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Bridge Variations: Evolution

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During the relatively brief time he was gone, Liberty Island had been transformed from a research installation to a military outpost. Lincoln's Show Me is checked about twelve times between the ferry and the door to the bridge room, fingerprints and retinal scan at the last. Precautions, obviously, against the possibility of an invasion from the other side. Not foolproof when the alternates wear their faces (and fingerprints? Retinal patterns? He'll have to check on that), but then again, Secretary Bishop isn't going to be arranging memory transplants any time soon.

He'd insisted on being the first one through the doorway back to his universe, not only because he'd needed to make a report, but because he'd wanted to be the first one through to make sure it really was safe. He'd believed Olivia about the doors, but the team's safety was his responsibility. When he stepped through (and back again, testing) without incident, he'd seen that Charlie's guys had scattered as ordered, their jobs done.

It'd been full dark when they'd gotten to Liberty on his side, and well before dawn when he crossed back. It was afternoon before all the meetings were arranged and edging toward dusk again by the time he's finally stepping back into the island complex.

In that time they'd set up a barracks, and he sees some of the techs who'd been inside the bridge room crashed out here. Fayette's here, too, huddled into a ball in a corner. Lincoln has a quiet word with the lieutenant in charge to make sure the scientist doesn't decide to pull a runner. Considering there are at least two people in the bridge room who want a piece of him, he wouldn't put it past Fayette to try to flee.

Lincoln takes a quick headcount as he crosses over the threshold. It's quieter now, although the constant drone of the machine makes that relative. Broyles is nowhere to be seen, probably dealing with his own bureaucracy...only their side is less militarized, so he'd guess it's taking longer to move through channels.

Liv strolls up, like she's been waiting for him. "Hey, boss. I'm heading out before anyone remembers I'm supposed to be arrested. Nothing more I can do here except annoy *her*," she points a thumb back at Olivia, "and that's getting old quick." She doesn't quite meet his eyes.

"Sure. Call your mom," he says, and pauses, not sure why he'd added that.

Liv sighs. "Yeah, it's been like five seconds, she'll be worried."

"Liberty's been on the news, and she knows you're likely to be in the middle of anything weird," Lincoln retorts, and that sounds about right.

"Yeah, okay. Be back after I get some sleep," she says and heads off, seeming a little subdued. Probably just tired, and no wonder.

He grits his teeth a little and corrals Secretary Bishop for a quick, formal report. Like it or not, Bishop is still the Secretary of Defense and ultimately the head of Fringe Division. The NSC was willing to leave him to do his work here, but they're going to be demanding regular updates and that means Lincoln needs to put on his professional face. They haven't made much progress yet; the Secretary tells him with a sour expression (as far as Lincoln knows, his only expression) that they're still collating data.

"Maybe you can get a fresh start in the morning, sir," Lincoln says as tactfully as he can, and the Secretary glares before admitting that yes, he probably could use some sleep. There's some arrangements to be made with the facilities and such and Lincoln promises to see to it (actually, he's the boss, he can assign Charlie to that) before Bishop stalks off to a cot on the far side of the room. It's clear that he doesn't trust his alternate, and considering the stakes Lincoln would bet neither of them is willing to let the machine out of sight.

Olivia is talking to the other Dr. Bishop, evidently trying to convince him to take a break as well, and she smiles at Lincoln over Bishop's shoulder. He almost heads over and then swerves to intercept Charlie, who greets him and oh, he has *coffee.* He gulps at the offered mug's contents greedily and notes that Charlie is maintaining a death-grip on his own cup.

He fills Charlie in and they compare notes for a bit. Charlie's looking understandably beat but game to take on the facilitator's role. "Tomorrow," Lincoln says. "Go home, get some sleep."

Charlie fidgets a little, oddly. "Hey, you know, I was talking to Olivia. It's obvious she misses her Charlie, we were comparing notes. ...get this, they cured him."

"What-- you mean the worms?"

Charlie's so distracted he doesn't even bother with the autocorrect. "Yeah. Their Dr. Bishop figured out how to poison them without killing him."

Oh. *Oh.* Lincoln had already half-dismissed the other side's technological advancement as inferior to his world's, but this.... "Can they cure you?"

"Dunno. Dr. Bishop looked like he wanted to take some blood and give it a try, but...the Secretary is right, they have more important things to do."

Lincoln wants to go over and shake him but it's true, Charlie knows it, and it's just...massively unfair. It's the difference, he sees now, between the two men: the Secretary gave up most of his active research to handle Fringe events on a grand scale. The other Bishop...Lincoln doesn't know the whole story, but he's still dealing with small incursions, one at a time, and that evidently gave him the luxury to focus on their Charlie Francis's case.

"Oh, man. Charlie, maybe they'll be time-- maybe we can--"

But Charlie's small, wry smile is resigned and it makes Lincoln want to cry, hug him, something. "Nah. They'll fix things, room will close, it's-- it's okay, buddy."

It's not by any stretch but they can't do a damn thing-- oh, they are both stupid. "Shut up. --no, shut up, come with me."

He leads Charlie over to where the two Farnsworths are still working and catches Astrid's eye. She excuses herself, her "twin" never batting an eye, and she steps around to them, looking inquisitive.

"Astrid, you've been working with Dr. Bishop all along, right?"

She tilts her head at them, adorably. "Well, for three years. If by 'working with' you mean 'cleaning up after.'"

"Okay, but-- you remember a case when your Agent Francis was infected with bugs? A kind of hybrid larvae?"

"Oh, sure." Her tone is casual but the shudder, unmistakable.

"Can we get any notes from that case? Research? Information on whatever Dr. Bishop used to cure him?"

She's quick and turns to Charlie with a concerned look. "You were infected too? But-- in our world, the infection killed, it wasn't...anything anyone could live with."

"Medtechs figured out how to slow them down, but not get them out," Charlie says, and Lincoln can tell he's trying not to hope too hard. "Daily injections keep them at bay. But if there's...any chance, I'd like to try it."

"Of course! I'll just need to clear it with Agent Broyles when he gets back, but I can get all of that for you." She sounds eager but there's weariness around her eyes.

Lincoln figures he needs to step in and be the boss. He's not her commander, but he'll have to do in a pinch. "It's late, go get some sleep. Agent Farnsworth!" Lincoln raises his voice a little to catch the mentat's attention. "Off-duty, now."

Astrid tilts her head again, and this time it's a question. "We have to tell her to knock off, otherwise she'll keep going 'til she drops."

She nods, then covers a yawn with a delicate hand. "Oh, excuse me. I *am* tired. And we're going to need a lot more data before we can make any headway."

"I don't think any of us thought we could fix the world in a day," he tells her with a smile, and she responds in kind. He can see already why she's a good Fringe agent; she has the same kind of unshakeable equilibrium as her counterpart, but far more empathy.

She heads off, swinging around to have a quick word with Olivia before she crosses through the doorway to her own world at nearly the same time as her alternate goes through the other. Lincoln guesses that he'll be seeing a lot of that kind of parallel in the days to come.

He turns to see Charlie giving him a look that...he's seen that expression before, but only in his apartment, and Charlie's voice is low. "No broom closet in here."

What-- oh. Lincoln grins. "Rain check." And the way his brain works, that reminds him of the other topic at hand. "If you can spare a minute before you crash...I needed to talk to you about Liv."

"Lincoln..." Charlie sighs, long and pained. "Look, you know I love her too, right? But Liv...Liv is a bitch."

The words are so startling he can't say a damn thing in reply.

Charlie swipes a hand across his face like he's uneasy, but his tone is resolute. "She's got you on a string and she knows it. She and I, well, that's been going on a long time and we both know what it is and what it ain't. But you--you've been carrying a torch for her since you met. And she knows that and teases you anyway, and I'm not just talking about the sex. It was only a matter of time before she and Frank decided to tie the knot, and buddy...you deserve better than to be her back-up guy."

From Charlie it's practically a speech, and clearly a prepared one. As unexpected as it is, Charlie's words confirm what he's been feeling and that more than anything convinces Lincoln of what he needs to do.

"Believe it or not," he says slowly, "I was actually thinking along those lines myself. I should...talk to her."

And weirdly, Charlie suddenly looks...embarrassed? Guilty? "Don't shoot me. I kinda did already."

"...what?"

"Yeah. I saw your face, Linc, when she talked about Frank. She hasn't played fair with you at all. I've known her a long time and I figured, better that she's mad at me than you. So while you were gone, I told her she has to knock it off with you. And me too," he adds, like it's some kind of mutual pact, though Charlie probably has his own reasons.

That probably explained why Liv didn't look at him when she headed out. It's a huge presumption on Charlie's part, totally out of bounds, and yet...somehow it feels like a huge relief. "How'd... how'd she take that?"

Charlie blows out a breath. "Not great, but ya know, Liv's *Liv.* She'll get over it."

He'd been thinking about how his world might change but he hadn't been prepared for it, not really. "Guess I need to brush up on dating protocols, huh."

Charlie snorts disbelief at him. "Like you ever had any trouble with that. Bat those pretty eyes and you're set."

Lincoln pauses, bites his lip a little. "So, uh, you can just...buy me lunch sometime instead? On that rain check?"

"Oh, hell no." Charlie looks positively jovial. Anticipatory, even. "I pay my debts. After that, I guess...maybe it's best if we called it, too. Not that I don't enjoy molesting your carcass, but I never saw us setting up with a white picket fence, you know? ...Even if either of us survives long enough to retire, and I'm not taking bets."

It's too much, really, for one night. "Are you *dumping* me?"

Charlie peers into his face like he's looking to see if Lincoln is serious and dammit, he just can't hold a straight face. Lincoln starts wheezing, trying to hold in laughter, as Charlie rolls his eyes. "Oh, screw you, *sir*."

"One more time, at least," Lincoln murmurs, and Charlie lets out a short bark of a laugh. "So you've been thinking about the white picket fence life? With Mona, maybe?"

"It really was just tea," Charlie protests, but then adds a little sheepishly, "But yeah, it's hard enough finding someone who isn't scared off by the bugs, I should maybe try to give it a shot."

"You really should," Lincoln says, and he means it; despite Charlie's certainty about their probable life spans, it's always been Lincoln's intent that they all make it out alive. Especially now, with the resources of two worlds working on the problem, surviving their jobs has started to seem like an actual possibility.

"Yeah, all right. I'm outta here." He starts to go, pauses, turns back. "You should talk to Olivia."

Lincoln looks at him but Charlie has a damn good poker face. "Uh, sure, why?"

"No reason. General principles. Get to know the new neighbors." There's a sly mischief hidden behind that guileless expression, he's pretty sure.

"She's not Liv," Lincoln says, very softly.

"Yeah, she's not. She's-- you'll see." Charlie gives him a half-salute, waves to Olivia across the room, and vanishes through the door.

Lincoln stares down at the dregs of coffee in his cup. Now that he has a minute to process...it does sting, more than a little. He's losing his two lovers, and he's going to miss their nights together terribly. But it's probably past time for their arrangement to come to an end and to get on with their lives. They've been an easy stopgap, a reliable comfort, but they all need to move on. It's time, basically, for all of them to grow up.

All that reasonableness sounds great in his head. The fact that it still hurts to think about Liv means it's not that easy to cut ties, and he wouldn't have expected it to be. He hasn't...been in love with anyone else for a long time. He can't imagine what it would feel like, not to love her, and suspects he'll never really know.

The room has gotten so quiet, it takes longer than it should for him to remember that he's not standing in a vacuum. Lincoln looks around and realizes that aside from the sleeping Bishops, he's been left alone with Olivia.

He's always suspected, but now he knows for sure: Fate hates him.