Etta’s parents aren’t perfect.
Which, of course they’re not. Nobody’s perfect. Etta knows that. Except it turns out that in her head Peter Bishop and Olivia Dunham have been refined and perfected for twenty years, until all that remains of her brief childhood is the golden memory of love and laughter and hugs and Walter’s magical mystery lab tour.
Outside Etta’s head, Peter and Olivia have been in amber for twenty years, which hasn’t refined or perfected anything. Also: Walter’s extra bits of brain may have fixed the damage caused by the amber, but they haven’t done much for his personality.
In the right circles, it’s well-known that the first Fringe team had a plan for getting rid of the Observers, and Etta has blithely assumed that the first Fringe team plan was, y’know, an actual plan.
Walter’s designed a machine, based on a theory. Peter thinks this theory is bullshit, and has no qualms about arguing the point with Walter at length and at volume, even as he helps build it. Etta puts it down to the extra Walter-brain (because she doesn’t remember her dad and Walter arguing like this, and she doesn’t want to amend her memories to include it) that their arguments are vicious and bad-tempered.
Peter tells Walter he’s an idiot. Olivia attempts to calm them down, which Etta, perched on a desk in the corner, can tell is a doomed venture. Walter calls Olivia an imbecile.
There’s more shouting. Olivia tells Peter he’s not helping anything. He pushes back his mask and throws down his soldering iron. This is not how Etta imagined having her family back. She considers stamping her feet and accusing them of being children, reminding them of what it’s been like for everyone in the past twenty years. This isn’t a time for pointless squabbles. She’s nervous, though; she doesn’t know quite how to interact with them. Etta’s not four years old any more.
And yet… Olivia’s gaze slides past Peter, and meets Etta’s; she smiles, warm and secure, so that Etta can’t help but respond. Peter obviously catches on, and turns round, grinning at her. “Enjoying our fine Bishop tradition?” he says wryly. “No universe-shifting apocalypse complete without the family row. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”
“Do not be facetious, Peter,” objects Walter. “These are dangerous times.”
“Yes, thank you, Walter, we hadn’t noticed.”
“Well, sometimes I think you haven’t.” Walter looks grumpy and rumpled now, check shirt and cardigan askew beneath his lab coat, and he looks exactly how Etta remembers. “I need your help, Peter.” His hands flit over the machinery half-built on the trolley in front of him, and Peter sighs, and pulls the protective mask off the top of his head.
“It’s gonna be fine, Walter,” he says, more gently now. He goes and stands by him, one hand on Walter’s shoulder. Olivia leaves them to their discussion and sits on the desk next to Etta.
“Don’t worry about them,” she says, reaching out and clasping Etta’s hand in her own. Etta looks down at the two hands in her lap. Olivia – Mom – does things like this, and it feels simultaneously weird and completely right. She wonders if it feels the same for Olivia. She hates the twenty years between them.
“Is this where you tell me Dad and Grandpa Walter love each other very much?” she asks, and she and Olivia both laugh.
”Dad and Grandpa Walter drive each other crazy,” says Olivia, squeezing Etta’s hand and letting it go. “But yes, they love each other very much.” Olivia glances across, green eyes serious. “We’re a family, Etta.”
Etta is quiet. “It takes a while to get used to,” she says eventually. “I guess I’m not used to that.” This family is not the family she’d made in her head. She’s not surprised when she feels her mother’s arm round her shoulders or the kiss pressed to her temple.
“I know, baby,” says Mom, “but you will. We all will.”
For a moment, it’s just the two of them, close and still, then a crow of victory issues forth from the centre of the lab, and Etta looks up to see Walter doing a little dance of joy, hair on end. Dad waves a flourishing hand at him. “Dr Walter Bishop, ladies and gentlemen,” he says grandiosely. Walter takes a bow, and Etta and Mom clap enthusiastically, a pattern Etta remembers exactly, because this is how it always happens, a Bishop family tradition. She remembers this.