Rube Goldberg Machines
Olivia doesn't need visions to know that something isn't right.
Small things: when she heads up the stairs to the outside of headquarters she ends on her left foot, which leaves her off balance for her usual turn and on that first day, for that first time, she stumbles. Just a bit—she quickly catches herself against the railing and no one even seems to notice, but she's breathing hard, because this is wrong. She's been running up these stairs and making the same turn for years, and that stumble wasn't tripping on something. It was starting off on the wrong foot, ending up on the wrong foot, screwing everything up.
And even though it's just a small thing, well, Fringe agents are trained to see the small things that add up to something wrong, something skewed. Even before environment sampling, before quarantine protocol, they're taught—drilled—in being able to see that one thing that points to the picture being all wrong.
But it's not just that one thing. She's taken to wearing darker colors than she usually would, until Lincoln makes jokes that she's in mourning and Frank tells her very seriously one evening that she's not at all fat, and even if she was, he wouldn't care. He loves her anyway. (She feels something at this, and every time he says that he loves her. It feels like guilt.)
"Hey, Liv," Charlie says to her in the mornings and she feels something in her chest unfold and blossom at this, as it does every time she sees him. It feels a little like getting a second chance, somehow, despite all odds. This should be impossible. It's only Charlie.
She grits her teeth and smiles at him. "Hey Charlie. What's up?"
He is giving her a sit rep on an anomaly reported in Baltimore when the man standing behind him makes a slight movement that catches her eye.
The man smiles at her crookedly. She tries not to freeze. The man is—
"Peter," says Peter. He doesn't say it very loudly but she hears him as clearly as if he had whispered it into her ear. The hairs on her neck stand up in response and she doesn't know if she is afraid or excited. No one else seems to hear him.
No, Olivia doesn't need the visions to know that something isn't right. But she gets them anyway.
They get on a blimp headed to Maryland and Olivia tries not to fidget as the flight crew go over the pre-flight procedure. Charlie is looking intently at a vid-screen while murmuring on his phone, but she needs something to settle her stomach, and reading witness accounts of the screaming heard from an old church doesn't exactly do the trick. She looks out the window instead.
"-Absolutely no smoking of any sort is allowed," the flight attendant is saying in soft tones that brooks no argument.
Peter leans over the back of her seat, and she knows that if she looks up, she can catch a glimpse of the bit of skin where his sweater meets his neck, and she can smell his aftershave—she doesn't look up.
"Sparks on a blimp," he chuckles, "who'd've thought that'd be a bad idea."
"Here," Charlie says abruptly, passing over his phone. "I can't do this anymore."
"Do what?" she says, a little too fast. She winds the cord around her head, using large movements on purpose, half expecting to feel the fabric of Peter's jacket catching her hand on the upswing—she feels nothing and resists the urge to look around for him. "Dunham." She says into the phone.
"Talk me out of coming along," Lincoln says into her ear at the same time Charlie says, "Listen to him whine."
She laughs softly, and says, "You know it wouldn't be a good idea. You're on a tight eight hour leash and Baltimore isn't exactly a twenty minute drive away."
"Yeah, and they don't have hospitals in Baltimore?"
"A little rest will do you good."
Lincoln's voice settles into familiar whining tones. "C'mon Livy. I'm dyin' over here. Without you guys to spice things up I'm looking at eight hours of physical therapy in antiseptic rooms. I can come and finish my chamber time over there."
She grins and to her right, Charlie makes a face.
"And what do your nurses have to say about that idea?"
"That's what i thought."
"At least keep me posted, will you?"
"We'll see...who knows? By the time we land and finish going over the crime scene, your time for the day might be up."
Charlie laughs and Lincoln makes a noise she knows is disgruntled annoyance. "Man, is it so hard to get you two to admit you need me?"
"Lincoln, sir, we absolutely need you...to stay at home." She cuts the connection off and hands the phone back to Charlie. "Thanks for that," she says.
"Hey. The guy's going stir-crazy over there. I just didn't have the heart to tell him 'no' to his face."
"Fasten your seatbelts now," the flight attendant says firmly, and Olivia spends the flight thinking very hard about how much it would hurt if she had lost Lincoln that day. Or Charlie. She very much does not think about the niggling sensation in the back of her mind that says she's already lost them both.
It's a total mess in Maryland. The air is oxygen deprived, but molecular cohesion is strong, and police agents are milling about an old church with no respect for what could possibly be a dangerous zone. Charlie strides around muttering to himself about procedure in between barking orders for people to get off the grounds, and get out of the way and for Gods sake keep the civilians from gawking and far far away.
She's glad doubly, that Lincoln isn't here. He'd be having a fit right now, and at least five of the cops would be fired before he was done, she's sure of that. This situation is almost exactly the opposite of what proper Fringe procedure should be, and what with the time spent on the blimp, and probably the time the cops here spent debating over whether or not they should even be called the scene is probably almost two hours stale.
This could be why the three of them make such a good team: while Charlie is helping with the organization, and Lincoln would be making heads roll, Olivia walks straight through the front door. She flashes her show-me to the cop and he pulls back the tape with a nod in a gulp. You don't have to be a Fringe agent to know something isn't right in there, but she's willing to bet he's just afraid that he's going to take the fall for this.
Inside the church the first thing she can smell is burning meat. Three years ago, green out of the academy, she would have retched, but now she just takes the smell, catalogues it in her mind, burning flesh, human, slightly charred, large fire, possible explosion, too meaty to be combustion which means—
"There must be a body around here somewhere!" The Secretary exclaims from his position of a dilapidated pew just up ahead. She flinches at this, but then stops. He's not dressed in immaculate suits as per her memories but instead in a worn cardigan buttoned up poorly and a plaid shirt and slacks. With stains on them. She almost blurts out a "Sir!" before she realizes with a disconcerting shock that this is most certainly not the Walter Bishop she knows. Scratch that. It's most certainly not the Walter Bishop she should know.
"You should examine this phenomena more clearly, Agent Dunham. Where's there's smoke, there's fire, though in this case I suppose I should say, where there's smoke, there's a body." He chuckles to himself. Olivia strides past him.
"Send it back to my lab when you're done collecting evidence, or whatever it is that you do," he calls out after her. She pays it no mind at all.
There is, in fact, a body. Actually, there are several. Homeless people, from what she can tell. The laws are pretty strict about keeping them off the street, but abandoned buildings are hard to always patrol, and the city doesn't mind a few of them congregating here and there as long as they don't cause a fuss and the neighbours don't complain. Three of the bodies are charred almost beyond recognition, but a fourth, the most central body, is frozen solid. Even more disconcerting.
"What did you find, Liv?" Charlie calls from behind her. She spins around quickly in surprised. The Secretary, she is relieved to see, is gone. But behind Charlie, Peter is leaning against the wall of the church. He nods at her.
"I don't know," she says. She nods at the bodies. "Three burned victims, from what I can see so far. And one frozen. Gravity is good here, no foreign contaminants in the air. Just these guys to show for it."
Charlie whistles, low, and kneels next to the frozen guy. Fringe grunts have stormed in after him and are in the middle of canvassing the rest of the church. She watches them idly and tries to see something she's missed.
Peter says, "To live will be a great adventure. You can't run away from this Olivia."
She doesn't react because there is nothing to react to. She has no idea what he's talking about.
"Another burn victim over here!" one of the grunts call out and she strides over. The man is dressed better than every other person in here. She pulls a wallet out of his jacket and flips to the show-me. "Leo Szilard," she reads, "A physicist at Columbia. What were you doing here, so far away from home?" she puts the wallet in the bag that the grunt holds out differentially to her. There is a camera clutched tight in his hand.
"Whatever happened here, it ain't normal," Charlie says finally. "Call it in."
She nods and calls home office. Broyles picks up immediately. "This doesn't look like a tear," she says crisply. "Molecular cohesion and gravity are all within normal bounds. What's the next move?" He relays in the information and she can immediately hear Astrid muttering in the background.
"Get everyone out. With this kind of thing one can never be too sure. We'll continue analysis in the lab." Broyles orders, then hangs up. She jerks her head at Charlie who immediately starts herding the lookers out. She bends down again and starts to carefully extract the burned camera out of the charred hand.
Charlie pauses next to her. "Liv," he says, frowning, "what are you doing?"
She blinks up at him. "The camera. We should probably take it back, get it analyzed in the lab. Maybe it could tell us something more about what happened here."
He grabs her arm. "Olivia," he says, low and worried, "that's not what we do around here."
She blinks at him. "No of course not. I just thought—" she breaks herself off. Pulls out her scanner and scans the body and camera. He nods grimly.
They walk out together. Charlie barks more orders for setting up a proper perimeter, and she buries her hands in the pockets of her jacket to keep from people seeing them how much they are shaking.
A perimeter is set up in three minutes, they can't get a ride home for another hour so when Charlie suggests driving back she loads up the truck.
They finally make it back within the city around lunch and stopping for pizza at Grand Central, walking up the steps she starts humming to herself. Charlie looks at her, amused, and it makes her break into a soft song. "Nellie the elephant packed her trunk, and said goodbye to the circus. Off she went with a trunkety-trump, trump trump trump. Nellie the elephant packed her trunk, and..." she trails off, unable to remember the next line.
"And trundled back to the jungle," Charlie finishes, just as off key as she. She laughs. "You know Liv, you're one of the worst singers I've ever known. You were off-key ("You're one to talk!") and you forgot half the lyrics."
"I got the important bit," she argues, still humming to herself.
"It's Emily the elephant, for your information," he says, shaking his head.
She hums all while grabbing pizza and he joins in with her occasionally but the entire time she is thinking that something is not right.
Sometimes when she closes her eyes she sees Lincoln and Charlie. They are laughing at a bar after a hard day at work and Charlie is giving just as hard a time as he is getting about the worms and Lincoln is by turns funny and annoying and even though when he's had a touch too much to drink he smiles at her a bit too warmly and it's her first day of work all over again she knows there's nowhere else she'd rather be in the world.
Or she'd close her eyes and see Frank and the way he cooks dinner and the way he surprises her and the way he knows exactly what to say and how to say it.
But more and more, she'll close her eyes and see Astrid and Peter and Walter Bishop. They are all arranged in a dark room, full of science looking things all hopelessly outdated and something is bubbling on the stove. It smells like caramel. Astrid is wearing soft colours, and looks softer overall, in a way that she never has before. She's drinking something out of a beaker, and Walter is talking animatedly and Peter will catch her eye and smile a smile that is just for her.
Or Rachel and a little girl that she doesn't know. Who smiles at her brightly and says the funniest things. Her dead sister Rachel is smiling at her in a way that she never managed to do while alive and the little girl is plying her to read something to her. Ella, she reminds her patiently. My name is Ella.
Who am I? She thinks, tossing and turning next to Frank, who always slept deeply. Where am I from? Unbidden, second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning springs to mind and she's put off balance until she remembers that she read Peter Pan to Ella in instalments, who loved it, the adventure and Wendy in turn, and after it was over had vowed to Olivia that she would love Peter Pan too, if she could. Olivia had always found the part glossed over, about Wendy waiting for Peter too sad herself, but Ella was inclined to love everybody and-
She shuts down this train of thought. Peter Pan does not exist; Neverland is not somewhere she can return to.
Frank is on call tonight so when the call comes around eight neither of them are surprised, and so he's off with nothing more than a hastily packed case and an equally hasty kiss goodbye and she's alone in the apartment. It's getting harder and harder to ignore the people that are not there.
"What are you so afraid of?" Peter says from behind the counter. She tries to keep her mind on the vid screen in front of her.
"You don't have to pretend you don't see me. I know you better than that."
The images from the man's camera are disturbing at best. Pictures of the homeless people drinking something...she makes a note to figure out what it is and visit his lab in the morning. She sends over the images to Lee so that he can go over them when he gets out of the chamber tomorrow. He's good at seeing things she's missed.
"Liv," says a new voice beside her.
She looks up quickly, and there is someone different beside her. A man with solid, handsome features and a warm smile. John Scott is sitting beside her.
"John," she gasps, her voice stuck somewhere down at the bottom of her throat from the shock of it.
His smile broadens, then turns a trifle sad. "I've missed you," he says, a bit forlornly. Her hands are by turns clammy, then hot.
"I'm sorry about the way everything turned out between us. If I'd have known the that the last time...was going to be the last time, I would've—"
"No," she says, interrupting him. "No. I don't regret a thing."
"You know, Liv," he says, relaxing on the couch as if he'd sat there thousands of times before, "I like to think that somewhere out there, in some universe, we could have had a happy ending."
She's reaching out for him before she even realizes it. "Me too," she whispers. Her hands stop before they would have passes right through him, and he looks at her, proud. He's only saying what she's really thinking, she realizes, and looks past him to where Peter is still inevitably standing.
His voice is a little bitter. "You always would do anything for him, Olivia."
She says to him blindly, "But I'd do anything for you too."
He's in front of her before she can even blink and then he kneels down in front of her and winds his fingers through her hair and she leans into the touch that isn't there. "Then remember, Olivia," he whispers, and at that moment Frank comes home smelling of medicine and vaccinations and grumpy and she's a good girlfriend and rubs his feet and listens to his work stories and smiles at the right places and kisses him back when he kisses her but all the while she is remembering.
There are two Olivias in her now, the one from over here and the one from back there and she remembers both lives at once. It's harder and it's easier, she's afraid that every moment she is one step away from screwing up and mixing things up harder but it's better now because mental breakdowns as an excuse work far better than they should.
Charlie back home used to bring her a cup of coffee when he knew she was upset and didn't want to say. There isn't much of coffee over here, but Charlie still does small things like that, only now it's a pastry. Or a sandwich. Just being around Charlie though, is enough to make her smile.
She thinks about the other Olivia a lot. She must be back home because why else would they try to mould her into living a lie? She must be living her life over there and she must be succeeding because she believes with all her heart that Peter would have found a way back if not by now. She thinks about her and she hates her for being with the people she loves and for being with Peter.
She can't hate her for long though. Through the memories she has and the life she lives she can see that Olivia wasn't a bad person. Maybe she's just trying to do her job. But the thing is, she has mom and she has Charlie, and Frank and Lee and what does she get in return? Rachel, Ella, Astrid, Walter, Peter. Peter Peter Peter. Is it worth it? The only answer she can muster is yes. The truth is, they are the lucky ones. The two of them, because they get to live both lives. She wishes for a chance to be able to say that to the other Olivia.
The Colonel and the Secretary come to her with a special project. Something about water immersion in order to get a look at the psyche of the other Olivia, to try and see through her eyes, to spy on the other universe. It's complete bullshit. She goes along with it anyway and carefully doesn't feel a thing while she's in the chamber.
Afterwards, the Secretary looks thoughtful and Broyles looks worried and that is when she knows that she can't trust him anymore. With her new memories she won't be able to kill Lincoln and with her old ones she'll never be able to hurt Charlie, but Broyles. She thinks that if it comes down to it, she'll be able to kill Broyles.
She sees Peter one day while she's alone in the apartment, the only place where she feels it's safe to not act like she can't see them. She's been seeing them less now that she's remembered; her subconscious knows she's got the message. But she doesn't mind seeing Peter, even if he's just a jumbled up mix of things he's said before, things she thinks he might say, and things she hopes he will say.
"What do I do now?" She asks of him.
He smiles his half smile. Her heart breaks again. "Watch. Wait," he says, "I'll be coming for you."
She believes that he will: always. But Olivia Dunham is not accustomed to waiting to be saved. "I'll meet you halfway," she promises, and he blinks out of existence.
She sees the man for three days before she realizes he's real. She's actually seen him more than that, watching her from what he thinks is a clever position but she's so used to ignoring extraneous people that she just ignores him too. But after everyone else is gone...the run from the treatment center is a haze to her that she isn't used to experiencing, photographic memory and all. But him...she thinks she's seen him before.
He's startled when she strides up to him one day as he sips his coffee, pretending to study a vid screen while actually trying to figure out if she's left the office yet. His cab is parked beside him.
She smiles. "Hi," she offers.
"Uh," he says, clearly floundering, trying to find a line. "Did you find out where you belonged yet?" he asks finally. It seems he's settled on what he really wanted to say.
"Yeah. Thing is..." she pauses. This can end up being so wrong. But what if it's right? Hook or me this time. "I'm not who they think I am."
He finally smiles back.
[end notes] man oh man has Fringe been good lately. This is just something I've been turning over and over in my head. The concept of the two Olivia's is such a great one, and I wanted to get this up before the new episode tomorrow night refutes everything here.
Olivia seeing things that aren't there certainly isn't a new thing in this show, and I wanted to work in other references to her other life, along with a bit of Peter Pan and Wendy.