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SCP-1428: Cortexichildren

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It all seemed strange. Olivia got out of bed.

It all seemed strange. Because normally her bed was empty, but now she shared it with Peter Bishop.

It all seemed strange. Because last month, last year, last whenever, she could have sworn that she was sure of her reality. That what she knew was the truth – not perfect, but the truth. But it wasn’t. It all turned out to be a lie. Her life was not really her life. All of those experiences had happened, but they shouldn’t have. That life was an incorrect path.

And it all seemed so strange. Because last month, all of those memories were her memories. Why would there be any need to question them? That was her life. Why would there be any need to have doubts? Why would there be any possibility to question anything at all?

The answer to everything had been and always would be Peter Bishop. All of those memories, all those memories that she had been completely certain were correct, were memories without Peter Bishop. And now that she had Peter Bishop, she strained to remember her life without him.

Which is strange, because she had lived her entire life without him. She had an entire life’s worth of memories without him, but that database was slipping away. Because of Peter Bishop. Now that the universe had righted itself, she was losing all of those fond – yet false – memories of her old life.

Olivia prided herself on being able to comprehend things that most human beings couldn’t even dream of, but this was still a bit of a mindfuck. The life that she had lived had been a false life without Peter Bishop. And she was going to lose all remnants of that life and there was nothing she could do about it. It was quite bittersweet because there were instances about this life that she liked. She liked having a stronger relationship with Nina and she wanted so desperately to hold onto all of those treasured moments of her childhood, but now she couldn’t remember any of them. And she remembered that there was a time that Lincoln and her were partners. And she knew that they had conversations, some everyday and ordinary and some extraordinarily important, but she couldn’t remember any of those, either. And that was a shame. But it couldn’t be helped.

Because as much as she hated losing that false life, she relished returning to her true life – a life without a gaping hole in the middle of it all. The answer to all of her questions, the answer to everything, was always and forever would be Peter Bishop. And now she was complete again.

She looked back over her shoulder. Unfortunately he had pushed his face deep into the pillow, but it was alright. She remembered his face just as she remembered their time together.

No calls from Broyles had come in yet and the morning was fresh and new. She decided the hell with it. She decided to just take a walk. She’d enjoy herself while she still could. She’d enjoy herself before a call came in about a suicide bomber who had ignited himself with an array of mystery chemicals that would make Walter’s wildest dreams come true. Walter. Perhaps she would stop by the lab, maybe as a surprise. Olivia was always business, always saving the world, whenever she came into the lab – there was no otherwise. Today would be that otherwise. Today would be Olivia Dunham showing up at the door with a box full of fresh pastries.

It was time to make some new memories, memories that she hoped she would never forget.

***

“When in the world did you get up?” Peter lazily groaned from the bed.

“About an hour ago. I just got out of the shower.”

“Has Broyles called?”

“No.” Olivia was fiddling with the zipper of her pants.

“Has anyone called?”

“No.” There. Zipped.

“That’s odd.”

“I know. I’m going to enjoy it.”

“So where you off to in such a hurry, if you don’t mind me asking?” Peter was finally sitting up and flashing a smile that made every kink in the road worth it. He was worth it. He was worth everything she had ever gone through.

“I’m just going off for a walk.”

“Just a walk?” He smirked. “There has to be a catch.”

“Nope. Just a walk. Maybe to go get pastries for Walter.” It all seemed so ordinary, but ordinary was what she needed right now. She was tired of Fringe cases. For one day, or at least for as long as she could, she wanted to have a bit of a “normal” life.

“Well if that’s the case,” he rustled around in the bed. “I’ll go with you.”

Olivia pursed her lips together, thinking it over. “Well you can meet me at the lab if you want.”

“Don’t say that,” Peter pouted. “I’ll hurry up and change. I’ll be quick. I promise.” But the pace Peter was moving at was anything but quick. His sleepy stagger out of bed and to the bathroom was quite underwhelming.

Olivia couldn’t help but laugh. She walked into the bathroom and gave Peter a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll meet you there. Take as much time as you need.” Time seemed so much different with Peter. It was full of meaning, even if it was just watching Peter stumble to the bathroom. Even her most important moments in her false life seemed hollow compared to this.

“Fine. You win, Olivia. I’ll give you a word of advice, though.”

“Shoot.”

“Walter’s in the mood for strudel.”

“Do you know what kind?”

Peter had one of those smiles again, “Surprise him.”

***

It was a brisk morning and she felt a sort of electricity in the air. It wasn’t the weather, but she couldn’t help but feel as if something was going to happen. Something important.

Those “feelings” of hers were usually right. Now she was on the alert. Was a bomb going to go off? Right in the middle of the street? Were some of David Robert Jones’ agents plotting something right under her nose? Olivia put her right hand to her gun holster, breathing shallowly. Her eyes scanned the busy streets, searching, waiting – she would be ready.

Soon she was at a small park. All thoughts of getting Walter his strudel had exited her mind. Something was here. She knew it. She couldn’t describe it; she just knew that something was there. She took out her gun in one fluid motion as she continued walking.

She was approaching a park bench. There was a blond man sitting there, hunched over. A baby was crying, quite agitated, probably ten feet away.

She approached the man quite cautiously, each step measured and secure. When he looked up, she stopped. And she lowered her gun just an inch.

“Nick? Nick Lane?”

“Olive?!” The largest smile spread on his face. The baby that had been wailing, in what sounded like agony, stopped. She now proceeded to laugh and clap with glee, much to the chagrin of her mother. “Olive is that you?”

She put her gun back into its holster. Now that she knew that something was Nick, she would have to be even more cautious. Nick was already dangerous, but that was the Nick she knew, back in the other timeline. She had no idea how this new Nick would react. In this new timeline, did they still have the same relationship? Did they still have that same bond? She wanted to assume so, because she had found him, with no clues whatsoever. But then again, so much had changed without Peter. Olivia had formed relationships with people she never would have before [like Nina], so what would happen with Nick?

“Oh, Olive. I never thought I’d see you again. It’s been so many years.” He nearly jumped off the park bench. “After all this time…” he lost what he was going to say as he hugged her.

Olivia was silent, piecing things together. They hadn’t met before? But they did, she was sure of it. He gave her bad dreams. He sent her on a wild chase from a subway tunnel, to a strip club, to the top of a building. And she shot him… right? Or no? Those memories were true for Olivia, but they were not true for Nick. Just as Olivia had lived in a world without Peter, Nick had lived in a world without Olivia, since the trials. He, too, had a gaping hole that needed to be filled with answers. But now-

“Olive,” he sat back down again, smile still shining and blue eyes beaming to match. “You’ve grown so much. You’re strong – even stronger than before.”

Olivia decided to sit with him. To keep an eye on him and to find out just how different his path was from the Nick she remembered. “The FBI does that to you.”

“FBI, huh?” Nick chuckled. “Can’t say I’m surprised. You’re perfect for that.”

“And what about you, Nick? What have you been doing?”

“Odd jobs mostly. I can’t sidetrack myself with their professions. I have to stay on-guard.”

“For the war?” Olivia treaded lightly. She remembered how obsessed the old Nick Lane had been - a ZFT enthusiast and an eager recruit.

“Yes! Yes, Olive! You’ve been preparing just like me, haven’t you?”

Olivia couldn’t answer. She wasn’t in a trance, but she was definitely immersed in something. Was it a memory? Was it a true memory? All she knew is she felt and saw a spark. The seemingly electric feel continued as she saw two blond children holding hands. And when the spark dissipated, the vision dissipated.

“Olive? Is something wrong?” Nick sensed something. The dormant bond now seemed fresh, like new. He put his hand on her knee, “What is it?”

She felt another spark. A much larger spark. And this was followed by a much larger electric feel.

“I-I don’t know, Nick.”

He held her hand, just as she remembered. And this initiated something, something large. She recognized this sensation – it had happened to her before. She – they – were going somewhere. She tried to separate their hands, but she felt bonded to Nick at the molecular level. She tried to fight this rushing electric sensation, but it was all in vain. Golden light stretched seemingly to infinity beyond her. And then beyond infinity, what felt like the familiar. Her body was rushing to that beacon, that hazy spot just off in the distance. She felt stretched and weak, as her entire body flung itself into that spot at the same speed of the light whizzing around her. It felt like an eruption of energy, an eruption of everything in her body. Then she was energy, pure energy, surging through matter. And then, nothing.

The two appeared on the same park bench in the same park, and yet it did not feel the same. Olivia knew better than that. She wanted to be wrong, but deep down in the darkest depths of her being, she knew that something had changed.

She turned to Nick with an accusing glare, “What – did – you – do?” Each word was measured and precise, just like her footsteps right before she found him.

“Nothing? Is something wrong, Olive?”

Was something wrong? They did seem to be in the same park, but was it the same park?

She shook her head, “I’m not sure.” That was an understatement. Perhaps they hadn’t left at all. Maybe this was the rest of the world, the rest of the universe, changing just as she had changed? Remembering just as she had remembered? Yes? And perhaps individuals hadn’t recovered yet, but the landscape was? If that made any sense at all?

Walter. Walter would know. She would go to Walter. And she would take Nick with her. Who knows what he had been planning on the park bench. Who knows what he could do if he was left by himself. The world would be safer if he stayed by her side; he would be safer if he stayed by her side.

“Nick would you mind running a few errands with me? It’ll be just like old times, alright? I promise not to leave you.”

Nick grinned. “Have they given you a task, Olive?”

They? Who were they? “Yes,” she lied. “We have to stop by Dr. Walter Bishop’s lab. We need to ask him a few questions. And then we’ll be going to my office at the FBI. I have to check on something.” She hoped, in time, that he would help her fill in the blanks. They? The other Cortexiphan subjects? David Robert Jones and his terrorist cell? Some other rogue group entirely? Who was the group Nick assumed she was working for and who else was working for them?

***

The taxi arrived at Harvard University. Everything seemed… normal. Students were walking around. There wasn’t any amber or panic. There weren’t any lockdowns or quarantine procedures. There weren’t any oxygen mask signs or zeppelins in the sky. So if they were somewhere else, where were they?

Olivia walked down to the entrance of the lab, Nick close at her side. The door’s window seemed dusty and the insides of the room seemed… dark. This didn’t look good. She reached for the handle and tried to open it. Locked.

“If you’re looking for O-Chem, you’re at the wrong lab.”

Olivia turned around to find an older gentleman with a mop. “Excuse me, but is anything in this lab, sir?”

“I’m sure it’s full of something. The university keeps sending me out to check on it every so often. And it all seems pretty important since they won’t let me go inside. No one’s allowed to go inside.”

Olivia swallowed. She felt a pounding in her head and a panic start to spread through her body. This was not good. This was definitely not good.

“Well thanks,” she hurriedly replied.

Shit.

***

The taxi could not get to the FBI building fast enough. Since they were stuck in traffic, Olivia was left to swim in the scenarios her frantic mind was cooking up.

Obviously this was not her universe. Her universe had a Walter waiting for her to come back with pastries. And a Peter waiting alongside him. This was far from that. And yet this was far from the alternate universe she was slightly familiar with. Nothing about this universe reminded her of that. There were no show-mes and there were no double-decker buses. Here there were Starbucks and McDonald’s signs. Here there were buildings that she recognized and seemed unchanged, and yet everything around them had.

They were now at the FBI building and even that looked the same. She was quick to pay off the taxi driver and even quicker to get inside.

But those at the entrance did not recognize her, just as she had feared.

When she tried to get through the checkpoint, she was met with a stern “Ma’am, you’re not allowed beyond this point” from a guard she faintly remembered.

“Olivia Dunham, FBI,” she flashed her badge. “And the man behind me is with me, too. We need to speak to Agent Broyles immediately. The matters are classi-”

“Agent who?” The brunette woman handling security wore a deeply furrowed brow. “I know everyone who works in this building and I can assure you that there is no Agent Broyles. Are you sure that’s the man you need to see?”

“Yes I-”

“Olivia? Is that you?” She spun around, quite disoriented. Where in the world WAS she? If she wasn’t Over There, where was this? Over somewhere else? What “else” could there be? Walter had alluded to the possibility of there being multiple universes based on multiple different choices, but that had been years ago. Could this be a third and completely legitimate universe? How? What had happened to cause this to come into existence? What else was different here? Was Walter still in St. Claire’s or did Walter Bishop even exist at all? And what about Peter? What about Astrid? And where was Broyles, if he didn’t have an office here? Where was he? Where was the Olivia of this universe? Did she exist at all?

But now she matched the voice to the face. And her stomach twisted into a plethora of knots.

It was Charlie. Of course it wasn’t really Charlie, was it? Even though this man looked exactly the same, he was not the same. Because the Charlie she knew, the one she truly knew, had been killed by a shapeshifter. And she had to kill that son of a bitch in his body. And she had to forever deal with the guilt of killing a man who looked like Charlie, despite knowing that it wasn’t him. She still had to kill a man who looked like the partner she knew and loved.

But the man in front of her seemed like that man. He seemed like Charlie reborn from the grave, even more than the Charlie on the Other Side. This man looked just like Charlie. And even called her-

“Livvy it’s so good to see you. But shouldn’t you be in Iraq?” Charlie laughed, “But damn am I glad to see you. I’ve had a horrible day.”

At least he was able to answer her question. She did exist in this universe.

“Well I’m on short leave since I’m going to be reassigned.” She didn’t want to lie to him. She didn’t. Especially if Charlie and his version of Olivia had the same relationship she and Charlie once had. They did not dare lie to each other; there was no need. Between Charlie and her, there was only trust. But, if Broyles had never taken Charlie under his wing, this whole universe-jumping thing would go over his head, despite any trust he had for her. And he’d think she’d need to see the site psychologist, not that she’d blame him. Telling someone that you’re from another universe and that you need to go back to that universe… it all seems very far-fetched.

“I have to go. Agent Lane and I need to find our liaison.” She needed to get out of there. Seeing any version of Charlie made her want to break down. She would lose focus if she kept talking to him. She would want to stay here if she kept talking to him. A world with her partner again… she’d give anything for that. But she’d give more to go back to a universe with Peter.

And it all seemed too cruel. The universe seemed to have righted itself, bringing them back together. But now they were torn apart – just as they had been countless times. But each time she had clawed her way back to him – back to Peter. Because they belonged together. Because they were the answer for each other. Because life seemed a hell of a lot better when they were together. She couldn’t give up Peter for Charlie. She knew that. But…

She turned around. “Charlie?”

“Yes, Liv?” He smiled.

She offered him her hand.

“What’s this, Liv?”

“I’m not sure I’ll ever see you again after this.”

“Don’t you dare say shit like that to me now, Liv; you just got back!” His eyes narrowed, “Did something happen to you over there? You’re acting strange.”

“No. I mean it. I want to say good-bye. I want no regrets.” She knew this would further confuse the timeline. If his Olivia came back, he would have memories of this moment and plenty of questions to answer. But she NEEDED this, damnit. She was robbed of this. That shapeshifter stole Charlie from her. She never even got to say good-bye.

Charlie, you’ve been a great partner. You’ve saved my ass countless times so I am forever in your debt. You’ve saved me – you’ve saved my soul. In the darkest times, I’ve remembered what you told me: ‘You’re gonna be fine.’ And I have been, because of you. Thank you. Thank you so much.” She wasn’t going to cry. She wasn’t going to lose it. She had cried too much already over Charlie. Her composure would not break. She could not afford for it to break, especially in front of Nick. She did not want to show him weakness – just in case, in some twist of fate, he was sent to kill her. If she showed him even the slightest opening, if she let her guard down even for a second, she’d be dead. And also, Nick had this ideal of her that she didn’t want to break yet. His Olive was always the strongest… why couldn’t she stay the strongest?

Charlie shook her hand, firmly, “You are gonna be fine, Liv. You keep lookin’ after yourself now, kiddo; I don’t want this to be our final good-bye.”

“Alright.”

***

They were outside the FBI building and it felt like the late afternoon. Olivia didn’t remember such a dark shade of blue-grey when they originally entered the building.

Olivia turned to Nick, “We need to go back.”

“Back to where?”

Olivia wasn’t sure if Nick was feigning stupid or if he truly was clueless to their surroundings. But she had time for neither. “Just grab onto my hand and remember – remember what we were talking about on the park bench.”

“Wasn’t it the war?” She felt a spark.

“Yes. Keep remembering. You were telling me about your preparation.”

“Actually I was asking you how you had prepared, Olive.”

“Right.” Damnit. She decided to lie, anything to get back. She’d try to be as vague as possible and she’d deal with the consequences later. “I stick with the routine. I wear the greys and blacks. I never let my guard down. I go to sleep with a loaded gun. I read the old words. I don’t trust anyone-”

“Except me.” The sensations were back. The surging, the electricity. Yes that was it. Just a little more. They needed more of a kick. This wasn’t enough to get back.

“Except you, Nick. I found you, but we need to get back now. Focus on home. They need us.”

The same stretching of golden light into infinity. She could see the opening through that tunnel of light in the distance. But it was moving farther away from her. No matter how hard she concentrated [so much she almost burst a vessel in her forehead], they would not get closer to that opening – to that universe. And the light strands faded. And they were back outside the FBI complex.

Fuck.

***

Olivia was able to hold it together in the taxi ride to her apartment, assuming that she still lived in the same place. She was able to bite back the panic. She was a ball of nerves – closing her eyes, grinding her teeth, and frantically tapping her right foot against the bottom of the car – but she made it.

And even though the sky was darkening, Nick refused to let himself do the same. He needed to stay positive, for Olive. He needed to stay in control of his emotions, or else all the training would have been for nothing. But after seeing Olivia… that control that he had so painfully acquired seemed harder to maintain. He certainly felt much happier with her by his side again. It felt normal and natural. But he was afraid of separation. The longer he stayed with her, the less he wanted to leave her side. In the event of that separation… he was certain he would lose all control.

He refused to think any further about it. And for the rest of the way to Olivia’s apartment, he looked out the window and watched all the cars rush by. He thought of nothingness. He thought of peace.

Luckily the keys were the same and the rooms were pretty much the same, although Olivia’s belongings and walls were covered in multiple layers of dust.

Olivia stumbled to the kitchen table, set her gun on that table, and sat down.

This was bullshit. She could NOT be stuck here. She could NOT be fucking stuck here in the middle of a crisis with Jones running around doing who-knows-what with who-knows-who. There could be more shapeshifters terrorizing innocent people. And even worse, Walter, Peter, Astrid, Rachel, and Ella could all be in danger, and there was nothing she could do about it. The entire UNIVERSE could be in danger and there was nothing she could do about it. She was stuck.

“No. No no no no NO.” Olivia shook her head. “There are too many people who need me. This cannot be happening.” But it was. And she had seen far too much today. She had seen Charlie today. Just when she thought her life was reaching a state of normalcy, after solidifying her memories with Peter, she got a ghost from the past. And contrary to Charlie’s mantra, she did not feel okay. She was not in control. She had been plucked from her universe and plopped into another with no means of escape. She tried to free herself, but she had failed – fantastically. The universe, who she thought was on her side, had just spat in her face. “No no no no no.”

“Olive.” Nick’s voice was gentle, contrasting her shaking, rather violent, one. “Listen to me.”

“But I don’t have TIME for this!” Olivia was screaming now. She didn’t have time to listen to Nick rant about his ZFT bullshit. She didn’t need to hear about recruits; she needed to get home. “I can’t be here fucking around in a new universe I don’t even know about. I can barely even handle situations on the Other Side, so what the fuck am I supposed to do with this? I already have enough on my plate. David Robert Jones could be staging an attack ANY minute now and I won’t be there to apprehend him. He could be putting countless innocent people’s lives in danger, but I won’t be there. Instead I’ll be here, because I can’t even control my abilities.” Olivia heaved a frustrated sigh and put her head on the table. “I just…”

Olivia couldn’t see Nick and that worked to his advantage. He shivered a bit at the mentioning of Jones’ name – they weren’t on the same side. He’d have to persuade her, but first he needed to calm her down. He needed to get her mind off Jones. He needed to see her face-to-face.

He sat down next to her and placed his chin on the table, edging as close as he could get to her. The best way to calm Olivia down, or at least the best way when they were kids, was like this. With soft, trusting tones. He could diffuse the situation by calming her down and by calming himself down. Because he would be lying if said he wasn’t scared. This was the same place, a place he was familiar with, and yet it felt entirely foreign. Or perhaps he was the foreign one and all of the inhabitants here were waiting to cast him out. Or even worse, waiting to attack him. Perhaps this was the war that he had been training for. This was what Olivia and him were meant to achieve… maybe. Or maybe it was just a cog in the machine, and what was truly important was just beyond this hiccup. Perhaps Jones had manufactured this for Nick to prove himself, and maybe even to win over Olivia.

But for now, he needed her calm. “Olive, everything’s going to be fine. We’ll try to head home tomorrow. The both of us. Together. And even if we can’t go back right away, we have each other. We’ll protect each other; we’ll have each other’s backs. We’ll be safe because we’ll be together.” He even stroked her blonde head, slowly, gently. “We’re going to be fine.”

“Alright.” Olivia nodded. It was working. “Alright.” Nick certainly did have a calming effect on her. And for the first time since the Bad Dreams incident, she felt connected to him. And she felt what he was feeling. And what he was feeling didn’t really surprise her.

He truly DID feel safe with her. And he always would. Not only because little Olive was always the strongest out of the two of them, but because he believed she would always listen to him and always care for him, when no one else could or would always. Even if the Bad Dreams incident had not occurred, his feelings for her remained the same; the rewriting of the timeline had not affected their bond. His bond to her seemed so much stronger than her bond to him [just as it had been before everything had been changed], but the bond both ways remained.

And he loved her, maybe not in the same way that Peter loved her, but it was still love. And it was a fierce love. Nick knew Olive differently, on an intimate level that Peter would never be able to reach. Nick and Olive had grown up together. Nick and Olive had faced all odds together at such a young age. Cortexiphan or not, the struggles they had to have faced welded them together, and that weld was meant to last forever.

It touched Olivia, how deeply he felt for her, but she just didn’t remember. Unfortunately only Nick could remember how their bond had started. And only Nick could remember the finer details. And only Nick could remember anything at all about the two of them during that time. He remembered everything, but she… she remembered nothing.

And she just didn’t have that same devotion to him. Perhaps it was the memory loss [or at least the repression of such memories], or perhaps it was a bitter truth – the bond she had with Nick would never be the same as the bond she had with Peter. He was no Peter. No one was Peter. And no one could be Peter, especially now. Peter was the answer to her everything… but her answer wasn’t there.