Warnings: Character death, some swearing
Spoilers: Season 1
Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.
Author's Note: This was inspired by Alamo Girl's speculation post after the season finale. I plotted the story and wrote half of it within a week of the episode, and it's taken me until now to finish tinkering with the rest.
Death of Maybe
"Car accident... New York... did everything they could to revive..."
Peter's first reaction is to wonder why she was in New York. A masking thought, a stutter as he tries to understand—accept—what Charlie is saying. His second, numb disbelief. His third, hollow agony that's beginning to rake through the numbness.
It can't be true.
"I want to see the body."
"I'm not sure it's—"
"I want to see the fucking body, Charlie."
The agent makes noises of acquiescence and says he'll contact Peter when it's been arranged. Peter recognizes motions made just to soothe the crazy, but it doesn't fucking matter what Charlie thinks. Not now.
Peter stares at the desk, at the stack of files on the Susan Pratt case she'd been going through less than forty-eight hours before. The piles she'll never straighten back into military precision, never tuck under her arm to carry back to the FBI, never replace with another stack as the endless cycle of investigations marches forward.
Not endless. Ended. It's all ended.
Because he doesn't want to scatter the files to the floor, he stalks out of the office and stands staring out into the lab, powerless to go further.
"Peter, who was... Peter? Peter, what's wrong?"
Walter stares at him worriedly, eyes flicking back and forth across his face. Astrid rises from her spot at the computer, looking equally concerned.
Peter had a poker face, once. Right now he doesn't fucking care.
"She's dead." At the blank looks, he specifies. "Olivia. She's dead."
"Oh, no," Astrid whispers.
"Are they sure?" Walter asks, blinking rapidly. "Because I can think of at least—"
"Yes, they're sure," Peter snaps, and then takes a deep breath, blows it out. "A car accident. Some asshole T-boned her SUV." He ruthlessly ignores the lump in his throat, pushes away the pain that tightens his chest. "Charlie's getting me in to see the body. Just... just to make sure."
"I want to go with you."
"Please, Peter. I... I need to see." Walter looks shaken. Too many shocks in too few days. He cares for Olivia, too, and he doesn't take well to losing the things he cares about.
Fuck. Right. "We're leaving in half an hour."
Walter nods and shuffles off. Astrid's still staring at Peter, eyes wide and expression compassionate. "Are you okay?"
Okay? Right now, he can't even grasp a definition of the term, much less feel it. And the events of the last few days don't help. He tries not to think about the other Olivias that may be out there, somewhere, going about their lives in their own realities, but it's almost impossible not to consider 'what if'.
They aren't his Olivia. His Olivia died in twisted metal.
"Peter?" Astrid's light touch on his arm brings him back.
"Fine," he grinds out. "Perfectly fine. She's dead. It's hardly the first time I've lost a friend."
But it's the first time he's lost her, and the sympathy in Astrid's eyes tells him his efforts the past couple of months to bury the shift in his feelings have been for shit. He remembers to hide from Olivia, to hold himself that step away so she doesn't have a clue. He remembers to hide from Walter, because he doesn't need his father's brand of encouragement. He's less discreet around Astrid, forgets that although she's been good-naturedly playing Walter's lackey for the last eight months, she's FBI trained and damned good at her job.
She nods slightly and squeezes his shoulder, then goes to play assistant to Walter.
The drive is virtually silent. Walter keeps starting to talk, then stutters to a halt only a few words in before Peter even has a chance to tell him to shut up. Some distant part of Peter thinks he should find some sort of words to reassure his father, but he can't find the energy to fucking care.
Later. He'll deal with it later.
He slides into a parking spot near the hospital, stares at the dashboard as he grips the steering wheel. Walter sits quietly beside him, and Peter supposes he should be grateful that the man isn't babbling nonsense or running off into traffic. Peter finally pushes himself out of the car, uses the momentum to carry himself down the sidewalk and through the door, where he takes quick footsteps down echoing halls. No need to put this off any longer than he has to, despite his chest tightening more with every step. Walter straggles behind.
The guy in charge nods to them when he sees their IDs and motions towards a closed door. He tries to engage them in conversation that falters at Peter's glare.
The room is stainless steel and chill despair, not the softened-edged viewing room they used for grieving families but a place of stark science used to give those families the comfort of how and why. She's lying on cold metal, her familiar curves shrouded by a clean white sheet. Scrapes mark her cheek and chin, but no further evidence of the accident is visible. Peter stops and swallows, forces himself forwards.
His shudder isn't entirely due to the cold.
There's no doubt it's Olivia, her eyes closed, her skin pale, her body empty without the driving force of her personality. She looks smaller, younger. Not asleep, because even on the odd moments he caught her napping in the office she'd been so fucking dynamically alive. He tries not to imagine the injuries that lie hidden. If he focuses on who she was, he might be able to remember her alive and smiling, not broken and empty.
He feels broken and empty.
Behind him, Walter's bugging the coroner for details about the autopsy. Despite Peter's best efforts to ignore the conversation, words like "massive trauma" and "internal injuries" filter through. Walter shuffles to the table, head tilted as he studies her. He reaches forwards, grasps the sheet. Peter grabs Walter's wrists and squeezes until he lets go.
"But I need to—"
"Give her privacy, for once." They'd spent enough time pawing over her private life; the least he can do is shield her this last little bit.
"I must insist—"
"Then contact Broyles yourself and leave me the fuck out of it. I will have nothing to do with whatever desecration you have planned."
He dimly realizes he's yelling and people are hovering around the doorway making noises about calling security. He stalks stiff-legged to the wall and leans his forehead against the cool tile, closing his eyes against it all.
A warm hand settles on his shoulder, and Walter murmurs, "I cared for her too, son."
"Yeah." Peter swallows, trying to clear the lump in his throat. "I know that."
"If I study what happened, perhaps—"
"Sometimes there isn't anything, Walter," Peter murmurs, exhaustion dragging him down. He opens his eyes and turns to Walter, to the lines of worry and pain carved into his father's face, and says, as gently as he can, "She's dead. You can't change that."
The stubborn flash that darkens Walter's eyes fades back into sorrow. "If I could do anything..." He doesn't finish the thought, just turns to study all that's left of the woman who was their friend.
Peter avoids looking at the white-draped table, keeping his eyes steady on his father. "I know, Walter. Believe me, I know."
Peter mourns her with a bottle of whiskey in hand, same as the stuff they'd been drinking when tracking down background on Raul Lugo. The taste that burns along his tongue brings back the memory of the light in her eyes as she laughed at his bar tricks, the mischief as she showed her chops at counting cards. Crystal fucking clarity, he can see her, like she's still sitting across from him and not laid out on a cold slab in the morgue.
He shivers and takes another gulp.
His phone buzzes. Getting up and crossing the room to answer it is too much effort, but she instilled a sense of responsibility in him, damn it. If he's honoring her memory, he might as well honor that one last time. He pushes up and grabs the phone, leaning against the table while answering. "Bishop."
"Peter, I need a favor."
It's her voice. It can't be, but it is.
"Olivia?" he rasps out. It's probably a trick. A hallucination. The first signs of the breakdown he's half expected for years. But all he wants is to hear her voice again.
Oh, that's a fucking loaded question. He can picture her, match the wrinkled forehead and narrowed eyes with the concern he hears in her voice. He almost laughs. Almost. But if he does, it will come out hysterical, and then he'll break. He slides to the ground, leans his head against the wall and digs his fingers into the carpet. "Well, you're dead, for starters."
Ten seconds. Twenty, and he would think the hallucination has faded out except for her quick breathing on the other end of the line. An oddly endearing detail for his brain to have conjured up, but he's sorry to have shut her up because all he wants to do is hear her voice and pretend it's all okay.
"I'm what?" Her voice has gone flat neutral, not the tone that says she doesn't believe but the one that says she's trying to come to terms.
"Car accident. Car nailed you." He swallows. "I saw your body." Doesn't come out as steady as he intended, not even fucking close.
"I didn't have... wait. In New York? Silver sedan, almost hi—" a pause, and he can all but see the shake of her head as she corrects herself, "did it hit the front passenger side of my SUV?"
And now she sounds as unnerved as he. "But I swerved. I avoided the accident."
The anger kicks out before he can stop it, anger tempered by a growing kernel of hope. "Then where the hell have you been?" Maybe. Just maybe.
"I..." she hesitates, sounding lost, finally continuing with, "New York. A different one. With William Bell."
Different New York. Different reality. Different Olivia who died?
"Well, you might want to notify the Feds, because they think you're on a slab right now." His brain finally stops stuttering. "Fuck, Charlie went to notify Rachel."
"Oh, hell." He can hear in her voice the wide eyes and horrified expression as it hits her. She keeps him on the line while she calls Charlie and Rachel, then checks in with Broyles. Peter just stares at the phone and hopes this is real.
Peter doesn't trust that he hadn't dreamed the phone call until the next afternoon, when Olivia hesitantly walks through the door to the lab. Astrid spots her first, greets her with glad cries and hugs. So does Walter, who dabs tears from his eyes. Peter waits until they're done before pulling Olivia into his arms, content to watch others prove she's more than just a phantom before he tests the reality for himself.
Peter holds her a little too long, memorizing the warmth of her body along his, the silken tangle of her hair in his hands. She hugs back just as hard, and when she pulls away her smile is dimmed by the ghosts of what might have been.
It's Walter, of course, who ruins the mood by stating what should have been obvious. "I'm sorry, Peter, but how do we know this one is ours?"
Peter doesn't fucking care. She looks like her, sounds like her, smells like her, reacts like her. Feels like her. It's her. But Olivia, practical, forthright Olivia, nods slowly, another layer of haunted taking up residence behind her eyes. Even after eight months he only reluctantly acknowledges that, when it comes to everything Fringe Division touches, nine times out of ten "impossible" is more properly "improbable"; she always does accept the possibilities more readily than he, even when she has just as much at stake at disproving them.
On this one, though, Peter's not letting go of "impossible" without a fight.
Olivia paces to the end of the room, stands staring at the cabinets full of glassware and chemicals and curls her hands around the edge of the lab bench. "How can we tell?"
"Scars, broken bones, anything medical and dental records could quantify as different between the two of you." Walter grabs up a manila folder—autopsy report, Peter notes, and from the glimpses of blonde in the photos he has the sinking feeling that he doesn't ever want a closer look at that file. "And shared memories, we should look at those, too. There might be more subtle clues as well, perhaps—"
"This is more than enough to start," Peter says firmly.
Olivia pivots and nods, not quite meeting anyone's eyes. "Let's get this over with." Her voice is devoid of emotion, and Peter watches Olivia sink deeper and deeper into impassivity the more questions Walter asks.
In the end, it's the little things that separate the Olivia who's alive from the one in the morgue in New York: a scar four inches too low on the dead Olivia, a metal filling their Olivia lost and had replaced with a composite filling, memories that intersect perfectly with those of Peter, Walter, and Astrid. The Olivia who belongs here is the one standing before them.
Her shoulders sag when the verdict comes down, a brief collapse as the weight she's been carrying is lifted. When she looks up, her expression is determined. "Okay," she breathes out. "Okay. So what happened? Where did I—" she shakes her head, "she, where did she come from?"
Astrid shrugs. "Maybe she stepped over from another dimension?"
"A possibility, certainly, but not the only one." Walter punctuates his words with vigorous sweeps of his arms. "She could be a clone, or an evil doppelganger, or some sort of shapeshifter—"
"Walter!" Peter snaps, but he can't stop himself from grinning. Olivia glances at him, her eyes still shadowed, but she raises her eyebrows and smiles as the familiar patter of speculation and insanity starts ricocheting between the four of them. Back to business as usual, as if the last day hadn't been spent in mourning. Maybe it's just easier for them all to set might-have-beens aside, or maybe the constant spate of life-altering revelations have just left them jaded.
Peter knows he'll move past it eventually, but he won't forget. And he'll do everything he can to keep from losing her again.