Spoilers: Through 1.10, minor for 1.11 promo
Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.
Author's Note: Alamo Girl deserves thanks for the beta and helping prod my writing inspiration into overdrive, vagajammer for his eternal patience, love, and beta work.
Slips of Memory
The coin flicks back and forth along his hands, vanishes, and reappears. Peter's lost count of the amount of times he's pulled the coin out and toyed with it, realized what he was doing and shoved in back in his pocket, only to pull it out again the minute his attention wandered. He broke himself of the nervous tick years ago—he couldn't afford it, not with his line of work—but entertaining Olivia with bar tricks brought it back full force.
Seeing her smile like that was worth it. Watching her impish grin as she demonstrated her talent with cards was even better. Until she started reciting numbers, and the whiskey turned to acid in his stomach.
Olivia, for all her skills at spotting anomalies and assembling patterns, hadn't even caught the slip. No wonder, when she'd been just as certain she'd recognized the guy in the gruesome reconstruction of Han Solo's Carbonite prison.
Not even Olivia could be a friendless loner at boarding school and have a best friend from high school. Not unless she was lying, and why would she so blatantly lie about something so trivial? Occam's razor. Simplest explanation, the one that best fits all the known facts, is that John Scott's memories are infiltrating Olivia's to a frightening degree, no doubt due to her latest trip into the tank. Wading around in those memories somehow dissolved the barriers between them and her, and now she can't tell the difference. Worse, the memories aren't just being triggered by cases, but by the little, casual details of the past.
He didn't say anything, not after he'd seen how spooked she was at the first lapse. Remembering the haunted terror in her eyes, his gut twists. He knows what it's like to wonder if your mind's about to betray you. His own fears set him running, but he has no doubt that she'll stand her ground. She always does, no matter how dire the circumstances. And these are potentially pretty damned dire.
If you can't trust your memories, what can you trust?
What's been nagging at him all night and into this morning is the part a person's memory plays in who they are. If these memories start shifting her definitions of who she was, how long will it be until they start influencing who she is? Has it already happened?
The girl who counts everything—that's Olivia. That's the woman who cracks ciphers in her head, who remembers details and puts together patterns and could probably give him a run for his money at poker. The one he's suddenly developed a burning desire to take for a weekend in Vegas, because if they combined their poker faces and skills at cards they'd be raking up the cash before the dealers had a clue what hit them. But is it Olivia that can down a shot as casually as water, or is her taste for whiskey due to John Scott's not-so-buried memories? Which one of them has always been a loner and which one has the best friend from high school whose license plate she remembers?
Hell, which one has a sister?
This never should have happened. Peter should have been there to watch her back, to sweet-talk her out of her stubborn need to submerge herself in Walter's insane brand of isolation tank therapy if he could, to bully her out of it if he had to, but there's nothing he can do about it now. He probably wouldn't have done any better derailing her than he had the first time.
He shoves away the self-castigation, buries it with all his other should-have-dones. It doesn't help him any. Doesn't help him, or her.
He needs to reduce the situation down to the simplest terms. The slippage of memories is a problem, and now he has to figure out a solution. Search the published research, brainstorm experimental approaches. Except the problem's not only out of his field, it's out of the field of any researcher that doesn't want to be labeled a crackpot for life. Fine, then, change of approach. Prod Walter's memory until his brain coughs up a likely theory and course of treatment. It's only fitting that coaxing memories out of the one can separate memories from the other. Not only did Walter's irrationality combine with Olivia's obsession to put them here, but Walter and Olivia are now flip sides of a coin. One remembers too little, and the other remembers too much.
So now he has a plan. Walter's remembering in dribs and drabs; all Peter has to do is accelerate the process and trigger the appropriate memories.
Only slightly less hard than coming up with the solution himself.
As if responding to his thoughts, Walter mumbles something, and Peter absently shoots back a sarcastic reply. His father doesn't seem to notice, just continues with the series of experiments he was set on performing this morning. He'd reclaimed a fragment of memory during the night and is now determined to reconstruct the relevant data. Something to do with mice and mazes and Peter doesn't really care as long as Walter doesn't bring the live mice anywhere near sharp objects or the microwave.
When the door opens, he expects Olivia with belated news about the case, but it's only Astrid. She hurries down the stairs, moving with a brisk purpose that immediately puts Peter on edge.
"Have you heard from Olivia today?" Astrid's voice is strained, her body language betraying nerves. And from someone whom Walter's idiosyncrasies have barely rattled in the last few months, that is not good.
"No, why? What's wrong?"
And the world freezes. Priorities abruptly shift and refocus. This new situation has only one possible course of action: find Olivia.
No matter what.
Concrit is always welcome.