Spoilers: Through 1.13

Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.

Author's Note: The always wonderful Alamo Girl deserves thanks and cookies for the beta.

The End of the Beginning

Reintegration into the real world is a gentle bump with a smile on her lips rather than the screaming exits of her other three forays into the dreamscape. As she more than half expected Peter has returned, pulling her free and stripping wires and sensors while she's still reeling from the aftereffects of Walter's hallucinogenic cocktail. Walter mutters over interpretation of data and Astrid makes soothing noises in response, a background buzz becoming as familiar as that of the bullpen at the Federal Building. The floor is cold under her fingertips; Peter's hands warm against her skin. Both are solid and comforting anchors, grounding her in reality and reminding her to let go of the dream.

Now, finally, she can let go with a clear conscience.

"What the hell is it with you and that tank?" Peter's movements are jerky and his tone sharp, the crease between his eyes and the intensity in his gaze betraying his worry.

The first time had been to help John, the next two ostensibly to plunder John's memories. This last, her one chance to take the jump for herself alone, and she can sum it up in one word. "Closure," she murmurs, leaning forward and bracing herself for his yanking the probe from the base of her skull. She winces as it's pulled, and he soothes the back of her neck with gentle fingers.

"You and your damned closure." His thumb pauses at the nape of her neck and he dips his head, studying her. "Was it worth nearly frying your brain cells? Assuming any remain after, what, four trips into that deathtrap?"

"Yeah." She realizes she's smiling. Tension she didn't know she carried unknots in her neck and shoulders. "Yeah, it was."

No matter how hard she tried to forget, it has always come back to John Scott. She had to look John in the eyes one last time and listen to what her gut told her. To accept that, even though he lied to her, she hadn't been deceived. She knows who he is, and that he loved her and she wasn't wrong to love him. Beyond that, the details don't matter. She might not agree with his methods, but she understands how the boundaries between right and wrong slip when faced with hunting down the impossibilities that are now her daily life.

"Well, at least the brain damage was worthwhile." He lets go and stands, keeping an eye on her while he puts away probes and sensors with more force than strictly necessary. "That makes all the difference."

"It was my last chance." Her last chance to bring it full circle and make peace with how this all began. She sighs, resting her hands on her knees and willing her fogginess to fade away.

Saving John had dragged her into this new world. Instead of the mundane villains she and John had chased after together, she's now chasing the cases he'd hid from her, the things that should make her want to run away screaming. And the betrayal that kicked off her career change left her guilty that with every case she solves she's more certain this is the job she's meant to do.

Peter nods slightly; from his expression he understands too much of what she's not saying. She pushes to her feet, and then closes her eyes as the world sways. He's back at her side, a hand on her arm to steady her, and only lets go when she's proved her balance by walking the three steps to retrieve the bathrobe. She shrugs into it and wrings water from her hair, finger combing the tangles until they're pulled smooth.

Odd to come out of the tank without quashing a riot of conflicting emotions while she sprints into the next lead of a time-sensitive investigation. Odd to come out of the tank able to breathe free.

When she looks up, Peter's stare transfers from her to the tank. He scowls and raps on the side, a hollow clang made more solid by the gallons of water still inside. "I'm taking a blowtorch and dismantling this thing in the morning."

She wonders if he'll make good on the threat. In those first few days the tank became so entwined with her concept of the lab she can barely imagine the place without it. "Walter will be heartbroken."

"He'll get over it." He shrugs, and his lips twist into a reluctant grin. "Besides, I'm sure he'll find some new toy to comfort him now that we'll have the space. Something expensive enough to give the FBI's bean counters fits."

"The next time Accounting questions the expense reports I'll remember to assure them that Walter's spending FBI resources wisely."

"I'm sure you will." He glances up at her then over at Walter, his grin turning wry. "And if they ask you why he needed baboon seminal fluid, tell them you don't know what they're talking about."

She blinked, at a loss. This was a new one. "Baboon—?"

He winces and shakes his head. "You don't want to know. I don't want to know. He still doesn't know, but I'm sure there's a perfectly illogical reason for it that he'll remember later."

"At three in the morning?" she asks, and laughs at Peter's exasperated eye roll.

"You know Walter," he says with the usual mix of affection and exasperation. His eyes soften and he touches her shoulder. "I'm glad you got your closure, Olivia. If anyone deserves it, it's you."

She leans against the tank, watching Peter stride over to Walter and Astrid and join in on the companionable squabble of which she only understands one word in three. Something about a virus and possible applications, she thinks, and an experimental protocol that Peter immediately and vehemently tries to derail. She just shakes her head, amused, and hopes Peter manages to get Walter wound down and in bed before daybreak.

Acceptance chases away the last shreds of ambivalence. As insane as it is, she likes her job. And she likes the people she does it with. These are her people, now, and this is her world.

It's time to put the past where it belongs and embrace the future.