AN: So, I finished Fringe for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was left with an urge to write fic. The weirdest one got written first - within a few days, even. It's quite meta, and also apparently includes a character from another fandom? I'm not really sure how William snuck in here, he just showed up. Must get it from his parents.
The title is from the poem Break, Break, Break, by Tennyson. Comments and criticism gratefully accepted! Especially since this is my first try at Walter's voice.
"Hey. You okay?"
Walter groaned at the sound of the voice, slowly becoming aware. Where was he? What had happened, again? He opened his eyes, struggling up to a seated position.
The world that met his sight was very gray. Positively dreary, in fact. He seemed to be on a rocky shore, with gray waves lapping against it. The sky was heavily clouded, as well, making the whole scene rather dim.
"You okay?" the voice repeated. In front of him crouched its owner - a young boy, casually dressed in t-shirt and shorts. His auburn hair and blue-green eyes (currently widened in concern) were the brightest spots in the colorless landscape.
"Yes - yes, I believe I'm quite well, thank you." Then Walter remembered who he was responsible for at the moment, and looked around wildly. "Michael?"
A small hand laid itself on his coat-sleeve. The child was peacefully seated behind him, meeting his gaze reassuringly.
"Oh. Oh, good." Walter put his shaky hand over the boy's steady one. "You're not hurt, Michael?"
The boy held his eyes silently.
"Good! Excellent." Walter looked back at the scene around him, brow creasing in puzzlement, and turned to the red-haired boy. "Er, where are we, my young friend? Oh! And what's your name?"
The boy smiled at him, a wide, dimpled grin that reminded Walter painfully of Peter's adolescence. "I'm William. What're your names?"
Walter beamed. "I am Walter Bishop, and this young lad-" he patted Michael's shoulder, scooting backward so that they were next to each other, "-is Michael. Michael O'Connor."
Michael's eyes flicked back to him at that, and Walter found himself looking back nervously.
After a moment, the child's lips turned up in a small smile. Walter turned away, blinking.
"Hi, Walter Bishop," William said. "Hi, Michael." He waved at the other child.
Michael looked back at him.
"Hello, William," Walter said, smiling. Then his smile dropped away. "But - as I asked before, where are we?"
William sobered, biting on his upper lip. "Not-Home."
"Not home?" Walter repeated, puzzled. "Well, yes, I can see that. But where are we?"
"I told you," William said, seating himself on the ground. "It's Not-Home Island. Well, that's what I call it, anyway, and I've been here a pretty long time."
"Oh, really?" Walter asked, sidetracked for the moment. "How old are you, William?"
He shrugged. "Thirteen. I've been here since I was a baby. I'm hoping you guys don't have to stay as long as me."
"Not-Home Island," Walter repeated softly. He looked to sea. Well, this place was as dismally unhomely as any he'd seen.
Home. . . Suddenly the thought of it overwhelmed him. His cozy lab, the children's bright new house. With Astrid's patient eyes, Olivia's glowing smile . . . Peter.
Peter, his beautiful boy, his wonderfully grown-up son, the stolen child who had stolen Walter's heart in return - well, not really, because Walter didn't have a heart of his own anymore, did he? No, he'd been getting by for years on part of Peter's.
But he remembered, now. He remembered Peter's face lit by the blue light, as he mouthed those last, precious words. He'd seen Peter, in those instants, for the last time.
"We're. . ." Walter looked around, blinking away the moisture in his eyes. "We're supposed to be in the future - in the year 2167."
"You are," William said. "Well, I mean you probably are. But you're here too." He smiled, sympathetically. "Not-Home's a big place. My part of it's a ranch. I guess yours must be the future."
Walter shook his head. "I'm sorry, William, I'm afraid I don't understand."
William sighed. "This is Not-Home Island," he repeated. "It's got all the people who've lost their home. Usually that means they're somewhere else specific, like you or me, but that doesn't really matter. There's only one place that's Home. Everywhere else just gets you to Not-Home."
"Oh," Walter said. He looked around. That seemed to make sense, he thought. And, as he'd thought earlier, it did certainly look like a conceptual opposite of homeliness, if anything could. Something further from his cherished memories could scarcely be imaginable - yes, even considering St. Claire's.
He looked at Michael. Michael seemed to find nothing strange in the other boy's story.
"Well, I suppose that makes sense," he agreed. "But - everyone who doesn't have a home is here? Isn't that rather a lot of people?"
William shook his head vehemently. "No," he said. "That's not it at all. You have to have a home and not be at it to come to Not-Home." He looked away toward the sea, restlessly hefting a stone in his hand. "My home's with my mother and my father," he said. "But my mother gave me up to keep me safe when I was a baby, so we lost each other. And I can't find them on my own." He threw the stone into the ocean, where it vanished with a splash.
"I'm terribly sorry," Walter said sincerely.
"Oh, it's okay," William said. "When I'm big enough and old enough, I'll go looking for them. I know they're out there somewhere, and they love me. I'll just keep looking until I find them. Then we'll all be together again, and I'll be Home."
Walter nodded, impressed by the boy's determination.
Before he could say anything, however, William moved on. He cocked his head, looking at Michael curiously.
"Are you part alien?" he asked.
"Oh, no!" Walter answered for the boy, chuckling. "No, he's not - though I don't know if he's precisely human, either, of course. He's the result of very advanced genetic manipulation of human DNA - and then he developed something the people in charge weren't expecting on top of that. We're going to the future - well, his past, but my future - to show the researchers how to do it right. You see, he's much more intelligent than the horribly flawed people they'll end up bringing into the world."
"Cool!" William said.
He turned back to Michael. "I'm not normal either," he said. "I was a miracle, my mother said. I remember a man came once and tried to make me normal, before my mother gave me up, but he couldn't make it work all the way." He solemnly held out his hand.
Michael looked at it, then at William, thoughtfully.
He took it with a very slight smile.
William smiled back. (It was very curious, Walter thought. With the two boys mirroring each other in such a way, there was a strong likeness apparent in their faces, despite Michael's stillness and William's expressiveness. He wondered how much stronger it would be if Michael had hair.)
"It's nice to have another kid, like me, here," William said. "I mean, I hope you get back Home, but we can be friends until then."
He leaned back on his hands, turning to Walter again. "So your home's in the past?" he asked. "That's harder to get back to than mine. Is it far?"
Walter shut his eyes, taking a moment to swallow down the sudden lump in his throat. "A hundred and fifty-two years," he said.
"And I can't go back," he added. "Michael and I are living paradoxes now. The past is very precariously preserved in its current state, and if we were to go back again-" He shook his head. "I'm afraid our presence could destroy everything we've worked for." Olivia, Peter, their beautiful Etta. . .
"Wow," William said. "Sorry." He seemed lost in contemplation for a moment. "Is Michael's home the same as yours?"
"I . . . actually, I really don't know where Michael's home is," Walter said, only realizing this as he spoke. "I'm fairly certain it's not mine - we haven't known each other for very long."
He turned to the boy. "Where is home for you, Michael?" There were at least two possibilities he could think of. . .
Michael looked down, pulling something out of his pocket and cradling it in one palm. He touched a tiny crank with his other hand.
He turned it just, long enough for the full tune of "Greensleeves" to play once before dying away.
Walter's throat constricted. "Oh, Michael," he whispered.
He pulled the boy a little closer to him, cradling the back of the small, bare head in his hand. "I am so very sorry," he said. "We'll try to make you a new home. I promise you that."
Michael bent his head, putting the music box away again.
William, meanwhile, had watched with his chin resting on his knees, arms wrapped closely around his legs as though he were trying to withdraw himself. He seemed to understand the moment, and preserved a respectful silence until it was over.
Then he said, "If you do, he won't have to be here anymore. That'll be good."
Walter nodded. "I'm afraid that even then, I'll be here for a very long time myself, though," he said with a shaky smile. "I left my son and his family in the past, you see."
"Well . . . at least you've got company here," William said, flashing them another bright, if hesitant, smile. "Sometimes people leave, and new ones come, but there's always somebody. People who lost their world, or who got exiled, or who've just gotten separated from their family, like me."
Walter nodded, a hand still wrapped around Michael's shoulders. He thought - he hoped - that Michael could heal, in time, from the loss of his father, and learn to move on into a new life. But he. . .
(I love you, Dad.)
No, his home was in the past, and there it would remain.
"Does it help?" he asked William quietly. "The other people?"
"It's Not-Home Island," William said, his young eyes turning old with emptiness. "Nothing helps that much, because help would be getting Home."
"Mm," Walter agreed, smiling wryly. "People would only help me if they were my people, wouldn't they? Olivia, Astrid, Peter. . ."
"There was a Peter here pretty recently," William volunteered. "He talked about his dad a lot - and a woman who could have been named Olivia, I don't remember. Was he your son?"
Walter stared at him in sudden shock. "Well . . . he could have been, I suppose. When was this?"
The boy shrugged. "Time's different here. He wasn't here very long, though. He came here to Not-Home, but then he just got . . . pulled . . . back Home one day."
"Yes. Yes, I think that was him!" Walter laughed aloud.
William smiled tentatively at him. "Well, maybe he'll pull you back."
Walter shook his head. This was a different situation, he knew, and it would be wrong to hope for such a thing when he had accepted this path freely.
But even so, knowing that his son had been here before him, and returned out of this grim place, somehow planted a spark of new warmth in Walter's heart.
"Well," he said, climbing to his feet, "I suppose we'd better make the best of it, anyway. Up for a spot of exploring, Michael?"
The silent boy looked up, but before he could rise William had offered a hand. "Come on, Mike!" he said with a grin.
Michael let himself be helped up, and Walter fell into step beside the two boys as William started them on their journey of discovery.