On the third night out of the hospital Olivia Dunham grabs her coat and her keys and checks herself into a hotel.
She can clear out her closet, her entire apartment, she's realised, but she can't change the reflection that follows her in the mirror. She can't stop the onslaught of phantom flashes of memory, of her having touched everything that was once solely hers, any more than she can will away the equal time she spent walking in her double's shoes.
She understands, now: there are dire consequences to things being forced to occupy the same space.
When the other Olivia makes it back to the other side she feels weakened and a little giddy; her stomach still feels like liquid and left behind in the other universe, separated from the rest of her somewhere around her navel and she has the persistent sensation that she's sleepwalking, almost like she's moving without thinking or even meaning to.
When she gets back to the other side nothing much has changed, either, which feels strange within itself. Nobody has noticed her absence, for one thing, and while that was part of the plan all along she can't help but be unsettled.
(Frank grazes his fingers across the side of her face and smiles like nothing is wrong; something twinges in her gut at the thought of her skin not being the only skin he's been sliding against lately much in the same way his was not hers.)
(He presses his lips to her forehead, and she tries to remind herself this is what normal feels like.)
She returns to work and smiles brightly at the sight of Charlie and Lee but all the while can't help thinking, didn't you ever wonder, didn't either of you ever know?
"I'm sorry if I haven't seemed like myself lately," she says to Charlie before a mission, pressing a smile.
"You don't have to apologise, Liv. We all know what you went through. Way I see it, you've racked up enough points to cash in on a few get out of character free cards." He flashes a smile at her, and she laughs. "It's good to have you back, Liv," he adds, more seriously.
She lets out a breath of air at that:
Sometimes at night Olivia dreams of an alternate-alternate universe, where Peter grew up on the side he was supposed to, where Walternate was a kindly father not crippled and bitter by the loss of his son, where another Olivia spent her childhood cheerful and untouched by the cold hand of insidious science, where two people could meet and fall in love and everything was easy and just the way it was supposed to be.
And this world of course had an Other Side, where a father was forced to weather his failure when his little boy died, where loss and devastation created cruelty and dark ambition, where the experiments never stopped and little Olive grew up as broken and as twisted as the rest of them.
(Olive's hair is shoulder length and obsidian black; the other Olivia dreams of her too and in her dreams when Peter meets Olive he mumbles the hair is different, but I think I might like yours better against her mouth on a torturous sigh.)
There's something the other Olivia wishes they'd realise:
It was her life that was invaded first.
(She'd been curious and a little enthralled at the confirmation of the existence of somebody mostly but not quite exactly like her; felt a tweak of excitement to have then come face to face with her herself. Then the blonde had pulled a gun on her, tied her to a chair, taken her things, taken her clothes, taken her place. That particular opening move had never been hers.)
She skims her fingers over the nape of her neck where her tattoo used to be with a shiver and thinks, turnabout is fair play.
It doesn't quite help her sleep at night.
Fact: there is a terrible, poisonous part of him that wishes they never found out.
That the surreptitious switch could have been more seamlessly made; that he could have gone on believing in the fairy tale he'd found himself in.
Because Olivia was back and she was his Olivia, and his Olivia had always been rougher around the edges but she was prickly now, snappy and agitated and accusing, and though he knows she has good reason he can't help but think you're right, you two are completely different, how could I ever have mistaken her for you at all. Because being with her just felt so easy, and he should have known that nothing about being with his Olivia was ever going to be easy.
He just hasn't decided if less easy means the same as less worth it yet.
(Fact: When Peter's hand hovers over the control pad the lights flare and he gets a trickle down his spine of cold but comforting familiarity. Like he's been here before. Like he's done this a thousand times in a thousand different worlds.
"Kind of like déjà vu?" Brandon supplies, glancing up from his monitor.
"Yeah," Peter says, flexing his fingers, then turning his hand over to expose his palm. "I guess it's exactly like that."
Kind of like being on track with your own destiny.)
He corners her in the lab one evening, bristling with agitation as he imparts,
I came back for you, Olivia. And if I can't have you, there's not much keeping me here at all.
She lets out a quiet chuff of air that's somewhere between bitterness and amusement and when he asks what it's supposed to mean she shakes her head slightly and says,
"It's just that not all of us have that luxury. For me there's not another Peter Bishop that I can just fall back on when this one decides he doesn't want me anymore."
"Livia," Peter growls, warningly.
"No. I mean it's fine, you have a choice to make. We've already established that she's the better version of me, so why shouldn't you choose her? There's no need to settle, right?"
"Would you listen to yourself?" he demands. "Olivia, there is no choice because there's only ever been one option for me and that's you. That being said, you're understandably caught up in the idea that there's a decision to be made here. So for the love of God, would you let me choose you? Because right now, you haven't given me a chance."
(Olive takes the pen, the pen that was a murder weapon of probability and predictions, and writes he still has feelings for her across her skin in scarlet ink.)
(She isn't entirely sure she can ever let this go.)
The other Olivia finds out she's pregnant three days later (but not before Frank does and Jesus, this can't be happening.) and something inside of her twists painfully in the key of well shit.
This complicates things, she thinks.
She splays her hand over her still-flat stomach and considers the tentative life beginning inside – this curious, complex-inducing organism that is half her, half him – and bites back the sob that rises insistent in her throat.
(There are things that they forget.
Like the fact that before he was anyone else's, Peter Bishop should have been hers.)
In that quaint state of being that dances between consciousness and sleep, she slips sometimes and forgets, and dreams dreams that don't quite belong to someone else.
Olivia dreams of darkness, of her double and the other side; she dreams in bittersweet, bleeding sepia of because you belong with me in all its painful past tense. And then there's Peter, sitting alone in the tangled old garden after she left him with I don't want to be with you, and there's apparitions, but his and not hers, and Peter's vision of the other Olivia comes to stand in front of him, crouches down to kiss him sweetly through the curtain of her auburn hair, pulls his palm flat against her stomach and says,
You can't forget who you are. You can't forget where you're from. And you can't forget this.
These are the nights Olivia wakes up hollow and gasping for air, hands pressed hotly against her abdomen.
(These are the nights the other Olivia dreams in technicolour irony; of the tell-tale, insidious blossoming of blood red petals in white cotton while her hair curls sticky at her forehead.)
An admission: she's not quite convinced that she loves him.
There's a part of her that yearns, overwhelmingly so; but there is also a part of her that's no longer her at all, that's mostly her instead and she can't tell yet where one stops and the other begins, can't tell if there's a point this side of the line where the lie becomes a truth.
(Still: she can't help but think there's a hole in her world that doesn't entirely consist of what Frank used to fill.)
She knows that it hadn't been a typical undercover assignment; hadn't been comprised of deftly rearranging circles into squares because the life that she had been living had fit, which had made it somehow terrifyingly worse.
Once two lives intersected, intermingled, transposed, crossed over in the way that theirs had, there was no going back. They were no longer separate entities.
(She was, after all, the sum of her experiences, and the sum of her experiences of the last few weeks had been to live another life.)
They were two broken halves of a whole.
(The thing about binaries is, if one didn't exist there'd be no real need for the other.)
Fact: there's another thought that haunts her -
Did being so indistinguishable make her capable of the same? She'd like to think herself inept of something so callous and underhanded, but she'd been living her double's life as her own. Hadn't she taken some secret pleasure in it? In having Charlie back by her side, for the most part the same; for having the chance to get to know her mother again?
And then: Charlie, she thinks with a sickening lurch. Charlie who died without her knowing and wasn't Charlie without her knowing, and as much as she'd like to hate Peter and believe that if it was her she would have known, the truth is that not so long ago it was her and she didn't know at all, not until the last minute and it was too late.
(People were extremely good at believing what they wanted to believe. She'd fought tooth and nail that she wasn't who they thought she was but she'd been forcibly moulded to the role and they'd all breathed a sigh of relief when it stuck, because who wants to be made aware of their own inability to tell the difference?)
(She stops drinking coffee altogether, which works out fine; Peter's long stopped bringing her any.)
A terrifying thought: she is not ready to do this on her own.
Because she is alone, really. She has her mother and then there's Charlie and Lincoln, but none of them really understands any of this. And she's okay with them feeling distanced and betrayed because they liked Frank, everyone did, her included and probably most of all, and they can judge her for the way they think she gave it all up for a fling with a guy she'd met one night in a bar because for her, the alternative, the truth, is nauseatingly worse. She hasn't quite forgiven herself.
The Secretary watches her keenly and tilts his head with a glint in his eye like a velociraptor. It unnerves her, the cold, calculating stare that wasn't present in his double, that no longer existed in the scatterbrained but for the most part kindly doctor that she had developed an odd sense of affection for.
She'll have everything she needs at his disposal, he says.
(Everything, she muses, except the kinds of things that matter.)
Frank could have made a good father, she thinks.
Olivia gets that she's the one that feels 'off', now – the one whose eyes don't light up at certain things that they're supposed to, the one whose laugh is smaller and much more rare.
And she thinks she could have grown to be these things on her own, maybe, if she'd been given the chance, but that would no longer be development, but rather imitation, and besides, she doesn't need to destroy any more of the few remaining degrees of separation she has left.
(The more she thinks about it, the more it makes sense that he should be with her, the other her, and that she can't really blame him for it but that stings.)
She dreams again of dark and twisted Olive, and when she comes into the lab the next day he takes in the new short sharpness of her tresses and the intensity of her glare daring any one of them to say something. She's wearing a black skirt and a dusty pink blouse, the makeup a little more suggestive around her eyes and this, this is not any Olivia any of them have come across before.
He doesn't think he's ever seen her – either of her – look so… colourful.
Walter supresses a giggle and makes a quiet comment to Astrid about a possible new nickname for this intriguing creature, this non-Olivia that is taking shape in the negative space where Olivia used to be.
Olivia folds her arms in front of her and manages to look blasé.
"Olivia," Peter begins.
"Not now," she says.
She still can't quite meet his eyes.
("I'm going to get some coffee. You want anything?"
"Oh, P-Peter. This 'Nolivia', I believe," Walter begins carefully, "prefers tea. Peppermint tea, in fact. She finds it very soothing. As it so happens, on the odd occasion, so do I."
"Stop calling her that, Walter," Peter warns.
Walter speaks almost at a murmur as he leans over to collect a sample from the creature on the table.
"Yes, well, son. Not all of us are as adept at making oversights of the changes in Agent Dunham's behaviours as you are.")
The other Olivia gives birth to a son on the floor of a Chinese restaurant, belly undulating in unprepared agony, dark hair matted against her sweaty skin. Lincoln rocks her in his arms and chokes, distraught, and she knows by the way he looks at her as if trying to memorise every line of her face that she is going to die.
(Henry, who has somehow proven to be her trans-universal guardian angel in all of this without any of them really comprehending, presses his thumbs to the inside of her ankles and confirms that her baby has a head.)
"I love you," Lincoln kind of blurts out, and it's horrible and beautiful and heart wrenching but ohjesus, she feels as if she's being torn apart from the inside, and he's got to promise her that he'll save the baby.
Then suddenly there's the feeling of the earth being pulled out from beneath her, from within her and around her, and the pressure in her abdomen is replaced with a dull, hollow nausea and dizzying relief. Something in her chest flickers hotly like a candle.
I promise, is what she holds onto as it all fades violently into black,
A secret, now: sometimes, in the quiet hours, he can admit to himself: being with her felt like coming home.
Because Peter may not have started out as Walter's son but Walter took him as a child and raised him and for all intents and purposes, that made him his father, or so everyone kept pointing out.
He may have come back for his Olivia, but he'd given his heart to her other.
So for all intents and purposes, to whom did his heart belong?
(Now that he has had both, perhaps he can have neither.
Maybe, that's the way it's supposed to be. Maybe that's the only way everyone comes out of this alive.)
Three weeks after she first takes shape, Nolivia grows sick of the weight of inertia and kisses Peter Bishop in a bar after a case. He's barely responsive at first but some part of him recognises that she needs to do this, needs to be able to take the reins and start taking back possession and control of all the aspects of her life, and it's not soft and it's not gentle, but unlike any way he was with either of them before and when she pulls back from him, pressing the back of her palm to her swollen lips, she holds his wary gaze and smiles.
"Why do I feel like I just failed some sort of test?" he murmurs.
"It's more like an experiment," she says, and twists out of his arms and wraps hers around herself. "And I haven't decided yet if there are any right or wrong answers."
If Fauxlivia was brighter and bolder then this Olivia, this Nolivia as Walter keeps calling her, is darker and disturbingly dead calm.
But maybe that's okay, he thinks.
Because he's getting darker, too.
(Peter smiles and jokes that they should just start calling him the Apeterclypse, but there's something about it that doesn't quite reach his eyes.)
In the early hours of the morning the other Olivia cradles her son against her chest and hums I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For into the soft brown tufts forming on the crown of his tiny head.
The baby rarely sleeps but does not cry; he simply stares up at her with his bright, clear eyes, almost as if he's holding his breath, waiting for something to happen.
(His name has continued to elude her.)
In a way he still feels foreign to her, almost like he isn't hers – her mother says it's probably because she was denied the nine months of slowly getting to know him, feeling him divide and multiply inside her and the consuming, giddy anticipation to meet him. What Olivia thinks is that it's because she kind of feels like she's stolen him somehow; like he was meant to be someone else's life.
Still, she loves him fiercely.
(She can't quite shake the feeling someone's going to come to take him back.)
His lips are at her throat and his fingers traversing her thigh when they knock unceremoniously against the desk in his room; Olivia pulls away, breathless, and it is then that she notices the schematics he hasn't thought to hide.
The old Olivia would have picked a fight.
(Fact: said Sam Weiss to Nina Sharp, which universe survives depends on which Olivia he chooses.)
(What it all depends on is frequencies.)
The room feels suddenly cold, and Olivia can't help but feel as if she's making some dangerous kind of deal as she kisses him instead. Peter smiles against her mouth, and soon enough she's arching gloriously beneath him, skin silver in the moonlight.
"Your nose," she murmurs, after, and he brushes his fingers beneath it to find blood.
(Brandon's noticed, now: the machine hums lightly when she's near.)
The Secretary watches with his serpent's smile.
Olive's ink black hair is tight and curly and her lips are thin and red; Peter's quicksilver-stained hands skim carefully up her creamy legs as if palming fine bone china, and when his fingers reach the hem of the black skirt they linger there, hesitating over the stitching.
The hair is… very different. But I think I like it this way.
He pushes her back against the mattress with a dangerous kind of abandon; there's a silent fury brimming beneath his heat streaked skin and he devours her like he's trying to peel back her layers to get to the very core of her, to the part of her that's just like him, where they are weapons in someone else's war.
Olive comes undone in a whirlwind of atoms tearing apart and coming forcefully back together again, twisted into a shuddering sigh that draws air from the saddest, deepest, most broken part of her. There's an explosion of light and a fierce, fierce heat that singes the walls and makes her toes curl.
(This might just be how her world ends; not quite with a bang, but with a whimper.)
She dreams of fire but wakes alone, the pillow cool and smooth against her temple.
(In another universe, her baby starts to cry.)