'She hides the horrors of her reality behind an image of times past; of a time when families could sit down and watch a parade, not split up and fight to be reunited.' A Thanksgiving Special based on the poster in Etta's bedroom; prompted by, written for and dedicated to my cousin, a major Fringie.
When she's thirteen, she returns home.
Home isn't home anymore – her family is gone, her childhood is gone, her innocence is gone. She hasn't seen her parents since she was four. She hasn't been a child since the day she first blocked a scan. She hasn't been innocent since the day she stole a gun and shot two Loyalists.
But it's still a place she used to call home, despite the broken windows, looted possessions and missing pictures. So she finds a dusty box in a kitchen cabinet where her grandpa had stored some pictures and pockets an old drawing of five stick figures. She goes through her mother's jewelry box and strings the bullet she finds on an old silver necklace she'll never take off. She walks into her old nursery and finds smashed furniture and a framed poster of a parade.
It's a big, fat, floating balloon once part of a Thanksgiving parade. She'd squealed at the green balloon when she'd seen it on TV, clutching a doll that could've passed as a look-alike. So her father had found a picture of that balloon and hung it up on her wall. Her very first poster, he'd told her mother. Soon it'll be boy bands and teen actors, her mother had teased.
She doesn't know how she remembers, or why, only that she barely ever remembers anything. So she removes the frame, tucks it under her arm and walks home.
She's always had a knack for hiding things.
Scribbled on the back of the poster, she finds a child's lopsided heart with three names inside: Etta, Mama + Daddy.
Hidden inside the frame behind the poster, she finds more stick-figure drawings, a candy wrapper and a picture. It's just a picture of her as a child, not the picture of her parents that she's been longing for since the day she realized the one in her mind was slipping, but it's precious because behind that picture is a note in her mother's handwriting. In a world of typed reports and rare stationary, handwriting has always felt personal to her.
Etta, Jan 2014.
That's all it says: a name and a date. Still, she runs her fingers through the inscription over and over until she's afraid it might fade.
Then she replaces everything behind the poster, seals the frame and mounts it to hide the little cubbyhole she's dug into the wall, the one filled with guns and knives and homemade weapons.
She's always had a knack for hiding things.
Simon helps her find her first real apartment.
Her foster family is long gone – yet another loss dealt upon her, yet another family taken from her, yet another void she must fill. So she fills it with Fringe Division and the Resistance and the only thing she knows how to do: look for her parents.
A girl can't do all that and keep it hidden in a good area, so Simon pulls some strings, asks around and finds her a good place in a safe building in a deserted area. She's free to come and go as she pleases, free to stay up all night gathering information without worrying (too much), free to rig the place and store whatever the hell she wants.
Fake shallow drawers (she has much to hide and little to show), a hollowed-out mattress (it's too big for her anyway), hidden vaults (no more childish cracks in the wall) – she has it all. She hides personal items in her drawers, schematics and plans in her mattress and everything illegal in her little cubbyhole, the one hidden behind a painting and accessible by an easily found (if you know what you're looking for) trigger.
One push of a button and her fat-balloon poster swings back to reveal deadly explosives. She hides the horrors of her reality behind an image of times past; of a time when families could sit down and watch a parade, not split up and fight to be reunited.
During sleepless nights when she's too tired to even work on Resistance plans, she sits at her dresser and studies her reflection, picking out similarities between her and the vague image of her parents that she has left. She reconstructs them based on guesses: she has her mother's hair and her father's eyes… she thinks.
The poster is reflected in the mirror, too. So she stares hard at herself and she tries to find a link between the soldier in the mirror and the little girl in the memory.
But how do you reconcile an innocent, parade-loving toddler with a cold-hearted survivor?
Thanksgiving isn't really a thing anymore; hasn't been in a long, long time. The spirit of the holiday, the positivity surrounding a day of counting your blessings – it goes against the Invaders' plan to break their spirits. And so there are no Thanksgivings, and no family dinners, and no parades.
She figures this is probably the only reason why the Resistance is organizing a Thanksgiving dinner – out of rebellion. She'll go because that's what she does: she rebels and she fights and she leads. But deep down, she wants nothing more than to stay in bed and dream of a rainy November day twenty years ago.
Back when Thanksgiving meant more than just breaking the rules and defying orders to invite a bloody fight.
Back when it was about hope and blessings and family.
Back when those were all things she still had.
On Thanksgiving, 2035, she kills six Loyalists and four Baldies. Pretty good, even for her. She leaves the rendezvous point with a smoking gun and a sense of accomplishment, and when Simon offers to send her home because it's dark and that means danger, she laughs him off and disappears into the darkness, feeling invincible.
It's a horrible night. It's cold, and there are no stars (she hasn't seen stars since the Observers started building their machines) and there are starving families on the street. She knows she has to keep her head held high and keep walking, because once you feed them they become like stray cats and follow you everywhere, but knowing that she is essentially powerless to help those crying children brings her down from her high and makes her tread with caution. It doesn't matter how many Baldies she takes out; at the end of the day, it's never going to be enough to fix things.
Not even her parents could fix things.
So she goes home, and she washes the blood off herself, and she gets into bed, resting sideways so that she's facing the mirror, the one that reflects the poster. That night, she dreams of finding her parents, but not to save the world.
She dreams of being at a parade with her parents, being just another happy face in the crowd, just a child with a mommy and a daddy who'll never have to know that she's not good enough to save the world.
She dreams of the fat balloon and of things hidden behind it, of crayon drawings and deadly bombs.
Months later, Anil and the boys present her with a hologram of a parade recording for her birthday. She hasn't really celebrated her birthday in years, and the only reason they even know it's her birthday is probably because she was required to fill it in for her application.
She'd talked about the parade once, just once, months and months ago when they'd all been drunk and reminiscent and pathetic. Everyone had shared a story from their past and she was the last to go.
And in that moment, she could almost pretend they were all normal young adults just sitting around getting wasted, and that her parents would be at home waiting up for her, and that she had more than just a handful of precious memories that she couldn't give away.
So she told them of times past and Thanksgivings celebrated and parades marching, and she sounded so damn wistful that she ended up cracking up mid-story, setting off a round of laughter that lasted well into the night.
But they remembered her half-assed drunk story. They remember as if it mattered; as if she mattered. It almost feels like having a family again – like belonging.
It feels nice.
She takes the hologram home with her and sets it on her dresser, and then she starts playing it. It's a TV broadcast of a parade held some twenty-odd years ago, and it's so festive that she finds herself smiling throughout.
She spends the whole night watching it on a loop; once she's recorded every minute detail of the floats, she shifts to the crowds, to the smiling faces and giggling children.
It happens on her fourth replay.
There, right there, in the crowds, she sees a flash of familiar faces for four whole seconds. She rewinds it, rewinds it, rewinds it until four seconds stretch into countless minutes.
And then finally, she hits pause at the right moment.
And there, captured on camera with bright eyes and smiling faces, she sees her family.
She sees her father, holding her up on his shoulder. She sees her mother, staring adoringly at her daughter. She sees her grandfather, hands clasped together in giddy excitement, customary Red Vine in hand.
She sees herself, a bright-eyed, smiling girl absorbing the festivities, and she sees in that girl the exact same smile she's been wearing all night.
And so she finds herself.
And someday, she'll find her family.
But for now, she'll live in the past; she'll live in this moment of the past when everything was okay and she had cotton candy, not a gun, in her hand and her family was happy.
She'll live in this parade.
~ HAPPY THANKSGIVING! ~
So I have no idea where that came from.
Okay, I do. A Fringie near and dear to my heart – you know who you are, cousin – asked for a Thanksgiving fic tied in with the balloon poster Etta had in her room, the one that sprung open to reveal tons of C4 to Peter. I joked around and came up with a summary just for laughs, but she actually liked it.
And so, this fic was born. It's rambling and disjointed and a little too emo, I think, but this is the only way I can write Etta for now, even in a meant-to-be-cheerful Thanksgiving special.
What do you guys think of it? Why not let me know? And if you need some cheering up after this, check out my two-part Polivia Thanksgiving special, Of Turkey And Thanksgiving. That one's cotton candy in written form, basically. It's a fluff fest.
Happy Thanksgiving and if you're braving the Black Friday crowds, stay safe!