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The coffee is, predictably, utter crap. Olivia's not sure why she's here, not even sure why she'd stopped at this run-down little interstate rest stop. She doesn't know what possessed her to drive to Chicago to check on Rachel and Ella rather than flying, unless that first Fringe Division case with the plane really did scar her for life. Whatever the impulse, she's paying for it now with the late-night drive back to Boston. And the truly crap coffee.

After a stretch and a splash of water on her face she heads back outside to the car. She must have been tired, because she hadn't seen him when she pulled up: a small boy with too-long brown hair, his sneakers worn to shreds but wearing otherwise clean clothing, sleeping on the bus bench.

Olivia lets her shoes crunch on the gravel as she approaches. He's much too young--ten? eleven?--to be out here in the middle of nowhere alone and there's no way she's going to leave him sleeping here like that.

The boy comes awake and yawns, stretching hugely, as soon as she moves within a few paces. "Oh, hi," he says, not surprised by her presence at all, like he's been waiting for her.

"Hi," she says, going for soft so she doesn't spook him, although she can already tell he won't spook easy. As soon as she sees his face she revises the estimate of his age upward, fifteen or sixteen maybe. "I'm Olivia. Are you heading somewhere?"

"My name's Jake." The boy blinks, shakes his head, and his eyes seem to clear. "Wow, I must've still been dreaming. I'm Jack Sawyer. I'm heading home. If you're going east I'd love a ride."

He's clearly a runaway, practiced at the trade. She should take him to the nearest cop shop, but the utter certainty in his demeanor keeps her standing still. "Sure," Olivia says, and in an attempt to be the adult here, she adds, "Hitchhiking's dangerous, you know."

"I know." Something in his face tells her he knows this, knows it very well. And then a startling smile breaks over his face, pure and honest and clean, and she's helpless in its wake. "I've gotten to be a pretty good judge of character. You're a cop, right? Something like a cop?"

"Something like," she says, and flips open her FBI badge. He examines it, his face solemn in the flickering electric lights, until finally he looks up at her and grins.

"Cool," he says, and just like that, it's settled.

Unlike practically every other kid she's met he doesn't ask to see her gun, just settles into the passenger seat like he belongs there. Olivia gets the car running east on the interstate before she asks, "Have you been on the road long?"

"I've been traveling. I guess you have too."

She starts, corrects the car's minute swerve, and tosses him a glance. He's sitting serenely in his seat, completely at ease.

"My job takes me all kinds of places," she says, uncharacteristically tentative, because she has the feeling she's not entirely answering his assertion. But Jack just nods and brushes the hair out of his eyes with a fine-boned, delicate hand.

"I've thought about that, becoming a coppiceman."

"A-- what?"

The boy laughs, the sound bright and full of joyous memory. "A friend of mine calls police that. Called, I mean. He's gone now." A momentary pause, and then, "It's okay. He's back where he belongs."

Nothing about this night is making any damn sense. That's not entirely unusual for her life these days, but usually there are more overt signs of weird science or extranormal events to let her know she's fallen into a Fringe case. He's just a kid, on his way home.

But his whole presence speaks to a kind of clarity, of grace, she would never expect to see in a child. Only this boy is not a child by any measure, not by the depth Olivia can see in his eyes and on his face. He really is extraordinarily...beautiful, there's no other word for him. She'd be far more worried about his hitchhiking if he didn't clearly know how to take care of himself.

"Jack," Olivia says, not even sure what she's asking, "how long have you been traveling?" It's not even what she meant to say. How long have you been on the road, maybe, and she should try to get his details like the professional law officer she's supposed to be.

"A long way," he says, and that's distance and not time, but somehow it sounds like the same thing. "But I'm finally heading home to see my mom." Seemingly without his conscious notice Jack's hand rises to touch his jacket pocket and then drops down to his lap again, the motion like a

(talisman)

long-ingrained habit.

Her thoughts are skidding all around and Olivia bends her concentration to the road to keep the car from doing the same. "So it's been awhile since you've seen her?"

"Yeah." Jack stares out the window for a bit before he says, "She's been sick."

The sharp pang of her own loss hits unexpectedly, like it always does. "I'm sorry."

Jack murmurs his reply almost too softly for her to hear, in an odd accent she can't place. "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well."

It's so incongruous that she's on the verge of pulling to the side of the road to ask who *exactly* he is, where *exactly* he comes from, when he turns to her with that devastatingly sweet smile. "Do you mind if I catch some sleep? I can never really rest on those benches."

"Sure," Olivia agrees again, helplessly, and for the next few hours Jack sleeps with his face pillowed against his hand on the window. There are so many bizarre things in this scenario that she can't even begin to count them, but the miles flash by and before she knows it, the sun is coming up and she's pulling into another rest stop, a virtual twin to the first.

The boy wakes, glancing around and blinking into the brightness. "Hey, we made great time. Thanks for the ride, I really appreciate it!"

"Wait," Olivia says, startled, "you don't have to go, I can--" take you wherever you need to be, she's about to say, but he's got the door open already.

He smiles at her, clear and calm, and altogether too wise. "There are other worlds than these," Jake (no, his name is Jack) says as he slips out of the car, and before Olivia can even open her door to chase him, to ask him what he knows, the boy is gone into the dazzle of sunlight.

Olivia stares out into the new day, knowing she should go after him, put out an alert for Jack...Sayer? Chambers? Her usually sharp memory can't seem to hold his details in mind. By the time she gets back to the Harvard lab the entire experience will have faded, leaving behind the distant memory of a long drive, and a young man, and a truth she's only just now beginning to understand.

 

 

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