Zaedah returns after a hiatus only slightly shorter than Fringe's to bring you the promised next installment. Thanks to everyone who remained interested enough to stay with me for this one. Only one more chapter to go!


In The Drift

Chapter Three

That the Pattern is running out of ideas is Walter's prognosis for the faltering collective phenomenon. After all, they're just… asleep.

Standing in the lobby of a company whose profit margin involves selling air, Olivia shrugs at Peter who, in turn, gestures to his father. The older man actually seems bored, poking half-heartedly at the faintly opaque cocoon that surrounds the 12 member staff. Walter holds no tools, claps no hands and barely manages a raised eyebrow. The faces of ordinary strangers can be discerned under the fibrous wrap and perhaps it's their lack of fright is the cause of the normally exuberant scientist's lack of excited interest. Only when a hurried FBI rookie accidentally sends an oxygen cylinder slamming into the mix-matched, thin carpet, does the assembled team notice that they should be hurried too. The process of investigating begins in earnest. Walter has tools, Peter tells him not to kill the dead people and Olivia scratches her figurative head. And they work.

Until Olivia's mind slams into the issue while photographing the delivery staff; perhaps they're all bored. The thought hushes the disinterested clicks of the shutter. Not that the horrors of the Pattern's tradition manifestations were preferable to the present scene, but there's no denying a marked increase in shrugs. And in truth, for as much as she works herself up for each arrival to a call, these sleeping forms in their dress-down-Friday casuals are something of a disappointment.

Especially when she wakes one.

Because it's over that fast. Without genuine purpose, her questing finger had pushed through the soft membrane and into a rib, bringing a man to consciousness. But it's his comical, extended yawn that sends her over the edge. Peter is there, bless his psychic hide, and steers her into the underlit warehouse. It's cold there, concrete slab floors stained and as warm as the tank. Peter has his hand on her shoulder to turn her into a conversation that will either relax her or send a troop of cringes through her bones.

"You know," Peter begins, appraising her sensible attire, "had you worn a skirt this would've been more fun."

Because he picks 'lighten-up' mode, her eyes float to his damnable stubble.

"No," she corrects. "Being naked wouldn't have made this more fun."

The words are out before the internal censor could slap a black stripe over the content. And clearly it's against his nature to ignore such things. A scratch at the perpetually shadowed chin and he looks ready to make it happen. With mouth poised to speak, Peter says nothing and thus the existence of God is proven.

Still, she knows the evening will be spent considering every variety of answer. The weighted footsteps that silenced him begin a thudding approach down the concrete stairs and the rookie takes in two people standing far too closely for crime scene decorum.

"All of the bodies are free of the... filmy stuff," he informs while giving Peter the look their ancestral cavemen perfected. Did you get some? "Oh, and everyone's awake. Which is, you know, good. Right?"

She nods in that habitual government way, aware of the nerve damage she's guaranteeing herself. "What kind of story are we getting?"

"In a nutshell? Got sleepy, took a nap, woke up in a bubble."

Peter's grin is dimly reflected in the opposing window, adding layers to her swift annoyance. Partly because the mystery of words unsaid will crawl blithely under her skin for hours and mostly because the words he does say she never can. It's not her role, the casual wit. Consequences are as autumn leaves; she can never rake fast enough to clear the yard.

While Olivia's body is returned to a roomful of oxygen purveyors, her mind trips through a different field. Friendly faces lounge on a curbside-find couch, speaking together with the ease of longtime comrades. And a tinge of envy for that sort of workplace comfort is shoved in the same corner in which she buries every thought of Sanford Harris. In reality, comfort is easy. Appropriateness is hard. This is evidenced every time she looks at the object of recent musings, because what is suitable becomes most taxing.

Defeating attraction isn't in the manual.

Snippets of conversations that revolve around a tease of skirts and shaving are frequent. The mere fact that it's never done in company proves its wickedness. And since glances to his wrists make her touch the back-pocket handcuffs in obsessive-compulsive fashion, Olivia renews her vow to steer clear of this charlatan. As she does every single day. Yet every single day her early determination fades by the time their morning coffee cools.

Seven lucky victims of assault-by-napping-insulation are escorted to the hospital to face an afternoon full of scans and tests for side effects. Three team members shuffle back to the black SUV with a lack of accomplishment teetering on incompetence. Walter neglects to buckle, which earns a safety lecture from his son and when Olivia hears the snap of metal into a slot, she heads for the lab. Armed with samples and feigning curiosity, she asks the mad scientist why Mother Nature chose today to strike back for his many insults.

"I don't think she's upset with me," Walter's defense is a flawless sulk. "I just tweak what she's made."

Peter cranes his neck to catch sight of the elderly man fidgeting with the restrictive strap. "That's how it works, Walter. You spit in her pudding and she's gonna tell the teacher."

"Meaning God?" Olivia slows for a yellow light and takes in the personification of all things unholy. "Tell me you believe in a supreme being."

He pulls the fabric belt away from his chest, adjusting under the weight of her glare. Walter hums behind them, sensing an argument as only an instigator can.

"Yes," Peter finally answers. "Left alone, those people might have sprung out of their cocoons with wings. For their sake and mine, I can only hope there's something, or someone, bigger than our friendly Pattern."

The notion turns her knuckles white against the wheel and she's silent for a moment. Anything she says now would only be tainted with that little girl tone she can't control. Peter waits for her, eyes stamping their intent on her, loosening her tongue.

"Why doesn't he stop it?"

There's a hint of a smile and it's likely he brought up religion for this purpose alone; to defang her. He has a point and he made her lead the brigade right to it.

"Why didn't you wear a skirt?" Seemingly a subject-changer, it's a punch she sees but can't avoid. "I made the winner clear, did I not? But your tasteful pantsuit says you're not submitting to the terms of the bet."

The snort is anything but feminine. "Snowballs be damned. I can do what I want, mister."

"And that's why He doesn't interfere. It's called free will, Liv. Free to make experimental horror and get a government grant for it."

Walter groans, a sign he's not so senile as to miss the insult. Like so many things lately, the sky turns against them, dropping liquid punishment for her boredom in the face of calamity. Despite the ruin of a good hair day, she credits Mother Nature for adding her two cents.

"So," she draws, "the Pattern is free to research its range on blameless society and God gives it the same freedom he gives us?"

The wipers protest their call to duty as a rumble sounds from miles away. Looking pleased with the heavenly commotion, Walter smiles wider with each clap and roll. The turn of lip is an eerie match to his offspring, who wears the grin of a man with a point.

"Remember, free will's a tricky thing. And as soon as you give up yours, I'll thank you for the shortest skirt you own. And I mean tomorrow, agent Dunham."

The stonework of Harvard's older buildings rises into view and once stopped, the men climb from the vehicle. Olivia stares ahead as Peter holds his door ajar. Registering the meaning of her tightlipped profile, he departs with a nod he borrowed from her.

Behind that wall, below the halls of study, resides the clues to what her life is now. The chase and the failure. The progress and the conspiracy. And the comfort. He didn't shave because he likes the excuse to bicker, to tease. They have this now, something to tie them to a place and a time. They have butterfly people and snow angels.

Maybe the job became less interesting because another chase, a different progress took its place. Maybe she's getting used to the views because she doesn't have to sit at home alone, shaking and lost. She has his voice over the line, having witnessed the same views, sharing her confusion and frustration. Not the ideal character to seek solace in, but at least he's there. Willingly. And possibly eagerly. And not in ghostly form. After much internal dispute, she's beginning to get the drift.

Later, while dawn is still sleeping, Olivia pads across the dark house to a closet.

And considers.