Months go by.
The time passes in a blur, with so much activity around the division that Lincoln barely has a moment to consider his personal life at all. For a wonder, most of the activity involves shifting from “rescue” to “reclamation”; Fringe events haven’t ceased completely, but their frequency has dropped to manageable levels. More like, Lincoln realizes with a pang, what the Fringe team on the other side has to deal with. No less frightening or deadly at times, but with considerably less mass panic about spontaneous vortexes or toxic air.
Their world is healing, gradually recovering itself. Ambered areas are being reclaimed, slowly but surely, now that the process for pulling victims out alive has been improved. Everyone wants their loved ones pulled out first, but the area has to be proven stable first, and it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. Not all of the Ambered make it out alive.
For the first few weeks, Lincoln has his hands overflowing trying to keep on top of all the new activity. Whole departments are being reconfigured toward the recovery efforts and it rapidly becomes clear that they really need an organizational genius in his position, rather than a soldier/science geek. When everyone gets on the same page about that, it’s a relief rather than a demotion to find his duties essentially cut in half, with the monumental task of recovery organization going to Major Warner and leaving Lincoln with the familiar (and still too necessary) business of Fringe Division. Their world is recovering, but it’s also been fundamentally altered, and the spontaneous physics inversions and scientific anomalies look like they’re here to stay.
Liv and Charlie are likewise busy, supervising the recovery crews in case of surprise Fringe activity. But finally things even out to where their evenings aren’t all about going home and immediately collapsing, and days off start to appear on their schedules again.
And it gets to a point that Lincoln finally becomes aware of the slanted looks in his direction, the hesitant half-started conversations and swallowed questions. Charlie and Liv had been there for him after the bridge closed, when he’d first been dealing with the fact of (probably) never seeing Olivia again, but throwing himself into the frantic pace of all the new projects really had been the best way of coping. Now, though....
Now all three of them are more or less back where they were a year ago, only moreso, without Frank around. Three healthy, active, more-than-friendly adults constantly thrown together by circumstance and their own insistence, because none of them would consider breaking up the team. Even if “Fringe Division” as they knew it eventually becomes a thing of the past.
And basically, Lincoln is tired of all the pussyfooting around. He invites them over for pizza and beer (and ginger soda for Liv) and it’s not meant as an ambush, really. But they’re a team and there should be no secrets or awkwardness between them.
They spend dinner talking about a de-Ambered site in Boston, a real feel-good story that includes a dog that the recovery team pulled out alive. Most animals don’t survive the unfreezing process, but the Akita had bounded out of the Amber like he’d just come from the park, barking and jumping up to lick the agents’ faces. Half the agents had fallen in love before his owner came stumbling out of the unraveling Amber as well, falling to her knees and weeping into her dog’s fur. The pics hit OurTube and already had three million views before the day ended.
Lincoln clears away the boxes--no leftovers, his team eats like starving beasts--makes sure everyone has drinks, and turns off the tv that had been droning away quietly in the background. He parks himself on the chair across from the couch Liv and Charlie and gives them the most direct look he can. “Okay, spill.”
Liv and Charlie look at each other, and it’s Charlie who talks first. “Look, we...dammit. No bullshit, all right? We all know how we feel about each other. And maybe it’s a little ridiculous that we’re not together. After everything we’ve been through.”
Which is a lot more blunt than Lincoln had been expecting, but he did ask for it. “Do you really think we can go back?”
“No.” Liv speaks up, clear and sure. “It can be better, Lincoln. Because I’m not trying to convince myself I’m in love with someone else, and Charlie...” she glances at him. “Charlie, tell him.”
“Yeah.” Charlie’s voice is low. “I said something to you in the bridge room, and I’ve been regretting it ever since. I said something dumb about not seeing us, uh, doing the white-picket fence thing.” He fidgets, his face twitching. “I was wrong. I was--”
Lincoln waits for it, already sort of knowing what’s coming, needing to hear it. “--Linc, you know my family, all traditional and a million kids and all that. And everyone expecting me to get married to a nice girl, the whole expected package, and I kept trying to do that. It’s what I thought I wanted. But I don’t.” Charlie looks at him, all his emotions laid bare on his face. “I want you. Both of you.”
“‘Cause neither of us are nice girls,” Liv says, smirking, and then bites her lip. “There’s-- there’s stuff we have to talk about, Lincoln, because I don’t even know if you still feel the same about me, after-- after Olivia--”
“No,” Lincoln says quietly, and then adds quickly as Liv’s expression starts to crumble, “Not the same, but I never stopped loving you. Either of you.”
They all look at each other, scarcely daring to breathe, and Lincoln can’t speak for them but he knows what’s true for him is true for them as well: they’re on the edge of something momentous, the rest of their lives suddenly being decided here. Only it seems to be more about accepting what’s already there than a new decision.
Lincoln tries to gather his thoughts. “Liv, I didn’t confuse you and Olivia, and I never will. Just, maybe...we should start over? The three of us.” He takes a long breath. “Not from the start, we can’t do that. But on more equal terms. Where I’m not pretending that I’m not in love with you both and Charlie isn’t pretending that fucking us is just a diversion on the way to a wife and 2.5 kids and you’re not pretending...”
“...that I’m not being a total bitch by keeping you both on a string when I’ve got another guy. Yeah.” Liv’s tone is bitter, self-recriminating. “That was really shitty, and I’m sorry. It wasn’t fair to Frank, either, and I knew it.”
“That’s all done now,” Charlie says, in a tone that suggests to Lincoln that he and Liv have had this conversation already, several times. “We can move on, right? And now that it looks like we actually have a world that’s gonna hold together...I don’t want to waste it. No more ‘just after missions’ crap. The three of us, okay? Where Lincoln cooks and I scrub pots and we argue about whose turn it is to do the laundry and-- and--”
“And we’re a family,” Lincoln says, and they’re all blinking too fast now, even if no one wants to be the first to start bawling.
“I call Not It on cleaning the toilets,” Liv declares, and looks like she wants to launch herself at Lincoln except for Charlie’s gently restraining hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry for everything. And I know we have more to talk about, I know there are things about me and Olivia, and me and you, but I just-- I need you to know that I love you.”
"Same," Charlie rumbles, and Lincoln's reminded of a conversation he'd filed in the back of his head in hope of just this occasion.
“Charlie, the arachnids have been dormant in your blood for--what, half a year now? And no trace of anything in your saliva or other fluids. There wasn’t before either, but....” Lincoln holds Charlie’s eyes. “I know how scared you are about infecting us. But every test shows that’s next to impossible, and dammit, it’s not about the condoms. I want to be able to kiss my-- my partner like we both mean it.”
Liv murmurs agreement, but Lincoln’s busy biting his tongue over how close he came to saying “husband” instead of “partner.” They’ll get there, he doesn’t have any doubt. But that’s a proposal--literally--for another day.
“‘Next to impossible’ isn’t,” Charlie argues weakly, but Lincoln can see him struggling. “I’d never forgive myself if--”
“We would,” Liv says firmly, “because that’s the acceptable risk for being with you. It is, Charlie. Just like you guys put up with my bitchiness and we put up with Lincoln’s geek-attacks.”
Charlie slumps back on the couch, closing his eyes. “I...promise to work on it? Is that okay for now?”
“More than okay.” Lincoln considers the two of them. “So what’s the condition for me? There’s gotta be something.”
Charlie cracks his eyes open to slant a glance at Liv. She shrugs and grins over at him. “But Lincoln, what about all that time you spend trying to convince us that you’re perfect?”
“Lies, damn lies, and all a façade. But y’know, if you can’t think of anything....”
“Oh, we will,” Charlie threatens, and Lincoln laughs.
“Rain check, then,” he says, and the look Charlie gives him assures Lincoln that Charlie hasn’t forgotten the last time that phrase was invoked.
“Well,” Liv says softly, “what now?”
There’s an obvious answer. Impossible as it is to believe, Lincoln hasn’t been with anyone since Olivia, that last time in the closet. As far as he knew Liv hasn’t either, and Charlie’s gone on a handful of half-hearted dates that never went anywhere. So it probably wasn’t just him who was as horny as a mink by this point.
When they all do get naked he wonders what they’ll have to say about his latest tattoo, the thin pale tracing of a butterfly on his hip over the place where Olivia had too-briefly marked him.
But right now....
“Now, uh, in this newfound spirit of honesty, mostly what I want to do is cry on you two a little bit.” Charlie takes the words nearly verbatim out of Lincoln's thoughts, and after that there aren’t any more coherent words for awhile as the three of them curl into a weeping, cuddling mess on the couch.
Lincoln comes back to reality with his face buried in Liv’s hair and Charlie’s hand curled around the back of his neck and absolute surety that this is where he wants to spend the rest of his life.
A little less tearful, though. Even if he has to make himself the butt of the joke. “I should’ve taken bets on how long it’d take you to come around. That kind of stress is bad for my delicate constitution.”
Charlie squints at him. “Now I know what you can work on. Your tendency to be a complete drama queen.”
“And smug,” Liv puts in.
“Okay,” Lincoln protests, laughing. They’re joking, mostly, although there’s a thread of truth Lincoln’s more than willing to cop to in their suggestions. But he was already thinking about how maybe they’ll want to find a new place for a new start, somewhere that the three of them can make their own. And if not the actual thing, then a picture of that white-picket fence to remind them all that traditional or not, wherever the three of them were, they were home.