Spoilers: Through 1.10
Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.
Author's Note: A Christimas fic, a few weeks out of season. And isn't the hiatus over yet? As always, thanks to Alamo Girl for beta help and encouragement.
Of Eggnog and Candy Canes
The lab had sprouted Christmas overnight.
The door closed shut behind her as she stood, nonplussed, breathing in evergreen, cranberry, and gingerbread while taking in the changes. The main portion of the lab had been transformed into a wonderland of lights, greenery, and Christmas kitsch, although from what she could see the office was still untouched. Peter and Walter were arguing about mathematical formula for the proper distribution of lights, ornaments, and tinsel around the eight foot fir that now dominated the lower level. Olivia suspected Peter was baiting his father, but other than a fleeting sly grin at her when she'd walked in, maintained his position with such zeal that she couldn't be entirely sure. Astrid offered the occasional snide comment, but otherwise appeared to be rather pointedly ignoring them both while she strung lights around the tree.
Olivia didn't want to know why she'd suddenly been transported to the Christmas World version of the Harvard lab. She'd find out eventually, but right now she just didn't want to know. She snagged a candy cane from the colorful bowl that had appeared next to the upper bank of computers and escaped to the bench across from Gene's stall with the pile of reports she wanted to review. Neither the sticky peppermint of the candy cane nor the slowly blinking lights casting ever-changing colors on the papers in her hands made the subject any more palatable, but they did ease the tension headache that had been building all day.
As she worked, the good-natured squabbling of her team subsided—while Peter and Walter debated themselves to a standstill, Astrid settled the issue of decorating by finishing the bulk of the tree herself—and shifted to Christmas carols. Olivia had known that Walter could carry a tune after his descent into caroling the previous fall, but was surprised to learn Astrid had a pleasant singing voice. She mentally filed the fact away under "things she never expected to learn about the people she worked with". After the past sixteen months that mental file was stuffed full.
"Eggnog?" Peter sauntered around the corner, a cup in each hand. "I promise the only thing it's spiked with is bourbon. And a decent one, actually."
She accepted the cup but despite his reassurance sniffed dubiously, remembering Walter's root beer fiasco. Eight months was not enough to dim her memories of the effects of unintended doses of hallucinogens. Eight decades wouldn't be enough to scrub those particular memories from her brain.
Peter settled beside her, leaning back and sipping his eggnog as he watched her. She doubted he'd be drinking if he didn't know exactly what it contained, so she cautiously tasted her own. The sweet, thick eggnog and smooth bourbon mixed pleasantly with the lingering taste of peppermint.
She sighed and leaned back herself, transferring the files in her lap to the ledge behind her. "What happened?" She gestured around the lab with her cup. "When did this place become Christmas Central?"
"The what, Walter; the when, this morning. All morning." Peter rolled his eyes. "Do you know exactly how many miles of lights I had to string to meet that man's specifications? I do. To the inch."
She studied the decorations, wondering what store had sold their Christmas department to the Bishops and exactly how complete Walter's dedication to holiday traditions had been. Especially potentially awkward ones she'd rather avoid. "Hopefully his holiday spirit didn't extend to mistletoe."
Peter snorted, a smile twisting at the edges of his mouth. "Astrid and I categorically refused."
"And of course that stopped him."
"I think I managed to ferret out the couple of sprigs he managed to smuggle in. Although I don't want to know why there was one hanging in Gene's stall."
She didn't want to know what had been going through Walter's head, either, but all the possibilities scared her. She hoped it was just an innocent desire to make sure Gene was part of the festivities. "Any particular reason for his display of holiday cheer?"
He transferred his attention to the colored lights blinking in front of them. "He always got into Christmas, even when I was a kid. Decorations, song, food, gifts... everything. It was always the one day out of 365 that he could be guaranteed to not be in the lab, but home making merry with the family. Said he needed one day every year when he celebrated why he did what he did." His tone was less cynical and more wistful than she expected.
"So why is he here? He should be off decorating your apartment."
"Guess this is where he figures his family is, this year. Don't you feel lucky?" He smirked at her, then looked back up at the lights and sighed. "He probably would have made a production last year, but..." Olivia read memories of the chaos and uncertainty surrounding last year's cases and kidnapping into his pause and the clench of his jaw, or maybe she was fooled by the play of the lights' shifting colors over his face and the spate of nightmares featuring last year's experiences that had been disrupting her sleep for the past week.
"Anyway," Peter continued, rubbing the rim of his cup with his thumb, "Walter figured that since everyone would be somewhere else on the actual day, the solstice would work just as well. Gave this big long spiel about Christmas traditions native to the pagan holiday and why the symbolism of the solstice worked better than that of Christmas. Or something. I stopped listening about halfway through, since his brilliant insight hit at three in the morning and he just had to wake me up to share."
She grimaced in sympathy. "I'm surprised you and Astrid played along."
"You know how it is. Easier to go along with it when Walter goes on a tear." He shrugged and turned to meet her eyes. "Besides, given the long list of obsessive kicks he's had, figure this has got to be one of the less harmful."
Apparently not harmful except to her heart, she thought, wondering where the ache deep in her chest had come from. It felt suspiciously like gratitude and affection. She didn't share the thought with him, but didn't immediately break his gaze, either, hoping he would read less in her eyes than in her looking away.
He broke first, eyes sliding past hers to watch the others, and she studied him, trying unsuccessfully to figure out what was going on in his head.
Behind her, a bouncing chorus of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" slid into "Silent Night", the singers' voices not quite meshing on the high notes. She drank more of her eggnog and twisted around, considering Walter and Astrid draping tinsel over the tree in reasonable companionship as they tried to remember verses of the song. "How much eggnog did you get into Astrid to get her to start singing?"
"Less than you think." Peter grinned. "Less than me, anyway, even accounting for differences in weight and tolerance."
"You sang?" Sorry she'd missed it, she tried to picture Peter joining in with Astrid and Walter's caroling and failed.
"There might have been a couple songs, at some point during the extensive decorating Walter insisted the lab needed."
The corner of her lips twitched. "Dare I ask what you sang?"
He looked almost embarrassed, which made her even more curious. "I haven't had nearly enough to drink to admit that," he said, then knocked back the rest of his eggnog and jumped to his feet. "C'mon, join the insanity. The outside world will be banging on our door soon enough. Might as well enjoy the homegrown craziness while you can. Walter even has gifts, to be doled out at the stroke of solstice. He's calculated the time down to the minute."
"Will I like them?"
"Of course not, but if I get to suffer through it, so do you." He held his hand out, his smirk daring her to refuse.
She stared up at his hand, up into his eyes, then drained her eggnog and let him haul her to her feet. Watching her intently, he tucked her hand in the crook of his arm and grinned when she didn't protest.
She should protest. But it was Christmas—almost—and she had alcoholic eggnog and candy canes and carolers that had shifted to an enthusiastic if slightly off-tune version of "Deck the Halls" convincing her it wasn't worth the effort. She could risk a moment or two of goodwill with her team in honor of the holiday.
His hip bumped against hers as he leaned to whisper in her ear, "Merry Christmas, Olivia," and she pretended it was just his body heat that warmed her.
Maybe she could risk more than just a few moments of goodwill. Maybe she could, for just a little while, set the job and the past aside and eat, drink, and be merry in the company of friends. It was the holidays, after all.
"Merry Christmas, Peter." She smiled, and let him lead her to the celebration.
Concrit is always loved.