Author's Note: Because squishing it into You And I would've been irrelevant to the plot, and because in my mind this is the reason why Paulina became who she was on the show. Totally self contained oneshot, so no need to read any of You And I to get this. This is in-continuity with it, but it's still a totally seperate, readable fic without it.
As always, all feedback, criticism, comments, areas I could've improved on, things I did competently, and general thoughts are always appreciated. Thank you for reading.
Paulina, age seven (nearly eight, she kept telling everyone) was eagerly bouncing on her heels.
She had in her backpack three drawings, one for each member of her family. Even though her Mama and Papa had split up, her Papa loved her dearly and missed her all the time when he couldn't see her. They talked lots on the phone, and she made him drawings so he wouldn't be so sad. He was still her Papa. He was just somewhere else where he could be happier and have a better job. He wasn't married to Mama anymore, but they talked too, and they didn't hate each other like some parents did. They were like friends. Maybe that's why they got a divorce – they weren't boyfriend-girlfriend-y to each other, they were friends. She was pretty sure that was it, anyway.
So she'd made him a drawing at playtime. She'd tried to color a picture of herself and her mother, but she had a hard time drawing her mother's hair. Her Mama was a police officer, so she kept her hair in what the other officers called a bowl-cut when they would come over for dinner. They were all friends, Paulina could see that; they were always coming over, watching soccer together and having meals and asking Paulina how school was going. Santiago (Officer Rivera, her mother always corrected her) even was going to let her be the flower girl at his wedding! She and her Mama had picked out a dress last week, a beautiful orange one. Santiago loved oranges and yellows, and had even talked his wife to be, Teresa, into an orange wedding dress – on the condition he wear a white tuxedo. Mama said it was tacky, but Paulina thought it would the most beautiful wedding in the world.
She had a drawing for her mother, too, a drawing of all her officer friends holding hands. She'd turned the paper and made them a circle, one that didn't end. She'd gotten Valdez's little goatee in and Alto's big ears and everything. They were a perfect circle, and she was proud of getting everyone's hair and eyes from memory, even Officer Soledad (his first name was too embarrassing; it was a closely guarded secret) and his strange brown eyes. They said brown eyes were the rarest color in the world. Indeed, he was the only person she knew with them. Paulina liked them. She told him he had eyes like chocolate once and he smiled warmly at her, ruffling her wavy hair. But he said brown eyes were more common over in Africa.
Africa, where her brother was. It had only been four and a half months but it seemed like it had been forever. He was so far away. Lexandro was an important journalist, and she knew he was helping people, she just wished he was back home. Even if he had a different Papa, a mean hearted man who never talked to him, he was her brother nonetheless, eighteen. He was the best big brother in the world. He'd graduated from high school early and plowed through college in two years, and now he was out there showing people how badly other people in far off places needed their help. Lex was like a super hero. He wasn't afraid of anything or anyone. She missed hearing him talk about justice and people and rights and other things that went over her head as they ate dinner. She missed his cooking, which was admittedly better than her mother's.
She had a drawing for him, too. Lots of pink hearts inside one pink heart, with I love you written in English and Spanish all over it in reds and purples and oranges. He kept all her drawings at home when he left, since he couldn't afford to take much. So when she'd been talking to her teacher today about missing him, the teacher had suggested she make him a drawing. And she had. It wasn't the best thing she'd ever done, but she'd tried extra hard to make everything perfect and the shapes they were supposed to be. Secretly her brother had always loved flowers, so there were little ones around all the borders of the drawing. He liked them because they were gentle and brought out the good side in people. Lex was complicated and hard to understand and she couldn't wait for him to get back so she could show him the rosebush she and Mama had planted.
Paulina frowned a little, wondering what could be taking her mother so long. Usually her mother was early or she sent Santiago to pick her up if she was working. The Mexican sun beat down upon her, but she didn't care, looking at the gorgeous cloudless sky. She hoped her Mama wouldn't be too mad she'd traded her fluffy green hair scrunchy for a fluffy glittery white one at school. Rosa said they could trade back, though, so it would probably be okay. She missed the days when Lexandro would randomly give her little gifts; hair ties, bows, ribbons, bracelets, necklaces. He had a knack for finding knick knacks, even for their impossible-to-shop-for mother. She was happy he'd be home in time for Christmas to help her find gifts for everyone. To her seven year old mind, it seemed like he was perfect, like he had all the answers in the world to all of life's problems.
The car finally pulled up and Paulina rushed to it, smiling. She got in and put her bag behind the seat before she turned and realized what a strange look was on her mother's face. The tan skinned woman sat there, obsidian colored bowl cut framing her tired dull gold-grey eyes and expression totally blank. She had a grip on the steering wheel so tight her knuckles were turning white. Paulina stared, not sure what to say. Had her Mama had a bad day? She hoped it wasn't one of those police things she was too young to know about, the things that made Mama have nightmares. Those were the worst, because Paulina didn't know what to say to make her smile. Right now, though, her eyes were far away, like she wasn't even registering Paulina was there. She took one calming breath, then another, then a third.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?" Paulina asked, looking her over for the bruises and scrapes that came with police work. "Are you hurting, Mama?"
She folded her arms on the steering wheel and rested her head on them, breathing in a deep, shaking gasp of air. "Paulina, my little Lina, there's something you have to know." She scrubbed her face with both hands as she continued. "We both Angola was a dangerous place for your brother to go. Uncovering the corruption there was a big task to take on. A very serious one."
"Is he staying away for longer?" the seven year old asked, furrowing her brow. "I'll draw him more pictures, then. Don't worry, he won't be lonely."
Her mother slammed a fist against the car door so hard and suddenly it made her daughter jump. "I told him he shouldn't go over there, it was too dangerous, and he just wouldn't stay away, he said he had to try. I should have never let him go."
"Lexandro is dead."
The words hit, but then they twisted, they curled inside her, she was falling and no no no, this had to be a bad dream. Lex and Lina were a team. A sibling duo. They could never be separated. He had told her he would be careful. She gaped at her mother, speechless, feeling cold and dizzy with the impact. The silence was deafening as her mother fought back tears. Paulina shook her head slowly, as if to deny it. This shouldn't be happening. This was not happening. Her brother was brilliant and always had a solution to anything, nothing bad could have ever happened to him. He was a part of her. Paulina shook her head no again, and this proved to be the wrong move, as her mother started supplying details Paulina didn't ever want to know and could never unheard.
"He kept exposing the diamond mines, the slave labor. He wouldn't let up on it. I told him to drop it, he was already getting threats a month in, but he just wouldn't. He sent so many pictures and copies of statements and audio tapes to so many people, making sure everyone knew, the world knew just what these people were doing. So the threats got worse. And then last night they found him, and they shot him. They hung him up from a light pole in Luanda, let him bleed out slowly, to show everyone what they'd done…"
Paulina opened the car door and bolted. There were people around her as she kept going. There were words they spoke. All of it flew by, blurs and white noise and it was meaningless, meaningless, because Mama had to be wrong. Mama lied sometimes, Mama got misinformed, everyone at the station had the truth, she just needed to get to one of them, find them. They had to know. This couldn't be happening. One of them would tell her, one of them would make things right, Lexandro couldn't be gone, he couldn't, he couldn't-
Her mother grabbed her by the arm and picked her up effortlessly, holding the trashing seven year old in her arms as she sobbed and hit her useless fists against her mother's shoulders, shouting no until her breath came in sobbing gasps and tears stained her face from eye to collarbone, her hair a tangled mess. She breathed in quickly, mind picturing her beautiful golden eyed brother hung up in some far flung part of Africa dying slowly, bleeding out onto the concrete. No. This wasn't supposed to have happened. He was a hero. Heroes didn't die.
"Listen to me, my little Lina," her mother told her softly, rocking back and forth on her heels. "Your brother was a very brave man, and I love him dearly. But he was also blind. Africa is lost. There's no hope there. Here it's getting worse, too. More dangerous. So I'm going to send you somewhere safe."
She tried to protest, but it came out as a sob.
"You're going to live with your father. He's doing quite well in Amity Park, as an accountant. It's not a job that'll bring riches, but it's a safe place. A better place." She smoothed her daughter's hair, fingercombing it into place, making soft shushing noises. "You'll be happier there. Safer. And think of all the fun you'll have in the States."
"I… wanna… go to… Angola…" Paulina choked out, thinking of the people there who needed help, and her mother's grip on her became tight, a vicegrip, bruises forming under her strong hands on Paulina's shoulers.
"You will never set foot on that continent! I don't care about the people out there, I don't care about what heroics you think you're capable of. You're not. You're a girl, Paulina. A beautiful girl. You should be interested in dolls and hair and make up and cheerleading and dancing. Not some people far away killing each other over diamonds. I don't want another journalistic hero. I want a cheerleader." Her grip had Paulina breathless, staring up into her mother's eyes, which glistened with angry tears. "Promise me you'll be good. Promise."
"I promise, Mama," she whispered, head still ringing with her mother's words.
When she moved to Amity Park, she took all her dresses and best clothes and hair clips.
She crumbled up the drawings and threw them away.