Night had fallen by the time Peter made it home, that evening. When he entered the house from the garage, all was quiet, yet anything but dark.
He walked into the kitchen, distractedly hanging his key-chain on its hook as he took in the state of the room. These thirty seconds of observation were usually enough to give him an idea of what Olivia’s day was like, as she’d left trails of each of her passages in here.
The milk pump had been left unclean and in pieces near the sink, and there was an opened box of cheerios on the counter, next to a half-empty bowl – he sincerely hoped this wasn’t the only thing she ate today. Another familiar sight was the many, many used wipes scattered over various surfaces. He wrinkled his nose when he spotted a rolled-up diaper on the ground, having missed the trashcan by a good two feet.
Peter got to work, picking up today’s debris and tidying it all up; this was part of their routine, had been for a long time, long before Olivia’s entire focus was stolen by their newborn daughter. The fact that he was neat when she really wasn’t, was one of these things that made them undeniably compatible.
He liked to iron his shirts, always making sure they were tucked in his pants, and she’d tried hard not to laugh the day she’d found out how precisely he shaved, insuring his stubble was the right length at all time. He’d tried explaining to her that when you made a shady living conning people, your appearance was seventy-five percent of the work.
In comparison, her ability to sprout messes in the most improbable places was remarkable, but it did not bother him. He might even have found that trait of hers endearing, during the honeymoon phase of their relationship – or at least in one of the many they had. While the endearment had faded, his love for her certainly had not. He liked to think that the couple of years he spent living with Walter had been the universe(s)’ way of preparing him for what he hoped would be a lifetime spent by her side. Being forced to cohabit in a cramped hotel room with his crazed father for months had rendered him immune to anything mess-related.
To her credit, Olivia had gotten better at cleaning up after herself, even though he never complained about it, the way she’d never commented on how grumpy and irritable he could be when awakened in the middle of the night, yet he’d found himself making a conscious effort not to be short with her when it happened.
The fact that she’d become so scattered again lately was excusable.
As soon as he was done tidying up the kitchen, Peter made his way upstairs, quietly. He stopped by their bedroom, first, although he didn’t enter it, peeking at the bed through the crack in the door. Unlike the kitchen, this room was dark, Olivia’s body difficult to discern, twisted as she was between the covers; he smiled a little, glad she was sleeping at all.
Before long, he was pulled away, drawn toward another door, left equally ajar. As soundlessly as possible, he sneaked inside the nursery.
This room was only lit by the trusty device projecting moving pictures upon the ceiling; moon, stars, and celestial bodies travelling high above their daughter’s head, while it gave out an endless flow of sounds, ocean waves slowly crashing upon the shore. Peter did not give many thoughts to the machine itself, simply appreciating the soft light it cast in the room, allowing him to see the fine traits of the tiny human being asleep beneath the stars.
While at first, he simply stood there, he quickly ended up leaning against the crib’s side, bent over to be a little closer, nothing short of drinking in the sight of his child.
He recognized the thick pajamas she was wearing, a white, fluffy fabric adorned with a cow pattern; like most of her clothes, it was slightly too big on her. Despite having been born a week overdue, Henrietta had been tiny – except for her cheeks. Although she had quickly regained the weight she lost in the first few days out of her mother’s womb, she was only now starting to ‘thicken up’ a little.
Peter spent an unknown amount of time watching her sleep, fighting a familiar need to pick her up because it’d been hours and he missed the feel of her in his hands; missed how perfectly she fit on his forearm when she lay on it, belly down. He missed her smell and every little sound she made, missed the sharp blue of her eyes.
He knew better than to disturb her sleep, though, aware that if he did, the sounds she would make wouldn’t be the cute kind he loved. And so he let her be, eventually leaving the room as quietly as he entered it.
Back in the hallway, he briefly thought about going back downstairs and cooking up some dinner for him and Olivia, because he knew the cereals he’d found were the only she’d eaten. He went to their bedroom instead, drawn to their bed and the body half-concealed in it as much as he’d been to Henrietta.
While he hadn’t had the opportunity to hold his daughter in hours, he felt like it’d been days since he’d spent time alone with Olivia.
When he climbed into bed, she startled awake before he even got a chance to settle down. Despite her exhaustion, she remained on edge at all time, responsive to the slightest of noises, and her blurry gaze found him with a hint of alarm.
“Sorry,” he whispered, moving closer to her. “Go back to sleep.”
But Olivia shook her head groggily, before curling up into herself, almost disappearing completely beneath the covers. When she uncurled and reemerged, she looked back at him with heavy eyelids.
“Hey...” she breathed out, a lazy hand sneaking out from under the comforter to grab his near her pillow, and he squeezed her fingers.
“Hey yourself,” he smiled, bringing their joined hands to his lips and kissing her knuckles. “How long has she been asleep?”
She pushed herself up to glance at the alarm clock on his nightstand. “About an hour,” she guessed, before falling back upon the bed. Doing so, a waft of air rose from her.
While Peter had always been fond of her scent, the smell that attacked his nostrils was anything but pleasant. Before he could stop himself, his nose wrinkled up a little, an instinctive grimace most people would make upon smelling the sour hints of vomit.
He caught himself at once and forced his face to relax, but it was too late. Olivia had seen his reaction, and judging by the changes in her body language, she was not pleased.
First she frowned at him in disapproval, before averting her eyes, pinching her lips together. Next thing he knew, she was sitting up, putting some distance between them, and her quickening breathing sounded almost obnoxious in the otherwise silent room. Peter sat up as well, cursing at himself.
“She regurgitated all over me, last time I fed her. I changed, but I haven’t had a chance to shower. I was too tired.”
She said the words quietly, but her voice was tensed, as tensed as her body.
Peter knew there was nothing he could say, no appropriate answer, that whatever he chose to reply, she wouldn’t take it well. Although she hadn’t become ‘irrationally hormonal’ the way movies and books liked to depict pregnant women and new mothers, she was tired and physically uncomfortable, had been for weeks, now. He’d seen her go through an impressive array of emotions, these past six months, enough to recognize the signs...and to know he’d fucked up.
He had to say something, though, because each second of silence that went by was as good as him telling her that he was, indeed, extremely grossed out.
“It’s okay,” he said, quietly, already bracing himself.
Sure enough, Olivia took a sharp intake of breath, throwing him a nasty look, before averting her eyes again, as if he’d just told her her excuse wasn’t good enough. She was off the bed, then, agitated and incensed.
Within seconds, she was bending down and picking up discarded items from the floor, the way she often did when agitated; from what soon reached his nose, he guessed some of these were the clothes their daughter had ruined earlier, although he made sure his face wouldn’t betray him this time.
“I am trying, Peter,” she snapped at him as she threw the heap of dirty clothes in their humper, not even looking at him anymore. “I wish you could come home and not find me passed out in a pile of vomit, but I barely have time to pee.”
Peter watched as she zoomed to the bathroom’s door, a door she would have banged closed behind her, if not for fear of waking up the baby. She closed it quietly instead, making the click of the lock loud in comparison; her message was clear. While they usually gave each other privacy in there, they never locked the door either.
He could only stare at it, hearing the shower being turned on the other side of the wood, trying to make sense of what had just happened, although aware that there was no logical explanation to this. Her intense reaction came from somewhere, though, hormones or not, and Peter was perceptive enough to have an idea of what was bothering her.
They knew things would be different once Henrietta was born. They had talked about this, lengthily, the way they’d discussed dozens of topics related to parenting, and on how to keep a brand new human being alive, using the many books Peter had bought and read as survival manuals. Reality was turning out to be harder than anticipated, though, and they had anticipated this.
Put simply, having a baby put a strain on any couple, there was no way around it. He’d read that no matter how close the parents were before the birth, there always was an adjustment period, as they learned to be parents. Exhausted parents, at that.
Peter was aware of how challenging motherhood was to Olivia, on a sheer physical level, in ways she never encountered during her pregnancy. Even at forty weeks pregnant, she’d been exercising almost religiously, albeit more slowly and with some difficulty. The yoga mat she used to lay right there in front of their bed was rolled up in a corner, untouched for a while, now. He remembered watching her go through her third trimester workout routine every morning, giant belly and all, admiring her resilience while (inwardly) admonishing her inability to take it easy.
He was partly to blame for Olivia’s current distress. When she was pregnant, all of his focus had been on her, pampering her as much as she allowed herself to be pampered – which hadn’t been much, but he still devoted himself to her and her needs, having become an expert at making things easier for her, without her realizing that he was, in fact, spoiling her rotten.
Since Etta’s birth, his focus had changed, mirroring hers, split unequally as all of their efforts were directed primarily towards their daughter, and very little towards each other. And while he knew physicality was never enough to keep two people together, the lack of it, combined with stress and exhaustion, could shake the strongest foundations.
This wouldn’t do.
Filled with renewed enthusiasm, Peter left the bed, glancing at the clock again, trying to determine how long they had before Etta needed to be fed. She’d been sleeping longer around this time of day, this week; if she stuck to this pattern, they should have a couple of hours to themselves.
He briefly thought about calling Astrid to ask her to baby-sit for a few hours, but he quickly discarded the idea. He had no doubt the young woman would jump on the opportunity to come coo over Etta, but he could picture Olivia’s mortified face when he announced their friend was in their living-room with the baby monitor, so that they could stay in their bedroom to try and rekindle the flame.
No, this was a time for improvisation – one of his best skills.
Just as swiftly as he’d cleaned the kitchen, Peter tidied up their room, the sound of the still-running water letting him know Olivia had allowed herself an extended shower. While it worked to his advantage, it also told him just how annoyed at him she was. It did not discourage him, confident that he could change her mood, as long as their little princess cooperated, two doors down, and gave him a chance to try.
First, he extracted the candles that had been stuffed in his nightstand drawer for a few months, since that one (and only) time he’d tried being ‘romantic’ in here. Olivia had been six months pregnant, then, and prone to bouts of hilarity. Having found his intentions more amusing than sweet, their love making that night had been filled with the sound of her snorts and laughter, which she’d let out every time she looked at one of the lit candles. Eventually, he was laughing with her, for no reason at all, except the beautiful silliness of it all.
The memory of her laughter was what made him light up the candles again tonight, not to facilitate romance, but intimacy. Once done, he changed into his sweat pants and night shirt, before going back down to the kitchen, where he checked the fridge and freezer, making sure they had plenty of reserve. He grabbed a glass, then, opening a bottle that hadn’t been touched since they’d moved here.
He tiptoed back upstairs, re-entering their room as Olivia was exiting the bathroom, wearing nothing but her black robe. As he closed the door, she kept on rubbing her hair with a towel, a bit aggressively, her eyes narrowing as she realized the room was only lit by candlelight, anything but amused. When her eyes moved to look at him, her gaze quickly deviated to stare at the glass he was holding.
Her shoulders dropped, as did her hand from her hair. “Really?” she asked, her voice low. “That’s your solution? Putting up some candles, while you torture me with something I can’t have?”
He shook his head. “This isn’t for me. It’s for you.”
She frowned, pursing her lips with a sharp tilt of her head. “You know I can’t drink.”
“No,” he replied in an even tone. “What I know is that you can drink, as long as you don’t nurse for a few hours afterwards, long enough for the alcohol to metabolize and leave your system. We’ve got plenty of milk stored, we can give her a bottle next time she needs to feed.”
She’d walked to her bedside table while he talked, grabbing the brush she kept on there. “Are you trying to get me drunk?”
Even though she didn’t look at him, and despite the small edge in her voice, the note of sarcasm in her tone made it impossible for him not to smile. When she turned to face him, brush in her hair, he made a face, pouting a little.
“There’s hardly a mouthful in there,” he said, holding out the glass for her to see just how little whiskey he’d put in it.
Olivia did not smile, but she eyed the glass with definite intensity. He knew she missed it, probably as much as she missed coffee, although he never once heard her complain about either.
“I checked it out,” he said. “I promise it will be harmless to her by the time you feed her again in six hours or so. I’ll even take both feedings tonight if it makes you feel better.”
She’d stopped brushing, now nibbling at the inside of her lip, a clear sign that she was starting to cave, staring at the glass as if it was some kind of forbidden fruit.
“Liv,” he called her out softly, and she raised her eyes to meet his. “You’re doing such a good job with her, every day, and every night. You’re allowed to give yourself a break.”
This had been one of their ongoing ‘arguments’ since the day they met, obviously, her inability to focus on herself and her wellbeing; he’d always been quite skilled at making her slow down and breathe, though, if only for a while.
He hadn’t lost his touch, her eyes almost too bright in the flickering candlelight, as she took a few steps closer to him, and he extended his hand.
She took the glass from him, almost cautiously, looking at the amber liquid with a mix of longing and wariness. When she met his eyes again, he heard her unspoken question.
“It’s safe, honey,” he promised with a small nod.
Olivia spent a few more seconds staring at the alcohol, before raising the glass to her lips, taking all of it in in one go. He watched as she kept it in her mouth, eyes closed, her first taste of liquor in almost a year, now. She tilted her head back, then, and he followed the rippling path the liquid traced down her throat as she swallowed. Reopening her eyes and meeting his gaze, she licked the last of it from her lips.
Something was stirring in him, and she could tell.
She pursed her lips, shaking her head a little. “I’m not sure I’m up for this, yet.”
Peter sensed both her fatigue and frustration, heard the hint of embarrassment. He answered with a smile, the soft kind he reserved for moments when he found her particularly endearing. He took that one step that had been keeping them apart, grabbing both the brush and the glass from her hands, putting them down on the dresser.
“All I had in mind was a massage,” he told her as their eyes met again. “No borrowing,” he added, which earned him his first small smile of the evening.
“Just a massage, uh?” She asked, her hands instinctively falling upon his sides as he slid an arm around her, his other hand finding its way to her face, lightly cupping her cheek.
He kissed that little line between her eyes, feeling her softening in his arms as she sighed upon the skin of his wrist, letting herself sink into him. He leaned his forehead against hers, then, closing his eyes.
“I will touch you any way you’ll let me touch you,” he said softly, and he didn’t imagine the shiver that ran through her. “Anything to help you relax.”
She let out a soft, soundless chuckle. “Nice,” she said, quietly. “And here I was, thinking you were too grossed out to even want to try anymore.”
From her tone, it seemed she was trying to be derisive about this, but she didn’t quite succeed; all he heard was her uncertainty. He pulled away slightly to meet her eyes, finding the same doubts there. “I’m sorry I’ve made you feel this way,” he said, softly. “I can assure you I very much still want to touch you, all the time.”
She was blushing, now, the skin of her face warmer beneath his palm. But before long, she was averting her eyes, her traits constricting.
“What is it?” He asked.
She shook her head in his hand. “I guess the problem is me, then...again,” she said, barely above a whisper. “I thought...I figured that if I kept in shape all the way through the pregnancy, it would be easier, to get my old body back. And it’s not that I’m being vain, I’ve never cared much about the way I look, but I care about being fit, if only because I have to be, with my job. But it’s been weeks, and even though I haven’t gone back to work, yet, I don’t workout either, because I’m just too damn tired. So here I am, with floppy skin and stretch marks, feeling like a walking milk dispenser with those...things.” She tilted her chin toward her robe-covered chest, a chest that was noticeably larger than it used to be.
Peter brought his second hand to her face, “Olivia,” he said in a familiar voice, drawing her gaze back to his, and that wrinkle between her eyes relaxed ever so slightly.
“You’re a mother,” he told her with emphasis, trying to convey all of his admiration in these few words. “You literally grew a human being inside of you for nearly ten months, one precious little soul that still depends on you to survive. This is just as remarkable as any of the things you could ever do, as an agent, or because of the Cortexiphan. So...” he continued, briefly tightening his hold on her to press a soft, lingering kiss to her lips, before pulling back, “...I hope you’ll understand if I feel nothing but fascination and reverence toward your body.”
He almost felt the air being sucked from that small space between their lips. He definitely felt her pushing in and up, then, seeking him back. As he slowly ran his tongue over her lower lip, she began to twist his shirt in her fists against his sides, shivering deliciously. She pulled him closer, pressing his hips to hers as she opened up to him, letting him taste her like he hadn’t in weeks.
The remaining traces of whiskey took him a few months back, if not a few timelines. Above all else, the feel of her, so close and responsive, was as much a homecoming as it ever was.
When they eventually broke apart, long enough to breathe, the air came in and out of their lungs in hot and short bursts, his fingers entangled in her wet hair, as hers were in his shirt, the fabric now pulled tight over his lower back.
There was no hiding the way his body had responded to hers. Judging by how she let go of his shirt to grab his sweat pants, pulling them down in one swift movement, she was far from bothered by it. He frowned, excessively on purpose, even as he let go of her hair to focus on the loose knot keeping her robe closed.
“I feel like I should make it clear I meant it, when I said all I had in mind was a massage,” he pointed out, leaning down to kiss her more innocently.
But she bit down on his lip in response, hard, wrapping one arm around his neck to pull him back down as her other hand went to grab his throbbing length. Her fingers squeezed and moved in a way she knew would drive him mad, before using her thumb to tease his head, until he was moaning against her mouth.
“You also said you would touch me any way I wanted, so...” Her voice was low, almost raspy, a tone she’d often used in this very room. Olivia’s insecurities might be real and too numerous, when her mind was set on something, she became unabashed. He therefore was not in the least surprised when she let go of him to grab one of his hands, pulling it inside her open robe and down between her legs, “...touch me.”
Peter did not need to be told twice, finding her warm, always so warm; she might know how to tease him, he was just as knowledgeable. He pulled her closer, tighter, covering her tensed neck with open-mouthed kisses. Soon, she was gasping near his ear as he touched her indeed, first under her guidance, then of his own volition, both her hands gripping him for balance.
They managed to let go of each other long enough to discard of what was left of their clothes, his shirt joining his pants, followed by her robe. His hands were back on her as soon as humanly possible, pinning her back to him to kiss her languidly, already intoxicated by the feel of her skin upon his own.
Despite her uncertainties, the weeks that had passed, and the risk of being interrupted at any moment, this was familiar, the feel of her as much as his aching need for her, throbbing both within him and against her.
“How do you want to do this?” He managed to ask the next time they came up for air.
She began pushing him toward the bed, and he followed, walking backward. “On your back,” she said simply.
As he sat down upon the bed, he barely had time to move back that she was straddling him, half his legs still off the mattress, pushing on his chest until he was lying upon the crumpled comforter, and she hovered over him.
He loved that he’d reassured her enough for her to want to be on top, a position that did give her more control, but undeniably gave him a broader view as well. Not that he could see much at the moment, as she’d followed him down, resting upon his chest, swaying as she squeezed him between her thighs, kissing him with a need that equaled his own.
He felt her breasts pressing upon his chest with each of her moves, felt the light graze of her nipples, and before long, she was letting go of his mouth, hissing in discomfort, pushing herself off him to create some distance. To distract her from her soreness and oversensitivity, he brought his hand between them, swiftly making his way back to her warmth, finding her even slicker than before. He did not hesitate, curling two fingers inside of her, using the rest of his hand to apply a calculated pressure upon the nub that hid there.
His distraction had the desired effect; she grabbed his upper arms, arching upon him, head thrown back. She was gasping his name, then, a call he recognized all too well. His hand left her warmth to grab both her hips, and she guided him to her.
She slowly lowered herself upon him, as if afraid something would be fundamentally different. When it all felt wonderfully familiar instead, her entire body began to relax around him. A blissful little smile stretched her lips as she settled more comfortably upon him, both her forearms resting on his chest, bringing her face close to his to breathe against his lips.
He let her take her time, the feel of her enough to drown him in a kind of bliss that had to have killed more than one man on this Earth. When she began to move, slowly but decidedly, he allowed his hands to leave her waist. He made sure to stay away from her chest, roaming the expanse of her back instead, before moving down to squeeze her buttocks, aiding the rocking movements of her hips and increasing the pressure, swallowing her next moan.
It had been a while, but they’d done this often enough for him to know the familiar patterns of their love making. Although she seemed to enjoy the position they were in, it did not quite give them the closeness they were accustomed to, the kind she always sought as much as he did, the more carried away they got by the feel of the other. While he was already far gone, and would have kept on prioritizing her comfort over his need to have her close, he knew she might not be as kind to her own body.
Sure enough, she was moving, then, pushing herself off him until she was sitting up, breathing out a “Screw this,” as she grabbed his arms and pulled, another call he recognized.
Unable to refuse her anything, he slid ever closer to the edge of the mattress and sat up. As soon as he was within her reach, she wrapped herself around him, as he did around her; in such position, and with this amount of contact, the press of her breasts upon his chest was unavoidable.
She seemed to mean it when she’d decided to ‘screw this’, more interested in keeping him as close to her as possible, twisting his hair in her hand as he tried to breathe into the crook of her neck, each sway and rolls of her hips sending wave after wave of heat throughout his entire body.
I love you... he found himself whispering against her skin, again and again, because he knew how much she loved to hear it, and he could never say it often enough, I love you I love I love you...
She came more quickly than any of them expected her to, the rasp of his name and the feel of her rushing heat quite enough to make him follow suit.
Once again, they had done this often enough for him to be intimately familiar with the various physical manifestation of the act itself, aware that it always resulted in various...messes, including sweaty and sticky skins, among other things.
When his brain managed to reconnect more properly with the rest of his body, however, he quickly became aware of a new sensation.
Definitely...warm, wet, and sticky.
She had felt it too, and she was the first to pull away, enough to create some distance and allow them both a view of each other’s chest. Together, they discovered a specific side effect of love making while one of them had breasts full of milk, the evidence of it glaring and glistening upon both their skin.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Olivia said rather loudly, in a tone so stern and fed up that Peter had to bite the inside of his cheek hard not to laugh, not even smile, his endorphin-heavy brain creating a fleeting image of her drawing out her gun and threatening her own breasts for being such a nuisance.
He did good, though, managing to remain perfectly composed and unsmiling, merely using his grip on her hair to pull her slightly closer, this beautiful woman, the mother of his child, pressing a sweet kiss to her flushed cheek.
Still holding on to her, he tilted them sideways, reaching out to grab the pack of wipes he kept on his nightstand. He took a couple of them out, handing one out to her without a word. Carefully, he started to clean off the milky trails from her chest, while she did the same on him, aware that her annoyance was already turning into mortification, feeling it in the way she was tensing up, seeing it in her changing expression.
This wouldn’t do.
He could have told her all about the physiological mechanisms behind this, about how pleasure caused her brain to produce oxytocin, which in turn led to milk release.
“Good thing I don’t have a breastfeeding fetish,” he said instead, casually. “Can you imagine, having to nurse the two of us? I don’t think your nipples could take it.”
There was pause, one suspended instant when Olivia met his eyes again and stared back at him, and Peter knew that the probability of him getting slapped within the next five seconds was quite high.
Her whole body relaxed instead, her face soon breaking into a smile he hadn’t seen in weeks, the kind that brightened her everything.
She was sinking back into his embrace, then, and her soft, tired laughter was a beautiful music to his ears, her kiss a gentle caress against his neck, as were the three words she whispered upon his skin.