fringekink_mod: Olivia Dunham with flowing hair...and a Santa hat + caption (secret santa olivia)
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In a festive mood for Fringe? For a gift exchange of fiction, art including icons, or vids?

Then you're about to enter the right universe:


1.
To SIGN UP, all you need to do is add a comment to this very post containing your request.

Sign-ups are between now and 1 Novemberclosed now. All the requests will be jumbled up and sent back out by 6 November.


2.
RESPONSES to gift requests are to be posted between 16 and 23 December --

ideally anonymously (with your reveal after Christmas, i.e. after 25 December, in your own fanspace). Two ways to do this:

a) Add your response as an anon comment to the request you've been matched up with. (For fic, that allows for roughly 3,000 words in one comment, multiples of course encouraged. Vids & art are trickier, but only a bit.)

b) Jot down the link to the actual response in a blog, on the AO3 (pseudonyms option suggested), or any other platform. (If you need an invite code for the AO3, tell us, and you'll have it in no time.)

If anon doesn't work for you -- no dummy accounts possible, or your working hours look a lot like Olivia's -- that's fine; post the link to your own fanspace with the response. Just, don't tell Alt!Astrid.


3.
Please don't sign up if you believe you'll be unable to complete a request given to you.

If you realise you can't make it, please tell us as early as possible, and we will try to organise a pinch hitter so that your recipient isn't left without a gift at the end of the fest.


4.
Now!

To join the exchange, post a request with the following information:
Blog: [DW handle] OR [LJ handle] OR [AO3 account] OR [ff.net handle] OR [...]
E-mail: Should of course be working.
Things I'd like: Please request at least three things here...but ultimately feel free to add as many things as you'd like at this point. Doesn't mean you'll get them all, but there's no harm in asking, and it ensures you get a great Secret Santa match. If you'd like a specific pairing or character, then speak now or forever hold thy peace. Don't forget to ask for icons or vids too -- we all know the likelihood is low in a small fandom such as this one, but hey. Worth a shot!
Things I wouldn't like: If there's anything you wouldn't like to receive (pairing in a fic, French electropop for your vid, bright-green textures in your icons) then here's the place to mention it. Without character-, pairing-, or kink-bashing, of course.
What I can do: Are you great at a certain genre (gen, het, slash)? Are you the specialist for writing specific character/s or pairing/s? One of the excellent Fringe vidders out there, or an icon-maker with aspirations? One of the folks on tumblr who brighten every Fringe fan's day? As ever, specifics are great so your match brings you tears of happiness instead of, you know, the opposite.
What I can't do: If there's anything you feel you can't do, then please say so here. Same disclaimer as above applies.
Pinch hitter?: In the event of someone not being able to complete their gift are you willing to be stand-in writer, artist, or vidder?
The Fringe Secret Santa is open to fanfic, fanart including icons, and fanvids; on the fic side everything goes -- all we ask for is a minimum wordcount of 750, that kinks are tagged and warnings included.

Happy holidays! And thanks to the ever-excellent mods over at [community profile] sga_santa, from whom the template for this text is snagged with permission.

Feel free to snag this Fringe Secret Santa icon. More yet to come...

<||:)>
From: (Anonymous)
The thing is: the first time Astrid meets Walter Bishop he pushes her into oncoming traffic.

****


On her person Astrid carries a combination earpiece and camera Dr. Bishop married together, a gun, an FBI radio and a pair of runners she keeps in the well of her car seat at all times. She knows better than to wear nice clothing or even her most favourite shoes. At Walter’s behest, Astrid’s crawled through air ducts, along sewers, over bodies, and on one memorable occasion *up* a California redwood, balanced precariously between the trunk and a branch that was thick as a small tree.

Her breath had come in sharp bursts, almost asthmatic with fear; bark beneath her nails and nothing but a rocky precipice below, a forest stretched before her like the blurred strokes of an impressionist painting, a blotting of jade and olive green.

“It’s breathtaking,” Walter whispered in her ear and Astrid had stared, stunned by the vista of nature: by the sharp cry of a peregrine as it pin-wheeled in the dawning hush. It took a moment before Astrid comprehended what he said then she hollered, furious with Walter for making her climb the tree for no other purpose.

She had scampered down like a twelve year old, dropping from branch to branch, feet skidding along the ancient trunk until her toes touched the earth.

Astrid carries with her a notepad, a pen, and the unspoken knowledge Walter sees the world, its collection of oddball inhabitants, its frenetic beauty, while perched on her shoulder.

He sings sometimes, glam-rock melting into German nursery rhymes, his voice acerbic in her ear. Walter’s regard should pull Astrid off balance, tip her over the edge with a rush of vertigo, but she has yet to fall from the heights he entices her to scale.


__________________

2008:
__________________



“It’s not over. Reanimation of the corpse will give Agent Dunham some answers at least. We could attempt another joining of minds - “

“Walter,” Astrid says.

“Find out who else was responsible for the Flight 627,” Walter says frantically. “Seven hours at least before decay of the synapses becomes irreversible –“

“Dr. Bishop,” Astrid tries again.

“It can be done! You can’t send me back yet!” He’s circled the table twice, maintaining exact distance. There’s a wet spot near Walter’s crotch that Astrid doesn’t comment on. His reactions aren’t his own yet, mind and body divorced from each other after two decades of prescribed and experimental medication. “I didn’t fail,” he insists.

He looks terrified. The etched lines of Walter’s face speak of the contingencies of his release, none of which were met. Save John Scott’s life.

It was a chance to impress Olivia with his intellect and the final result was a cooling body on a slab. John never even awoke from his coma.

“I didn’t have enough time. Please don’t send me back.”

He’s balanced on tenterhooks, face grey as he twitches from her approach.
There’s something small, selfish, inside Astrid that wishes Olivia were here to deal with Walter, to assuage his terror, to look him in the eye and say *Sorry, but it was a good try, no guarantee there will be a next.*

“Walter, the decision isn’t up to me,” Astrid reminds carefully. “And Richard Steig is in custody.”

They have the culprit, just not a breakdown of chemicals used to infect the passengers of Flight 627. That too will come, through reverse engineering and patience, only too late to save their co-worker. Astrid’s uncertain what Agent Dunham will do – the state of her grief, the nature of her relationship with John at question - but if Walter breaks apart now, if he shivers and shakes, fails to produce *any* type of result, the end game is pre-written.

“If you want to stay out of Saint Claire’s, find a cure so this won’t happen again. Let Olivia have some measure of peace.” Don’t let her go back in the tank, Astrid encourages silently. She leans over the cadaver, curling her hands around Walter’s forearm and agrees. “It’s not over unless you want it to be. Give Olivia a reason to look at you twice, Walter.”

It should feel like an imposition, to reach out when there were other, more important people who slipped through Astrid’s fingers.

Walter says searchingly. “Who was it?”

Astrid startles, her fingers turn loose, opening like a petal. Walter doesn’t wait for an answer. Seemingly, he lost interest before the question left his mouth.

“I’ll need to perform a thorough autopsy. No further dalliances in the tank for Agent Dunham I’m afraid. Would you be kind enough to assist me?” He makes eye contact briefly before his gaze skitters away.

Where Walter was high-strung with fear, now he’s nervous with inactivity, vibrating with the need to prove himself, to make his presence indispensible. Astrid feels her stomach roll over. She has it on good authority a background in linguistics and computer science doesn’t qualify her for a human autopsy, the largest thing she’s dissected is a frog.

Her mouth opens and closes almost haplessly. “What’s my name?”

“Astrid,” he proclaims immediately.

He says it with a hard A and soft D, all the letters in between rushing forward in ambush. Walter reaches over John Scott’s body with his hand extended, the motion awkward; oblivious to the blood on his gloves. He says her name like he can ill afford to forget it. “It’s Astrid, and I’m pleased to meet you, miss.”

Astrid looks at the corpse briefly and blanches.

“Good to meet you too, Walter.”

His request is deeply inappropriate. Walter doesn’t consider the possibility they might have known one another (which in fairness, they don’t), but it should feel wrong to partake in a fellow agents autopsy. Astrid should look down and have an immediate sense of her own mortality, of the perils the job entails. Instead, she looks at the disease that has wasted John Scott’s body into a Halloween costume, (translucent skin, ivory bone, teeth visible), and thinks gross/squishy/I don’t think I want to touch that and finally, it’s freakishly brilliant. Suzy would have loved it.

They hull John’s body until it resembles a macabre canoe; organs removed, his rib-cage spread wide. Astrid weighs her pound of muscled flesh, jots down altering notes on his brain and heart function. Unconsciously, she starts to drift closer.

She has the sense Walter’s watching her, his eyes assessing.

“Relatively, they’re only separated by thirty centimetres,” he says imperiously, fingers gentle on Scott’s brain stem. “Thirty centimetres between the brain and the heart, such an inconsequential distance, yet sometimes it feels as if they’re miles apart.”

“I suppose. But then you’re a scientist, keeping heart and mind separated ought to be second nature.”

He stares at her, eyes half lidded, his lower face pulling into a patented sneer.

She can find no discernible pattern in the manner of Walter’s work. It appears he approaches a problem from above, below, side-on, and when none of that works, he’ll spin it on its ear and start over again. He works with a frantic undercurrent as if tripping on ideas.

“I’m not your common scientist.” Later he’ll add: “Keeping heart and mind separated was ever my failing.”

It takes Walter fourteen hours to find a cure for Disease 627, for the tension in his shoulders to abate. He looks at her giddily. “Can we tell Agent Dunham?”

Sixteen hours too late for John.

Astrid hesitates as she disinfects her hands, taking in Walter’s smile, how he seems to have lost years in the space of a scientific discovery. She can see him suddenly as a young man.

“Olivia’s at the bureau, Walter.” His smile dims, feet shuffling backward. “You’re welcome to come with me?”

In fact, Astrid hasn’t forgiven him for their first meeting.

There’s a darkening bruise on her lower jaw, her right wrist still aches from where she hit the pavement. She remembers the car; the way the snow had crunched under her gloved fingers, how the cold seeped into her kneecaps and how the breath left her body in a violent whoosh.

Dr. Bishop pales. “No. I’ll wait in the lab if you don’t mind.”

She grabs her coat and car-keys silently, makes her way to the door.

It might be easier to call Agent Dunham with the news of a cure rather than going in person; but Astrid wants to check with the older agent, touch base and find out what’s going to happen next. Is this a one-off or the beginnings of a division? Is she expected to work with Dr. Bishop every day? Churlish and brilliant, mad or a visionary? Astrid doesn’t think she can handle Walter alone.

She doesn’t think any one person could.

“Astrid,” he calls gently, before she vanishes out the door. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m not accustomed to the outdoors anymore.”

The thing is: Astrid forgets the curious case of madness that begets Walter Bishop is not anything she has experience with. His flights of fancy, unexpected rage are as sudden as a snowstorm, turning the winding roads slick, unpredictable. His moods out-of-control-fast as a speeding vehicle.

“I know, Walter.”

She finds Olivia at Agent Scott’s desk at the bureau office, hands flat on his table. Olivia’s packing away his belongings methodically, her eyes veiled as she regards Astrid’s approach.

“Walter’s found a cure,” Astrid states forthrightly then feels the weight of the sentence penetrate her subconscious because he *actually found a cure*. “Steig…?”

“Isn’t talking.”

Whatever their relationship, Olivia shouldn’t have to pack away John’s belongings alone, not the day after he died.

Astrid bites the edge of her lip and motions at the desk. “I could do this for you, if you want. I think Walter could use some reassurance that you’re not about to send him straight back to Saint Claire’s.” She smiles uncertainly, probing for information, more for Dr. Bishop’s sake than her own.

Olivia looks down at the half-open drawer. “There’s not much to pack away to be honest. I was going to take the non-essentials to John’s mother.”

“Oh.” The two of them fall into an awkward silence, the desk spanning the distance between them. She waits a beat before changing the subject to what (Astrid hopes) is a safer topic. “And Walter?”

Olivia’s expression turns flat, uncompromising. “My guardian seems to think we should hang onto Dr. Bishop for a while.” Astrid stares, nonplussed, before Olivia elaborates. “Ms. Sharp’s clearance level is higher than yours or even mine. She recommended Walter to begin with.”

It doesn’t match the script in Astrid’s head. She thought it was Olivia who found Dr. Bishop, searching through forgotten articles to discover an edge, her every act driven with purpose.

“This isn’t a one-off investigation?”

“No. It’s not.”

There’s something brittle in Olivia’s expression before it’s locked down. Too complex to read, woven tight as a tapestry. The overall picture’s coloured with annoyance, rich with resolution, beneath it, runs a weave of betrayal.

Olivia’s thorough. Astrid’s known it after a mere twenty-four hours in her presence, but she thought Agent Dunham would have been more curious about Walter.

Astrid shifts her feet and stares at the shoebox containing John’s belongings. “Were you close?”

Olivia closes the lid on Agent Scott and rises to her feet stoically. “We were partners. He hinted, but well…I wasn’t interested.”

That’s the problem right there, Astrid thinks unbidden. You’re not interested in much of anything.

“So I can tell Dr. Bishop to relax and not pack up the lab?” The anger sharpens her tongue. Astrid’s feeling the corners of her tapestry; trying to see the whole picture through the knots and tangles, through the broken weave; to shake it out into a recognisable pattern. Olivia’s done her best to avoid Walter so far. Bitterly, Astrid’s come to the conclusion it reflects Agent Dunham’s attitude toward mental illness.

Olivia blinks, as if the idea of Walter’s distress hadn’t occurred to her, she says slowly. “Of course.”

“He’ll be glad to know that.”

She thinks about the wet spot on Walter’s pants, how his nervous tics, his twitches all accelerated the moment John Scott died. How one kind word from Agent Dunham might have offset the trickle of urine.

Just a squirt, he had said, face closed to any sense of embarrassment.

Olivia regards her. One hand fists around the medal of valour awarded to John: he kept it in his desk drawer for luck.

“Astrid, you should be careful with Dr. Bishop. The type of science he practices, his code of morality, it’s fluid, not stable.”

He hasn’t practiced in twenty years.

Astrid stills. She sees a loose thread, tantalisingly close, something she could let her fingers catch on. “Maybe you should get to know him,” she suggests mildly, thinking about Walter’s cure, how Suzy’s mouth tasted like mint julep, almond eyes lazy under the hammock, her bare toes scraping across the shorn summer grass. Astrid understands prejudice. She recognises brilliance just as readily.

Olivia’s teeth show. “Maybe I should.”

The older agent brushes past her, John’s shoebox tucked under one arm, her spine straight.

There are two schools of thought regarding first impressions: one, the instant sizing up done in less than two minutes, without any factual background, is always, instinctively correct. Two: a first impression, while important, counts for absolutely nothing in the long run. Embarrassingly, it takes Astrid almost two weeks before she realises Walter and Olivia know one another.

Two months later they head out for drinks, and while Astrid’s speech becomes slurred, she remembers the edge of bewilderment in Olivia’s tone. “Nina had no right to foist Walter on me like that. She knew Astrid….she *knew* what he did to us. ”

Olivia and Walter were an estranged child and parent - connected with remembered history; their emotions a hodge-podge of suspicion versus protectiveness. Astrid says, tipsy with alcohol. “But you’re relearning him.”

Because Walter’s different; because Olivia’s resentment isn’t directed at him entirely: Olivia’s confession feels like a lance at a festering wound, at an unknown hurt not even considered by the perpetrator. Something Olivia doesn’t examine until she’s loose with alcohol.

“Nina should have asked me first.”
From: (Anonymous)
***
Astrid sees the staff psychologist after her fourth case. She spends the interview rubbing her nape, feeling out the tiny prick of a needle-mark. She can hear Olivia’s voice in her inner mind, telling her not to trust Walter’s brand of science. She remembers the moment of startled terror, when his forearm snaked around her throat, body jerked against his torso before the needle slid home.

The staff psychologist isn’t located in the FBI building but situated half an hour away.

The agents may pretend to mind their own business but at heart they’re investigators. No one wants to walk down the long corridor to psych in full view of his or her work colleagues. No agent wants to suffer the flicker of second-guessing - is he or she okay? Can I trust them at my back? Can they handle this? – too human in its uncertainty. Astrid knows how the field agents work. She knows Olivia would be infuriated if her judgement were ever questioned. If Olivia were called to a psych evaluation, she would fear the mark on her permanent file.

Same as Astrid, personally, doesn’t care, happy to use the available resources if it means her *sense of judgement is never compromised, or questioned internally*. It’s an odd realisation to make – to see how differently they approach the same problem- unlike Olivia Astrid’s never cared about fitting in, unlike Olivia, it wasn’t written into her genetic code to blend in.

Chagrined, Astrid thinks none of this is easy. Its hard, blurred, like standing too close to a picture, she can’t see the overall tapestry through the weave. Their little unit of three doesn’t gel – Walter, Olivia, Astrid – are separate threads of opposing colour. She’s surprisingly hurt, considering how little she knew about Walter, and she’s angry, the emotion sharp on her tongue, like Olivia, Astrid’s now doing her best to avoid him. Walter used rohypnol to knock her out (available to him for his depression), and Astrid can’t grabble with the disgust/anger his actions warranted.

She’s aware enough to know this isn’t good for Walter, ignoring him makes her guilty as Olivia, but she wants the anger to burn true, until all the oxygen runs out.

Astrid only knows one other woman who was drugged against her will.

In a nondescript building half an hour away from the FBI office, Astrid doesn’t stretch out upon the couch, although the psychologist has one perpendicular to his desk, the leather buttery soft, inviting. She sits in the chair opposite, making eye contact

“I can’t look after Walter by myself. Olivia has issues with him that run a mile deep.”

“You’re not *supposed* to look after Dr. Bishop by yourself,” he says, while Astrid gives him the stink-eye. “Have you approached Colonel Broyles?”

“This is my first assignment,” Astrid says apropos of nothing, her fingers curl inward, resting against the worn denim of her jeans.

“Trying to make a good impression. There’s no shame in asking for aid. Broyles may even appreciate your candour.”

Astrid frowns, she lets her eyes drift over the diplomas, books, the bland paintings and mahogany desk. Olivia might be willing to clash horns with Broyles but Astrid finds him intimidating, not to mention her superior.

He senses her discomfit. “You could start smaller. Have you spoken to Walter about the incident?”

Which one? Astrid wants to say. It’s been four cases and the number of incidents has begun piling up like a car crash.

“You could address the issue directly, ask for an apology.”

“Walter always apologies.” He assumes responsibility at the drop of a hat. I’m sorry, forgive me, spilling from his mouth, eyes and hands imploring. She doesn’t doubt Walter’s remorse. It’s the realisation it won’t stop him from doing it again that gives her pause.

“He doesn’t think about the consequences.” Astrid says, tiredly.

Unlike herself, Walter’s comfortable standing where he is - frozen in place, so close his nose is pressed against the tapestry - obsessed by the small details, completely disinterested in the larger picture.

“Why should he, when he has you? Your endless patience for him,” he says, smiling gently.

Irked, Astrid can’t tell if he’s mocking her or not.

“It’s like everyone assumes I have experience with mental illness.” She can see the humour in his eyes, the rebuttal even Astrid can see, given her current location in his place of business.

“As if I own some magical rulebook with how to deal with Walter’s psychosis, and I don’t.”

It’s not fair, she bites back, because she’s struggling too, trying to keep up with science, human anatomy, Walter’s anger, the FBI reports, Olivia’s demands, and their moments of thoughtlessness.

“You don’t have experience with mental illness?” He actually does look surprised. “Not a family member or a friend?”

“No.” She thinks about Suzy, digging up bones in Afghanistan, patiently brushing the dirt away from each new tomb of horror, choosing solitude and the dead. “I understand prejudice.”

He blinks at her, mouth parted. He doesn’t take notes while she’s speaking, Astrid has observed, and wonders if he’s recording her instead. “Why does Olivia assume you have experience ‘in this type of thing’?”

“It makes it easier on herself,” Astrid decides slowly. “To believe I can handle Walter better means she doesn’t have to deal with him.” He tilts his head, his fingers beating a tattoo against the mahogany grain, expression unreadable. “What?” Astrid says.

“Why wouldn’t she want to deal with him?”



She returns to Harvard in the late afternoon, the sun streaming through the clouds and scores of students sprawled across the available grass. Inside the lab, Walter and Olivia are sitting together. Astrid almost trips down the stairs.

They don’t look particularly comfortable. Walter’s anxious, while Olivia seems utterly relieved when Astrid enters the room. “Hey,” Olivia calls, a little desperately.

“Hey,” Astrid returns, her eyes darting from one to the other. “Am I interrupting?”

“Walter was telling me about gastronomical worms in South America.” Olivia says in a rush, sounding pained.

“They can grow up to twenty feet long and are coaxed out of their human hosts by starvation. Eventually they’ll depart by climbing the gullet and exiting via the mouth. They’re quite slim, allowing the host to continue breathing while they’re extracted from the body,” Walter perks up brightly. “The two of us were having a conversation!”

“And a charming one at that.” Astrid can feel a smile turn the corners of her mouth. Olivia watches her pensively. “Coffee?”

“Thank you,” Walter accepts readily.

She leaves them alone, walking to the kitchenette, and listens to the cadence of Walter’s voice. Eventually Olivia joins her, washing a mug by the sink. She wonders if the three of them are orbiting one another, moving position, at equal distance and continually apart; if Olivia’s only talking to Walter because Astrid’s still angry.

“It was good to see,” Astrid offers, to break the silence. “It’s the first time I’ve seen you talk to Walter rather than *at* him.”

Olivia’s fingers tighten on the mug, long and delicate. Their interaction thus far has been limited to science and demanding answers. Astrid puts three sugars in Walter’s cup and takes the mug from Agent Dunham’s hand.

“You handle him well.”

Astrid straightens. She’s waiting to see if Olivia will add to the sentence, if there will be a qualifier, an addendum, when none’s forthcoming Astrid states honestly. “It’s a process.”

Olivia meets her eyes.

Junior Agents Tim McEvan and Allister Roberts start the next day. Walter tolerates Tim, hates Allister on sight, and drugs the unsuspecting agent only twice.


Ironically, Dr. Bishop yelps when he finds out about her trip to the psychologist. He susses it out after her follow-up session. “You’re seeing a shrink? Are you *mad*, you can’t trust them! They’re just looking for an excuse to lock people away!”

He instructs her on techniques to mask her emotions - to hide from a psychiatrist’s probing and impervious gaze (she doesn’t correct him, for Walter it’s always been psychiatrists).

He sits by her side anxiously before Astrid finally reaches out, runs her hand down his shivering forearm (he’s tactile, always has been, quick to hug or hip-bump her out of the way in the lab) and says gently. “It’s okay, Walter. You don’t need to worry about me.”

She knows the broad strokes of his history, she knows Walter lost a son; it’s the details she lacks. Walter doesn’t speak of his fallen child. The memory jealousy guarded.

Walter segregates his mind, boxes things away, buries them so deep the memory of it melts away in the darkness. Astrid doesn’t want to live like that. She wants to tell Walter to open up and breathe, to remind him immortality is only achieved through the telling of tales. She wants to say seeing a psychologist is a pressure valve, a relief, to let everything unspool messily, to have someone listening who doesn’t work in the lab. To not care how she sounds or censure her emotions. To Astrid, talking to a psychologist is like jumping from a treetop.

A rush of absolute freedom.

“You can talk to me,” he implores. “I’m a good listener.”

I don’t trust them, he means.

He’s absolutely the worst listener Astrid’s ever encountered.

She feels a smile tug at her mouth. The warmth unfurling in her chest is unexpected after the anger, making her lungs expand, the ache reminiscent of a diver breaking surface after being oxygen deprived. She cups one hand to his cheek, mouth tilting helplessly. “Thank you.”

Ironically, when Olivia finds out (some years later) she displays none of the prejudices common amongst field agents. She doesn’t question Astrid’s sanity, doubt her ability to perform her job, or make a single snide remark. Olivia’s attitude is questing, as if running a searchlight over her own mental landscape. Suzy, Astrid imagines, would have told her to read Roald Dahl instead.


________________
From: (Anonymous)
2010

______________



Astrid enters the scene with Ziggy Stardust crooning in her ear.

Walter’s in a good mood, seventies glam means he’s feeling feisty, he reserves the turntable, the glorious strands of an orchestra, for when he’s set on science.

Olivia turns with a small two-fingered wave, a brief acknowledgment of her head.

She’s engaged with a knot of men, their hard-hats marking them as either construction workers or members of the municipal council. Astrid turns her eyes from the small group and follows her nose, striding down the incline to where the mouth of a storm drain maws open – wet and dank - the air degrees cooler than the plains of South Dakota, from the morning heat rising from the pavement.

“Agent Dunham said you should wait.” One of the worker’s calls out, sliding down the loose gravel as he hurries to catch up. He has a flashlight in one hand, face shadowed by his hat.

“There weren’t no DJ that was a hazy cosmic jive,” Walter mutters in her ear.

Astrid croons in perfect harmony. “There’s a starman waiting in the sky. He’d like to come meet us, but he thinks he’ll blow our minds.”

The construction worker, Astrid reads, isn’t a Ziggy Stardust fan. He holds up his flashlight and flicks it on, eyes darting over Astrid’s form dubiously.

“The object is a fair distance down the rabbit-hole, miss. We left it untouched as per the FBI’s instructions, but there’s a fair amount of damage done to the structural integrity of the tunnel.”

“Safe for entry?”

“At the moment. The storm drain backs into a sewer line at the halfway mark. I hope you brought your gumboots.”

Of course, Astrid thinks, a little sourly and resigns herself to rolling up her trouser legs.

There’s a smattering of freckles on his face, ginger lashes so pale they appear non-existent. His nose is crooked from an old break, teeth white and pointed, crowded together in his mouth like a rat. “John Burkner,” he introduces.

“He’s not right for you,” Walter says instantly.

Astrid smiles as she turns away, letting the camera drop from the man’s line of sight. “You say that about everyone.”

“I’m sorry?” Burkner says blankly.

Astrid taps her ear in explanation, her shoulder rising in a shrug. “Talking to the monkey on my back.”

“That’s impolite!” Walter admonishes.

Burkner spits, a bloody pulp of tobacco that stains the ground red as he shrugs.

At the entry to the drain the air smells like decaying fruit, a veil of skin that a finger could push through. The hairs on Astrid’s arms stand on end. She watches patiently as Olivia leaves the group of men and skids down the embankment, leading foot extended, her rear foot turned at an angle to slow her descent. She hits the bottom with a little skip and strolls forward, her gait the curious mixture of rolling hips and purpose.

“We should stop by the Hot Springs on the way back,” Walter says absently. “I always meant to go.”

“I’m not going to the Hot Springs with a video camera, Walter.”

“Why not?”

“There’s a good chance I’ll be arrested.”

“It’s not that type of Hot Spring,” Walter corrects, sounding dismayed. “And this generation is far too prudish.”

Olivia brushes Astrid’s spine in greeting, low in the s-curve, before she focuses her attention on Burkner. “I understand you’re escorting us to the location?”

There’s the sound of crashing in the lab, of bottles being overturned. Astrid, accustomed to multi-tasking, to listening to three separate conversations while stirring the custard and prodding at body parts, divides her attention between Olivia, Walter, and the equipment in her hands.

Burkner, she notes, seems a little flustered. “Right this way.”

Olivia follows him into the tunnel, her voice tight with exhaustion. “It’s the last set of co-ordinates for the machine.”

She shines a penlight onto Astrid’s monitor, illuminating the screen in the growing darkness. Her face looks pinched in the dim light; her cheekbones cut high, a glacial slope of honeyed skin. Olivia’s been obsessed since her return from the other side, scrambling to catch up to Walternate’s plans. She changes the frequency of her radio to coincide with Walter’s and hovers close to Astrid’s side.

“It’s the oldest, too.”

South Dakota was the last of the twenty-two co-ordinates Astrid unscrambled from the number station code, (the First People Code, Walter sometimes calls it, or Watson’s Wonder when he’s feeling indulgent). It’s the last in numerical order, the oldest. The first piece of machinery to be buried beneath the topsoil - lost over ten thousand years ago in the Pleistocene era.

“The Dakota Hot Springs are a Woolley Mammoth site,” Walter prattles in the background, nearly inaudible. “The springs are the resting site of a fossilised herd. Did you know when the first skeletal remains of the Woolley Mammoth were uncovered in Siberia it was thought the giant beasts lived underground? That they only came to the surface of the earth to die, poisoned by a sky they couldn’t breathe; imagine, an animal that size living like a mole rat? The locals thought the Mammoth herds were responsible for the earthquakes and the shaking of the trees, that the soil only trembled when they were running underground.” Walter sounds delighted, *young*, his voice tipping into full on lecture mode before he concludes softly. “Myth, first impressions, they were utterly wrong. The first Woolley Mammoth emerged from the ground fully formed after the permafrost retreated. I think he would have wanted to see them.”

Astrid double-checks the equipment.

There’s a low vibration, emitting at two megahertz then again at five, repeating at random intervals. Unlike any other segment they’ve collected so far, it’s as if the last piece of machinery *wants* to be found. Seismic activity caved parts of the tunnel in a week ago. Watching the needle as it fluctuates, Astrid wonders if maybe it wasn’t something else that collapsed the tunnel - that tore up the floor and exploded from underground.

“He wanted to be a brontosaurus when he was a boy, but that may have been the medication speaking…he always had a deplorable lack of tolerance for it.”

It’s Olivia who answers. Astrid can hear the smile in her voice, the low warmth as she teases. “It sounds like he took after his mother.”

“In all the right ways.”

Walter doesn’t speak about his son often and only ever to Olivia. Astrid’s heard Peter mentioned by name twice in three years and saw a photograph once. She doesn’t interrupt as he reminisces. Since Olivia’s return from the other side, the dirt’s been shaken loose from Peter’s skeleton, pushing to the surface of Walter’s waking thoughts.

It’s good for him, to let the memory breathe, to let him live again.

The first time Astrid met Walter Bishop; he was holding onto Olivia’s forearm with both hands, walking from the institution side by side. His eyes were squeezed shut, trusting Olivia to guide him past the unruly snowdrifts, the treacherous ice.
His shoulders were hunched protectively, the wind dropping the temperature to perilous cold. To Astrid’s eye he looked more than frail. He looked ancient.

Astrid was in the car with the heater on full blast. She noted their off-kilter stride, walking as if tied together in a three-legged race and mistook Walter for visually impaired. She stepped onto the road, door wide open, to assist.

He flailed the very second Astrid touched him.

Startled, his eyes snapped open, mouth twisting in a snarl. In hindsight, it wasn’t an attack but an uncoordinated strike of limbs and surprise. She remembers being pushed, the sickening recollection of a car hurtling down the street.

She landed on her derriere in the middle of the road, teeth clacking together, the seat of her pants cold through. She remembers Olivia’s drawn in breath, the way her body had coiled for action; the way Walter’s eyes widened, then Astrid *scrambled*. Rolling onto her knees she dove forward, hitting the curb as the vehicle screamed by in a rush of red metal, close enough she could have kissed it.

It was her first meeting with Walter Bishop and she thought; heart galloping fast in her chest, as first impressions went it wasn’t an auspicious start. It was the first time; the last time, Walter Bishop stepped outside.

Astrid keeps an eye on the vibration and tries to figure out the quickest route to the Hot Springs from their current location. Once they confirm it’s a piece of ancient machinery in the tunnel and *after* they make arrangements to have it transported out, they might have available time to see it.

She wants to bring South Dakota’s horizon to Walter’s dark monitor, to his basement lab, squirreled underground like the legends of the Woolly Mammoths. She wants him to understand some things shouldn’t be given up or turned away. Some things (sunshine, light, air, second chances) should never be shunned.

Astrid had zero experience with mental illness when she began work at Fringe, she had no understanding of the complex relationship, the experiments, Walter once performed and Olivia was subjected to. But she understood blame. She understood life was a series of mistakes, wondrous detours.

Astrid took a chance on a friend who was grievously injured, who didn’t trust men. Her memories of Suzy are infused with confessions, with soft touches, whispered hurts, with intimacy and laughter and finding something infinitely precious. She remembers the way Suzy used to regard her and Astrid thought….misconstrued…

It had been five years since the rape and Suzy had yet to date a single boy. She’d sleep in Astrid’s hammock, her summer dress hitched high, the two of them curling toward one another, cradled close.

Astrid took a chance and found out she was entirely wrong.

She has that in common with Walter, with the entire human race, but there’s a bravery in the effort; in the reckless abandon, even if what they’re reaching for is nothing but gossamer dreams.

“You tried to take advantage of me,” Suzy accused, voice edged with truth.

Horrified, Astrid said. “I wanted to take a risk *with* you.” She felt sick, hollowed out, and her words, intentions, were as equally true. It was an innocent kiss, under the oak tree in the hammock: it was the death of her oldest friendship. Getting it utterly wrong is the first point of commonality in the human experience, navigating the consequences is where the stories lay.

She hears Olivia’s low laugh, genuine and unaffected, the easy camaraderie between Walter and the senior agent evident.

All those years ago, when she saw Olivia and Walter, when she tried to imagine the complex tapestry they made together, Astrid forgot to include her own strands amongst the complex pattern they wove. Coiled, looped, bolstering each other up. Three years later with enough distance between now and then, the overall picture is beautiful, spilling down Olivia’s castle walls, keeping the drafts out and changing the landscape from hospital grey to mellow gold.
From: (Anonymous)
How beautiful this is: lyrical and deep, straight to the heart of the mystery that is Astrid (and that is not, I guess, an enigma; she feels so genuine yet amazing in this).

elfin: image: astrid writing on the clear chalkboard (fringe.astrid numbers)
From: [personal profile] elfin
Astrid! This is just fantastic; how caring and devoted and smart and fierce Astrid is. It's an incredible look at her character. <3
ziparumpazoo: White cow with red, blue, and yellow polka dots (GeneTheWonderCow)
From: [personal profile] ziparumpazoo
I've been wanting to read a story like this for so long, but it's such a rare and difficult thing to find such a well defined Astrid and perfectly balanced Walter, never mind all the history you've given them. Absolutely beautiful piece. Love how the three of them come together and influence and change each other.
wendelah1: (Astrid reading)
From: [personal profile] wendelah1
This is just wonderful. Great writing, insightful characterizations of all three major characters. The ways in which Astrid contributes to this team are so evident and her inner voice is so strong.
yahtzee: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yahtzee
Sorry to be so late, dear anon! But I adore your story. I love how Astrid is both incredibly controlled and genuinely loose and free when she needs to be; I think it's her perfect instinct for switching back and forth at the right moment that just defines her (and is, indeed, the main lesson she has for Olivia.) And your Walter is every bit as exasperating/hilarious/heartbreaking as he should be. Thank you so, so much!

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