At 3:15 a.m., time seems to slow to a crawl.
Lincoln tries not to look toward the window every ten seconds but finds himself failing miserably. It's clear that Olivia's not coming; she's nothing if not prompt.
The waitress's "Refresh that for you, hon?" has started to sound pitying and that's his cue to get out of here before he's further humiliated. Except--
Odds are, he's got no reason to be. Lincoln remembers the line of pain that creased Olivia's forehead with an impending migraine during the case, and he knows she would have called if she could. Lincoln's only had one migraine in his life, when he was in college and down sick with some kind of horrible 48-hour bug, and during that time he hadn't been able to do anything but lie in a dark room and sob with the pain.
So if that's why Olivia hasn't showed, the last thing she probably wants is a knock on her door at--Lincoln checks his watch--3:24 a.m. in the morning. Given all the coffee he's drunk, there's no way he's getting much sleep tonight, but he can worry about her in his crappy hotel just as well as here.
But as soon as he gets in the car, for no reason he can think of, he drives over to the house Peter's staying in.
Well, there might be reason. The thing with the glasses--he's still trying to parse that. They were his prescription, which meant Peter had hacked some database somewhere. A lot of effort to...what? It was just such a—Lincoln smiles to himself as the word occurs—queer gesture, both in the sense of "odd" and the other. Robert, as close as they'd been, would never have had such a thought. Julie would never have presumed either, for that matter, even though she'd bought him work shirts when she did the shopping for Robert. If that had been Peter's version of flirting, it wasn't any kind Lincoln was accustomed to, thoughtful and intimate at the same time.
Or maybe it'd been Peter's weird way of playing matchmaker, distancing himself from an Olivia who wasn't his by trying to set Lincoln up with her? Had he been tacitly giving Lincoln his blessing? Peter had obviously picked up on Lincoln's interest in her, but even so...it was a strange gesture, on so many levels.
And yet, he's wearing the new glasses tonight.
The living room light of the house is still on when he drives up. Lincoln parks and walks over to the "unobtrusive" black sedan in front to check in with the agent on guard. The guy reports that all's quiet, but that every time he looks in Peter's still sitting in a chair, staring at drawings.
And, well. He's here. Lincoln takes his own quick look in the window, and then knocks. The door opens and he shrugs. "I figured if you're still up and I'm still up, we might as well...."
"Be up together?" Peter suggests, and waves him in.
The boards are covered with even more pages than before, schematics and formulas and esoteric diagrams. "Having any luck with this stuff?"
"Not even a little. I really need Walter's help." Peter disappears into the kitchen and comes back with two bottles of beer. "Here. I'd managed to keep myself from drinking alone, so thanks for the excuse."
"Cheers." Lincoln takes a long swallow before he remembers that he drove here, but as long as he sticks to just the one he'll be all right. "I can try to talk to him, if you want. I don't know him as well as Olivia does, but...."
Peter shrugs. "You can try. But I know Walter. He's not gonna do anything he doesn't want to before he's good and ready. And I'm afraid I'm just too much of a shock to his system."
"You always call your father 'Walter'?"
"Habit." Peter gives him a wry smile. "A lot of bad history. When I got drafted into Fringe Division, it seemed to be the most neutral option."
There's definitely a story there. "What do you mean, 'drafted'?"
Peter eyes him for a second, then motions for Lincoln to grab a seat. "Sure, why not. It's pretty funny, in retrospect."
And it is: Peter recounts how Olivia flew all the way to Bagdad so she could blackmail him into signing Dr. Bishop out of the institution. Peter's amusement at being bluffed is evident, and so is the love in his voice when he talks about Olivia. Or rather an Olivia in some other universe, apparently a lot like the one Lincoln knows. It'd be too much to absorb if he hadn't already met another Olivia, the redheaded one who'd checked him out with barely veiled hilarity in her eyes.
But Peter's Olivia sounds a lot like the Olivia who's Lincoln's partner, and that makes him wonder about the rest of Peter's world. "So you'd met me before too? I mean, in your universe?"
Peter smiles. "I did. We worked a case together. Got along well."
"What was I like?" He's seen the video images of the other side's Lincoln Lee, although he still can't quite imagine how he might have evolved so differently.
"Pretty much the same," Peter is saying, and Lincoln doesn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved. "'You' were an analyst, not a field agent. Didn't have a partner. Otherwise...."
Lincoln nods, trying to picture it. It's not that difficult, really. He'd been pushed toward the analytical branch throughout his career, winning the chance to go out into the field only through perseverance and constant training. Robert had gone to bat for him as well, citing his need for a partner who could balance his impulsiveness with cool reason.
It hurts to think about Robert, but...less, now. There's still a need for vengeance that won't be filled until they find the shapeshifters and figure out their agenda, but Lincoln knows it won't be any less satisfying for the interval.
He's still thinking about Peter's comment, too. He takes another swallow of beer, realizing that somewhere along the line he'd moved on to a second bottle, and that this one's nearly tapped out. Between the alcohol and the hour discretion is pretty much out of the question, at this point. "So by 'got along' you mean...."
"If things hadn't gone to shit right after that case, I would have recommended to Broyles that he poach you for the Fringe team." Peter sighs, a faint pensive smile on his lips. "And it's late and you asked, so yeah, if I hadn't been--wasn't--completely in love with Olivia, I would've asked you out for a drink after that. And brought you back here if you'd been amenable."
Like Peter said, it's late, which is the only thing that excuses the inevitable follow-up. "And-- and now?"
Peter's smile turns gentle. "I'm still in love with Olivia."
Lincoln feels like punching himself in the face, but Peter goes on without seeming to have taken offense. "Out of sight, out of mind doesn't apply, even in other universes. I need to believe she's out there, looking for me."
"I'm sure she is," he offers lamely. It's-- it's really sad, if he stops to think about it, which is probably a really bad idea given the hour and the alcohol.
Peter says abruptly, "You're still living out of a hotel?"
"You can move in here, if you want. Plenty of room. And it doesn't look like Walter's gonna be reclaiming his property any time soon."
Presumptuous, maybe, for more than one reason. But tempting. Peter adds, "You can tell Broyles you'll keep an eye on me. Free up an agent from babysitting duty. Tim's pretty sick of me already and I can't say the feeling's not mutual, and the guy sitting out there tonight's not interested in conversation. I tried."
Lincoln looks at the remnants of his second beer. "Let me think about it when I'm sober, all right?"
"Sure." Peter rubs at his eyes. "Okay, I'm done. Gonna try to catch some sleep before there's another event. Couch is yours if you want it." He waves a casual hand good night and heads up the stairs.
The couch isn't so bad, really. And there's probably another bedroom upstairs if he decides to take Peter up on the offer. He'll need to reexamine the idea by daylight but right now, the booze and the coffee have reached détente and Lincoln feels that sleep is, in fact, an excellent idea.
In the morning Lincoln manages to scrape himself off the couch and get himself out the door and over to his hotel, which hasn't become any less crappy overnight. A shower, a change of clothes, and an egg McFood Substitute later and he's ready to crawl into work, feeling almost human. But the lack of sleep is going to catch up with him soon, he can tell. Another reason to either find an apartment of his own or take Peter's suggestion seriously.
He gets to the Federal Building before Olivia, which is a little surprising. There isn't actually that much to do: checking to see if there's been any sighting of the shapeshifter, scanning law enforcement reports for anomalous might-be-Fringe-events. Almost normal analysis work, except for the subject matter.
Still, Lincoln's probably more relieved than he's entitled to be, when Olivia walks in. He'd determined not check up on her until a reasonable time had passed, or to mention last night at all. She looks tired, like he's sure he does, but reasonably alert.
Olivia doesn't leave him hanging, either. She comes right over to his desk, looking apologetic. "Listen, I didn't mean to-- I blacked out from a migraine. Woke up on the floor a couple of hours ago."
He stares at her. "That's awful. Are-- you all right now? Can I drive you to the emergency room?" He's imagining terrible things, a brain tumor, he can't stop. The thought of her lying there....
Olivia shakes her head. "I've got a doctor's appointment later for a once-over, but it's not the first time that's happened. And I feel fine now. A headache, but a regular one." She smiles wanly at him, her eyes sincere and direct. "Let me make it up to you?"
"Nothing to make up," he says, meaning it. "But, uh, maybe early rather than late next time?"
She ducks her head, nodding. "That's...probably a good idea. So, uh...anything I need to catch up on?"
There really isn't but he fills her in anyway, and the rest of the morning is paperwork and procedural memos and not too many glances over to where she's frowning at the computer screen through her own glasses.
Shortly before lunch--he'd been contemplating asking if she wanted to grab something, mulling far too long over a simple question--Olivia sighs and stands up. "Time to go get my head examined." They both smile and Olivia wrinkles her nose. "I've got an MRI scheduled. So boring."
"It's got a good beat, but you can't dance to it," he offers, an old joke, but Olivia laughs anyway. In that moment, Lincoln Lee knows two things: one, that he'd do or say nearly anything to hear that sound again; and two, he is smitten. In the old-fashioned, head-over-heels sense of the word.
He watches as she straightens her desk and puts on her coat. She nods to him and turns to go, then pauses and looks back.
And Olivia says, "I like the new glasses."
Lincoln does move into the old house, of course.
He and Peter quickly become friends, which seems improbable on the face of it, but ends up being the easiest thing in the world. It shouldn't work: they're both in love with the same woman. Only Peter keep insisting that they're not, and the way he treats Olivia--like a cherished colleague, more than anything--makes Lincoln believe it. And there's still...
...there's still something between Peter and him, or something that might have been between them, if not for Olivia. It hits Lincoln far too late that Peter reminds him of Robert with all his snarky commentary, but Peter is perceptive where Robert was oblivious and they're both careful not to push the mostly veiled attraction too far out into the open.
Lincoln and Olivia go jogging. They both like the early morning run, before people are up and about, when the day seems to belong to them alone. The first time isn't a make-up for the diner, because nothing was promised, and subsequent outings are not quite dates, because...well, just because.
They don't talk much, saving their breath for the exercise, but they don't need to. Olivia had told him that the MRI was clear, along with her blood work, and that there really wasn't anything more to do except deal with the migraines. Lincoln tried to make her promise to call him if she felt one coming on--a courtesy and a safeguard, reminding her that partners look out for each other. He wasn't sure she would actually take him up on it, but his concern is out there, at least.
Lincoln finds a great greasy spoon at the end of the route and while it doesn't exactly become a ritual for them to stop and get breakfast there, it's not an uncommon event either. The coffee's particularly good, the bagels as respectable as can be found outside of New York, and the atmosphere's...clean, at least.
There are guidelines about seeing your fellow agents in the FBI socially--as in, they're advised not to do it--but Lincoln's already realized that Fringe Division makes its own rules. Even Agent Broyles, who sees everything, seems to turn a blind eye as long as nothing impacts his agents' efficiency.
After reading the backlog of Fringe case files, Lincoln can't imagine anything that could impact Olivia Dunham's efficiency.
And then there's the case with the giant mutant spitting cockroaches, which Lincoln really would rather have done without. According to the files, cases involving oversized bugs (and germs, and other horrific abominations) aren't really that uncommon for this division, but considering his first official Fringe case had included a sentient fungus, Lincoln had been hoping the worst of the gross was behind him. No luck, apparently.
Finally they catch up with the whacko scientist responsible and toss him safely behind bars. Lincoln would have wagered there wasn't enough soap in the world, but after a couple of scalding showers he finally feels clean again, the reports are written, and the case is successfully closed.
And Olivia says, "I'm buying."
Lincoln and Peter watch movies, a lot of movies. A few first-runs, mostly science fiction or superhero stuff. (Olivia declines the invitations to join them. "Our lives aren't science fiction enough?") Usually it's a pile of rental DVDs and a pile of assorted takeout and a lot of shouting at the screen.
They catch up on X-Men: First Class, commenting freely on the absurdities and then on Fassbender's and McAvoy's brilliant portrayals, and when it's over Peter shakes his head. "That was gayer than any gay porn I've ever seen."
Lincoln grins. "So you've seen a lot to compare?"
Peter grins right back. "Worked as a lighting-and-camera guy for an adult film company for awhile. I didn't like the way they treated the actors, so I left after about a month and a half."
That leads to a discussion of all the odd jobs Peter's held, firefighter and pilot and professor and telephone line rigger and an absurd assortment of other work. Peter does most of the talking during their conversations, and that's all right by Lincoln; Peter's life has been much more interesting, by his reckoning.
And then there's the case with "Nadine Park," although they never learn if that's her real name. Thanks to Peter's expert hacking ability they track the shapeshifter down, but she throws herself into an industrial incinerator before they can capture her. No body, no memory disc to retrieve, another (literally) dead end.
And Olivia says, "There's a street fair this weekend, want to go?"
Broyles arranges for another bridge meeting so that the two Fringe teams can confer about the shapeshifters and other matters. Olivia's not entirely sure she trusts the other side, she confides to Lincoln, considering they haven't provided any useful intel on the human shapeshifters. But it's still the best option they've got.
For convenience of reference among themselves, other-Olivia is "Liv" and other-Lincoln is "Lee." Other-Astrid is "Farnsworth," Charlie is just Charlie, and none of them mention Secretary Bishop if they can help it.
Olivia, Lincoln, and Astrid make the trip to New York. Peter declines an invitation, saying that he's already spent too much time with them for his liking. Lincoln gets the feeling there's something or someone specific he's avoiding, but Peter doesn't seem inclined to share.
They meet Liv, Charlie, and Captain Lee in the room between universes, and right away Lincoln can see their dynamics in play: the other side's team works like a slick machine, finishing each others' sentences and...heedless of personal space between them. Lincoln's heard that Francis is married and Liv is engaged, but he wonders if they know that.
Olivia and Liv clash at every conceivable moment, but Olivia's professional with Lee and warm toward Charlie. He's nearly identical to the friend she'd lost, Lincoln has gathered, so that's not unexpected. Astrid is, as usual, friendly toward everyone and they respond in kind, perhaps a little surprised by her smiles and laughter when their own Farnsworth is so very different.
Lincoln takes his time gathering his own impressions as the meeting progresses. In the end they don't have very much of use to share with each other, but he's still grateful for the chance to have met these mirror-double people. Liv is...very different from Olivia, except when she's talking about a case, and then she's almost the same. Lincoln's not sure he likes her very much, but acknowledges that's probably Olivia's bias influencing his judgment. He does like Charlie Francis quite a lot, recognizing the sharp mind behind the casual, crude exterior.
As for Lee, Lincoln's alternate is funny and charismatic and...
Oh, hell. Ridiculously hot. Lincoln's never thought of himself that way; he's never seen that kind of attractiveness in his mirror. (Maybe no one does, in regard to themselves, unless there's a bulletproof ego involved. But there are fundamental differences in this case.)
He does...check, when he gets home, door safely closed. Unlike his father, Peter has appropriate regard for personal space and won't barge in. Lincoln scrounges around for an old t-shirt, takes the glasses off, musses his hair--feeling ridiculous the whole time--and looks again.
...no. The similarity is there, obviously, features and bone structure and all. It's more than that, a question of bearing and attitude and confidence. Lincoln's never thought of himself as lacking in confidence, but he doesn't have that essential...cool.
His alternate is cool and that's all there is to it.
That's all right. Given the state of Captain Lee's world, Lincoln considers the tradeoff worth the cost.
And then there's a strange long stretch without a Fringe case, and they find themselves getting twitchy, the exact opposite of a normal response. Some of them start manifesting stress behaviors: Astrid bakes constantly, Walter's side experiments get increasingly bizarre, and Peter tears apart and rebuilds every electronic thing he can get his hands on.
Olivia and Lincoln agree that they are perfectly content with the hiatus, and it's not like they're idle; there are always other cases that need attention, and lending a hand on mundane assignments lets them pretend they're ordinary agents for awhile. They even have time for real meals, at something approximating normal people's schedules.
And Olivia says, "I'm a terrible cook. But I'll give it a shot if you want to come over."
Lincoln would have thought that two adults with above-average reading comprehension skills could manage to follow a recipe without making a mess of things but no, Olivia's kitchen looks like a bomb of flour and water hit it by the time they're done. In the end they agree that biscuits were probably the advanced course, and they scrounge dinner out of the odds and ends in Olivia's cabinets and fridge.
There's an old black and white movie marathon that Olivia had been talking about, so they settle in on the couch. It's only a few minutes in when Olivia says abruptly, "I don't feel like watching this."
"Sure, whatever you--"
She starts to get up and Lincoln moves to follow, but her hand on his chest pushes him back down. Olivia smiles at him, shy and sweet and wicked all at the same time, as she swings around to sit astride his lap.
"Okay?" she whispers, leaning in.
"No," he says, and smiles into her widening eyes. "Amazing."
She laughs, like he'd hoped, and she kisses him like he's been dreaming of, and the rest is better than any fantasy.
The morning after the night Lincoln doesn't come home Peter smiles at him, approving and with something like envy. Or maybe more like yearning.
Walter thaws, eventually. He mostly treats Peter like a visiting professor with whom he deigns to share theories and blackboard space, but everyone recognizes that it's the best he can do.
After weeks of working on the Problem of Peter they're no closer to a solution. Lincoln thinks that Peter's held up remarkably well, all things considered, but once in awhile he falls into a deep, black mood that threatens to suck all the air out of the house. There's nothing Lincoln can say, and he doesn't try; he just makes himself available if Peter wants to vent, quietly inconspicuous if he doesn't.
"The thing is," Peter says suddenly, one of those dark days, "it wasn't just three years I remember with Olivia. It was fifteen."
Lincoln listens with wonder and horror as Peter explains about putting himself into the machine...and being catapulted into the future, gaining years of memories in an instant. Years in which he was married to Olivia and they lived and loved and worked together to save their dying world.
"I know that future isn't mine anymore, it isn't anyone's. That's been averted. But I still remember it." Peter looks at him, his expression bleak. "I can't stand not being with her. Not after all that."
Lincoln actually feels guilty for a fleeting moment before he reminds himself that there isn't any reason to be.
Olivia's migraines still appear intermittently, seemingly without cause or pattern. She keeps putting off Walter's offers to run more tests, and Lincoln can't really blame her for that after seeing the contraption of wires and probes Walter intends to use.
He'd been staying over at her place more and more often over the last few weeks. Not every night, but even when they haven't scheduled a date, if it's late and he's passing by just out of habit and her light's on, he can't resist the urge to go up. When he gets up to Olivia's floor one random evening, though, the door is open and there's a red-headed woman standing in the hall. "...Ms. Sharp?" he says as he gets closer, starting to be alarmed. "What are--"
Without a word Nina Sharp swings around, viper-quick, something in her hand coming up while she presses a masklike device to her face, and there's a faint hiss and--
The next thing Lincoln knows he's lying in bed with Olivia, which would ordinarily be a pleasant state of affairs, except he can't remember how he got here. It's morning, when the last thing he remembers is deciding to take a walk last night. And his headache is terrible.
He lifts his head to see Olivia stirring too, starting to wake. "Olivia-- ow. Olivia, what happened?"
"Oh. Did I black out again? But I don't remember...." she looks at him. "Wait. You, too?"
"This isn't about migraines," he says grimly, and gets up to find aspirin, water, and a phone.
The first step, while they wait for Astrid and Peter, is knocking on doors to find out if anyone else on this floor of the building experienced anything strange. Lincoln gets a lot of suspicious and then concerned looks, but no one reports sudden bouts of unconsciousness. Which means Olivia's been targeted and this has been going on for months, and Lincoln is cursing at himself for not encouraging her to submit to Walter's tests after all.
Astrid arrives, bringing a briefcase full of jury-rigged equipment. Peter arrives, bringing a tool kit and a dark expression. Together they search the place with meticulous attention: Astrid announces that environmental scans found trace elements of a chemical to be identified later, while Peter disassembles the video cam and finds evidence of tampering.
They haul themselves and all the data back to the lab, and it's not really a surprise when the results come up. Both the chemical and the electronic components were manufactured by Massive Dynamic, like everything seems to be.
"That woman!" Walter snarls. "I told you she couldn't be trusted."
"Walter, we don't have any proof," Olivia says, rubbing at the back of her neck. "Anyone could have used these things."
"'Anyone' doesn't have access to this," Bishop says triumphantly, waving the results of the blood work he'd insisted on doing for both of them. "Ordinary tests wouldn't have detected it. Agent Ford's blood is clean, but yours, Agent Dunham, shows significant amounts of Cortexiphan. "
Lincoln doesn't bother with a correction. "The stuff from the trials? What Cameron James was dosed with?"
"And me," Olivia says quietly.
"Okay, so...." Lincoln paces a few steps, then stops. "I wasn't...supposed to be there. So maybe I saw something I can't remember?"
"Hypnotism!" Walter crows, sounding entirely too excited. "We can retrieve those memories, boy, don't you worry."
Lincoln looks over at Olivia, who considers a moment and then nods. "If...you're willing. It's noninvasive, at least," she says with a wry look.
"All right. Just don't let him make me cluck like a chicken."
Walter doesn't, Astrid and Olivia and Peter assure him afterward. He does retrieve Lincoln's memory of Nina Sharp standing outside the door, and Olivia's face is cold and still and terrible.
Lincoln wants to reach out to her, but she's clearly in no mood for comfort. Olivia's in the mood for answers and before he knows it, they're in the car and heading to New York, speed limits be damned. Lincoln chooses the better part of valor and matches his silence to hers.
Ms. Sharp agrees to meet with them, even without an appointment, and it's clear from the moment they walk in that she knows the game is up. "Olivia, I hope you'll give me a chance to explain."
Olivia nods minutely, granting permission like a monarch, like she's the one who commands this corporation and all its resources. "Go on."
Nina's tone is clinical, expository. "You need to understand, of all the Cortexiphan subjects, you showed the most promise before you ran away. The pyrokinetic flare was only the first possible manifestation. But you had such resistance to the trials, it seemed counterproductive to try to bring you back."
"So taking me and Rachel into your home was the more efficient option?" Olivia matches Nina's manner flawlessly, not a hint of emotion in her voice. "The better to keep an eye on your escaped lab rat?"
Nina winces, her façade cracking. "It...wasn't like that. I did, I do honestly care for you both, you have to believe me."
"The days of believing you about anything are over." Olivia turns on her heel and walks out.
Lincoln stares for another moment at the woman who's been assaulting his-- his partner. "I expect you'll send us everything you have on the trials, both the ones in the past and your most recent attempts. You really don't want Olivia coming back in here after them."
"Y-yes. I will. " Nina slumps, looking aged for the first time since Lincoln met her. "Agent Lee, she won't believe me now, but I really was trying to prepare her for what she's going to need to do. This problem with the alternate universe, it won't be solved by--"
"Put it in the report," Lincoln says, and follows Olivia out.
Olivia's withdrawn all the way back to Boston. When they stop at the Federal Building to report to Agent Broyles, Lincoln's half expecting her to hand the job over to him. But Olivia's still on task as she delivers her statement, calmly and without emotion.
Broyles, on the other hand, is full of towering, unmitigated fury at hearing of the assault on his agent. It's only Olivia's reasoned assessment that they can use this incident as leverage for Nina's cooperation in future cases that keeps him from immediately getting the Attorney General on the phone. "If you change your mind, Agent Dunham, you have my full and complete backing on this."
It's ridiculously late by the time they're done, and neither of them has eaten, and Olivia's detachment is starting to become alarming. "Olivia, please let me--"
She doesn't let him finish. "Not...now. I need to see this through."
"You don't have to do it alone," Lincoln's left saying to the empty air. He's up the rest of the night, waiting for a call that never comes.
The files arrive by courier the next day. Along with the promised Jacksonville dossier and current notes is a letter. Lincoln reads it first, after Olivia gives him the nod. It's short and to the point, skipping sentimentality in favor of a stark warning.
"Listen to this." Lincoln reads it off aloud. "My attempts to reactivate Olivia's abilities, unlike Dr. Bishop's experiments, were intended to be a measured process. Not all of those who believe as I do that her capabilities are needed will be as gentle. It has come to my attention that David Robert Jones is seeking a way to return to this world. He believes Olivia to be a soldier, a recruit for the coming war, and he is willing to sacrifice any life, even his own, to activate Olivia's latent abilities by any means necessary."
Olivia blinks. "Jones? The last time we saw him, he escaped through a portal to the alternate universe. Farnsworth's done searches, but they haven't found anything about him over there, and it's been over two years. We'd assumed he'd died as a result of the teleportation sickness."
None of that would have made any sense if Lincoln hadn't virtually memorized the older Fringe case files by now. "Huh. Nice to be forewarned, I guess."
Lincoln also finds a note on his phone with no sender registered. Bear in mind that if I had meant you harm, no one would ever have found your body. He very carefully doesn't show it to Olivia. Despite the attempt at intimidation, he doesn't feel it's an actual threat; Nina Sharp doesn't seem like someone who gives warnings. He does show it to Peter, who agrees with his assessment. "She always played her cards close. I never thought she wanted to hurt Olivia, but her agenda doesn't necessarily line up with ours."
Walter promises to redouble his efforts to create a thin-spot detector, and they put all possible alerts in place. Olivia is as efficient as Olivia always is, but the strain is clearly wearing on her.
It'll be easiest, Lincoln had already determined, if he doesn't give her a choice. "C'mon, I'm taking you home. Hot tea and Indian takeout. It's an offer you can't refuse."
Olivia's smile is hesitant but there, and he'll take it.
At her apartment he sends her off to change out of work clothes, while he tackles the tea. This, he can handle--and after a moment's thought he doctors both mugs with a healthy shot from the ever-present whiskey bottle. The takeout arrives just as Olivia's emerging from the bedroom in her oldest, softest sweatshirt and a faded pair of leggings, and Lincoln's taking it as a positive sign that she's comfortable enough with him that she can relax in her most casual clothes.
Olivia takes the tea and her eyes widen as she sips. "Thank you. I...didn't get any sleep last night."
"Me either," Lincoln says for honesty's sake, but there's no need to stress the point. They eat with appetite--he'd over-ordered, banking on leftovers, but there's nothing left but Styrofoam at the end--and curl up on the couch together to channel surf, drowsy and full and content.
At least until Lincoln realizes that Olivia's crying, nearly silently and without the slightest motion. The picture of Nina and Rachel on the table, he'd already noticed, is face down.
Her voice when she finally speaks is a harsh whisper. "I thought she cared, I thought...but it was all a lie, I was just her experiment."
Lincoln thinks of the pictures on Nina's desk. He's not so sure, but discretion and a healthy sense of self-preservation keep him from voicing the thought. All he can do is hold her, and that seems to be enough.
In the morning Olivia wakes him with the smell of brewing coffee, and a smile as she pulls him into the shower. They're late for work, but no one dares say a word.
Nina's warning came just in time.
Months ago, the team had retrieved a device Walter referred to as a "quantum entangled telegraph," used by agents from the other universe to communicate back to their own world and receive instructions. With the truce in place, the device--it looks like an ordinary typewriter, to Lincoln's eyes--had been remanded to Walter's lab, for purposes of contact in case of emergency. When it begins to spill out a message from Captain Lee a few days after Nina's warning, all other work stops as the team gathers around to read.
Given the new alert about Jones, the other Fringe team had expanded the parameters of their search and come up with a likely match. Someone matching Jones' description (less accurate than Farnsworth had been satisfied with, given that the last time Olivia had seen him, Jones had been wrapped in bandages and losing his flesh to radiation poisoning) had infiltrated a CDC lab...by walking through the walls. It's not the first time both sides had seen tech like that, but there didn't seem to be any equipment associated with the feat this time. The intruder had grabbed a number of vials from a maximum-security area, then followed up by setting high-heat explosives to sterilize the area, so no determination could be made about what he'd stolen.
There's little either side can do to respond until a BioWatch alert goes off at the Massive Dynamic building in New York, an automated alarm that sends the entire multistory building into lockdown until a test can confirm the results. The programmed reaction, alarming as it is, turns out not to be at all out of proportion when the CDC analysis comes back with a positive identification: a virulent, airborne strain of smallpox.
The nearly instant detection allows the CDC to formulate a response, gathering up enough smallpox vaccine to inoculate all the employees...but not the courier who brought the pathogen in. He'd died instantly on the scene, biting down on a cyanide capsule as metal gates crashed down over the exterior doors.
An act of bioterrorism wouldn't necessarily have been a Fringe case, although both Olivia and Lincoln are pulled in during the initial response to help coordinate among the various government agencies. Lincoln finds himself on the phone nearly constantly with the CDC senior official on site, an affable doctor named Frank Stanton, though he doesn't learn about the man's particular significance until later.
But investigation of the courier-slash-bioterrorist leads to old Fringe cases involving scientific bioterrorism and the ZFT manuscript, and that stinks of Jones all over.
Nina Sharp, haggard over the video conferencing link, promises again to dig for any other associates Jones might be reconnecting with. Again via the typewriter, Captain Lee organizes a large care package of the smallpox post-exposure treatment the other side has developed--and to obfuscate its point of origin Nina agrees to announce that Massive Dynamic has been secretly producing the therapy and will pay the fines for circumventing all current medical community strictures. A small price to pay, Lincoln thinks with pointed cynicism, considering that Massive Dynamic will be considered the hero of the current crisis and its stock prices will likely shoot through the roof.
Twelve days later, hospitals in Akron and elsewhere in northeastern Ohio begin to report an odd flu strain; shortly thereafter, the alert goes out to signal another outbreak. It's worse this time, with a broader spread and a much higher risk of a true epidemic. But they have the vaccine for the recently exposed and actual treatment for the infected, so the CDC's mortality projections are considerably lower than anyone might have hoped.
But not zero, and the vaccine itself is not without risk. With two outbreaks in quick succession, the entire country is on high terror alert. It's a small consolation that once the site of the initial outbreak is traced to the Wooster Campus of Ohio State University, they have a lead.
"I know where he's going next," Olivia says grimly, and within hours she, Lincoln, and Peter are on a plane to Florida.
Broyles calls ahead to evacuate the Jacksonville naval base, and its inhabitants are scheduled for preventative inoculations. The base and its associated residential areas look like a ghost town when they arrive, but both Olivia and Peter seem to know exactly where they're headed. Olivia points out her childhood home on the way past, which looks like every other house on the block except for the red door.
It's almost anticlimactic when they find Jones inside the daycare. He's sitting calmly in one of the classrooms, waiting for them, a vial in his hand. "Back to where it all started, yes, Ms. Dunham?"
Olivia levels her gun but Lincoln can already see it won't work; Jones is...translucent, wavery, just like Olivia had described the way she'd last seen him, and then her bullets had passed through him. He looks like a pale shadow of the man in the picture from the old prison file, thin and colorless.
Jones stands, bows mockingly, and walks right through the outside wall.
They hear his voice even as they race around the corner of the building. "Before they can be considered soldiers," Jones pronounces like a mantra, his voice echoing weirdly, "they must be regarded as recruits. And the expectation must be that they shall be unwilling."
He's standing in the center of the playground, his hand still around the vial. "The prevailing winds will take the contagion straight into the city. And it is only fair to warn you that my friend here is a weaponized hemorrhagic strain, for which you have no vaccine and no cure. Your firearm will not suffice, Ms. Dunham. There is only one way to stop me--and it is you."
Olivia motions for Lincoln and Peter to circle around, although Lincoln isn't sure how they're going to catch an insubstantial man. "Mr. Jones, I know what you want, but I don't have these...these powers you attribute to me."
Jones nods understandingly, almost sympathetically. "So your companions there, you will watch them die in agony?"
"Chances are I will too," Olivia shoots back. "You think I'm valuable, but you're willing to kill me to prove your point?"
Jones' face splits into a rictus smile. "I have faith in you, Ms. Dunham, even if you refuse to have faith in yourself. You will prove yourself worthy. You have no other choice." His thumb taps at the vial's cap, circles it once.
The air feels...strange, charged somehow, like the quiet before a storm. Olivia's...
Olivia's standing there facing Jones, and something about her reminds Lincoln of a picture he saw once, maybe a book cover, of a blonde girl with her hair flying, some kind of special effect gathering around her--
Beside him, Peter sucks in a breath. "Lincoln, get down!" He doesn't argue, just throws himself to the ground behind a jumble of colorful playground equipment as Peter drops down beside him. "Hold your breath," Peter hisses, and again Lincoln obeys just before a flash of light and overwhelming heat cascades all around them, searing the air.
Lincoln waits a moment but the phenomenon doesn't repeat. Peter's warning, he realizes, came just in time; even though they were protected from the fire itself, the superheated air could have charbroiled his lungs. He lets out a shaky overdue breath and peers up over the half-melted barricade.
Olivia's standing in a circle of burnt earth, radiating out from her, and smoke is still rising from her hands. Jones--or what's left of him, a human outline made of ash--begins to blow away in the breeze.
They both run over to her, but she holds out a warning hand. "Don't. Don't."
Peter knows just what to say. "Olivia. You've done this before, it's okay. You're in control now."
"I've...done this before." Her brow furrows as she stares at Peter, like she's trying to remember. "When I was a kid, once." Olivia's eyes go wide. "No. Twice. The second time, afterward, I met you in a field of flowers."
Lincoln feels something breaks loose, the fabric of the universe itself maybe, and suddenly he's remembering.
Two timelines crash together in his mind, driving him to the ground with the simultaneous and conflicting memories. Lincoln remembers everything from the past few months exactly as it happened; he also remembers working with Peter to find a woman named Dana Gray, just like Peter had told him. He remembers going back to his solitary life, dreaming of a world more strange than he'd ever imagined and knowing that there was a division out there he'd never be a part of.
He hears Olivia crying out, and her voice resolves into one word. "Peter...!"
She's also sprawled on the ground, clinging to Peter for dear life, but her gaze reaches past him to find and hold Lincoln's eyes.
He hasn't even begun to process what's just happened, but Lincoln instinctively knows this:
They're all completely screwed.
The rest is a blur. They all scrape themselves together, but Lincoln doesn't like Olivia's pale color. He's about to suggest a run by the local hospital (although he has no idea what he'd tell them, honestly) when Olivia says, "Jones was smiling." She shudders, swaying on her feet. "When the fire hit him. He was smiling."
And then her eyes roll back in her head and she drops, or would have if both Peter and Lincoln hadn't been right there to catch her. Her skin feels cold and clammy, but she's breathing easily. A frantic call to Walter assures them that this is "normal," perhaps even to be expected. "Manifestation stress. And the energy expenditure," he says, sounding entirely too excited for Lincoln's liking, "she pulled the energy from inside herself. She'll be fine, Agent Lee, just let her rest. Now...if you would please...put my son on the phone?"
It's the proper use of his name that really convinces. Lincoln takes charge, making a brief statement to the Florida authorities before hustling the three of them onto an overnight charter flight. At this point, he no longer cares if the FBI will reimburse him for the expense. Before they take off Lincoln contacts the FBI and the CDC to tell them that the threat is over, and he carefully spends the flight not thinking about much at all. Olivia is unconscious all the way back from Florida, and Peter stares at her the whole time.
There's no question of going anywhere but straight to the Harvard lab from the airfield. Olivia wakes as they're pulling up in the taxi, her eyes full of confusion.
"My God," Peter finally says, once they're safely inside. "All this time. I'd convinced myself this was the wrong universe. But it isn't. I'm home." He hasn't let go of Olivia's hand since she woke, and she seems stunned but content to hold onto him in return.
Walter is nearly delirious with joy and keeps walking by to touch Peter's shoulders and face. Astrid is smiling too, looking over at Peter and Olivia with fondness, although at points she stops to give Lincoln a sympathetic glance. It seems the memories of the two timelines have only returned to those people most closely involved with Peter, which is infinitely fortunate: Lincoln can just imagine the entire world's populace going insane with the conflicting memories.
He feels like maybe he's not that far off himself.
"Think of the phenomenon," Walter expounds, "like throwing a pebble into the center of a lake. There is an indentation, a dimple if you will, where it hits, and then emanating ripples that smooth out the farther they get from the center. At the edge of the lake, there would be no sign that the pebble ever existed. ...Peter is the pebble, you see," he adds, unnecessarily.
"Thank you, Walter," Peter says in his driest tone, although he's smiling too.
Lincoln wonders, idly, if the team on the other side is experiencing the same event. Some of them should be, at least. Peter's told him a fair amount about his history as he experienced it, and a good deal of it impacts them as well. The whole episode where Olivia was kidnapped, in particular; a brief abduction in this timeline, but apparently a two-month stretch where she lived and worked in Liv's shoes, in the other.
Lincoln busies himself with taking care of the cleanup and cover-up of the Jones case. The part about Olivia manifesting super-powers very carefully doesn't appear in any report. He takes on the task of filling in Agent Broyles, who's made a rare physical appearance in the lab. Very little for him had changed, it seems, except for some conflicting memories of certain cases.
A hush falls over the lab and Lincoln turns to see an intruder.
There's a pale, bald--Lincoln peers more closely--hairless man in a dark suit standing in the middle of the room. He seems unperturbed by everyone's stares and remains absolutely still, looking at Peter with an unnervingly intent expression.
His voice, like the rest of him, is mild. But the words sound ominous. "You are here."
Peter's tone is firm, but gentle. "I am here. Thank you for saving my life, at the lake."
The man's expression doesn't change, but his voice sounds uncertain. "That was my error."
"No, my friend." Walter's voice rings out, unexpectedly confident. "The error was in trying to undo what had already been done."
Lincoln has no idea what's going on here, who this man is or why the others are watching him with such apprehension. But everything in their posture tells him it might be a really bad idea to try to interfere.
The bald man regards Peter for another long moment. "It seems," he says slowly, "that perhaps you were meant to be here after all." The innocuous words sound almost like...a reprieve, like a governor's call for a stay of execution. Without another word he puts on his hat, turns, and rapidly walks out of the lab. No one moves to pursue, and Lincoln follows their lead.
The silence persists until he can't stand it anymore. "So I take it that...person...represents a Fringe event of some significance?"
"Possibly the greatest significance," Walter says solemnly, and then breaks into a broad grin. "My son is home. Strawberry milkshakes for everyone!"
Astrid laughs and goes to retrieve supplies, and they all start moving again. Walter starts to tell him about the bald man, the "Observer," although Lincoln only listens with half an ear. The rest of his attention is on Olivia and Peter and the way they're leaning into each other. They...fit, obviously and naturally.
Part of him feels like he should step back. Peter's known Olivia longer, loved her longer. He knew her before Lincoln ever learned anything about Fringe events.
The rest of him says, fuck that. He deserves happiness too. And he loves Olivia Dunham. Lincoln's pretty sure she loves him too, and that's worth fighting for.
But right now everything's too new and raw to contemplate any more conflict, of any kind. The rest of the day passes with cataloging and comparing the two timelines, matching up events and making note of the discrepancies. Olivia barely says a word to him until the end of the day and then they're both so shy with each other, so uncertain, that it's almost painful.
"Lincoln, I just...need time."
She looks into his face, searchingly, clearly trying to find her own words. "No, I-- You need to know. I remember Peter." Olivia's fingers brush his hand, lightly, the touch nearly indiscernible. But Lincoln feels it all the way down. "I haven't forgotten you."
It's all he needs to hear for now.
He and Peter return to the house, once Walter has decided that he can stand to let Peter out of his sight. There's no question of finding a different accommodation, even considering the current circumstances. Walter's already been talking about moving out of the lab, now that he doesn't need to be afraid of the world any more, but that's tomorrow's issue.
It should be more awkward between them. They're in love with the same woman--truly the same one, as it turns out--but Lincoln can't find it in his heart to resent Peter. With everything Peter's told him, the way he looked at Olivia and she looked at him...Lincoln would have to be made of stone to deny that.
And as soon as they step through the door, Peter says "I'm sorry."
In Lincoln's mind it's initially a tossup between whether he's hearing "I'm sorry you and Olivia have to break up" or "I'm sorry, I have to kill you now," but Peter, as usual, surprises him.
"Nothing about this is fair to either of us. Or to Olivia."
"I never thought you believed in the concept of 'fair', anyway," Lincoln says dryly, and goes to fetch them both a much-needed beer.
"...I don't," Peter finally replies, after they've both had the chance to lubricate their nerves. "I just wish...dammit, Linc, I don't even know what I wish anymore."
"Be careful," Lincoln says, very precisely, "what you wish for."
Peter barks a short laugh. "I was a fucking prophet with that one." They finish their beer but neither of them goes for another. It's just too dangerous at this point. "You haven't said much."
"What is there to say?" he shoots back, immediately wincing at both the unintended tone and the deflection. "I'm still trying to sort through which memories are really mine. I imagine Olivia is too."
"They're all really yours," Peter says quietly, but Lincoln's not going to be drawn into that discussion, not now. He says a curt good night, knowing Peter will understand, and stalks off to his room.
Lincoln can feel himself withdrawing into the watchful silence that became his refuge after his parents were killed. And that's...part of the problem, because he and Olivia share that same kind of defense. There's too much they haven't actually said, and now he's afraid it's too late.
But he's also thinking about his...his other life, too, and how sad and lonely it was. No Robert and Jules and the kids to have him over for holiday meals, or just because. No partner to watch his back or make him late to work or--
He's smiling, he realizes, remembering Robert now. His memories of this life are wonderful, even the awful parts, because he had that. And he's had Olivia in his life the last few months and if that ends too....
"I haven't forgotten you," she said. He'll cling to that, until he can't.
The next day Olivia calls in sick, pleading exhaustion. Lincoln goes to the office, Peter goes to the lab, and aside from the timeline cataloging it's nearly an ordinary day with no Fringe weirdness whatsoever. Lincoln never ever in his whole short career with this division thought he'd be wishing for that kind of diversion, but it would have to be better than this frozen quiet.
He touches base with the CDC, which has admirably contained and managed the two outbreaks. Halfway through the day, an email with multiple files appears in Olivia's account and is instantly flagged; with Broyles' permission, Lincoln opens it up and gets a nasty shock when he sees its sender is--or was--David Robert Jones. "This message was set to be sent automatically, if I was not available to prevent its transmission. I knew you would not fail." The files contain all the data Jones gathered about the human shapeshifters during his time in the other universe, a treasure trove of information.
He and Peter meet back at home and scrounge for a dinner neither of them really wants. After the debrief on Jones' posthumous gift there's nothing much to talk about, both carefully avoiding the obvious fact that Olivia actually bailed out of work rather than see them.
It feels like she can't stand to look at either of them.
Lincoln's rinsing off the scarcely used dishes when he feels Peter's hand on his shoulder. "I don't want to lose you either," he says, and Lincoln's had enough of discretion. He shuts off the faucet and turns, stepping into Peter's space and putting a hand to the back of his neck to pull him in. There's a fleeting pause and then Peter is kissing him back, savagely, their teeth clashing. Lincoln feels his lip split under their mutual assault and doesn't care, not even when Peter catches the tear between his own teeth and bites.
There's a faint noise from the kitchen doorway and they pry themselves away from each other to look. Olivia's standing there, looking shocked. "Oh," she says in a very small voice, and vanishes.
Literally vanishes, there one second and gone the next. Lincoln and Peter glance at each other, confirming they both just saw that, and rush out into the living room to make sure she hasn't fled out the front door or something mundane. No sign of her. In a story there would be some trace, a scent of ozone or Nightcrawler-teleportation brimstone, but she's simply...gone.
Peter is swearing, a long unbroken litany of interesting curses that part of Lincoln's brain catalogs for future use. But somewhere in that stream is something akin to "not again" and that sounds like it might actually be relevant right now. "Peter! Stop. Tell me what just happened."
Peter stops cursing and starts talking, slowly and then with more confidence. "Olivia used to...be able to move between universes. That was one of her Cortexiphan powers. It usually required a pretty powerful stressor."
He doesn't need to finish. "Okay. Okay. So Olivia...jumped over in the other universe? Where this house is over there?"
"Yeah. She should be okay, she'll probably make her way over to the other team's HQ. But Lincoln, dammit...." Peter looks at him, mingled despair and longing and fear. "What the hell are we going to do now?"
Together, silently, they decide to head to New York and the bridge room. If Olivia reappears at the house, presumably she'll have her cell phone still with her and can reach them that way. If she still wants to talk to them at all.
It's a very, very tense night of waiting before the door on the other side of the bridge opens and Olivia comes through early the next morning, accompanied by Lincoln's alternate.
They're laughing together, other-Lincoln's arm too-familiarly wrapped around Olivia's waist. She nods when she sees Lincoln and Peter, and turns to whisper in Captain Lee's ear. He laughs, the sound carrying right across the room. Lincoln watches in something like disbelief as his alternate kisses Olivia's cheek and then takes her arm and escorts her toward them like they're off to the opera.
"This...can't be good?" Lincoln whispers, but Olivia and Lee are there standing in front of them before Peter can respond.
"Hey. I'm sorry if I scared you. I...didn't mean to jump, and then I couldn't get back." Olivia seems relaxed, almost serene. "I'm just lucky Captain Lee was on duty to bring me back."
Lee smirks. "I'm always available to you. On duty or off."
Olivia laughs again, bumping him with her shoulder, and when did they get so friendly? "Anyway. I guess...we should talk."
"That's my cue." Lee squeezes Olivia's shoulder and steps back. "Just remember, you guys. There is always a third option." He winks and heads back toward his world, leaving the three of them standing there, staring at each other.
Or rather, Lincoln and Peter staring at Olivia; she's got her best impenetrable Mona Lisa smile on and doesn't seem inclined to say another word. "We're just glad you're okay," Lincoln offers.
"C'mon," Peter says gruffly. "Let's get out of here."
But despite Olivia's suggestion that they talk, no one can quite find the right words to start. Put most simply Olivia walked in and caught them both cheating on her, but Lincoln feels like that summation doesn't really describe the whole situation and all the tangled connections between the three of them.
"Let's go to my place," Olivia finally says, when they reach the outskirts of Boston. Once there, Lincoln and Peter--sitting on the living room couch at a respectfully proper distance from each other while Olivia perches on the edge of a chair across from them--wait patiently for her to begin.
"I don't know," Olivia says slowly, "if this will help or hurt. But Lee was telling me--"
"Wait," Peter interrupts, and if he'd been in arm's reach Lincoln would have hit him. Hard. "'livia, you gotta believe us, what you saw...that hadn't happened before. I mean, we hadn't...done anything."
"Thought about it," Lincoln adds for honesty's sake before he can stop himself, and Peter nods. They glance at each other with mutually chagrined expressions, and Olivia....
Olivia smiles. "I know. I might've wondered a little, but I believe you. Although it does make this...easier, maybe." She takes a long breath. "Things happened over there, in the past few days. Charlie's having his marriage annulled, Liv broke up with Frank. The three of them were...involved, before. When they got the memories back, they realized they couldn't stand to be apart anymore."
Peter stares at her. "So over there your alternate and Lincoln's alternate and Charlie Francis...."
"Yeah." Olivia shrugs and looks down at her feet. "I...don't know what that means. Not everything's the same here. But I...."
"Olivia." Peter's tone is remarkably steady, where Lincoln still can't find his voice. "Are you saying you want to try it? The three of us together?"
But she's run out of words, apparently, and just looks up at him and then at Lincoln with a mute expression full of uncertainty.
"Well." Peter sounds...like he wants to laugh, mostly. "Cards on the table. I'm for it."
Lincoln does laugh, he can't help it, and after a moment Olivia does too. He feels his lip split again and licks at it instinctively; Peter catches the gesture and smirks. Lincoln gets the feeling that if Peter was given leave to direct the scene they'd all be naked within two minutes--and he can't argue, that's a very tempting picture--but there's too much at stake here to think that would solve anything.
Because it's stunning, what Olivia is saying--or half-saying, with Peter filling in the gaps. He'd almost been expecting a halting break-up speech, certainly for him, maybe for both of them if Olivia was really angry about what she'd walked in on. But she doesn't seem angry at all, just tired and hesitant, and Lee's comment about "the third option" suddenly makes sense.
"...oookay," Peter murmurs after a silent moment. "I'll just wait for you two to catch up."
And again Lincoln might have punched him if Peter had been sitting closer. He's too tense for a joke, his nerves feel too raw, despite the involuntary laughter a moment before. Olivia must feel the same, because she shakes her head at him. "Peter...this is difficult enough."
"You're the one who suggested it first," Peter shoots back, and then he seems to come to some kind of realization. "Because you've been there. You were with them, weren't you. When you were in Liv's shoes."
It's another extraordinary sight in a week full of them: Olivia Dunham, blushing. It's evidently enough of an answer for Peter, but Lincoln doesn't have the keys to their code.
At least Peter's quick with a translation. "Yeah," he says, eyes never leaving Olivia's face. "Remember what I told you, Lincoln, about Olivia being given Liv's memories in my timeline? So while she was there, she thought she was Liv."
"And yes," Olivia says, sounding defiant, "she was involved with Lincoln and Charlie. Her fiancé," she adds almost as an afterthought, "was out of town."
Peter snorts a little. "Small favors." His eyes narrow, and then he waves his hand like he's shooing away an unpleasant thought. "You know what? I think we should just agree that all previous indiscretions are in a different timeline and no longer relevant."
It's code again, and Lincoln is sick of being left out. Maybe in Peter's world people sit calmly on couches and discuss threesomes, but Lincoln is still trying to catch up with the chaos of the last few days and the way things between the three of them have fallen out. Unsettled, undefined, and that's--that's exactly the problem here.
"Not sure what I'm supposed to be agreeing to," Lincoln finally cuts in, more acerbic than he intends. Or maybe not nearly acerbic enough. "Obviously you two have some things to work out--"
"The three of us do," Peter interrupts, and Olivia nods her agreement. "You're just as much a part of this as we are."
Lincoln remembers thinking that Peter had presumed a lot in asking him to move into a house that wasn't his. That wasn't even the smallest part of Peter's nerve, apparently. But if they actually mean it....
"Think I missed that memo," Lincoln manages, hating the uncertainty in his own voice. There are words that won't come out and emotions too big for words and he feels like they're all on the edge of a precipice. "Olivia, I...."
"Oh," she says, and crosses the room to him. Olivia kneels in front of the couch, her hands folding around his, which he hadn't realized were balled into fists. "Oh, Lincoln, I never said I love you and I should have, I--"
It's like a dam breaking as he leans down and kisses her, and kisses her, and she kisses him back. In between he's whispering the only words that matter, and she's whispering them back, and he can definitely be excused for the tears in his eyes because they're in Olivia's too.
Nothing in the world exists but her, except for the other man now standing at the edge of Lincoln's awareness. When they break apart Peter's smiling, the crinkles around his eyes attesting to his honest pleasure in watching them--along with an expression of dawning revelation. "Oh, hell, you guys hadn't-- shit, I wouldn't have joked. 'livia, Linc, I thought we were all on the same page."
"Same shelf, maybe," Lincoln says unsteadily, but he's finally hearing the foreshortened version of his name for the endearment it is, and thinking about the way Peter's been using it for weeks.
If there had been any question about Peter's feelings toward him, that kiss had answered them. But, Lincoln realizes almost ludicrously after the fact, there had never actually been a question. He'd been working with Peter, living with him, for just about the same length of time he'd been seeing Olivia. They ate together, sat on the couch and threw insults and Nerf bricks at the tv together, went shopping for groceries together. He'd never become indifferent to Peter's presence, not once, for all that they spent virtually every waking hour together.
Those hours not spent with Peter had been Olivia's, and he can't imagine life without either of them anymore.
Lincoln pulls Olivia up and onto his lap, because he can't stand not to be touching her. She goes willingly, settling in with a smile. "All this is well and good in theory, but...you're sure about this? Both of you?"
"Not sure about anything," Olivia says, and if he didn't love her already, Lincoln's smitten again by the fact that she doesn't conceal her own doubts.
Peter, predictably, doesn't share their hesitation. "We rewrote the universe for each other, 'livia, I'm not scared of...one bespectacled nerd." Peter really is laughing now, deliberately provoking.
"Said nerd, sitting right here." Lincoln reaches out to brush a strand of hair out of Olivia's face. "I feel like...we just found each other. I don't know why I should share you with anyone." That's in the ballpark, but not exactly what he'd meant to say; it's not entirely his call, and Peter isn't just anyone.
Olivia tilts her head and considers Peter solemnly. "Well...he's not too ugly," she offers, and it's her tone that makes the comment anything but outrageous.
Peter doesn't have any such reservation. "Oh, fuck you both." He leans in and kisses Olivia, inches away from Lincoln's face, and Lincoln's both astonished and delighted to discover that he's not feeling even the slightest jealous twinge. It's crazy and possibly might get them all evicted from polite society but it's not like polite society has anything to do with their line of work, anyway. Peter pulls back and adds, "Seriously, I want to fuck you both."
Olivia thwaps the back of his head. "And you kiss me with that mouth. No, wait. Kiss Lincoln with that mouth, I want to watch."
And Peter does with Olivia right there, stubble scratching at his split lip and Lincoln's going to have a permanent scar if this keeps up. He's breathless by the time Peter stops, and Olivia on his lap isn't helping. Or is, depending on your point of view. "Oh, hey, Peter."
"I like you too. A little bit."
Peter pauses and seems to think about that. "Good enough. For now. We'll work on it."
Olivia laughs again. "You guys. Like a comedy routine. Peter, come on, tell him how you feel."
Peter rolls his eyes. "I have to? He's wearing the glasses I bought for him. What did you think that was, Linc, a slap on the back?"
"Yeah, I got that," he says while Olivia shakes her head in mock disgust, but all banter aside what they're talking about hits him hard. "I-- you really think this can work? I, I see you two are meant to be together but I'm...."
The interloper, he doesn't say. He feels like he's about to dissolve into a very unmanly puddle when Peter rescues the moment, as he does. "You know, technically, you've probably dated Olivia longer than I did."
Olivia looks quizzical. "'Technically'?"
"Oh, it's story time. All right." Peter slides onto the couch next to Lincoln, pulling Olivia's legs over his lap and draping his arm around Lincoln's shoulders. "There was always something keeping us apart, remember?" Lincoln knows the recap is for his benefit, but that's fine; it'll give him a chance to find his equilibrium.
"I might recall," Olivia says dryly. "I had to chase you to the alternate universe to tell you I loved you. And then...."
"Then things got complicated," Peter says, and they exchange a glance full of meaning Lincoln still doesn't have the code to decipher. "When Olivia came back, there were...things to work through." There's obviously a longer story there that neither of them wants to revisit. "So--Linc, seriously, it's like a comedy of errors--we make it through all that, and finally get together, and then...."
"William Bell," Olivia says, and groans.
"William Bell," Peter confirms, "hijacked Olivia's consciousness from beyond the grave. --no, not a ghost, just a diabolical contingency plan," he adds to Lincoln's stare. "That was the same time I met you."
"The Dana Gray case," Lincoln murmurs, and everything snaps into place. He shifts Olivia on his lap, pulling her closer. "So that's why you were so weird."
"No, Olivia's always weird." She sticks her tongue out at Peter, and he smirks. "But yeah, during that case you were talking to Bell, not her."
"And after he was gone and everything seemed like we might actually have some time for ourselves, that's when the machine fired up." Olivia's frowning slightly, like she's working it through. "You created the bridge room and between one second and the next, you were gone and everything had been rewritten. So I think you're right, Peter. We worked together for three years, but the time we were really together wasn't very much at all."
"Yeah. Except...I never got a chance to tell you about this." Peter takes her hands, and then after a moment reaches to gather Lincoln's in too. He tells her about the fifteen years, with enough detail that there's no doubting he lived it. Olivia pulls him close when he's done, her forehead touching his.
"We'll have that again."
"Better," Peter says firmly, drawing back to look into her eyes, and then Lincoln's. "Because this world isn't dying like that one was. But Lincoln, if you're thinking there isn't room for you...I promise, there is. I said I didn't want to lose you, and I meant it."
"Me too," Olivia says, and kisses Lincoln again. When she draws back, though, her eyes have gone wide. "How am I going to explain this to Rachel?"
Peter snorts."I'm sure Walter will have some wildly inappropriate commentary, too. But maybe we should hold off, at least until Lincoln looks a little less freaked out."
"Might take a while," Lincoln mutters, and tries to get his head in the right space. "This is crazy, you both know that, right?"
Peter looks thoughtful. "Not so sure. I'm the last person to talk about fate...or maybe I should be the first. Depends how you look at it. But if you think your alternates really do mirror you in the ways that count...." he spreads his hands, like the point is self-evident.
"I'm not so sure about that," Olivia says, her expression indecipherable. "But I saw how happy they were and I just... I can't..." she stops, looking almost embarrassed, then goes on. "I don't want to choose between you."
"I don't want you to, either," Lincoln says, and not only because he's still convinced--despite Olivia's and Peter's assurances--that he'd end up with the short end of that stick. Maybe they can convince him otherwise, in time. But right now it's--
He glances at the clock and nearly laughs out loud: 3:15 p.m., and time seems to have slowed to a crawl. But this time, for entirely different reasons. And he hasn't yet made his opinion clear. "I said it was crazy. But I want to try anyway. I think...." he looks at Olivia on his lap, Peter warm against his side. "We got here through alternate timelines and alternate universes, and that can't be an accident. I think this is where we're meant to be."