She went out to the hay in the morning grace
She went out and got lost in a tall hedge maze
Where'd you go? Where'd you go? Why'd you leave this place?
On my heart, on my face
"Featherstone," The Paper Kites
After he destroys the world, there isn't much left to say. Sure, he knows he should probably ask her how she feels, work through any issues they may have like guilt or shame or regret, but the truth is, Peter Bishop doesn't want to talk about it.
After all, he didn't do it on purpose… Not exactly.
So he stays quiet, and they go on with their lives. For a while, they're just another happy couple. She moves in with him, bringing pictures and her bedspread and a blue-bristled toothbrush in the cup beside his. She wakes up with the sun every morning, and he rolls over into the warmth she leaves behind, curling an arm around her pillow and breathing her in before chasing after her into the shower. On weekends, she gets up to run, and he rouses a few minutes later to cook her breakfast, making her smile at silly things like blueberry faces or eggs-and-bacon grins.
Walter is happy for them, and they know because he leaves licorice on their pillows every night. (They eat it on Tuesdays, because, well… they're Tuesdays. With Walter.)
"He really does do it every week," she informs him the third time, and after that, they never leave the room before seven.
It's a year before their world breaks apart.
When the first Fringe event happens, she's confused, panicked, calling Walter hourly for answers. Eventually, though, she stops, and only asks when they're in the lab, away from the destruction and able to slip into the numbness of theorizing. It's hard to ask what caused the vortex that killed Billy's mother when Billy is crying on your shoulder.
Three months scrape by before Walter confirms their suspicions.
"The machine… when you climbed into it, you tore holes in both worlds. They're inextricably linked, Peter. I'm afraid… there's no permanent solution."
He's so stunned that he doesn't notice the guilt splashed across her face until Astrid asks about it later.
And that's when he knows –
She holds herself responsible.
He tries to show her that he loves her. That he doesn't blame her for the slow, painful dying of their world. She can't possibly condemn herself for it all… can she?
But he doesn't have to ask that question to know the answer.
She turns into a ghost before his eyes, haunting the house in the moonlight, a silver phantom of grief and pain-wracked shoulders. Very rarely does she sleep the whole night through, and when she does, he often wakes to her tossing and turning, mumbling incoherently beneath her breath. Sometimes, when she quiets, he's able to catch the glint of drying tears upon her cheeks.
Watching her in the field, talking to witnesses and consoling grieving family members, it strikes him that she's perfect. So strong and quiet and caring. She knows exactly what to do and when, whether it's a hug or a hand on their knee or even just the simple act of sitting with them in silence, letting her presence comfort them more than any platitudes or practiced moves could.
What confuses him, though, is how she can be so alive and compassionate toward these strangers, and yet so withdrawn around him, Walter, Astrid – all those people whom she loves, and who love her in return.
"Olivia…" he asks, one night as they're getting ready for bed. "What makes you different, out there? With the victims?"
She pauses, staring at her reflection in the mirror, and he can see the sadness in her eyes. The lean, hard lines of her body ripple as she turns to face him, so strong and silent and broken that it makes him want to weep.
"I have to, Peter. I have to be strong for them. They don't have anyone left but me."
When they come for Walter, that's when she rises like a phoenix. The marshals at their door don't stand a chance against him, much less Olivia. They fight ceaselessly. Broyles pulls every string that he can and then some, but in the end, they take him.
Even once he's gone, Peter fights, going so far as to threaten the warden at St. Claire's within an inch of his life. Still, he's met with resistance.
"He destroyed one world with that machine of his; what's stopping him from destroying this one?"
When he tries to explain that he, not Walter, was the one to destroy a world, Olivia stops him. "We'll get him back, Peter. I swear. I won't let them keep him in that place."
She makes good on her promise; his father is moved to prison instead.
When he asks her why she lied for him, all she says is, "He made me swear to protect you."
The trial finally comes, and they fight. Hard. Olivia is liquid fire on the stand, mesmerizing the jury and repeatedly foiling the prosecutor's attempts to catch her in a lie. Broyles and Astrid, too, hold up, and somehow, he manages to keep it together through the initial proceedings. But when they bring him back for a second round, he breaks.
Even when he tells them everything, right down to how he blackmailed Olivia and the others into lying for him, it's not enough. The meddling scientist is convicted while the well-meaning mass-murderer goes free.
"Why?" he roars to the lab that night, empty bottle in hand and tears burning his eyes. "Why him, and not me?" But only an echo replies, hollow and fleeting in the blackness.
He goes home to a darkened house, and it is only Olivia who holds him together.
He pulls himself together slowly, in pieces. She's there through it all, a hand on his shoulder, her fingers in his, a fierce kiss on his lips. It doesn't matter what he needs – she always knows and gives.
They find new ways of communicating, hardly ever using their voices when they're alone. People they meet in the field always remark on their strength, and the way they complete each other, working in tandem to patch up the disasters of their world. It's all the clichés but one. He tries to bring it up with her.
"Liv, people keep asking when we're gonna have kids."
She just shrugs and goes on making salad, tense and trembling when he touches her shoulders.
After a while, he gives it up, assuming she'll come around.
When she's ready.
She leaves on a Tuesday. Broyles claims it's for casework, but he knows it's not. Her toothbrush, a pillow, the picture of them with Walter that Astrid framed in imitation licorice – they're all gone.
It nearly undoes him.
Each night, he comes home and stares at the barren expanse of their bed, the empty countertops, the absence of her shampoo and body wash from the shower. Little pieces of her, missing, each one a hole punched through his universe.
Astrid waits a week before cornering him, demanding to know why he hasn't gone after her.
"She left licorice on my pillow," he says, and goes back to work.
Three years pass, and he continues his work with Fringe division. Faces come and go, but through them all, one remains. No one can fill the void she has left in his life.
Oddly enough, he knows what he's doing is right. Let her go, something in him says. She stayed by your side when you needed her most; let her have this time. And so he does. He lets her go.
When Rachel dies, only then does he go after her.
He finds her in Jacksonville, under the name Olive Sharp.
"Olive. Yeah, that's her," the store proprietor drawls, tugging at his cap. "But she don't wear her hair like that no more."
Peter thanks the man and leaves, wondering how else she's changed.
He spends his day observing her, getting to know this woman named Olive Sharp.
She lives in an apartment on the corner, third floor, and seems to know people at the coffee shop down the street, because she walks there and pushes open the door with a smile on her face and a hand tucking back her hair. She's wearing jeans and a gray T-shirt, body still slim and athletic, and he can't ever remember seeing her like this, except for that one time when they went to a movie and she turned off her phone so Broyles couldn't spoil their evening.
He wonders if she likes them better – the jeans and T-shirt. And the name.
She spends fifteen minutes in the shop, slipping back out with a paper cup and to-go bag in hand, backpack slung over her shoulder and watch band slim around her wrist. She pauses on the sidewalk to check for cars before crossing, and he slides deeper into his seat. Safely across, she stops to hand the coffee and food to a homeless man on the corner, smiling as she greets him.
Her head tosses back in laughter, and he notices that Ballcap Man was right – she does wear her hair differently. It's still long, but layered more, curling about her face and shoulders before spilling down her back. The pretty yellow he remembers is shot through with streaks of gold, as if she wears it like this all the time and lives in the sun. He likes it. It looks good on her. So does the smile.
Waving to her homeless friend, she turns and continues past a side street and on down the sidewalk. Peter waits until she disappears around a building before starting the car.
He trails her to a decrepit, sagging old nag of a building, where she digs a key out of her bag and lets herself in, shaking hair out of her eyes as she enters. The door creeps shut behind her, and he waits thirty minutes before climbing out of the car and moving closer.
Jacksonville Community Center, the peeling orange letters barely read, and beneath it, stenciled in black, Open-Arms Halfway House: Walk-ins Welcome.
He frowns and crawls back into the car, waiting for her to emerge.
It doesn't take long. She swings out of the building with her chin over her shoulder, half-talking to the girl behind her. They pause on the curb, stuffing last-minute bag lunches into their backpacks, chatting, and then break apart. Olivia strides up the walk, smiling to herself, bright eyes roaming the streets. He watches her, mesmerized.
So this is how she heals her world.
That night, he almost leaves for Chicago, but something stops him. —I came for her, he reasons, and she has a right to know about her sister.
Besides, Ella needs her.
He sleeps in his car a few blocks from her apartment, waking early enough to drive over and watch her walk to the coffee shop. She drops off breakfast and a pat on the shoulder to her sidewalk buddy, but this time she doesn't go to Open-Arms. Instead, she scrapes a hand through her hair and heads out of town, long legs eating up the ground and shoulders a little hunched, as if she's reluctant to do this.
He doesn't have to follow her to know where she's going.
The tulips are still there, wild and waving in the brazen summer air. He rolls to a stop well down the road, tossing back the last few sunflower seeds from his package. He takes his time cracking them, tonguing out the shells one by one, then flicking them out the window. Some of them he even folds over until they split.
Finally, he opens the door and steps onto the asphalt.
She's a half-mile off, back to the road, arms hugging her ribcage. Her hair whips in the wind and tangles over her shoulder as she sits, slowly at first and then all at once, a little thud he can't hear, but feels all the same. His feet seem to move on their own accord (because God knows he doesn't want to do this), and soon he's right behind her, amazed she hasn't heard him yet.
Her chin is on her knees, shirt tight across her back. The Florida sun has bronzed her skin, and his eyes catch on the spray of freckles across her neck.
"You're not smoking this time," he says, and she leaps to her feet.
"I'm sorry!" he rushes, spreading his hands palms-down. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"Peter," she breathes.
The sound of her voice sets off fireworks in his gut. Oh God. He can't do this. Peter closes his eyes, opens them. "Olivia."
"How did you find me?"
He smiles sadly at her creased brow. "It wasn't that hard. There's only one place you'd go."
Some of the tension seeps from her body, but her eyes still hold that hunted look. "If you knew where I was, then what took you so long?"
"Broyles said it was casework."
"And you believed him?"
"Not for a minute."
"You looked for me?"
He shakes his head.
"It nearly broke me, Olivia. You were my whole life."
She nods, slowly, arms returning to her ribcage. "I'm sorry," she whispers.
"Why'd you leave?"
Her gaze drops to the tulips, arms squeezing tighter. Finally, she looks back up and swallows, staring just above his shoulder. "You wanted kids. And…" she shrugs, throat convulsing. "I can't give them to you."
His mouth drops open. "What?"
She shakes her head quickly. "No. No, Peter – it's not like that. I'm… fine. I just… I can't. I can't bring a child into this world. It's too dark. Too broken. And it's all my fault."
"Olivia, you are not responsible for what happened to the Other Side – or anything thing over here."
"But I am, Peter, don't you see? If I hadn't turned off the machine, you never could have crawled in there, and – "
"And it would have been our world destroyed instead of theirs."
"But at least… at least you could have gone over there, found her, been happy and had kids and lived."
His throat closes up. Is this what she's believed for ten years?
Seeing his expression, she frowns and steps back. "You don't have to pretend; I've known for years. You're from the Other Side – it's your home. Your father's there, and she's there, and – "
"Olivia, I love you," he declares, coming after her now, grabbing her elbow to stop her from running. "You. No one else."
"But she is me."
"No," he grinds out, hands on her shoulders now, turning her to face him. He needs her to see. "No, she is not. No one is you. You are the only woman that I love, and I – " he breaks off, fighting past the pain in his throat. "I have been living in hell for the past three years without you."
Stricken, she stops. "Is that why you came for me?"
Peter sighs, hands dropping from her shoulders.
"Peter?" she says. Fear scales her eyes. "Peter, what happened? Is it Walter? Did they take him back to St. Claire's?"
"No – "
"If they did I'll go back. I'll get Broyles to pull strings, we'll take them to court again, I swear, Peter, I'll get him out of – "
"Olivia. Olivia, I need you to stop. Hey. Look at me." He cups her cheek. "Olivia – Rachel's gone."
The words die on her lips as she stares at him, horrified. "What do you mean… gone?"
"It was a vortex – "
"Oh God. Oh God, no." Her knees buckle and she clutches at his shirt, but he's got her. He won't let her fall.
"Oh God, I did it. I killed her and – "
"Hey," he whispers, gripping her tightly, holding her up. "It's not your fault. It's no one's fault."
"But a vortex, Peter, a vortex, and I've been off in Jacksonville talking to homeless people for three years and what if we could have stopped it?" She pushes away from him, nose red and tears spilling down her cheeks.
"But – "
"She died saving a child. She ran in and got the boy out before the building collapsed, and went back for the mom when the vortex ope – "
"Peter – Ella – " she gasps, stepping into him again.
He sighs. "That's why I came to get you."
"Is she all right? Who's taking care of her?"
"She needs you, Olivia. I've tried to be there for her but it's just not enough."
"Then let's go," she says, eyes already seeking out his car.
And so they go.
She calls Ella on the drive to her apartment, fingers white against the phone's casing. "Ella? Ella, baby, it's me, Aunt Liv… Yes, I'm here now… What happened?"
He listens to her side of the conversation as he drives, marveling at how quickly she's pulled herself together for her niece. Ella is seventeen, has graduated high school, but she and Rachel were close – almost like best friends. Peter had been the one to bring her the news the day of the event, and it had broken her.
Olivia's voice interrupts his thoughts. "Peter came and got me. Yes, I promise. I'll be there. I'm coming home now, El."
He sleeps in her apartment that night, crashing on the couch while she makes last-minute phone calls to work, her landlord, the coffee shop, asking if they'd take care of Anthony, try to get him to check out Open-Arms. She'll pay whatever expenses he accrues and – oh. Oh, thank you. No, she won't be back anytime soon. And yes, she'll miss them, too.
She falls asleep in the bedroom floor, face in a suitcase and fingers around her phone.
He returns the car to the rental service, and Patti from work drives them up to the airport. Olivia thanks her and they hurry into the building, checking her bags and tapping their toes through security. She doesn't speak the whole flight back.
Astrid meets them in Chicago, and they drive straight to Ella. Olivia is out the door and running up the sidewalk before the car even stops. Peter climbs out and watches as she pulls the girl close.
"It's okay," she whispers, tucking her chin onto Ella's shoulder. "It's okay, baby girl. I'm here now. You're gonna be fine."
The memorial service is small, intimate. They need it this way. Broyles is there, and Astrid, and Nina, as well. Ella remains dry-eyed the entire day, only dissolving into Olivia's arms once the last guest has left and the pictures have returned to their mantles.
She stands in the living room, holding her niece, pressing a cheek to her hair, a hand on her back. Their eyes catch from across the room, and he sees it all.
Later that night, as she wipes away tears and pours more whiskey, he tells her that he loves her and kisses her long and hard. It leaves them both breathless and stumbling toward the bedroom, stealing kisses all the way while the drinks sit abandoned on the table.
It's all up in the air, whether she's staying or going or even kissing him again, but they don't talk about it because they have to sort through and pack up all of Rachel's things before the month is up. Ella does what she can, but it's all too much for her. She spends a lot of time in the lab with Astrid, talking and tinkering around with programs and equations.
That afternoon he brings her lunch and they sit on the floor amidst half-filled boxes, exhausted and more than ready to give in to sleep.
"Move back in with me," he says suddenly. She stops chewing her sandwich.
"I said move back in with me. It'll give you a place to stay – Ella too."
She watches him. "You really want this?"
He laughs. "Olivia, I just spent the last three years without you. I've never wanted anything more in my life."
So she does. She moves in with him.
And Ella too.
He kneels at the bedside and watches the light peek in through the open window, setting fire to the splayed-out strands of hair. Her face is so peaceful when she sleeps now, brow smooth, lips slack, lashes feathering the skin beneath her eyes – nothing like the nights he remembers from seven years ago.
Reaching out, he rubs a lock of hair between his thumb and forefinger, then cups a hand along her cheek and waits. She stirs and squints into the morning sun, smiling lazily when she sees him.
"Ohh, you're up before I am. That never happens," she teases, nuzzling into her pillow.
"I love your hair," he hums, sifting his fingers through the flaxen gold.
"Yeah? Well I like yours, too," she says, scratching sleepy fingers along his scalp. "Mm, that feels nice. Don't stop," she mumbles as he feathers a thumb along her jaw.
"I'll do my best."
Breathing in deeply, she slits an eye open and watches him. " 'S everything all right?"
"Yeah. I just wanted to see you wake up, is all."
"Creep," she laughs, and punches his shoulder.
"Olivia…" he begins, reaching down for the box on the floor. Not exactly how he'd envisioned this moment, on one knee in his pajamas, but it'll have to do.
She bounces over onto her shoulder, flashing him a confused smile. "Yeah?"
"A long time ago, someone came to me and told me that they needed my help, to save someone that they loved. Someone that meant a great deal to them. Turns out, that loved one died." A pause. "But the lover persevered. She refused to give up, and kept tracking down answers one case file at a time. Not long after that, I began to see how special she was, but I was pretty stupid along the way, and… we hit a lot of bumps."
Her eyes are soft on his as he tells the story – he can sense that she knows where this is going, but still. She listens.
"Eventually, the road evened out, and we shared our first kiss. Before that happened, though, she told me something, something I'll never forget. She said – "
"You belong with me," she whispers, thumb tracing his lips. "I remember."
He smiles, eyes a little misty. "It was a promise, and I've held on to it for a very, very long time. And now, ten years later, I know – you were right." He opens the box. "Olivia Ruth Dunham, I belong with you. Will you marry me?"
She smiles, eyes shining as she stares at the ring. But then they dart up to him, and there's something there –
"What about kids?" she asks.
This woman. What did he ever do to deserve this amazing woman? He cradles her cheek. "We have Ella."
He nods. "For now."
Peter smiles, smoothing her hair back from her face. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, okay?"
She searches his eyes for a moment. "Okay," she says finally, returning his smile.
"Is that a yes?"
She laughs, soft and free, as she leans in to kiss him. Her lips capture his, tasting sweet and of heaven, hand framing his jaw as she deepens the kiss, tongue tracing patterns of fire inside his mouth and then retreating as she begins to smile. "Yes," she grins, joy sparkling in her eyes when they finally come up for air. "Yes, I will marry you."