Disclaimer: Fringe owns my heart for the rest of my life, but I do not own Fringe.
Spoilers: All the way up to 5x13 "An Enemy Of Fate"
Rating: Very soft T? VERY SOFT.
A/N: I know I've spent too much time away from this website when I don't recognize the theme they're now using.
I started writing this back in January, very shortly after the finale aired, maybe a couple of days after writing my post-5x13 "These Times That Never Were". It's a direct follow up of this story, since back then, I felt like I needed to explore the Olivia/Etta relationship a bit more. You don't NEED to have read it, but it does take place 2 hours after the end of the story. Just keep in mind that in my headcanon, both Peter and Olivia remember the 2036 timeline.
This is nothing fancy, I'm stretching my writing legs again after a long while of (despair) nothing, but I hope you'll enjoy it :)
Peter's body is warm and strong behind her.
Upon falling asleep, he has entrapped her in a tight embrace, as if still afraid she might slip away from his grip –a fear that has yet to leave her be as well. But his breathing is deep, now, slow and even, resulting in steady bursts of warm air upon her shoulder blade. He hasn't slept that profoundly in…well, to them, it feels like weeks, months even, all things considered.
Olivia cannot sleep, not yet. There are too many thoughts running through her head, as she waits for time to simply pass, something it will never fail to do. It goes by too fast on occasions, sometimes too slowly; it might even bring you forth in the future, or back in time, but it never stops its course. It will put an end to this day, eventually, and so she waits, comforted by her husband's slumber.
Although his current peace of mind is only temporary –she has no doubt his father's disappearance will be back to haunt him again come morning, it is enough for now. She has spent the last couple of hours simply lying there, counting Peter's breaths against her skin, the way she used to count Etta's during the first few days of her life.
As a newborn, her baby girl had been so prone to falling asleep while feeding, whereas Olivia had been prone to using that precious time she should have used for sleep herself to watch her instead, and to feel her breathe against her chest. These days had been full of wonder and fears, something common to all new mothers –or so she had read. Back then, she had often felt like her fears overcame awe in too many aspects. Fear of not being good enough, of messing up, of failing her daughter in every possible way. Counting had come naturally to her; it had always been an efficient way to calm herself down.
As days turned into weeks, and she gradually realized that she was doing quite fine at motherhood after all, she had gone from counting Etta's intakes of breath to counting her age. Six months and twenty-five days; first tooth –and first ear infection. Ten months and four days; first word –"cow", to Walter's delight. One month and seven days later, she was walking.
Olivia's head is filled with these numbers, all connected to her daughter's early journey through life. Even if on year two, month ten and day six, there had been no developmental milestone to speak of, she remembers it for how she had come back home after having gone to the office on a Sunday morning, and she had found Etta and Peter on the couch. He had been fast asleep, while Etta, snuggled up against him, religiously watched The Little Mermaid for the umpteenth time.
When she had caught sight of her mother from the corner of her eyes, she had brought a chubby finger to her lips and said, with a serious frown identical to her father's: "Shhhh, daddy's nappin," before turning her attention back to Ariel; her hair, already a thick and long mess of blond and wavy strands at the time, had been so untidy, his father having obviously decided not to fight that battle alone today, just like he had apparently decided not to bother shaving. She hadn't cared. In her eyes, it had simply made them look more beautiful.
After the Park, Olivia had stopped counting.
She couldn't bring herself to keep the count, not when in her heart of hearts, she hadn't simply believed that their daughter had gone from their sight. To her, Etta had gone on that day. That very same day they're reliving now.
It is that thought above all else that keeps Olivia alert tonight, despite how relaxed and limber she is in her husband's arms. Her deepest qualms are soothed by the familiarity of her surrounding, from the texture and scent of the sheets, to the dark shapes of their furniture all around the room, their bedroom. Their house, their home.
After living for weeks in the smothering confinement of a dusty and mostly ambered lab, trapped in a colorless world tinted with tragedy and pain, a world that had been two decades ahead of her, she feels safer than she has been in a long, very long time.
Most importantly, Etta is alive and sound in her bed, only two doors down, a knowledge that fills her whole being with the most intense kind of relief.
Peter lets out a soft snore then, the sound muffled against her skin. Olivia finds herself smiling, tightening her grip on his hand, their fingers intertwined near her breast, their wedding bands touching. His fingers are loose between hers, so are the rest of his muscles. They hadn't been, only two hours ago. Two hours ago, his hands had been vibrant with life, warm with passion and love, his body electrified with an energy that had spread through his flesh and seeped into hers.
Tonight, they had resumed what they had started, twenty-one years ago –or had it only been sixteen hours ago?, before they were interrupted by their three year old. As always, she had been very eager to start the day, and thankfully too innocent to understand what she had walked in on, not exactly for the first time.
The mood had been lazy and playful that morning, tinged with traces of sleep on both side, but they had been following a familiar and comforting path, one you learn to know by heart when you awake at your lover's side day after day, year after year. Having a toddler around who was always happy to interrupt them as if on cue, only spiced things up, forcing them to improvise, compromise, and use opportunities as they presented themselves.
Tonight, laziness had been replaced with shivering urgency, and playfulness had morphed into aching longing, the kind that was tightly linked to emotional pain, like the one they had barely just escaped; it had followed them back in time, now trapped under their skin. She had forced herself not to count, then, not to count how many times they had found themselves like this, pulled apart and brought back together, always a little more damaged, and yet always a little more entwined in one another as well.
Her fingers had lingered on his nape, more than they had lingered in his hair, as if trying to find what should have been there. But there had been no scar, none that she could feel with her fingertips, at least. The scar left by the blades he had used twice on himself had left no mark on the outer layer on his body, but the other scar, the one that had slashed his soul when Etta had died in his arms, hadn't gone anywhere.
And she had tasted salt on Peter's lips, as they moved and merged, blurring the memories of this nightmare they'd shared, tasting the vestige of tears he had cried for his father; he probably had cried some for themselves, too. And even as his touch carried her away, and his warmth enveloped her, consumed her, that salty tang had brought forth more memories, happier ones. She saw him as he had been, minutes after their daughter's birth.
On that day, she had also tasted his tears, when he had pressed a soft, reverent kiss upon her lips, their daughter nestled in the crook of his arm. Up until then, he had been remarkably composed throughout the whole experience –more than Olivia, understandably so, as she had been the one doing the actual birthing. But the instant he was given the chance to hold Henrietta in his hands, the tears had spilled out, almost furiously, stricken with emotions Olivia had barely been able to comprehend. That's undoubtedly when the fears had first snuck in, when she had watched him watch her.
Because she had realized then that Etta had just become his greatest weakness, and it had terrified her.
Time would prove her right.
Olivia had never doubted once of her husband's love for her, but even their peculiar bond couldn't compare to the depth of his adoration for Etta. In turn, it had made her feel both safe and inadequate.
As a mother, nothing had been more comforting than knowing Peter was so completely devoted to their child. As an insecure human being, however, it had also been daunting. She wasn't proud to admit it, but during her pregnancy, she had found some solace in the thought that Peter's own parental issues seemed to make him feel just as anxious as her about becoming a parent himself. But when the time had come, Peter had entered fatherhood with a natural ease and confidence that had made her worries throb with envy.
Olivia loved her child; she loved her so much and with such guttural intensity that it scared her more than anything else at times. But love had never been the problem. The problem took its ugly roots in old fears and insecurities, the result of her poor relationship with her mother, and of that unwavering feeling that she had been cursed with bad luck –a bad luck that had once been a dormant drug in her brain. By the time Etta was born, the drug had mostly gone from her system, but she feared that the curse remained.
The thought of this part of her possibly affecting her baby's life in the future had been frightening.
That was the kind of unsettling contemplation that had swarmed in her head over and over again during Etta's early days, before they were progressively soothed by time and experience. They had exploded in her heart again when Etta had disappeared. While Peter had never given up hope, Olivia had been convinced from the very first night without her that she was dead.
She doesn't think that way anymore. These times of loss and sorrow may not have really happened, the lessons she has learned from them prevail. Peter's devotion had turned into a deadly poison after Etta's death, while Olivia had been able to keep some kind of focus, some purpose, in spite of the gaping hole in her chest, allowing her to save him, and to defeat Etta's murderer.
Peter would have died to avenge Etta, driven insane with grief, unable to see the big picture. Olivia would have willingly died to save her child, but not for revenge. Never for revenge. Revenge is a dark and nasty seed, no matter the motives; her step-father had taught her that much.
What their time in 2036 has taught her is that, as parents, they have their own kind of strengths and weaknesses, and no form of love is worth more than the other. All that really matters now is that their family truly got a second chance, Walter's parting gift to them, and she will appreciate every minute she gets to spend with her child.
Suddenly yearning to be close to her daughter again, Olivia begins to move, gently extracting herself from Peter's arms. A quick look at her wrist-watch lets her know it's nearing midnight, at last. Peter moves, too, slightly disturbed by the cold space she has left in her wake, curling up under the covers and burying his face in his pillow. She sits next to him for a few moments, running her fingers through his hair, until his breathing deepens again.
Then, she's making her way to her daughter. She has walked these steps so many times in the middle of the night, had she been blindfolded, she would have found her anyway.
Etta's bedroom is much brighter than any other room in the house at this hour, softly lit up by the Winnie the Pooh nightlight plugged in one of the walls. Olivia spends some time watching her sleep from the doorway; she would have been perfectly content to do so for the rest of the night.
When she had been in the presence of her twenty-four year old daughter, she had looked so tall to her, so grown. The cautious yet genuine relief she had felt upon having her back, even in the form of this beautiful and fierce stranger who had Peter's eyes and her own stubbornness, hadn't stopped Olivia from grieving the little girl she had last seen blowing dandelion seeds into the wind.
And now, she looks so tiny again, in that small, toddler bed. Only weeks ago, they had discussed getting her a full-size bed, for her third birthday maybe, instead of this one that used to be her crib, before Peter took the sides down, a year ago.
As she approaches her, she's glad they haven't bought the bed, kneeling beside the low mattress. Let her be small a little bit longer. Her fingers soon find their way into her daughter's hair, the way they had found Peter's. Once again, it is thick and almost curly, and she aches at the thought of that young woman, with her thinner and straighter hair; she never had the chance to ask her how old she was when it had stopped being so unruly…or how old she was when she had lost her first tooth, or when she had learned to read and write for good, something she was already working on at age three.
There probably had been many other kinds of first times Olivia didn't want to think about. The first time Etta had seen someone being murdered in front of her eyes, the first time she had been the one doing the killing.
The first time she had realized her parents wouldn't come back for her, after all.
Olivia is still trying to adjust to this, to being back, to having her back; she guesses it's only natural that part of her will keep on grieving the daughter they had lost not once but twice, the way she used to grieve this little girl. And inevitably, her thoughts turn back to what has been on her mind, ever since Peter had fallen asleep against her back, to the memories of that night, this night. That first night without her.
They had been searching.
They had searched what felt like the entire city, or at least every hospital and shelter Peter could find; Olivia had followed. In her state of shock, probably still suffering from the explosion that had bruised her body and torn her heart from her chest, she had followed in a daze. But her heart hadn't really been torn from her chest; it had been there, beating madly beneath her ribs, jumping in her throat every time she saw a child. Boy, girl, it hadn't mattered, her heart had jumped anyway. And then it had bled, endlessly, because it was never Etta.
At some point in the middle of the night, she had been standing shakily in a crowded, noisy room, not even hearing Peter's voice anymore over the ringing that still filled her ears, as he went from people to people, shoving a picture of Etta in their face; she had been immortalized two weeks before, sitting on her baby bicycle, a bright grin on her face, wearing her purple helmet. Her hair was in two piggy tails, the only thing she allowed her mother to do, not without some bribing on her part.
Olivia had found herself staring at a little boy, who seemed to have been forgotten by the rest of the crowd, as he sat crying on a chair, looking lost and scared; he couldn't have been more than four. He had lost his parents, the way they had lost their child.
Instead of going to him and comforting him, something she would have done only twelve hours ago, she just stared at him, struck with an unbearable image, the image of her own daughter, sitting in a room like this one, somewhere, her eyes searching for them, crying out for her.
It had been unbearable, unconceivable. Not simply because it had made her want to fall on her knees and howl in madness and pain, but because it simply wasn't plausible. Anyone else's daughter might have survived, maybe, but not hers.
Because she had always been at odd; cursed.
She's dead, was all she had been able to think, then, for the rest of the night, and through every day that followed. My baby's dead.
As if something in her had sensed her mother's distress and thoughts, Etta begins to stir under her covers, her eyes soon fluttering open.
"Mama…?" she whispers, her whole being still so heavy with sleep, and Olivia smiles softly at her, reassuringly, moving her fingers from her hair to her warm cheek.
"It's alright, baby girl," she murmurs, sniffling discreetly. "Go back to sleep."
Etta's eyes are closed again before she's even done talking; she breathes in, slowly, and then she breathes out, letting out a long sigh, her slumber deep again.
Very quietly, Olivia moves her arm to check her wrist, reading the time now displayed on the screen.
She closes her eyes tightly, causing a few more silent tears to escape from their corners, her heart now pounding with relief and gratitude. Gently, she lowers her head, until her cheek is resting next to her daughter's on her flower pillow, and she breathes her in.
With their foreheads touching, it is her turn to let out a deep, deep sigh, thinking about how someday, she'll get to sneak into her room again, to stealthily retrieve that first tooth Etta will have carefully placed under her head.
At long last, Olivia resumes her counting.
Three years, one month, and six days.
A/N: Just so you know, I get very upset when people assume Olivia probably was "cold" or distant toward her little girl. Just…please don't. It hurts me.
Until next time, lovely readers ;) Reviews are still better than cookies (or even bacon).