It started on her birthday. There was an envelope on her desk with a huge asterisk drawn on it. There was no need to wonder who it was from, but a lumpy, sealed envelope from Walter might be anything. She resisted the temptation to run it through a battery of tests before opening it, and found inside a lovely hand-made card from Walter. Glue and glitter abounded. Astrid smiled at the effort and the sweetness of it.
When she opened it, there were included index card coupons for things like getting out of an alien autopsy (and what did it say about her life that there were two of those), a day to explore the science museum, another for the MFA, and one for a Root Beer Float made from Ice Gene (Gene gave so much milk that Walter often soothed himself with dairy based hobbies. The ice cream was actually pretty good, and Astrid knew it was fresh.).
There were also three cigarettes inside that Astrid was pretty positive involved neither tobacco nor cloves. When she looked at them closely under her desk light, she could see the name of the strain written on the rolling papers in the neat handwriting Walter used when he was concentrating. The fattest of them was marked Brown Betty.
Lastly, there was a note.
The one marked Girl Friday has a cognac and chocolate note to it. Goddess is cut with Blue lotus flower to enhance the euphoria. And you already have seen the wondrous effects of Brown Betty. Allow me to suggest music, especially the kind of jazz called be-bop, with that one to enhance your experience.
You have done so much to make my life infinitely happier. I hope these small experiences will make the next year better.
Your Friend Always,
Astrid debated about accepting the joints. She was, after all, still an FBI agent, even if this assignment was nothing like the life she'd expected from attending the academy. It was Broyles, of all people, who convinced her that life was too short not to accept such a heartfelt gift. All he asked, with a sly grin, was that she let him know if she intended to partake on a particular evening so he could make sure she wasn't disturbed.
That evening when she dropped Walter at home, she thanked him profusely. He smiled, shyly, and kissed her cheek before slamming the front door in her face. Somehow, all she could do was smile, because the contrast was so Walter.
There were so many little moments. Walter shared his enthusiasm -- even for revolting things -- so easily, that it took Astrid a little while to realize how much more he shared with her. The quiet moments of fear for Peter, for Olivia, for Broyles, and for her -- their souls and minds as much as their bodies -- were something he dared not share with anyone but her. Sometimes her sympathy was wordless, and she found herself turning to him for emotional support sometimes, too -- an idea she might have laughed at when she first met him.
There were treats. The coupons had given them things to do together. Peter occasionally called her to Walter sit, and they went through DVDs like water. The movies from the seventeen years he was at Saint Clare's were poignant. Walter with his wide range of ideas and interests applied analytic anthropology and sociology even to the lightest of comedies and the weirdest horror movies to come up with answers to his questions about how the world had changed without his participation.
Astrid wasn't a fool. She saw how like Walternate this Walter could be -- the mix of arrogance and fascination with the unusual was common to both men -- but his humanity, whether it was the product of the brain damage inflicted on him by Bell or the fact that he had Peter around him longer drew her closer to him. More than anything, she felt protective toward their odd little family even as she wondered who held which role.
Walter offered her the last of his Red Vines and the first choice of lamb chop (though Astrid was seriously considering going vegetarian the longer she worked with Fringe Division) when she came to dinner. He treated her like a queen and an equal, even as he instructed her like a flunky.
And one day, it finally occurred to her that Walter was courting her.
The next time Peter saw her he said, "He's odd. There's no one stranger, but he cares for you very deeply."
"How did you…?"
"I've been waiting until you figured it out. There are very few people who can hurt Walter. I can. Have. Probably will again, because that's the nature of fathers and sons. Broyles really can't hurt him at all. Olivia will listen to him, but can't forget what he's capable of doing -- what he actually did to her. So really, you're the only one now who can hurt him." His brows drew together, and he finished, "Please don't… But don't let him hurt you either. You're too nice a person for that."
Astrid smiled at Peter. "Walter just needs a friend. I can be that."
"I think he wants more. But it's between you two. Just… keep being who you are."
She gave a small laugh. "The person who milks Gene?"
"The person who keeps us all in touch with our humanity." Peter grinned at her as he chased after an exiting Olivia and Walter.
Several nights later, after the current crisis had been resolved -- and Astrid was so thankful that this was just random weirdness, not something to do with the other universe -- Walter stopped her on her way out the door.
"Astro! I just…"
"Have you been self-medicating again?" Her smile was genuine in spite of the question.
"Of course. This new strain doesn't have quite the cognitive stimulatory properties of Brown Betty, but once I refine the next generation, it should have a very definite …" He slowed himself down with a wry smile. "But never mind that now. I was wondering if perhaps… Would you come to the theater with me? I miss live theater and I find musicals to be very soothing to the soul even as they stimulate the body. Harvard is doing The Mikado this weekend."
Astrid looked at him, and tried to see all the ramifications and probabilities of the three possible answers. Ultimately, she tossed them all aside. Walter was happiest when he was with her, and she realized she was happiest with him. "I'd love to, Walter. I don't think I've ever seen it."