Waiting is the hardest part. It always is. Olivia finds deskwork frustrating; too much time sitting around waiting. There's six more disruption incidents, and another, much smaller, quarantine.
Lincoln lets her take the lead on coordinating things from the Command Center. She's gotten good at it too – she receives the data, sorts through it almost as fast as Astrid does, and spots a pattern to it all. She understands the stakes, knows when to send the quarantine orders and when to risk holding back long enough to give the ground troops time to get as many people out as possible. It takes a bit of the burden off Lincoln.
Truthfully, she looks forward being in the zone when the call comes in. It keeps her from thinking about everything that keeps her up at night. About the answer she's waiting for.
If she can just hold this world together a little bit longer…
Charlie comes through the doors, fresh from another call, all dirty and scraped up. He's about to say something when Olivia catches Lincoln waving them towards his office.
"Save that thought," she tells him and gives his sleeve a little pull.
Lincoln hands them each a pad when they take their seats. "So," he says in his best I'm-in-charge-here voice. "We've detected a series of micro-events originating in the Boston area, centering near the old Harvard campus."
Charlie rubs his face. He's been out in the field all day and he's tired. "Micro-events? What the hell are you talking about?"
Lincoln meets his eyes. "Micro-events." Charlie nods back slowly. The air in the room thickens.
"And you want us to investigate?" Olivia asks. Her stomach does a series of nervous flip-flops. They've got their answer and it's the one she's been both hoping for, and dreading.
"You got it." Lincoln points to the pads. "We've been able to make some predictions as to when the next event might occur."
Charlie turns to her. His voice softens. "You sure you're up for this?" His eyes drop to where her hand is stroking the little nub of a foot that's stretching her already-snug shirt. "You don't have to do this. We can find another way."
She bites her lip and shakes her head. "Charlie," she says quietly, but she can't put the rest of it into words. Her throat feels too tight. This isn't like some custody arrangement; there aren't going to be any every-other-weekend and two-weeks-in-the-summer visits. Even if that were possible, there isn't going to be much of a world from him to come back to. Call her selfish, trying to save one life when there are billions on the line, but she hadn't expected to care so much about her child's well-being. And yes, 'her child'; he'd stopped being 'the package' a long time ago, despite what she'd been trying to convince herself of. Olivia wouldn't be doing this otherwise. "Please don't try to talk me out of this?"
Charlie nods. Lincoln sits back in his chair and lets out a noisy breath. It's settled. The date is set.
"Did you bring it?" Olivia asks before the woman even clears the lip of the tan. The ground shakes slightly beneath their feet, then settles again.
Trans-universal crossings aren't like booking a plane ticket; there's no fancy board flashing arrival times with the delays blocked in red. She's paced the length of the lab enough times to have lost count. Enough times that her back hurts and Charlie looks like he's about to blow a vein if she doesn't stop moving soon, though he's too wonderfully understanding to do anything but clench his jaw each time she walks past. Each minute that ticks by is another minute closer to being discovered. Each second is another one closer to losing what's left of Boston.
The woman nods, shivers a bit as water drips from the ends of her hair, her elbows, and puddles on the concrete floor. She says, "Walter thought a dead cat would be about the right mass." Olivia's disgust must be obvious because the other one winces in apology before she says, "So's this." She hands over a small, dense package. Coffee beans. "Still not a fair trade." There's a sadness to her voice, maybe a bit of pity in there as well.
And then they stand there staring at each other, no guns this time, because really, neither needs the advantage. Olivia watches the other's eyes settle on her belly, sees her shrink just a little, as if she's been holding her breath. Waiting for the double-cross that isn't coming. She's not sure she would have risked coming if she were in her double's place.
She wants to say she's sorry; this isn't the way things were supposed to turn out. Children are not supposed to be bread as biological weapons, and their mother taught her better than to steal what isn't hers to take. But she's seen the other Olivia's file and sampled her life; the only reason they're standing here now is because Walter and William Bell saw fit to use that little girl as a soldier, a weapon of their own twisted design. She feels a kinship with this child. This woman knows how easily the best of intentions can go awry when the survival of one's universes is at stake.
The woman stumbles a bit, but catches herself with a hand on the corner of the tank. She takes a moment to sort out her equilibrium. "This doesn't get any easier with practice." It takes her a minute before she opens her eyes again and nods to Olivia. Olivia doesn't miss how her hands are shaking the whole time.
Charlie wraps a blanket over her shoulders. "Liv," he gives her a nod and a sad smile full of apologies of his own. "I don't know how-"
"It's okay Charlie," she cuts him off gently as she pulls the blanket around her shoulders. "It's really good to see you again too." There's a warmth there that's familiar. A friendship that goes deeper than being mere colleagues and partners once upon a time. She's here because it was Charlie's words in the message. It reminds Olivia how deeply their lives are now woven and tangled together. One more thing they're forced to share.
"So I hate to rush you Liv, but if we're going to do this, we need to get started," Charlie looks between the both of them and says, "Time's ticking." Then under his breath he adds, "God this is weird."
"Did you bring it?" the other Olivia asks as they pick their way past the sheet-covered contraptions.
Charlie points to the small cooler and the two bags of viscous red fluid. "That going to be enough?"
She holds up the bags and examines the labels. "Let's hope so." Olivia watches as she bites her lip. The room is vibrating with all the nervous energy. She watches Charlie unpack the kit as he explains the plan to the other her. The other woman keeps glancing back over her shoulder at Olivia as Charlie shows her what he'll need her to do.
Olivia rubs at the foot that's pressing into her ribs with so much force that it feels like the baby is trying to propel himself free. She breathes deeply, slowly, tries to calm her racing heart, but her insides are still clenched and tight, and he seems to be picking up on her stress. 'I'm sorry kiddo,' she thinks. And because nobody else can hear, 'I don't know how else to do this.' She's full of unspoken apologies today.
"Charlie, you sure you know what you're doing?" the other asks. "What if something goes wrong?"
"Then you take the baby and run," Olivia says and hopes she sounds decisive. "Cross over if you can. Don't let the Secretary get his hands on him."
"What about you?"
Olivia doesn't have an answer ready. She's been trying not to dwell on that possibility. She's touched by her concern, surprised, though really, she shouldn't be. She knows about the case with Broyles' son and what this woman did for that kid only hours before her attempted escape. She's a survivor, but not at the expense of others if she can help it.
"I was a medic when I was stationed overseas," Charlie breaks in. Olivia's thankful he's here to keep them on track. "Liv'll be fine. Won't you Liv?" It's more of a statement.
"Yeah," she says weakly. "All the latest nanotech here. I'll be fine."
The other her nods. "Okay." She's not really convinced. "Okay then. Ready when you are."
She's not, but time is running short. It has been for a while now. They're down to the last few grains. She eases herself on to the examining table that's identical to the one in Walter's lab, right down to the straps.
Olivia gasps when Charlie's blade pierces her skin. It hurts more than she'd expected despite the local anesthetic. Charlie hesitates, and that makes it worse. "You sure about this Liv?" His voice wavers and his hand shakes. The blade is just fractions of an inch above her flesh, but she can't unlock her jaw to tell him to keep going. She will not scream because if she does, Charlie will come undone.
"Do it Charlie," the other Olivia orders. No room for arguments. She takes Olivia's hand in hers and squeezes. Hard. Olivia can only nod. They are the same where it counts.
She feels hot tears welling up and her stomach clenches and heaves like she's just stepped off a carnival ride; the decision to not to use anything that might show up in a toxicology screen later was a stupid one. She squeezes her eyes shut against both, feels somebody wiping the clammy sweat off her forehead with a cloth, hears her whisper, "Come on Dunham. You're okay. You're doing fine. You can do this. Almost there."
And then they are. She hears Charlie's huff of nervous laughter and opens her eyes. "Hey Liv." He hands her something warm and slippery wrapped in a towel. "You've got yourself a son."
Olivia hates him for saying those words.
The pain is only a dull burn now. Charlie works quickly with the nano-patches. They're only supposed to be field dressings, but they'll keep her from bleeding out and hopefully stave off any infection. They don't do anything to heal the suddenly gaping hole in her chest that opens up as she nudges aside the edge of the towel. She's doubtful that there's any technology in this universe that can.
His eyes are still scrunched closed, his skin is wrinkled and thin, making him look like a tiny old man, and he's slick with blood, but he's the most beautiful thing she's ever seen. And so not the outcome she'd been expecting of this mission. She sweeps a fingertip along his delicate jaw and he turns his face towards her touch and mewls like a kitten, mouth searching her out by instinct. She feels a little piece of herself die.
Time runs out.
She hears the shrill of the sirens, faint, but moving fast. The baby startles in her arms and her gut tells her to run, get up and get out of here. She wouldn't get far. She'd already started shivering as her body protests the trauma she's just put it through.
"There's one more thing," Charlie says to the other Olivia as he pulls out his gun. He hands it to her, butt-first, but she's shaking her head. Olivia watches her drop an empty syringe and go wide-eyed with panic. She shakes her head emphatically no.
"I can't Charlie. I killed you once. I can't do it again."
"I don't want you to kill me." Charlie looks at her, confused. He looks back at Olivia. "She's got to do it. They're not going to buy this."
Olivia looks at her counterpart and sees all that courage about to slip. Things are about to unravel. She won't let it. Not if this woman can save her child. "Give me the gun Charlie."
"We're the same. They won't be able to tell the prints apart. Give me the gun."
He does. She kisses her son for the first and last time and hands him gently to her double. She can hear the assault team banging down the barricade they'd made at the building's front door. She's feeling light-headed and her vision starts to darken.
"Go," she tells her. "Tell Peter… " but the ground is shaking again. Equipment rattles and smashes in a world-ending cacophony that drowns her out. "Go!" She takes aim at Charlie.
He closes his eyes. "Don't hit anything important," he tries to joke, but it's not funny at all. She can barely keep her hand steady. She takes aim for his thigh and hears the door of the tank close behind her.
She fires. Charlie drops. She tosses the gun across the floor.
The lab door crashes open and the world stops trembling.
Lincoln's in the lead. He starts barking orders and calling for a med team as soon as he's certain she's alive and Charlie's still breathing. He's doing his best to create noise and confusion. Buying that Olivia a few more precious seconds.
It's a full three minutes before anybody thinks to check the tank.
The water inside is still.
Marilyn is at her bedside when Olivia wakes. Her eyes are red but she smiles anyhow, puts on a brave face for her daughter. Olivia can't look at her and not feel like the morning they lost her sister all over again.
Or that's what she tells herself. The dull ache in her chest has nothing to do with Rachel.
"Hey sweetie," her mother says softly as she brushes the hair off her forehead. "You scared me there."
"I didn't mean to," she mumbles. Her mouth feels cottony from the painkillers. The pain from the incision has been muted for now. She presses her cheek against Marilyn's hand. Whatever her mother might have said next is interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Olivia," The Secretary greets her. He's alone, his regular security detail no doubt waiting in the hallway. "My deepest apologies that we were unable to get a team to you faster. This loss was unacceptable."
"Thank you Mr. Secretary," Marilyn answers for her.
He nods to her mother. "I'm sorry for your loss too, Mrs. Dunham." He's done his homework. Something hardens inside Olivia. She can see right through his sincerity. She turns her face away so she doesn't have to take part in this game right now. There will be enough questions later. The Secretary is a shrewd man. He must suspect something.
She feels the air in the room change and opens her eyes to find him staring down at her with none of his initial geniality.
"There are always other ways, Olivia," he says, then takes his leave. Olivia knows a warning when she hears one. This is not over. When the door closes behind him, Marilyn asks what he meant.
"I don't know mom," she whispers.
But she has her fears.
Olivia Dunham crosses over and takes a son that isn't hers. The irony is not lost on her. She doesn't do it out of love, however, for she has never met the child, but out of the certainty that by taking him, she will be saving his life, and by extension, all of theirs.
It is not the first strike in the greater war; that line was drawn and crossed a long time ago. This salvo may just bring about the beginning of the end.
She stumbles over the edge of the tank. It's difficult enough to find her feet after each crossing. She's even more unsteady with the package in her arms.
Peter catches her before she falls. He lowers her to the ground and shouts for towels, blankets… anything to wrap her in because she's shivering so hard. His brow is drawn and he's angry – she can see it plain as day. He hates the tank and what it does to her, and that's why she did this when he was supposed to be away. He wasn't supposed to know she was going over.
Walter is hovering and fussing. It feels like minutes before she can stop the shaking enough to unlock her jaw and speak, but surely it couldn't be that long because the package is still quiet despite all the trauma.
Her stomach knots as she pushes back the blanket Peter is draping over her shoulders. She tugs at the tight swaddling, breath held, fingers still shaking. "No… no, no, no… " She prays this won't all be for naught.
Walter shoves past Peter, who's crouched beside her, staring at them, confused and useless, not realizing the emergency. "Relax Olivia." Walter stills her hand with his, and with a patience she cannot afford, loosens the sopping sheet. "The mammalian dive reflex prevents drowning in newborns. You weren't submerged long enough to do any lasting damage."
"Wait? Mammalian dive reflex? What the hell is going on here?" Peter finds his voice. "Walter what did you do to her?"
"It wasn't Walter." Her heart rate is slowing, but her muscles will not stop spasming. She pushes the bundle into Peter's arms. She can't stop her teeth from chattering.
"She said to tell you 'Find that other way.'"
Peter pulls at the sheet. The tiny, wide-eyed child stares back at him for a moment, indignant, then opens his mouth and cries. Loud and strong. Just before the world goes dark, Olivia remembers to breathe.
The balance tips.
a/n - Thank you to everyone who's followed this far. I know the concept isn't exactly original and there's a few...loose ends and wrong turns, but Fringe is like that.