When she returns from the alternate universe her head is spinning with the ideas, the facts, the possibilities. She has to talk to Walter, urgently. She has to talk to Broyles. They have to know. Everyone has to know. The peril they're facing, the opportunities that exist, the truth about the experiments and the reality behind the proposed warriors such as she herself is.
She doesn't remember driving back to the lab, her head full of the lists of facts, of must dos, of must not dos. She's been gone almost twenty four hours and she ought to have called in but it seemed important that it was Walter she spoke to first.
She enters the lab and Peter turns from his seat at the bench, his haunted expression giving way to anger.
"Olivia! Where the hell have you been? That bitch Nina has been giving us the run-around."
She's excited, she wants to tell him everything. "I went to the other universe," she says in delight, "I have so much to tell you."
Peter looks away and she knows that while he's not sharing her enthusiasm it isn't just because she was missing for a few hours. A cold chills wraps around her heart. She's only been gone a day, what can possibly have happened?
She stops her rambling and instead asks, "What's wrong?"
Peter shakes his head and steps forward and Olivia reaches out to steady herself on the bench. There's something in his eyes, his manner, that screams tragedy and she's shaking her head as if to ward it off whatever "it" is.
"Liv, something….something terrible happened."
Olivia glances around. Gene is in her stall, chewing quietly, but where is Walter? Where's Astrid?
"Walter," she begins but Peter shakes his own head briefly and touches her shoulder.
"There was a Pattern related event. Charlie took a team to check it out. Liv….there was an ambush. Three of the team were killed, Astrid said you didn't know them that well…there was another, slightly wounded, who called for backup…"
"Charlie?" Olivia whispers as he tails off. For a moment Peter is silent.
"Tell me," she demands, her voice shaky. The reality can't be any worse than what she's imagining.
"He's in critical condition. The doctors aren't hopeful." Peter spreads his hands as in surrender. "I'm sorry."
Olivia finds herself turning away as if she can hide from the situation. "No." What sick world has she come back to? Is this even the right dimension?
"Broyles is heading up the investigation into who did this, and Astrid took Walter out for ice cream. I stayed here in case you came back. We've been trying to look for you, Liv. I was worried sick. It was like you fell off the face of the earth!"
She knows he's angry and upset and she's sorry she's made him worry about her.
"I did," she says. "Of our Earth, anyway ." She closes her eyes tightly and gathers her federal agent persona around her like a protective cloak. Her voice is steadier when she opens her eyes and says, "I'm back now. I have to see Charlie."
"I know." Peter gestures to the door. "Let's go."
She pretends she doesn't hear him. It's easier if he isn't there, standing behind her chair, trying to comfort her because it makes her want to break down and cry. The alternative is to listen to the beep and hiss of machinery and that's difficult, but it doesn't threaten her composure; it is no more than she deserves, the noise a reminder of her guilt. Why should she be unscathed? Not even bruised, not like when John was hurt. Surely she should suffer too.
Peter puts his hand on her shoulder. The touch is harder to ignore, especially when he squeezes gently, his fingers pressing into her jacket. She can smell his musky scent, she can picture his features bunched in concern. "Liv."
She won't break. She's a federal agent, dammit, trained to be detached, skilled in compartmentalising, able to push aside personal concerns – at least, in theory. Blonde hair tied back in a practical ponytail, smart pants suit, low heels, gun holster, badge on her belt, minimal, natural looking cosmetics. She is the image of professionalism outwardly and no-one has to know that inwardly she's falling apart.
"I'm not leaving." She's proud that her voice doesn't shake. Her tone doesn't promise retribution if he argues, but at least she sounds determined.
"I wasn't going to ask you to." Peter releases her shoulder. He knows, she realises, how close she is to losing it, and he's doing what he can to help.
She swallows hard, touched at his gentleness, his understanding, his support. If she turns and looks into those blue eyes she'll start crying and she won't be able to stop. So she merely nods in acceptance.
"Can I get you anything? Sandwich? Coffee?"
She shakes her head, still refusing to look at him. "Not hungry."
Peter sighs. "You know this isn't your fault, right?"
Olivia bites her lower lip hard. She does know it; she's just having a hard time believing it. She can't help but wonder; what if she had been on the mission and not conversing with Bell? Might she have saved Charlie?
Peter comes to stand in front of her, crouches down in front of her so quickly she can't protest. She averts her gaze to the tiled floor before he can make eye contact.
"I know how much you care about him. I know this is difficult," he says.
"How?" she snaps before he can add anything further. "Who have you ever been close to? When has anyone you care about been hurt?"
She meets his gaze now, her anger stemming her grief. "You stopped running, and you shouldn't have. You should run, and run fast. Because every man I care about…" The anger is failing in the face of her torment and she's gasping for breath through the knot in her throat.
Peter's clearly hurt by her accusations of his flightiness, and by the idea that he should leave her now, that he should abandon the important work they're doing. He lets her see the hurt register on his handsome features for a moment before he pushes it aside. She remembers that he too knows how to compartmentalize, to play a role, to hide his feelings.
"This is different than with John Scott," he says, softly, perceiving the reasons behind her emotional turmoil. "I know that it might seem the same on the surface, that they're both your friends, your colleagues, and that you love them both."
Olivia nods, grateful he doesn't use the past tense even though it would be partially true.
"But John was your lover and he betrayed you." Peter stresses the betrayal, as if underlining it and circling it in red pen. "Charlie is your friend and he has never deceived you. If you want to blame a common factor, blame the Pattern. John was involved in it and he lost his life over it. Charlie was investigating a Pattern related incident when this happened." Peter shifts his weight, puts one hand on the back of the chair for extra balance, careful not to trap any of Olivia's hair beneath his fingers.
"Blame the pattern," Olivia repeats, watching his fingers grip the headrest. Fingers that play piano, fingers that could be holding her hand if she'd allow it. She gives a short, humourless laugh. "Then we should both run."
He shrugs. "You won't and Walter won't and I won't while you two are both up to your eyeballs in it."
Olivia sighs. "I learnt so much from Bell," she says softly. "I have so much to explain. And you're right. I won't run. It's up to us to stop this."
She gestures, shooing Peter out of the way. He gets to his feet, allows her to walk past him. She knows he watches as she takes one of Charlie's hands in hers and squeezes it gently.
"Do you think Walter could…?" She leaves the question unspoken. Peter knows what she wants to ask.
He shrugs. "We can ask him. The doctors wouldn't let us do anything until they got him stabilized. But you have to know that this isn't the same as other cases Walter has cured. It isn't an alien infection."
Olivia nods sadly. "Ironic, that he can fix the unimaginable but not the ordinary."
The situation seems hopeless but Olivia isn't quite ready to give up yet. Not after everything she's seen these past few months.
Astrid hadn't had an inkling when she reached for the phone that she'd be given bad news. She'd been typing up an apology for what Walter had done to the water feature recently installed on campus, while the genius himself was making a Dynamic Electron Resonancer – whatever the hell that was. It mostly involved copper wire, car batteries, lots of muttering, and a supply of jelly beans – sorted by colour and then grouped by flavour in a pattern understandable only to Walter.
She reached for the phone absentmindedly as she read her work back to herself, checking for grammar errors. "Astrid Farnsworth."
"Agent Farnsworth…there's been an incident."
Her first thought was "Olivia"; her second "Peter" even though he'd only gone out to get himself a coffee and pick up some more jelly beans for Walter. Broyles explained what had happened, at least as far as he knew. Astrid listened calmly. To her surprise her overriding emotional response was numbness. She told Broyles the things he wanted to hear from her and then hung up. She dialled Olivia's number again and again and again but the phone was switched off and she couldn't get through.
She glanced up at the onscreen text and found she couldn't comprehend a word of it. She stood and slowly went over to Walter's workstation.
"Jelly bean?" he offered. He pointed to a lurid yellow one. "These are lemon cheesecake."
She shook her head. "No thank you. Walter…"
"Did Olivia come back yet?"
"No." Astrid outlined the situation, wondering what Walter was thinking as she did so. When she'd finished, Walter nodded and pointed to another jelly bean. "This is strawberry, the last one from the jar. Strawberry is my favourite. You can have it," he said generously.
She knew he was trying to make her feel better and she forced a smile. "No thank you, Walter." She took a deep breath. "Look, will you promise not to disappear off for a while. I need to…" It was easier to tell the truth to Walter, generally speaking. He appreciated bluntness, especially about trivialities. "I'm just going to the bathroom."
Walter nodded. "I am working on my device," he said reasonably.
"Yes," Astrid said, knowing full well he'd been "working on the device" when she'd gone to lunch yesterday and yet when she came back it was to find two grim faced campus security guards waiting for her with a damp and excited Walter, wrapped in a towel, crowing about Archimedes and water fountains. "Please stay in the lab."
"Yes, yes," Walter said, already fiddling with the device again.
It was as close to a promise as she'd get out of him so it would have to do.
When she came back, carefully reapplied eye makeup and all, Walter was still working. She tried Olivia's phone again but to no avail.
"You know, just a tiny amount of plutonium would make this go much faster," Walter commented for the fourth time that day.
"No plutonium," Astrid responded automatically. She took up Gene's brush and busied herself grooming the cow, trying to keep her mind away from unpleasant thoughts. After thirty minutes Gene could win a prize at any county fair and Astrid went back to her desk. She didn't dare call Broyles; he'd call with an update as soon as he had one. There was still no way she could concentrate on work.
"Walter, would you like to go out for ice cream?" she asked impulsively.
He nodded, beaming. "We must leave Peter a note," he told her as he shrugged off his lab coat.
"Yes, we must," Astrid said dryly. "Thank you for reminding me."
Sarcasm was wasted on Walter.
Olivia is pacing the hospital corridor frantically when Walter and Astrid arrive. She tells Walter that there's a lot she needs to talk to him about, secrets Bell entrusted her with. That can wait though. He has to help Charlie. Has to.
Broyles has given up trying to order a debrief. He's probably thinking she'll be too distracted to focus anyway. He left a short while ago to question a suspect in the shooting.
She hasn't slept or eaten for hours now. She settles for poor quality coffee and a walk around the parking lot in the light rain.
When she returns, Walter and Peter are shouting and Astrid is doing her best to restrain a burly orderly and prevent him from removing them from the hospital.
"Hey!" Olivia snaps, automatically flicking her jacket aside to display her badge, one hand resting on her gun. "What's going on here?"
Astrid gestures hopelessly. "They're arguing."
"I can see that. Peter! Walter! Calm down," Olivia orders.
Eventually everyone is silent and the orderly leaves them alone. Walter explains the reason for the argument.
"Cryogenics?" Olivia says distantly.
"Not exactly," Walter tells her.
"Close enough," Peter snaps.
Olivia holds out a hand and they are both silent again. "Tell me why?"
"Because he will not survive much longer," Walter says bluntly. "And if we put him into a state of suspended animation we can keep him alive indefinitely."
Peter snorts. "Tell her the downside."
"The indefinitely part will be well, indefinite," Walter tells her. "I know how to induce it but not yet how to successfully reverse the process. And the injuries will still need repairing before we could even attempt to revive him."
Olivia tips her head and Peter is horrified. "You're not seriously considering this?"
"Bell said you have developed technologies you don't remember," she says softly. "Including some with medical applications. I can help you remember, Walter, and we can fix Charlie, and then perhaps Bell can work with us to develop a technique to reverse the suspended animation."
Peter throws his hands in the air. "You are officially insane."
"I am not going to let him die," Olivia snaps. "Not when there is a chance, however small, that he can be saved."
"He's in a coma, Olivia. He's not going anywhere. Don't do this." Peter gestures to Astrid. "Help me out here."
Astrid looks to him apologetically. "Walter's tests said that the brain function will cease within twenty four hours," she said. "If those tests are accurate, I say we take the chance."
"Those tests are unproven," Peter retorts.
"So are most of the experiments we carry out every day," Walter grumbles. "I don't see how this is any different to letting me drill into someone's brain."
Olivia looks started. "Will there be drilling?"
"No, no, bad example. A careful cocktail of chemicals will do the trick – and we'll need a perfectly controlled environment to maintain the stasis. Temperature, humidity, light –"
Olivia has her phone in her hand. "Like an environment Massive Dynamic could provide?"
"Yes, let's stir up those murky waters some more," Peter says.
"What chemicals do you need?" Astrid asks, determined.
Peter grabs Olivia's hand. "One thing."
"You have to talk to Charlie's wife. This should be her decision."
He's right and she's shocked that she could forget about Sonia so quickly. Sonia has been allowed to see her husband briefly but for various reasons including the security issues, she's been kept away from the ICU for the most part.
Olivia nods contritely and tugs her hand from his.
"I can do it," Peter offers softly. "I won't candy coat it, but I won't exaggerate the risks either. I'll tell her as much as I can without completely breaching the confidentially agreements I signed. And if she agrees, then I won't protest anymore. I'll help."
"Agent Dunham," Nina Sharp says.
Olivia, sitting outside the small, sealed room, nods in greeting.
"He's stable," Nina tells her. "Just like yesterday. And last week. And the Friday before that."
"You said I could visit," Olivia says.
"Yes, I did." Nina stands alongside the agent and follows her gaze. "I didn't expect it to be such a regular occurrence. Anyone would think you didn't trust us."
With a big fake smile, Olivia gets to her feet. "It's not that at all. I just have to see for myself. Federal agents are paranoid like that."
"And has Walter made any progress on the healing device he retrieved from Lower Mystic Lake?"
Olivia shrugs, unwilling to give too much away. "Some. Other cases keep getting in the way."
"We could assist," Nina offers benevolently.
"Walter won't let anyone else touch the device," Olivia tells her. "But thank you for the offer."
She glances once more at the comatose Charlie and silently bids him goodbye.
"See you again tomorrow?" Nina says.
"Unless something else comes up."
It's not an ideal arrangement but it will do for now.
The device will be fixed soon, Walter keeps telling her, and once Charlie's injuries are healed, then they can work on reversing the suspended animation.
It's not hopeless, Olivia tells herself as she steps out into the cool air, so long as they have hope.