Rating: T (for bad language)
Pairing/Characters: Olivia/Peter; ensemble
Setting/Spoilers: post-season 2, because I'm so jumping on that bandwagon
Warnings: Again, Peter and Olivia both grow a little foul-mouthed
Summary: Alt!Livia doesn't like Gene, Walter only wants Peter to smile, that is not Ella's Aunt Liv, Elizabeth Bishop isn't going to pretend anymore, and somebody . . . somebody has to set the universes running right again and bring Olivia Dunham home.
A/N: My brother bought me the first season of Fringe on DVD as he claimed it was the best thing on television. I watched it in two weeks and devoured the second season in a week. I'm obsessed. I had to write this to try to get this show out of my head! Un-Beta'd, so all mistakes are mine -- I apologise in advance!
He doesn't kiss her when they find themselves standing firmly in his adopted world once more, but as they head their separate directions — he to take Walter home, she home to her sister, niece, and much needed sleep — he presses a tender hand to her face, smiling.
The cow in the lab moos at her.
It's not the mooing that startles her. It's the fact that there's a cow there at all. Who the hell keeps a cow in a lab? Exactly how crazy are these people? She's been in this world for less than twelve hours, a single night, but all the evidence points against the sanity of the whole damn planet.
She stops walking, she stares, and she turns slightly to make a crack about the cow to the man beside her. But she realises even as her head is turning that she can't. The cow in the lab, she knows, does not startle him. He's not startled by Walter singing along to the song Love is a Battlefield at the top of his lungs. He's not startled by any of the silly, stupid, asinine things that go on in this world.
"Somebody feed Gene yet?" he asks. She hopes Gene isn't the cow.
"Just about to," Astrid says, holding up a sandwich. Yes, Gene is the cow.
It still shocks her that Peter Bishop could have possibly chosen this world over hers.
He bolts up in his bed, panicked. He needs to get up. He needs to get out. He races into the kitchen. He spins around. Wait. What is he doing? What is he looking for? He frowns. Why did he get out of bed? Why did he wake up?
He glances at the fridge. Some juice would be nice.
He chooses the cranberry melon flavour, because he finds it delightful that they have flavours like cranberry melon, and he's just about to take a sip when he remembers. Peter. He puts down his glass and climbs upstairs to his son's room. He starts to open the door ever so slowly, ever so quietly, so as not to wake the boy.
He has to check on him. He has to make sure —
"I'm still here, Walter," Peter says in the darkness.
"Oh. Good. Would you like some juice?"
"Go back to bed, Walter."
"Yes. Yes. Goodnight, son."
"I'll see you tomorrow." He waits, hoping and wishing and praying —
"Go back to bed, Walter. I'll see you tomorrow."
Walter smiles as he closes the door. He thinks he'll have some Twizzlers with his juice.
She frowns, but she doesn't say anything.
She's always felt like the distant cousin of the tight-knit little family that Walter, Olivia, and Peter built for themselves. Of course, she, unlike them, has her own, completely functioning family, with two happily married parents and three brothers. Still, sometimes she wants a little more from the crazy man who's like another father to her, from the FBI agent she's always admired, from the man who's heart she loves to see slowly warm to his estranged father.
She doesn't know how to ask for more, however, and she doesn't know how to express her concern at the face Olivia makes. Walter says he wants to try implanting human hormones in rats and he'll need some raspberry jam because isn't it delicious? all in one breath, and the look Olivia gives, her expression, it's almost . . . cruel.
Astrid only looks away and pretends she didn't see it.
Her third day there, the other Broyles calls to say that he has a case for them.
She lets out a sigh. Finally, she has something to do other than sit around the lab with these people. Her only instructions from the other side are "Infiltrate. Observe. Report." She's left her mother, her friends, her partner, Frank — she's left her life, her world — for this, and sitting around trying to act like someone she's not isn't what she signed up for.
And then Walter identifies the bloody mess on the ground of the department store as a body turned inside out. She can't hide her disgust, and Peter places a hand on her lower back. "There's gruesome and then there's just plain old gross," he says.
She smiles genuinely before she can think to make herself do it, and he smiles back, and he has that look in his eyes, that it doesn't matter what world I'm from because you're my world look, and she realises that sitting around the lab isn't what's making her lose it.
It's this entire world and the people in it, most especially Peter Bishop.
It's the kind of terrible that can't be imagined. It has to be lived.
And she's living it.
She can't see or hear, and she wonders if she can even speak. If a tree falls in an empty forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? If Olivia speaks to a bleak blackness and no one hears, does she really make any noise at all?
She tries to stay aware at first. She does push-ups and crunches. She walks around the room, tracing the walls and the corners with her hands, trying to learn the layout. She thinks about ways to escape. She tries to keep track of time. The determination gives way to something else eventually.
She thinks of strange things. She thinks about purple pens like the one she had in third grade. She thinks of how long a memory fish have. She thinks about the movie Wall-E that she watched with Ella.
She thinks of how she hates strawberries and she has since she was six and she ate one and her lips tingled and then burned and then swelled and then her mom drove her to the hospital and she was told never to eat another strawberry. She tries to remember the taste of that one strawberry. She can't.
She thinks about Peter. That's not strange, actually; at least, it's not strange at first. At first it's the blessedly obvious things she thinks about: if he and Walter made it back to their world, if she returned with them, if there is some way Peter will find her and free her.
Those things, those thoughts, they're so all consuming that they're almost a way to pass the time and to keep her sanity.
Then her thoughts turn darker: if she is with him at that moment, if she is kissing him and sleeping with him and making him fall in love with the wrong Olivia. Anger flares up in her, and she screams. Does anyone hear?
Then her thoughts turn silly: will she and Peter have kids? What would they look like? Does he like waffles? She likes waffles. She also likes pancakes. Will she ever taste another pancake again? Would Peter like it if she made him pancakes?
And time marches on, but she's not aware of that.
He doesn't know what to do.
They haven't talked about what happened over there, about their kiss, and while she seems to show no hesitancy around him, while she isn't pulling away from him the way she did after Jacksonville, she doesn't seem interested in moving forward with him either.
It's almost as if she wants to pretend nothing happened.
But he isn't willing to do that again. Something did happen, and can't she see that he really did come back for her?
He finally says something, corners her in her office at the lab and asks her if everything is okay, asks her if she regrets kissing him over there. She stares at him for a long time, and he finds it unsettling, and then she answers slowly, carefully, "Of course not."
She kisses him again, and he's so relieved, so happy, that he doesn't really process how it's such a different kiss. He doesn't for a while, anyway.
"Wait, wait, wait," Astrid says. "You think someone turned him inside out in order to steal his eyes?"
"Because spooning them out wouldn't have been bad enough," Peter says.
"Ah, yes, but this allows better extraction!" Walter exclaims. "There was probably little damage done to the eyes when they were removed. It's brilliant, really."
Astrid looks over at Peter, who only smiles into his coffee.
"But why would someone want his eyes?" Olivia asks.
"Eyes," Walter replies, "are essential to vision, Agent Dunham. They are very valuable. Do you have any peanuts? Salted, preferably."
This world is disconcerting.
She misses her mom and Charlie and Frank. She doesn't know how to talk to Rachel, and it's obvious that this unsettles her sister, because the other Olivia and Rachel clearly have a close relationship. She finds ways to cope. This is her assignment, and she won't fail. She's always been good at her job.
She passes off her awkward interactions with her sister as stress from work, and Rachel accepts this warily. Ella is easily fooled into believing this Olivia is her beloved Aunt Liv. Walter, an old, doddering fool, finds no reason to doubt her either. Even the Broyles of this world isn't too hard to trick. Of course, Peter is the easiest of all.
She quickly realises that his relationship with the other Olivia is one of easy friendship and fierce loyalty and close trust, and romance is something new for them — or it was, before she intervened. And she knows how to be his friend. That's not remotely difficult. She knows how to act as if he's another Charlie, she knows how to laugh at his jokes and how to trust his judgments.
When he finally confronts her, however, about their romantic standing, she decides not to take the easy way out: she doesn't tell him she wants to put the brakes on their relationship. She has no idea how long she'll be in this universe, and she needs him too infatuated with her to realise the truth. Besides, it's easy to take things at a slow pace with him — every time she's hesitant, every time she breaks a kiss, he only smiles, so clearly falling in love with her.
This world might be disconcerting, but this job is easy.
She hates him.
She hates him.
It's her best kept secret.
She knows the sorts of things he does. She's always known. After all, she's the only one around from the beginning, the only one to see the clear changes in him as the years pass. But she's always pretended not to know, not to see, because he, even as cold and bitter and vengeful as he's become, is all she has left. And what good would it do to admit aloud how very much she despises him? She can't afford to lose any more.
She's already lost her son.
Then, he does the unimaginable: he brings her son back.
Oh, Peter, sweet, sweet Peter. Her son. Her son.
He's so much older that it's strange, and he's not like she imagined him, yet . . . yet . . . he's everything she imagined he would be: he's kind and his smile is shy and sweet, and he speaks to her with a kind of warmth. She wants to hold him and never let go.
But she must, and she should have known that she would lose him again. It still breaks her heart when she learns that he's gone, and it's almost worse this time, because her husband can't hide from her that Peter chose to leave this time. She blames Walter, and she doesn't say it, but she knows he can tell.
She's always blamed him a little, and she's never said it, and he's always known.
Walter tells her, his eyes hard, that he'll bring Peter back. "I have something I know he can't resist returning for," he tells her. She finds herself slightly frightened of him, frightened for Peter. Maybe, just maybe, if Peter chose to go back, then maybe he's better off.
She goes to Walter's work when she knows he'll be out, charms her way into his office — who are his minions to deny his wife? — and starts searching through papers she doesn't understand. It isn't long before she realises that her husband had intended to use Peter to destroy the other universe.
It makes her queasy.
She looks around the large office. "I hate you," she says. There aren't cameras in here. Why would Walter spy on himself? "I hate you!" she shouts. Her hands shake. She can admit it now, admit how very much she hates Walter Bishop, because she has something else to anchor her to reality. When she finds the folder labelled simply Dunham, determination is quick to solidify in her veins in a way it hasn't in years.
She thinks of Peter, and she makes the decision without needing another thought. She isn't going to let Peter return to this twisted universe with this twisted Walter.
She is going to bring him the one reason he would ever have to come back.
The lights come on and dazzle her.
She blinks rapidly, her whole body tensing as she sits and waits. Will it be Walter again? She hasn't seen him — or anyone — since he shut the blinds on her, his expression cold and stony. She doesn't care who it is, if it's him or someone else; she's ready to fight her way out regardless.
And then the shock overtakes her.
"Mom?" she whispers hoarsely.
The timid woman who stands in the doorway nods. "Oh, Livvy," she murmurs, smiling softly. "I — I hate to see you like this. Are you — they've been feeding you, haven't they?" Her brow is creased in concern, and Olivia's memories of her mother flash before her.
"They feed me," says Olivia, trying to summon some semblance of strength. "That's all they do."
The next thing Olivia knows, she has human contact for the first time in — in God only knows how long. She clutches her mother, her mind spiralling out of control at the familiar scent that surrounds her mother. "Oh, sweetheart," her mother soothes, rocking her. "Don't worry," she whispers. "I know how to get you out of here."
She pulls back, brushing Olivia's hair from her face. "They've told me everything. All you have to do is tell me how — how you came to be here." There's something guarded in her mother's face.
"What?" Olivia says.
"How you came here," her mother repeats. "How you came to this universe."
Olivia pulls away. She was momentarily blinded by the light, by the sight of another human, by the sound of another human, by the touch of another human, by the sight and sound and touch of her mother. She was momentarily blinded and she forgot.
Her mother is dead.
And this woman who looks like her mother and talks like her mother and smells like her mother — this is the other Olivia's mother. The other Olivia, a woman Olivia hates above all others, second only to this universe's Walter Bishop.
She opens her mouth to say something but she can't make her thoughts form words. Her head has started to pound from the bright light it is no longer accustomed to, and she feels weak and out of sorts and it seems after so long of nothing that everything is happening much too quickly.
"They're using you," Olivia finally says. "To get to me."
"Olivia," her mother says, "you know I only want to help you. You're the only daughter I have left —"
"No," Olivia interrupts. "I'm not your daughter. Your daughter is currently infiltrating my world and pretending to be me. I'm not yours. You're not my mother. My mother died. The only family I have is my sister."
Her mother takes a sharp breath. "They said she was alive, that Rachel was alive in your world —"
"My Rachel," she says, rapidly losing control of herself, "my Ella, my Peter — not yours."
"Livvy," her mother pleads, reaching for her.
Olivia pulls away. Her thoughts are growing more muddled, and panic floods her veins when she realises that Walter Bishop is standing in the doorway now, watching distastefully. Her stomach churns.
"I think she's sick!" cries her mother.
"You want me to talk," Olivia tells Walter, a kind of craziness clutching her chest, "let me out of here! Get her away from me and let me out!" She screams at them, demands they let her out, because she doesn't know what to do, how to make sense of any of this, but she knows the first step is to get out.
"Mrs. Dunham," says Walter, "come with me."
Olivia tries to stop them, she really does, but two men come from behind Walter, and she can only knock one to the ground before there's a needle digging into her neck, and her vision goes black. When she wakes up, everything is still black.
They've been working all day, all evening, and now it looks like they'll be working all night. She's determined, however, and the familiarity of working on a case is somehow comforting. She sighs, leaning her head back and closing her eyes for a moment.
"Understatement of the year," she replies. Then she shakes herself to shake away the exhaustion. He watches her. She tilts her head at him. "What?" she asks.
"Nothing," he says.
She watches her brush out her hair and put on her make-up. Something is wrong. She knows something is wrong, even if her mom and her uncle Walter and even Peter don't know it.
"Aunt Liv?" she asks.
"Just a minute, baby," Olivia replies, shooting her a quick smile.
Ella frowns. Last night when Aunt Liv tucked her into bed and read her a book, she didn't do any voices. She always used to do voices. And before that, during dinner, Aunt Liv made up Ella's plate, but she didn't make the food on the plate smile at Ella, even though she always did, and it would have been really easy that night.
"Aunt Liv," she whines.
"I said give me a minute," Olivia says sharply. "Go play with your mom."
Ella crosses her arms over her chest and leaves the room. A few minutes later, her aunt Liv finds her and says she's sorry for snapping, and she kisses Ella and tickles her and promises her they'd do something fun that night after work. But none of it matters.
Because that is not her Aunt Liv.
It's the hallucinations that drive her over the edge.
For a long time after that brief visit from her mother, her thoughts had been consumed with the visit and with how she should have acted and how she could have escaped and what she'll do if Walternate tries another such plan to make her talk. But he doesn't try a plan, not for ages, and her concentration and her focus and her thoughts all start to deteriorate.
And then she sees the hallucination.
It's the first thing she's seen in forever (it must be forever, because there is no other term she can use, not minutes or hours or days or weeks or months or years, simply . . . forever), and she blinks rapidly as if to clear her head. But he doesn't disappear, and she allows her eyes to feast on him.
Peter stands before her and she reaches for him and she can touch him and his skin is warm under hers and she stands and she kisses him, and she melts into him, and then he pulls back from her and starts to leave. She cries at him to stop. Can he hear her? Can anybody? He can't. She's screaming and he can't hear her, and he's going to leave her all alone again.
Then he glances back, and his expression, the clear disappointment that glints in every angle of his face, it makes her take a gasping breath. He leaves and it's dark and she calls for him and she screams and screams and screams and screams until her throat burns and she can't scream anymore.
She waits a few hours and screams some more.
He comes back eventually, but when she tries to touch him, he is always out of her reach. And he is always so disappointed in her. Finally, finally, she understands. He's waiting for her to escape, and what has she been doing here, sitting and thinking and forgetting that anything exists outside of her own head?
He needs her.
She has to get out.
She wants to eat a strawberry.
She has to get out.
She stares at the pictures again, stares at the files and the notes and all the information they have, and the frustration builds in her.
As much as she loves the job, she hates this part — the helplessness, the frustration, the knowledge that people are dying and there's a killer on the loose and she has the clues to find him and to catch him and to stop him if only she tries a little harder. . . .
She closes her eyes in a silent call for patience when, out of no where, Walter is standing especially close to her, eating some sort of fruit. "Apricot?" he offers.
"No, thank you," she says sharply.
He nods but doesn't move away. She decides to focus on the files in the hopes he'll take the hint. She can't even immerse herself in a case to escape the crazies of this universe. "Don't worry, Agent Dunham," Walter says. "You'll catch him."
She grits her teeth. She hates being patronised. "You don't know that."
"Yes, I do," he replies, and she finally looks at him to see an expression of clear faith in his face. It throws her for a loop, that trust, that belief; it's almost the way her mother looks at her, with this obvious idea that Olivia can take on the world. "You always do." He smiles then, bites into another apricot and leaves, humming to himself.
She thinks of the Secretary, and yet again, she can't reconcile his image with this man currently trying to juggle apricots.
Worse, she's no longer sure whom she likes better.
He doesn't know what to think when he opens his door in the middle of the night and finds her there. He's almost positive he knows who it is from pictures, but what reason would she have to come to his house?
"Charles Francis?" she asks. Her eyes dart in every direction, and he knows the signs of a nervous wreck.
"That's me," he said. "Is everything okay, ma'am?"
"Not really, no," she replies, smiling a humourless smile in a practised way. "My name is Elizabeth Bishop," she says. She hugs her purse to her chest. "I was hoping you could help me."
It's easy, she tells herself. It's easy to pretend, because these people are oblivious, because this world is a joke, because she doesn't care.
But she does.
And they all trust their Olivia so much that they don't look deeper than skin, and that only makes it worse. No, that makes it better — that makes it easy. It is, after all, only an assignment.
Walter paces. He simply can't remember. "What's the matter, Walter?" Astrid asks.
"I can't remember!" Walter says. "I had the most brilliant idea last night, and now I simply can't remember."
"Calm down," says Olivia.
Walter doesn't spare her a second glance. Tosh. What does she know? Aha! "Cheese!" he shouts.
Peter looks up from the pictures of the sixth victim.
"What?" says Olivia.
"I am going to make cheese," Walter says. "Fresh cheese. It will be delicious! Won't it, Gene? She makes fine milk, why not fine cheese? I can't believe I didn't think of it earlier!"
Peter chuckles, a small smile on his face.
Walter's heart sores. It's like eating a root bear float for the first time in seventeen years! It's like that Sunday when Astrid took him out and helped him fly a kite! It's like an uninterrupted afternoon of Brown Betty! It's like when the blackberries in the pie melt just so! Peter is happy again.
He knew fresh cheese was a good idea. "I'll milk Gene right now!" He hurries to the cow.
He looks back at Peter. Perhaps he would like to help? Oh, dear. Olivia is leaning over the pictures, a crease in her brow, and as Peter watches her, he frowns. He's unhappy again.
All the more reason for fresh cheese.
It's the little things.
It's the way she doesn't roll her shoulders when she's tired. And when she catches him staring, she smiles. But there's something wrong with her smile, something he can't pinpoint but is there all the same, like the way there is something wrong with her kisses.
It's not as if he has experience with her kisses, but months of imagining her lips against his had made him believe he would know what it would be like, and he finds it more than a little off-putting that it's different, that's it not what he'd imagined.
Because the first kiss was.
And the little things, the subtle things, they slowly add up.
It's the way she always has her hands in her pockets. It's the way she eats her pizza — too fast. It's the way she laughs — too loudly, not quiet and wry and subtle. It's the way she talks to Astrid, as if to an underling, rather than a friend. It's the way she watches him. It's an appraising gaze she gives when she doesn't think he's paying attention. He's seen that gaze before, from her, in fact, when she first met him. It's the way she says his name, too sharp, too much like, "Sir."
It's the way she acts as if she can do anything, when once she acted as if she should do everything. There's a difference, the difference of arrogance versus the weight of the world on her shoulders, and the distinction becomes sharper everyday.
They go out drinking, and he sees her fingers curl slightly as she downs a shot. He laughs. "You'll never be much of a drinker, will you?" he says lightly.
She grins. "Nope."
He looks away. "Another round," he calls to the bartender.
She closes her eyes. She inhales through her nose. She tries to imagine Walter's voice guiding her. She exhales. She envisions herself outside, the grass beneath her feet. She thinks of the feel of the grass, a little wet from rain, scratching at her ankles in a pleasantly irritating way.
"Why aren't you wearing shoes?" asks Peter, a voice in her head. That's new.
She grits her teeth. She inhales. She exhales. She waits for her imagination to conjure the sound of Walter's voice. She can't do this by herself. She needs him to lead her. She needs to pretend she's in the lab, doing an experiment. She imagines herself outside, the grass beneath her feet. It doesn't matter where, as long as it's not here. She imagines and imagines and imagines and nothing happens.
"I think this is the point when you try something new," Peter suggests.
She opens her eyes. It's as black with her eyes open as it is with her eyes closed. "I've tried everything," she says, her voice rusty with disuse.
She sees the hallucination of Peter, leaning against the wall. She closes her eyes. She can't look at him. She has to focus. She has to get out. She inhales. She exhales. "You have to see the crack," Peter says. "You aren't simply transporting yourself somewhere else. You're opening a door. Find the handle, Olivia." His voice is warm and soft. "Find the crack."
She nods. She imagines a door. And she lets Peter's voice guide her.
Peter slams his fist into the man's face once, twice, a third time, and Olivia has to pull at his shoulders, has to yank him back. She doesn't know what to say or do; she's never seen Peter like this before.
She looks down at the bruised, bloodied man lying on the ground. He's pathetic. Olivia looks over at Peter, and she feels what she's demanded of herself never to feel for him bubbling up. She can't help it, she can't help the pull to the smiles and wry comments and adoring side glances and now this — this tough, rough, fuck you all attitude — she loves every piece of this man.
But she can't be falling for him. She can't. She won't.
"It's not like he doesn't deserve worse," Peter says, wiping his bloodied hand on his shirt.
Olivia looks back down at the suspect. The FBI team has just arrived on the scene and is already making a beeline for them. This pitiful, useless man used an invention that wasn't his own to turn people inside out in order to make his own Frankenstein. She slams her foot into his face before the FBI can stop her.
She's tough, too. She turns to him.
"Drinks?" he offers.
"Aw, you know that's not my thing," she replies.
"Your place, then?" he asks, and there's something in his gaze.
She bites her lip. "Sure."