A/N: This is basically my dark-ish AU take on Olivia in a Peter-less world. I wrote the bulk of this back in October, so obviously some things are a bit different than they actually turned out. I've gone back and forth about posting this because of that, but I figured that I've spent so much time on this already it would be a waste to just delete it. So. Here it is, whether it makes sense or not!
It isn't her mother he hits that night. This time, it's Rachel.
She thinks that maybe it was over the pull tabs. She doesn't know for certain, because the things that anger him have become so trivial that by the time he's done, she's usually forgotten the all-important question of why. But Rachel is little, and there's a small mountain of empty cans on the counter, just within her reach. A half-full can next to his chair. She carefully peels off the shiny tabs.
Neatly lines them all up on the floor. They glint in the light and Rachel is enthralled.
All she knows is that he goes after Rachel.
She doesn't know much about people anymore. Her mother can usually be found at either end of a medicine-induced haze or a drunken stupor. She supposes it's because she can't bear to see what he's done to them. Sometimes he goes away for days at a time, and Marilyn Dunham takes her two daughters to the park, or to zoo, and buys them slushies and chocolate cookies. She smiles, but her heart isn't quite in it, and their happiness is dull, but there.
He pushes her out of the way, jarring her still-aching ribs and she unintentionally bites down on her lip. The dried blood cracks, and she winces as the tang of blood reenters her mouth.
Rachel is standing in the hallway, her pull tabs scattered around her. Her eyes are bright, she makes her fingers dance against the shadows .
Her mother takes another pill.
It only takes one swing. Rachel looks up at him, stunned, as her hands fall limply at her sides. She slowly touches her nose, and her fingers come back sticky and wet. Too stunned to cry.
He had poked his finger on the sharp metal that a tab had left behind.
Sitting down for a drink after yet another round with his oldest stepdaughter, leaving her to wipe the blood from her chin and finger the bruises that would later form. Take measured breaths to keep her ribs from stinging. She isn't sure how much longer they can take this.
When he goes after Rachel, she is.
As he storms out, she grabs a wad of towel, brings it to her sister's nose. She hears his truck driving away as she guides Rachel into the bathroom.
She tells her that it's okay, hold it like this and it will stop the blood. Rachel is now hysterical. Her tears leak down her face and her chest is heaving and her hands are clenched in little fists. Olivia pushes her down onto the toilet seat, unfurls her fingers and presses it to her face. Rachel had never been hit before. Rachel didn't know what to do.
She steps back into the hallway. To lean against the wall, to fight back the tears and the fear and the rage.
Her mother leans her forehead against the table.
Rachel hiccups a sob in the bathroom.
Around the sounds of her own heavy breathing, she hears his truck turn around.
The gun is in her hands before she really realizes what she has decided to do. She stops in front of the bathroom door to glance in at her sister. Rachel is gasping, the blood a deep red as it leaks through the tissue.
She wads up more towel, slides it behind Rachel's fingers. Hides the gun behind her so Rachel doesn't see.
She closes the bathroom door. And she waits.
Maybe he expected to see her there. His face doesn't acknowledge any emotion when he finds her standing across from him.
Surprise, however, flickers across his face as she raises the gun.
She will later wonder if he saw the tremble in her fingers.
The house is quiet.
Rachel's sobs have quieted, Marilyn sits quietly in her own little world.
The gunshot shatters the silence. And then the second. The third.
His final glance is spared for her, the half-smirk of a dead man as he slumps to the floor.
He was impressed.
Her fingers shake so violently that the gun drops to the ground. Her ears are ringing. The clock chimes, but nothing moves.
The darkness she feels is stifling. Smothering her as she dry heaves and gasps as she realizes what she'd just done.
Then, she's on the floor. She's still shaking, but this time she isn't causing it.
Her mother is on top of her, screaming things she can't quite understand. Her ears still ring and her ribs ache and she's not sure if it's the pain or the relief dulling her senses.
Her mother's face is red, twisted, contorted as she straddles her body.
She asks her what she's done. Asks her why. How could she?
And then Marilyn cries.
Bends over her daughter, her hair falling like a curtain over them. A semblance of protection she had never offered.
Presses a kiss to her daughter's face. Green eyes trained on the ceiling, tears leaking from their corners onto the linoleum.
Marilyn breathes her in before she stumbles up, walks in a daze towards the bedroom.
Olivia calls 911.
Rachel is still in the bathroom. Her eyes watery and swollen, the towels discarded on the sink. Relieved to see her sister at the door, alive and breathing.
Olivia diligently scrubs the counter clean before she wraps her arms around Rachel, sinking together to the bathroom floor. She kisses her sister's head, squeezes her tightly as her heart pounds and her entire body shakes.
Rachel clutches the fabric of her gray shirt, tucking her head under her chin and burying her face in her shoulder.
When the police come, they slowly extract them apart. But Rachel cries and kicks and makes her nose start to bleed again. Olivia bullies her way back to her sister.
No one dares to argue.
Her stepfather is zipped up, taken away. She has never felt so relieved.
She tells him exactly what she'd done, Rachel's blood and tears soaking her shirt as her head presses into her broken ribs.
She insists she's fine. Rachel is the one who's bleeding. Their mother is the one who's cracking. Olivia Dunham is fine.
He looks troubled. The officer walks away, and he's soon replaced by another.
Her hair is pulled tight, but her smile is kind, and she manages to coax Rachel away. Someone leads her younger sister towards the flashing lights outside. She hears her mother arguing with another officer behind her.
The woman's kind eyes bore into hers, simply waiting. For her to turn into a blubbering mess or to have some other extreme display of emotion, she's sure. The woman does not yet know that Olivia Dunham is not a tantrum-throwing child.
They tell her it's only for a little while. Their mother needs help and they need stability.
Rachel doesn't understand why they need to be separated.
There are more tears as Rachel squeezes closer, digging her head into Olivia's ribs.
The sun is setting and the sky is beautiful. Lit up by blue and red lights.
It takes two cops to drag their mother from the house. She is hysterical, begging, like an ice cold bucket had washed over her and she was seeing clearly for the first time in years.
Her pleading eyes train on her daughters, two blonde heads huddled next to an ambulance.
The female cop must work some kind of magic. The two Dunham girls are led to a patrol car and they both squeeze into the front seat.
The sirens make Rachel grin.
She watches the town slide by. Places she and Rachel used to play. Where their father used to carry them on his shoulders.
The hospital feels cold. The walls are white, and everyone looks at them with an indescribable emotion. Olivia thinks it's pity, and she hates them for it.
She silently wonders if this is how zoo animals feel. They take pictures of her, poke and prod, draw blood. She tries to mask the pain, but they give her something and her ribs no longer throb.
She almost misses the ache.
Rachel comes back with a sticker on her elbow, her nose no longer crooked and a dopey smile.
She stares at the wall, with it's cheerfully painted animals and remembers her daycare in Jacksonville.
It's a distant memory. A boy named Nick with his arms outstretched next to hers, and a man who always seemed to be scrutinizing them. Then, something else.
The memory is gone before it even solidifies, and Olivia lets her head rest against the wall.
Soon, it is time to say goodbye. Only for a little while.
She doesn't believe in promises, so she holds her sister tighter.
The female cop steps into the room, her eyes nervous as she glances back at the Dunham girls. Her posture is triumphant, but she radiates uncertainty.
They go to her apartment.
The couch is transformed into a bed and Rachel's eyes no longer droop.
Rachel bounces on it for a few moments before falling into the mattress with a giggle. Olivia smiles shortly before sitting on the edge.
The woman tells them to call her Maggie. She makes hot chocolate and toast and turns on the TV and leaves the girls to themselves.
She wonders if Rachel will remember this, sitting on a strange woman's couch watching cartoons and painkillers making them light, or if it would fade away. The memories of their father, their real father, had become cloudy in her own mind.
She hopes Rachel forgets.
Maggie makes French toast in the morning, scoops vanilla ice cream on top and lets them eat in bed.
She frowns at her sister when a glob of syrup hits the white sheets. She's almost waiting for the anger, but Maggie just wipes it away and pats Rachel's leg.
Later, if she notices the bruises dotting her skin, she doesn't say. The bubbles cover most of them, but as Rachel makes imaginary ships float through them, she is very well aware of the two, large, hand-shaped ones on her shoulders.
She lets them soak until the water turns cold.
When they dry off, they have new clothes. Light pink for Rachel. Light purple for her.
She looks with longing and bitterness at her charcoal gray shirt as it goes into the trash, all while wondering when Maggie found the time to go shopping, or even figure out their sizes.
Maggie seems nervous. She fiddles with her hair and smiles too much and keeps offering them soda. She doesn't bother to tell her Rachel was too excitable already and wasn't allowed, and she herself found the sticky sweetness a little nauseating.
She presents them with two new backpacks filled with more clean clothes, toothbrushes, even teddy bears poking fuzzy heads through the top.
Someone is at the door for them.
Then, they live in another stranger's home, an older couple with kind eyes.
They make Rachel cookies and laugh and try to engage Olivia as well. Seemingly begging the older girl to trust them. She doesn't trust much anymore.
So when Marilyn returns, squeaky clean and sober, she can't muster up the excitement that Rachel seems to exude.
But she smiles anyways. Brushes and braids Rachel's hair, carefully ties the ribbons in. She tucks her own hair behind her ears without much fuss. She doesn't know if she's preparing for a celebration or a wake.
Marilyn is happy to see them. Everything is right. She's the mother they had before. But Olivia still doesn't trust the woman with the ghosts in her eyes.
She's glad she doesn't try to apologize. Words can't mend what was broken. Words can't replace the years they'd lost. Words can't take the last few years back.
Rachel doesn't forget. And two years later, they're back where they started.
Their mother is dying.
They sit in a lounge, their tongues burning from the hot chocolate and their hearts numb.
Their mother survived years of abuse. Survived to be taken away by what they thought was a common cold.
One day she's happy, burning grilled cheese sandwiches. Singing to oldies in the kitchen with her girls.
The next, she sneezes. Stays in bed a little longer. Orders Chinese takeout and makes her girls sit as far away as possible when they watch Snow White.
The day after that, her oldest daughter wakes up to find her collapsed in the bathroom.
Then, the hospital.
A doctor approaches them sadly, and Olivia knows. The nurses had coaxed them from the room with incredible patience and understanding. A social worker had been puttering around the halls for hours.
Rachel asks what will happen to them.
Olivia is at a loss, pulls her sister tighter.
A few weeks pass and she doesn't even know where Rachel is.
She does know that this is the furthest away they have ever been. So when Rachel appears, crying in the night, afraid of the long shadows she can see out her windows, she isn't surprised.
Rachel may be a self-proclaimed "big girl" at eight, but she's still Rachel.
Her toes are muddy from running barefoot in between the dorms. Her eyes are wide, in need of assurance.
Olivia wraps a comforting arm around her as they lay back in bed, Rachel's head laying across her ribs. She hopes the quiet, hiccupping sobs won't wake the girl across the room.
But besides the occasional nights, she doesn't see Rachel much anymore. The boarding school may house every grade, but the three divisions rarely intersect. Rachel's making friends, though, if it's not obvious by the throngs of second and third graders she's constantly surrounded by. She doesn't quite fit in, is more of the funny little sidekick to a well-established group of girls, but Rachel thrives on it nonetheless.
Olivia prefers to sit alone.
She can't blame Rachel, though. She knows she just wants to be normal. Seem normal.
Wants to shed the shambles of their previous life and start fresh, where little girls don't get broken noses and mothers don't leave their childre.
Her roommate complains about her own mother every day. Wishes her father would stop leaving messages on the dormitory phone every night. Her trivial complaints of makeup and boys don't phase Olivia, and spending that much time in front of the mirror seems like a bother. The starchy uniform makes mornings even easier, and she falls into a familiar routine.
So she reads, tucking the hair away from her face and running her fingers reverently over the pages.
Rachel wanders in the library sometimes, the only reminder that she is still her sister. But she never stays long, the temptation of more giggling with her friends too irresistible for a girl who had never had much company besides a sister.
After she leaves, Olivia can hear the whispers, even though they think they're far enough away. The library is really only a few shelves of books, mostly boring periodicals for high schoolers, and picture books for the ones just learning how to read. Not nearly big enough to disguise the voices of a group of preteen girls.
They think she's crazy. Maybe she is. She isn't sure how many nine year olds go around shooting their stepfathers, but she imagines the number isn't very substantial.
Maybe just being unusual makes someone insane.
Their giggles disrupt the silence of her former safe haven, and she soon moves to the privacy of her own dorm room.
Then, her roommate gives her the nickname.
She doesn't know how a few late nights of reading instead of painting nails makes her worthy of the nickname Han, but she refuses to be bothered.
Olivia does make a friend, however.
A girl named Lina, with short dark hair and a love of books that rivals her own.
Her nickname was worse.
They turn it into a game, of finding the most secluded spots to read, where no one else would dare venture.
Lina's family owns a summer home in South Carolina, and her newfound friend invites her over once the year is through.
But before they even make a dent in their second semester, another person sweeps into the Dunham girls' lives.
Like a distant memory, a face she thinks she should know but doesn't recognize. They have a few hours to pack up their things.
Lina is on an overnight field trip.
But even if she could say goodbye, Olivia doesn't know if she would.
For the first time in months, Rachel is only a few rooms away.
In a place that is a comforting mix of warm woods and earth tones. Touches of modernity that she supposed bled through from whatever mysterious job that Nina Sharp held. Whatever job that allowed her to pull two girls from foster care and into her New York home in less than 12 hours.
In spite of Rachel's maintained declaration of being grown up like Olivia, the first few nights ended with her little sister's cold fingers and toes curling around her own.
Rachel wanted to talk about the horses. Did Olivia see them all? Would they get to ride them? Would they stay here forever? Could they? Things did have a habit of turning out for the worst.
What would Nina Sharp's worst be?
Would she make them scrub her house from top to bottom? Cut the lawn with a pair of scissors? Have a severe loathing of wire hangers?
But Nina does none of these things.
She enrolls them in a local charter school, gives them both riding lessons, lets Rachel bring tubs of ice cream into bed, does tricks with her robotic arm that amuses them both.
It almost seems too good to be true. For Olivia's guarded nature, it is.
The older woman is nothing but supportive, going so far as to empty out an entire room to turn into a library. Stockpiling it with more books than the boarding school could ever hope for.
Olivia finds herself quite taken with the horses, however, and when she's not working on her studies, she was down at the barn.
Cielo, a Marchador, quickly becomes her favorite. He's a gorgeous dapple gray. And the Chilean trainer calls him demonio.
Rachel knows what she is up to before she can even ask Nina. Reminds her how crazy she is, how she is insane to think that she, a fourteen year old, could manage what the trainer Nina desperately hired could not.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Olivia makes Cielo a full-time project.
Three concussions, two sets of bruised ribs and a fractured pelvis later, Cielo gives in.
As she rides him around the arena, Olivia makes faces at Rachel, seated on her claimed Halflinger.
The trainer eyes the horse suspiciously.
Nina wonders if the girl realizes the true extent of her abilities.
The nightmares start not long after moving to Nina's.
A dense forest. Lightning. Whipping rain and wind.
A boy on the floor. Blood. Fire. Fear.
She goes through sheets like Rachel goes through posters.
After two weeks of the tedious ritual, peeling sheets back, washing them after Nina had left, Olivia starts to sleep in the bathtub.
She scares Rachel out of her wits the first time. Stumbling into the bathroom in the early hours of the morning, surprised by the small groan coming from behind the curtain.
Rachel doesn't wake Nina, at least. Is careful not to call her crazy. Offers the stuffed animal she still sleeps with.
Olivia declines. Asks her not to tell. Makes herself comfortable on the thin layer of towels.
One Saturday morning, before Olivia pulls muddy boots on over her pajamas, Nina stops her.
Curious ones that she wasn't even sure she should answer, even if she could.
She knew about her nightmares. She wants to know about Jacksonville.
Despite her photographic memory, despite her vivid dreams, she remembers nothing about that part of her childhood.
Just empty spaces.
So, Nina tells her.
She rolls over the word in her brain, searching for some sort of recognition. If she had been tested on with an experimental drug, she should remember it, right?
She spent days agonizing over it, her arms moving in rhythmic circles on Cielo's side.
The horse gets agitated, and she apologizes absently.
Leans into the dappled gray side, breathes in the smell of straw and wood and animal, wills herself to conjure forth the memories.
If she tried hard enough, she could remember. And if she remembered, maybe she'd understand.
It hits her by surprise, years later. A snowy February morning while Rachel takes exams.
As she's going to feed the horses, she drops to her knees.
A daycare in Jacksonville, a giraffe on the wall, circles on the carpet, arms outstretched.
Nick. Nancy. Susan. Sally. James. Miranda. Lloyd. Alan. Julie. Timothy. Cameron. Lisa. Tessa. Rich. Annie. Ken.
So many others, whose faces she saw but whose names she couldn't remember.
Zeppelins. Fires. White tulips.
She throws up, heaving, sobbing, until snot and tears mix and her entire body is soaked and shivering from kneeling in the snow.
One look at her face, and Nina understands.
Offers her hot cocoa, warm tea, anything to stop her uncontrollable shaking.
She jerks away. Crawls into Rachel's bed and waits until she returns home from school.
Packs a bag and leaves the next morning.
She finds Nick Lane accidentally.
Everything with Nick happens accidentally.
Three months later, she waits for Rachel after school.
She is no longer that little girl burying her head into her big sister's ribs,. She hasn't been for a while, but doesn't hesitate to jump into Olivia's arms when she sees her.
Skips cheerleading practice. Convinces Olivia to stop for takeout before going home.
So, after three months, Olivia goes home.
The word still seems foreign to her. Home was Jacksonville, a red door, a daddy tapping her nose with his index finger and calling her Livvy. But home it is.
A weight she didn't quite realize she was carrying seems to lessen as she is welcomed with open arms. She cries.
Breaks down, confesses everything to Nina while Rachel cleans up boxes.
How she met Nick in that park, how they got coffee, how they pieced together parts of each other's memories. The clothing. The routine. The fire and the fear.
How they decided to forget, at least for a night, at least with some alcohol.
How Olivia ended up with two lines on a little test.
How she wanted it, despite her better judgment, despite all of her carefully constructed plans.
Nina presses her lips together, runs a comforting hand over Olivia's tangled blonde hair, leaves the room to make a phone call.
Olivia falls asleep on the couch, and when she wakes up, there's dried blood between her legs and she wonders if she fed the horses. Wonders where the snow went.
She hears Nina speaking quietly on the phone. Explaining that forgetting was safer.
She wonders who was forgetting what, before slipping back to sleep.
The next time she awakens, she's in a hospital, Rachel keeping watch above her.
She breathes out her relief once she sees her older sister's eyes darting around, exclaiming how worried she was, how no one knew what was wrong with her, before dashing into the hallway.
Good as new, the doctor proclaims, as a nurse hands Olivia a bag of clothes that Rachel had selected for her.
She doesn't even know what was wrong with her.
In true Rachel fashion, the shirt is a lacy peasant top, and the jeans are a pair she'd tucked away years ago, with rhinestones fastened to the back pockets.
Nina hides a smile rather quickly as Olivia reluctantly shows off her temporary look, even as the older blonde shoots a scathing look at her giggling counterpart.
She must have hit her head, Nina explains calmly on the ride home. They only left her for a few moments and then, they couldn't wake her up.
Rachel hangs on tightly to her hand, worries her lip between her teeth.
She squeezes tightly, and Olivia gets the message.
Be more careful. I can't lose you too.
Less than a week later, she visits Nina at Massive Dynamic, sees a man she thinks she should recognize.
He calls her Olive, his eyes dart to her abdomen, but he is taken away before any other words can be exchanged.
She forgets about him by the time she makes it to Nina's office.
Shortly after Rachel's second birthday, Olivia discovered the merits of lying.
If he caught her in one, it would be hell to pay.
But a small price for protecting her sister.
I knocked it over.
I did it.
They rolled off her tongue as easily as the truth, her eyes never waver, her chin never lowers.
It started to hurt less over time, each hand that makes contact.
Until he breaks her arm.
Instead of collapsing into sleep like Marilyn Dunham had likely wanted to, she was faced with a screaming toddler and a terrified first grader
The blood was sticky on Olivia's freckled arm, the white of the bone a stark contrast to her faint tan, left over from a long-ago day at the beach.
Marilyn hurriedly bundled Rachel in a blanket, ordered Olivia to keep her arm still, drove recklessly to the hospital.
It had never gone this far before.
The bruises were easy enough to cover. Heavy foundation worked well around her eyes, and her oldest daughter's were never visible.
This, however, was different. It had never gone that far before.
Three hours later, Rachel sleepily sucked on a grape-flavored sucker and Olivia gingerly ran her fingers over the bright yellow of the cast.
Her stepfather arrived looking appropriately worried, running a comforting hand down her hair and letting it rest on the shoulder of her uninjured arm.
A doctor smiled kindly at her, pulling out a marker and scrawled her almost-illegible script across it.
Told her that as charming as he found her to be, he wished to not see her until it was time to remove the offending plaster. To be more careful when she played, and to be a good girl for her stepfather and listen when he told her the old tree house was unsafe.
She wondered what the doctor would say if he saw their neighborhood full of palms.
She meets Phillip Broyles in a most unpleasant way.
It's her second year of being a Marine Corps special investigator, and Stanford Harris is by far her sleaziest case yet.
Days like these are victorious, a man getting put behind bars for abusing his inherent power.
A small huddle of women look at her gratefully, and Olivia nods in acknowledgement.
Before she makes far, however, she finds herself cornered.
She wonders if Mr. Broyles ever smiles.
But she holds her chin high. Refuses to back down.
Levels him with a glare that causes his own defenses to rise. She refuses to be the first to look away, even as he tears apart her judgment, her sense of justice, her commitment to this country.
Like sexually assaulting three women was excusable just because the man was a decorated Marine.
When she doesn't even bother to flinch, he shakes his head, scoffs, storms away.
She hopes to never meet him again.
She spent most of her teenage years calling it Nina's. Feels at home when she returns now.
Slides into her favorite boots, still leaning next to the door. Still like she occupied that blue bedroom upstairs.
Making the familiar trip down to the barn, she can't help but smile. It had been months since she'd been to Nina's, since she'd been home. Takes a moment to absorb her surroundings.
The trees, the long grass and wildflowers, expanse of sky and rolling hills in the distance. The barn she spent so much time in.
She finds Cielo easily, a soft nicker in greeting.
He's a bit older now, much more mellow than the wild stallion he had been when she first saw him.
Olivia leads him from the stall, clips him to the rings on either side of the walkway, begins the familiar process of brushing him down.
When she's done, she leads him into the soft grass behind the barn. Toes off her shoes. Unclips the lead rope and rolls it into the pocket of her sweatshirt.
He's changed a lot, and so has she.
Cielo is no longer as stubborn, as proud. Olivia is no longer as lonely, as withdrawn.
Rubbing him affectionately on the nose, she unclips his lead rope and clips it to her belt, rolls it into her pocket. Stands on his side, lifting her leg up and pressing her heel behind his withers, pushing herself up with her over leg and swinging herself over his body.
She leans forward, presses her face into his coarse mane and gently presses her heels into his side.
Mischievous still, he takes off at a brisk trot, jarring her head, and she can't help but smile.
Some things don't change, after all.
The drills are as difficult as she expected.
Her partner, however, is worse.
Weeks of torment mixed with training come to a pinnacle during their final test at Hogan's Alley
He sabotages her quite effectively, injures himself along the way, and she still drags along his heavy, chauvinistic ass.
The cameras don't stop her from discreetly kneeing him. He is, after all, already hunched over.
Later that night, after she is simultaneously praised and scolded, she limps towards her empty apartment.
But Nina is there waiting for her, with warm soup in a bowl and her blankets pulled back.
Despite her best efforts, she falls asleep halfway through an episode of In the Heat of the Night.
A man calls her mother-surrogate, asks if she's ready.
Broyles is his name. And Nina tells him what he wants to hear.
When Rachel calls and tells her she's pregnant, she drops her phone into dirty dishwater.
10 minutes later, once she's calmed herself and settled her phone into a large bowl of rice, she calls Rachel back on the house phone.
Rachel's sniffles are no less effective than they were when she was five, and Olivia finds herself in her car, making the drive across town to Rachel's small apartment.
She's sitting on the bathroom floor, test abandoned next to her, a pile of tissues in her lap.
It's her new boyfriend's, she says. They'd only been dating for a few weeks.
Olivia doesn't even know his name.
She meets Greg that night, and he looks just like a little weasel to her.
Hugs her sister tightly before excusing herself quietly, allowing Rachel to give him the news on her own.
Except Rachel shows up a few hours later, her eyes even redder and puffier than they had been before.
Olivia knew she didn't like the guy.
Seven and a half months later, Olivia sits on the edge of her sister's hospital bed, a small bundle in her arms.
Tiny fingers reach up, searching. Olivia allows her newborn niece to clutch onto her index finger, twists the hospital bracelet that matches her sister's and her niece's.
Ella Joy Dunham.
She is only a few months old before Greg leaves again, leaving Olivia to pick up the pieces once more.
You're gonna be fine.
Within months, Charlie Francis is one of her closest friends.
One of her only friends.
He doesn't judge her when she shows up in her pajamas, haunted by the case files she fell asleep to. Doesn't tease her when immediately turns on a mindless reality show.
She even lets him be overprotective, until she doesn't.
She takes a bullet for him. Upper thigh, routine search.
He's sitting next to her when she wakes up in the hospital, stormy and grim.
If looks could kill, she is certain that she would have been in the morgue instead.
When the doctor reluctantly releases her, he pushes her wheelchair down the hall. Finally speaks. Threatens to strap her in it for the rest of her life if she doesn't cut it with the hero complex. To push her into the Grand Canyon if she takes another bullet for him.
By then, they've reached the SUV. He helps her stand, still glaring at her.
She rolls her eyes, kisses his cheek as she readjusts the loose scrubs they're sending her home in.
Against recommendation, of course.
She lets someone get killed.
A teenager, not even a hint of stubble on his still-rounded cheeks.
She takes one step too many.
The suspect would have done it either way, Charlie insists, Charlie reasons, Charlie comforts.
He was desperate, needed a way out, thought the distraction of a bleeding boy would cover him.
Charlie shoots him between the eyes.
Cancels his date with Sonia, picks the most tasteless comedy he can find.
When she's half-asleep on his shoulder, still shaking
Charlie reminds her that it's gonna be okay, that she can't take everything so hard.
You don't always have to carry the weight of the world, Olivia.
Ella isn't even a year old when she takes her first steps in Olivia's kitchen, wobbling over to grasp her aunt's jeans and looking up with a drooly grin.
Olivia drops to her knees in surprise, catching the tiny girl as she lurches forward into her arms. Ella hadn't even been crawling, choosing to pull herself along on her diapered butt instead.
When Rachel comes to pick her up, she bursts into tears when she sees her daughter toddling along like she'd been doing it for years.
Looks at Olivia accusingly as she scoops Ella up, before wrapping them all in a hug.
Ella wiggles to be put down, of course, eager to show off her newfound skill of independence.
Rachel wonders if her sister realizes how much Ella is her.
She doesn't do this.
Yet she can't bring herself to care as he unzips her jeans, pulls them down her legs, presses sloppy, half-drunk kisses to her neck.
She's awake before the sun, creeps out silently and hopes he forgets her name.
Rachel is bringing Ella over.
Olivia barely has enough time to shower and make her bed look slept in before Rachel is at the door.
Wincing as she registers the soreness in her thighs, it only takes her sister fifteen seconds to demand a name.
Shrugging, she searched for something that sounded right.
Josh. Josh Davis, David, Davison? A nurse, maybe. Tall, dark, handsome. From New Jersey, or maybe New York. New something. The alcohol had muddled her memory from the previous night.
Rachel snorts over her sister banging a murse, rolling her eyes as Olivia covers Ella's little ears with a scowl.
She insists on more details later, thanks her for keeping Ella for the day, makes her promise not to give her too much sugar in revenge.
She meets him again a few weeks later. Running down a lead with Charlie at the hospital, colliding with him as she laughs with her partner around the corner.
He looks down at her with irritation, quickly morphing to shock. He struggles with her name for a moment, tries to make small talk before he sees Charlie's steadying arm on her waist.
Before anything else can be said, he's being paged, and he stammers himself away.
After he's gone, Charlie turns a suspicious eye to her. Doesn't flinch when she punches him square in the chest, gives her hip a brotherly squeeze before bumping her nearly into the wall.
Greg gives Rachel a black eye.
She runs straight to the bathroom when she arrives at Olivia's apartment, dropping a duffel bag at the door and pressing a squirming, irritated Ella into her arms.
Olivia can hear her retching from the living room, finds The Wizard of Oz on a movie channel and curls up with her oblivious niece on the couch.
Rachel joins them after an hour had passed, sitting down just in time for the flying monkeys to get sent after Dorothy. Her eyes say they'll talk later, but her body language suggests she'd rather deal with the flying monkeys than rehash the events of the morning.
She understands, pulls the younger blonde down onto her shoulder, whispering Glinda's words along with the television.
That night, after the baby is settled in the portable crib in Olivia's room and Rachel is sound asleep in the guest bedroom, the oldest Dunham sneaks out of the house.
Makes the familiar drive across town.
Too many memories. The cool, wood floor underneath her belly as she hid under the bed. Rachel's cold toes and head pressed into her ribs, flinching against her at each sound of contact. Except instead of Rachel, it's Ella burrowing under the covers, and no one is there to hold her.
Olivia would not let Rachel be doomed to make their mother's mistakes. Would not let Ella turn into herself.
She breaks in with ease, slowly creeps into the bedroom her sister used to share with the man occupying the bed.
He awakens as she cocks her gun, confusion and then panic registering in his eyes.
She doesn't blink as she stares down at him.
She doesn't say a word, but the message is clear.
Touch her again and I won't hesitate.
Olivia isn't one for parties, never has been.
That total loss of control that could stem from just one drink, just one slip, was too big of a risk.
So when some coworkers insist on taking her out the night before her 29th birthday, she struggles to evade them.
Of course, Charlie comes to the rescue, making up some mysterious plans they'd made and had conveniently slipped her mind.
They drive around for a while, just talking and eating M&Ms out of a cup in the center consul.
She noticed he'd picked out all of the yellow ones for her.
Overcome with sudden emotion, she lunges for him at a red light, embracing him in a tight hug.
She holds onto him even as the light turns green, presses a sisterly kiss to his temple, and he squeezes her back, doesn't tease her as she wipes under her eyes.
He's the best friend she's ever had.
She gets sick for the first time in years.
It's Ella's fault, actually. Rachel is sure she picked something up in daycare and passed it along.
Rachel leaves early in the morning for a job interview, dropping a sweaty toddler in the sheets next to her equally miserable sister.
A bucket next to the bed services them both nicely, and the two year old merely sniffles in despair against her aunt's collar bone, pressing chubby fingers into her ribcage.
Rachel offers to make chicken soup for them both, and even though she's the furthest thing from hungry, Olivia shrugs in acceptance. It's Nina's aunt's recipe, one she'd made whenever the girls were sick, and it never failed to at least make her think she felt better.
She should have known better.
Dragging herself out of bed was hard enough, but the piercing smoke alarm didn't help her headache any, and Ella immediately started wailing along with it.
The toddler still clings to her, and she swings her halfheartedly on her hip as she tiredly stumbles into the kitchen.
Her sister insists everything is fine, presses a kiss to both Olivia and her daughter's foreheads, steers them back towards the bedroom.
When the soup is served, however, the carrots are raw and the noodles at the bottom are scorched.
Olivia rolls her eyes.
Rachel slams down a can of Progresso.
She knows it. So does he. Still, that doesn't stop them.
Still, they move from motel to motel, acting like two children almost as afraid to get their hands caught in the cookie jar as they are of what is in the cookie jar itself.
He wants to stop this. This sneaking around, this behaving like what they're doing is wrong.
Olivia does as well, but she fears the backlash more than she fears a secret relationship.
John would be fine. Reprimanded, maybe. But no one would fault him, not for falling for the pretty blonde.
She, on the other hand, she would be made an example of.
The girl who sleeps with her partner.
The girl who couldn't even separate work from home. Though, besides to drop of files and sneak in a kiss or two, he's never been in her home.
She idly wonders what Rachel would think. What Nina would think.
Rachel, she surmised, would be thrilled. Not a week goes by that her little sister doesn't try to hook her up with one of Greg's nice, normal friends. Her words.
Nina, on the other hand, was a different story.
She truly did love the older woman, trust her in a way she didn't really trust her own mother, but something still held her back.
Sure, she had been there for all of the formal dance preparations and bad breakups and college searching and all the other important milestones that Marilyn Dunham never had the chance to be there for.
Ella even calls her Nana. A mispronunciation of Nina at first. But later, a title. A real place in their lives.
Nina, she decided, would always be the uncertainty.
She shook herself from her thoughts, turned her attention back to the man beside her.
He smoothes out the crease in her forehead, teasingly kisses the tension away.
She just might love him.
Even though it infuriates her when he smiles when she's mad at him, or when he's so obviously staring at her from across a room filled with their colleagues, or when he tickles that one spot along her ribcage that makes her squirm uncomfortably.
This, whatever they're doing, just might be worth the risk.
She doesn't know that, after tonight, she'll no longer have to worry.
Shortly after she is recruited to the Fringe division, she meets an old classmate.
One she hadn't much liked, one who had teased her right along with the others, but a classmate nonetheless.
She's married to a surgeon, works for a nonprofit in the city, spends her time volunteering with at-risk youth while simultaneously maintaining their three kids and renovated Victorian in the suburbs. She probably makes breakfast with courses and packs their lunches with gourmet sandwiches.
Olivia adopts a cat.
Dickens is disturbingly low maintenance. Even after her sister and four year old niece move in, even if Rachel always seems to accidentally step on his tail.
Rachel worries about her. About her relationships. About her job. It was a rare instance of role-reversal, and she did appreciate it, but she already had Nina. Who was only creating more questions these days, albeit by simply refusing the answer the ones she was asked.
But even if she wanted to burden her sister like that, she couldn't tell Rachel.
After all, Rachel had always been the protected one.
One early December morning, Walter is particularly insufferable.
He torments Astrid, rails on her for the smallest of mistakes, raves about the lack of care she took. How small mistakes could turn into huge catastrophes.
Olivia finally manages to sit him down, calm him, ask him why he's being this way. He breaks down.
It's been fifteen years.
He sounds lost, like a child in his grief.
Fifteen years since his only son died.
Fifteen years since the chain of events that led them into this very laboratory, this very division began.
She comforts him the best she can, looking apologetically at Astrid as she silently asks more of the young agent. Astrid nods graciously.
Always gracious, always willing to do whatever Walter needed. Whatever kept him sane.
Despite his inability to ever get her name right, his brash demands, his own unique ways of affection, Walter Bishop has wormed his way into the younger agent's heart.
Olivia feels a deep affection for him as well. Despite the knowledge that he used her as a lab rat, a test subject, number thirteen.
She knows that a different, more sane - or less, depending on how she looked at it - man was responsible.
The man weeping before her was no such man. He still had faults. A lot of them.
Questionable morals, the occasional unconcerned attitude towards the well-being of others
But he was Walter.
Mad scientist, certifiable genius, heartbroken father of a son buried in the ground.
And over long sips of root beer floats, Walter pushes away memories little boys with coin tricks and lakes covered with ice, to remember an experiment with Belly, with the most wondrous results.
It's her birthday.
Kisses in the morning from Ella, along with a glittery purple card. A few gag gifts from Rachel, followed by a first edition copy of her favorite book. A long phone call from Nina and a reminder for their weekly brunch. An exploding cake from Walter. A handmade blanket from Astrid. A specially ordered bag of yellowless M&Ms from Charlie. An order to go home early from Broyles.
She dances in the kitchen with Ella on her toes as Rachel picks up her favorite take-out.
Birthdays weren't so bad, she decided. Snuggled firmly between Ella and Dickens on one side, and Rachel and her growing belly on the other.
She still hates Christmas.
Even the joys of having a child around, Ella's bright eyes lighting up at every opened present, the meticulous way she peels and folds the used paper and sticks the bows on an ever-patient Dickens, can't seem to completely lighten her mood.
Once, in Jacksonville, they had spent weeks making decorations with colored paper, homemade gifts made of popsicle sticks and cotton balls. But on Christmas Eve, instead of Santa's sleigh that brings daddy, a black car brings a military chaplain.
Marilyn Dunham disappears after the funeral, and two days later they're introduced to him.
They watch the ball drop to the soundtrack of their first fight.
Nina bows out after presents and breakfast, leaving all three girls with warm hugs and promises of a long weekend.
Ella insists on joining a few classmates at a local food pantry. Her kindergarten teacher is there with her family as well, and Ella excitedly introduces her to her Aunt Liv.
Her perky brunette teacher eyes her up and down.
Olivia wonders how much Ella has talked about her Aunt Liv's profession. Until she sees the perky brunette's eyes drop to her hip. Where her holster usually sits.
Like Olivia would openly carry a weapon or her badge on Christmas Day.
What was hidden by her unusually flowy blouse, however, was a different story.
But Olivia ignores it, the heckles that raise on her back, and squeezes her small companion's hand as Ella proudly introduces her to the rest of her Alexander Hamilton classmates.
A few slightly older boys immediately freeze.
Apparently, Ella told them all about her too.
She directs a sly wink at the little girl they had been bothering, who straightens her pigtails with care.
A gaptoothed smile as she pulls on the hat the boys dropped.
She looks down the line of elementary school students and parents, all of their heads covered in little Santa hats, perched on stepstools as adults help them pass out boxes full of non-perishable food and presents.
By the time the last person walks down the line, she feels slightly better. Focused on something besides her own ghosts.
They return home to a warm apartment, and Rachel insists on turning down the lights and watching Ella's favorite, The Year Without a Santa Claus, followed by her own, The Grinch.
Hot chocolate is made, with a copious amount of marshmallows, whipped cream, and cinnamon that make Ella giggle and Rachel groan.
Rachel squeezes her hand after Ella falls asleep between them, three movies later, and together they somehow mourn a man they barely remember.
Greg calls late the next morning, after cuddles and pancakes and tiny flutters in Rachel's belly and wiping down the walls after Ella experiments with Walter's gift.
Olivia hangs up on him.
She shoots a kid.
An eight year old. Bruised. Terrified. IV still in her arm and experimental drugs still coursing through her veins. She sticks a knife in Charlie's gut when he gets too close. Draws back for a second go.
Another agent's body already at her feet.
The twitch of her fingers had seemed so simple.
The means to an end. To saving her already gasping, bleeding partner.
She refuses to lose another.
At the apartment, Ella greets her with a big smile, and she nearly loses it.
Ella usually reminds her of a younger, more innocent Rachel. The one who made shiny tabs dance and let her fingers cast shadows against the wall. But in this moment, when Ella's eyes are questioning and yearning to make it, whatever it is better, that is Olivia. Ella may be young, but she is cautious. She looks before she leaps. Double checks. Locks the doors even after her aunt comes home .
And she will never be touched by the world her aunt finds herself submerged in every day. Not if she has anything to say about it.
Rachel hurriedly sends her daughter to look for Dickens, pulls her sister down to sit until her breathing steadies out.
She manages out the only word Rachel needs to hear. Child. And then Ella is back in the room, the cat trailing behind her.
The five year old wriggles into her lap, tucks her head underneath her chin. Unaware of why her aunt is upset, but very aware of how she can try to fix it.
They watch The Wizard of Oz, Ella mumbles the song lyrics under her breath and when they both fall asleep just before Dorothy makes it back to Kansas, Rachel tucks them in on the couch.
Rubs her fingers gently over the crease between Olivia's eyes, willing away the demons that have been chasing her sister for years.
After Charlie's death, she never feels so alone.
Even before, even throughout childhood, she'd always had Rachel who understood. Rachel could never understand her and Charlie.
The big brother she never got to have, the protector when she didn't need protecting, the encouragement when she pretended she didn't need it.
She holes herself up for a few days, fingering the last birthday card he'd gotten her. A thumbprint smudged with chocolate at the bottom,
Charlie's scrawl looking back at her.
How could she not know it wasn't him? Charlie, who mocked her love for cheesy 80s movies and fought with her over egg rolls and poked her with a pencil when she got too serious, too glum.
How did she not know her partner was dead? Had been dead?
The thought chokes her.
She'd considered Charlie a friend. Her best, behind Rachel. Did she not know him the way she thought?
Immediately, she began forming a list in her head. Things I Knew About Charlie Francis. His birthday. His favorite pizza topping. The way he took his coffee. His usual lunch order at the diner. His favorite pen. His first pet's name. Where his spare key was.
Sonia shows up at her door one night, drunk and crying. Demands answers Olivia can't give.
Blames her for his death, blames her for the fatherless child in her belly, blames her for everything but global warming.
She sits in bed, staring at Charlie's frozen, smiling face, arm slung around her shoulders with her own frozen grin mocking her.
As the sun peeks underneath her curtains, his smiling face morphs into something else. Lying on the cement, the partner she so loved except for the horrible silver dripping from the hole she put in his forehead.
Out of all the shots she's taken, she knows this one will be the one that haunts her the most.
Her nephew is born on a hot summer afternoon.
Greg was gone again, and Rachel couldn't bear staying in Chicago without him. For the better, Olivia thought. Her apartment had seemed too empty and her phone conversations with her sister had been too tense.
She claims it's for good this time, but Olivia knows her sister. Decides to enjoy her niece and eagerly await her nephew and not nag her sister about divorce papers and custody agreements she claims are in progress.
Long after the other occupants of the house had fallen asleep, she creeps in the door.
Not even bothering to change, Olivia slides Dickens off her pillow, pulls the blanket over herself and Ella and closes her eyes.
A wobbly Rachel is instantly at her door, a damp spot discoloring her shorts.
A bag over one shoulder and a still-sleeping Ella rests on another as she shuffles groggily to impatient Rachel at the door.
Edmond Oliver Blake is born thirteen hours later.
Ella is in awe of the tiny pink newborn. The facts she had been reciting for hours about babies fade in her throat as she talks sweetly and eagerly to her brother.
Neither adult has the heart to tell her he won't be going on adventures with her for years still.
They want to assign her a new partner.
Olivia nearly slaps Broyles for even considering it, consequences be damned.
Astrid, she insists. Astrid can handle it.
She knows the younger agent is flattered, but between dealing with Walter and dealing with the caseload and dealing with the strain doubled by the intensity of their job, she is also overwhelmed.
But Fringe Division carries on for months without another agent. Olivia knows it's only a matter of time before someone else is ensnared, before someone else stumbles upon an event and won't let go.
She vows to be fine.
Greg is back and Rachel packs and Olivia feels her heart break as Eddie screams with colic and Ella presses her face into her hip.
They're exposed to something in the lab.
Walter is very tight-lipped about what the substance that has confined them to the Harvard basement actually is, but by his easy demeanor, she is not entirely worried and forgoes calling Rachel or Nina.
She and Astrid are lounging on the couch when Olivia finds the small bottle tucked away in her bag.
She doesn't recognize the shade of nail polish, but she vaguely remembers Rachel sporting a similar color on her toes.
It only takes them a few minutes before they have a whole station whipped up, nail polish remover and cotton swabs and a UV dryer.
Walter looks at them like they're completely insane, ranting about the dangers of skin cancer and fume inhalation even as he continues dosing a caterpillar with LSD.
Astrid is surprised at her skill with the small brush. Olivia smiles wryly, citing a baby sister, a young niece, and a now-distant aunt.
She'd gotten her nails painted for the first time at her mother's sister's house, by her Aunt Missy. She had been eight at the time, and Rachel four. After a particularly nasty fight, they'd made the two hour drive in the darkness just in time for dinner.
Afterwards, Aunt Missy had spread newspaper across her dining room table, sent her two young sons to play in their rooms away from the acetone.
Of course, her indulgent mood had ended once Olivia had screwed off the top to her favorite perfume and Rachel had accidentally spilled it all over themselves and their aunt's beloved bulldog.
She, in a rare moment of openness with the younger woman, tells her this, and she's never quite heard Astrid laugh as genuinely.
Of course, she probably never imagined Agent Olivia Dunham as the kind of child who would break her aunt's specific rules and root around in her vanity, either.
They laugh over more stories, and Olivia finds it surprisingly easy to be candid with Astrid. Who recognizes her brokenness, accepts it, accepts her without question.
After a few more hours of Walter's ramblings and desperate searching for food not experimented on, the quarantine is lifted.
Broyles looks annoyed at no one in particular, raises an eyebrow when Olivia's purple nails catch his eye.
After the bridge forms, she starts to dream.
At first, he just looks at her. Like he has something to say, like he's trying to reach her but is frozen in place.
He is a stranger, but against all of her instincts, she feels safe. Staring at him from across a room without walls.
Each morning, she wakes up with a throbbing skull and more confusion than the morning before.
Soon, he begins to reach out. His fingers arc towards her and his face drops when her fingers don't meet his in the middle.
His face questions, searches her expression. Whatever he finds there, it obviously troubles him.
He looks like he doesn't understand, and she feels the urge to remedy the distraught expression on his face. Smooth the valley between his eyebrows.
The same dream, night after night. The man looks at her, reaches for her, deflates as she refuses to reciprocate. There is a part of her that instinctually wants to, that feels the pull of him, but the larger part holds her steady.
Then, one night, he touches her.
He pulls her towards him, spins her around with him, but she remains still. He speaks to her urgently, but it comes out thick and garbled, like he was underwater.
The tone, however, is quite clear. He needs her help.
It confuses her, because before these dreams started, she'd never seen him before in her life.
That is wrong, she tells herself. She remembers something from a high school psychology class, about how dreams can't create new faces, they only conjure ones from tucked away memories. From passers-by.
She wonders where she'd seen him. At the supermarket? On a case?
If this is a new, cortexiphan-induced way to find cases, she just might kill Walter. Bring back William Bell just to shoot him.
She asks him one night, where he was from.
And without warning, he kisses her. A ghost of a kiss, really. But then.
A flood of images. Memories that should be memories, but look more foreign to her than not.
He is reaching for her hand, in a field of flowers. Taking off his sunglasses. Playing cards. Pulling her out of the tank in the lab. Wiping her tears away. Sitting in her car. Kissing her.
Then, it is all taken away.
The dream turns into a nightmare, dark and cold and empty.
She runs blindly through a forest, a name tearing from her throat before she knows what is happening.
She searches for him, searches for an explanation, only to wake up in a cold sweat with Ella's sweet face above her.
Ella isn't phased as Olivia darts into the bathroom, waits patiently as she heaves, gently patting her aunt's back.
Just when she thinks it's over, her wide-eyed, eight year old niece speaks up. Asks who Peter is.
She tries to forget.
Makes Ella pancakes because Greg left again. Burps Eddie over her shoulder and laughs when he spits up down her back. Indulges Walter's crazy whims. Helps Rachel look for apartments.
Tries every migraine medicine in the local pharmacy, and even some of Walter's more experimental remedies.
Nothing dulls the very physical pain and the very metaphorical emptiness she feels when she wakes up.
She meets Rachel at the pediatrician's office.
The signs had been there, of course. Eddie had slept through all of Greg's and Rachel's fights even after their neighbors started banging on the door.
She tunes out the doctor's long-winded explanation and turns to Rachel. Asks what she wants.
The idea of surgery frightens her, so they agree to try other methods until she talks to Greg.
Whenever that would be, Olivia could only guess.
The first time she sees him, really sees him, she is still convinced that it is a dream.
These things only happen in dreams, right?
But there he is. Standing there, in the flesh.
About to be questioned by the FBI, in possession of secrets that only those in deep with Fringe Division should know.
And yet, somehow, he does.
It throws her off for days, this collision with her unconscious mind and her conscious one.
Then, he claims to be Peter Bishop, the son Walter lost so many years ago.
Except not that son, but his alternate. The one who died in a frozen lake, just after crossing over.
Except he didn't. Someone who he calls an observer saved him. Saved him, and Walter cured him.
Walter outright refuses to believe it. Hates him, for even mentioning the possibility that a son of his, or his alternate, may have survived childhood.
Astrid doesn't know what to think, only tries to smooth the situation out. Calm Walter, keep Peter from agitating him too much.
Lincoln, determined but still so green Lincoln, has no idea what the implications of this man mean, and simply struggles to continue on, business as usual.
But Olivia? She refuses to let herself feel anything. He knows things. About her, about Fringe Division, and it unbalances her. So she shuts down.
Feels uncomfortable now that he is her dreams and her reality.
Even when he decides that she is not his Olivia, she still catches him.
Instinctually protecting her, defending her. Looking at her like she's his world.
Despite knowing that she is not, the idea of it is not an entirely unpleasant.
It happens unexpectedly. So unexpectedly that she doesn't even realize what was happening until it's too late.
A memory of a case that never happened.
Problem is, it feels as real as every other case they have dealt with.
It is only the beginning.
Everything is muddled. The lines of real and not real in her head converge.
She kisses him without a second thought. Sees things she immediately wants to tell him about. Wonders what he would do in a particular situation she has found herself in.
Remembers him. The way he smiled at her first thing in the morning. The way he so reluctantly let her out of bed. The way he managed to tell her how much she meant to him, without even uttering a single word.
The way he mockingly folded his wet towels into different shapes in the morning. His unhealthy love for bacon, and his secret love for her chocolate chip pancakes.
The feel of his stubble brushing against her, the pads of his fingertips, his warm breath and his fluttering eyelashes.
His laughter, his smiles, his sighs, his groans, his voice.
But, they're memories from someone else's life.
Some other Olivia who he loved. Loves.
The metaphorical emptiness expands, yet she finds comfort that in some universe, in some reality, she can be so cherished.
She is sick and tired of all the damn alternates.
Doesn't stop her from wondering where Charlie's is. John's. Her mother's.
The first time she remembers him, really remembers him, he is on the other side of the street.
That will not do.
She is suddenly flying towards him, meeting him almost in the middle, flinging her arms around him desperately.
His lips ghost across hers as he breathes out his name for her.
Her nails will scar, his fingers will bruise, but they hold on desperately.
Although they've been together all this time, it feels like months since they've seen each other.
In a way, it has been.
As the universe shifts and changes around them, as timelines merge, as Dorothy clicks her heels, as Atlas shrugs.
She gave me a place to call home; a place I'd want to call home.