things that drift away, like our endless numbered days
Disclaimer: I don't own Lincoln, Altlivia, Peter, Walternate, pretty much any names you recognize. Title is from Iron and Wine's song, "Passing Afternoon," which is just amazing. This is kind of four mini-stories rolled into one. Hope that's not too confusing for anyone.
Sometimes he envisions a scenario where the two of them are together.
But he knows it's impossible.
There's already one too many universes and they aren't together in either of them.
But sometimes. Well, sometimes, when he's supposed to be filling out paperwork or researching his latest case or running at the gym or even just making dinner, he indulges a little. Lets his mind wander.
And he thinks that maybe it could be like this:
Henry is five years old today and he can't believe how much time has passed. That old Chinese shop with its vivid dragons, frighteningly bright lanterns, and cold cement floor doesn't seem feel so far away as five years. As he sits on the park bench and watches the little boy chase a flock of birds, looking frustrated and yet laughing every time they manage to escape him, he remembers the first time he held him in his arms. Held both of them.
Now Henry is learning to read and loves airplanes and has no idea about his unusual entrance into the world. She wanted to keep it that way. He understands. If there's anything he's learned it's that sometimes things are just too complicated, too intricate, and sometimes you just need to let go of the logic and just enjoy the beauty of the situation.
Henry runs up to him. "Can I have my plane?" he asks, brown wide eyes staring at him.
He smiles and reaches into his bag, pulling out two toy airplanes. Handing one to the little boy, he leans forward. "I'll race you," he says. Henry leans forward too. "Okay!" he says excitedly before taking off running, making plane noises and his aircraft bobs up and down his three foot frame. He follows behind.
They continue on for a while before Henry stops and shouts "Mommy!" He scampers over to her, eying the bag she is holding. He tries to peek inside, but she just pulls it away and says "Not till later."
"Did you get it?" he silently mouths to her, coming to stand behind Henry.
Her eyes crinkle a bit as she smiles and nods.
Henry had been talking nonstop for weeks about Mr. Plasmo, the latest superhero action figure that could shoot plasma from his eyes. It was a popular item and hard to find but it was even harder to convince her to get it for him. She was resistant ("It's way too close to things we see everyday at work," she had insisted), but he knew how much Henry wanted it and had finally managed to talk her into it.
Crouching down to his eye level, she says "I believe we have a birthday party to get to."
"Yay!" he shouts and starts jumping up and down.
"Did you get everything?" she asks, looking around. He looks at the plane in his own hand, a hand so much bigger than Henry's.
"Just this last one," he says, as he places it in the bag, before slinging it over his shoulder.
"Mmm," she says, as she places her arm around his waist. His wraps around her shoulder, giving it a small squeeze. Henry grabs his free hand as they slowly walk back to the car.
Picture perfect. It doesn't happen like that, though, does it?
Maybe instead, it's raining the day he finally kisses her. The harsh, icy drops are completely soaking them as they investigate their latest case. A teenage girl, completely frozen in place, her face a mix of terror and relief. She's rooted to the ground in a position that looks as if she was running towards someone and away from someone at the same time.
He suspects whoever did this to her is someone she knows.
She studies the girl's face before stating she disagrees with him. Charlie looks between the two of them, sees the foundations for one of their epic fights, throws his hands up and walks away. Charlie's smart.
He refuses to be smart and continues pressing the issue. They argue back and forth the rest of the afternoon, into the early evening when they are exploring an old factory warehouse where the girl and her friends were known to spend time.
"I just don't think she could have shown that expression before she was completely frozen unless she was completely terrified. And you cannot be completely terrified if you know your attacker. Not really," she states, her flashlight shining on old chairs and unmoving conveyor belts.
"That's not true. Some of the worst fears stem from the people you love breaking your trust," he counters.
She shakes her head. "Maybe so, but I just don't think that's what is going on here . . . it doesn't feel that way."
He lets out a harsh laugh. "What, are we trusting your woman's intuition now?"
"Better than any intuition I've seen you exhibit today. Sir."
"Ouch. That stings," he says clutching his hands over his heart as if covering a bleeding wound.
She shines his flashlight on him and smiles. Suddenly, a noise erupts from the far side of the big open room. They both kill their lights, crouching behind one of the machines.
Two men enter and walk through a small door, letting it crash behind them.
"And they were. . .?"
"Persons of interest," she offers. They start to follow the men when her phone bursts to life.
He looks sharply at her. "Really, Liv?"
"Sorry. It's Henry's second day with the new babysitter and," she looks at the caller ID, "oh that's her. I'm sorry, just one second. Hello?"
He takes a second to survey the warehouse. Alyson Lane. That is the girl's name. She is a junior, on the swim team, has friends, a boyfriend, college aspirations and should not have been mixed up in whatever is going on. He rubs his foot against the dirty floor and thinks about how this isn't right. She should not have been here.
"Linc, I've got to go," she says from behind him.
"What? Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, it's Henry. He's crying and coughing a lot. Mandie's concerned it might be croup or something like that," she says as she exits the warehouse. He follows her into the freezing rain towards the car.
"Okay, well call me if there's anything I can do," he says before walking back towards the warehouse.
"Where are you going?" she asks.
"To question those men," he replies. "Where did you think—"
"You should wait for me."
"What? Liv, you could be hours."
"And they could be gone by then, I know, but you shouldn't go in there alone."
"I've worked plenty of cases alone, I'll be fine" he says, surprised at her over-concern. She just stares up at the rain (he's starting to lose feeling in his toes, he is so completely soaked) and then back down at him.
"Just—don't," she says. "Something's not right about this, you know that."
He's taken aback for a minute as her words mirror his own earlier thoughts. But he brushes it aside. "You're being ridiculous. Go. Henry needs you." He turns his back on her and heads towards the warehouse.
"Dammit, Lincoln!" she says and suddenly she's right behind him.
He turns once again to face her. "Olivia. It's fine, just stop."
"No it's not fine. Why won't you listen to me?"
"If I'm remembering correctly, I am the boss. I don't have to listen to you."
"And you're also a pompous ass sometimes. Forgive me for trying to save you."
"I don't need to be saved."
"From yourself? I beg to differ. You're not invincible."
"And you're a pain in the ass sometimes, so just back off."
"No," she says, her voice strong and even. They are standing so close that the water running off of his nose bounces off her cheeks before settling somewhere on the ground between them.
"Liv," he warns.
Her eyes flash up at him in defiance as she says it again, louder. "No."
He stops thinking for just a moment, lets his carefully constructed control have just a second's reprieve, but that's all he needs to snake his arm around her back and pull her to him, his mouth covering hers for a quick moment before she finally responds by grabbing his face and pulling him closer. And they are kissing and they are fighting and it's hard to tell which is which, but he begins to think that maybe it does not matter.
The wipers squeak loudly on the windshield as they drive to her apartment.
It's a nice idea: kisses in the rain, angry words covering unspoken truths. Nice. But still not how it happens.
Instead, maybe it all begins with his curiosity. Sometimes he hates how curious he is. Of course, his natural curiosity helped him get the job that he has, but sometimes his curiosity decides to take up a life of its own. It masquerades as a friend. Calls him up out of the blue, offers to take him to dinner. Then what does curiosity do? It serves him his heart on a platter, and worse, makes him foot the bill.
Why does he always need to know?
That question is pounding behind his forehead as he pours over the files. Intimate details of Olivia's trip to the other side. The friend she pretended to be. The knowledge she pretended to know. The love she pretended to feel. Maybe. Maybe she pretended.
He looks up over his desk and sees her sitting at hers. She and Charlie are laughing.
He sits back and rubs his head. He's the boss. He has to be impartial. He has to know that she did all of this for a mission. But it doesn't feel that way. She's his best agent, and hell, he is a little bit in love with her, but reading her reports, seeing what she did, he can't help but feel a little ashamed.
Shame is a funny thing because it goes two ways. He's ashamed of her actions, of how she could so carelessly fool all of the people on the other side. And he's also ashamed of himself, for not seeing that their Olivia, that his Olivia, wasn't his at all, but an infiltrator from the other side.
And then there's Peter Bishop. He knows that she's a little bit in love with him. While the report never explicitly states this, he can tell (he knows her that well at least). Every word she wrote about him was laced with something that shows he was a lot more than a mark during a mission. Baby Henry is proof of that. In some strange way, he actually feels a sadness for Secretary Bishop's son. He has no idea what is waiting for him here and maybe never will.
She knocks on his window and motions that she and Charlie are going for coffee, encouraging him to come along. He places the reports in a locked drawer and follows them to the elevator. Charlie is reliving his most recent date with the bug girl and how she tried to kiss him and take a blood sample to study him at the same time. She throws her head back and laughs and when she meets his eyes, he knows she sees that he isn't laughing the same way he used to.
Three weeks later she calls him on it, as they are walking out of a meeting.
"You've been treating me differently."
"What? No I haven't," he protests, but even he doesn't believe what he's saying.
She stops and touches his arm to make him stop too. "Lincoln." He looks away, so she drags him back into the conference room they had just been in.
"What is going on?"
He still doesn't answer so she starts offering suggestions. "Is it because of the baby? I know I haven't been as focused lately, but I'm still getting used to everything. And I know my hours have been more limited, but my mom gets back from her trip this weekend and can help watch Henry. . ."
"Olivia," he finally says. "It's nothing." He looks directly at her. "Don't worry about it."
She looks down because she knows he's lying. He hates that he can never lie to her.
"Please," she says quietly.
Finally he sighs. "I read your files from over there." She looks up quickly when he says this.
For a split second he thinks he sees something like guilt flash over her face, but it is so quickly replaced with defiance, that he can't be quite sure. "I'm not sorry," she says.
He takes a step back. "I know you're not," he says quietly, before turning and walking back to his office.
She doesn't follow him.
The next night she shows up at his door.
"Hi," is all she says when he opens the door. He can't help but be surprised. She's only ever been to his house once, for a company barbeque. He wasn't even sure she knew where it was, but she's here now and they stand quietly for a few moments in his doorway before he finally opens the door enough for her to walk through.
"Do you want some water or something?" he asks.
"No, I just came to talk for a few minutes if that's okay."
"We could have talked at headquarters tomor—"
"No, this couldn't be at the office. I needed a different space."
He nods and leads her into his living room. She sits on one of his chairs, back straight, head held high, and he has never seen her this uncomfortable before.
"Where's Henry?" he asks.
"Oh, he's with my mom. She got back early."
"Oh," he says as the silence envelops them again. "So. . ." he prompts.
"I need. . ." she says at the same time as he does. They both awkwardly stop.
"Go ahead," he offers.
She looks quickly at her hands that keep twisting, clenching and unclenching. "I need you to think well of me." Her eyes lift to meet his.
He must look puzzled because she starts again. "What I mean is, I don't want you to think I'm this awful person."
"I don't," he starts, but she holds one of her hands up.
"Lincoln, stop. I know why you've been acting this way. I've done things I'm not proud of and there's no excuse for it and I never wanted anyone, you, of all people, to know about it."
"Then why did you do it? There had to have been another way."
She stands and looks at the pictures on his fireplace mantle. Pictures of his mom and dad. Of he and his brother James at the Grand Canyon. Of his sister Katie at her college graduation.
"I was all alone. And as much as I hate to admit it, over my head." She turns around. "I didn't know what to do, so I just set aside a part of myself and started doing what I had to," she says, stepping closer. "I had to close myself off to those people, Lincoln. If I didn't, I wouldn't have been able to accomplish what I was sent there to do."
"Look, I care what you think about me. I need you to understand that I only did what I had to do."
He narrows his eyes and looks, really looks at her. And then he gets it. She'll never say it out loud, and probably not even to herself, but she was vulnerable. Olivia Dunham doesn't do vulnerable, but all alone is a strange new world must have been kind of terrifying. And if he knows anything, it's that sometimes this job is what keeps her from falling apart. This job, this purpose, sometimes it's the only thing that makes sense, when amber-filled sinkholes haunt their streets and babies are born in a matter of weeks. Just knowing they are trying, desperately sometimes, to understand all of the chaos somehow makes these anomalies okay. And she can't lose that. She'll fight with everything in her to protect it. He knows this, because it's the same for him.
"Okay," he says.
"Okay?" she questions, using one word to ask if things can ever go back to normal between them. Now that he holds her secret.
"I understand," he says softly as relief passes over her face. Slowly, tentatively, she reaches up and places her arms around his neck. He hugs her back, resting his chin on her head.
She pulls back after a minute and holds his eye contact. He refuses to look away and she smiles a small smile.
Here's what really happens. It's not fiery passion or restored expectations or anything that anyone would write about in great works of literature. No, the truth is much, much simpler than that.
Henry is eight months old and has mixed up his days and nights. This is important for two reasons. One, she isn't sleeping. Two, neither is he. She calls him and he shows up with Indian or Chinese or maybe Mexican takeout and season eight of The Wire and it's become such a daily occurrence that Mr. Chen's Wonton Palace is number three on his speed-dial and he can't find half of his DVDs because they are at her apartment.
He has a designated seat on her couch (the right side) and almost feels as if the back of it has an indentation where his arm rests. He knows where Henry's diapers are, where his burp clothes are, what temperature he likes his formula at. They take turns trying to calm him down and although he would never say it out loud, (she's strong but he knows this would still hurt her) he's better at it than she is.
Most of the time they end up falling asleep around four a.m., the only sounds in the room are the soft hum of the television and the even breathing of a (finally) exhausted baby. Most mornings he wakes up stiff from laying on her couch, legs outstretched, with Henry lying silently on his chest. This particular morning she's curled up in her usual spot next to him, one hand covering Henry as if protecting him even in sleep, the other wrapped around his arm, her head buried into his shoulder.
His neck hurts and he's tired, but he's also a little concerned that he may not ever be able to sleep normally again. Compared to right here, with a little heartbeat thumping rhythmically over his own, his queen size bed, down comforter and memory foam pillows seem cold, stark and unwelcoming.
She stirs and sleepily looks up at him.
"Hey," she says softly.
"Hey," he says back. And they are just sitting there, staring at each other, waking up. This isn't an unusual occurrence for them; he knows exactly how she looks in the early morning light, a bit softer, but still radiant. Her breathing seems shallower than usual, however, and she finally inhales and places her forehead on his arm, sighing, and it feels so much more intimate than anything he could have envisioned.
"I should put him in his crib," she says finally, meeting his eyes, but neither of them move.
Finally he nods. "I'll do it." She pulls back a bit so that he can stand and he carries Henry to his small room. He's always surprised by how light he is. As if none of the heavy things surrounding his birth managed to hold onto him. As if he had broken free of all of that.
He gently sets Henry down, tucking the blanket around him, checking the small green light signifying that the baby monitor is on. It is. All as it should be.
He quietly backs out of the room, eyes never leaving the crib and then returns to the living room, where she is standing.
"I suppose I should get going," he says. "We're supposed to be at work in," he looks at his watch, "oh, thirty-five minutes." He smiles at her and puts on his black jacket.
He stands there for just a second, as if he wants to say something. Or maybe she does. But neither do. In the months since Henry's birth, they've both become experts at silence.
"Okay, bye, Liv," he says, brushing past her and opening the door.
He doesn't get far, however, before she tugs on his hand, both of hers holding his. He turns back and looks at her, taking a step closer. Her face is hard to read, but it looks something like realization, as if she is seeing something completely new. Unexpected. And he can't help but be surprised. This is Olivia, who always knows what she wants and goes after it. Or at least she always did. Before Henry. Before traveling to the other side. Before her life got completely tipped upside down.
She's still looking at him and nods slightly, like she is having some sort of internal conversation with herself, before she brings his hand up to her lips and kisses it. Her eyes are closed and she doesn't pull away.
He brings his other hand up to cup the side of her face.
"Liv, look at me," he whispers.
She finally does and he knows. He knows that she understands what he's known seemingly forever. And he knows that she's still guarded and more than a little jaded, but hopeful and most of all, well, most of all, she's scared.
His thumb gently moves back and forth over her right cheekbone as he exhales and says, "Me too."
And it's better than he could have even imagined.
Thanks for reading and reviewing. Love to all.