As Real as Anything

by Kass

Set after the S4 finale. Thanks to Sheafrotherdon for beta!

Sunday morning. Olivia is making coffee, surrounded by mostly-still-packed boxes. A few gape open, their contents visible: frying pans, wooden spoons and whisks. The others are taped neatly shut and labeled in Peter's careful hand: Cookbooks. Rice cooker. Dishtowels.

Sometimes, especially just as she's drifting off to sleep at night, this all feels like a dream, as though she might be snatched into wakefulness and all of this would fade away: the faded linoleum of the kitchen floor, the bay window where she already knows Peter likes to read in the overstuffed chair. Their bedroom. The room neither of them is yet willing to name.

It's disconcerting. A reverberation from having one set of memories overwritten by another, maybe. Or from the awareness that there's another Olivia in another world. When she and Peter first started going out -- drinking as colleagues, nothing overtly romantic, though in retrospect it feels like a beginning -- they used to joke that Fringe cases permanently warped your sense of what was normal. The weird began to seem ordinary, the ordinary began to feel faintly unreal.

But morning always comes and she keeps waking up in this here and now. Peter pressed against her back, one arm around her, as though even in sleep he is determined not to lose her. Sunlight streaming across their floor. Walter dancing giddily around the lab singing twisted lullabies. This is as real as anything has ever been.

She wonders whether she should be more frightened about the future. She's not wearing a bra today; even though she isn't visibly pregnant, won't be visibly pregnant for months to come, her breasts are tender to the touch. Her body is doing something she doesn't understand and can't control.

Maybe the cortexiphan, and Jones, and Bell's universe-annihilating plots, were good practice for this. After turning on lights with her mind, controlling another body's movements across the chasm between two roofs, standing at the epicenter of a swirling storm, the invisible magic of stitching cells together into a new human being doesn't seem so strange. She's learned how to be graceful when her body does things she can't understand.

She's just poured herself a cup when she hears a knock at the door, too brisk to be Walter. Olivia picks her way through the leaning towers of book boxes.

It's Astrid. Olivia feels momentarily self-conscious, barefoot in bluejeans and a threadbare waffle-weave henley which, she suspects, is too obviously Peter's. (It's eggplant. Olivia has never bought a purple item of clothing in her life.) But Astrid beams at her and Olivia smiles back and suddenly this feels as startlingly normal as everything else.

Maybe after everything they've been through together, they're the kind of co-workers who drop by one another's houses, now. Or maybe this is the natural outgrowth of her moving in with Peter; he's always been approachable in a way that Olivia knows she herself is not.

"I was just making coffee," Olivia offers, "would you--"

Astrid raises her Starbucks cup, somewhat apologetically. "I know they're evil, but they make a really good mocha."

"I think, in the grand scheme of evil corporations with which we've become familiar," Olivia begins.

Astrid laughs, intuiting where she's going with that. "They don't really rate, do they."

"Not so much. Here -- let me just clear off the couch."

Over Astrid's protests, Olivia piles the Sunday New York Times and a teetering stack of folded flannel shirts on the floor and makes room for them both to sit.

"So what brings you to Brookline on a Sunday morning?"

"I wanted to give you these." Out of her messenger bag Astrid withdraws a small lemon-yellow shopping bag. Olivia's heart pounds as she accepts it and reaches inside. Inside it are a pair of impossibly tiny kimono-style shirts in striped grey and pale lavender, with little leggings to match. Soft to the touch.

"I don't know what we think we're--" Olivia has to stop talking to swallow hard. The strangest little things bring all of her terrors to the fore. What if Peter disappears again. What if she's exposed to some kind of neurotoxin. What if --

"No one knows what they're doing," Astrid says. "Not when they're doing this."

"You sound pretty sure about that."

"You just do the best you can." Astrid smiles wryly.

"We don't exactly work in a nice quiet...storefront." Olivia can't even come up with a plausible idea of what a non-dangerous life would look like.

"People in storefronts get shot at too," Astrid points out.

"Not quite as often as we do." Without conscious volition Olivia's fingers stray to the thin chain around her neck, its macabre pendant hidden beneath Peter's shirt.

"At least we can shoot back."

That startles Olivia into a chuckle, and Astrid grins back and bumps her takeout cup against Olivia's mug.

"Here's to shooting back," Olivia says firmly.

"We have better guns," Astrid agrees. "Much better guns."

As they follow up their toast by sipping coffee, Olivia surprises herself by saying, "Peter just went to get bagels. Have you had brunch?"

"I wouldn't want to intrude," Astrid demurs, but Olivia shakes her head.

"You're really not. Peter was going to get a dozen. As long as you don't mind the mess."

"Want some help unpacking?" Astrid suggests, her face lighting up. "I actually really enjoy unpacking boxes."

"That's sarcasm, right?" Olivia feels silly for asking, but she honestly isn't sure.

"No, I really like doing it," Astrid protests. "It's satisfying. Chaos into order. It's like gardening."

"Gardening," Olivia repeats.

"You know, put things in the ground and help them grow," Astrid says. Her voice deadly serious but her eyes are twinkling. No wonder she and Walter work so well together, Olivia thinks.

"Yeah, I think I've heard of that," Olivia says, deadpan, and they both crack up.

When Peter gets home from Kupel's with bagels and cream cheese, he finds them shelving books. The baby clothes are draped across the box they're using for a coffeetable. He puts down the bagels, picks up one tiny shirt for an instant, and then gives Astrid a rib-cracking hug.

"Oof!" Astrid says, and he lets go, but the happiness on his face fills Olivia with comfort and fondness and anticipation. Whatever fears still plague her, the obvious joy he takes in her and in the prospect of their child is steadying.

She clears her throat. "I made coffee," she offers.

"Woman after my own heart," Peter says fervently, pressing a quick kiss to her forehead before heading into the kitchen for a cup.

"Let's eat," he calls. Olivia picks up the bagels, Astrid the bag of cream cheese and napkins, and they walk together into the kitchen, into whatever comes next.

The End