Thanks to Fringe creators for entertaining the possibilities of multiple universes. Every one of our stories are can live there.
He grabbed his jacket from the bed and threw one last look at himself in the mirror. Damn, he thought, he needed a haircut badly. He was starting to look like Walter. He tried flattening it down with his palms, brushing it back with his fingers, but nothing could settle the fact that, left unchecked, his hair grew fast, curly and big. He sighed. At least he had shaved an hour ago, but even that would be stubble by midnight.
He grinned to himself, knowing that he was nervous. Just drinks, he had told his father. That's what normal people do. But he was kidding himself. His life was not now, nor had ever been, normal. He was pretending and fooling no one in the process, but dammit, she made him feel like a schoolboy sometimes, all knock-kneed and self-conscious and very much out of his league. It was silly, he knew, but right now, after the drama of these last few days, he welcomed it with open arms.
So with one last deep breath, he pulled on his jacket and bounded down the stairs.
But Olivia Dunham was gone.
She sat in her car across the street from their house, unable to control the tremors that had started in her body. Her hands were white as they gripped the steering wheel, as if she could physically hold on to the remnant of what this night could have been. It was shattered and so was she and she feared she would never recover. Could never recover, from this horrible nightmare that had become her life.
John, Charlie and now Peter.
She saw light spill from the doorway, saw a figure silhouetted within its frame. She could tell it was him, not his father, by his build, by his body language. He was looking for her in the darkness and she prayed he wouldn't step outside onto the porch for a better look. He had a habit of finding her and right now, she didn't want to be found. Not by him, not by anyone. She wanted to scream and if he found her, she would. She would scream and she would cry and she would bolt, or worse, she would collapse into his arms at the first touch and that, she decided, would be most unwise for any of them.
Never again. For anyone. Ever.
The light dimmed and the door closed and the night, with all of its possibilities, was gone.
She dropped her face into her hands and wept.
"What the hell did you say to her, Walter?!" It wasn't so much a question as an accusation.
"Nothing, son. She…she's not well…" Walter Bishop swallowed. He wasn't the best of liars, although by now he should have been. Or perhaps he was simply tired of it. The truth was a pressing thing. Sometimes there was no escaping it. If only he could convince himself. "I fear that perhaps, these last few days are proving too much for her …"
He could tell his son did not believe him. The setting of the jaw, the narrowing of the eyes, the weight of suspicion. It was worse than a slap to the face. He swallowed again.
There was a knock at the door, and Peter swung 'round, throwing it open in expectation. "Olivia?"
"No, just me." Wide dark eyes, elfin features, a mass of curly black hair. Astrid. Sweet Astrid, patient Astrid, true Astrid. "Why? Is that bad?"
The tension was overwhelming, as Walter glanced from his son to the Junior Agent and back again, and Peter stood staring at the floor, hands curling into fists. Carrying secrets of her own, she tried her best not to look at either Bishop. Finally, as suddenly as it had descended, the tension left.
"No," said Peter, lifting his head and trying to smile. "That's not bad, Astrid. C'mon in." He stepped aside to allow her entrance. "I…I'm just heading out."
"Oh. Okay. I thought…"
"Nah," he said. "Not happening."
Walter stepped forward. He was wringing his hands. "Where are you going, son?"
"Drinking, Walter. I am going drinking. That's what normal people do."
And he left the house, his boots making thunking noises as they carried on down the steps and finally out into the dark street. With a furrowed brow, Astrid closed the door behind him and he was gone.
The morning sunlight made the ancient Harvard lab an almost cheerful place. It spilled across the old stone walls, glittered off vials and beakers and metal equipment, made the vast array of coloured wires look like rainbows after a summer shower. Even the cow looked happy in sunlight.
Astrid was already there when Olivia Dunham walked in.
"Hey," called the Junior Agent, not looking up from her work.
"Hey," Dunham echoed back, her tone flat, distracted, and Astrid, still being every inch an FBI agent, looked up at that.
"What's up?" she asked.
Dunham's hair was loosed this morning, and it reflected that sunlight as she glanced around the lab. "They not in?"
"Nope. Not yet."
And they probably won't be in for a while, Astrid wanted to add, because Walter was a basket case all evening and took a lot of drugs before bed and Peter has a hangover and they might have just killed each other sometime during the night.
But Astrid, being the soul of discretion, said nothing for a long time. Honestly, she didn't know what to say. Secrets were not the best conduits for conversation.
Finally, Olivia released a deep breath and strolled over to her desk. She rapped the surface with her knuckles, obviously uncomfortable and processing something.
"So. How were they last night?" Green eyes met brown. "Peter and Walter, I mean?"
Olivia shrugged, tried to smile. "They're always weird."
"Not like this."
Dunham nodded, looked down, still processing.
Astrid Farnsworth was a people person. More accurately, she was a people-loving introverted person, as happy to be with people as she was happy to be alone. She could find delight in most situations, but lately, the lab with its three fellow occupants had become a deep, dark and dangerous place to be. She cleared her throat.
"Do you remember a few weeks ago, when Peter was sick?"
Brow furrowed, Dunham nodded. "Yeah."
"Walter… said something…"
"Something really weird. Even for Walter." Astrid swallowed, not knowing how to proceed. "Olivia, I know it's probably none of my business, but…"
"I need to show you something…"
Dunham raised her brows.
When the Bishop men finally made it into the lab later that morning, the women were gone. But the cow was happy to see them.
They drove to a cemetery.
Even before they got out of the SUV, Dunham knew. She hadn't slept at all that night, as puzzle pieces arranged, dislocated, came together, moved apart. But here, now, even sitting in the car, seeing line upon line of pale grey headstones, she knew for a fact what Astrid had brought her here to see, and the puzzle suddenly fell into place. Every odd, 'weird', cryptic thing Walter had ever said or did made sudden, terrible, gut-wrenching sense.
It was a beautiful cemetery, small in comparison to many others she had seen, high on a hill in north Cambridge. As they walked, Astrid was talking. Dunham was doing her best to listen. She felt disconnected, however. Numb.
"I wish I had let it go. Honestly, Olivia, I just never thought…"
"It's okay, Astrid."
"I just started digging. It was hard going, but it's all there, in the city records, if you know how and where to look…"
The Junior Agent finally stopped under a stand of young beech trees, looked down. Dunham did likewise, shoving her hands in her jacket pockets. It was a small stone compared to those around it, a small plot for a small body. The name, the dates. It all made terrible sense.
He had been seven years old.
Olivia felt nothing at all. She was already dead inside. 'You have replaced fear with anger', he had said. What did you replace love with?
"I didn't want to say anything, but this…" Astrid shook her head. "This is too weird, even for me…"
There was something on top of the stone, and Dunham reached for it. It was a coin. She thought she recognized it but she couldn't be sure. Peter always played with coins when he was restless. It was no coincidence. She slipped it in her pocket.
"So, did Walter, like…bring him back from the dead or something?"
Dunham took a deep breath, shook her head.
'No," she said flatly. "Worse."
Walter Bishop was miserable.
He had awakened with a splitting headache, a completely predictable side effect from far too many barbiturates the night before. In fact, he had debated popping a few antidepressants to improve his mood, but he was afraid of what Peter might think. This day could very well go south at any time and truth be told, he wanted to be lucid for every minute of it. The misery he would gladly bear to keep his wits about him and his son in the dark.
Peter, for his part, had said nothing all morning.
So they sat, each at different stations, Walter working on isolating a reagent to compliment the effects of Cortexiphan, and Peter googling the latest botched contacts with the Aymara people of Central Peru, a topic that had seemed to capture his interest for the last several months. But the lab was quiet, and without music, Walter was stretched almost beyond his limits. There were some things that just couldn't be sacrificed.
"Walter, what did I say?"
"What? Did? I? Say?" Each word bitten and precise. The boy was angry.
The elder Bishop sighed, arms sagging. "You said you did not wish to hear me utter one word for the next 24 hours."
"And how many words have you uttered so far?"
"Well, that would be twenty."
Finally Peter looked up from his computer, face impassive, expression stern. "And how many more than 'not one' is that?"
"Would you be speaking of rational numbers, irrational or quantum, because 'not one' could be taken to mean—"
"I need my music, son."
The younger Bishop clenched his jaw, emotions displayed openly across his face even as he worked to control them. It was often this way, Walter realized. His son fought against many things. Always at war with himself. It was appropriate.
"Fine," said Peter grudgingly. "Just not Joplin."
"Oh," said Walter, dejected.
He turned back to his work, and they continued in silence for several minutes. He looked up again.
"That's forty six, Walter."
"You do know that I love you, don't you?"
"I need you to know it. Please tell me you know it."
Peter sighed. "I know it, Walter."
"And not just here," he tapped his head. "But in here." He tapped his heart.
"Yeah. I know that too."
The doors to the lab swung open and the women came in. And fittingly the morning sunshine fled, hiding her face behind a swath of clouds and taking any beams of light away with her. As if holding its breath and making a wish before blowing out a flickering candle, the last of the warmth in the lab was gone.
"I, um, I'm going to… um… milk Gene…"
And with that, Astrid Farnsworth turned and left the trio, her soft-soled shoes making no sound as she went.
Neither man had looked up as they'd entered the lab, and Olivia didn't find that entirely surprising. Peter was likely angry or hurting or both, Walter compromised. She had to give them credit for showing up at all.
It terrified her to realize that she loved them both. Deeply. Desperately.
"Hey," she said, her voice huskier than normal.
"Agent Dunham," said Walter, meeting her eyes for the first time. He had mustered a smile but his eyes were shining and he looked ready to break.
Naturally, Peter said nothing, and she steeled her resolve to look at him. Sunlight split and danced, moving like a 1920's movie house. She found it very hard to focus as the light refracted over and around his form, ghostlike. She forced herself to remember he was solid, real, human. Still the Peter Bishop who frustrated her to no end, who regularly pushed her outside of her comfort zone of preconception, who surprised her almost every day with glimpses into the workings of his own brilliant mind, who was always there to comfort or to challenge, whatever the hell she seemed to need at the time. Who could find her wherever and whenever she chose to run.
Most people who cross dimensions, without your natural talent, are simply torn apart.
"Peter," was all she said.
She saw him stop, breathe, frown. Saw a mask slip over his boyish features. When he looked up, his mouth was smiling. His eyes were not.
"Hey," he said.
"S'okay. Drinking with girls is lame anyway."
"I need to talk to you."
Now some element of smile did creep into his eyes. He sat back on the stool. "Look, Olivia, it's really okay. I understand. You just…" He sighed. "You just could've said something, is all."
It was so hard to look at him, and yet, so hard not to. It was hypnotic, the way the light danced and shimmered. Too many flickering images, impossible for the brain to process. She realized she was staring and blinking. She wondered if her mouth was hanging open.
"What?" he said.
You don't have to tell him. You don't have to say anything at all.
Forget about it. No one will ever know. Some secrets are best left buried.
The light reflected, refracted, shimmered like old, old film…
Finally, she broke her gaze and turned to Walter. "I have to tell him."
The elder Bishop stood, and she also realized that Walter was preparing himself. Had likely been preparing himself for months now as the inevitability of his secret's escape became more and more imminent. For the first time in a long time, her heart broke for him as well. He had to have known what it would mean to reintroduce the drug Cortexiphan into her system. He had to have known how it would end.
Perhaps, hers was not the only sacrifice.
"Tell me what?"
She looked back at him. He had folded his arms across his chest, waiting, patience growing thin. The light was dancing, her heart – her broken, dead heart – was racing, she didn't know what to say or where to begin.
He shook his head and rose to his feet. "Look, Olivia, I understand. You and Walter got some serious stuff going down and I get in the middle. That's okay. You just let me know when you're both ready –"
There. She just said it. Just like that.
He blinked at her, shook his head, blinked again. The smile came back, cynical this time, pulled into one cheek like a rogue. "Right."
She pushed the hair out of her face, took a deep breath. "Just like the building in Manhattan before it got pulled to the other side. Glimmering. I could see it so plainly. It was so different, eerie, other worldly…" The words were running out of her now, impossible to stop. She felt terrified and yet free. And she let them hang, waiting for him to pick up on her implications. He surprised her again by laughing.
"Funny, Dunham. That's…that's funny. Hell of a way to dump a guy." But he had taken a step back from her, and she could see the wheels spinning behind his eyes.
She grabbed his arm, startling him. "No, Peter, listen to me. I know what I saw and I know what I'm seeing. I saw that building. It was shifting, shimmering with light. And last night, when I got to your house, you were shifting, shimmering with light. Just like that building. Just like you are now. Walter, tell him."
He glanced at his father. "Is paranoia a side effect of Cortexiphan?"
Walter took a step forward. "Peter…"
"Just, just, just... hang on a second." Peter shook off her hand, took another step back. "You guys are creeping me out here. I've tried to be patient. I've tried to understand, really I have. Jacksonville was hard on all of us, and I know you both have some serious issues to work through. I do know that. Really, I do. But… what has any of that got to do with me?"
"Peter, Agent Dunham is telling you the truth."
"Walter," the smile grew wider as the wheels spun harder. "Why on earth would I be glimmering?"
There was silence in the lab.
"What are you saying?" he snorted. "That I'm from the other side? Is that what you're saying? Because Broyles is always accusing me of conspiracy theories. I'm sure he'd love to hear this one…"
"Son," said Walter, voice level, emotionless, controlled. "Remember when you were a boy and you got so very sick?"
"No, Walter, I don't remember it. I've told you that before. You said I had a rare disease, I almost died, you wanted to build a transporter to bring back some old dead scientist, but before you could, I got better. It went something like that, right?" Sarcasm now, a primitive defense mechanism. He could do better. He wasn't really trying. He wasn't taking them seriously.
"Yes son, that's what I said."
Deep breath, collection of facial muscles. Forced calm. "I lied."
No hesitation. "Oh, now that's a surprise. Which part did you lie about? Did I not get sick? Or did you not build a transporter, or not try to bring back some old dead scientist? Or did you make up the whole story, Walter? Maybe I didn't have a dog named Rufus and maybe we didn't get saved by the bald guy in the river, either? Maybe my whole life is a lie. Tell me, Walter, what exactly am I supposed to believe here?"
"The whole story is true, Peter. Except that it didn't happen to you."
She could see the wheels screeching all over the map. His face was a river, flowing from emotion to emotion. She waited for his hands to come up, to spin and move and help him process. And sure enough, they did.
"What – you're saying that I had a brother? Some long lost brother that I never knew about? Why would you do that? Why would you - why would you not tell me?"
"No." Walter was trembling now, tears welling up behind his lashes. Olivia could only imagine what he was feeling. "My son did get sick, but my son did not get better."
Peter frowned now, eyes glued on his father, clearly not comprehending. He grew very very still, those wheels not so much spinning now as grinding, weeding out the chaff and settling on the wheat.
"Your son…" he said quietly. "Your… son…"
It took several more seconds, but she saw it when it happened. A flash of blue-green, a crossing of the forehead, a slight intake of breath. He cocked his head like a dog hearing a far-away whistle. A few seconds more, she could almost count them. She knew the expression. Then the smile, the relaxing of muscles, the real defense mechanism. She knew him at least that well.
"Peter, please." Walter took another step forward. His chest was heaving. There was no mistaking his grief. A trembling hand came up to cup the side of Peter's face. "I loved you then so very much…I love you now, so very much. I need you to know that…"
The smile had disappeared now, and Olivia was quite certain it wasn't coming back anytime soon. Ever so slowly, the younger Bishop slid his eyes to look over at her. Tears were streaking down her own face in confirmation. He hated her then. She knew that like she knew her own name. He hated her as much as he hated his father. Ever so slowly, he reached up and removed the hand, lowering it and prying himself free. Taking first one, then yet another step backwards, then another. He glanced around the lab, at the plastered walls and rusting metal, at the shiny beakers and brightly-coloured wires, at the consoles and stations and burners and the cow, and finally at the two people who stood weeping before him.
He spun on his heel and in a heartbeat, he was gone.
End of Chapter 1