she definitely should be feeling.
"It healed…" Olivia murmurs, in complete awe.
Etta has to check by herself. She runs her fingertips over skin that is smooth, where her flesh had been raw and exposed only minutes ago; it seems like there isn't even a scar to be found.
"It healed," her mother repeats, and there is such an indescribable relief in her voice, as well as in her eyes, which are already filling with newly formed tears.
For a moment, Etta is truly puzzled, until another distant memory emerges from the depths of her mind. She remembers her mom with a broken nose, and how she had been able to mend it with the mere power of her suggestion, by placing her hands on her face and wishing her pain away.
Etta is well aware of how different she is, as she regularly finds herself thanking her special abilities for saving her life on a weekly basis. She has been physically hurt on many occasions through the years, though, and never again since that time in the alley has she mended a physical wound with her mind.
Now, she also notices how her mother seems livelier than she was a few minutes ago; her face is wet with tears, but it's also full of color, and her eyes shine with renewed hope and energy.
Etta's cut isn't the only thing that was healed during their embrace.
She understands her mother's intense relief now. This ability they have just displayed is one that only works when they are together.
It means that no matter how long they have been apart, and no matter the problems they will have to face in the future, their unique bond still exists, unaffected by the passage of time.
And judging by the look in her mother's eyes, she understands it, too.
Everything will be okay, because they will heal together.
Mother and daughter, they will heal each other.
A/N: Leave a review if you cried!
Haha just kidding xD Though I would love to know what you thought of it. This story consumed my life for 10 days, feedbacks would be the sweetest reward.
(especially if you're Anna or Jasika, just saying)