Spoilers: Specific spoilers through episode 1.6, but finished and edited with full knowledge of everything that has happened through episode 3.14.
Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.
Author's note: I started this in November 2008, wrote three quarters of it, then couldn't figure out the rest. After poking at it for two years and deciding to give up, I finally realized how I wanted it to end. This is not the story I would write about the two of them now, but it is the story I wanted to write about them then. Thanks go to Alamo Girl for comments and encouragement on the original draft.
Olivia stands, one hand barely touching the glass, watching the balls drop, listening to bells chime and bongs ring, to clicks and whines and rattles. The moving sculpture fascinates her, ever changing and yet always the same.
Through no fault of the device, the bells in her ears are suddenly clicks, then a bang, and she can feel the heavy weight of a gun dragging at her arms, the texture of the grip between her hands. She places her palms on the glass case and presses her nose in between, forcing herself not to curl her fingers into the weight that isn't there, forcing herself to focus on what's in front of her, not think about what's not. She concentrates on watching the balls roll down inclines and spiral down tubes, on counting the number of times each ball drops and each chime sounds.
"Rube Goldberg machine."
She jerks almost completely away, fingertips of one hand left connected to the glass as she's poised to take flight. A bare arm's length away a stocky boy studies the device with cool blue eyes, head slightly tilted, a shock of brown hair falling into his face.
"Well, not really, because a Rube Goldberg machine would have a purpose, but the principle is the same. Way too many things going on for little actually happening." He glances at her and gives a quick grin. "Incredibly inefficient and very cool."
She blinks. He looks her age but he talks like an adult, and she's not quite sure what to say.
She's never quite sure what to say, these days.
The girl standing by the kinetic sculpture looks lost and alone, a condition Peter is very well acquainted with.
She's a pale little thing, toothpick skinny but maybe his age. Her wide hazel eyes, underscored by dark circles, make her look even younger, but her expression is way too old for her years. She's debating fight or flight, and he doesn't want the latter. There's a feral glint in her eye and a stubborn set to her chin that suggests he'd better avoid the former as well.
He rubs at the itching spot on the crook of his arm and tugs down his sleeves, considering his options. Explaining how the sculpture displays the laws of cause and effect is right out. Casual is best, the least likely to intimidate her. He wonders if he can make her smile, to pry her free of the too-solemn lines her face is set in.
She hasn't run yet; that's a good sign. Now if only he can figure the right words to lure her out.
His father's voice rises behind him, some forceful and animated lecture about the care and keeping of his pet projects, his son included. A rather long and agitated addendum on his son, which his mother soothes away with tired amusement. Beside him, the girl's eyes widen and she twitches, about to bolt. He drops his head and leans his forehead to the cool glass, knowing he's lost his chance.
He can't blame her. She has the right idea. If only he could escape for more than the five days his father will be ensconced in meetings. He closes his eyes and sighs.
"If you watch long enough, you can get lost in it."
Startled, he pivots to look at the girl he'd thought long gone. She's staring at him, the intensity of her gaze belying her almost imperceptible words.
"The," her eyes narrow in concentration, and she pronounces the words carefully, "Rube Goldberg machine." She nods in satisfaction, gesturing towards the glass.
He blinks and nods slightly, turning back to the machine.
It's in the wary glance behind him at the outburst of noise, in the resignation that slumps his body, in the haunted expression on his face. She's seen their reflection in the mirror and she can't-won't-leave him to them alone. She fumbles for more words, forces them out despite her reluctance. "If you... if you find something outside you to focus on, you can block out everything else. For a bit."
"A bit." His smile is a wry twist that edges on mocking; his tone falls somewhere between amused and defiant. "And little good that does."
"A bit is better than none." Edging back slowly, she reconsiders bolting; his eyes snap to hers when she moves. He stares at her, and she has the disconcerting feeling he sees too much.
"You've been watching it longer than me, right?" His words tumble out fast, coaxing. His eyes, which don't leave hers, are anxious and apologetic. "Where does it start?"
She relaxes a little, pressing her palm back on the glass but not taking her eyes off his. "It... it doesn't, not really. The balls just keep going 'round and 'round. Take lots of different paths to get back to the same place."
"Perpetual motion machine? Well. Not really, because power's being fed in from outside the system to keep it going, but that's the idea."
"Ah... device that always keeps moving, without having to pull energy from outside. It's not, though."
"Cool contraption?" he offers up with a shrug, an apology and a peace offering.
She almost smiles. "I like to think it starts up there." She points to the top. "Then everything spirals out of control and they eventually find themselves back where they started."
"Some jump the tracks."
"Then they aren't moving at all. They're lost." She leans close enough for her nose to touch the case. "I think it's better to keep moving. To keep going on."
When she glances over, he's staring down at those little lost balls scattered across the bottom of the display, both hands on the glass and his eyes distant. "But maybe they're trapped and every direction they can go sucks," he murmurs. "Escape is the only way for things to change."
Olivia feels the weight of a gun in her hands and the kickback of it as it fires, hears the explosion of gunfire drowning out her mother's screams and Rachel's sobs, sees the spray of blood as her stepfather staggers and falls. She taps on the glass and swallows, hunching her shoulders and settling her chin against her chest. "Change isn't always good."
She tried to change things, tried to make things better, but she traded an abusive stepfather for her well-meaning relatives giving her mother pitying and worried glances sideways when she walks in the room. For her mother clutching her with hesitant desperation. For Rachel waking from nightmares of their stepfather's return and refusing to sleep unless Olivia is there beside her. Olivia curls her hands into fists and presses them against the glass. Change is a different sort of misery for her mother and Rachel, but it isn't good. It isn't better.
She doesn't know how to make it better.
She almost flinches as the boy's hands reach to touch hers, the barest brush against her wrist. "But sometimes it is," he says, his voice soft but vibrating with intensity. "It might not seem like it at first, but sometimes it is."
The touch of his hand and the sound of his voice makes her want to believe.
"Livvie? Livvie, where are you?"
The girl starts and turns at the frantic words, her expression flashing through guilty and settling on resolute. She straightens her shoulders and stiffens her back as if she's taking up a burden. Peter turns to see a tall, blonde woman scanning the terminal, a little girl in pigtails in tow. "Your mom?"
She nods and says, "I gotta go," but doesn't move, just studies him with that too serious thoughtfulness. The misery isn't clouding her eyes any longer, though, so maybe he said something right. Suddenly she smiles, all the way to her eyes, and reaches out to touch the back of his hand. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." He twists his hand to squeeze hers. Her hand is small in his, but her grip is strong as she squeezes back.
She lets go and dashes off, neatly bypassing families and businessmen alike as she bobs and weaves through the crowd. He leans back, palm flat against the glass, watching as the girl is hugged and scolded by her mother while her sister latches on to her leg.
Reluctantly he pushes off the glass, trailing fingers along the surface for as long as possible, and walks back to his own family. His father is staring at the girl and her family with an odd expression he shakes off when he sees his son. "Peter! There you are. Come, come."
Peter glances back to the girl, but she's gone, swallowed by the mass of people escaping to destinations unknown. He sighs and shoves his hands in his pockets, shoulders slumping as he prepares to deal with the inevitable scene. His mother smiles fondly and puts her hand on his shoulder in silent support.
It's not as bad as he feared, or maybe it's just the lingering memory of the girl's unexpected smile lifting his spirits. He smiles on cue, mutters "Yes, dad" and "No, dad", submits to a round of too-hearty hugs, and watches his father stride through security.
Five days of freedom. Someday, Peter is determined to have a whole lot more.
He hopes that the girl, wherever she is, finds her freedom as well.
Author's Note 2: In the late 80's, two kinetic sculptures were in Logan Airport, Terminal C. Links to videos of them can be found on the LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, and AO3 versions of this story. They're still at Logan, as of a few years ago, although the one still in Terminal C was turned off and no longer has its place of prominence.