Olive Dunham is nine years old.
Next year, she'll get her official Show-Me. It won't have the stupid pink border around it, and she's excited because that means she'll be able to buy bubblegum from the corner-store without first having to give her mother the money so that her mother can swipe the Show-Me and pay. It will be Olive's first step to Becoming an Adult, words that excite her even though she's not sure what they mean. Well, not quite sure, she thinks. She knows they mean that someday, she will get to make her own decisions.
For now, though, she has her Kid Show-Me with its stupid pink border, and she has to still do kid stuff.
Olive Dunham is nine years old.
Olive Dunham is also dead.
Olivia holds the pistol, her stepfather's gun, in her hands, and it looks wrong, too big and too heavy and too clumsy. She knows why; those are the hands of a little girl, and the moment she pulled the trigger, sending a jolt through the gun that kicked along her arms, making them wobble like spaghetti noodles that vibrated until her shoulders ached and her head went back and her chest caved forward just a little bit, like somebody had hit her in the stomach—the moment she pulled that trigger, the little girl, Olive, died.
She is Olivia now.
And he is gone.
But for how long? Olivia holds the gun in her hands that are suddenly too young for her mind, and wonders. Her mother is behind her, and she wants nothing but to go and burrow against her mother like she always did when she was younger, but she's not that girl anymore. She's defied orders, she's done something to stand out, and she doesn't care.
She will soon, she thinks, but right now, she doesn't care.
She still feels the way the bullets bit into her stepfather's flesh.
The TV shows she is never supposed to watch but does anyway, they never say anything about that, about how you can feel the bullet leave the gun and travel through the air and smack through flesh and blood and bone.
She wishes she had hit him more.
She wishes she had never hit him.
She wishes she were Olive.
Astrid Farnsworth is twenty-one.
She knows this is a bad idea. She knows this has "REBOUND" written all over it, in huge, neon-pink, sprayed-on letters, but she's spent three years at Princeton being the good girl, the dependable one, half of Astrid-and-Robbie, and now that half of Astrid-and-Robbie is a cheating dirtbag, the other half deserves her rebound.
It's spring break, dammit.
So even though his lips taste like too many margaritas, and the alcohol in her system is likely blocking off a lot of pain, pain she'll most assuredly feel later, and she doesn't remember if his name was Joe or Jerry or Franz, she doesn't care.
It's spring break.
Astrid Farnsworth is twenty-one, and she's been accepted to the Subliminal Data Detection School, Advanced Class, Segment Zeta. It's right in line with the plan her parents filed on her twelfth birthday. She should be happy. Her father is clearly happy. She can tell by the way he shakes her hand, and how firm his grip is, but she doesn't meet his eye.
She doesn't meet anyone's eye.
She isn't happy. She isn't unhappy. And tomorrow, she will zep over to Richmond to begin her classes.
They will be difficult, but she's known that since her father filed that plan, so this is nothing to her. The girl who sat next to her in the first dissimilation classes always worried about it, about being good enough to make the program.
Astrid never worries.
She's good enough.
She's not happy, but she's good enough. Tomorrow will be just another step forward in the life already planned for her.
Olive—no, Olivia, Olivia sounds more mature—Olivia is sixteen.
It's the first day she's allowed to pick up a firearm at the shooting range without needing anything more than the basic parental consent tag on her Show-Me. Her mother argues long and hard against Olivia learning how to fire a gun, but she has insisted. She never wants to experience that helplessness again, never wants to do nothing but watch while her stepfather beats her mother, and it's so loud and disruptive that finally the neighbors call the police, and they finally take him away and throw him in prison. He's Amber-bait now. Olivia's not satisfied about that, not when she wants to shoot him for hurting Rachel, for hurting her mother, for hurting her, but the Sing-Sing Wormhole two years back had meant most of the convicts would spend the rest of their days in Amber.
It will have to be enough.
She has outlasted her mother, and her mother has agreed that Olivia may start taking marksmanship lessons, provided she pays for them herself. Olivia begins working after school in the deli down the street from their apartment to pay for the lessons and use of the clubs' firearms.
Her instructor is Sal. He's gruff, but she likes him. He doesn't ask why she wants to know how to fire a gun.
He just shows her how.
The first time Olivia shoots the Collier M1911A1, the recoil shocks her. She doesn't drop the gun; she hits the target, center-mass.
Sal calls her a deadeye.
She's pleased. Deadeyes aren't helpless.
Olivia is nineteen.
She's not supposed to be holding a beer, not when the legal drinking age is still two years away, but when an older cadet hands you a beer, you say thank you, not I'm too young. If nothing else, she understands how to blend in and keep a low profile. She's been in the NROTC unit at Northwestern for a year. She's not even a plebe anymore, though she technically never was. Hard to be a plebe when you graduate high school with enough credits to declare yourself a sophomore, though the cadets are more than happy to overlook that in order to send her through the same hazing they give all of the freshmen.
She sucks it up. Hazing is part of fitting in, and she doesn't—can't—stand out.
She takes a sip of her beer and listens to two of the cadets brag about their boot camp experiences. She's headed to boot camp soon. Sometimes, the fear that she'll screw up, expose herself as a fraud among all of the other NROTC cadets, seems like it's too much. She should be more afraid of failing all of her classes—she's taking enough of them—but that's not a concern, not with her memory.
She has no idea why she picked the Marines, why she wants to join up instead of going straight to the FBI, as she's known since she was nine that she wants to be an FBI agent.
Joining up feels right.
So she sips her beer and sits on the dilapidated old couch in the older cadet's house as a group of her peers chatter around her, fits in, and waits for the next step of her life to come.
Astrid is twenty-five.
She's done well at Richmond, even better than her father expected, or hoped. But even she is surprised when she is told to report directly to Headmaster Cleary's office as soon as she finishes her final examination in Variants and Trends. She doesn't express her surprise. She simply tells the proctor, "Yes, ma'am," and completes the exam.
She's positive she missed the third question on page twelve (she didn't, she'll find out later).
She has of course seen Headmaster Cleary at the evening meals and during the emergency evacuation drills, but she has never had reason to be called to his office before. She is grateful for that, and even now as she walks the halls, her regulation shoes clicking against the repurposed tiles. Before the Troubles, this building was a plant. The Bishop Reformation had turned it into Richmond Academy, but if Astrid thinks hard, she can imagine what the building might have been like as a plant, all echoing corridors and busy people building things. She doesn't think about that now.
She is told to go straight on back by a kindly secretary. Astrid says, "Yes, ma'am" again and does so.
Headmaster Cleary is not alone in his office.
"Student Farnsworth, this is Colonel Broyles. With the—"
"Fringe division," Astrid says, completing his sentence for him. Her instructors tell her it's a bad habit. She only does it when she's nervous. She's heard of Colonel Broyles. He runs the entire Fringe division, and since he came into office, there have been 13.4% fewer incidents and 62.8% more solved cases, a very significant 18.7% of those without unnecessary casualties.
Colonel Broyles is a legend.
"Have I done something wrong, Headmaster?" Astrid asks, fearful that she has somehow done something to hurt the planet, something that would involve the Fringe division arresting her. Being arrested would set her father's plans for her back a good 3.279 years.
She does not think she would fare well in prison, either.
"Not at all, Student Farnsworth." She doesn't know Headmaster Cleary well enough, but she recognizes enough about him, the way his voice rises and seems to warm, the fact that he suddenly taps the side of his thumb against the fine grain of his desk, to know that he's amused about something. "In fact, quite the opposite."
"Fringe division is looking for a new analyst," Colonel Broyles says, and Astrid dares to peek up at him, though the look is fleeting. "You come highly recommended from all of your instructors. We would like to offer you a job working in our headquarters, on our team of analysts." He adds that the job includes benefits, an Amber-clause, and dental, and then names a generous salary. Astrid knows that according to her father's plan, she won't make that salary until she's forty.
It's not the money that makes her say yes.
Astrid is twenty-six.
And even though she knows it's purely a political decision, that the people whose asses heat the thrones that run the bureaucracy that mucks up the wheels for anything actually getting on inside the FBI aren't really out to get her, the fact that she is passed up for the promotion still hurts. Her rational mind can explain to the rest of her for hours that it makes sense to have an older agent, a more established agent, join the Cipher Division task force, but that doesn't really lessen the pain. And to make matters worse, they've picked Wes Keating over her. Keating, who she knows used her algorithms, not his own, to solve his last three assignments. Keating, who wouldn't know a cipher if it bit him in the ass.
Of course, she knows going to her boss and complaining was a bad idea, but she did it anyway. Ever thinking of Agent Patterson as a friend instead of a boss is a mistake, she knows now.
Too bad now is too late.
"Agent Farnsworth?" It looks like her meeting has finally decided to show up. Astrid looks up, expecting somebody grim-faced and dour like all the rumors claim, but Special Agent Olivia Dunham is smiling at her, holding out one hand. "I'm Olivia Dunham. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Etiquette demands that Astrid rise to her feet to shake Dunham's hand. "It's nice to meet you as well," she says.
"I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me tonight. I'm so sorry I'm late."
"It's no problem," Astrid says. It's not like she has plans, and the restaurant Dunham picked for the meeting is conveniently right between her (too-small) apartment and the federal building. "I just got here myself."
"Oh, good, that makes me feel better." Olivia Dunham is known around the office as something of a pit bull or a bulldog or some other tenacious beast in foul humor that always gets her mark, but the pleasant smile hasn't left her face yet. Maybe, Astrid thinks, they're wrong about Olivia Dunham. Maybe this assignment won't be so bad.
Maybe she won't become the laughingstock of the agency, assistant to a liaison to a liaison force. It sounds like a farce.
Olivia Dunham, however, seems much too real for a farce.
"Agent Patterson had nothing but high praise for you," Dunham goes on once a waiter has appeared and has taken their orders—a salad for Astrid, steak for Dunham. "She led me to believe that you're good with patterns."
Dunham pulls a face. "Olivia, please."
"Certainly." But Astrid thinks there's no way she's going to address her new superior on a first-name basis, not after the trouble she got into with Patterson. Still, she must make amends somehow. "I've been with the division since I joined up after Princeton."
"That's great. I need something of an unorthodox agent on my team. I'm the FBI liaison for—"
"The homeland security joint task force under Agent Broyles, I know."
"Did your research?"
"It's one of my primary skills."
"Well, that's good. You'll be needing it. Some of the cases I've seen the division tackle are...strange." Their drinks arrive, and Dunham thanks the waitress, politely, and just as easily dismisses her. "They'll require some odd research."
"I'm up to the task," Astrid says.
"I'm glad. Tell me, what have you heard about the task force?"
Olivia is twenty-seven.
She stands still, the ear filters providing an extra layer of sound, a buffer between her and the world, a cushion where it's only her and her thoughts and of course the rifle propped against her shoulder. Just her and the target. She aims, doesn't allow herself a moment of doubt, and squeezes the trigger.
She feels the bullet hit.
But even so, she pulls off the ear filters and waits for the men in their blue suits and white shirts and no ties to come out onto the field while the helpful woman in the ILO frock takes her baby from her and sets it on the display stand, where it will no doubt be checked over by the judges. It takes an age for them to measure—why don't they just use machines?—but eventually, they turn and Olivia reads their faces at the distance, and removes the amber-lenses. The smile almost breaks her face.
She is an Olympic medalist.
Olivia is twenty-seven.
"No, no, I got this round," Charlie says when Olivia tries to reach for the money clip she keeps for situations like this. There were six or seven of them drinking at the bar by headquarters earlier, but as the hours have dwindled, so have their numbers, so that it's just Charlie and her. She knows he's got a wife waiting at home, but she doesn't say anything about it. It's selfish, but she doesn't want to be alone, and Charlie doesn't seem to be in any great hurry to leave.
"I can get it," she tries to argue.
"Are you trying to get me in trouble? It gets back to the Bureau that I let the woman who took down the Triple Deck Killer pay for her own drinks, I'm suddenly on a career path to become that creepy clerk down in Records that's goin' nowhere." Charlie puts a twenty down on the bar and waves at the barkeep. New drinks arrive in front of them. Though Olivia wants the hard stuff, she'll wait until Charlie is gone for that. For now, it's beers.
Since she doesn't want to think about the fact that she is the woman who took down the Triple Deck Killer, and that she can still see that face, the eyes losing their light, the blood pooling on the warehouse floor, Olivia clears her throat and talks shop. "How's the new guy in your division working out?" She hopes her voice is casual.
"Scott? He's okay." Charlie taps his beer against hers in a matter of habit. "Got that thousand yard stare you military types do so well—yep, that's the one."
Olivia laughs. It doesn't feel very humorous, but she's relieved that she can laugh. After pulling that trigger tonight, she hasn't been sure that's an ability she has anymore, but she does.
"He's a good investigator," Charlie says, considering her question seriously. "Not as good as me, but what can you do?"
"We can't all be the Great Charlie Francis."
"Imagine if we could, though. Oh, what a world." They talk shop until Charlie finishes his beer, and by mutual decision leave the bar. Olivia waits until Charlie has crawled into his cab before she breaks her promise to him that she will go home and instead goes back into the bar, and orders a double-shot. Whiskey, neat.
She doesn't sleep that night, or the next, either.
Olivia Dunham is thirty.
She's been on the Fringe track for three years, ever since she came back from New Baghdad with that shiny Olympic medal in hand. Nobody has ever said anything, but everybody knows that's where she's headed, just like everybody knows you don't jinx these things by talking about them. So whenever a promotion puts her one step closer to Fringe, the congratulations are vague, but loaded with meaning.
She's sad to leave her old teammates in Hoboken, and she'll miss the easy camaraderie with Mick and the others, but she's transferring straight into Charlie's team at headquarters, and she's excited about that. They'll be led by Lieutenant Lee, fresh from Dayton Academy, so it's a new and experimental team. Others might express reservations that the team won't work out due to differences in philosophy—Lee's supposed to be a science nerd, while Olivia and Charlie believe in justice at the end of a gun—but Olivia's not worried.
She gets along with everybody.
Still, she feels a token spurt of nervousness as she goes through the security scanners, handing over her new Show Me, the one marked with Fringe's credentials, letting her clothing and side-arm be scanned for any weak spots or tamper marks, chatting with the officials so they'll start to recognize her and let her skip the more annoying and tedious parts of the security process. A younger Fringe analyst greets her at the elevators on the ground floor to take her up to meet Colonel Broyles, who will oversee Lieutenant Lee's team personally.
She follows the analyst, who won't meet her eye and never introduced herself, off of the elevator and pauses in the doorway to look around. So this, she thinks, is Fringe Division.
A Fringe agent is never helpless. She's arrived.
Olivia Dunham is thirty.
She stands on the steps leading down into a musty, dusty, disgustingly filthy storage room on the Harvard campus in the Cressler Building, staring down at the back of the literal mad scientist she's invited into her life.
A light overhead burns out in a cloud of smoke.
"So much has happened here," Dr. Walter Bishop says, and turns. "And so much is about to." He looks at Olivia, and at Peter Bishop, his sullen son standing behind Olivia, and the quiet, efficient Agent Farnsworth. For better or worse, Olivia thinks, this is her team right now.
The crackle of the generators of the lab starting up sounds far more ominous than it should.
A/N: I'm sorry if I messed up any of the facts; I tried my hardest to figure out how to work it all, and most of this story is just speculation. And yes, this was my first Fringe fic (I'm normally a Chuck writer), but I've been watching the show since the beginning, and participate in a weekly podcast about it that you can hear on odontv(dot)blogspot(dot)com. Hope you enjoyed!