Warnings: Cliches abound
Characters: Etta Bishop, Olivia Dunham, Peter Bishop, Simon Foster, Charles "Chuck" Hansen, Mako Mori, Nina Sharp, Stacker Pentecost, Nick Lane.
Word Count: 5,423 words
Summary: Etta Bishop grows up in the Alaskan Shatterdome, the kaiju war the backdrop of her family's life. [Fringe/Pacific Rim Crossover]
Etta’s two years old when Trespasser lands and makes a wasteland of the west coast. She remembers nothing of it other than the sudden silence that descended on the living room, the way her mom’s arms grew tight around her, but she grows up with it as a part of the repertoire of things grown ups cease to speak of in her presence.
When she’s four, almost five, the United Nations announce the formation of an international military branch to fight the monsters on their shores, and the Jaeger Program is born. When she looks back from the jump cuts between giant dinosaurs on television, from the men in blue and the machinery, she sees the look in her mom’s eyes, distant and strained, her posture rigid against her dad’s side.
It’s a Sunday, and there’s Chinese for dinner and no work, but the phone in the kitchen stops ringing only when one of her parents picks it up, and only for a few minutes at that.
There are raised voiced across the hall, that night, when she’s supposed to be sleeping, angry in a way Etta’s only heard other children at the playground talk about. Until the ringing of the phone cuts through the anger, and the silence returns, punctuated by the echo of footsteps falling on the staircase and the slap of the door closing shut.
Her mom slips into her room, and she pretends to sleep, pretends not to notice when she crawls under the sheets of the twin bed with her. But her mother holds her close, and when she shakes Etta can’t find it in herself to keep pretending. She turns around and, surprised, presses small fingers to the shiny tracks the tears have left on the way down her mom’s face.
Etta's mother doesn't cry.
“Mamma? Why are you crying?”
“I’m sad, Etta Bear. I’m just sad.”
“Because you fought with Daddy?”
“Was it because of me?”
“No, honey. It’s just grown up stuff that you don’t have to worry about. Go back to sleep.”
For the longest time, Etta doesn’t understand why her mother lied.
It takes eight months after the christening of the program for her parents to uproot their lives and move her across the country. They land in Kodiak, Alaska, and after two months of snow, and cold, and upheaval, Etta begins to feel the newness wear off and the unease set in. This is not temporal.
There are other children in her pre-school, but Etta is light years ahead of everyone of them. She likes to play just as much as any child her age, but they have been here longer and they don't know her, don't like it when she has all the answers, when she corrects the way they build Lego bridges the way Grandpa taught her before he left. And they don’t like that it’s an expensive, black Massive Dynamic car that’s waiting for her at the end of every day.
It’s hard for her to connect.
Her parents don't treat her differently since coming here, and they don't really treat each other differently either—at least not when she's around—but the are moments, looks between them fraught with misery, and a deep sadness Etta knows they feel but can’t understand.
It’s a particularly nondescript afternoon that first year, when Etta learns the reason for the sadness, the reason for the way her mom sometimes hugs her too tight, lingers longer than usual at her bedside.
She learns it by mistake, quite unexpectedly. Years later, she will be hard pressed to remember the details. There was a meeting with Nina, she’s sure, over the internet. The conversation she overheard, too, is mostly gone. There are only her dad’s words, pleading and agitated, through the closed door.
“She’s five, Liv. We do this now, and something happens to us—and don’t look at me like you don’t have a history of dying right in front of me—something happens to us, and ten years from now our daughter won’t even remember what we looked like off the top of her head. I know you need to do this, to—to see this through, to be a part of it, but it’s not just us keeping the world safe any more. The whole world’s got our backs. So let them do their jobs, and give your daughter memories to remember you by that don’t end with you closing the door on the way out.”
Etta hears them, and understands more than they say (the way her mother lied that night still weighs on her). She runs from the hall, and down the stairs, and knocks a vase on her way, ignoring the hurried steps coming after her until strong arms wrap around her, lift her feet off the ground after she’s barely cleared the front of their house.
Her dad sits on the steps, and holds on to her, brushes her hair away from her face when she’s too tired to keep fighting. He kisses the top of her head, and lets her cry into his shoulder, doesn’t speak a single word.
Over the top of his shoulder, the shape of her mom, in the shadows of the threshold, hand in fists, shivers and looks away.
Right then, the details don't matter. All Etta knows is that she is five years old, and that mere months ago her mother had wanted to leave her.
That she didn't does little to dismiss the hurt.
Despite her acute lack of friends, Etta’s a sociable person. It’s just that she’s not very good at communicating with people her age, and she never sees any other kids that aren’t the ones in the pre-school, who’ve unanimously decided that she’s not to be spoken to, or played with.
Which is why, in hindsight, Chuck becomes her best friend. Her only one, too, for a while.
After she meets him, she wonders why it only happened by chance, if he’s the only other kid that is allowed in the shatterdome. She meets his dad later, and kind of understands that Herc Hansen looks at his son and doesn’t know what to do with him. She sees that look sometimes directed at her, but always from her mother, when she thinks Etta’s not looking, never from her dad.
She wonders if it’s a gender issue, if all fathers look at sons like that. If it’s the same for mothers and daughters. (She wonders if it’s normal, if this is proof that it’s really not that something’s wrong with her, like her dad said).
She’s only allowed on the engineering wing that day because her dad still needs to finish writing one of his reports, and her mother’s off getting tests done for Nina, in the medical wing that Massive Dynamic just finished building.
Aunt Astrid, who would’ve no doubt shifted her schedule around to be able to stay with her, hasn’t been able to visit as often as she did when they first got here, even though they still Skype every other day. Grandma Nina explained that uncle Broyles would be needing her a lot more at work, back in Boston, now that her parents were focused on strengthening the ties between Massive Dynamic and the Defense Corps, here in Alaska.
Her parents don’t like to leave her home alone, and like even less to have to bring their work home, so her dad gives her free reign of the only empty table in his lab, and gives her a box of magnets and little pieces of scrap metal that have had their edges sanded dull, pointy ends rounded.
She’s good with digital stuff, but she’s always preferred the simple logic of things that can be held in her hands, transformed between her fingertips, shaped by touch.
Her dad gets a video call from Brandon, one of Nina’s boys form New York, and Etta leaves to play with her scraps in the hallway before he has to ask her to be quiet and pretend she heard nothing when her mother comes by.
She’s not alone in the hallway. The boy is older and taller and quieter, but when she offers her toys he smiles and scoots over, looks at the little pieces of rubbish with curiosity.
He has a name tag, just like she does. Just like everyone has to carry one once they go through securities doors. The name tag says his name is Charles, and he says people call him Chuck, but Etta hates the sound. It’s harsh to her ears. She calls him Charlie instead, and it seems to offend him.
When she tells him her name, he asks if his dad wanted a boy and proceeds to call her “Henry” in what he thinks is a fantastic joke. Etta doesn’t care, not really, but she thinks he wants her to care, wants her to dislike it. So she pretends that she does, just to see what he’ll do, what he’ll say.
The names stick.
He calls her Henry, and she calls him Charlie, and when they get past the annoyance with each other it’s a little bit nice. She discovers that when he’s not acting irritatingly superior he can even be fun. He acts like she’s a nuisance half the time, but it’s half-hearted. He’ll lend her his toys, and play with her, and when she wins his surprise is not fake. And he always steals a scoop of the strawberry ice cream he doesn’t like—but she loves— when he sneaks into the kitchens during their parents’ late nights, slides it across the table until it reaches her hands.
It’s what Etta figures having an older brother might actually be like. She doesn’t feel so alone with him around to nag.
They’ve been in Alaska for the better part of a year when some of her mother’s old friends start crawling out of the woodwork. There are many of them, but the first to show is uncle Nick, who, while Etta’s mother is too stunned to react, draws her into an awkward hug, apologizes for something with with a teary face and asks about someone called Tim.
And then he shivers in his thin jacket, and wonders aloud if maybe they’ve got a couch he can crash on, and something sweet to eat.
He’s…kind of her nanny, for the couple of weeks it takes the rest of the grown ups to get him a job at the medical wing, testing people’s heads. Or maybe letting people test his head. Etta doesn’t know the details, despite asking for them numerous times. Adults can be cagey about the weirdest things, she finds.
Something about him—his unending if sometimes forced cheer, perhaps— reminds her of grandpa Walter, and Etta decides right then that she likes him. She collects people of questionable mental stability for the rest of her life.
Etta loves her mother. She loves the way her head fits on the older woman’s shoulder, the security of her firm arms around her when she wakes from a nightmare. She loves the coolness of her hands, the way she’ll lull her back to sleep by brushing long fingers down her hair, and slowing her breathing so that Etta does the same.
Etta loves her mother, but she doesn’t understand her.
She doesn’t, for instance, understand why her mother looks pained more than surprised when Etta sneaks down to the kitchen in the middle of the night, hoping there’s still cookies left in the cupboard with the snacks, and finds her hunched over the pieces of her gun, which are spread across the table. Like Etta caught her doing something bad.
(She’s only seen the gun a handful of times, and always fleetingly. She tried to touch it only once. The way her mother paled and her eyes widened, and the painful tightness of her hands on Etta’s arms made sure she wouldn’t try after that).
She’s nine, and growing fast, and sometimes the hunger wakes her. Most of the time, she’s able to sneak back into her room without her parents noticing her momentary absence, but today, for obvious reasons is not one of those days.
Her mother startles and turns, and pushes the cloth beneath the pieces of the gun up and over, to cover whatever she was doing with them. “Are you okay, Etta Bear?”
“I’m hungry, Mamma,” she says, and rubs the sting of the light from her eyes.
Her mother smiles, and stands up, reaches for the cookies Etta wanted without having to ask. She makes her cocoa, too, and hoists her up onto her knee when she sits back down on the chair.
Etta, hot cocoa in hand, with all the innocence of being nine, asks, “Did the gun break, momma?”
Her mother swallows hard and stiffens against her back, and Etta wonders what she did wrong this time, but after a few moments of tension her mother just sighs. Her body relaxes, and her hands reach out from behind her to pull the cloth back. “No, sweetie, it’s just like a puzzle. I pulled it apart to clean it, and when it’s clean I’ll put it back together.”
“I like puzzles! Can I see?”
“Sure.” Her mother says, quieter than her voice usually gets. “But promise not to touch it, okay?”
“Promise,” Etta says solemnly.
And then her mother’s trembling hands reach out across her body and pick up one piece, and then another. She whispers, “pay attention,” in Etta’s ear, like she’s not riveted already, memorizing the order of the pieces and the seamless way they fit together.
When she’s done, she turns the gun and makes sure to be obvious when she clicks the safety on. She puts the weapon down and pushes it away, and kisses Etta’s temple. “I’ll teach you to use it, when you’re older. You should know how, in case you have to.”
Etta nods, and dismisses the thought because “when you’re older” is a realm that is much discussed in the house, and she’s learned that if she worries about it she’ll just give herself a stomach ache.
When she’s done with her cocoa, her mother hoists her up and carries her to bed, tucks her. Etta holds onto her sleeve as she prepares to leave.
“Yeah, Etta Bear?”
“Stay with me tonight?”
Caitlin Lightcap is dying the first time Etta meets her—of cancer, like all the other Mark I pilots eventually will.
She’s ten, and beginning middle school despite her dad’s protests that she should actually be put in a grade where she’s given something to learn despite her age, and she’s bored out of her skull.
She does the math with her eyes closed, and she can read like the students in the advanced class two grades above hers. But it’s not really the content that bothers her; mostly, she’s just lonely.
Chuck’s enrolled in the academy, like he always wanted, like Etta wants to when she’s old enough, but while she’s happy for him, that means he’s never around. (Even if his being around has become a matter of listening to him complain and be angry at things, it would mean doing something more interesting than sitting inert in history class).
She’d go to Simon, who’s her dad’s intern and what uncle Nick would call a “cool guy” when they Skype, but he’s been skittish around her since he got caught letting her sneak into the workshop when her dad wasn’t looking. This even though she was the one that got the bad part of the scolding for being a terrible influence on a grown man.
Etta thinks she might be able to tease him forever with that, because she likes his face when he tries to hide his smile, but that’s only going to happen if she manages to convince both her parents to let her stay in the fun parts of the shatterdome when they’re not around. Her dad's close to breaking but her mother...well, she hasn’t had much luck with that so far.
Today’s their science fair, and this, at least, is a day Etta enjoys. Even if the way her catapult’s little projectiles catch fire when they hit their target alarms parents almost as much as it attracts little girls and boys.
Dr. Lightcap makes a surprise appearance and stops by every booth, and when she stops by Etta’s, she straightens in her wheelchair and listens to every word that comes out of Etta’s mouth like it’s gospel. It’s a kind of attention Etta’s never had form someone not her family, and Etta finds she likes it.
She likes to be recognized for the things she builds, the thoughts she thinks.
Dr. Lightcap makes suggestions for improvements that Etta writes down in her messy scrawl, nodding all the while, and when the older woman smiles and rolls on through to the next booth Etta’s eyes follow.
She can’t help but think that Dr. Lightcap is the person she someday wants to be. She holds onto that thought, and lets it drive her for the rest of the month.
Someday, she tells herself, she’s going to have Dr. Bishop stencilled on her office door.
Where others would watch their parents dance, Etta grows up watching them fight. The Kwoon is their dance floor, their stage. It’s only on rare occasions that there’s someone other than her watching them, but when there is, they put on a show like no one else Etta has ever seen.
The point of the Kwoon, of the fighting that happens in it, is not to beat your opponent. Unlike what most recruits think, getting as many hits as possible into your partner is not just discouraged, but a sign of weakness in future neural links. Such behaviour denotes only dominance, and relies on one partner being the weak link. If the team were allowed in a jaeger, this same dominance pattern would continue, subjecting one partner to a larger physical burden than the other. It would not be very effective in the field.
It’s about balance. About cooperation, and anticipation, and rhythm.
Tonight, the room is crowded. The new wave of recruits have just arrived, and word spreads fast.
Her parents push and pull and duck and strike, and the fight only ends when her dad throws the hanbo to the side like so much trash and tackles her mother to the ground. She twists them around, and presses the edge of her staff to the column of his throat, says something that’s lost in the cheering and the applause and makes him laugh out loud.
To demonstrate in such a way is a tradition in the academy—perhaps Etta’s favourite tradition of all.
She’s twelve, and the alarms in the shatterdome are ringing, and the sound is so familiar it shouldn’t terrify her to the point where she thinks she might puke if they ring a minute more. Uncle Nick sees the look on her face from across the hall, and he crosses the space between them, slings an arm around her shoulders and squeezes.
He’s on leave from his post in manila while he recovers from surgery, here for the next month, and Etta’s thankful for him. For his support.
Today, for the first time, her parents are standing in a jaeger’s cockpit, ready to drop. Faraday Delta stands tall and strong, a giant of a machine with a tungsten skeleton and insides wrapped in layers of Twaron, ceramic ball bearings for joints, armoured in steel. Its silhouette is strappy and slight and almost decidedly feminine.
Etta cheers with the rest of the crew when the chopper lifts them up and carries them off to the coast, but she can’t forget what became of Gipsy Danger, what happened to the Becket boys (one dead, one all but lost).
She never gets used to the feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach every time the ringer goes off, but she learns to live with it. Learns to enjoy the rush of relief that accompanies every drop and kill on Faraday Delta’s list. Enjoys the fact that her parents are heroes.
It’s only much later that she learns that they have always been.
Enlisting for the Academy at fifteen may not ave been the greatest of ideas, Etta thinks, looking in the mirror as blood drips from her temple and oozes from the cut in her lip. But the thing is, Etta has goals, and things to prove (if only to herself), and a legacy to uphold, and no one can stop her, regardless of how much her dad wants to.
(By this point her mother’s just resigned to the reality of Etta getting what she fights for—which is everything. All of the time).
It’s worth it, she knows, regardless of how much it hurts. Today, she made the first cut. She’s part of the Corps. After that, every other hurdle and hoop she manages to get through can only get her a better chance at the kind of recognition she wants.
She made a friend, too, one that kicks like a hammer to the forehead, and punches like what Etta imagines would be like to get run over by a truck. Mako Mori can fight with a fierceness that Etta has deemed outstanding. She’s decided that if the other woman approaches every aspect of her life like that, she’d rather have her as an ally. She can be funny, too, when she wants.
When Etta graduates 28 months later, and decides to pursue an engineering degree instead of becoming a pilot (violence doesn’t suit her, regardless of how good the adrenaline feels—also, Mako probably loosened some of her teeth), her dad beams, and mutters something about Grandpa Walter finally getting the educated little genius he always wanted.
They're closing the shatterdome. They are actually, honest to God, going to shut the program down in favor of a steel wall that can't move and can't punch back, and they’re making every remaining asset relocate to Hong fucking Kong because it’s the only shatterdome that has been deemed large enough for all five of their remaining jaegers combined.
Massive Dynamic has agreed to contribute some of their excess millions as private funding, on the condition that they will be considered sole owners of whatever research comes forth from K-Science for the next eight months (or however long it’ll take for the world to end anyway).
Etta's seventeen years old, and can't believe the leaders of the world are this un-fucking-believably stupid.
When her mother made it to shore with the her dad’s body cradled inside Faraday’s massive metal hand with the delicacy of a butterfly’s landing, Etta felt the world drop beneath her feet, because it was not supposed to be like this.
Her parents come back. They always come back, exhausted but alive, and vibrating with accomplishment. They’re meant to die of old age, in their sleep, once the fucking dinosaurs are driven back into extinction and they’re allowed the quiet life they want, in the lake house, with the water and the stars.
It’s been 8 hours since they rushed her dad, alive but barely, into the OR, and 7 since her mother disappeared into the war room with Pentecost and Nina. There wasn’t even a hitch to her step, despite being one person out of three that’s managed to pilot a jaeger back to safety without a copilot to share neural strain. She didn’t loose consciousness once. Etta supposes that’s why the meeting required Nina to be there.
Her mother should be here. She should be here waiting, pacing, despairing with her. And part of Etta would be ready to ask "don't you love him enough to be here?” But the thing is, she can feel an itch in her legs that gets worse every minute the doctor doesn't barge through the door carrying news, a need to do something. An nigh-overbearing desire to run.
She can’t really fault her mother for having a valid excuse to attend to that particular want.
Hours later, and at the same time the doctor finally, finally, pushes through the doors, clipboard in hand, her mother makes an appearance down at the hallway’s end, looking ragged, pale.
“Miss Bishop, Agent Dunham.” The doctor says. “He’s alive, but still in critical condition. We had to replace the part of his shoulder than was crushed when he fell, and the lung that collapsed, so if he makes it through the night his recovery is going to be slow, and very painful. I’m…afraid he’ll never step on a jaeger again.”
Her mother nods, and stumbles into a seat when her knees give. She meets her eyes, and Etta knows they have the same thought running through their minds: he’s alive.
She’s going to kill him. And by kill him she means punch him very hard. And by him she means Charles Bloody Hell Hansen, who’s clutching at his face and huffing and staring daggers at Mako and her big, bad Labrador Retriever of a co-pilot. Because he’s stupid, and he deserves it, and no one calls a friend of hers a “bitch.” Not even another friend.
Her dad, who’s always been kind to Chuck but also wary of him for reasons Etta hasn’t bothered to ask (she supposes it comes down to him being male and seven years older than her, and her friend, even though Etta’s never really been interested in anyone that way, least of all Charles Bloody Hell Hansen), is already advancing toward the loudmouthed jerk when she grabs him by the back of his knit sweater and pulls him back.
“Dad,” She says, in that tone she’s learned from her mother that leaves no room for argument. “I’ll handle this one.”
She stomps up to him, grabs him by the ear and twists. “Say that again, Charlie, why don’t you?”
Chuck twists towards her, slaps her hands away. “Oi, what the bloody hell, Henry?”
“What the bloody hell, Henry? What is wrong with you?”
“Me? I’m perfectly fine! Why don’t you ask your girlfriend and her fuckboy, hmm? Preferably before they blow us all to hell.”
“So what, are you jealous because she’s a woman, or because he’s better than you are?”
“Better? In your dreams maybe. Tell me, does Mori share?”
And there it is. She’s wanted to punch him before, quite a number of times in fact, but he’s never really deserved it. But this guy, this guy he became when she wasn’t looking and he got stationed half the world away…this isn’t her friend.
They’re standing so close that the only way to punch him and really hurt him in the process is to throw him an uppercut right to the edge of his jaw. It closes his mouth shut and makes his head jerk back, forces him to stumble back to keep his balance and not fall.
Her hand feels like she’s just put it through a cement wall, but other than that…well, she’s going to start punching people more often outside of the Kwoon, see if it always feels as satisfying as that.
“You’re disgusting,” She tells him. “I don’t know when you replaced the sullen little boy with the cocky asshole, but it was a bad trade off. Go fuck yourself,” she hisses. Seethes, really. Max whimpers in the corner, concerned by all the shouting, looking back an forth between the angry bipeds. “And learn from your dog while you’re at it, he’s a better person that you are. Come, Max.”
The humungous ball of a dog rises on stubby legs, licks his muzzle in one big swipe, and after looking at his other idiot of a human—still reeling from the punch to the face, visage red—makes up his mind and follows her, collar tinkling as he trots away.
It’s the end of the world. Well, the end of their particular paradigm, more likely, regardless of what happens. It’ll take a while for the Kaiju to kill every man, woman, and child after they land. If they land.
In the flowing chaos of the hangar bay, Etta takes a deep breath, hugs Simon Foster good bye, and steels herself for the things that need to be done. She’s already handled her dad, can still feel the crushing force of his good arm around her as he forced her to promise she’d come back, that she’d take care of her mother.
Max strains on the end of his leash, and she turns, lets the dog go when she sees Chuck approach, ready to head out, helmet in hand. He crouches down, scratches the bulldog’s belly, his chest, the spot under his chin that makes him want to scratch in little spasms.
“Take care of him for me, will ya? Make the old man lend a hand.” He pretends to ignore her, even as he talks to her.
Etta nods, and just as studiously pretends not to notice he’s crying like a baby into his dog’s short fur. Sometimes she feels forty instead of almost-eighteen. “Yeah, I will.” If I’m still here.
“Bye, Henry.” Chuck stands, and looks at her for short moment, says, “I’m sorry.”
Etta chuckles, punches his arm. “Kick some kaiju ass, Charles.”
An hour ago, Marshall Stacker Pentecost placed her dad’s helmet in Etta’s hands, and the rest of her future, however short it may be, began on his taciturn “suit up.”
Apparently, with her dad out of the game, she’s the only other member of this task force that has passed the pilot program at the top of the class. The only other member of this task force that’s drift compatible with Peter Bishop’s copilot.
Time to face mom.
The drift is silence. It’s built on trust.
That’s why the apprehension that’s palpably coming from her mother’s armoured shape on the other side of the cockpit discourages her. This partnership of theirs looks near-flawless on paper, but it hasn’t been tested. For all Etta knows they’ll be the ones to blow the shatterdome and everyone in it to pieces.
It’s built on trust, and her mother loves her, Etta knows her mother loves her, but love and trust are not equivalent, not interchangeable. She supposes there’s nothing to do now but vomit some version of a hail Mary and let the pons device decide.
Her mother nods and Etta gives a thumbs up and forces her body to relax, calms her mind. And then she’s not Etta any more. Which is to say, she’s not just Etta, not just Henrietta Bishop, here in this cockpit, in this jaeger, in this version of the world.
She is more.
The memories flood her, all at once, and each one of them has a feeling, a smell, a taste. Only some are familiar, close to her, only some feel like her mother, but they’re all coming from her.
Etta panics, sees things that aren’t there. She looks at her mother and she sees her one second and then somebody else the next, two women who look like her but feel off, dissonant in ways that make her whimper and double over, and shiver. She sees a man she’s never met, a man that some part of her brain understands is long dead, catches a flicker of uncle Nick as well. She sees an echo of her father too, like whatever’s left of him in her mother’s mind lies suspended along their connection, ghosting through the people they are.
Her mother shouts her name, and something warm overwhelms her, a perfect silence that filters from her mind to her limbs, that only feels alien for the couple of seconds Etta resists it.
When the memories come back they rush in with a kind of order, get sucked into a vacuum as they pass, and it’s no longer so much, so fast, that Etta can’t see them, feel them, know them for what they are. She’s in every one of them, except for the ones with the blond little girl with the gun and blood on her face that isn’t her. She’s in every one of them, from the moment a bullet and a blood test made her real, and oh.
Oh, her mother trusts her. Her mother has always trusted her.
At long last, Etta understands.
The Precursors better run and hide.