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Everything changes after Walter disappears.

Actually, if you’re honest, it started before that. Stopping Bell and saving the world felt like the big finale of some TV show. After that, things got quiet, and even when the odd Fringe event happened, you understood how Buffy felt when she sang, ‘Apocalypse? We’ve all been there. The same old trips, why should we care?’ The team began to drift apart, too. Lincoln was already gone, Broyles’ promotion made him more distant, Peter and Olivia were wrapped up in each other – and then Etta too. It was just you and Walter left, really; well, and Gene.

Peter calls you all back together after finding the Betamax tape his father left. You try to investigate his disappearance, but there’s really not much to go on. You end up searching through hours of traffic cam footage, and manage to catch Walter leaving his house, then track him until he just… vanishes, mid-stride, while walking down the street. You go to the spot, and scan it with every device in Walter’s lab, but find nothing. It’s as if he were simply erased from history. That night, you lie in bed, crying; after four years of looking after him, day in, day out, it feels like you’ve lost a close family member.

Once Peter finally accepts that there’s no way to get his father back, he becomes obsessed with restarting the machine, and re-opening the bridge. He says that it’s to help the other side start healing again, but you and Olivia both know it’s because he wants to see Walternate, both for himself, and to give Etta her grandfather back – and her grandmother. You’re skeptical, but you agree to help him, not least because you need something to do. It’s hard to be a lab assistant when there’s no-one left to assist.

It takes months, but between the two of you – and a team of scientists from Massive Dynamic, arranged by Nina – you manage to figure out how to get the machine running again. The one problem you can’t overcome is that to get the bridge re-established, the machine on the other side needs to be active as well; and until they’re linked again, it won’t stay on indefinitely. All you can do is keep trying. On the fifth attempt, something happens. You look up, and see an airship swimming into view through the glass roof on the other side of the hall. Glancing at the machine, you see it release Peter, rather than see him vanish. You were pretty sure Peter had that problem solved, but hadn’t been looking forward to explaining it to Olivia if it wasn’t.

“Hello,” says a familiar voice. “It is very nice to see you again.” Your eyes snap down, and for a moment it’s like looking into a mirror – except for the military uniform, and the red curls she still has in her hair. Astrid’s smile may not have reached her mouth, but you can see it in her eyes. You both step away from your consoles, and meet in the center of the room.

“Hey,” you say, taking her hands in yours, “I’m really happy you’re here.”

Any further reunion is cut short by the arrival of a platoon of soldiers. They take up positions along the far side of the room, but make no other move. You can hear Peter making a call, presumably to Olivia, but otherwise it’s quiet. Astrid holds tightly to your hands. A couple of minutes later, Walternate arrives. He quickly surveys the scene, orders the soldiers to stand down, then strides over to Peter.

“Thank-you,” he says. “We knew that you must have defeated Jones – or whoever he was working for – by the fact that our world hasn’t got any worse, but we’d all but given up hope that things would start to heal again. Agent Farnsworth there was the only one who still believed.”

“Well, it’s thanks to her that we were able to make the connection.” After a moment, the two of them awkwardly hug. They talk for a few more minutes, Peter explaining Bell’s plan, and then about what happened to Walter. They’re interrupted when the door behind me opens.

“Grandpa Walter! You’re back!” The exclamation is followed by the sound of small running feet, and then Etta throws herself at a very surprised Walternate. Not long after that, Lincoln and Fauxlivia arrive, the latter quickly explained to Etta as ‘Mommy’s long-lost sister’ – and a convenient explanation for Walter’s absence.

You spend a couple of hours working with groups of scientists and technicians from both sides, running test to confirm that the bridge isn’t in any immediate danger of collapsing. After that, Walternate insists on taking both Fringe teams out for dinner in some fancy restaurant. Astrid’s eyes widen when she realizes that she’s included in the invitation, which makes you wonder how often that’s happened before – or if it ever has. You make sure that you’re sat next to her, and she gratefully thanks you, keeping a nervous grip on your hand under the table.

Fauxlivia arrives a few minutes later, with her and Lincoln’s baby son. He’s introduced to Etta as her ‘cousin’; whilst they might genetically be half-siblings, their family dynamics are rather more complicated than that. Elizabeth Bishop arrives as well, and is clearly overwhelmed to see Peter again, and to meet her new granddaughter. The meal carries on until late; part celebration, part catch-up. Astrid is by your side the whole night, eating methodically but saying very little. When everyone heads outside, she says a brief goodnight to you, then leaves in the direction of the nearby Metro station. Part of you wants to chase after her, but there’s a car waiting to take you all back to Liberty Island.

It’s another couple of weeks before everyone’s satisfied that the bridge appears to be permanently anchored. Once that’s agreed, traffic between the two universes slowly resumes. It’s tightly regulated, but in recognition of your work, you and the rest of the Fringe team members are given passports which allow you to travel between the worlds at will. The first thing you do is cross over and pay a visit to Astrid. You meet her outside Fringe Division headquarters, and she takes you home for dinner – when you arranged this, you got the impression that she’s not very comfortable eating out.

Her apartment is quite small and spartan, with dull, off-white walls, and beige curtains. It’s spotlessly clean, though, and what furniture there is looks to have been chosen for comfort. The one thing she does have in abundance is shelving filled with DVD box sets of what you presume are her favorite TV shows, all carefully alphabetized. “You like watching TV?” You ask her.

“Yes. Very much. I like how it helps me to forget about the real world for a few hours.” You ask if you can help her in the kitchen, and Astrid sets you to work chopping vegetables, and then putting on the pasta. When she nervously asks you to taste her sauce, you don’t need to exaggerate your delight at how delicious it is, and she smiles in a way that lights up her entire face. That’s when you realize just how much more relaxed she is here than at work; it’s really nice to see.

While she’s finishing up and getting ready to serve dinner, Astrid asks what you’d like to watch. You assume that it’s just part of her daily routine, and don’t want to disturb that. “Well, I do remember seeing an advert on top of a cab, the first time I came over, for season twelve of The West Wing. It only lasted for seven seasons on my side, and I’d rather like to know what happened next.”

Her eyes widen. “You mean that you never found out what happens after…”

You hold up a hand to forestall her. “Oh, there was no cliffhanger ending or anything; they wrapped everything up nicely, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have lied to have seen more.”

“Well, I suppose that is good. And I would not want to have given you any spoilers.” She smiles again. “It has been many years since I have watched the earlier seasons, and I would very much like to do so again, with you.” You blink; you’re not sure how many episodes she’s planning on you watching – there’s easily time for three or four before you need to leave – but regardless of that, it’s going to take an awful lot more visits like this for you to catch up. From the eager expression on Astrid’s face, you can tell that she’d like that – and so would you.

It quickly becomes a regular thing, a couple of evenings a week or so, and soon you start coming over for full days at the weekend. Astrid is just so easy to spend time with; you don’t actually talk all that much, but when you do it feels like she really understands you in a way that no-one ever has before. Mostly, though, you spend your time curled up together on the couch, bingeing TV shows, often with your head resting on Astrid’s shoulder, or her head on yours. It’s actually nice just to veg out like that after all the horrors of the past few years.

Watching the other side’s version of a TV show is like a microcosm of the two universes themselves; much of it is familiar, but there are many differences, too – some obvious, some surprising. This version of The West Wing has Bartlett and his staff reacting to major Fringe events, ongoing storylines about things like the citizens trapped in amber, and so on, but there are also plenty of episodes that seem to be exactly as they are back home. With the smaller changes, you’re not always certain whether they’re different at all, but you’re pretty sure you would have remembered the relationship between Donna and Ainsley in the second and third seasons. The later years, following the Santos administration are, of course, completely new to you.

You take over shows from your side as well, and Astrid eagerly points the differences that she sees – or, in the case of Lost, her increasing bafflement that nothing is being explained. Some shows, are almost entirely unchanged; mostly historical dramas, fantasy and science fiction, things like Star Trek and Game of Thrones where all you spot is minor casting differences, and the occasional allegory to current events that are specific to one side or the other.

The first time you stay over is a couple of months later. You’ve actually come to the other side on business for once, helping Fauxlivia and Lincoln out on a case that seems to be connected to one of your old ones. It’s late by the time you get things wrapped up, but you don’t want to disappoint Astrid by going home without spending at least some time with her. By the time you’ve eaten, and watched a couple of episodes of Boston Legal, it’s close to midnight, and you really can’t face the idea of making the journey home.

“Hey, um, Astrid, would it be okay if I crashed on your couch tonight?”

She gives you a slightly puzzled look. “Would you not rather sleep in a bed?”

“Well, yes, but I’m too tired to make the trip home right now.”

“You can share my bed,” she says, as if it’s so obvious that she doesn’t understand why she needs to suggest it.

“Uh, okay, thanks.”

“Would you like to borrow some pajamas? I am quite sure that I have some which will fit you.” Did Astrid just make a joke?

“That would be great,” you tell her, smiling. She leads you to her bedroom and pulls a pair of comfy-looking flannel PJ’s from out of a drawer and gives them to you, then grabs her own from under her pillow and heads to the bathroom. You quickly get changed, pull a make-up wipe from your purse and clean off the little you applied this morning, then wait for her to come back.

“I have put out a spare toothbrush for you,” Astrid says as she comes through the door. “Mine is red, and yours is blue. There are spare towels in the bottom of the bathroom cabinet if you wake up before me and would like a shower.”

“That’s very kind,” you tell her, then go to clean your teeth. She seems very organized and prepared, and it makes you wonder if she’s had overnight guests before. Your love lives aren’t something that the two of you have talked about at all, but just because you have nothing to discuss in that department doesn’t mean that neither does she. After all, Astrid is a very attractive woman – a realization that came with a nice boost to your self-image. By the time you get back to the bedroom, Astrid is already under the covers, the only light a small lamp on the other side of the bed, where there’s now a second pillow. You pad around and quietly get in.

“Good-night, Astrid,” she says sleepily.

“’Night, sweetie,” you reply. After that, it’s only a few moments before the exhaustion of your day catches up with you.

You wake up the next morning cuddled into Astrid; it seems that you’re both used to sleeping alone, and migrated towards the middle of the bed during the night. You lie there, not moving, soaking up the human contact. You haven’t been this close to someone in years; not since your last girlfriend broke up with you, a few months after you joined the FBI. What with barely seeing you for the whole time you were at Quantico, and the long hours you worked after that, you can’t really blame her. It hurt like hell at the time, but hindsight has given you some perspective on it; her parting words, ‘what’s the point of having a girlfriend I hardly ever see?’ are a large part of the reason you haven’t pursued another relationship since then. Astrid, you now realize, has had filled a good part of the void she left.

You know that Astrid is waking up when she pulls you closer, making happy noises. When she finally opens her eyes, she smiles at you. “Good morning. You should stay over more often.” You promptly resolve to do just that.

When you discover that she owns her apartment, rather than it being a rental, you ask her if there’s a reason for the dull color-scheme; she looks at you in surprise. “I have never really considered it, this is just how the apartment looked when I moved in.”

“How would you feel about redecorating? Injecting a little bit of color into the place?”

Astrid thinks for a moment, before nodding. “I would like that very much.”

You spend the next couple of weekends trying out color schemes, and then the following few repainting the entire apartment, one room at a time. Once that’s done, the two of you hang the new curtains at the windows, and some art prints on the walls. The lounge and kitchen are now warm and inviting; the bathroom and bedroom cool and relaxing. Astrid smiles, and then pulls you into a fierce hug.

“Thank-you for suggesting that we do this. I like my home even better now.”

“You’re very welcome, sweetie,” you tell her, returning the hug. Her words have given you a warm, tingly feeling inside, and there’s a smile stuck on your face for the rest of the day.

You get the call a little over a year after the bridge was restored; an unknown number that turns out to be a calm voice telling you that your father has had a massive heart attack. One of the other agents gives you a ride on the hospital, and on the way you have the presence of mind to call Olivia and ask her to get a message to Astrid. When you get there, you’re directed to a room where Dad lies on a bed, unconscious, and hooked up to a bunch of machines. It’s another half hour or so before a doctor comes in, and quietly, apologetically tells you that he doesn’t have long left, but that there’s a chance he’ll wake up for at least a little while before the end.

You’re not sure how much later it is when Astrid arrives, just that she sits down next you, wraps an arm around your back, and gently pulls your head down onto her shoulder. You thought you’d run out of tears, but that simple gesture of comfort brings them right back. It also brings back the guilt about how much time you’ve been spending with her, rather than him. Well, that and the way you misled him. Not long after you started spending time with Astrid, he began teasing you about having a new girlfriend at last; whilst you never actually confirmed it, you never corrected him, either. It was an easy solution to the fact that the truth was still highly classified.

“Hey, Little Star,” a weak voice comes from the bed. “Why am I seeing two of you?”

You immediately bolt upright. “Daddy! You’re awake!” You squeeze his hand, the one you’re been holding ever since you first sat down. He squeezes back, bu so weakly that you can barely feel it. “How are you feeling?” you ask, leaning forward.

“Like… an entire herd of elephants… took it in turns… to jump on my chest.” You can’t help but smile. “I don’t think I have long left.” Your smile fades, but he’s looking at Astrid, so you hope he didn’t see. “And who are you… young lady?”

“I am Astrid Farnsworth,” she says, “from another universe.”

“It’s… very nice to meet you,” Dad says, taking this in his stride. “So this is what… my daughter meant… when she said her work… was very weird.” That surprises a laugh from you, and Dad turns his attention back your way. “I thought you had a new girlfriend… from how happy you were… when you came home… Now I see that instead… you found the sister… you always wanted.”

You share a look with Astrid, not quite sure how you would classify your relationship; ‘sisters’ seems too poor a word. “Yes, it’s Astrid I’ve been spending time with. I’m sorry that took me away from you. If I’d known…”

Dad coughs. “Don’t be sorry… all I ever needed… was for you to be happy… I’m so proud of you… I love you, Little Star.”

“I love you too, Daddy,” you tell him. You see a faint smile on his face, then his eyes close and his breathing becomes shallower. You continue to hold his hand, Astrid holds your other hand, and you just sit there. The beeps from the obs machine become less frequent and more irregular, until eventually they’re replaced by a constant tone. A nurse comes in, manually checks for a pulse, then turns off the machine and says something about how she’s sorry for your loss. Just like that, your Dad is gone.

You curl up awkwardly on the hard hospital chair, rest your head on Astrid’s lap, and cry for a long time. She simply sits there, stroking your hair and making soothing noises. It’s exactly what you need.

After the funeral, there really is nothing holding you back; you have no family left, Walter’s gone, and you only occasionally see Olivia, Peter, and Etta. You talk to Broyles and Walternate, and arrange a transfer to the other side’s Fringe Division. They’re more than happy to have a second Astrid Farnsworth on the team; even if you don’t have her particular set of skills, you’ve got plenty of your own – not to mention a wealth of experience. It takes a few weeks for all the paperwork to go through, both for that, and to deal with your Dad’s estate. Eventually, it’s all done, the apartment is cleared out and on the market, and a few important things put in storage. You head to Liberty Island and cross the bridge. You’ll be back to visit, of course, but there’s still a feeling of finality to it.

Staying at Astrid’s apartment is supposed to be temporary, until you find your own place, but she doesn’t push you – in fact, it feels like she’s actively discouraging you from looking. After a couple of months you stop even thinking about it, and instead start wondering if it might be nice to get a larger apartment together. In the end, you decide against suggesting it; Astrid isn’t a big fan of change, and besides, if you had a second bedroom, you’d no longer have such a good excuse for sharing a bed. Cuddling up together at night is what helped you through dealing with the loss of your father, and even now you struggle to sleep when Astrid’s on a night shift.

Living together also gives you more time to indulge in your favorite pastime – watching TV box sets together. There’s still no shortage of shows you want to compare between the two worlds, not to mention the ones that are exclusive to one side or the other. You’re currently working your way through Babylon 5, because it turns out that the short-lived PTEN never existed here, and no other network wanted to pick up a show that so directly competed against the latest installment in the Star Trek franchise. Astrid seems to have an uncanny knack of picking up on all the little background clues and is doing a pretty good job of predicting some of the directions the story is going to take.

You’re a little less sure about introducing her to The Good Doctor. On the one hand, it’s great to have a prime-time show with a lead character who’s on the autistic spectrum, but on the other, the representation isn’t entirely unproblematic. Thankfully, Astrid seems thrilled to have a character that she can relate to in that way, even if she does indulge in some of her very polite heckling. She’s even more delighted to point out that one of the lab techs bears a striking resemblance to us.

You’ve been watching movies as well, and just finished catching up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Comics seem to be something that’s wildly different between the two sides. While Stan Lee was prolific here as well, you’ve yet to find a single character that’s the same on both sides. There are a few familiar names, but with different costumes and powers. You’ve also seen some outfits you recognize, but the character’s names and personalities are different. None of them seem to have achieved quite the same level of success, and superheroes in general are mostly confined to low-budget B-movies here.

It’s a movie that led to the uncomfortable situation you’re in right now. One of the junior agents loaned it to Astrid, and while it wasn’t exactly porn, there was definitely more than one pretty explicit lesbian sex scene in it. You just sat there, getting redder and redder, but Astrid didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all, and was thoroughly engrossed. Now, you’re lying in bed, desperately trying to get those scenes out of your head so that you can sleep and, well, it’s been a long time. You’re lying stiffly on your side of the bed, because it would be way too awkward to cuddle up to Astrid right now. For the first time, you even find yourself wishing that you had your own bed, so that you’d have some privacy to deal with this.

You’re not sure how long it is before you feel the bed shifting subtly next to you. It takes a few moments, until soft moans join the other noises, that you realize what Astrid is doing. You can feel your face flushing with both embarrassment and renewed arousal. Not sure what else to do, you start to get out of bed.

“Astrid! I am sorry. I was trying not to wake you.”

“Uh… that’s okay. I was having trouble getting to sleep anyway.”

“So was I. After what we watched… I decided that this was the only way that I would get some rest.”

“I know what you mean,” you mutter.

“Then why do you not do the same?” She sounds genuinely baffled.

“Because… generally that’s something people like to do in private.”

“Oh. I thought that we were close enough that…” You can hear her withdrawing, and it damn near breaks your heart.

“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry. You’ve done nothing wrong.” You swing your legs back into the bed, then lean over to kiss Astrid on the cheek. Either she turned her head, or you misjudged it in the darkness, because instead your lips meet hers. You force yourself not to overreact, pulling back after a brief peck as if that’s exactly what you intended to do. “This was just me being a prude. And you’re right, I’m not going to get to sleep either, unless I… do the same as you.”

After that, you don’t really have any choice but to follow through. It’s actually not as awkward as you expect; it isn’t like you’re watching each other or anything, and once you start focusing on your own pleasure, it’s easy to forget that there’s someone else in the bed, doing the same thing. It sounds Astrid comes at about the same time as you, and afterwards she snuggles up, resting her head on your shoulder and a hand on your chest. When you breathe in, you realize that you can smell yourself on her fingers, and your arousal starts to rise again. Thankfully, this time you manage to push it aside and fall asleep.

Sometimes, being the hero really sucks. You’re lying in a hospital bed with a pair of broken wrists encased in – you want to say plaster, but it’s some of this side’s advanced med-tech, which will have you healed in weeks rather than months. Still, you managed to disarm the bomb, and the shutter that slammed closed on your wrists a split-second later was preferable to being blown up – along with an entire city block. You’ve had a stream of congratulatory well-wishers, but there’s one person in particular you’re still waiting to see.

“Hello, I have come to take you home,” says Astrid. “I also have orders to look after you, but they were unnecessary, as I would have done so anyway.” Somehow, the way that she says it, so matter of fact, as if it’s a simple truth, is incredibly sweet.

“Thanks,” you tell her, “that means a lot to me.”

The next few days are a period of serious adjustment, but Astrid is there to help you every step of the way. No-one has ever made you feel quite so cared for; not your mother, certainly not either of your serious girlfriends, and not even your father. When you thank her again one evening, she looks at you oddly. “You are me. If I cannot love and look after you, then how can I expect to love and look after myself?”

Love? Now that she’s said it, you realize that’s exactly what you feel for Astrid, even if you’re not sure of the details. Like a friend? Like a long-lost identical twin sister? Like… a girlfriend? You can’t deny that the way you enjoy cuddling up in bed together isn’t entirely platonic. Clearly this is something which requires further thought.

It’s maybe a week later that Astrid has you watching another movie that someone at work loaned her. You wonder if it’s the same person as last time, and if they’re trying to tell her something, as it turns out to be another NC–17 rated lesbian romance. Exactly what you didn’t need with both hands out of commission. It seems as though Astrid read your mind – or maybe she just picked on how restless and fidgety you were after you got to bed – because she offers to help.

“Um, what?” you sputter; somewhat aghast, but also strangely turned on.

“It is clear that you require sexual release just as badly as I do, and as you are currently unable to touch yourself, I would be happy to do it for you.” She leans over and kisses you on the cheek then, hesitantly, on the lips. “Please, Astrid, I want to do this.” There’s something in her voice that suggests maybe she’s been wanting to do it for a while. That’s when you realize that you’ve been wanting it too.

“Okay,” you tell her. Tilting your head back, you capture her lips in another kiss, and this time there’s nothing hesitant about it. You want to tangle your fingers in her hair and pull her closer, but you’re a little too worried about knocking her senseless with your cast, so you settle for making an encouraging noise. Astrid responds by deepening the kiss, and you feel her tongue slipping between your lips at the same moment as her hand slides under the waistband of your pajama pants.

Astrid pulls her head back, and you gasp as a finger grazes your clit before heading lower. “You’re so wet!” she says, breathlessly, and you try to recall if you’ve ever heard her use a contraction before. A moment later, her finger returns to your clit, and not long after that, your higher brain functions start to shut down. The orgasm which rips through you a shockingly short time later is as powerful as you can ever remember having. Astrid seems to know your body as well as you know it yourself – which, you suppose, makes sense, since it’s identical to her own.

“Was… that okay?” she asks.

“That was incredible,” you reassure her. A little faster than you might have wanted, but you can take things slowly next time. Next time?

“Good. Then… I would like take care of myself,” she says, rolling onto her back.

“Oh, no. It’s my turn now,” you tell her.

She seems puzzled. “But… the whole reason I did that was because you cannot.”

“No, the reason you did that was because we both wanted you to – and now I want to do this.”

“But your hands…” she protests, but you can tell her heart isn’t in it. When you reach for her pants, she obediently lifts her hips off the bed to let you pull them down.

“My wrists might be broken,” you tell her, “but my mouth works just fine.”