Warnings: Swearing, violence
Spoilers: Season 1
Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.
Author's Note: Very AU. Prequel to "Slip Off the Choke Chain". Olivia's childhood goes a bit differently, which leads to a universe where Peter, Olivia, and Nick are soldiers for the ZFT. About a ton of thanks to crazylittleelf for betaing the entire thing.
Chain You Down
Peter leans against the wall, idly watching and cataloging flashes from the blur of movement, snatches of the emotions that pull against him. Pounding music and gyrating bodies mix into a riot of white noise; strobe lights render the scene visible only a snapshot at a time. With visual, mental, and auditory stimuli numbed, the welcome burn of alcohol sharpens his focus.
He flags them as soon as they enter. Like him, they're dressed to fit in, but they're not part of the mindless crowd. Both blond, tall. Maybe brother and sister, by looks and the way they move, but they lean into each other with more intimacy than a normal sibling bond. A quick conference in the doorway and the boy peels off, moving deep into the club. The girl sidles up to the bar, eyes flicking every which way. Lock on his, even across the shifting bodies on the dance floor. It's a punch to the gut, an instant flare of attraction that curls lazily around the base of his spine.
He damn well hopes they're siblings.
He moves into the throng, and he can feel the instant her eyes break from his. She's still there when he pushes free, still studying the room. Still alone. Up close, he sees she's young, probably no more legally entitled to the beer cradled between her hands than he is to the whiskey he's been tossing back. Her hair is long and straight, her skin pale, and her expression flickers between predatory and uncertain.
He offers up his best charming grin. Her eyes dart into the crowd before latching onto his. Slowly she returns the smile. Not quite a grin, but something warmer than mere politeness.
The curl of attraction solidifies into something stronger.
He leans against the bar, doesn't edge into her space but puts himself at the boundaries. She's only a few inches shorter than he is, nearly meets him eye to eye. He can't catch a thing off her emotions and it's too soon in the game to touch her to try for more, so he'll have to play this one off body language alone. And that body language says wary but intrigued.
She just watches him and fidgets with the beer, not speaking but not going anywhere, either. He orders another shot of whiskey, waiting until the drink is in his hands before making a move. "You're not like the rest of the sheep," he says casually, sipping.
She goes still, stops running her fingers up and down the neck of the bottle, stops breathing, even. "No?"
He blinks. He expected amusement, maybe annoyance, but this is neither. Interesting reaction, like she thought she was fitting in and is unhappy to realize otherwise. He still can't get a whiff of her emotions but she's on edge, that's for fucking sure. He's going to lose her if he doesn't defuse this, and quick.
"You're classier than this crowd." A lame line, and he bets a pretty blonde like her has heard every line in the book, but it's the quickest thing he can think of to spin off of his opening.
Lame or not, she relaxes. Not entirely, but he'll take what he can get.
"Classier?" She takes a swallow from the bottle and tilts her head. "I bet you say that to all the girls."
"Only the classy ones. Which," he swivels his head to scan through the crowd, then turns back to her, "yeah, you're the only one of those here."
She laughs, low and throaty. "High opinion of yourself or low opinion of them?" Voice and expression sell amusement but her eyes are watchful. Waiting.
Waiting for what?
And he fucking knows something is wrong. Instinct rather than reason, but the whole situation screeches something is off. He grabs her wrist, meets her glare with his own while he tries to punch through the walls shielding her mind from his and get a read on the situation he's been stupid enough to saunter into, but she's locked down tighter than anyone he's ever known. He backs off quick, turns to lose himself in the crowd, when he feels the sting of the needle against his neck.
Her partner. Her fucking partner.
His world slides sideways and crashes into black.
When he fights out of nightmare-laden dreams, he's curled on a concrete floor, head throbbing from whatever the fuck they gave him to knock him out and muscles protesting the length of time he's been lying on the hard surface. However long that has been, because he doesn't have a fucking clue.
He grimaces against the headache and stretches all senses to assess the situation. Nothing to hear. Smells of must and concrete. Flickers of emotion, but nothing close and no one familiar. Opening his eyes, he cautiously pushes himself upright and surveys his prison. Small, windowless room, the single fluorescent light centered on the ceiling doing no justice to the green-tinged beige of the cinderblock walls. No doorknob or lock on his side of the door, although their removal looks recent. A camera hangs overhead, blinking red light showing his every move has been recorded.
He circles the room, twice, resists the urge to pound the walls. Ignores the camera. Mostly. No fucking way he can take it apart and turn it into a weapon before they come to stop him. The camera will tell them—whoever the fuck "them" are—that he's awake, whether he fucks with its circuitry or not.
He studies those flickers of human life, combing through for any indication of what the hell is going on. Determination, some amusement, satisfaction of a job well done. No images carried on the tide of emotion, no sense of the person behind them. Nothing he can fucking use. Whoever these people are, they keep themselves from leaking their feelings all over the fucking place.
There's no telling how long until the bastards choose to make themselves known. He leans against the wall opposite the door and taps against the concrete. Who the hell did he piss off enough to warrant this? Big Eddie's reach doesn't go much beyond Boston, certainly not all the way to the West Coast, at least Peter doesn't fucking think. And he's kept his head down—mostly— since he bolted from New England because attention from the mob drew attention from the sorts of people his father spent years disentangling him from.
The sorts he's pretty damned sure just grabbed him. It's the only thing that makes sense.
When he gets out of this mess, he's going to find out who the hell ratted him out and make them pay. He has no illusions. The problem with developing a web of contacts from the less than savory side of life is that too many people recognize him and too few people are above being bought. While he delayed the inevitable by staying a moving target, only luck has kept him free for five years. Luck that just ran out.
It would help, though, if he remembered more about who the fucking hell these people were, something more detailed than his father's insistence they were dangerous and not to be trusted. Given that Walter got himself murdered, his concerns were probably more than paranoid rantings, but it's still shit to go on. His father had been one of them until dire consequences to his son had outweighed the potential knowledge to be gained, and if Walter had backed away, whatever had happened was pretty fucking dire.
It would be useful if Peter could remember more than maddening fragments, but that's all he has left. Partly because he was young, partly because his father, in his infinite wisdom, buried the memories. Not erased—Walter had been adamant about that, insisted eliminating them would cause a whole fuckload of other problems, and not just for Peter—but hidden so deep whole chunks of time are blank. Until something triggers a memory, and even then nine times out of ten the flashes are more frustrating than helpful.
From those scattershot memories and his father's ramblings he's pieced together that he'd been some sort of guinea pig in a series of undoubtedly illegal human trials. His ability to tune in on people's emotions is a pretty fucking big clue something had been done to him. "An unexpected and unintended side effect," Walter said on one of the rare occasions he could be badgered into talking about the past, and his expression had been haunted. But while it suggests a whole hell of a lot about why they might want Peter, it doesn't say a fucking thing about who they are and why they conducted the experiments in the first place.
The only way he'll find out is to wait and see. He slides to the ground and rests his hands on his knees. Conserving energy and waiting for the right opportunity are second nature, even if he doesn't fucking like it.
His stomach is grumbling by the time he feels them coming down the hall. Two men, one unhappy, one impassive. The lock snicks open and Grumpy and Impassive fill the doorway. Big, armed. The muscle.
Peter doesn't move. "Room service at last? About fucking time."
"He wants to talk to you."
Neither answers. Grumpy motions him out, one hand on his gun in warning; the flashes Peter reads say he'll be happy to use it if he has to. Impassive is bored.
Peter clambers to his feet, studying them. They move like they know how to use their muscle to their best advantage—professional leg breakers, maybe—but not like they've worked together. He debates making a break for it, discards the thought as stupid. Not yet. Not while they're expecting it.
As he steps out they fall in next to him, herd him down a maze of hallways as unmemorable as the impromptu cell. He forgoes even the pretense of mental barriers in order to soak up each little emotional twitch he can turn against them.
They push him into the middle of a room with the same decorator as the one he just left. Maybe thirty feet square, no windows, only door the one he came in. Probably soundproof, if the thickness of the doors and walls is any indication. A man he doesn't recognize sits at a table on the far side, drinking from a china cup. Two familiar blonds flank him, guns openly carried at their sides. Peter can't read anything off of the man—the boss, probably, given the deference with which the two at his side address him—and the blonds are as impenetrable as they were in the club.
"Mr. Bishop." The man smiles and puts down his cup, tugs lightly at the sleeves of the jacket of his well-tailored suit. "I'm so glad to finally meet you. I apologize for bringing you here in such a manner, but you have proven a very difficult man to contact."
Peter crosses his arms across his chest and squares his shoulders. "So you kidnapped me to have a little chat?"
The man shrugs. "I deemed it the best way to ensure your attention."
"You could have called."
"And you would have left without a forwarding address."
Peter smiles tightly, watching the blonds playing bodyguard watch him and wondering what their usual role is. Unlike Grumpy and Impassive, they're not two yahoos yoked together for the duration of the job, but professionals used to working together. They show an awareness of each other that suggests a long partnership, and that just doesn't compute with their youth.
Not that whoever—or whatever—they are matters. When Peter gets out of here, he'll make damned sure to bury himself so deep they won't have a fucking chance at finding him again.
After a moment the boss continues. "I am David Robert Jones. I believe you're acquainted with Miss Dunham and Mr. Lane." Jones watches him closely. Peter has no clue what the fuck reaction the man expected, but he seems disappointed by the lack of response. After a moment, Jones continues. "Mr. Lane manipulated your emotions to ensnare you. It's one of his many talents."
Dunham shifts her eyes towards Lane in a questioning look. Lane doesn't respond, doesn't even twitch, but he might as well have shaken his head in denial. Jones doesn't catch it, wouldn't have even if he'd been looking straight at them. Peter wouldn't have, either, if he hadn't been so focused on them, and even then it's just the faintest of hints.
She gets the message loud and clear, and looks disconcerted.
Whatever Jones thought they'd done, they didn't. And they didn't bother to correct their... boss? Mentor? He can't get a read on the relationship. He files the fact away, along with the additional confirmation that Jones has people with some sort of psychic abilities, exact capabilities undetermined.
The muscle is nervous, watching Dunham and Lane warily. Correction, watching Dunham warily. Concern, some outright fear, all directed at her. He files that away, too.
A quick scan tells him no one else is close to this room, all busy in other parts of the building. Grumpy and Impassive are paying more attention to Jones' bodyguards than to Peter.
Peter gives a friendly smile, one that forgives all transgressions and opens the door to further negotiations. Plants an elbow in the throat of Grumpy and grabs the man's gun, shoots Impassive. Peter's swinging the gun on Jones when it's snatched from his hand and he's shoved back into the wall. His world stutters into pain as his head bounces against the concrete, an arm at his throat and a gun in his face.
Expressionless hazel eyes stare into his and she leans into him, blocking air.
Annoyance and suspicion prickle against him. They're controlled ruthlessly, but as close as she is, her emotions curl through his skin and hum through his brain. A familiar hum, one that eases into long-unused pathways of his mind like it belongs there.
Eyes wide and hazel, hair chin-length and blonde. Terror and defiance, affection and amusement, dim flickers of thousand memories. "Olivia," he croaks out, blackness scattering his vision as Lane—Nick, his memories supply, her shadow and support all those years ago—steps up to touch her shoulder.
"Olive. Olive, let him breathe."
"You didn't remember." She barely breathes it, and shock surges off her, followed quickly by guilt and betrayal. She lets go abruptly and he drops, hunching over as he struggles for air. "How can you not remember?"
His head fucking hurts and his lungs burn. The pain distracts him, and it's seconds before he realizes that while her emotions twist through him, she's returning the favor. He locks down, barricading his mind against further intrusion, and uses the wall to prop himself up as he pushes to his feet.
No one's ever turned his trick back on him. What pisses him off more is that having her in his head feels so damned familiar.
Nick's hand rests on her shoulder; her head is cocked towards him, eyes slightly unfocused as if she's listening. Gun's still pointed at Peter, so he doesn't move. He's not underestimating her this time.
"Please forgive Miss Dunham. She gets a trifle... enthusiastic."
Peter doesn't miss the trace of rebuke in Jones' tone. Neither does Olivia, who backs up three steps and ducks her head slightly. Still watching Peter, but watching Jones as well.
"I think," says Jones, eyes steady on Olivia, "it would be best if Mr. Bishop and I had a private discussion."
"Sir," she says, low and intense, turns a half step towards Jones. Nick's eyes stay on Peter, keeping watch while his partner isn't.
"He won't hurt me." Jones also watches Peter, assessing. "He values his own life too much to take the chance."
"Want to bet on it?" Peter snarls. Not the smartest of comebacks, not when it sends Olivia stiffening into high alert, her attention snapped back to him.
Jones just smiles and steeples his fingers. "Oh, I think you'll be very interested to hear what I have to say."
Olivia's chin drops further and her eyes narrow. "At least let Nick—"
"I need Mr. Bishop clear-headed for this, although I do appreciate your dedication to my well being."
She exchanges a look with Nick, then nods and stalks over to Peter. "Anything happens, I take it out on your skin. Personally."
He smirks down at her; given how tall she is, the slight dip of his head required isn't nearly as condescending as he'd like. "Any time, sweetheart."
"Separate corners, guys," Nick murmurs, a speculative grin curving his lips as his eyes flick between Olivia and Peter. "C'mon, Olive. You can taunt him later. Peter." Nick nods to him, pulling Olivia away and out the door.
"A cup of tea, Mr. Bishop?"
A casual question. No acknowledgment of the bodies in the middle of the room, like losing men is an everyday occurrence not even worthy of mention. Fuck, even Olivia and Nick hadn't seemed perturbed. That level of ruthlessness means nothing good, not for Peter. "What the fuck do you want with me?"
Jones raises his eyebrows but doesn't seem surprised. Or concerned. "Oh, I think you already have some idea of that," he murmurs, sipping from the cup. He studies Peter for a few moments—making him wait, probably some sort of point about who is in charge—then continues. "Or perhaps not, given Dr. Bishop's determination to remove you from the program. Is what Miss Dunham said true, you don't remember?"
"I know you people experimented on me as a kid." Not an answer, but he doesn't want Jones to know how little clue he has.
"Not... precisely, but near enough to the truth, I suppose. Dr. Bell and Dr. Bishop were quite the visionaries. You've met our greatest successes from the trials to date."
"The Bobbsey twins?"
"Closer than siblings, although not related by blood. During the initial phases of the drug trials, the children were partnered so they would always have someone to lean on. Miss Dunham and Mr. Lane's partnership dates back to that time."
"Good for them. What the hell does that have to do with me?" Other than that it was his father who tampered with them in ways they never could have understood, not back then. Peter should have fucking known. Where one freaky power came from others would as well.
Jones watches him steadily. "Miss Dunham's situation was... unique. While she was more than able to provide stability to Mr. Lane and his emerging abilities, it became apparent that the reverse was not true. So, contrary to established protocols, a second partner was introduced, one who was deemed more capable of providing the reassurance that she needed."
Cropped blonde hair and scared out of her mind; all he wants to do is comfort her and he's gratified and terrified when she collapses into his arms, the sobs tearing through her all but shaking her apart. He blinks and the memory fades. He doesn't like the sort of sense all this is starting to make. "Me. You put her with me."
"Very good. After you left she seemed to be fine, so we determined that your presence was no longer necessary." Jones sighs. "However, I'm afraid that our initial assessment of the situation is changing as they mature. With only each other to lean on, there are signs they are becoming... unreliable. Perhaps even unstable. Suffice it to say, their instability is not a risk we can take."
Peter knows all about eliminating risks. If no other steps can be taken to neutralize possible harm, eliminating risks usually involve a bullet and a body dumped where it'll do the most good. "And now you think my being here can provide this stability you're looking for."
Peter takes two steps to the wall, turns and stalks to the table, sidestepping the growing pool of blood. Fingers curling at his sides, he looks down at Jones. "Let me ask you this. Why do you think I care? What's in it for me?"
"I take it you don't care about their well being?"
Peter shrugs and schools his expression into polite disinterest. "For people I barely remember meeting as a kid? Not particularly."
Jones lifts a manila folder an inch thick, flips it open. Pulls out a handful of photos and says, as he slides them across the table, "We're certainly asking nothing of you that you haven't already done during your rather colorful furlough."
Peter settles into the second chair before touching the stack. Flipping through, ice pools in his stomach. Surveillance photos of him in Boston, Atlanta, Savannah, Jacksonville, Seattle, and more. Not every place he'd been in the last five years, but too damned many of them. He hadn't been safe and hidden; they'd waited until they needed him before they made their move.
"Mr. Bishop, I have a proposition." Jones leans forwards slightly, eyes intent on Peter. "As I said, all we have is suspicion that all is not well with our protégés as we've encountered some... difficulties monitoring them since they were sent into the field. If you can bring me evidence that Miss Dunham's control is breaking down, and that your presence has done nothing to stabilize her, I will consider your obligation to this organization to be finished and your life will be once more your own."
A combination of threats and promises, those Peter expected. What surprises him is the honesty behind the words. Most of the time, he finds it pretty fucking easy to separate the truth from the lies. Body language could be mastered, but emotions rarely lie. Even if he can't tell what someone is feeling, he can usually detect falsehood. Every bit of skill he's learned over the years says Jones isn't lying.
Peter does this, he's out. But it can't be that easy. "And if I don't play ball?"
"Given the strength of the bonds that developed between the children, our experiences have taught us that if one partner is eliminated, there are... unfortunate consequences that force the elimination of the other as well. However, given the circumstances, if you help us we will make an exception."
As expected, if Peter doesn't play ball, he earns himself a summary execution.
But only if they can find him.
"Let me get this straight," he says, buying time to think. "You want me to spy on them."
"I want you to become a part of their team," Jones corrects. "You will also give me regular reports on their behavior."
"Do they know?" Peter jerks his head in the direction of the door, where he can dimly feel Olivia pacing and Nick leaning against the wall.
"That we brought you in to become part of their team, of course. The other?" Jones raises his eyebrow. "You would hardly be an effective mole if your targets knew they were being watched. If they knew... well, I doubt Miss Dunham would take it well."
If Peter talks, he's dead. Just about what he fucking expected.
He doesn't trust that Jones is telling the whole truth, but if Peter bites, he gets time. Time to plan his escape. Time to gain their trust and find out enough about these people to make sure when he goes to ground he stays off their radar permanently.
And until he can lay down an exit plan that has a chance in hell at working, he doesn't see any other fucking choice. He grits his teeth and concedes. "All right. How can I refuse your generous offer?"
At a gesture from Jones, Peter opens the door. Olivia sweeps into the room, followed by Nick. Jones gives them a curiously fond smile. "Mr. Bishop has agreed to join us. You can brief him on the details on the way back."
Olivia barely glances at Peter. Her expression is not happy; her irritation cascades through her emotions and into his. Nick, by contrast, offers up a welcoming grin and says, "Good to have you back."
Back it is. Back to something Peter doesn't remember being a part of, and for what he hopes will be for as short a fucking time as possible.