It all crashed down on Olivia when she came back home, weary to the bone and twitchy, frustrated by her day.
“I’m back,” she called to Frank, shedding her jacket and then unlacing her boots, her back creaking as she bent.
She found him in the kitchen, watching the news.
“Amber attacks, huh?” he said with a furtive, sweeping glance at her, but making no move in her direction.
“You have no idea,” she said and went to the fridge to get herself something cool and sweet to drink. “Twelve people got stuck – some NYPD cops, of course, but also civilians, people locked in the cells and innocents who’d just come to give a statement or file a complaint. It’s a complete mess. Broyles suggested that we might need to call on to the people from the other side for help, and I just hope it won’t come to that.”
“How did they get their hands on Amber?” Olivia still had her head buried in the fridge, and Frank’s voice reached her muffled, but it didn’t quite account for the odd quality she heard in his tone.
She grabbed a can of ginger ale and closed the fridge door. Frank was watching her, unreadable, sitting at the kitchen table with his hands laid flat on it, palms down.
“We don’t know yet,” she said in answer to his question, her tone measured, her eyes moving around quickly as she looked for a clue to what was wrong. She found it at his feet: Frank’s usual travel bag, perched on the top of another, bigger bag that he only got out for his longest absences.
Her eyes met his. “You’re leaving?”
“Yes. There’s been a flu outbreak in Midland. They need me. But–”
“You’re not coming back.”
The can in her hands felt heavy, slick with condensation and about to slip away from her.
“Liv,” he said, and she waited for the rest but it didn’t come. He really was just going to leave it at that.
“And you – now, really?” She was warming up to anger, so much easier to deal with than any other emotion. “The city is in a panic – terrorist attacks, Frank! – and work’s gonna be a nightmare and you’re just – you’re just going to leave now.”
“I’ve thought about it for a while, now,” he said stiffly, and the betrayal she felt could have been a sword blade, “and this is never really the right time. This is never going to be the right time. So I got that call about the assignment in Midland and – this was my cue to move along.”
Olivia was trembling now, and she hated her body for betraying her so.
“Why? Is there – is there someone else?”
“No, there isn’t. Not for me.” Frank bowed his head and let out a sigh. “But there is for you.”
That made no sense. Frank and her, being apart so often, had an arrangement: when they were on their own, they had a pass on sex with other people. They didn’t talk about it, so Olivia didn’t know what had happened on Frank’s side, but she’d always held her end of the bargain. Sex was one thing; what she shared with Frank – love, commitment, security – was a future. This wasn’t something you discarded like trash.
“There’s no one!” Olivia said adamantly. “No one who–” She pressed her lips in frustration, taking a long shaky breath. “Don’t you trust me?”
Frank shook his head, and Olivia, furious, opened her mouth to protest, but then he said, seemingly contradictory, “It’s not that I don’t trust you. You just don’t see what I see. I can’t explain it to you if you don’t–” He shook his head once more. “It’s over, Olivia.”
She steeled herself, feeling every muscle contract until her face became a mask.
“Alright,” she said. “If you have nothing else to say, then go. Get the hell out of here.”
He rose from his chair, finally, watching her warily like you watch a cornered animal. One bag in each hand he walked up to the door, his eyes on her all the way. His lips parted, like to take a deep breath, and she thought he was going to say, “Goodbye, Olivia,” or something equally dramatic, but he didn’t. The door closed behind him, leaving Olivia feeling small and bereft. The ginger ale can in her hand had warmed to body temperature and she looked at it dumbly. Be angry, she told herself.
She threw the can against the wall.
She couldn’t fall asleep until dawn and woke up bleary-eyed when Broyles called, telling her, “You and your team have to meet with Secretary Bishop at the DoD.”
Amber attacks, right, Olivia thought with her eyes on the ceiling of her room. This was all she needed to think about. Secretary Bishop probably had some mysterious wisdom to impart on them about the case. The day promised to be interesting, at the very least.
In the bathroom, standing in her underwear, she examined herself in the mirror. Thankfully, she hadn’t shed a tear, and her eyes were not red or puffy, so she only had to do the most perfunctory make-up cover to hide the dark circles from the lack of sleep. She didn’t want Lincoln or Charlie to notice that anything was amiss. She didn’t want to tell them. She knew they would be supportive if she needed them, would back off if she asked them to, but… If she told them, then it would get real. This certainly wasn’t the mature way to handle the situation, but there you go.
She procrastinated so much that she was late, and she found her partners waiting for her in front of the DoD Headquarters, having taken an earlier ferry to Liberty Island than she had.
“You’re late,” Lincoln called to her once she was within hearing distance. “Couldn’t bear to leave Frank’s big, strong arms?”
Olivia was the best shot out of them, but Lincoln’s aim today was deadly. Pretend everything is okay. She flashed a bright smile at him and punched him in the shoulder. “If you keep going about my boyfriend’s arms, I’ll have to start thinking that you got a crush on him.”
“Oooh, touché,” Charlie said.
They entered the lobby together, Olivia and Charlie flanking Lincoln’s sides. They passed security as Lincoln replied loftily, “Well, I do have impeccable taste, don’t I?” He gave a pointed look to Olivia, a sly smile on his lips. “Look at you, for instance.”
He’d pitched his voice lower, just for them. With how stressful their jobs were, sex with teammates as a way to let off some steam was common among Fringe Division, but it was frowned upon to be too obvious about it.
“You’re so smooth,” Charlie commented sardonically, and Lincoln turned to him.
“Oh, wait, there’s you too,” he said. “Well, exception to the rule and all that.”
Charlie shot back something, but Olivia wasn’t really listening to them anymore. Lincoln and Charlie. She’d had her romps with her teammates on more than one occasion, but that couldn’t be what Frank was talking about, could it? The thought of dating Lincoln or Charlie was more than a little ridiculous. It was easy, working with them, being with them. Easy as air. But conventional dating? No, she just couldn’t see it happening with either of them.
“Liv? Daydreaming already?”
It was Lincoln again, the annoying little shit. Olivia was grateful when they were led into Secretary Bishop’s office immediately and all private conversations were put aside. The man had his back to them, looking through the huge bay windows of his office, and slowly turned around when their entrance was announced. Olivia wondered idly if he calculated it on purpose for dramatic effect. Had she been in a better mood, she would have tried to sneak a snarky comment or a look at the guys.
“Captain Lee!” Secretary Bishop greeted Lincoln. “Agent Dunham, Agent Francis,” he added with a nod to each.
“Sir,” Olivia and Charlie chorused.
“I’ll cut right to the heart of the matter,” the Secretary said, his back straight and his hands joined behind him, like a general standing in front of his army. “You had to handle an Amber attack yesterday – I read your report, Captain Lee. The first question you probably asked yourself is how the terrorists managed to procure the chemical. What I am about to tell you, you will have guessed, has to remain confidential. Amber’s popularity among the population is very low, to say the least, and with every attack it will only get lower.” They nodded dutifully and he went on, “Last Friday, four days ago, a can of Amber 31422 was stolen from Bishop Dynamics, where it was kept for research purposes. It has been used already, but if the terrorists have a chemist on their team they’ll be able to duplicate the product and use it for new attacks.”
“And you have reasons to suspect that they have a chemist among their numbers,” Lincoln said.
“Yes,” the Secretary said, the word snapping in the air, sharp with his displeasure. “I suspect that the theft of the Amber at Bishop Dynamics was an inside job.” He took a moment to let the meaning of his words hit home. “You can see how this makes the whole matter very delicate. I trust that you will be swift, efficient, and extremely discreet in your investigation.”
Under the Secretary’s stone-cold stare, Olivia felt about six years old again, but she didn’t allow herself the comfort of exchanging a glance with her partners as she answered, along Charlie and Lincoln, “Yes, sir.”
Secretary Bishop gave them a nod of approval. “All the information we possess on the theft will be transmitted to you. You will have full access to the lab at Bishop Dynamics and the team that conducts the research on Amber 31422. You’re dismissed.”
They nodded their goodbyes and left the facility together, not exchanging a word until they were outside.
“This doesn’t sound good at all,” Lincoln said grimly. “The employees at Bishop Dynamics are thoroughly hand-picked and background-checked to the day of their birth. If one of them is dirty, then what’s safe?”
“Nothing,” said Charlie to the rhetorical question, putting on his sunglasses against the harsh glare of early morning sun.
“Yeah,” Olivia concurred, “Not good at all.”
But in truth, all she felt was relief: relief that, blessedly, work was going to be crazy enough to take her mind off of other things.
“On Tuesday 6, Helen Beckett, in charge of the inventory in her team, noticed the absence of one can of Amber 31422,” Olivia intoned, reading from the big screen on the wall the information Secretary Bishop had transfered to them. “No sign of forced entry anywhere, which immediately points to an insider. The next day Ian Carlyle failed to show up for work, and has been MIA since then. His girlfriend hasn’t heard from him, his sisters haven’t heard from him. Seems like a big neon sign saying ‘guilty’.”
“Hmm, I don’t know,” Charlie said, arms crossed on his chest, biceps bulging. He was frowning at the screen. “A little too clear-cut to me. What do we know about this guy?”
“Ian Carlyle, 27, got a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania,” Lincoln said, pulling the info from their database. The suspect’s picture popped on the wall-screen: young, brown hair cut very short, an angular face, and the pale skin of someone who didn’t see enough sun. “Born in Philadelphia,” Lincoln continued. “Two sisters, Maya and Jessica. Parents died in a car crash five years ago. Girlfriend’s name is Marie Darveau. Ian’s been working for Bishop Dynamics for almost nine months.”
“New addition, huh?” Olivia said with a look to Charlie.
“The newest,” Lincoln confirmed. “I’d say the two of you go to Bishop Dynamics and try to gather what happened, and I’ll get a statement from the girlfriend.”
“Oh, right, the girlfriend,” Charlie said, teasing but already grabbing his jacket. “Is she cute?”
“I’ll be sure to ask her for her number,” Lincoln said, blue eyes sparkling. “For my personality-challenged partner.”
“Guys,” Olivia chastised with a mock-stern face. “This poor girl’s boyfriend is missing and accused of being a terrorist. She doesn’t need for either of you to be inflicted on her.”
“I’ll be the perfect gentleman.” Lincoln bowed with a flourish to Olivia, and grimaced to Charlie before he went ahead and left.
Olivia watched him walk away, and her eyes were drawn again to Ian Carlyle’s picture; something in the shape of his face reminded her of Frank. Are you a terrorist? she silently asked him. She felt Charlie approach, the solid weight of his presence suddenly by her side.
“You okay to go, Liv?” he asked. He was making a show of not looking at her, checking on the gun in his holster and on the car keys in his pocket, but what she heard was, are you okay?
“Yes, sir,” she said, trying to sound upbeat. “Was born ready.”
That made him crack a smile. “I like it when you call me sir.”
“I’ll try not to make a habit of it, then.”
He rolled his eyes and pressed a hand to the small of her back to get her to move. Olivia tried not to let the familiar way he touched her make her think of Frank.
Charlie drove on the way to Bishop Dynamics while Olivia gazed mournfully through the window, catching sight at the corner of a street of a pile of flowers, pictures, and stuffed toys, one of the memorials to Amber victims. She knew Charlie must have picked up on the fact that something was wrong with her, but he was leaving her alone for the moment, which was all she wanted. For now, the case came first.
Bishop Dynamics was a massive, all-glass building in the shape of an ice crystal. Olivia and Charlie were sent to the 18th floor where a slim, dark-haired young woman was waiting for them.
“Helen Beckett,” she said, pushing her glasses up her nose. She looked nervous, but that didn’t mean much. A visit from the authorities did that to some people.
“You’re the one who notified Fringe Division about the missing can, aren’t you?” Olivia said.
“Yes,” Helen Beckett said, her tone short. “Maybe we should… Please follow me to my office.”
She led them through grey corridors with shiny black floors. They didn’t meet anyone else on the way, every door they passed by was closed, and with their footsteps echoing hollowly it felt a bit like they were walking together through a vault.
“Creepy,” Olivia mouthed at Charlie, who raised his eyebrows in agreement.
They finally reached Helen’s Beckett’s office and the young woman invited them to sit on two comfortable-looking chairs, while she slipped behind her desk. Once she was settled, she seemed to gain some confidence. Her back straightened and she joined her hands in front of herself, interlacing her fingers.
“What do you want to know?”
Olivia and Charlie shared a quick look, a light-speed decision passing between them on how they were going to play this.
“Explain to us how this all works, Ms. Beckett,” Charlie, leaning forward almost imperceptibly; he wasn’t being overtly threatening, but Olivia noticed the young woman recoil a bit.
“Well,” Beckett said, visibly pulling herself together. “Here on the 18th floor, we work on chemicals that will be used by Fringe Division. Developing them, improving them. Amber is one of those chemicals. I’m the person in charge of the inventory: we keep track of all the chemicals’ movements – every out and in, every new acquisition, every time we destroy the products we have no use for anymore. Only I have the necessary access codes to enter new information in the system.”
“What if other members of the team need access?” Olivia asked.
“They go through me – or, well, I’m the one who keeps track, but technically they all would be able get the product out of storage.”
“And none of the Amber cans were supposed to be out?”
“No. It was during a routine check that I realized one of them was missing.”
“So, wait.” Charlie raised a finger. “You mean that the can could have been stolen earlier than last Tuesday then?”
The young woman colored. “Yes. I supposed it could have.”
Charlie’s eyes flicked briefly to Olivia, who took over seamlessly: “Where’s the Amber kept? What’s the security like?”
“The Amber cans are kept in a cold room on this floor. As for security… You passed the lobby security when you arrived. Access to the interior area is even more closely monitored, as well as the access to the labs and the storage areas. We have biometric readers, video surveillance everywhere, and off-hour access to the labs is restricted.”
“What about the maintenance team?”
“All full-time or part-time personnel are screened before accessing the building. Maintenance is done every day at very specific times.”
“And Ian Carlyle?” Olivia asked, attentive to her interlocutor’s reaction to the name. Beckett kept her features tightly schooled, probably having been expecting the question.
“What do you mean?” she said. “Do I know if he’s capable of stealing a can and ambering a police station?”
“Do you know him well? Has he ever spoken against Fringe protocols?”
“I don’t know him very well. He keeps to himself, and so do I.”
“Right. Is it possible for us to see the cold room where the Amber is kept?”
Beckett’s mouth twisted, like she’d just bitten into something bitter. Olivia took a breath, about to push – they had Secretary Bishop’s assurance that they’d be able to access everything – when Beckett said, “There’s no sign of forced entry. I don’t know what you’ll get out of seeing it.”
“Let us be the judge of that,” Charlie said.
In the end, they didn’t find anything suspicious on the scene – no scratch on the door leading to the cold room, no suspicious print, everything pristine clean. The Amber cans stood at attention in the frigid air of the room, like soldiers in formation. In tacit agreement Olivia and Charlie still examined carefully every inch, to Helen Beckett’s growing irritation, because it never hurt to establish that they were in charge of the investigation.
“What’s your feeling about her?” Charlie asked Olivia as they left the building, Olivia straightening the collar of her jacket against the sudden bite of the cold wind.
“Well,” she said, “she was obviously very nervous, but it could just have been that she’s worried to be found at fault.”
“What’s the other ‘but’?”
Olivia half-smiled. He knew her well. “When I mentioned Carlyle, she was careful not to let anything show, after having been so nervous for the rest.”
“Like she was afraid to betray something, yeah. Could be for some innocuous reason, though. Maybe she didn’t like the guy – or liked him too much – and didn’t want us to build assumptions over her reaction. This was the one question she’d probably been able to anticipate.”
“Could be,” Olivia agreed easily; at this point in the investigation, everything was still possible. “Let’s see what Lincoln got out of Carlyle’s girlfriend.”
They met with Lincoln for lunch in a small diner at the corner of Washington Street and 12th, and while waiting for the food, they shared the fruits of their respective morning hunts, the guys both sitting across the table from Olivia.
“According to Marie Darveau,” Lincoln said, “Carlyle was unhappy with his job. He never really expanded much on the subject, she said, but he told her on one occasion, and I quote, ‘Amber is the most evil of man’s creations.’” He punctuated his words with a pointed look at Olivia and Charlie.
“Strong words,” Charlie drawled.
“Why was he still working for Bishop Dynamics if that’s what he thought?” asked Olivia, which got her a huff from Lincoln.
“Why do you think?” he said, the corner of his mouth quirked with cynicism. “That fat paycheck weighs heavily in the balance when it comes to moral conundrums.”
“He didn’t join any of the organizations opposing the use of Amber, though,” Olivia said, drawing from her memories of Carlyle’s file. “Either he’s just one more hypocrite among a million, or…”
“Or he’s deliberately set himself as a secret weapon,” Lincoln completed, nodding as he spoke. “This is what I think. All this could have been planned for a long time.” He looked to Charlie by his side, nudging him. “You don’t agree.”
It always went that way: whatever theory they cooked up during their brainstorming sessions, one of them was sure to speak up to play devil’s advocate. Charlie shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “Call me a skeptic, but I don’t feel it when everything is served to us like that on a silver plate. If that guy’s such a mastermind, why run away and make himself look like the perfect suspect?”
“I’ll call you a pain in my ass,” Lincoln said good-naturedly. “We’ll have to dig deeper, that’s all. Find Carlyle, find the group behind the attack.”
“There hasn’t been any claim for it, has it?” Olivia said, but they were interrupted by the arrival of a perky brunette wearing a red apron. She put their plates down on the table, exchanging a flirty smile with Lincoln. After that the conversation ground to a halt; the guys ate like famine was knocking at their door while Olivia picked at her food, her thoughts jumping from Frank to the case until one started to mix up with the other.
“What’s wrong with Liv?” Lincoln asked Charlie, popping a fry into his mouth.
“I don’t know, she’s been quiet all morning,” Charlie answered.
“Not eating too, hmm. It’s not like her.”
“Are you two done talking over my head?” Olivia grumbled, raising her eyes from her plate to lift an irritated eyebrow at them. Lincoln, shameless, flashed her an impish grin, and Charlie snorted.
“Are you gonna tell us what’s wrong?” Charlie replied. “God knows I’m a patient man, but dark and broody doesn’t really suit you.”
She took a bite from her sandwich, trying to muster the will to be annoyed at them. But they were partners, doing a dangerous job: they needed to be aware of what could affect her mood and her ability to concentrate on her job. She had to give them something. And that something better be the truth, because they would see right through her otherwise.
There was really no easy way to say it. “Frank left me,” she said.
She waited for the flow of questions that was sure to come, her eyes downcast. At the corner of the table, there was a scratch shaped like a bolt of lightning, and she focused on it rather than looking at her partners. She couldn’t keep her hands still and started fiddling with the salt and pepper in their cradle. When the silence became too much, she risked a look.
“Oh, Liv,” Lincoln simply said, standing up and reaching out for her.
She let him wrap her in his arms, rising to meet him, even as she heard a quiet cough from a neighboring table. He wasn’t as tall as Frank, but just tall enough for his chin to rest on the top of her head if she tucked her face in the crook of his neck, which she did as she wet the fabric of his jacket with her tears, making no sound at all. Then she heard a shuffle as Charlie moved around them and pressed against her from behind; she felt him comb his fingers through her hair, his other hand on her shoulder, murmuring quietly in her ear with the low gravel that was so uniquely his: “Livvy, shh. It’s gonna be okay.”
For one moment the other people in the diner didn’t exist anymore, the drone of their conversations, the click of glasses against plates, all fading into the background. Sandwiched between them, not for the first time but in a radically different context, with her nose full of Lincoln’s aftershave and the feel of Charlie’s hard chest behind her, she felt a flutter low in her stomach, something warm and familiar. It wasn’t lust, but something softer; less urgent but burning strong. She exhaled slowly, blowing air against Lincoln’s neck.
“Liv?” he said softly.
“I’m okay now.” She backed away from him, finding that Charlie had already moved to give her some room. “Thank you,” she told them, with a close-mouthed smile to both.
She slid back into her booth, glancing briefly sideways to the other tables, catching a few wide-eyed stares from some of the patrons goggling at them. Lincoln had noticed them too.
“Look away, people, there’s nothing going on here,” he said loudly with his “Fringe Division” voice.
“Thanks for that,” Olivia said wryly. “I think you reached the few people who hadn’t looked in our direction yet.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, straight-faced. “I’m a giving man.”
He took a bite from his burger, then licked the sauce that had dripped on his hand, fingers, and then down to his wrist. Olivia laughed as Charlie made disapproving noises like an overbearing mother and threw napkins at him.
Olivia turned back to her food with more appetite. There was an uncomfortable realization somewhere in what had just happened, but she didn’t want to examine it too closely yet. She looked at her partners squabbling like a pair of twelve years olds and smiled with her mouth full.
Five days after the first attack, the Amber terrorists hit again. Charlie got the news when Lincoln came to knock on his door, just as Charlie was getting out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his hips. The past few days had been nothing but painstaking field work, interviewing all of Carlyle’s friends and family, and going through all the anti-Amber organizations, looking for anything or anyone suspicious.
Charlie didn’t bother putting on clothes when he went to open the door, knowing it had to be Lincoln or Olivia – anyone else would’ve called first. It wasn’t as if his partners hadn’t seen it all already.
Lincoln’s face was enough for Charlie to immediately get that something was wrong.
“God,” he groaned. “What now?”
“There’s been another attack,” Lincoln said. “At the DoD hospital.”
Charlie rubbed a hand over his mouth. “Shit. How many?”
“Twenty-four got ambered. Two people died during the evacuation.”
“Any Fringe agents ambered?”
Charlie nodded. It shouldn't make it better that none of their own had been caught; it still was a fucking ugly mess. He turned around to look for some clothes, trusting that Lincoln would follow him inside and close the door. He walked into his bedroom, grabbed underwear, t-shirt, and pants from his closet, and dropped his towel on the bed. He’d left the door leading to the leaving room open, and as he stepped into his underwear, he could feel Lincoln’s eyes linger on his backside. Charlie shot him a dry look over his shoulder.
“Do you mind?”
“Hey,” Lincoln said, raising both his hands in defense, “no crime in looking.”
“Should make you pay a fee,” Charlie grumbled. “You peeping tom.”
There hadn’t been anything sexual between them since the last time Frank had been out of town, and anyway without Olivia here it would just feel wrong. Weird to think that Frank would always be out of town now, but they hadn’t discussed what it meant for them yet. They had more pressing matters to attend to, and Olivia needed time to regain her footing.
“When was the attack?” he asked, tucking his gun inside his holster.
“An hour ago. Broyles called me and I said I’d pick you and Liv up.”
“Waiting for us in the car.” Lincoln smirked. “Obviously, she didn’t know you’d be naked.”
Charlie flipped him off. The comment threw him a bit for a loop, not that he would let Lincoln pick up on it: they didn’t really flirt outside the bedroom, unless the banter counted – with Lincoln, it was sometimes hard to tell.
“Ready?” Lincoln asked.
“This is gonna be a long day. Let’s go.”
The entire intersection where the hospital stood was blocked by the police, but the sidewalk in front of the building, the flight of stairs leading to the entrance, were all swarming with people. Crying people, shocked people, people lying on stretchers or hugging an IV pole. Behind the glass wall that made up the hospital front, Charlie could see the orange of Amber gleaming in the sun.
They approached one of the policemen guarding the perimeter.
“Fringe division,” Lincoln said, flashing his badge. “I’m Captain Lee.” He jerked his head in Olivia and Charlie’s direction. “This is Agent Dunham and Agent Francis.”
“Well, agents, I’m so glad you’re here.” The policeman was pretty young and a little wide-eyed. “Everyone's kind of hysterical. We tried to gather statements but…”
“Do you know if anyone saw who opened the can?” Olivia asked, her hands thrust deep into her pockets and her eyes taking in the building in one sweeping glance.
“No, not yet. Some people saw the white smoke spread and understood what it meant – especially in light of the previous attack – so they warned others. Fortunately it didn’t look like the terrorists had more than one can and it only got one floor.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said. “We’ll start interrogating the survivors.”
They split: Lincoln and his fancy equipment went to check if the molecular cohesion around the hospital was intact, while Olivia and Charlie separated to talk to as many people as they could. This was the part Charlie enjoyed the least about his job: trying to get something coherent out of hysterical people. Give him class 4 vortices any time instead.
“Look, lady, slow down, I don’t understand…”
The woman he was trying – failing – to calm down was small, even for a woman, but her voice was pitched to sky-high levels. Charlie’s mom had been prone to screaming, a lot, and as a result women’s screams got on his nerves like nothing else. That must be why he liked Liv’s voice so much, it being on the deeper end of the female spectrum.
“What is Fringe division doing!” the diminutive woman screeched, gripping his arms with both hands. “Why were we given no warning? We didn’t have time to evacuate!”
“This was not Fringe protocol, ma’am,” he said, taking her hands to detach her from him, gently but firmly. “Did you see anything–”
Charlie stopped listening to her as his eyes caught Olivia heading toward him, the serious look on her face telling him that she had found something.
“One moment, please,” he distractedly said to the woman, pushing past her to meet Olivia.
“Got something?” he asked her.
“Yeah, look at this.” As she spoke, she showed him her datapad. “I got an eye witness who saw a man putting a silvery can down behind a curtain. Few seconds later, the witness saw white smoke come out.”
Charlie leaned over to look at the sketch on Olivia’s datapad: it was a man in his thirties, with dull blond hair and a big flat nose.
“According to the witness,” Olivia said, “the man was short, about 5’5”, stocky in build.”
They exchanged a meaningful look. Not Carlyle, then.
“It actually makes sense,” Charlie said. “They have to know that we’re looking for him, they wouldn’t risk him out there. They need him to synthetize the Amber. Did you get a match on this guy?”
“Not an exact match, the sketch lacks details, but I think I can narrow it down to a short list. If Carlyle isn’t working alone, there must have been contacts between them. We have to find out how they met.”
They joined with Lincoln – molecular cohesion was perfect, nothing to be concerned with, he told them – and filled him on what Olivia had found.
“That’s something,” he said. “We need to find–”
He was interrupted by the policeman from earlier, who was running to them with an urgent look on his face. They exchanged grimaces and quirked eyebrows: this looked alarming.
“Agents!” the man shouted, breathless. “You need to see this.”
They followed him to the entrance of the hospital where a group of police officers were gathered, whispering to each other in conspirator hushes. They parted just enough for Charlie, Olivia and Lincoln to enter the circle. The policeman who’d come to get them told the others, “These are the Fringe agents. Show them, Chris.”
Chris was a tall young woman with hair so blond it was almost white. She was holding something in her hands – when she angled toward him, Charlie saw that it was a piece of paper. She shoved the paper in Charlie’s hands.
It was a simple message, written archaically with a pen on a piece of paper – notepad paper, with faint bluish horizontal lines, the kind Charlie hadn’t seen since high school. To the attention of Fringe Division, it read. That was it.
“Turn it around,” Chris said.
“Amber is death,” Charlie read aloud, “It is worse than death: it is hell on Earth. How does it feel to have it turned against you? This is not the end.”
Ominous silent fell on the group after he stopped reading.
“Seems like our terrorists have a taste for melodrama,” Lincoln said, mouth twisted humorlessly.
“Yeah,” Charlie said; through the glass door he could see Amber where it had solidified in the lobby, and the figures in shadows of the people who’d gotten trapped as they were running away. “When you have that kind of leverage, I guess that you can afford to be melodramatic.”
“I hope you have something concrete to present me.”
The three of them were standing in line in Broyles’ office. Behind his desk, the man looked tense. True, he rarely looked all that relaxed, but Charlie had known him long enough to be able to distinguish the usual tenseness that came with responsibility and a world that was slowly falling apart, and the really serious shit: today, the muscles in his face looked carved in stone.
“The person who wrote this message knew what they were doing,” Charlie said; better go with the bad news first. “If they recorded themselves we’d have been able to identify them, even if they’d tried to distort their voice. But a written message…”
No one hand-wrote anymore. Broyles acknowledged this with a minute twitch of his jaw.
“And the paper?”
“Very basic notepad paper from thirty years ago. It’s not new, so it could belong to anyone who’s kept blank notepads from their school years. I’m sure there are a few stashed in my parents’ house.”
“Do you have anything? I’m getting a lot of very concerned calls – last one was from the mayor – and from what I’ve understood the future of Fringe division might be in question.”
“What does Secretary Bishop say?” Lincoln asked.
“Fringe Division has always been Secretary Bishop’s pet project. But he’s also the one who developed Amber. If terrorists keep using it as a weapon…”
Broyles trailed off, ending with a look weighted with meaning.
“We’re not completely at a loss though,” Lincoln said. “We have identified the man Olivia’s witness saw: Ronald Former, 33, living in Queens. Guy’s a teacher and a known activist. Seems like he’s the proud author of the slogan ‘Amber is death.’”
“Except that if he’s the author of the message left at the DoD hospital, he’s changed his tune,” Olivia said. “The message seems to indicate some knowledge of the truth about Amber.” She paused to look at Broyles – classified information, he’d told them. “It’s not surprising if Carlyle’s working with him. I suppose the scientists working on Amber know.”
Broyles let a beat pass before he answered, “Of course they do. The important thing is that the general population keeps ignoring the truth. The terrorists seem to have kept the information to themselves so far, but I’m afraid that it is because they’re trying to get us to betray ourselves.”
For a few seconds, Charlie didn’t get what he meant. He saw it on Olivia’s face, her gaping mouth and widened eyes, that she understood what was going on a split-second before he did. Lincoln breathed out, “damn,” and the truth hit Charlie: technically, they could free the people who had been trapped into Amber, because there wasn’t any tear in the reality being sealed off by the Amber. But if they did, then it would become popular knowledge that the ambered people weren’t actually dead. That was… a devious but brilliant plan.
“So we’re going to just leave those people trapped in there?” Olivia asked, her voice vibrating with indignation.
“We are going to follow orders, Agent Dunham,” said Broyles, his tone steely and his face hard as stone. “Secretary Bishop hasn’t made a decision yet.”
Olivia pressed her lips together and didn’t reply. Lincoln was pale, and Charlie felt the uneasiness that had settled in the room weigh like a wet blanket.
“In the meantime we need to act quickly to avoid a new attack,” Broyles said. “Lee and Francis, you go and try to arrest Former. Dunham, you work with Farnsworth on foreseeing the terrorists’ next move. Chances are high that they’re going to escalate in violence and scale, and we need to be ready for anything.”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison, before leaving his office with military swiftness.
It was a bright day as they walked down Former’s street in Queens, having parked a little farther away. It was cold but sunny, the air crisp and dry, and there was barely any wind. Nice weather for a day off, not that they would get one of those anytime soon.
“Hey,” Lincoln said, giving a shove to Charlie’s arm.
Charlie tsk’d in annoyance. “What?”
“Isn’t that Davis over there?” Lincoln said, pointing to a couple on the sidewalk across the street, seeming unconcerned by Charlie’s tone. “Why does he get to go on a stroll while we work our asses off?”
Stopping to squint his eyes – it was a few hundred yards away – Charlie watched the couple walking hand in hand, and realized with a jolt of surprise that they were two men, and that the taller indeed looked like their fellow Fringe agent.
“Huh,” he said.
“Nothing.” Charlie tore his eyes away from the couple and resumed walking, Lincoln following him just a fraction second later. “I just didn’t know that Davis liked dick.”
“’Liked dick?’” Lincoln echoed. “What’s wrong with that?”
“I didn’t say anything was wrong.”
Charlie started walking in faster strides, almost unconsciously, like he could lose Lincoln, which was stupid of course because it only served to incense him.
“Don’t you ‘like dick’ too?” Lincoln said, making a crude gesture with his hand between his legs. “I seem to remember you were not too disgusted by this one.”
Charlie stopped abruptly, taking Lincoln by surprise and almost forcing him to run into his back.
“Will you stop being a whiny bitch?”
Lincoln’s hackles visibly raised at this. He wore his sexuality like a badge of honor, and it was no secret for anyone who knew him that he liked it both ways. It got annoying at times, because he didn’t seem to understand that not everybody was like him. Charlie had never voiced it as such, but he knew that Lincoln must have realized that in his twenty-five year long sex life, Charlie had never gotten naked with another man before Lincoln. It wasn’t that he was ashamed – he just didn’t feel like making a big statement out of it.
He couldn’t say any of this to Lincoln, of course. That would’ve meant taking the easy way, and it wasn’t what they did. Instead, they looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, each trying to stare the other down.
“I don’t know,” Lincoln said. “Will you stop being an asshole?”
“Shouldn’t we be doing our goddamn job rather than calling each other names?” Charlie said when it looked like they were going to be there a while.
That did the trick; Lincoln was a professional, after all. He frowned for good measure, gave Charlie a last baleful look, and headed for Former’s domicile. This time Charlie was the one who had to catch up.
They were politely received by Former’s wife, an elegant forty-something woman with striking auburn hair neatly tied into a bun. She was unreservedly courteous, seeming unfazed by the fact that Fringe agents were after her husband.
“Do you know when your husband will be back?” Charlie asked, cautiously putting down the tiny porcelain cup Mrs. Former had poured coffee into. The handle looked ridiculously thin between his fingers.
“No.” Mrs. Former’s hands cupped one of her knees, her fingers tightly interlaced. “I don’t even know if he’ll be back.”
Charlie and Lincoln shared a glance.
“What do you mean?” Lincoln asked, voice neutral.
“The last time I saw my husband was two days ago. He hasn’t come home since, hasn’t even called me.”
Charlie met Lincoln’s eyes again – if Former had gotten wind of the fact he’d been spotted at the hospital, he was going to vanish the same way Carlyle had. Mrs. Former didn’t look frantic like a worried spouse should be: she was pale, but had a good grip on herself. She had to be aware that something was up.
“You don’t know where your husband could have gone, by any chance?” Charlie asked.
“If I did, I would tell you,” she replied tightly. “I’m not an idiot, agents. I know my husband is in trouble. I have felt it coming for a long time.”
“If you want to help your husband,” Charlie said, “tell us everything you know. Better we get to him before this mess is beyond repair.”
He didn’t say it, but he felt like it was maybe already beyond repair, with the people trapped in Amber and the resulting moral dilemma. The good of the few versus the good of the many, an old classic.
It seemed to strike a chord in Mrs. Former, though, because she looked briefly down, shifted in her seat, and said, “I barely know anything. My husband has always been morally opposed to the use of Amber. On principle, you understand. He signed petitions, went on marches, that sort of things. Then it changed – he became more involved, created his own association. It got to the point of obsession.”
“Do you know if anything happened to make him change?” Lincoln asked.
“Yes.” Mrs. Former looked like she’d come to a decision, her jaw set in a firm line. “A couple of years ago, my husband’s father died. When my husband sorted through his father’s things, he came across some evidence that his father had cheated on his wife repeatedly, and had illegitimate children from his mistresses.” Charlie or Lincoln must have had some expression of impatience, because she said, “Bear with me, this story has a point. My husband proceeded to look for his half-siblings – part curiosity, part safety, in case they tried to make claims on their father’s inheritance – and he found two of them, a half-brother and a half-sister. They met; they connected. My husband had grown up as an only child, and he completely embraced the relationship with his siblings. But eighteen months ago, his brother was trapped into Amber when the Franklin Street Station was quarantined.”
She paused, letting the silence speak for itself. It didn’t take a genius to figure why Former might have blown a gasket after losing his newfound brother that way, especially if he’d been opposed to Amber before. They had a motive, but it didn’t help them with the man’s current whereabouts.
“Do you know a man named Ian Carlyle?” Charlie asked, remembering they hadn’t yet established a connection between the two men.
“No, I don’t.” She shook her head. “I’ve never heard that name before, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, you were very helpful.”
Charlie and Lincoln thanked the woman and rose in a synchronized motion. Charlie insisted again that Mrs. Former call them if anything should come up, while Lincoln drifted in the direction of the fireplace. As he was talking to Mrs. Former Charlie saw him from the corner of his field of vision, looking at the photographs lined up on the mantel.
“Hey, Charlie,” he said suddenly, something urgent in his tone. Then he turned to Mrs. Former. “Do you know a woman named Helen Beckett?”
Mrs. Former’s eyes and knitted eyebrows reflected surprise at the question, but she answered easily, “Oh, yes. She’s my husband’s half-sister.”
“It was her from the beginning.” Lincoln was talking to Olivia through his ear cuff, while Charlie was driving, one eye on the road and the other on his partner. “We need to move fast before she gets wind that we’re onto her. Hopefully she’s not aware that her brother was spotted at the hospital.” He paused, probably listening to Olivia’s reply. “Yeah, you do that. Charlie and I will swing by her place.”
“Liv’s going to Bishop Dynamics?” Charlie asked once Lincoln had flipped his cuff off.
“Yeah, she’s also put every Fringe agent on alert. We’ll find her.”
Helen Beckett didn’t live very far from her brother’s place; whether it was a coincidence or not, it meant that Lincoln and Charlie were there not twenty minutes after leaving Former’s place. They parked a couple of streets away, not wanting to clue her or anyone who could be at her apartment about their presence.
“Think her brother is there?” Lincoln said, voice low even though Beckett’s building wasn’t in sight yet.
“And what about Carlyle? Is he even connected to this mess?”
It was sheer gut instinct that made Charlie answer, “I think the poor guy got framed. Probably dead by now.”
They got silent as they approached their target, walking close to the walls to lessen the chances they’d be seen from the windows. There was a narrow back alley that had to lead to the back of the building: Charlie leaned to check if it was empty, then turned to nod at Lincoln.
“Take the front, I’ll go through the fire escape,” he said, drawing his gun out.
Lincoln raised an eyebrow at the sight of it. “Are you sure it’s necessary?”
“You know my motto: better safe than sorry. It’s better if I’m safe and they’re sorry.”
“You just pulled that one out of your ass,” Lincoln said, but he clapped Charlie on the shoulder, and Charlie couldn’t help but notice that his touch lingered a little longer than needed.
“Be safe,” Charlie said, and Lincoln’s hand rose to his head for a mock military salute.
They parted, and Charlie walked into the dark alley, gun pointed forward, ears and eyes alert. At the corner of his eye he caught sight of an Auburn Diamond, and his left hand reflexively went to the pocket where he kept his oxygen, but the sign wasn’t blinking so he ignored the urge to use it.
He heard something from behind him, a shuffle, and whipped around immediately, scanning the area. The busy street at the end of the alley formed a rectangle of light and life, like at the end of a long corridor, but the alley itself was dimly lit and getting darker with the falling night. There was a big dumpster against the brick wall of the building, the only place where someone could hide, so Charlie padded slowly, quietly, in that direction. His heart pounded loudly but steadily; under his skin the ever-present itch of the arachnids was becoming an ache, reminding him he needed his shot. He took a breath and all was left was the steely calm that came before action.
He was about to point his gun behind the dumpster and shout when a man sprung out with a scream, like a devil out of its box, and Charlie stumbled backward, almost losing his balance and his gun.
“Fuck!” he swore as the man shoved him against the dumpster, getting a glimpse of a flat nose, blond hair.
The man raised a fist and Charlie blocked his arm, tried to push him away but though the man was smaller, he was damn strong. The corner of the dumpster dug into Charlie’s lower back, acutely painful, and the man’s face – Former, had to be him – was barely inches away from his, his grey eyes burning, intense and crazy.
“Motherfucker!” Charlie managed to extract himself and land a blow, and the man cursed while Charlie grabbed his gun. “Fringe Division!” he yelled.
He heard the scraping noise behind him too late – the back of his head exploded with pain, and the world shifted and darkened.
Shit, shit, shit. That was the litany going through Lincoln’s head. Fucking nightmare. Can’t be happening.
“Liv!” he barked as he flicked his earcuff, jumping into the car and starting it. He didn’t know where the hell he was going but it didn’t matter.
“Lincoln?” Olivia’s voice in his ear, close and intimate, and just hearing her was a balm to his rattled nerves. “What is it?” she asked immediately, her voice tense and worried.
“Charlie’s missing.” He forced a breath in, making himself give a full report for Liv’s benefit. “Beckett wasn’t at her place. Looks like she left in a hurry: her drawers were open, no toothbrush in the bathroom. I don’t know how long she’s been gone, but Charlie was supposed to come in from behind, take the fire escape, and now I can’t find him.”
“I tried to call him like a hundred times. He didn’t answer. I looked through all the building, the streets around… Are you at Bishop Dynamics? I’ll meet you there.”
“I’m on my way. There’s a march against Amber and all midtown is paralyzed.”
They let a silence linger between them while Lincoln drove, slaloming between cars and buses, leaving a trail of honking vehicles behind him. One eye on the road in front of him, the other in the rearview mirror, and his mind on the situation.
“I didn’t find his body,” he said, “which means they probably didn’t kill him.”
“Which means that they want him for something else.”
“Yeah. They want to make an example out of him.”
Olivia started to reply something but interrupted herself: “Lincoln, wait a sec–”
There was a click indicating that she’d switched to another conversation, putting him on hold, and Lincoln waited for her to get back to him, his heart pounding in his ears, dread curdling his stomach. The traffic light turned red and he had to grind to a halt, his foot pressed hard on the brakes, tires screeching in protest.
“Lincoln?” Olivia’s voice was tight and controlled.
Lincoln kept his eyes on the light, waiting for it to turn green, his fingers drumming against the wheel. “Let me guess: there was another attack.”
“Bingo,” Olivia said darkly.
Lincoln waded his way through the crowd surrounding Bishop Dynamics, focused on his target: the spot of color that was Olivia’s hair, barely visible behind the dark line of policemen delimiting a perimeter around the building. The people around him were not just panicked, like they’d been after the DoD hospital attack, but angry, yelling, some of them brandishing signs reading ‘Amber is Death’, and ‘Release the Ambered.’
Lincoln flashed his badge at the police to get through the protective line, and joined Olivia in the recess formed by one of the glass entrance doors.
“How many were trapped?” he asked without preliminaries, but froze at her expression.
Olivia knew how to keep her emotions in control when there was a need for it, but Lincoln had known her for two years, as a partner, as a friend, and, well, biblically. Her eyes hid nothing.
“What is it? Liv?”
“You need to see this for yourself,” she said.
She led him through the lobby, which was huge and empty save for a few Fringe agents.
“We evacuated the building,” Olivia explained once they were in the elevator. She had her hands thrust in her pockets and was rocking on the balls of her feet, all nervous energy. This didn’t bode well. “Only one floor was touched, but…”
“The floor where Beckett works, right?”
“Yes.” Olivia had been about to say something else, and her mouth remained open for another second before she pressed her lips together. “Yes,” she repeated.
The lights on their destination floor were off, but Lincoln didn’t need them to see the wall of Amber. He took a few steps toward it, Olivia lagging behind, and looked for the silhouettes of the people trapped inside. There was one standing, right in the middle of the corridor, and Lincoln immediately identified it as Helen Beckett, even though he had never met the woman in person.
“Kamikaze attack, or did she get trapped?” he murmured, somewhat rhetorically. Olivia said nothing.
There was another shadow at Beckett’s feet, someone who was crouched – no, lumped on the floor, like he or she had been unconscious when the Amber mist hit and solidified. Lincoln stepped closer; he gasped, feeling like the air had turned as solid as Amber.
“No,” he said. He felt Olivia come closer, the warmth of her shoulder against his.
“We found this,” she said, and held out to him another sheet of notepad paper. ‘Release the ambered’, was the message scrawled on it.
Charlie had told them once, “If I get ambered, just leave me in there.” Lincoln had refused to even consider that it might one day come to this.
“They got here so fast; they must have planned this,” he said, the words coming out of him without much control on his part; you run into a problem, you analyze it, dissect it into tiny bitty pieces that feel more manageable than the whole huge thing. He was formatted that way, as much by science as by his work as a Fringe agent.
“How did they get here so fast? It must have been a trap,” Olivia said, instantly in sync with his line of reasoning. “They wanted to take a Fringe agent, freeze him in Amber, because…”
“Former’s wife.” Lincoln’s memory conjured the poised woman, impeccably put together, her hands joined over her knees as she told them her husband’s tale of woe. “She played us well and good. They needed leverage. If the Department of Defense wouldn’t react to a few civilians falling victims to the Amber attacks, maybe the life of a Fringe agent would weigh more in the balance.”
Olivia snorted. “Have they met Secretary Bishop?”
“Probably not,” Lincoln said, the corner of his mouth curving up even though the rest of his face felt frozen.
Still, to think of it, it was not that bad a plan. Fringe agents didn’t grow on trees – it was a dangerous, thankless job, and Charlie was one of the best. Lincoln had no idea of what Secretary Bishop’s decision was going to be, and that scared him shitless. He angled toward Olivia, almost like they were going to kiss, and their eyes met. In Olivia’s wide-eyed gaze Lincoln found the same determination he had in him. No way in hell were they going to sit around and pray for the best.
He turned to face her, taking hold of her arms, drawing her closer.
“You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?” he said in some pale imitation of Charlie’s drawl.
She smiled. It was a dangerous smile.
Secretary Bishop took his time studying the skyline of buildings that could be seen from the window to his office, like he was unaware of Lincoln and Olivia standing straight with their hands locked behind their backs.
“Secretary Bishop,” Olivia called after a while, making him turn around and look at them with piercing eyes raking over them, as cold as a winter draft.
“I’m being told that we lost Agent Francis in another attack,” he said, his tone neutral enough but his expression knowing.
“With all due respect, sir,” Lincoln said, “we haven’t lost Agent Francis. We know where he is – and how to get him back. He isn’t dead.”
“You and I know that, but the general population doesn’t,” Bishop said, but despite the implied objection Lincoln saw something in the twist of his mouth and the quirk of his eyebrow, a willingness to be convinced, that made Lincoln bold enough to suggest: “The general population doesn’t have to know all we know, I agree with you there – they don’t have to know that the Amber the terrorists are using is the exact same formula that Fringe Division uses to contain vortices. We can put any spin we want on it.”
Secretary Bishop’s mouth pursed thoughtfully, and Lincoln and Olivia shared a quick, hopeful look.
“We can’t leave Agent Francis trapped in there,” Olivia insisted. “He’s a good agent, one of the best. You know that. And think about our allies from the other side – you know how eager they always are to moralize. It could affect our working relationship with them if they discovered that we are keeping all those people prisoners when we could technically free them without damage to the cohesion of our reality.”
The Secretary frowned, and for a moment Lincoln was afraid that Olivia had been too blunt. The man’s features schooled themselves once more in an unreadable mask as he said to Lincoln, “I knew your father well.”
The comment took Lincoln by surprise, as it seemed to come from nowhere and was no news to Lincoln or Olivia. “Yes, sir,” he replied cautiously, and then, because a little buttering up couldn’t hurt, “My father had a lot of respect for you.”
“You will stop those terrorists.” It didn’t sound as much as an order as some set-in-stone prediction. “I don’t want any more attacks, I don’t want those people to keep blackmailing us. This is an unacceptable situation, and I want it to stop, no matter the means. When this is done, I will free the people trapped in Amber. Do we understand each other?”
Failure wasn’t an option, got it. It wouldn’t have been one whatever Secretary Bishop said, but Lincoln nodded obediently anyway. “Perfectly, sir,” he said, echoed a split-second later by Olivia.
They left Liberty Island with renewed energy, but the high from the implicit carte blanche they’d obtained from Secretary Bishop didn’t last the ferry trip back to Manhatan.
“I guess all we need now is a plan,” Olivia said in a dry tone, and the despondent look on her face made Lincoln’s heart squeeze in his chest, both because he hated seeing her unhappy, and because he knew that she was thinking of what was at stake.
He nudged her with his shoulder, once, then again until she snorted and shoved back. “Hey,” he said. “Piece of cake.”
“Right. I forgot – you’re the brain to mine and Charlie’s brawn.”
“Nice of you to acknowledge it.”
They kept up with their banter until they made it to HQ, but it felt forced without Charlie there with them, cruelly unbalanced. HQ was buzzing with activity, and their arrival was welcomed by a curt, “Good. You’re here,” from Broyles.
“We have free rein from Secretary Bishop to do whatever it takes to stop Former,” Lincoln said. “We just need to find him or get him to surface again.”
“Agent Farnsworth made a few estimations for us,” Broyles said with a nod to the young woman.
At this cue, Agent Farnsworth started to drone, the glow from her screen creating two pools of light in her dark eyes: “According to my calculations, there’s a 10% chance that Former will attempt to leave the city, 5% chance that he will attempt to leave the country entirely, 40% chance that he will attempt another attack in the next 48 hours, and 45% chance that he will try to go back to Bishop Dynamics to liberate Helen Beckett. There’s also a 50% chance that he will try to contact his wife. I have made other estimations about the possible places and timings of his next attacks if you want them.”
Farnsworth raised her head, almost meeting Lincoln’s eyes in expectation to his demands. Lincoln opened his mouth to speak up, but Olivia beat him to the punch: “He’s going back. He’ll want to free his sister.”
“You sure?” Lincoln asked doubtfully. “This is awfully risky for him.”
“He attacked Bishop Dynamics,” Olivia argued. “At this point he must be desperate or crazy. Think about it – Secretary Bishop is giving no sign that he’ll yield to Former’s demands, we know who he is, and he’s lost his primary accomplice with all her precious scientific knowledge of Amber. And that’s without taking into account the fact that she’s his sister. Given how he reacted to his brother getting stuck in Amber, I think he’ll want to hold onto his remaining blood relative.”
“Yeah, precisely – the brother. What makes you think Former will try to set his sister free when he didn’t try it with his brother? Helen Beckett had the necessary knowledge.”
“The circumstances are different: Former hadn’t backed himself into corner the way he has now. He probably still thought he could both help his brother and further his anti-Amber agenda. Sir,” Olivia turned to Broyles, who had listened to the exchange in silence, arms folded across his chest, “I know I’m right. Former will go back to Bishop Dynamics. Allow us to go with a team and we’ll catch him there.”
“We don’t know how soon he’ll go back there,” Broyles said. “Chances are that he will lay low for a while and wait until we’re distracted with something else.”
“Unless,” Lincoln said, and all the eyes of everyone involved in the conversation turned to him, “unless he already thinks we’re distracted with something else.”
Broyles’s brow furrowed. “What are you thinking?”
The crude light from the interrogation room was doing Mrs. Former no favor, her pale complexion washed out to the point that she looked sick. Or maybe she was just uncomfortable.
“I apologize for the summon, Mrs. Former,” Lincoln said, sitting at the table across from her, smiling at her with what he hoped was a friendly smile. “You probably heard about the latest attack on Bishop Dynamics. My partner – the one who was with me when we visited you,” Lincoln let his eyes drop down, and swallowed in a flash of genuine distress, “he got caught in it.”
He looked up to observe her reaction and saw her draw a deep breath, but apart from that her face was quite hard to read. Was it surpris he could see there, or maybe regret? Had she known when she’d subtly directed them toward Helen Beckett that she would throw one of them off the cliff?
“I’m sorry to hear about your partner,” she said. “What can I do to help?”
“I know you said you didn’t know where your husband was, or about his plans.” He marked a pause to give her time to come back on her declarations, but she merely looked at him with a cool expectant expression, so he went on, “But if you could give us even the slightest idea of what he could do next… What his next target could be. I imagine he talked to you about his grievances against Amber protocol – what was his anger particularly aimed at?”
“Well.” She pressed her lips in a tight line, as if thinking about Lincoln’s question, or hesitating, and maybe Lincoln was projecting but he thought there was something calculated about the gesture. “As I said before, I have no certainty. My husband didn’t confide in me. But if I had to guess…” She trailed off, shook her head. “It’s crazy.”
Lincoln tried to shove his irritation back down. “Try me,” he said.
“My husband is a very thorough man who likes to go to the heart of things. If he’s struck Bishop Dynamics, I’d say he’ll want to end up on a high note, strike the source of it all.”
“Like… Fringe Headquarters?” Lincoln raised an eyebrow to mark his incredulity.
“Or the Department of Defense.” She had a quick smile that looked out of place on her. “But I imagine that the security there is impenetrable.”
“The security here is pretty badass too,” Lincoln murmured, making himself look like he was thinking about it, and resisted directing a glance at Liv behind the one-way mirror adorning the back of the room. “But unless your husband has turned completely suicidal, Fringe HQ does seem like a more likely target.”
“I don’t want you to put words in my mouth,” Mrs. Former said, slightly raising her hand. “I’m not sure at all that this is what my husband will do.”
“Of course,” Lincoln said, standing up to signal the end of the conversation. “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Former. I’ll have an agent take you back home.”
Once he’d said his goodbyes, with promises to keep Mrs. Former up to date, Lincoln joined Olivia in the backroom.
“That’s a ballsy move on their part,” she commented when she saw Lincoln enter. “To try to make us focus so much on our own navel that we miss everything else.”
“It’s big enough that it could have worked as a misdirection. From what we’ve seen of Former so far, he seems bold enough to actually attempt on attack on Fringe Division. You still think that Former is going to free his sister?”
Olivia’s eyes were still fixed on the empty interrogation room, like she was replaying the interview in her mind.
“Yes,” she said with calm conviction. “The fact that his wife didn’t even mention it as an option makes me think it’s the most likely one. He’s going back. And we’ll get him. And we’ll get Charlie back.”
She held out her hand and Lincoln took it, giving it a heartfelt squeeze.
“I know,” he said.
Stakeouts would suck less if only making out with his partners was an option, Lincoln thought, glancing at Olivia, at the way the shadows nestled in the hollow of her throat. But he was a professional, and so was Liv. So was Charlie, for that matter. Lincoln directed his eyes to the Bishop Dynamics building, standing tall and threatening in the chill night, with its cruel angles hiding Charlie somewhere in there. You couldn’t see the Amber from the outside, but it was easy to imagine.
“How do you think time passes for someone stuck in Amber?” Lincoln asked before he could help himself. “Is it like being paralyzed and feeling every second of it? Are you stuck in your last moment before it hit? Or is it like dreaming?”
Olivia shot him a reproachful look. “You’ll ask Charlie when we have him back.”
“Yeah, because Charlie is so fond of sharing and caring,” Lincoln said with a snort.
“Then I guess you’ll just have to suffer the…” Olivia trailed off, then smacked Lincoln’s arm with the back of her hand. “Look, I think he’s already inside.”
All Lincoln had the time to catch was a glimpse of a shadow from behind the glass doors, but if Olivia had seen something that was enough for him. He brought a hand to his ear cuff.
“Possible visual of the suspect,” he murmured at the intention of the stand-by team. “Wait for my signal.”
Olivia was already out of the car and Lincoln had to hurry to catch her.
“Don’t run headlong in there.” She had her gun out and he mimicked her. “We don’t know if he’s alone, or if he has his own personal army of fanatics.”
“I’m not a rookie anymore,” she huffed, but slowed down her pace.
Inside the building the silence was so absolute it was almost a physical presence. Lincoln and Olivia padded quietly across the lobby, eyes on every patch of darkness that could hide an intruder.
“We’ll have to take the stairs,” Olivia said, and Lincoln nodded because it made sense. They couldn’t alert Former of their presence, but climbing up the stairs was going to take some time and they had no idea how long it took to free someone from Amber.
The climb up the ambered floor was excruciatingly long, like aiming for the top of a mountain that disappeared into the clouds. The need to be silent battled with the need to be swift, and the fact that they didn’t know what awaited them upstairs or whether Former had men posted at intermediary floors was nerve-racking.
After the first five or so floors, Lincoln murmured, unable to resist, “Are we there yet?”
Olivia, leading their cavalry of two – great view of her ass, so there was no complaint from Lincoln – didn’t even turn around to quietly reply, “Don’t start. I will shoot you.”
She would, so Lincoln bit his tongue the next time the urge to needle her hit. They continued their ascension until they reached 18th floor, and Olivia raised a hand to signal the need for perfect quiet. As soon as she pushed the door to enter a shadowed hallway Lincoln could hear a hissing noise, intermittent and low. Olivia paused for a second before she headed toward the noise, and Lincoln followed her once he’d soundlessly closed the door to the staircase.
Down the hallway there was a soft glow, casting reddish light on the granular Amber wall. Olivia and Lincoln stepped closer and soon Lincoln could make out the kneeling figure of a man, wielding what looked like a blowtorch, cutting incandescent lines with it on the Amber. The man had his back to them so it was hard to tell if it was Former.
Lincoln turned to Olivia – he could barely see her face in the feeble light that came from the window at the end of the hallway behind them, but he could see that she had turned to him simultaneously. He raised his hand with three fingers up, and lowered them one by one, counting down the seconds.
Three. Two. One.
“Fringe Division!” Lincoln shouted, and the contrast with the previous quiet was so sudden he almost startled himself. “Put the torch down, and stand up with your hands in the air.”
The man froze then complied, slowly unfolding himself to his full length, which, as Lincoln quickly realized, was quite considerable. Standing with his back straight he had close to a head on Lincoln.
This is not Former.
As soon as the thought flashed through his mind he could read in Olivia’s body language that she’d come to the same conclusion. She tensed, started to twirl around while yelling to Lincoln, “He’s not–” Her eyes widened. “Watch out!”
She pointed her gun somewhere over Lincoln’s shoulder and he heard the hiss of a bullet by his right ear, then someone cry out in pain. The tall man with the blowtorch shifted on his feet and Lincoln directed his gun at him, trusting Olivia to take care of whoever was behind him. “Don’t move!” The man stilled.
“You, put the gun down!” Lincoln heard Olivia bark. Her words were followed by the sounds of a tussle. Reflexively Lincoln moved to help Olivia, saw the tall man move at the same time, so Lincoln jumped at him and kneed him into the gut. As the man folded on himself with a muffled groan of pain Lincoln whacked him over the head for good measure and guided his fall to the floor.
The cry sent a jolt of adrenaline through Lincoln’s body, but he didn’t have any time to react before he was thrown against the wall of Amber. Some of it still was still hot from the blowtorch and Lincoln hissed at the burn against his cheek. Then he was yanked from the surface and an arm was looped around his neck, securely pressing him against a man’s chest. The man holding him was shorter than him and Lincoln found himself twisted in an uncomfortable position so they’d be at the same level.
“Don’t move or I shoot your partner.”
It was said calmly but Lincoln could feel the unmistakable press of a gun against his ribs. He could see Olivia, holding her gun with both hands, silhouetted against the lighter square of the far away window, and he knew that they were pretty much screwed.
“Olivia,” he said. Don’t listen to him. Don’t let him use me against you.
The man – Former? – jabbed the gun against his side, hard enough to be painful. “You be quiet.” Then to Olivia: “Put the gun down, agent.”
Olivia didn’t. Lincoln couldn’t make out the expression on her face, but knew she was looking at him, could see the white of her wide eyes. The harsh rhythm of his heartbeat progressively slowed down as calm settled in his mind and body. He couldn’t do anything to save himself in this situation, and all that was left to him was to entirely surrender himself to her. It was going to be okay.
“Do it,” he said.
Alarm had crept into Former’s voice and his grip tightened on Lincoln. Olivia raised her arms.
“Sorry,” she said, then she fired her gun.
Lincoln woke up slowly, becoming progressively aware of the mattress under his back, the pillow behind his head, the sheets and blanket snuggly tucked around his body. He was warm, comfortable, floating as if on a fluffy cloud. He had absolutely no urge to move or try to open his eyes, until his attention was caught by the deep, rumbling sound of a familiar voice. Charlie.
His eyelids felt glued together but he struggled until he could open his eyes and was blinded by light.
“He’s waking up.” It was Olivia.
He blinked a few times to clear his vision, and when the blurriness receded he could see that he was in a hospital room: daylight filtered faintly through the drawn curtains on his left, enough that he could see the shape of Olivia ensconced in an armchair on his right, with Charlie half-leaning, half-sitting on the arm. Olivia’s hand and forearm were pressed along his thigh, her thumb rubbing absent-mindedly over the seams of his jeans.
“How you’re feeling?” she asked, and tried to smile but it didn’t get to her eyes.
“Alive,” he said, grinning at her, telling her without words that they were okay. “Thanks for not killing me.”
Her smile thawed minutely. “That’s skill for you. Former’s wound was a little more serious than yours, the bullet shattered the bone, but he’s alive as well and in custody. All the Amber victims from the attacks were released – the story is that the formula used by the terrorists was a flawed product and aren’t we glad that the real one remains in the hands of those who know how to use it properly, blah blah blah. Ah, and Beckett confessed to Carlyle’s murder. Police’s dredging the Hudson looking for the poor guy’s body.”
Lincoln nodded at the news, relieved at this turn of events, but his eyes drifted to Charlie, who had yet to say a word. He looked whole but his face was grey, his features drawn like he’d been awake for days.
“Charlie,” he said. “How are you?”
He saw Olivia roll her eyes and could guess Charlie’s answer before it even passed his lips.
“I’m fine.” His hands were shaking, and when he caught Lincoln noticing, he buried them in his pockets. “Aftereffect. Doctors said it’ll pass.”
Lincoln shared a look with Olivia: doctors didn’t know shit; they probably had never been confronted with someone released from Amber before.
“How’s the shoulder?” Charlie asked gruffly.
Lincoln rolled his shoulder experimentally. He couldn’t feel any pain, probably because of the drugs – he’d be a little sore later, he knew from experience – and he could move easily.
“It’s almost healed,” he said with nonchalance. “Good as new.”
Charlie’s jaw tightened. “You could’ve been killed.”
“Well, we had a plan and everything, but–”
Then Charlie leaned forward, cupped the back of Lincoln’s head to forcefully draw him in, and kissed him. His lips were dry and a little cooler than normal. His strong fingers were digging into Lincoln’s scalp, bordering on painful.
“Uh, hello to you too,” Lincoln said once he got his voice back, his lips tingling with the memory of Charlie’s kiss. And maybe it stung a little when Charlie pulled back and sneaked a glance in direction of the half-open door to check if someone had seen them, but whatever. Life-affirming kisses were their own rewards.
Olivia was sniggering, watching them, until Charlie turned to her and pinned her down with a death glare.
“So,” he said. “Wanna tell me whose brilliant idea it was?”
Lincoln and Olivia exchanged a look above Charlie’s shoulder before answering simultaneously, pointing an accusing finger at each other:
Charlie sighed deeply. “Bunch of middle-schoolers,” he mumbled, ostentatiously not talking to them. “Gonna end up dead or worse one day.” He raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Please, Lord, give me strength.”
“See what happens when you’re not here to keep an eye on us?” Lincoln said, aiming for light-hearted but missing his target by a mile or two, his voice a little too strangled to ring true.
There was an awkward silence after that. Charlie sat down on the edge of Lincoln’s bed, glanced at Liv, then clumsily patted Lincoln’s hand with his own. Lincoln swallowed, his heart fast-pacing with emotions too heavy and complicated to handle when he was still drugged out of his mind. He was hung up on his teammates, had been for at least a year – he’d been accused of it by several exes, so he knew his fault well. He could deal with it as long as said teammates didn’t give in to mushiness. He couldn’t let his feelings get too real, because he would choke on them.
“I…” he said, but no words would come out. Charlie’s hand was still covering his own. Olivia looked like she didn’t know whether to join them or leave the room, but Charlie made the decision for her: “C’mere, Liv,” he said, patting the bed next to him. “Group hug,” he added with a wry smile.
“Looks like Amber scrambled your brains,” Olivia said, but still rose from her chair and sat with them on the bed.
They didn’t exactly hug, because that wasn’t their style, no sir, but they sat very close to each other, Lincoln shoulder to shoulder with Charlie, his leg pressed against Olivia’s hip. Charlie’s head was bowed and Lincoln could hear his breathing, sounding too loud.
“When I was stuck in Amber,” Charlie said, his voice gravelly, “I kept having these flashes, kinda like I was dreaming. Maybe because I was unconscious when it hit… It was bits and pieces of my life, mostly… mostly of the two of you.”
Lincoln didn’t dare breathe, for fear that he’d shut down this unusual bout of openness from Charlie.
“I could’ve stayed that way forever, and never had the real thing again.”
Charlie cleared his throat and rubbed under his nose with a finger, shaking himself like he’d just gotten out of the water.
“But we’re here now,” Lincoln said, trying to sound soothing and feeling awkward, because he’d never had to hit that note with Charlie. “You have us. We’re not going anywhere.”
He couldn’t ask them to be what he wanted. What did he want, anyway? Some kind of threeway romance? Flowers, chocolate, candle-lit dinners, walking hand-in-hand and all that jazz? Whenever he tried to envision it his mind came up blank.
“Aww, that’s sweet,” Olivia said, her voice cutting with sarcasm. “Lincoln, you are a romantic. Who knew?”
It shattered the moment, but also lightened the mood and Lincoln was washed over with relief and gratefulness. It felt wrong to be solemn and stilted with each other; everything about their lives was already so serious. Lincoln smiled at Olivia, and Charlie chuckled and his hand moved away.
“Someone has to be,” Lincoln answered in the same tone, “to compensate for you two emotionally-stunted oafs.”
“Emotions are complicated,” Olivia said. “Shooting people is more straightforward.” She realized what she’d just said and winced. “It’s probably too soon to joke about it, is it?”
“No, no, not at all,” said Lincoln, waving a casual hand. “Tell me more about how you express your emotions by shooting people. What does a bullet in the shoulder mean?”
“I wanna shut your mouth with lethal force?” Charlie suggested.
“I confess my preference for “I want to ride you like a pony,” but given that Former got shot too your interpretation is more likely.”
“But then you know how Liv likes violent preliminaries.”
“Hmm, you’re right.” Lincoln looked at Olivia in askance. “Liv, wanna make out in my hospital bed?”
“Okay, you two, that’s enough,” Olivia protested, lightly punching Lincoln’s uninjured arm – she was just as delicate with Charlie, like they were both made of glass, and that strained the fragile illusion that everything was normal. He looked forward to when Olivia would hit him again with bruising force.
Charlie shifted against Lincoln’s side. “We should let you get some sleep,” he said, traces of awkwardness seeping through his voice again.
“I barely woke up,” Lincoln said. “Besides, I can sleep just fine with you two here. Done it before, as you should recall.”
Don’t leave. The message seemed to go through. Olivia and Charlie settled on each side of him, and it was a bit too snug in the bed to be completely comfortable, but they’d had worse and it took them mere minutes to find a way to fit against each other, falling back into place as naturally as puzzle pieces. The ache into Lincoln’s shoulder was waking up, but the heaviness in his chest was easing.
“Hey, guys,” Olivia said just as Lincoln had started to doze off. Her voice sounded dreamy, like she was talking from somewhere deep in her headspace.
“Yeah?” Lincoln said. Charlie might have been asleep because he didn’t make a sound.
“When Lincoln gets discharged we could go to my place. Frank’s out of town, you know.”
Warmth bloomed inside Lincoln’s chest. “I would like that. What do you say, Charlie?”
Lincoln nudged Charlie, who squirmed and let out a small snore. Lincoln turned his head to share a look with Olivia. Nose to nose, the two of them burst out laughing. Edging closer to each other on the pillow, breathing each other’s air, they kissed between giggles until they were breathless with it.