It's a simple clerical error that brings them together. That, and Peter isn't answering his phone, because unbeknownst to everybody else except Astrid, he's left down the rabbit hole to somewhen in the Paleozoic.
Ella flashes her ID to the lady behind the Admissions desk and identifies herself as "Agent Dunham." She's still thrown at how people assume she has some sort of authority. It's got to be the uniform. "I got a call that, uh, there's somebody here I needed to see?"
The clerk scrolls through her list of patient records, then pauses, looks up at Ella with a slight frown like this isn't who she was expecting, and consults her records again. "Sixth floor, ward B," she says and points towards the elevators.
She stops at the nurse's station on the sixth floor for directions and gets the same funny look. Once again, the uniform mutes any questions. They point her down the hall to a double room with the door propped open. The first bed by the door is empty, but there's a boy sleeping in the second one, over by the window.
Or, judging how precisely measured each breath is, just pretending.
She grabs the chart from the slot by the door and scrolls through the kid's record. Henry Walters, Caucasian, approximately fifteen years old, no next of kin listed, admitted six hours ago and treated for a number of minor lacerations and first degree burns. Nothing to indicate keeping him as an in-patient. The only reason he's still here is because he's a minor and nobody's come to collect him.
That, and his DNA Ident scan ran up a couple of brilliant red flags.
"So Henry," Ella says, hoping she sounds more sure of herself than she feels at the moment. She's got a ton of questions and none of the people who can answer them are around so she just has to wing it. "Is there anybody I can call for you?"
Ella can feel him watching her from the passenger seat of her government-issue SUV. She keeps sneaking glances at him, but it's dark and traffic is heavy, so she needs to keep her eyes on the road. Henry slouches beside her, all awkward angles, knees and elbows, like he's just hit a growth spurt and still doesn't quite know where each part of him ends and where it begins. He's tall, or he's going to be, and thin; as much wiry muscle as too many missed meals. She sees bits and pieces of them both in the boy and it's a stab to the chest so sharp she has to turn away and stare out the driver's side window while she waits for the light to change back to green.
She doesn't know everything that went on in the early days of Fringe Division; a lot of it is still heavily classified, even under the new laws, but she does know this for certain: her aunt has never had a child. That's something pretty hard to hide, even for Aunt Liv.
But still, Ella has little doubt they're related, even without the genetics report in his file to back it up.
It's his eyes.
Not the color; that's far too cliché. It's too dark to see that clearly anyhow. No, it's the way he's watching her. He's got this intensity, like he's standing just outside the frame, cataloging the world as it goes by. It's a little unnerving and a whole lot familiar.
"So," she says to break the thick silence. "Walters, huh?"
Henry shrugs. "Variations on a theme." As if she knows what he's talking about. And when she doesn't answer, "If you're going to change your identity, better to stick with something familiar so you don't get tripped up."
"Well if you're trying to hide from something, you might want to consider not letting them run a DNA scan on you."
He turns away from her, towards the window. "Wasn't hiding."
"Oh?" Ella's curious now. More curious, actually, and a little confused. This isn't quite what she was expecting. He's not defensive, or even evasive. More tired, than anything. Tired and misplaced.
There's a few beats of silence. It starts to rain, not enough to reduce visibility, but Ella flips on the wipers anyhow. The swish of the blades across the windshield interrupts the hum of the tires at precise seven second intervals. Traffic slows, detours around an accident, a minor fender-bender, from the looks of it, then fans out again once the chance to rubberneck is gone.
"I wasn't expecting them to get a hit," Henry says finally.
"Hmm?" She'd almost thought he wasn't going to answer.
The leather seat creaks as Henry shifts. He props his elbow against the side window and leans his head on his fist. "He didn't want… my grandfather always told me my father was dead, and I believed him. For a long time." He spits the words out in a rush, like he's ashamed that he was so easily fooled by an old man's grudge. He rubs his eyes and Ella looks away, giving him the illusion that she doesn't see the lost little boy he's trying so hard not to be. "And I knew my mom died when the world collapsed because he didn't ever let me forget that he did me the favor of saving me."
The word'favor' twists his mouth into something ugly before he schools himself. For a moment, she sees Peter with all his bitter grief at the funeral, and then the mask slips into place, and Henry reminds her of him even more. Ella wonders what else Walternate might have told him; she only knows the barest details about the other universe, and even that is more than most new graduates. 'Alternate Realities, Alternate Selves' wasn't exactly covered in the curriculum. And while she's heard some stories around the supper table, there are a lot of things, a lot of conversations between her aunt and Peter that were interrupted with just a sideways look. Did they evenknow about Henry?
Even with all her newly acquired Fringe Division training, she doesn't have a clue how to handle this. God, she misses Aunt Liv. She would know what to do. She grips the steering wheels so hard her fingers cramp.
But Ella's stubborn and she's the only one left, so she tries anyhow.
"So you ran." She hopes it doesn't sound like she's accusing him.
He reaches across the center console and tugs at her uniform blouse, straightening the name bar above her breast pocket. "So what about you, Agent Dunham?" he asks as he pulls his hand away. "Does this like, make you my alternate universe big sister, or something?"
She should have figured it wouldn't be that easy to pry the information out of him. She glances across at him and he's watching her with this smug expression that says that, while she was asking the questions, he was busy sussing her out.
She so sucks at this investigator thing.
Ella looks back at the road, flips her turn signal on, and makes the lane change for her exit. "Alternate universe big cousin, actually."
Henry's mouth curls into a bit of a smile. He nods and seems to finally relax back into his seat and watches the wipers swish. She must not seem like much of a threat anymore.
"Hey," she asks as they hit the surface roads. "When was the last time you ate?"
The fallout from a three-Big Mac meal is strewn across the coffee table. Ella picks at the last of her McSoy nuggets, but they're no substitute for what she remembers of the real things; they never got the texture right. She holds out the box to Henry, who inhales them.
"Breathe much?" She raises an eyebrow at him.
He just presses his lips together and grins at her around the food. Ella rolls her eyes at him and forgets, for a moment, that she hasn't known him his whole life.
Henry gets up, knees popping when he stretches. He wanders around Peter and Aunt Liv's living room while he slurps at the last dregs of his soda. The décor is all modern, design-magazine perfect, but it's missing that homey feel Ella always associated with her aunt's old apartment. Maybe it's because while Aunt Liv and Peter lived here, they were always out fighting fires and trying to save the world, always too busy to actuallylive here.
"So, in your world…" Ella starts gathering up the spent wrappers as she considers how bizarre it is to even consider the question.
Henry stops in front of the bookcase and looks back over his shoulder at her. "You want to know if you had a double."
She shrugs. "Kinda." She can't help being curious.
His forehead creases as he parses half-forgotten memories. "I don't think so."
There's a collection of photographs, tucked here and there in with the books. He taps one of the frames. "I remember her though. Grandma had a bunch of pictures of her around the house."
"Mom." Ella can't swallow back the catch in her voice, even after all this time. Henry glances at her, then away, back to the lineup of not-quite-shared relatives, and doesn't ask.
These days, nobody asks.
He points to another picture, towards the back of the shelf. "That you?"
She joins him and has to stand on tip toe to see over his shoulder. "Yeah. God, that was so long ago."
Henry picks up the frame and makes like he's wiping the invisible dust off the glass with his sleeve, a cover for how closely he's studying the couple in the photo. There aren't a lot of pictures of the two of them together; Peter and Aunt Liv were never overtly sentimental people, but even they had a traditional wedding snapshot.
As traditional as the two of them ever were.
They're standing with their arms around each other on the front steps of city hall. Peter's in a suit and Liv's wearing a simple dress and a wide smile, though neither of them is looking at the photographer, but down at the much younger Ella who'd cheekily wiggled her way in between the two of them just as the shot was snapped.
In another world, another roll of the dice, it might have been Henry standing there, Ella nothing morning than the ghost of an almost-was. She touches his sleeve. "They would have loved you, you know."
"My mom did." He puts the photo back. "I don't remember very much from before, you know? But I remember that at least." He says it with defiance and his eyes have gone hard, narrow, as if he's daring her to question his loyalty to the woman who birthed him. She can tell this kid's a fighter, skilled with both his fists and his words.
He's never been given the choice.
She realizes her misstep, takes a step back and points casually over her shoulder. "There's clean sheets on the bed. At the end of the hall. Shower's the first door on your right." She picks up the take-out bags and tries very hard not to think dark thoughts at Peter for checking out and not being here when there are still people who need him. People who've gone their whole lives needing him. She heads to the kitchen, jaw set. This shouldn't be her fight.
She stops. Doesn't turn around even though his voice is quiet again, maybe a little shy.
"Why're you doing this for me?"
Now she does turn. She draws herself to her full height and looks him straight in the eye. He stares back like he could wait all day for her to answer. She still sees parts of Peter in him, in his chin and his cheekbones… bits of Aunt Liv in the way he keeps himself firmly under control, even though he's got his hands stuffed deep enough into his pockets that his fingers must be poking through the bottoms. But she sees pieces of herself in him too. They're both cast-offs; kids left behind to be hardened and tempered by a dying world and mothers taken from them too soon.
Ella's not prepared to be left alone again.
"Because Henry," she tells him. "You're all I have left."