Begin

The first thing she does upon arriving home is throw up. Palms aching, she convulses, heaving her last cup of coffee onto the pavement outside Penn Station as the Secretary's henchmen stand by.

That done, she wipes her mouth.

They watch as she pushes first onto her knees and then her heels, muscles wrung dry of their former adrenaline rush. As she glances up at them, the youngest one, a skinny, rabbit-eyed individual, leaps forward to help her. She ignores him and surges to her feet. Alone. She is dizzy, innards reeling, and she hates herself. Hates herself for not recognizing home, for not landing on her feet, for puking her guts up like some common cur in the street.

The shapeshifter hadn't warned her about any nausea – just that the rods would throb and she'd have a hell of a headache the next day. Which means that her own damn weakness brought her breakfast fountaining up her throat, just like her own damn weakness had gotten her involved in this assignment, and far deeper than the average commitment demanded.

It really had become something more.

That would be so much easier to believe if you weren't in handcuffs right now.

Olivia pushes his words away, swallows the acid stippling her throat.

"Agent Dunham," the older of the two officers says. His tone is all business, crisp with the obligatory respect and nothing more. "I trust your mission was a success?"

"And I trust your curiosity won't get the better of you," she counters, shoulders squaring. The agent's jaw tightens, but he doesn't rise to the bait. Olivia nods and steps past him, willing her knees not to buckle.

"Willis!" he barks as she moves past, so loud that she flinches. (It is then that she tastes resentment, bitter on her tongue.)

"Yes sir," the younger one rejoins, pulling himself to attention.

"Get the replacement ready. Our window's closing fast."

"Yes sir," Willis repeats, suddenly sounding like he's ready to throw up, too. Olivia turns, and the sight wrecks her.

Colonel Broyles – her Colonel Broyles, she can tell (from the tight black T-shirt, the ear cuff, the grim-lipped determination) – stretches in a charred line before her, eyes like glass and features carved out in death. His flesh, blackened with gunfire, is newly desecrated – she can see that by the wisps of smoke even now curling into the air. And the smell. How had she not noticed it before?

Olivia shoves back the rush of bile in her throat, determined not to show such weakness twice. As it is, she can't take her eyes off Broyles' smoldering remains.

"What happened?" she asks, once she's sure the nausea is past. Still, her voice roughs out, graveled with shock.

Agent Willis flicks his eyes up to hers and back down again. "Don't know," he mumbles, shooting a rod into Broyles' corpse's right palm.

"What do you mean, you don't know? That's Colonel Broyles. He's – "

"A traitor," Willis's superior booms, giving her a glare like marble.

Olivia returns it, eyes flashing even as another piece of her calves and crumbles.

One, her murder of the deaf man. Two,her unfaithfulness to Frank. Three, the loss of Peter's trust. And now four, Broyles' corpse lying dead at her feet.

How much more will she be expected to sacrifice for this mission? this preemptive strike against the enemy?

They aren't even trying to kill us, she screams silently, fists clenched. They're just trying to protect their world.

"Idiot!"

Willis flinches as his superior hauls him away from the body, where he was just about to inject the third harmonic rod.

"Didn't you hear Dr. Fayette say the body we sent back had to be exactly the same mass as Agent Dunham's?"

"Y-yes, Agent Hawking," Willis stumbles out.

"Does that body look like that one?" Hawking jams a finger in Olivia's direction.

"No."

"Then get to work. And hurry. We're already behind schedule."

"S-sir?"

"What?"

A pause. Willis, shaking, tips washed-out eyes up to his supervisor. "How?"

Hawking's contempt drills into the scrawny agent. Slowly, still sneering, he draws his gun, flicks off the safety, and fires.

Olivia's eyes slam shut.

Again, and again, he fires, systematically destroying what little remains of Broyles' body, not even watching as he does it. Olivia writhes inwardly, wishing the ground would swallow her up, take her down, away, forever. Anything to escape the stench of burning flesh, the guilt of gunfire in her ears. What will she tell Diane? and Christopher? And Lincoln and Charlie – do they know? Or is she only one left, the last to be let in on the joke?

Thirty seconds later, it's done. Over. Broyles' body, minus his left side, smokes quietly before them. Olivia's stomach heaves.

"Inject the third rod in his ribcage. It'll have to do." Hawking holsters his gun and stalks away, unfazed, already calling someone on his ear cuff. Willis swallows and crouches next to the body, injecting the final rod, and a few seconds later, it's gone.


She throws up again when she gets home, repeatedly, unable to ease the guilt of Broyles' body from her mind. And it is then, on her knees in the bathroom, with questions burning passage up her throat, that Olivia Dunham begins to hate Secretary Bishop.