Spoilers: Season 1
Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.
Author's Note: This was started the day after "Bad Dreams", as my reaction to that episode, and was promptly derailed by another story the next day; I finally got a chance to write the rest. Thanks much to Alamo Girl for the beta.
In This Together
Peter knows from the beginning that this isn't going to end well. Olivia's not ready to talk and Walter doesn't understand the concept of boundaries, especially when he's got unresolved questions waving a red flag in his face.
Despite Peter's best efforts to derail him—and Peter pulls out all the stops, short of completely shutting him down—Walter asks Olivia thousands of niggling little questions, each more intrusive as the last, trying to piece together exactly how the bond between Olivia and Nick had affected each. She starts out restless, a feral glint in her eye, and holds out for five minutes—maybe—before she blows up at Walter and storms out of the lab, the door echoing as it slams shut behind her.
"Was it something I said?" Walter asks, blinking.
"Everything you said," Peter mutters, grabbing his coat to go after her.
"But I'm just trying to—"
"Can it, Walter." He turns, door opened, and snaps, "And leave her alone until she's ready to talk about it."
The wind rips at him as he stands for a moment cataloging every place he's found her in the last few months. She'll want distance. Space. He guesses the river, and he's right. She's huddled on a bench, the scarlet of her blouse a bright patch against the grey day.
She shivers in the wind, thin cotton devoid of either suit jacket or coat no defense against this year's mockery of spring. He shrugs off his coat, drops it over her shoulders as he settles beside her, and watches the river's choppy reflection of the clouds overhead.
"I'm tired of other people being in my mind," she bursts out finally, sitting up and glaring at him. "I'm tired of not being able to trust my own thoughts, of wondering, 'Is this one John? Or maybe Nick? Which is me and which is someone else carrying me along for the ride?'" She settles her elbows back on her thighs and stares broodingly into the water. "At least with John it was my choice. My fault."
Peter studies the coiled tension that rides her frame, like she's about to jump up and run away from the fears she can't control. Or, more likely, jump up and confront them head on. She would, too, if she had something tangible to knock back. Or someone. But all the possible culprits are out of the picture. Well, except one, and if she's not going to bring up Walter's role in it all, neither is he.
"John's gone," Peter says at last, when he's sure she's not going to share anything else without further prompting. "And Nick's in a coma."
"But what did they leave behind?"
"Memories," he says firmly. "That's it."
"Is it?" She buries her hands in her hair, fingers digging into her scalp like she can pull out the offending images. "Is it only memories when I can't trust what's them and what's me?"
She almost manages to keep the near-frantic panic out of her voice, but not quite. Not if he's listening for it. And as much as he'd love to say whatever words she needs to bring her peace, he's not going to lie. Not if her worries could end up reality and he'll still have to look her square in the eyes day after day. So he admits, "I don't know," and hopes like hell her fears are groundless.
She jerks her head up and stares at him.
He rolls his eyes at her disbelief. "What? Walter's the one who always pretends to have all the answers. This is all so far out of my league it might as well be a different world."
She huffs out an almost-laugh. "And that has new and disquieting implications now."
"Tell me about it," he mutters. Hell, even without the implications from the ZFT manuscript, with everything he's seen in the past months it is a different world from the one he'd been living. And for her it's even worse. He reaches out, touches a hand to her shoulder, and she leans almost imperceptibly into his touch.
"I don't remember," she says, nearly whispering the plaintive words. "Nick told me he knows me, called be by a nickname I haven't heard in years. But I don't have a clue. Nothing. Wouldn't my parents have mentioned it? Wouldn't I remember something like that? Wouldn't I know?"
He debates, almost lets it drop, then chooses his words carefully. "I have... gaps. Places in my childhood I don't remember anything. And Walter as a father."
It takes her a second, and her eyes widen. "But he's your father."
"But he's Walter."
They stare at each other, and he watches her finish following the implications to their inevitable conclusions.
"Crap," she breathes out.
"That about sums it up."
Her expression is more sympathetic than horrified. She relaxes, bit by infinitesimal bit, dropping her hands back into her lap and slowly uncoiling under the relief of mutual understanding.
Neither of them is alone in this. It's as odd a thought to him as it probably is to her.
He clears his throat and says, "Look, can you do anything about it? The memories?"
"I don't know," she says blandly. "Isn't that what Walter was trying to figure out?"
He smiles a little at the trace of humor that finally brightens her face. "True. Okay, are they interfering?"
"Is thinking I'm going crazy interfering?"
"Crazing and functioning are not mutually exclusive." He doesn't add 'look at Walter'. He doesn't need to.
"No," she says slowly. Thoughtfully. She stares back out at the water, her fingers tapping at her knees. "Not once I got a grip on it. And some of them were even helpful."
"Look, we change all the time, right?" After she nods, giving him a sideways glance as she does so, he continues, "New memories and experiences shape us every second of the day. Just think of this as a new experience."
She raises her eyebrows, her expression dead dry. "Like mental hospitals?"
He snickers and nods. "Yeah. A lot like that." Although he doubts she'll learn to love it, maybe she can come to accept this as the new status quo.
She tucks the edges of his coat around her and sits back. "And if the 'new experiences' start overwhelming the old ones?"
"They wouldn't dare."
"Then we figure out what to do next. We take this one step at a time." She looks like she wants to object; he shakes his head and rests his hand on hers until she meets his eyes. "Don't borrow trouble, Olivia, it's going to track us down soon enough."
"And it's not going to stop. As soon as we get our footing something new tries to knock us down." She sighs, her eyes haunted, then shrugs. "But you're right. I can't do anything about it." She slaps her hands against her knees and shoots to her feet. "Thank you, Peter," she says with a crooked smile.
"Anytime," he murmurs, rising to stand next to her. He's surprised and a little uneasy to realize how completely he means it.
She tilts her chin up to look at him, new determination in her eyes. "So Walter's interrogation might actually help?"
"Maybe. Or it might be a waste of time. With Walter you never know."
"I'll take my chances. At least it's doing something."
She hates to sit still. He nods in understanding and falls into step beside her. And together, they walk back to the place that might hold all the answers they need.