A/N: It's ALIVE! Who's surprised? Please review, constructive criticism is food for the soul

"I didn't know you were into modern art," Peter says dryly, looking at the oozing blob of whatever-it-is on top of the examination table. Grotesque and half-formed, its shape echoes nightmares of drowning, of fighting against the currents to push to the surface for a strangled breath before it's too late—except the material is more solid than liquid, porous, and damp. It's what he imagines a twisted, twenty-first century version of Michelangelo's Prigioni might look like.

Walter, as expected, ignores the jab. "We discovered in the late eighties that traveling from one universe to another, while perfectly possible, instigatesthe rapid disintegration and subsequent reintegration of the atoms of the traveling subject," he explains. "This is due to the fact that both universes vibrate at different frequencies and to travel between them the subject would have to translate allof its information from one frequency to the other. Essentially, the subject's atoms would need to be recalibrated to vibrate at the frequency of the subject's destination. This recalibration would then cancel the destructive wave created by the fallout of the energy necessary to make travel possible. The problem we encountered was that to undergo such recalibration meant putting an incredible amount of stress on the reintegrated particles, as these would naturally attempt to go back to their original state. It was quickly made clear that, in the event that we tried this process with people, their organswould fail within minutes if left unattended. The other issue that quickly manifested was that, if successful travel was too frequent, eventually the subject's particles would stop reintegrating at all, due to a progressive weakening of the bonds at the subatomic level. What you're looking at was the solution we came up with."

Peter raises his eyebrows, incredulous. Curious. "An ugly, orange, slimy chunk of solidified Chemical X? Great. Genius, really. What is it?"

As always, sarcasm has no effect on the pin-striped suit of armor of the Secretary of Defense. "This is the transportation state of a biomechanic sleeper agent that we designed to infiltrate the ranks of governmental institutions on the other side."

Peter hasn't had this much mental exercise in a while. He has to pay attention to keep up. "What, like a walking, talking, breathing humanoid spy?"

"Yes, exactly. As the experiments progressed we realized that, while organic material suffered a rapid and devastating degradation—theoretically due to the ongoing chemical exchanges necessary to sustain it, which were impeded by stress—everyday objects, inert objects, had a higher degree of resistance to this stress, which led to the development of our first wave of offense."

"But wait, how would they infiltrate if they can't be found in any database on the other side," Peter asks. "There've got to be security checks for their government personnel."

Walter smiles, like he expected the question. It occurs to Peter that there is a very real possibility that he has been set up. That Walter wanted him here all along, asking these questions, making these arguments. The thought sets his teeth on edge. "That was the other roadblock we hit when we were designing them. We solved it with mercury."

"Mercury. As in, the metal?" Peter gives the blob another once over, just out of curiosity. If he pays close attention he can see the shape of the knees and the knobs of the spine, a hint of a ribcage in the series of diagonal depressions on both sides.

Walter nods. "Given its fluidity, it occurred to us that it would be the perfect material to make soldiers that could change their features to look like whomever they needed."

"These things are shape-shifters?" Peter asks, incredulous.

"In a manner of speaking, I suppose they are," Walter says, his hands flat on the surface of the table. "They take on the appearance of their targets and replace them. It has been a very useful invention."

Peter takes a moment to digest this, his jaw set, aware of Walter's evaluating stare. This is not at all what he expected. And still, it is not what he's here for, and it makes no sense. "Here is the thing I don't get: if you have all this information and you have soldiers that can fight your war, what do you want the other Olivia for?"

"Because they are not the solution you make them out to be," Walter says. "These, like all machines, have their limitations, the first of which is their number. To take on a new identity, they must dispose of the person they are replacing, and while mercury solved one problem, it engendered more. A shape-shifter, as you call them, cannot stay in one body for more than a limited number of days without the onset of visible decay. They carry a device with them, it allows them to model their features to that of their targets by mapping the target's phenotypical expressions into the mercury under their skin, with the help of an electrical discharge. To avoid the decay I mentioned, they must synchronize continuously with the information stored in the device. This will help, for a while. Some have lasted years in the same bodies, but, eventually, they will have to move to another. If we were to send a number of machines exponentially larger than the one we already have, it would be only a matter of time until the body count is large enough to be noticed by the other side, in which case, they would know to prepare themselves. That would be… inconvenient. And a machine is not a man, Peter, no matter how well made it is."

Peter crosses his arms across his chest, his frown deepening. He has to remind himself that playing the long game is always better where Walter is concerned. "Ok, so you can't send more than the ones you have because it would no longer be covert, and you don't have the resources or whatever, but how does that lead back to Dunham?"

"When she got here I requested that the hospital take a number of samples for preliminary testing," Walter explains. "Routine comparisons. There was nothing out of the ordinary with them, all the tests presented us with the data of a healthy person. That's when we realized that we needed more tests. You see, she wasn't showing any signs that would indicate that she had just crossed universes. No molecular degradation, no decay, no weakening of her subatomic bonds."

"You're telling me that you think she has the ability to cross universes without consequences. How is that even possible, Walter?"

"By all accounts, it shouldn't be. And that is why it is imperative that the experiments that you so vocally oppose be allowed to continue," Walter says vehemently, finally showing an emotion other that certainty and satisfaction at Peter's willingness to play along. It's the chink in his armor.

Peter knows how to exploit weakness, it's a lesson from daddy dearest. It was only a matter of waiting for it show. "Alright. I understand the point you're making, but here's a thought: in the remote instance that what you're saying is true, and she's somehow the pinnacle of human evolution or whatever it is you think she is, killing her won't help you. Driving her insane won't help you. You would still need an understanding of her ability that, without her, you'd have to get through trial and error, and if she dies the only way that you can do that is by taking what data you've gathered and experimenting on more people to replicate the results. Our people this time, Walter. I'm not sure you want to do that without knowing everything there is to know about her abilities first. For all you know, she's the only one who can do this."

"I suppose you have a point," Walter says, his voice reluctant.

Peter fights not to smile. "Yes, thank you for noticing. The problem is that I don't think it's going to be easy to convince little Igor of this particular point. You haven't really done too good of a job reining him in, in the past."

"And I suppose you'd do it better?"

"I can try."

"And how do you propose to do that?"

"Well, Walter, unlike you, I know how to tell when Brandon's gone a little too far. I'm sure I'll come up with something to keep that from happening. Even if I have to punch him in the face myself," Peter lets himself smirk at the thought. "I think I'd actually enjoy that."

"Very well," Walter concedes. "Under one condition."

"Name it."

"You will tell your team that you have been requested for a special assignment, and they will know nothing of this."

Goddammit, Walter, he thinks. Lincoln is not going to like this. "Done."

The ex-wife ended up being that one wobbly domino whose fall unraveled the pattern in full. Angela Clarke, happily divorced, led them to their victim's sister. She confessed that, while she had been steadfastly ignoring her ex-husband's attempts at communication to shield her children from the repercussions of his addiction, she did keep in touch with her sister-in-law, who, she knew, was still heavily involved in their victim's recovery.

Clarke's sister, in turn, graciously extended the addresses of the various support groups the victim had been attending for the past few months, as well as that of a new doctor he had been seeing. Tragic, she'd said, that her brother died such a gruesome death after making so much progress in controlling his drug problem. Judging by her surprise at the news, Clarke had kept his illness a secret to all but the person responsible for his death.

The support groups had been a bust. The doctor, on the other hand, turned out to be a well of information. A neurologist, Dr. Robert Watts informed them that Clarke had been directed his way by the physiotherapist at the detox facility where he had committed himself, in the weeks following his divorce. They learned that, while he was the one to diagnose Clarke's Parkinson's, Watts had not been in charge of the man's treatment for over a month. Apparently, his methods were too slow and ineffective for the patient's satisfaction—here, Watts commented on how Clarke did not seem to comprehend that he suffered from an illness that, as of yet, has no known cure.

The doctor's face when they told him the specificsof his former patient's death is something Charlie's not going to forget any time soon.

Despite his horror and incredulity (and if Lincoln is right, his envy), Watts' knowledge of the neurological research circles proved to be invaluable. That's how they end up here, about to raid Dr. Lionel Giordano's house with a full-tactical squad right behind them.

Charlie grits his teeth at the sting of the injection, the eight tiny needles piercing his skin in a circular pattern, over the forearm tattoo he'd gotten in memory of his first partner. Scott's been ambered almost four years and counting, but Charlie still remembers to swing by and wish his little girl happy birthday every time May comes around on the calendar. It's the least he can do.

He'd made a promise back then, to enjoy life a little more, but it's hard. It's hard to wake up every morning and know that it's only because of the efficacy of a drug that the spiders in his gut haven't grown, haven't eaten a hole through him to get outside. Years later and he still can't quite cope with living the rest of his life like this. He knows he's going to have to.

Lincoln motions from his spot by the front door, signaling for them to lock-and-load and pay attention. The lights flick on in the kitchen takes his gun out of his holster in one smooth move, checks the clip and the chamber and thumbs the safety off, the motions as natural as breathing. From the corner of his eye he sees Liv do the same, her gun held low, her stance ready.

Two men from tactical step forward, an enforcer (big, bad, handheld battering ram) held between them. When Lincoln gives the order, they swing. The door comes off its hinges with a bang and a heavy thud as the splintered wood hits the ground.

Charlie rushes into the building after the rest of his team, holding the rear, upper body moving side to side as he checks for threats the rest of them might have missed. It's his job to make sure nothing catches them by surprise—it's the one thing he's good at.

Liv has her marksmanship, Peter his IQ and Lincoln his fancy degree, but Charlie has this. He's good at being cautious, at listening, at connecting the dots. He's dependable. In more ways than one, he keeps them together. He's needed.

Charlie holds the rear. It's his place.

Giordano jumps out the window. He scrambles over the tiles of the lower roof, but keeps on advancing towards the edge at a steady pace. Lincoln jumps after him, his gun back in his holster as he fights to keep his footing on the slippery clay, cursing the light drizzle that falls over them.

Lincoln's not fast enough. Giordano hops off the roof, rolling over his shoulder to reduce the impact of his fall—he's very fit for a man that spends his days sitting in a lab, playing with genetic code like it's a game of scrabble and he's aiming for a high score. He runs into the street, weaving through the black tactical vans, sprinting like a mad man, and Lincoln thinks this is it, I'm gonna lose him.

And then Charlie's on him, tackling him to the ground, and Lincoln didn't even see him run out of the house but his partner's right there, pressing Giordano's face against the hard asphalt, cuffing his hands behind his back and calling for tactical to move him to a car.

Lincoln hops down to the ground, slowly now. He sits down on the grass, arms around his knees, lets himself relax. After a while of staring at nothing, controlling his breathing, he feels Liv's knees on his backprodding gently. He looks up.

"Climbing not your thing?" she asks, looking down at him with a challenge in her eyes, one blonde eyebrow raised. Teasing.

Lincoln makes a face, sticks his tongue out at her. This, he can play. "Yeah, yeah, not all of us have monkey DNA, Red. You're gonna have to get used to that sooner or later."

She snorts, hits him on the shoulder. "You're just mad cause you know I'd do it better and I'd still look pretty."

"As if," Lincoln says. "I bet you I'd win if we made it a competition. Just make a poll in the division and watch my looks beat you to next Sunday."

"That's just 'cause there's more women than men in the division, you idiot, and you've been to the infirmary so much that you've got all the nurses wrapped around your little finger."

"Agent Dunham, is that jealousy I'm detecting?" Lincoln asks, pulling himself to his feet and slapping wet grass off his butt.

Red crosses her arms, glares at him. "In your dreams, Lee." The way she says it makes it sound serious, but under the porch lights, he can see her eyes revealing her amusement.

"Hey, children," Charlie calls from the door, smirking. "There's some stuff down in the basement that you're gonna wanna see, when you're done bickering."

The basement is more lab than anything else, with all the cutting edge equipment one could hope for in such a space and reams of information that the medical community would probably sacrifice a small town for.

Throughout it all, Lincoln can't help but think it feels weird to be there without Peter.

He can't actually stop anything. Instead, Peter is forced to witness the damage.

They inform him early on of her unusually high tolerance to sedatives, as a way to explain why she's always awake during their tests, but mostly as a precaution against further escape attempts that never come-she seems to be aware that the first attempt allowed them to prepare themselves against her. Still, she's willing to make herself bruise and bleed fighting her restraints, and he learns not to let his guard down in her vicinity.

He's forced to hold her down as they slide an absurdly long needle between the knobs of her spine, stained the color of iodine red, testing for some foreign chemical her brain scan revealed (and when he says 'they' it's just him trying to forget he chose this for himself). The needle is pushed in until the tissue gives, and he's grateful they gagged her because he can feel her tense up in pain but he can't hear her screaming—he sleeps little enough at night as it is. He holds onto her because he's seen just how strong she is and he's afraid if she gets free right then she might cause herself the kind of harm not even their technology would be able to repair.

Ironically, this is how he commits the crimes he wanted to prevent. The universe has a sense of humor, after all.

Every day the itch to throttle Brandon increases, proportional to his frustration at seeing how little he can do to make the torture stop, or at least make it marginally bearable. The problem is that every mark and every test, every needle and scan and tissue sample has a perfectly valid, entirely logical reason behind it if he thinks about it. It's really no wonder he's been trying very hard not to think. It has been an unsuccessful endeavor so far.

He makes himself sit with her, after, and he makes himself see her bruises and her silent anger. In his head, it might be penance. Shamefully, perhaps, he can't always bring himself to talk about it.

"What else are they looking for?" he asks once, more to himself than her. To his surprise, she gives him an answer.

Olivia says, "Answers to questions they shouldn't be asking."

Perpetually, Peter is afraid that she is going to break, that the next time they put her on that table will be the last. It's not the way he'd want to go, if they gave him the choice.

He thinks he could unlock the door for her, knock the guard out to give her a head start at least. He could blame it all on her when the inevitable questions arise, say she slipped her cuffs somehow. Sometimes he wants to. There are no cameras in this particular aisle.

When it happens, he reminds himself that she is the reason his world is falling apart at the seams. The reason there's thousands of people whose lives were cut short by the Amber that is, by necessity, both their last resort and their first line of defense. He reminds himself that helping her would just make him the first in a long line of people at the other end of her gun. Peter doesn't think she is the type who would hesitate on the trigger.

The thought recurs nonetheless.

Her team feels wrong.

It's not a question of efficiency, they have been trained with adaptability in mind, and though their casework no longer develops in leaps and bounds, Lincoln is enough of a brain by himself to carry them through the specifics without issue. It's more about a lack of familiarity with the situation, she supposes.

Not Peter being an idiot, that is plenty familiar to all. Really, it's more the notion that he'd choose to leave them behind to find the answers he so desperately wants.

Oh, she's not stupid. She can at least guess at what this special assignment is about, even if the higher ups have done their best to keep the details from them (that alone makes her suspicious). Anyone with two brain cells and a working pair of eyes could connect the dots with little effort.

She imagines the knowledge of an alternate reality is the kind of existential question that would be life altering in some way or the other, for all parties involved. It has certainly been where she is concerned. Lately, she has begun to question herself, her choices, her sense of self. But that's normal, that's expected. At least that's what she tells herself. The woman on the other side of the one-way glass is the person she could have been, had she turned left instead of right at some point in her life. The potential is there, in every choice Liv makes. She feels, in a way, entitled to the details of this other her.

Unlike her, Peter doesn't have the benefit of excuses. She has always respected, if not quite understood, his thirst for knowledge, the way his mind compares and contrasts and evaluates everything he sees. His curiosity is hardwired behavior, an intrinsic part of who he is. But there's something childish in the way he so stubbornly refuses to let this go, like a terrier with a bone; something selfish about the way he made his choices without asking, perhaps not for their approval, but at least for their opinions on the matter.

If she were being honest with herself-not a routine arrangement by any means-she would admit that the crux of the matter is, perhaps, that she resents the fact that she's never held his attention quite the way this woman can. It's ugly, and petty, and superficial, and it's a thought she refuses to allow.

It's not a question of efficiency- they caught the guy. It's the feeling that something is missing when they go out for a drink at the end of the day, and Peter stays at his desk, looking over the specs and the interrogations to finalize the reports of a case they worked without his presence, instead of walking with them to the bar.

There is a diner on the corner across of the Division headquarters. It opens early and closes earlier still, when it's dark but late no longer applies. Every first Saturday of the month, like clockwork, Peter finds himself sitting inside on a red vinyl booth and nursing a warm cup of tea, looking out the window without seeing, still half-asleep.

He likes the place. There is a welcoming quality to the atmosphere that reminds him of the cool, clear days of early spring; reminds him of the morning mist near the lake house he hasn't visited since the divorce, when he discovered his newfound health would allow him to swim in the lake without catching a fever, and that rowing all the way to the opposite shore would leave him sore for days on end, no matter how slow he went. The word for it would be cozy, he supposes.

When the clock on the wall hits five past eight the door creaks open. The bell attached on top of it chimes to signal the arrival of the only other customer that will come inside before lunch time, today. Peter bookmarks the page he's on in the seemingly endless shape-shifter technical report that Walter was gracious enough to forward a week ago, and he rises to his feet.

Elizabeth Bishop has aged well. The wrinkles around her eyes and mouth suggest a lifetime of laughter and passions. There are strands of gray in her hair that she no longer bothers to cover, and that add to the air of elegance that she evokes even in clothes as plain as a knit navy sweater and light khaki pants.

"Peter," she greets, kisses his cheek and moves in for a hug that Peter is glad to return.

"It's good to see you, mom," he says, placing her bag beside his things, between their feet, under the table. It's a trick he's learned to make sure she won't pay when their check comes. "You wanna order something?" he asks. He's already calling for the single waitress to come by.

"Tea's alright," Elizabeth says, motioning to the small pot near the window. "And one of your muffins would be great," she adds when the waitress approaches, order pad in hand.

The waitress smiles. She's familiar with both of them, by now. "Of course ma'am. Any particular kind?"

"I'd love it if you had some of those banana muffins from the other time. They were delicious."

The waitress nods. "One banana muffin coming right up. Anything else for you, sir?"

"Nah, I'm alright. Thanks, Sue," Peter says as she goes, yawning.

"You look tired, honey. Are you sleeping ok?" Elizabeth asks after the waitress is well out of earshot. Direct, the way she's always been.

Peter laughs. He really is that transparent, sometimes. "I think tired is my new default, to be honest. Sleep has been…difficult, lately." An understatement. Every time he closes his eyes he's back in that white, white room, with only her screams to accompany him.

"Work?" Elizabeth questions, her hands around the cup of tea he's poured for her.

One of the many things he hates about his job is having to censor himself when talking to people. He understands the reasons why it would be foolish to discuss matters of national security with anyone outside his work circle, and he knows Elizabeth understands them just as well, but he's never felt comfortable lying to his mother, no matter how good at it he's always been. "Yeah. I-I'm working on a case right now. I can't actually talk about it, but it's just one of those that I can't leave at work no matter what I try, you know?"

She pauses to think his words over, savoring the warm tea she cradles between her palms. Elizabeth is one of the few people Peter knows that actually relishes the taste, without a drop of sugar to compensate for the natural bitterness. Eventually, she speaks. "I can't imagine how hard it must be for you and your colleagues, to go home and try to act like everyone else after seeing everything you see. You know how it surprised me that you decided to work in Fringe…" Considering your father, she doesn't say. She doesn't need to.

There was no one more surprised by that turn of events than Peter himself, but that's a story Elizabeth has never heard. If Peter gets his way, she'll never have to.

"I know. But it's really not as bad as you might think. We're just cops, only our cases are a bit crazier. You learn to leave work at work when your shift ends, and it's useful."

"Except when you can't," Elizabeth points out, reminding him that she's been paying attention, and that she won't be easily distracted. She knows most of his tricks.

"Except when I can't," he admits, smiling.

"What is it about this one that's making it so hard?" she asks.

Peter sighs. "I'm…I don't know. I guess part of me thinks that…that we're pursuing the wrong leads. That maybe we're doing more harm than good pursuing anything at all. I can't stop thinking that, maybe, we're the bad guys this time. And I have to choose whether or not I want to be the kind of man that would do what I'm going to have to…I'm sorry, I know I'm being too vague for you to understand what I'm trying to say."

Elizabeth grabs his hand with her own, her elbows on the table as she leans in. "It doesn't matter. You have good instincts, Peter," she says, a conviction in her voice that he wishes he felt. "And whatever choices you make, you're a good person. Don't forget that."

It is only after he speaks that Olivia registers his presence, the click of the door as it closes lost amid the myriad sounds of the building, the tapping of footsteps, the rattling of the pipes, the whisper of the air vents, the tick-tick-ticking of one clock or another, the deafening noise of machines all around. Her head feels as if it's splitting in half.

He says her name. She can tell by the tone of his voice that it's not the first time. He's crouching close. She can smell sweat and cologne, and if she manages to ignore the pain for a few seconds and focuses on his voice, she can make out the sound of his heart and the rushing of blood through his veins.

Olivia raises her head from her knees. She squints at the light that stabs at her eyes like a searing brand on the inside of her skull, wishes for darkness.

Bishop seems to respond to her visible distress. He comes closer slowly, lowers his voice. "Olivia?" It's enunciated with care, vowels heavy and round, a soothing sound. Inquisitive without intruding. For a moment, it seems as though he might touch her. She's relieved when he doesn't.

He says, "I brought you some clean clothes, if you want to change." Olivia notices the white fabric he carries, then. Remembers her state. She's been wearing the same iodine-stained hospital gown for the past couple of days, and little else.

It's ludicrous really, that she would care about such things given what's happened, but the thought of clean clothes is a soft comfort. She almost lets herself be thankful.

Bishop places the scrubs on the bench by her knees, and reaches for the length of chain that binds her hands to each other without pulling on it. "Just so you know, there's a guard outside with a loaded gun. He's aiming at the door right now, in case you decide to break my neck when I unlock your handcuffs. I'd really appreciate it if you didn't, though, 'cause I happen to know the cleaning lady, and I wouldn't want her to have to clean up the mess, later."

It surprises her that he's even willing to take the risk. When she doesn't respond he simply unlocks the cuffs and backs away towards the shuttered glass pane to the side of the door. He turns around, giving her a modicum of privacy and space.

Moving hurts. Olivia lets the handcuffs fall on her lap, places them carefully on the ground so they don't make a sound, doesn't want to add to her misery. Her wrists are raw, red and aching. She can't even rub them to soothe them. Her knees pop when she stands. She turns around to face the back wall, and she strips.

The knot at her bare back is loose enough that it comes undone once she manages to get her hands out of the sleeves, the gown falling limp on the ground, by her feet. The thought of trying to escape passes briefly through her mind. Briefly. He's said himself, they expect her to try.

Olivia turns her head, and she catches him watching her reflection on the darkened glass. His gaze is stuck on her back, on the length of her spine and the angry bruise that's painted like a target in the space between the bottoms of her shoulder blades. His eyes flick away when they meet hers, something like shame on his face reflected back at her.

She dresses.

Bishop turns around when she's done, doesn't pretend not to know. He slides to the ground, his back to the door, and waits for her to follow. She sits right across, away from the wall. The bruise hurts worse than it looks.

Eventually, he speaks, and the words stampede out of his mouth in something closer to bewilderment than anger. "You know, for the longest time, we thought Fringe events were natural disasters. We thought it was mother nature fighting back, after all the abuse. And we ran around-run around, I guess we still do-we run around closing vortex after vortex with a gas that solidifies around them, robbing thousands of people of the rest of their lives in the name of God and Country, and all that shit they tell you to believe in blindly at the Academy. And ok, I don't think there's an Agent out there who likes it, who doesn't get nightmares at night thinking about it, but it works. For the most part, it works, and lives are saved and people still live in relative peace, so we shield ourselves and our fragile little heads with this daily mantra where we tell ourselves that, in the end, it's just one more thing for the human race to power through, because everything ends, right? And then you…you come along crashing through that Opera house and suddenly everything I thought I knew becomes just one more lie to type into the files, and there's a cosmic war on that I didn't even know existed until a month ago."

Her head pounds, still, but the cadence of his voice, rising and falling, gives her something to focus on that makes all the other sounds recede. She doesn't know what to say. This universe and everything in it is as foreign to her as snow to someone who's never left the desert.

Bishop sighs. "I'm sorry, you didn't need to hear all that."

"It's ok," she says. "It actually helps."

"Helps, how?" he asks, naked curiosity etched in his expression.

Olivia shrugs despite the pain. "Makes it more real, I guess. To know those things. Sometimes I'm not sure there's actually something out there beyond this hallway and whatever is in it." She knows it to be true as she speaks.

"Don't worry. You're not crazy yet," he says.

"How do you know?"

He thinks about it before answering. "Well, I'm real, for one. I'm here. I can tell you there's people outside, beyond this island, living their lives like they might end any minute, and they have no idea what goes on in here, don't know about you or me, or this facility because they don't want to. They wouldn't want the burden of that knowledge if we offered to pay them as they got it."

Olivia has to smile at that. "And that's exactly what a figment of my imagination might sound like, if it were trying to convince me to let go of what is real, don't you think?"

Bishop laughs, and she's never actually heard him laugh like that, if at all. "Yeah, ok. Not my best argument there. I guess it depends on your given definition of reality."

There is a knock on the door. Bishop stands as the tray slot in the door opens to the searching gaze of the guard outside.

"Everything ok, Captain?" the soldier inquires.

"It's fine Joe, just give me five minutes and I'll be out of your hair," Bishop says.

"Take your time, sir."

Bishop waits for the guard to move away before approaching her. He crouches beside her, fixes her with an evaluating stare that makes the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. "If you could get out of here…if you could just walk out the door…where would you go? What would you do?"

"I'd go home," she answers. Olivia doesn't even have to think about it.

He gives a short nod, like he expected the answer, and he reaches for the handcuffs, motioning to her hands before grabbing them. There's a gentleness to the touch that she didn't expect; he's mindful of her wrists, makes sure his fingers never touch where it hurts the most. Bishop says, "I'm sorry, but I have to." Looks apologetic as the little metal teeth rattle and clank and the cuffs click closed on her skin. The weight of them has become familiar by now.

The surprise comes when he reaches into his boot and retrieves a folding knife. She tries to pull back, startled, but he holds her still by the front of her shirt. He whispers, "Relax. If I wanted to hurt you, I wouldn't have waited this long. Stay still."

As she complies, he reaches for the waistband of her pants, folds it inside-out so the threads holding it together show. He fits the edge of the blade along the inch-long, horizontal seam that encloses the elastic holding her pants up, and he cuts. Once the seam is broken he returns the knife to his boot, fixing his pants over it.

"There's three things you need to know," Bishop says. "One: they managed to synthesize the chemical in your brain that they think helps you travel between universes without crumbling into the organically grown version of Dali's clocks. Two: because of number one, they won't need you for much longer. As far as I know, they will keep doing the tests for at least another week to see what other tricks they can squeeze out of you, but Brandon's looking excited at the prospect of taking your dissected brain to bed by the end of the month, at thelatest. Three: there is a gap of about ten minutes between guard shifts around eleven-oh-five p.m. every day. There's bound to be less people around during that time. They can't deny you access to the washroom if you really need it and they've seen you drink a ton of water. My advice is, use that time wisely. You got all that?"

Olivia nods, unable or unwilling to find her voice.

"Good. This, is a key," he says, slipping the simple, single toothed, silver handcuff key every law enforcement officer is issued with into the open seam of her white pants. "And I don't need to tell you what to do with it, I think. I will be sent after you. Know that, whatever happens, my help ends here."

The rest is on her.