supersecretsanta: (alt!liv/alt!lincoln)
Title: Class Twelve
Fandom: Fringe
Author: [personal profile] monanotlisa
Pairing: Alt!Olivia/Alt!Lincoln (with bonus Team)
Rating: Teen
Wordcount: < 7,000
Written for: the Fringe Secret Santa
Time/Space!Line: Set Over There in the Amber!verse and an indeterminate future (but after the aired Season Four episodes)
Beta thanks to: [personal profile] kerithwyn and [personal profile] ceitie both, who came through for me.
Summary: The day the Alt!verse ends.

It starts when they come back: their memories of a life never lived yet fully lived up to that day in September.

Liv doesn't kid herself. Some of these six-point-eight billion out there must feel this is some sort of beginning and not the end of the world as we know it.

But she doesn't feel fine.

Having her own personal soap opera run 24/7 in her head isn't the worst story out there by far. Some people have died in that other timeline, and she doubts death becomes them in this one. But a different kind of loss she knows.

"Hey, earth to Liv." A tentative hand on her shoulder. She blinks, looks at Lincoln, his tightly set jaw and stubble that's an echo, resounding. "You were zoning out."

"See if I ever buy you lunch again if you just let it go to waste," Charlie says, across from her at the table. The grumpy tone doesn't quite hide the worry in his eyes. For her, not for him; Charlie at least is living in a new and most likely improved version of his life: with wife.

Liv chooses to stare down at what was once a Charlie-sponsored lunch but is now a congealing mass on her plastic plate. All but one bite of brown soy patty, even smaller than its counterpart five days ago, and something dun that resembles vegetables. The food is always greener on the other side, she thinks, and feels something bubble up that's not laughter, exactly. Better to keep it down. Maybe this is how Dunham felt over here, one time-line removed and brainwashed to boot: as if there's always something hovering right at the edge of your mind's eye.

Liv takes a slow, even breath before looking up again. She manages a smile too. "I'll be okay."

The frown on Lincoln's face tells her he's noted her use of future tense, but then again, he can't do much about it now. There are people around, Charlie and hundreds of New Yorkers, all on their lunch break, all of them still dealing with the aftermath of what GCNC had dubbed the Convergence -- a term picked up in a flash by all the other channels. People are trying to pick up the pieces.

Time that Liv gets on that too. "All right, boys, we got a universe to save." She pushes the bench back only a little too forcefully and stands.

"A universe more unstable than ever." Charlie slips his sunglasses back on -- not before glancing warningly over its rim at a teenage boy with a dirty face, tear-tracked, who nearly stumbles into him.

"I think it's just the humans in it." Lincoln shoots her a smile and shrugs back into his jacket, a warm presence next to her. Liv is pretty sure he's standing a fraction closer than he used to (which is of course exactly as close as he used to stand for a while). "Overcompensation. The City never takes well to a State of Emergency, especially not one three days long."

Behind them in the park, a baby is starting to wail, which should be just a small voice in the cacophony that right now fills the streets of New York. Liv bites her lip and digs her nails into her palms and follows her partners.

"No, sir, this is not how it works." Charlie has his hands full, pretty much literally, of an elderly black gentleman in a tattered three-piece suit who keeps tapping the ground -- tip tip tap, tip tip tap -- with, no joke, a silver-studded walking stick; possibly the pommel is lion-shaped, but Liv can't quite see it clearly because grandpa's left hand is closed around it so tightly every vein is visible. "Yes, I understand your burden of memory is much heavier, after a lifetime of love and loss. But we can't reverse the Convergence -- only make the world with it safer for you."

Liv looks away from them and up, up all the way. She's almost surprised that the sky isn't falling. The policeman in front of her coughs less than discreetly. He's got sandy-blond hair and a face made even redder by exertion, looks like he needs water and possibly a valium. She wouldn't say no to the former either, but there's no time. "Thank you for your help; we got this."

After he's nodded gratefully and stomped off, she sprints up the steps of the Goddard Riverside Community Center. Inside, she nods tightly at the receptionist and thanks whatever power is listening for her; that woman has been the eye of the storm, stoic in the face of chaos. A woman in a caretaker uniform with pit stains the size of dessert plates runs by, almost stepping on her foot (this is why Liv wears boots). Up the stairway, pressed tightly against the metal railing, an old lady is sobbing quietly yet all-too-audibly.

"Liv," she hears, and there's Lincoln, motioning her over to where he's crouching in the foyer beside a monumental ficus. Another caretaker, dark hair pulled back into a haphazard bun by a green rubber band, is just leaving, notebook in hand; Liv spots some bullet-points of the emergency plan suggestions Lincoln must have given her. "I've checked; no molecular degradation. Satellite scans of the area also show no anomalies." He gets to his feet and frowns at the sensor in his hands, but of course it can't give him answers to questions they haven't asked.

"Listen, I don't think this is a Fringe event."

That gets his attention, Lincoln's blue eyes narrow. "I'm listening."

"Most places -- not counting fucking Florida, or maybe magnet schools -- have a pretty even distribution of people of various ages, right?" She's talked to the whole spectrum of them here at Goddard, now, although talk is maybe overstating her interaction with Stevie, three-and-a-half years old and sucking his thumb for most of their 'interview'; the police with their compiled statements were more helpful. "But here, in this kind of location, we have mostly the very old and the very young. Old people have trouble coping because the memories are just too much, and kids may have fewer, or fewer differences, but can't comprehend them, mentally or emotionally. Same for some of the elderly ones."

"So you're saying the flashes of lightning, the doors that weren't there, the ghost sightings --"

"Are just mass hallucinations, folies à -- however many there are as follies go. Plus, slightly different renovation to this building in the other time-line." Because while the whole place doesn't quite feel right to Liv, nowhere else does either. It's not any different from the mayhem out there, just more concentrated.

Lincoln nods, slowly. "Makes sense. I'll check with Broyles, try to get the Fringe Division back-up out of here, psych response in."

Their eyes meet again, and they both know, yeah, fat chance in hell.

It's only natural to step nearer to to Lincoln so that he's the only one who can hear her. Up close, Liv can see tired lines around his eyes that haven't been there before, but mostly, she can't help but stare for just second at those ridiculously long lashes of his when he blinks at her, waiting for her words. "You know, I think I'd have preferred something paranormal."

"You and me both." She's pretty sure he's suppressing a baby there at the end, and it makes her smile, almost. She'd have punched him, anyway.

After her apartment door falls shut behind her, she doesn't want to collapse on the couch. She doesn't want to have a cry or somehow fill the empty spaces Frank left when he moved out forty-eight hours ago.

No, Liv wants to go into the bedroom and take a look at a crib that isn't there. Call her mother not for a social chat but a bulletpointed report ("Slightly elevated temperature in the morning but fine during the day? Okay, I'll pop out the thermometer after feeding him, just to make sure.")

But her mom is in France, and while they talked almost non-stop over the phone during her enforced leave of absence from Fringe Division, Liv had pretty much begged her mother to stay the hell away from New York. The city was a madhouse; it still is: a fifty-two percent rise in hospitalizations, mental patients outnumbering available placements three to one, and it's probably not the best sign that she hears this information recited in Astrid's voice. Everyone is buying what they can grab; hoarding is at a high. There is not a single carton of milk left on any Manhatan shelf.

Not even soy.

Funny how a few weeks can change the course of a life, although Liv supposes the whole alternate universe deal has been ample proof of that fact. It's clearly couch-time after all...and maybe she'll crack open that only slightly dented can of arabica she's stashed away at the back of the fridge, still sealed.

The knock at her door is too gentle to be Charlie, too determined to be a neighbor with a parcel.

"Hey, Lincoln," she says when she opens the door.

"You sound so resigned about that," he says, with reason. Also with wide puppy-dog eyes. But he hesitates in her doorway, as if remembering the here-and-now. "Can I come in?"

"Sure." That Lincoln Lee finds his way into Olivia Dunham's space in any reality is pretty obvious by now. Liv waves him in.

Lincoln takes three steps into her apartment and then stares into the bedroom for a second too long. It makes Liv's throat feel tight. She remembers a raspy lullaby sung by yours truly right there not too long ago, symbolically handing her son over to him and bidding Lincoln good-bye too.

He'd held her tight and been kind enough to not repeat what he'd told her in an understandably over-emotional moment in a certain Chinatown shop.

Liv hasn't been keen on facing the music, but she suspects those words have been true for while not just in the other time-line. Elephant, meet room. Lincoln glances at her, and the stubble he's started to sport only reminds her even more of what also-happened.

How to get across that she doesn't know where to begin considering two of them? The shock of Frank leaving is still too raw, not to mention the reason for it. Which just so happens to be the thing that worries her much more: losing her child from a man in a parallel-dimension who happens to be Secretary Bishop's son because time was re-written after shenanigans by a mad scientist and his side-kicks.

But he gets her; he always does. "Liv, don't worry. I just wanted to check you're actually, not just verbally okay." His expression is soft. "You didn't look very...present and accounted for today at the deli."

She doesn't tell him he could've radio'd her just as well, but she does tell him something that's bothering her: "I wasn't, and you need to sit down and stop making me feel all -- wiggly."

"Wiggly." He laughs, a boyish sound that lights his eyes. "Okay, can't have that. Sitting down now." He throws himself heavily into the couch and seems to relax, and weirdly enough she does too. To not be too close (but also not too far) she perches on her chair, straddling it the other way around. The chair the other-other Dunham tied her to. Jesus fuck, this memory mess is ridiculous.

"Did you know the President called in an emergency committee of the 'best lawyers and judges in the nation'-- as if -- to determine where to draw the legal lines now, from the public law side of, say, clear and present danger to crime law?" He sounds intent; he must be just that.

Right. "Your father told you." Sometimes she forgets where Lincoln comes from; more often than not she doesn't care. Could come in handy here, though. "Do you think I'm in trouble?"

"Because of our whole Betraying Uncle Sam In Another Time-Line?" Lincoln's eyebrows sure are flexible.

"We didn't betray the United States. I went behind the back of the Secretary alone." Liv catches his gaze and holds it.

Lincoln sobers visibly. "Same difference, Liv, and you know it." He exhales and lets his head loll onto the back of the couch. He's staring at the ceiling -- has that water stain always been there? -- but she doubts he's seeing much of anything. "From what I've discussed with the family, right now we should be safe as houses; there's just too much going on. If you know it, Charlie and I do too. The Secretary cannot switch out half of Fringe Division."

"And risk making people even angrier -- after the barring of the doors of Bellevue Hospital and bringing in the Regional Guard, you mean." Makes sense. They -- Charlie and Lincoln and her -- are bona fide New York heroes; people know them. They don't know what never happened on Liberty Island, in locked-down hospital corridors.

"Yeah." Lincoln's voice is quiet. He sits up again, leans forward so Liv does too. There's a kindness in his face that gives Liv an odd pang, and also a better idea of what he's going to say next. "Can't tell how long after this, though. When everything's normal again --" his face changes, and he sits up fast enough to startle Olivia, tapping his earpiece on. "Yes, Astrid, I hear you; what's the situation?"

Liv decides not to take the fact she's not yet in the loop as a bad sign. Here and now, she's not the mother of Bishop's grandchild; the ground she stands on isn't very firm.

"Is it at least a Fringe event?" she asks, already getting back her own gear, and yeah, now her own piece is signaling.

"It is," Lincoln says, "a case of be careful what you wish for." Walking out, in the doorway, she bumps lightly, accidentally into him. She can see fine beads of sweat on his nose. Lincoln doesn't scare easily; the more dangerous the situation, the more focused he gets. Right now, his eyes could probably double as lasers.

This can't be good.

"Five new vortexes have opened across the United States alone." To say Broyles's voice was clipped was to say water was a little moist. A counterpoint to the running and yelling outside in the common space, Broyles stands perfectly still behind his desk. Like a statue, Olivia thinks, one of those they put up to honor battles fought.

Not necessarily won.

"They say they are widening by the second, not hour, that they're exceeding the ten-point scale. Sir, is that true?" Lincoln, shifting very slightly to her right-hand side.

"Unfortunately, that is so. A regular but devastating increase." Broyles puts his hands on his desk, palms flat on the wood. He gives them a long, measured gaze, but it doesn't linger on Liv; ever since the Convergence he has not met her eyes. "These vortexes have been classed as going beyond the additional category meant for catastrophe, even. Agents, there is no contingency plan for this. Washington is working on it, but right now we're reduced to being reactive, trying to save as many as possible."

Charlie breathes out, audibly. "Sir, by that you mean -- we can get our loved ones the hell out of Dodge?" He's a New Yorker, born and proud; he doesn't just have Mona here but a grandparent, cousins, nieces and nephews; she's met Mama Francis and at least a dozen other family members over the years.

"You are talking about the vortex that opened in New York City. Before the relevant Lookers malfunctioned, we received basic data." He looks down at his pad; even from her perspective Liv can see warnings and messages flash too fast to be processed by any human mind but Astrid's. "I'm afraid it has already obliterated Liberty Island. The Secretary was too late to reach the helicopter -- stayed with the Machine too long, we believe."

What? It doesn't, not actually, but Liv feels the solid floor give under her, just a little. The blood is rushing in her ears, swallowing the sound of the Colonel's words.

"But -- the Machine; the Bridge." Lincoln might not be panicked, but he is speaking very fast now. "Without the Department's infrastructures and resources, how are we going to coordinate the production of amber now, or try to consult with the Other Side? How do we approach this from the science side?"

"That's what he just said, Linc." Charlie's voice is rougher even than usual. "Or not: no plan yet. But we'll evacuate?"

"We will; hold on --" he taps a few words into the controller, looks at them again. "The Governor has declared another State of Emergency; evacuation procedures started three minutes ago. And yes, Agent Francis. I'm assigning you with the Bronx squads and trust you'll take care of everybody there." He emphasizes everybody, but Liv thinks he doesn't have to; it's Charlie after all.

"Sir," Charlie is grateful, but he slants Broyles a questioning look.

"We're not going with him?" Liv looks from him to Broyles and over to Lincoln.

"Dunham, Lee, you stay. Francis, dismissed."

Charlie nods, and when he looks at Liv and Lincoln his eyes are full of all the things he won't say, doesn't need to say. "Take care, guys." And then he goes.

Lincoln and she exchange a look. Broyles rarely ever breaks them up, certainly not for Fringe events when they're known to save each other's asses on a regular basis. The question is on the tip of Liv's tongue: to ask whether she and Lincoln too are will be split up. Which would be fine, except she doesn't like the thought at all.

"You, I need you to go inside -- inside the perimeter. Bring me reliable news, and bring it fast." Only the set line of Broyles's jaw shows that he's not especially happy with this order. "We have satellite images and remote footage, but no close-up shots; all cameras and recording equipment so far have malfunctioned when approaching this new vortex."

"Emitting EM pulses, then, or strong radiation." Lincoln runs a hand through his hair, science to the rescue. "I can see that makes things even more difficult."

"My mother has one of these old cameras in our house in Tarrytown." Liv thinks, fast. "I'm pretty sure the Division storage has such a cam somewhere; the evidence room certainly has. They're mechanical, can't fizzle out."

"That, and chemical in the next step," Lincoln says, "but yes, photographic film would work if it's only EM disturbance, at least."

Broyles nods at them both. "My thoughts precisely. Get the equipment and go. Just, Agents --"

At the door, they turn as one and look back at Broyles. He gives them what's clearly a smile, a real one that makes this night seem a little less dark.

"Good luck."

Turns out they need that, and more; in this New York by night very far removed from postcard clichés, Liv and Lincoln stumble across a mob of screaming, crying people running straight at them (and away from the vortex) about five minutes after they've left Headquarters.

There's a fire-ladder hanging low in the alleyway to their left; it's only the fact someone painted it red that helps them to even see it with so many broken streetlights. They both scramble it up like monkeys, the boxy camera bag hitting Liv in the side of her face when her hands are on the rungs and she can't deflect its hard plastic edges. Lincoln yells, Fuck, Liv, are you okay? down at her, but she just yells back at him to keep going. Which they do; they make it onto the roof and, while they're at it, walk across gray concrete looking pitch-dark now, to try and take a look at the vortex that's killing their world.

And they see nothing. It's not that it's nighttime; this is New York and there are enough lights and billboards left. They are blinking, at the very least, and illuminating Manhatan down and in front of them. But coming in from the bay in a half-circle, there is literally a void. It hurts her eyes to look at it: endlessness the human eye was never made for.

It is an ever-increasing circle, a sphere actually; Liv understands that even planes won't help, here. To the contrary, nothing will help planes approaching it. When Liv ducks her head to glance at Lincoln, his face is perfectly still. He looks nothing like her ever-animated friend, soldier, and -- no, not Division Leader; not here.

"Lincoln," Liv whispers, "I know what you're feeling, but we have to try."

"Of course," he says, and when she turns back to the ladder, passing him, she squeezes his hand very briefly. She thinks she sees a quick flash of white teeth even in this midnight haze.

Down at the street level, the streets are almost deserted, and even if she didn't have a good memory for maps and New York besides; it would still be easy to just walk toward where people are running from. She sees a few other law enforcement officers: A female firefighter who has lost her helmet at some point is determinedly pushing along a wheelchair with a sobbing woman. Two NYPD uniforms are dragging down the street and away to safety four patients still in their hospital beds, the latter fastened together precariously by their plastic manacles. But then, the chasm of buildings opens up, and they step out into a park.

The ground is soft under her boots, the grass dewy from nighttime humidity. But Liv doesn't look down, and she knows Lincoln doesn't either. Because they've reached the edge of the vortex rolling in -- faster and faster, or is that just her imagination?

"The Lookers were wrong, or too late. It's increasing exponentially, Liv." Lincoln's voice is barely a whisper. "Every second it speeds up a fraction."

All of New York beyond this park is gone, gone, gone. Her head is hurting; there are tiny flashes of a darkness deeper than black every time she closes her eyes. "Which means?"

"We might never make it back even if this works," Lincoln says, and they could turn and run, of course, but turns out they're both already fiddling with the equipment, her sweat-slippery fingers finding no purchase on the camera bag for a second or so. Their eyes meet, and seeing his expression nearly makes her stop what they're doing. Liv wants to tell him to buckle up, to take a deep breath; mostly she just wants to touch him, reassure him that everything will be okay.

Which it won't, so she just gives him a smile as good as she has left.

Lincoln takes out the camera, and Liv adjusts it, and all the while the void is coming closer. Liv glances at it only out of the corner of her eye because her head feels worse now. But then the camera is in her hands, and she turns it, clicks blindly toward where the world is wavering, disappearing.

"Here, let me see --" Lincoln squints, presses a button. A drop of sweat drips from his chin and hits the back of her hand. It can't be searing, but that's what it feels like for a split-second. "Let's try the flash too."

But once he's fastened the glass-and-metal contraption on top of the camera and turns around, the vortex is only mere feet away from them.

"Lincoln; that has to be enough; we need to --"

"Just, one with flash; the light might get swallowed, but what if not, Liv?" He lifts the camera, his mouth determined. He's taken other photos, she knows, because he's a tech geek who can't not take an unconscious step forward to adjust the image in his viewfinder.

Only that's it's one step too many because the vortex is there; the void and the gray endlessness are right here, and Lincoln lets out a sound that's soft and breathless and thins impossibly. Liv grabs his shoulder, digs her fingers into his jacket hard enough to leave bruises. But even so, he's already -- insubstantial. Suddenly all she holds in her fist is emptiness. Not even air.

Liv manages to stumble back herself, a few steps, but even so she can tell Lincoln was right: the speed at which this is coming at them, she cannot outrun it.

Lincoln, she thinks, I'm sorry, and stops. Stands straight and opens her eyes fully, ignores the pressure in her brain. At least she's louder; it's a real scream that's coming from her lungs, an explosion of sound before it's swallowed up.

Before everything is swallowed.

She opens her eyes.

The sky above her -- never mind; there is such a thing as a sky above her, and how is that even possible? She saw the world shatter and crumble, every atom pulled into a void blacker than black: nothingness, negative space.

But now, she is lying on her back on wet grass at what seems to be morning, which is never half as soft as it looks on tv; Liv's pretty sure the back of her jacket has left "damp" and headed straight into "wet and cold" territory. There's a different sensation too, however. The back of her right hand is touching something soft yet hard, warm --


Liv rolls to her side so fast her vision is literally spinning; it's true, he's there, he's right there with her. She's not thinking much by this point; she just moves right over, drapes one hand around his neck, as gentle as speed allows, and draws his upper body into her lap with the other. Distantly she notes this isn't difficult; he's not heavy at all. Liv cups his jaw. "Lincoln, Lincoln, wake up." His face is still when she looks down on him; in the diffuse light of this unreal day, his stubble throws no shadow. He's alive, though, his pulse slow but strong under her thumb where it rests against his jugular. She's stroking his neck, fingers sliding over his familiar skin before she can even reflect on this action.

He stirs, then, and his eyes flutter open. Liv knows that her heart is jack-hammering purely because of adrenaline due to the shock of dying and the -- larger -- one of finding out that no, she's still around in a world she thought destroyed. But when Lincoln's eyes focus on her, she's glad she's sitting, his body in the circle of her arms grounding Liv: Her knees feel weak enough for a round of honest-to-God swooning, and wouldn't he get a kick out of it if he wasn't so out of it?

"Liv?" He smiles up at her, and she exhales, lightheaded for no reason. Her eyes are wet too, and isn't that the most ridiculous thing?

"Hi," she says, and she'd say more too, but she has to swallow, first.

His hand closes gently around hers, pulls it down a fraction so it's resting on his chest. He makes no motion to free himself from where he's resting against her but doesn't even seem to notice the proximity to her boobs. Instead his eyes catch hers, clear and keen now. "Could be heaven, but I guess it's much more likely we're alive. Did you drag me out of a vortex yet again?"

"No," she says, and the truth of it still aches a little: that she couldn't save him.

But when she glances around, she and Lincoln are exactly where they last were at the very end of the world: the center of the Martin Luther King and Eldridge Cleaver Memorial park, right by the fountain. Around them, New York is bright and dark, oddly quiet. But it's whole. Liv doesn't feel she has to check that the Rockefeller Center is present and accounted for or that Times Square's billboards might be black at the moment but seem ready to illuminate again at the flick of a switch. The Twin Towers are still -- again -- standing; she can see them when she cranes her head just so.

She tightens her free hand around Lincoln's shoulder. "But I have a feeling we're still okay."

He nods slowly and does sit up, stand up; they both do, her hand on his elbow steadying him more for her sake than his, she suspects. Lincoln takes in their surroundings too, and the slope of his shoulders relaxes just a fraction. His fingers glide across his earpiece, hesitating as he finds his as dead as hers. "Whatever happened, the electromagnetic storm wiped out all electronic connections." He straightens. Pure coincidence, but that's when the sun breaks through the cloud cover -- yeah, this is definitely New York -- and leaves Lincoln's figure bathed in light in front of a silhouette of skyscrapers. "We need to connect to the division, to Broyles, the old-fashioned way to find Charlie, find out if everybody else is okay too -- what? What is it, Liv?"

It's nothing; it's just that she's looking at him fully, the familiar planes and angles of his face that can be so goofy but is not, now. She reads him like a book, but that's easy because she knows all the pages, and a lot of them spell her name, hearts doodled all around them.

The truth is that she's always liked his attention, thought of it as a schoolboy crush to be indulged but not fostered. The truth is that she's always liked him period.

But of course at first there was Frank, who was a neat tick in every single check-box compiled by the editors of Cultivated; giving his warm, secure self up would mean upsetting a balance she thought she needed, certainly wanted. But all sense of balance was shot to hell anyway by Peter Bishop. Who she didn't even think of as a real boy, until she did; by then then it was too late for her.

Maybe, Liv thinks, that's a mistake she keeps making with men in her life.

"Lincoln," she says, and she doesn't have to say more than his name because he knows everything about her. A half-smile, hopeful and cocky at once, flits across his face. He steps into her personal space with a care that tugs at her in ways Liv's not yet acquainted with. Lincoln reaches up to brush his fingers along her cheek where she cut herself, not touching the scratch itself, and oh, damn it all to hell. Liv leans in and puts her forehead against his. For a moment they're breathing in each other's breath. And then his lips are on hers, not tentative at all, and she opens her mouth. She's been prepared to taste his smile and maybe feel a tear or two, both of which are totally happening. She just hasn't been prepared for her own response, the sudden rush of heat when their tongues touch, the shiver that runs through her, all the way down.

Their second kiss is infinitely better than the first.

It's him who breaks it, although he's panting when he does it, and Liv is sure even a sheet of paper couldn't fit between the two of them, which of course could also be due to her hands hooked so tightly into the small of his back. "Liv, please don't tell me this is just a friendly Hey We Survived The End Of The World kiss."

She pulls back only to smirk at him. "Sure, just imagine the one I'd have given Brandon if he'd been here."

He makes an exaggerated eww face but grows more somber again. "It's okay; we've been through -- actually, I don't even know what the hell we've just been through, but in any case it was traumatic enough for a whole bucket of free passes." He slowly, regretfully takes his hands off her hip, away from the nape of her neck, half-tangling in her hair. "I just -- you know what the deal is here for me, Liv."

Right. It wasn't realistic to expect him not to bring it up, and she's surprised by her own reaction: how much she wants to tell him that no, this is genuine; she wants Lincoln. But that's probably not fair because he's not wrong; even though right now she feels elated, her mind and body are still thrumming with the aftereffects of this cataclysm. "I know. Fine. Let's touch base with the others first, make sure we're not re-enacting some freaky movie here."

"Empty world?"

"Or zombies." She looks at him, and thank fuck he does smirk, a little. "One condition, though: that you stay close." She does not, absolutely does not want to lose him again. Not for what currently feels very much like ever.

"I can do that."

She meant it, and Lincoln did too. Evacuated New York was still just that: empty of people who were not emergency personnel, but those they met once they left the park and hit the street level again. Firefighters and policemen, fellow souls who'd probably thought they were unlucky for having stayed. Now they wore the expressions of stunned gratitude Liv knows Lincoln and she would be wearing as well if they weren't with Fringe Division.

The apocalypse was hardly another case-file, though.

At the end of the day, after rebooting everything in every way including the literal one, Liv exhales. Her mother is fine in France, and so's Charlie's family. He told them so when they helped him bring down that gang of -- worldly, non-Fringe-related -- looters at Barney's, or at least Liv thought so. His voice sounded a little muffled because she was hugging Charlie pretty hard just then, inordinately calmed by the fast but steady thump-thump of his heartbeat.

The science department managed to cobble together an explanation that made as much sense as anything: that, probably through machinations from the Other Side that couldn't yet be fully explained, the intertwined waves of their connected universes had started to flicker, twisting the fabric of space-time...but not ripping it; what seemed like a new vortex phenomenon had just been the world turning itself inside out and upside down in an effort to untangle the tangled threads woven by a mad scientist far, far away and a generation ago.

"Actual, honest-to-God wormholes, you guys", Lincoln said, and his eyes were shining as if it were Christmas day and he was standing under the tree, not the structure beam of the North corridor of Fringe Headquarters.

"Save your geek-out for when the authorities aren't wishing they could bring back some of 'em to avoid the chaos of eight million people streaming back to the City," said Charlie.

Liv didn't say anything; she just grinned.

At home, where her front door is dented but not broken in like others, she's not grinning any more. For one, she is dead tired. Second, if it's true what Brandon and his lab rats postulated -- Liv hasn't quite forgotten their involvement in the time-line that didn't happen -- Charlie will have something more substantial to bitch about, job-wise. "Do you think it's true that the Fringe Division will be obsolete?"

Lincoln puts his hands in his jacket pockets and stares off into space for a half-second before following her into her apartment. He looks as if he's sleepwalking. Maybe he is. "If the untangling worked as not-advertised-beforehand, then there should not be any Fringe events any more -- at least not any based on structural damage to our world."

She got that; she doesn't get a clear image of the future, her future not being the least important timeline. "Yeah, but -- what you said before. A cleared schedule could mean the capacity to consider the other timeline."

He rubs the back of his neck, frowns a little. "We both saw the Secretary's face, Liv: pretty sure he wasn't falling to his knees and weeping for show; he wasn't being a politician there. You'll be fine -- the Fringe Division will be fine. For other kinds of cases."

"So we'll stay around in case flying pigs appear. Think that's gonna happen?"

"If they take flight not because of a lack of gravity but proper wings, why not? Could be genetically engineered, by yet another mad scientist." Lincoln's smile is exhausted. But it's also genuine, almost hopeful, and Liv has to laugh in spite of the fatigue. She closes the door and doesn't want to wait any more.

"C'mere." She hooks her fingers into the loops of his cargo pants, draws him close and looks at Lincoln. "It's been a day."

"Felt much longer," he whispers and comes, eagerly, but there's a flicker of fear in his eyes that Liv's never seen; it makes her skin prickle and her stomach turn, a little. She thinks that flicker needs to never reappear.

Lincoln tastes like the mate tea they both drank, but more than anything he tastes like tiredness. She's sure it's no different with her.

"Hey," she says, and his sleepy blue eyes open a little wider. "Let's just go to bed. To rest -- together. I'll let you wear my sexiest nightshirt; it'll show off that perfect butt of yours. And we'll figure out the rest tomorrow."

He breathes out, then, slowly, and presses a kiss to her cheek that should feel chaste but doesn't; she's shivering by the time he ends it. "Long as that doesn't make you believe that a tiny little thing such as the end of the world can bring me down."

Liv feels the corners of her mouth twist. "You, down, that could be a good thing."

This time when Lincoln leans in to nip gently at her lower lip, the smile does reach his eyes.

They do fall asleep as soon as they slip under the covers, Lincoln sadly sans negligée but also sans much of anything else, which she appreciates, a lot. When Liv wakes in the morning, she wakes with Lincoln's arm around her: not pressing, just holding. Not wanting to rouse him, she turns in his embrace to look at his sleeping face.

Liv lifts her hand and traces, almost without touching, the lines of his mouth, overactive but so good and giving. She has a feeling she'll like this new world they live in.


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December 2011

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