Lincoln Lee had always thought of himself as an honest person. For one thing, it was almost impossible for him to lie; his face gave the game away every time. More important, he felt that truth was generally the better option in most cases. White lies and socially necessary obfuscations aside, of course.
Being assigned to Fringe Division--after he'd badgered his way in--brought home with undeniable force the fact that the world he'd known was a lie, or at best, a barely maintained shroud of normalcy over unending depths of...weird. Lincoln had almost immediately felt himself becoming separated from everyone else, or at least everyone else who wasn't in on the secret. The physical separation only deepened the silence, when he moved from away from his friends and colleagues in Hartford to a lonely apartment in Boston.
At least the change of atmosphere allowed him a measure of respite from his grief, in not going to the same office every day and seeing Robert's empty chair. Or worse, eventually seeing it filled by someone else.
But it quickly became evident he was also going to be increasingly separated from other people by his new work environment and the strange realities he now needed to accept.
Lincoln was still getting into the swing of things, a transition made easier by his admiration of his new colleagues: Olivia, determined and fearless; Walter, undeniably brilliant and also undeniably terrifying, a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein; Astrid, quietly holding them all together.
And their newest arrival/case file, a man named Peter Bishop, who claimed to be from another timeline and looked at them all with disturbingly knowing eyes. Eyes that followed Lincoln when they weren't following Olivia.
His new life was full of sentient fungi and invisible men, but all of that paled next to the revelation of an alternate universe, including other versions of them. Lincoln met Olivia's doppelganger first, her red hair and attitude making it clear that "double" didn't mean "identical." After that he pressed Olivia for details about the other world's Lincoln Lee, and spent several sleepless nights thinking about alternate worlds, alternate timelines, and roads not taken.
It took awhile to hash out the protocols of interdimensional contact, but it was eventually decided that simply allowing the interested parties to satisfy their curiosity was more efficient than leaving everyone involved to wonder over questions that could be answered by a simple conversation.
Even before Lincoln stepped into the bridge room, he knew nothing about the forthcoming conversation was going to be simple.
But it was easier than he expected, at least at first. Captain Lee clearly had a vastly different personal style and mode of expression, but once they began comparing notes, it became obvious that there were more similarities than differences between them. The timeline of their early lives matched up to a large degree: Both Lincolns had gone to the same schools on either side of the bridge, had broken up with the same girl right before prom in two universes. But the differences were shocking, too. Lincoln had lost his parents as a teenager, Lee's mother was still alive. And Captain Lee's life experiences, obviously, had been shaped by the state of his world. With Fringe Division over there replacing the FBI, his training had been far more specialized. Still, the fact that they were both essentially in the same place in their lives did more to reassure Lincoln that his current place in the world was the right one than all of Olivia's offers to talk and Astrid's understanding smiles.
They'd drifted on to more personal topics, comparing notes about their dating experiences, when Lincoln realized with a start that Captain Lee was talking about his former boyfriends.
"You're gay?" he stammered, and then tried to rearrange his face into a less shocked expression. Tried to keep his voice even, so he wouldn’t give away his suddenly hammering heartbeat. "No, of course, you mentioned dating women too. Sorry."
Lee looked at him, puzzled. "You don't date men?"
"Never thought about it," Lincoln said, going for casual.
"You never felt like that about a guy? Really?" Lee's face was curious, fascinated, like Lincoln was a shiny new mystery to be investigated.
"I," he said, and couldn't go on. Deflection was easier. "Tell me what that's like? For you?"
"Not a big deal," Lee said, watching him closely. "Okay, I get it, I read in the briefing material that your side is a little more uptight. On my side all the Equal Rights amendments included sexual orientation along with gender, so there really isn't any hassle. Is that why you don't?"
Part of him rankled at the assumption that they were alike in this, that sexual orientation would automatically be the same. He'd already seen that there were significant differences in alternates beyond personality traits; he could point to the two Astrids as proof.
But protesting on that point wouldn't be entirely truthful, either. "No, it just...wasn't an option I ever really considered."
"Huh. Man, that's weirder than all the rest of this combined." Lee was still looking at him like he was a puzzle to be solved. "I mean, you'd think that who we're attracted to is kind of...innate to who we are, right?"
“Mmnnh,” Lincoln murmured noncommittally. The wheels in his head were turning, but he needed to see where they led at his own pace. “But tell me, when did you get your vision corrected?”
The conversation kept replaying in his head over the next few days. It would have been easy to dismiss anyone else’s observations, but hearing them from Captain Lee--another version of him--forced Lincoln to consider the idea that maybe, just maybe, he hadn’t been as honest as he’d always thought. Not even with himself.
Not...entirely a surprise. All his life, Lincoln had deliberately avoided thinking about certain things, deliberately suppressed certain feelings, rather than confront them. It’d just been easier, that way. And he hadn’t been unhappy with that choice; the number of women he’d dated in any serious way might’ve been sparse in aggregate, but each of them had meant something profound. None of those relationships had been any kind of lie.
But he also hadn't gone out of his way to explore other options, and now he was being forced--by his own need for an understanding of the world and his place in it--to actively question why.
It wasn’t fear of what anyone might think. Lincoln had never spared a moment for the opinions of bigots in any case, and the FBI had made huge strides in the last few years toward making agents of all orientations feel welcome and valued. Robert would have shrugged and said, “yeah, so?”; Jules would have squeaked excitedly and tried to set him up with her brother.
It wasn’t lack of opportunity. There had been cues, subtle and otherwise, and one or two more obvious invitations. Just...not quite enticing enough to overcome his reservations.
It wasn’t lack of interest, and that was maybe the hardest thing to understand. So possibly, all things said and done, it came down to a lack of courage. Hard to admit, in the face of his go-getter action hero alternate self.
Or maybe he just hadn’t had enough reason. There hadn’t been a guy he’d wanted to date enough to swerve off the easier path of dating women; no one he’d wanted enough, period, to take the chance.
--except that wasn’t entirely true, either. It’s just that the one person he would’ve reordered his life around had been unavailable from before they met. And maybe that’s the simplest reason: After seeing what Robert and Jules had together, nothing less would be worth taking that risk. That was just...foolish, and unrealistic. And hypocritical, for not holding women to the same impossible standard.
He already knew how a relationship was supposed to feel, with women; he’d had no similar model to look to, where men were concerned, and hadn’t met anyone else worth testing half-imagined theories on. Maybe he’d been waiting for some (available) guy to suddenly present himself as Lincoln’s theoretical ideal dream man, someone worth breaking all his carefully constructed façades for.
Only that was an evasion too, because Peter Bishop has been right there. Granted that Peter had his own concerns, starting from “probably from another universe” and heading right into “in love with another Olivia Dunham”...but Lincoln hadn’t been imagining those looks or the chemistry between them. His own stubborn refusal to be open to the possibility had kept him from admitting that Peter could be that guy, the guy. Discretion was one thing, but completely disregarding a chance like that wasn’t just denial, it was actively self-hindering.
Lincoln’s other self had no such reservations, and that was...almost like sanction to be everything he was. To admit to places in himself he hadn't dared to go.
It really was past time to take that leap into the unknown. His job had already shown him the way, after all.
The next bridge meeting couldn't be arranged fast enough. As soon as the doors on either side opened, Lincoln offered brief greetings to the other agents and then pulled Captain Lee aside to a private corner, ignoring his bemused expression.
"I’ve been thinking a lot. About what you asked me last time." He took a deep breath. "Robert, my partner at the FBI. The man who was killed on the case that brought me into all of this. I... I loved him." It was easier than he'd thought, finally saying it out loud, although maybe that was because he was saying it--for all intents and purposes--to his mirror image. "I loved him."
Lee was watching him, eyes full of compassion. "I'm so sorry."
It was such a relief, to finally be able to talk about him like this. "Robert was kind of a joker, never serious, but one of the best agents I'd ever met. We were a good team. He got me out of the analyst's chair and into real life, I did all the research he didn’t have patience for.
"He was married, his wife and kids were-- they were my family, you know?" Lee nodded. "So I never said anything. He didn't know."
"Bet he did," Lee said softly. "If you talked about him like that. He knew you cared about him, at least."
Lincoln thought about that, the Christmases spent at Robert's house, the invitations to random movie nights and into Danzig family time. "Yeah."
Lee tilted his head, trying to catch Lincoln's eye. "You're okay, right? Not about to have a sexual identity crisis?"
"No," Lincoln said, and laughed. "No, I'm really not."
No crisis at all, but an opening of doors. Now, maybe, in addition to his new career, he might begin exploring new options in his personal life as well.
He could look at the other half of the human race from a different angle, without having to abandon the old one: he could admire Astrid's effortless grace, and admit he loved Robert, and echo his alternate's obvious feelings for his Olivia (with, he hoped, at least a little more subtlety), and allow himself to wonder what Peter really meant by the gift of those glasses. All at the same time, with no conflict.
Asking Peter out for coffee would be an excellent first step.