Chapter 1: 0. Six Four Nine Point Five
Harvard students were all so terribly vacuous and staid. It was rather a good thing that the administration had banned Walter from teaching as none of the students would appreciate how his classes would reveal what daddy's money had really bought them thus far: nothing. With the education the kids were receiving, they would continue reactively sifting through their lives with their minds turned off to any possibility outside of money and social affluence. Walter couldn't be bothered to correct such small minds anymore. Yes, the students were monotonous, except for the rare days when one of them found the gumption to pull a prank; someone had been clever enough to move the halls on him, again.
Over a year had passed since he returned to his lab. And his lab had been his lab for countless years before that -- though admittedly the years were mostly countless due to his and Belly's research methodology. Thus Walter knew the building like the back of his hand. It was just that his hand had become wrinkled and gnarled and shook at times when he wasn't looking at it; someone must've replaced his hand with that of an old man's at some point. Probably those infernal doctors at St. Claire's taking him apart and stitching him back together improperly. So he knew the building like the back of his hand, only not one of the ones currently attached to his body.
But that wasn't the point. The point was that the students had managed to get their heads out of their pocketbooks long enough to move the halls on him. Which meant that the way back to his lab wasn't and Walter wasn't quite certain which way was. Peter had given him protocols for when he was lost, whatever protocols they were, but none of them could really be applied when the building had been altered spatially.
Hunching over, Walter frowned down at his hands then drew his left hand across his body. His head turned to the right as his eyes first followed his hand, then continued up the hallway. "No," he shook his head, "that's not correct." He returned to his center then repeated the movement with his right hand up the hallway to his left. He stood frozen for a moment, squinting at the end of the corridor. "No, that's not correct either."
Pivoting on his heel, Walter turned to look down the first hallway then the second, until he was confused as to which was the left hallway and which was the right one. "I suppose the only thing to do is follow one's toes." But when he looked, his toes were pointing in different directions. His left toes were slightly closer to actually pointing down a hall then his right ones, which pointed at the wall. And that had to be at least as scientifically sound as following bread crumbs.
As he approached the corner, Walter couldn't help but look back over his shoulder. "It's follow one's toes, but right foot forward. And I started with my left." He glanced down at his unfamiliar hands. "Peter would know what to do." Walter wrinkled his nose. "But I don't need a babysitter."
He collided with the person speeding around the corner, sending him backwards until strong hands clamped on his elbows. "Oh." Looking up, Walter smiled, elated his son had found him despite his earlier thoughts. "Oh, Peter. It's good to see you. I was just saying to myself-" He paused, aware he no longer had any idea what he had been saying to himself. But then again, Peter wouldn't know what Walter had been saying either, so it wasn't like his son could prove him wrong. "I was just telling myself that-"
Walter had just enough time to notice the red veins in Peter's eyes, the dark circles under them, and the way his son's typically perfect kept unkempt stubble was uneven before he was clasped into Peter's chest. His breath rushed past his lips. "Oh." Sliding his arms around his son's frame, Walter rested his head on Peter's shoulder and closed his eyes.
Briefly he was reminded he only had Peter because had destroyed the laws of physics and his own ethical code. He had broken through the wall of the universe and likely broken another family. He had endured his son's accusations and suspicions, you're not my father, and lost Elizabeth. But wrapped in his son's arms everything faded along with his guilt. For a time, he could just exist and share that existence with his son.
The universe shook. It took Walter a moment to realize that the violent tremors were emanating from the body pressed closely to his. "Peter, son, it's all right. I'm here." He attempted to extricate himself but the hands on his shoulders squeezed so tightly he thought he might bruise.
"I lost you." Peter's whispered words carried an anguish which echoed in his own chest. He swallowed, fighting down the twenty-four year old grief. With a final push, Walter was able to pry them apart, his fingers still stubbornly knotted in his son's shirt.
Though Peter would never let him get away with it, Walter attempted to redirect the conversation. "I know we've had this discussion before and my independence-"
"No, you don't understand. I lost you, and I can't lose you again." Peter's eyes darted back and forth across Walter's face. Walter held his breath under the scrutiny, dread weighing down his limbs at the familiarity of that statement. For once he didn't fear that Peter had discovered the line in the sand which Walter had crossed for him; he feared the line his son had discovered for himself. He would give almost anything to remove that knowledge from Peter, but he had nothing left that would interest the universe into bargaining with him.
Peter's eyes settled on Walter's. "Maybe you do understand. Of all the possibilities, maybe you would understand the most." The left corner of Peter's mouth twitched into a half smile as self-deprecating as the laugh which followed. "Aren't we the pair."
There was a puzzle there, something to observe, measure, and unravel -- something far more important than wondering how Peter found him within the twisted corridors. And as painful as the discoveries would be, Walter knew that some traitorous part of him would be fascinated by the whole process. But that was for later when he had to return to his lab and Olivia and the consequences of his decisions.
"Peter, no matter your past or decisions you've made, here you will always be my son." Walter smoothed the wrinkles he had created in Peter's shirt, unable to completely remove the lines. He smiled at the eloquence of his words which often abandoned him at important times. When his son's smile became genuine, Walter could finally smile back at Peter. "My son."
Chapter 2: 1. Elizabeth
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It's 2000 and Peter is staring at his five month old passport trying to erase the stamps with his mind. There are no discernible changes to any of the pages, at least not to the naked eye, but actually measuring the impressions would be taking the exercise too far. Still he has been staring at his latest stamp, freshly signed less than four hours ago, for nearly ten minutes; using his force of will to erase the stamps from the little booklet seems far more probable than using it to erase his mistakes from history. Because that's what those stamps are: Peter's poor decisions each neatly marked in ink and pressed into paper.
He has been sloppy, not even someone with the credentials he forged crosses as many borders in one month. The pin-cluttered map of Europe on the wall marks the dates and locations in his passport. There is no pattern to his movements, no justification for his choices. All the stories and excuses he creates seem implausible at best. It would merely take one customs agent slightly competent at his or her job to raise a red flag. Peter's itinerary can't withstand the sort of scrutiny it would bring. Only his good fortune has protected him thus far, but he feels the cost of each escape and doesn't know how much longer his credit will hold.
Not that Peter is currently involved in any illegal activities. Well, any illegal activities except for traveling on a forged passport, which doesn't count as it is necessary. So it will be ironic if he finds himself detained when he is nearly an upright citizen. When involved in less than reputable dealings he is overly cautious, careful to appear ludicrously ordinary. But he has traded that prudence for speed, burning through his luck and resources at an alarming rate.
He needs to pull a job soon. His funding won't last much longer and he certainly doesn't have enough capital to grease any wheels if he gets caught. Really, the whole situation is too amateurish. He knows better than to let himself get low on cash and favors and he has had ample opportunities to generate them. His skill at assessing people and situations is instinctive and has improved tenfold since coming to Europe. But he hasn't exploited any of those prospects as nothing seems important since the call. He started running as soon as he set down the phone and hasn't stop since. It's not anything he is proud of, but his demons are chasing him. The ones in his imagination are the least safe.
The walls press in on him and he is on his feet unzipping his duffle bag before he stops himself. He bounces on his heels and shakes his hands trying to expel the excess energy from the adrenaline spike. Despite being alone in his hotel room, the situation is ridiculous, even when the pressure lessens and he can breath.
He needs something to focus on. He changes the color code of the pins on his map. But the new coloring doesn't reveal anything so he returns to his first scheme. He removes all the pins and simply stares at the holes, wondering how to connect the dots. He tosses everything out of his luggage looking for a pen. It doesn't write perfectly smooth on the map which still hangs on the wall. He takes the pen apart, convinced the tip is slightly bent, but there's nothing wrong with it. He repacks his bags, twice, and wishes he hadn't done his laundry the day before. He contemplates doing it again anyway.
Flopping back into the chair, he ignores the creaking wood and the spring that pokes him through the threadbare upholstery. He stares out into the world through his Window, but even that familiar comfort isn't enough to distract him. He would sleep to pass the time but he's wide awake. Forcing himself to sit still, Peter closes his eyes and tries to think of nothing. Nothing turns out to be terribly dull.
When he finally stills, his mind starts forming words from the murmur in the background. A television is on and the sounds are drifting through the Window. With a few adjustments, he watches the documentary as if he is actually there.
He has heard of the Holocaust before, though it's not something generally discussed. He could have found a way to do more research, but he was more focused on the alternate people in his own life. Besides, finding the exact point of divergence between two universes is impossible -- while the large decisions can be obvious, the smaller left-or-right decisions which lead to them are not. The documentary shows the difference one failed assassination attempt can make, yet the worst things remain the same.
The people and the situation are different, but Peter too was once considered Lebensunwertes Leben, Life Unworthy of Life. But in his world the children lost aren't remembered or even thought of as victims.
A tiny splash hits his hand and Peter jumps so quickly the chair creaks again. Wiping a second tear off his cheek, he stares at the tiny droplets on his fingers. He knows they are selfish tears. He's not crying for those victims a world away. He's not crying for his fellow victims of eugenics on his own world, the ones not fortunate to have a scientific genius for a father. He is a child of seven crying for his mother whom loves him enough to leave him behind, but is never allowed to return for him.
It's 1985 and the unexpected tug on Peter's right arm makes him drop his Sopwith Pup model from his left hand. He looks longingly back at it as he is pulled down the hall, but he knows better than to slow down or pull away from his mother. The drills are the one time when fun and questions are forbidden. Any disobedience is quickly punished "for his own good," though being forced to type his father's hand written notes is probably more for his father's own good. Especially since the pages can't have correction fluid on them and a single mistake on even the last line means typing it over again. Peter hasn't had to use the typewriter in nearly two months.
It's okay that he dropped his airplane because he needs two hands to lift the little table as his mother releases the switch. He's careful to pick the table up when he moves it so he doesn't scuff the floor. The den is dusted and polished daily to ensure there are no marks which lead to the hidden panel. The only thing suspicious about the room is how clean it is. His father designed the wall; it never wears a groove in the floor, it doesn't sound any different from the other walls when Peter knocks on it, and the switch can't be found unless someone knows where it is. It's the sort of hidden chamber that he is certain would impress the other kids in the neighborhood, if he was allowed to talk about it or had friends his own age.
But what Peter does have is growing responsibilities. Moving the table is one of those and he never leaves smudges in the polish or wrinkles the carpet he sets it on. His mother must take his responsibilities seriously too because it's the second drill of the day. They've done this drill a million times, but there never seems to be enough of them as there is always another.
Having his own responsibilities is good, but Peter would rather stop doing the drills altogether. He's old enough to stop hiding. He's seven - he sleeps without a nightlight, makes his own breakfast some mornings, and rides his bike without training wheels. The latter wasn't his idea and disastrously resulted in Peter needing a new bike, but he can ride it now. If he's old enough for all those things, he's old enough to help protect his mother.
But that is an argument for later, after she reopens the panel, tries to hide her tears, and hugs him until he can convince her he's fine. For now he slips past her and squeezes into the compartment. He has to rest his elbows on his knees for his shoulder to fit and press his chin to his chest to keep from bumping his head. His father will need to make a bigger room soon, but Peter is hoping the fact that his father hasn't yet means the room isn't necessary much longer.
His mother presses his lucky silver coin into his hands and leans in to kiss his forehead. "I love you, Peter."
"I love you too, Mom." It's more than just a reply, it's true and he wants to make her smile. The light behind her makes it hard to see her face, but she seems sad. She strokes his cheek once, gives him a small smile, then replaces the panel.
In the dark Peter worries his lip. His mother is acting strange during a drill. Maybe she finally realizes he is no longer a baby. She always says silly things like how it's sad to see her little boy so grown. Peter doesn't think it's sad, in fact, he can hardly wait until he's older. When he's older, he's going to do all those things that his mother says he has to wait to do. Older means he can watch scary movies, ride his bike at night, and go to his father's lab by himself. But mostly older means he won't upset his mother and father anymore.
His parents whisper about him at night when they think he's asleep. They also argue. Sometimes his mother just cries on his father's shoulder while he strokes her hair. Even though he's not supposed to know, the drills and their sadness are all Peter's fault. He is perfectly healthy most of the time, but he is prone to bouts of sickness. Then he gets dizzy and has to stay in bed for at least a week, except for the drills. He worries his parents, that the Feds will find out and then he will be taken away from them.
When he's older he won't get sick anymore. Everything good always happens when he's older and not being sick is a good thing. Then his parents can be happy, the drills can stop, and Peter can go to school and meet kids his age.
The thud of something striking the wall behind him reverberates through the wall and Peter gasps before he remembers to stay quiet. He bites his pointer finger and presses his ear to the outer wall so he can discover what his mother is doing. A crash follows a few minutes later, but everything remains quiet after that. His finger starts to sting so he shakes his hand, careful not hit the wall and make noise.
Peter wants to check on the sounds, but leaving the compartment on his own is not an option. It is the one rule he has never pushed, the punishment vague and freighting enough to keep him from trying.
After a time he grows bored and tries rolling his silver coin across his knuckles. But he's still not great at it and when he has to catch the coin with his knees Peter decides it's not a good idea. Instead he licks the coin and sticks it to his forehead. The forth try it stays in place for a really long time, but without a watch to let him brag about the time it's not that impressive. He practices all his piano scales and cords in the air so he can tell his father he already practiced and can skip it before bed. He consumes a few of his provisions. He tries to decide what he's going to name his dog. His mother always says they can't have one, but he knows he can talk her into one after this. He gives up on picking out names because a dog's name should be based on the breed. Peter wants a large guard dog to help him protect his home, but he might have to consider a small dog first since his mother is so against it. But if he shows her he's mature enough to compromise, she'll think he's mature enough for a big dog.
His shoulder throbs and there are pins and needles in his foot. He tries to shift to make himself more comfortable but it only makes him aware of how much he has to pee. His mother needs to hurry up because he's not quite sure about the sanitation kit and he's not going to wet himself.
His parents really owe him. He's going to pick out his own dog and make them take him to the lake house for a whole month. And eat pancakes everyday for breakfast. And rent Gremlins. And watch it with popcorn without the lights on. And when Peter's list grows so long it starts to repeat itself, he drifts to sleep.
It's 1978 and Walter threads his fingers through Elizabeth's. She squeezes his hand lightly once before running her thumb soothingly across his. His other hand drifts down across her protruding belly, slipping under her shirt and across her warm flesh. Their son is quiet, undisturbed by the proceedings and his father's stress. That is certainly Elizabeth's influence, her calm strength shielding their child. Her natural protection makes his own venture seem inadequate.
Sometime later he realizes the caress turned into a steady tap against his wrist. He mentally follows the sensation until he finds himself back with her, her sharp eyes catching his.
"You were doing it again." Her voice is light, amused the way it always is when she guides him from his lost thoughts.
"What was I doing?" Walter knows the answer, but from the arch of her eyebrow and the quirk of her lips he also knows she wants him to ask.
"You were staring at the IV drip, reworking every step and trying to discover what you could've done differently."
She's correct of course, as she always is about such things. But this isn't his typical preoccupation with his research. Of all the theories, experiments, and prototypes that distinguish Walter Bishop's career, none have ever been so imperative or so personal.
"Walter, you need to stop torturing yourself. This isn't like you. Never look back, remember?" She smoothly cuts off his typical words at failure, not giving the slightest hint she was going to use them. This isn't a failure, but it is far from a success. It's a liminal state he has never before experienced and he is uncertain how to proceed or change the outcome.
"There is no time to do it differently," Elizabeth says blatantly.
Had anyone else told him such things, he would've repudiated them immediately. Though they likely would've said something preposterous like, There is nothing you could've done differently, That isn't true. There is a universe in which he did do things differently, where he did things better, but he will never know what that is.
"With more time I could've stabilized the compound." He is so tantalizingly close to the solution. He really shouldn't have let her talk him into that three hour nap yesterday or breakfast earlier this morning. But it is wrong to place the blame on her.
"With more time you could take apart the universe for him." She laughs softly. "Any father would, but you actually could." The mirth fades from her eyes. "However, the screening is next week and postponing it will appear suspicious."
That is where the blame lays, with the mindless sheep whom passed the mandatory genetic screenings only a few months before. Insidiously, the proponents presented it as a way to reduce human suffering and welfare costs. All they truly wanted was to gain another measure of power over the other classes.
But they don't need to have that discussion again, not when she still doesn't understand her faith in him is misplaced. "I'm still not certain what the long term effects will be for you."
She cocks her head and narrows her eyes. "Since when do you worry about long term effects?"
Since it involves my family, he doesn't say because he isn't certain how it will sound out loud.
"This is just science," she says as if it's not her life and family at risk. "The same science you've trusted all your life; the same science that brought us together and will give us our child."
His science has become muddied by soulless politicians. When presented the opportunity, Walter dabbles in genetics, pursuing the oddities and flukes. But whereas he seeks to recreate them or use them, eugenics only seeks to correct or destroy them. When it first became popular, he was against it on principle. Yet, as it was science, Walter respected its existence. With the increased spending from popularizing eugenics, medical technology progressed rapidly over the last decade. His own research benefited, but at an unforeseen price.
With Walter's scientific connections, he was able to replicate the screening. The unknown genetic anomaly it discovered would be enough for the authorities to terminate the pregnancy for the common good. His every moment after was dedicated to curing his son and fooling the test. But his results are imperfect and the necessity to administer the treatment through Elizabeth increases its flaws. She will be forever marked by the process, venerable with an altered genetic signature, a cost she didn't hesitate to accept.
She cups his cheek with the free hand, unbothered by the peripheral venous catheter attached. "Our son will be perfect, you'll see. How could he be anything else?"
He presses his hand against hers. "He is perfect." There isn't anything Walter wouldn't do to prove that, anything he wouldn't give to protect him. "Our son."
So sometime around Snakehead I knew that I wanted to write a Fringe story. (This is not, in fact, that story, nor is it the story I set out to write.) Two things.
1. Oh, snap. Did I just use Nazis to introduce a contrast two different universe? Yes, but it's really no more cliché than using zeppelins. And the only reason the idea of Herrenvolk was on my mind was because of The Bishop Revival, so it's really not my fault. Things just started fitting together, there were suddenly reasons behind the character actions, so I was stuck with it.
2. This story was first conceived in Season 2, then plotted out when I was at the very start of Season 3. I believe I've puzzled each new development into my story through the end of that season. I was going to wait to start writing until I finished Season 4, but I was inspired and decided to run with it. So far at the start of Season 4 I haven't hit any twist that I haven't been able to incorporate into this universe, but no guarantees. So if something doesn't fit into later Season 3 or 4, pretend it's 2010 again and you won't know better.