His eyes met hers across the table. Her gaze was warm, yet questioning. She knew something was going on, but a part of her didn't want to know exactly what it was just yet. Peter knew she wanted to get a feel for his mood, for his body language. She wanted to prepare herself, good or bad, before he even told her.
A lock of golden hair fell out of her ponytail, and she carefully tucked it behind her ear in a demure way. Peter couldn't help but smile. She was nervous too, he knew. He had to ask her, of course. He'd been waiting a long time to ask her. But something about that evening made him want to take everything slowly, easy. So he could remember everything later on.
"So, Peter?" Rachel finally asked. "What's new?"
Peter chuckled lightly and leaned back in his chair. "Well, I guess you wouldn't believe me if I told you I was just in the neighborhood and decided to drop by?"
"Ha, no. Chicago's hardly a hop, skip and a jump from your home. So what is it?" Rachel's eyes grew slightly wider with concern. "Is everything okay? Liv isn't in trouble, is she?"
"No, no. She's fine. I'm fine. We're all fine. And…that's why I'm here. Because things feel like they're finally falling into place for us."
Just then, the waiter came by and refilled their glasses. Peter waited until he left to lean across the table confidentially. "You're all the family Olivia has, Rachel. All the family I'm aware of, at least."
Rachel nodded slowly. "Yes, that's right."
Peter sighed. "So…I know it's old fashioned, but I felt like I needed to come here and…talk to you first."
Olivia's sister put her hand to her mouth. "Peter! Are you asking me what I think you're asking me?"
He grinned and pulled a black velvet box from his pocket, opening it to reveal a glittering white gold and diamond solitaire band.
"Rachel, I wanted to know-"
Peter was interrupted by a barrage of both restaurant staff and patrons, closing in on their table in excitement. "He's gonna ask her to marry him! Get some champagne!" they cried.
"No no no!" Rachel cried out vehemently. "He's in love with my sister! He's just asking for my blessing!"
As the embarrassed mob retreated, Peter rolled his eyes and quipped, "Is everyone in Chicago that nosy?"
"Mm. Must be a slow night. And yes, by the way."
Rachel smiled and took his hand. "I'd love it if you'd marry my sister. She needs someone to care for, besides herself."
Four hours later, Peter was back in Boston, walking nervously to Olivia's door with flowers in hand. He was about to knock when he heard something. It was a soft whispering from somewhere close by, yet closed off. He looked around, trying to figure out where it was coming from. He finally brushed it off, assuming it was one of Olivia's neighbors from inside their apartment. Peter turned to the door again and knocked, and after an unusually long delay, she finally opened the door.
She looked at him with a look of confusion, as if she'd never seen him before. She was dressed in a tight black t shirt and baggy grey sweat pants – her usual attire when she was ready for bed. Her hair hung loose and messy around a pale, tired face.
"Hi," Peter said with a puzzled smile. "Um…is this a bad time? Are you feeling okay?" He checked his watch quickly to make sure he hadn't lost track of the time.
Olivia's face slowly blossomed into a weary smile. "Hi. No, this isn't a bad time. I was just really busy today, so I got ready for bed early. Come in."
As Peter entered Olivia's apartment, he handed her the flowers. "They're nothing special. The florist said I absolutely had to get these because of they were the last of the vermilion color in the store. Whatever that means."
Olivia held them to her nose and inhaled. "They're beautiful, thanks. Sit down."
As Peter seated himself on the sofa, his hands dipped into his pocket, seeking reassurance once again that the ring was in his pocket. This definitely wasn't the most romantic way of proposing, he knew, but with the lives that he and Olivia led, there was a very good chance that an elaborate proposal scenario could easily be ruined by a sudden call from Broyles about a Fringe event. Besides, it wasn't Olivia's way. There was a simplicity to her – at least in matters such as these. She valued serenity and privacy, especially when something was about to make her let her emotions flow.
Olivia placed the flowers in a vase and set them on the table, then joined Peter on the sofa. Before he could even begin, she took Peter's hand and said, "I need to tell you something. I've been trying to find the best way to tell you, but I don't think I'm going to find it." She exhaled. "I haven't been feeling very well. I'm sure you could tell when I opened the door. You've always been able to read me, even when others couldn't."
Peter smiled, but his heart was starting to pound in terror. She's sick, he thought to himself. She's got something and it's killing her. Oh God.
"I've been exhausted for the last few days. Yesterday I nearly passed out in the lab. Luckily Walter and Astrid were there, and they got me to my doctor." She hesitated, looking away to the nearby window.
"Olivia…what is it? What did they find?"
She looked up at him, her eyes shiny with unshed tears. "I'm pregnant."
Peter couldn't speak, and when he didn't answer right away, Olivia said, "I know, there's our jobs and the cases…and Walter." They both laughed lightly at this. "But…sometimes life throws stuff at you, even when you're not ready."
Peter smiled and reached into his pocket. "In this case, I think I got myself pretty prepared." He held up the ring. "Because I belong with you. Will you marry me?"
Peter's answer came in the form of a hug so ferocious it knocked him back on the sofa. "Oof," he exhaled, wrapping his arms around her as she buried her face in his neck. "I take it that's a 'yes'?" he asked.
Olivia laughed. "Absolutely."
"Walter! Easy on her, easy! She's pregnant!" Peter cried when Walter swept Olivia up in his arms and swung her around.
"I can't help it, Peter! I haven't been this happy since Belly and I created the perfect laxative back in '82!" Walter exclaimed.
"What an honor for Peter and Olivia to be compared to that," Astrid muttered to Broyles.
The five of them were gathered in Walter's lab at Harvard, Astrid, Walter and Broyles having been called there for Peter and Olivia's big news. Everyone was thrilled about the engagement, but shocked at the news that Olivia was pregnant. Walter insisted, however, that he knew already.
"It was the gleam in your eyes, dear," Walter whispered to Olivia after he set her down. "It was the same look Elizabeth had when we found out about Peter."
Peter cleared his throat, feeling a chill pass through his body at these words. He knew what Walter meant, but the gleam in his mother's eyes wasn't for him. It was for someone else that had been lost. The warmth of Olivia's hand coming to rest in his brought him back to the joy of the moment. Her touch told him to let it go and just be happy.
"So, when's the big day? I'll have to make sure we have adequate coverage while you're away," Broyles asked.
"We were thinking next month. It's going to be the smallest wedding we can conceivably have," Olivia said.
"Yeah, you definitely want to have it soon, Olivia. Before you start to show," Astrid agreed.
"Doesn't matter. Olivia's going to be beautiful, no matter how pregnant she is," Peter said, wrapping an arm around his fiancée and pulling her close.
Just then, Broyles' cell phone rang and he excused himself to answer it.
"So how far along are you, Olivia?" Astrid asked.
"Just four weeks. We don't even know what the sex is yet. I've got an appointment in another three weeks."
The conversation was brought to an abrupt halt when Broyles re-entered the lab. "We've gotta move. Fringe event in Vermilion, Ohio."
"What is it, sir?" Olivia asked.
"They think it was a shapeshifter attack. There's a helicopter waiting for us at Logan. Let's go."
Olivia, Broyles, Peter and Walter were tucked in the copter and flying high above the plains when Walter turned to Peter and smiled. "I'm proud of you, son. Not that I needed to say it."
Peter returned the grin. "Thanks." He thought of something. "Walter, listen. You know it's going to be a simple wedding we're having, and you've already got a big role as the father of the groom…"
"Oh, say no more, Peter! You want me to give Olivia away." Walter reached over the seat back and took Olivia's hand. "Welcome to the family, dear. In case I forgot to tell you later."
Olivia exchanged a quick look of anxiety with Peter before she said, "Actually, Walter, Rachel is going to escort me down the aisle. She's really the only close family I have."
The old man's face fell. "Oh yes, of course," he mumbled, turning back to his seat.
Peter spoke up quickly. "What I was going to say was, you have a big role as the father of the groom, but I was hoping…you'd be my best man too."
And just like that, Walter's face lit up again. "Naturally, Peter! Oh, it's going to be wonderful. I promise – I'll keep my speech short at the reception. But I've already got some wonderful ideas for the bachelor party! I have some Panama Red I've been saving for a special occasion. Oh, and I have the number for a girl who's an incredible dancer! She goes to the university, and one day I supplied her with some of my stash when she was having an attack of writer's block. She told me whenever she needed a favor-"
"Walter! Please!" Peter burst out, covering his ears. "My father is not getting me a stripper!"
"Oh." Walter turned to Olivia. "The young lady has an equally talented brother, if you and Rachel would like some entertainment-"
"No thanks, Walter. I'll probably be too nauseous to enjoy it," Olivia said wryly.
"Well, I suppose that's true." Walter sat back in his seat and smiled. "My, things came together so quickly for you two. Getting married, and a baby right after that. How wonderful."
Peter smiled, but Walter's words had resonated with him in a way that he wasn't expecting. He felt blessed, and he couldn't shake the feeling that it was too easy. He was a con man; it was natural to him, feeling like an outsider who understood the game. There were no free gifts; he had to work every angle, every corner, every chance. He had been suspicious of kindness, of friendship. The man he was three years ago wouldn't have recognized the man he was today. Becoming a husband and a father, putting someone other than himself first. It would have felt like a trap to Yesterday's Peter.
But Today's Peter didn't see Olivia and their child as traps; he saw them as gifts. And that was what worried him now – because he wasn't sure that he deserved them.
Their helicopter touched down at Cleveland Hopkins forty five minutes later and from there the four of them piled into a waiting SUV to drive to the little town of Vermilion.
"Huh," Peter uttered during the half hour drive.
"What is it?" Olivia asked.
"Just that the town we're going to is called Vermilion, and the flowers I bought you the other day were vermilion-colored. It's not the most common word. What are the odds?"
Olivia ran a thumb over his cheek in reassurance. "Coincidences do happen. Even in our world."
The driver took them to the crime scene, a neighborhood which appeared to be quite run down but in targeted for urban renewal. There were For Sale signs everywhere. The local and state police had been called out and were cordoning off the house where the body had been found. Broyles took control of the situation immediately, having the police turn control of the investigation over to their team.
Broyles approached Olivia, Peter and Walter and briefed them. "The body of a white male between the age of 40 and 55 was found in that house on the end. It's been abandoned for quite some time, and from the looks of the man who was killed, he was using the house for squatting."
"So the police found puncture marks in the soft palate?" Olivia asked.
"They found that, and something else."
"The shiftshifter equipment?" Peter guessed.
Broyles shook his head. "No, it's…something on the wall. They described it as…distressed."
"Well, it's a structure falling into disrepair. Some damage can be expected," Olivia argued. She turned to Walter, who was staring up at the house. "Any ideas, Walter?"
"None yet, dear," Walter said, squinting at the roof of the dilapidated house. "We should go in and take a closer look."
"Be careful," Broyles warned as the trio tentatively pushed open the un-knobbed door of the house. "The police said it's safe to go in, but the floor boards are weak."
Treading carefully, Walter and Peter approached the body of the homeless man lying in what would have been the living room of the house.
Walter opened the man's mouth to reveal the puncture marks, examining it carefully. "Peter, there's some sort of residue around the wounds. Hand me the swab kit."
"The shapeshifter could be anywhere by now," Peter said as he handed Walter the swabs.
Olivia shone the light around the adjoining room. "Yeah, but why would it come here, to this town?" The flashlight's glow passed over the wall that appeared to the warped. "Hey, this must have been the wall that Broyles was talking about. It's-it's like there's a dent in it." Cautiously she put out her hand and touched it. "Strange," she said softly.
"What is it?" Peter asked, standing up to see what she was talking about.
Hearing this, Walter looked up from the body. "Olivia, get away from the wall, right now!" he shouted at her.
Backing away, Olivia looked at him. "Why? What-"
In the blink of an eye, the shape of a man emerged from the wall and knocked Olivia headfirst to the ground. As Peter and Walter rushed into the room to confront the machine, it got ahold of Olivia's gun and shot Walter once in the shoulder. With lightning speed, it raced from the room and up the stairs.
"No!" Peter cried as he lunged to catch his father as he fell. Olivia got up quickly and ran after the shapeshifter, calling for medical attention and all available hands to surround the house and all its exits.
"Walter," Peter said gently as he held him with one hand and applied pressure to the bloody wound with the other.
Walter coughed, which turned into a garbled chuckle. "I'll be all right, son. The bullet went right through the flesh and didn't even knick the scapula, see? Go help Olivia."
"Go help your fiancée," Walter ordered, tenderly but firmly.
Reluctantly Peter left Walter leaning against a wall and went after the shapeshifter. He climbed the winding stairs slowly, wishing desperately that he had a gun. He fiercely searched the walls as he ascended, checking for the strange, warped pattern that might betray the shapeshifter's whereabouts.
When he got to the top of the stairs, he peered around the corner and found Olivia standing as still as a statue, her back turned to him.
"Shh," she silenced him. "I can feel it. It's here. Somewhere."
Peter looked from left to right as he crept toward her. The guttural grunt of the floor below them made Peter remember what Broyles had said about the weakness of the house's structure.
"Olivia…let's go downstairs and wait for the others." He peeked over the banister. "They've taken Walter and they'll be back for us." Peter turned a pleading eye to Olivia's back. "Please. Let's go."
Olivia held up her hand. "Just-just give me a second. I know-"
Peter frowned. "What?"
Slowly, Olivia looked down at the floor. "My boots are too thick. I can't feel…"
But it was too late. The floor curled up around her, engulfing her, pulling her down through level. Olivia let out a scream like Peter never thought she could be capable of – anguished, and terrified.
"Olivia!" he cried out, desperately trying to work his way to her while shielding himself from the shards of wood that were flying in the air. Without another thought, he jumped in after her.
By the time he reached the ground, the shapeshifter was dead, a bullet lodged in its brain with silver blood spurting from it.
Peter squinted in the dim light, realizing it had been Broyles that had shot it. The police and firemen were now flooding into the room, crowding around the two limp bodies of the shapeshifter and Peter's fiancée.
"Let me go, damnit! Let me see her!" he shouted at the emergency personnel trying to keep him from Olivia.
"Let him go," Broyles ordered.
Peter crouched next to her. She'd broken a leg and an arm, and was impaled in the chest and thigh. She was bleeding from the head, nose and mouth.
He took her bloodied hand. "Baby," he whispered. "Stay with me."
Olivia slowly opened her eyes. She couldn't see him, but she knew he was there. With the last ounce of strength she had, she wiped the blood from her mouth and looked at it. "Vermilion," she whispered, and closed her eyes.
Peter was hearing the whispers again, but he didn't care. It was if he was in a trance, sitting in the hospital in Cleveland, watching people pass him hour after hour.
They hadn't let him see Olivia yet. She had just gotten out of surgery, and he was waiting for someone to talk to him.
He was vaguely aware of Broyles coming to sit next to him in the waiting room. The other man was silent for a few moments, then finally said, "I spoke to the doctors. Olivia is critical, but stable." When Peter didn't answer, he added, "I just went to see Walter. He seems…in good spirits. He's excited about the orange Jell-o."
They sat in silence for several minutes more, until Broyles finally said, "Peter...I suppose you already know that…Olivia lost the baby. I wanted to tell you how sorry I am."
Peter rubbed his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. "You know what's funny? There was a moment – the briefest of seconds – when I found out that Olivia was pregnant and I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a father. And then this happened. Be careful what you wish for, right? Freedom. Horrible, horrible freedom."
Broyles sighed and leaned forward confidentially. "Before my ex-wife and I had our son, she had a miscarriage. She was…slightly farther along than Olivia. It happened to her while I was away on a case. I left home one morning, and it was sonograms and nursery colors and possible names, and when I came back it was all over. Just like that. Diane, she – she told me that she felt like a failure. She kept wondering if there was something she could have done differently…but deep down, she knew there wasn't anything. Peter…I know you might feel like you failed, but some things just aren't meant to be."
Peter shook his head. "No. No, this wasn't just some fluke. It happened because that thing wanted to kill her. It was targeting Olivia. That's why it was hiding in that old house. That's why it was reprogrammed to act be a poly-mimetic compound. The other side – and my father – created that – that thing to kill her. But I'm not going to let those sons of bitches win." He turned to Broyles. "When Olivia recovers, we're done. You understand me? We're out of it. Out of Fringe and all of the investigations. I'm taking her out of it."
Broyles looked at him incredulously. "You really think Olivia's going to agree to this? Her work is her life."
"Yeah, well. Conning was my life once too, but that's all over. I'll make her see."
Just then, the sharp ding of the ICU blue code sounded, and a doctor and several surgeons rushed past Peter and Broyles. Exchanging a worried look, the two men followed the commotion down the hall. With each step, Peter prayed that they were not heading to Olivia's bed.
He could feel his heart begin to break as he saw them disappearing through the doors and crowding around Olivia's wan face and golden hair, spread out like a halo. He tried to go in after them, but was held back by Broyles and other hospital staff.
Time crawled for Peter as he stood outside the ICU, listening to the doctors and nurses frantically working themselves to the bone to save her life. He clawed at the metal and glass keeping him from the person he loved most in this world, and he realized that helplessness was probably the worst agony he'd ever feel.
After a seeming eternity consisting only of ten minutes, it became quiet, almost peaceful. Peter could feel the adrenaline draining out of him, and he felt like a dishrag that had been wrung out. The doctor emerged from the room, and even though Peter saw the defeat on his face, he couldn't bring himself to acknowledge it.
"How is she?" he managed to gasp out.
The lines in the man's face told of the times – too many times – when he had to tell someone that there was nothing he could do. He replied slowly, "She had an aneurysm. The bleeding was… massive. We couldn't save her. I'm so sorry."
Peter could hear screaming - strangled, piercing, and tortured. It was a seemingly never-ending cry that only got louder as it went on. It wasn't until he felt the coldness of the ground beneath him and the arms holding him from above, that he realized the scream had come from him.
Sella looked up from her diagnostics when she heard the creature making the tortured noise. Startled, she immediately called for the doctor, who assured her that he would be there momentarily.
She forced herself to walk to the chamber where the creature lay and check his vitals. Sella knew it was an honor to be studying the creature, but it terrified her too. They'd never seen anything like it before.
The doctor came to her aid shortly afterwards, and Sella hoped that he couldn't see the relief she felt. He looked down at the creature's soft, blobby face and its sickly pink-yellow skin. "What are his vital readings, Nurse?"
"Heart rate and respiration increased by 80 percent, Doctor. I believe your treatment is working. It's responding to stimulating negative emotions."
"Yes, but we still haven't achieved consciousness." He sighed. "I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to hold off the government. They're going to want to know where he came from and what he wants, and if we can't get the answers directly from him, they're going to cut him open to get it."
Sella smiled uneasily. "You keep referring to it as 'him,' doctor. How do we know that it's male? It's…so different from us."
The doctor returned the smile. "I just have a feeling. Just like I have a feeling that he doesn't even come from our dimension. Without the pressurized chamber his body would collapse in on itself. He wasn't made to survive here."
"So how did he get here?"
"I don't know…but I'm sure that it wasn't by choice."
Sella now decided to tell the doctor something that she'd noticed earlier. "Doctor Vermilion, after you administered the last treatment to it – him – he said something. At first I thought it was just a grunt or something, but he's murmured it quite often since then."
"Well…what is it?"
"Ohh-lee-vee-ahh. It's the only thing I could discern. Do you think it's perhaps the name of his homeworld?"
Doctor Vermilion nodded. "It's a logical assumption. But unless we can bring him to consciousness and try to communicate with him, it's all just speculation." He looked at Sella closely for the first time since he arrived and finally noticed the fatigue on her face. "Sella, go home. I'll monitor him for the rest of the evening."
Sella glanced at the creature warily. "Are you sure, doctor?"
"Yes. Please, go get some rest. You're not use to me if you're tired."
After Sella gleefully left for the day, Doctor Vermilion dropped into a nearby seat next to the chamber. The creature was strange – and repulsive, to be sure, but he couldn't help but feel pity for him. For even if he did wake up and could tell him where he came from, the doctor was sure his government would not let him go easily.
There was a deep, guttural groan coming from the chamber, and Doctor Vermilion turned to it slowly. The creature's eyes were open, but the doctor quickly realized that it wasn't awake or looking at him; it was still in some sort of stupor. The same stupor it had been in since it appeared in the desert nearly a week earlier.
The creature opened its mouth and uttered a single word: "Olivia."
Doctor Vermilion sighed. "I'm sorry, my friend. I don't know where Olivia is, but I hope you find a way to get back to it, someday."
But he had no choice. Doctor Vermillion once again loaded up the drugs, and, with great reluctance, he introduced it to the chamber. He could only hope that in the mist of the nightmares, the strange man would find his way back to reality.