It's been two days and five hours since Peter told Olivia, but who's counting?
Astrid, that's who. She sometimes wishes her numerical aptitude and inclination were used for decryption more often than measuring out strawberry milkshake ingredients nanogram by nanogram on lab scales that cost more than her father's Cadillac, but it's a useful skill.
Except when it's so distracting. Correction: Olivia is so distracting.
And right now, it's only the two of them in the lab. Walter is on a William Bell legacy mission in New York until tomorrow, Peter watching over him like the good son Walter fervently hopes he will become again. Why Olivia is here, exactly, Astrid doesn't know, but would suspect it has to do with her apartment feeling less like home than it should.
Olivia is bent over a yellow file, its edges bent and pages peeking out at the sides. Sitting at the larger table shoved against the wall of the lab (probably by Walter, who prefers the odd open space for his impromptu dances), Olivia seems intent and focused. Only, not as ever. Not like before.
Astrid cannot look away from her, but it's not the good kind, the old kind of warm fascination. Olivia has always been concentrated; she's always poured all her attention into her work.
But it'd been a way into the case. Now, it's a way out of this mess. Astrid doesn't kid herself: that's exactly what the Peter thing is. Astrid used to think heart-clenching was a cliché.
Well, it's not. She closes her eyes for exactly one-and-a-half seconds and carefully puts the aluminium spiral down. Snaps the gloves off.
"Olivia?" She knows her voice sounds softer and sweeter than Olivia wants, and she can't even make a guess at what Olivia needs, except perhaps going back in time to a point when she trusted her partner's love unconditionally. "I don't want to interrupt your analysis..."
She's already done it. Olivia looks up, a tiny little frown on her forehead. Kind otherwise, though --a lot kinder than her simulacrum had been, before. Peter's not the only one feeling guilty.
"It's not -- it's okay, Astrid. What's the problem?" She even smiles at Astrid, and if it's rather...quarter-hearted, well, no one could blame her.
"I've been wondering about the other side," Astrid begins, and before that brave little curve to Olivia's lips can slip away, she adds, "about myself, I mean. I read your report, of course, but there wasn't really all that much, except my position, my input during missions."
It's not even a lie. It's just a convenient time to bring this up.
Strangely, Olivia glances away, only then looks up up. "You were -- you were a trusted team-mate, very much central. I did describe the operations head-quarter in detail, right?"
"Yes." Too much detail, maybe, and that says a lot coming from Astrid. The other side's machinery and machinations she knows, all right. "Just, Olivia, what about my double as a person?"
This time, Olivia doesn't look away. "She was different from you." The stiff line of her shoulders doesn't move. "I'm not saying this to justify the other Olivia, or how to account for the Walternate." The latter is its own can of worms, a barrelful in fact, and both of them know that, neatly avoid it. "The other Astrid was --" Olivia doesn't usually have to search for proper phrasings, so Astrid feels herself tense, a little, "clearly working in the midst of a team that made the best out of her gifts, her particular talent."
"You make it sound a little cold." Astrid swallows, but only after the words are out.
Olivia bites her lip, once. Her eyes probably wouldn't seem so quite so green without the red-rimmedness. "Astrid, I'm not a neurologist or psychologist, and it wasn't an issue on the other side, quite to the contrary. But your double, she was tuned into mathematical equations -- stochastics and reasoning patterns -- more than into everyday interactions. A lot more."
Olivia must've seen something in her face, or did not see something she was expecting, because she gets up too, steps up to her. "Astrid, this doesn't mean you weren't well-liked, in addition to well-respected. Or that we, you and I, weren't friends; we worked together every day, seamlessly." Olivia tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "Actually, the other Olivia and the other you were closer."
Than we are here, on this side. Astrid smiles at that, at the vague surprise in Olivia's voice. She's not hurt or shocked about her other self, not like Olivia may think she is. She has the advantage of knowledge, of memory: all the childhood videos of herself, sepia-coloured footage of a wide-eyed, curly-haired toddler who would stack perfect towers of boxes, with whom all ducks lined up a row wasn't just an empty phrase.
"You know, Astrid," Olivia's voice is intent in ways she rarely is with Astrid, "maybe they got it right, and we got it wrong."
Astrid exhales, slowly. "I appreciate the thought, but it's not as if I'm here waiting to be promoted as Special Agent into a Fringe division that's superseded the FBI per se. It's like you said: different universe. What I'm doing here is valuable work, and, Olivia?" She holds Olivia's gaze. "The people I work with are valuable in addition to that, just as they are. And no, I'm not just saying this."
Olivia smiles, a real one this time. "I know." She probably really does. Olivia puts blinders on sometimes, but she will take them off for the people around her.
So Astrid gives in to impulse: "Although I still sometimes wonder how exactly Stockholm Syndrome factors in. The Bishops --"
"-- get a hold of you when you least expect it, and don't let go?" Olivia's expression darkens a little, but she doesn't turn away; there are none of her Agent Dunham shutters rattling down.
"Exactly." Astrid can't stop her own smile, and obviously she can't stop Walter from rubbing off on her. "Olivia, how would you feel about pie?"
"Honestly? I would feel better about whiskey."
Which Astrid knows, which however is something that has so far been strictly Peter's territory, which yet again is an elephant in the lab she's glad to ignore. So's Olivia, apparently.
"Well, it is past five o'clock." Astrid thinks. It's a speciality of hers too, after all. "And the Cantab Lounge should be open."
"Agent Farnsworth. I had no idea." Astrid doesn't remember seeing this particular expression of quiet amusement in Olivia's eyes before -- or, well: not directed at her, like this. "Shall we?"
God, the woman can hold her liquor.
It's true that Astrid is a white wine girl -- something certain kinds of people tend to find hilarious -- and that she drink cocktails occasionally if not regularly, but she still didn't quite expect the whiskey to hit her quite like this: like a honeyed fist deep in her stomach, making her feel all soft and spread-out.
Olivia's smile has turned a little crooked, too, though. So that's something. Not that Astrid knows what, exactly. "So, how's Natasha?"
"Hopefully okay?" Astrid's answer is probably a little perkier than she feels about this. "She did get that GSAA post-grad scholarship; her flight left two weeks ago."
"Oh." Olivia swirls the remaining whiskey in her glass, back and forth. It's hypnotising; the soft rhythm of her wrist is perfectly timed, not sloppy at all. "I'm sorry."
"Me too. But it's okay; we'd talked about it long before the confirmation came through." For this one. Natasha'd had other funding lined up, after all. "It wasn't a question if she was going away."
A slow, measured nod from Olivia. She doesn't say anything else, doesn't give Astrid platitudes about love and loss. Of course she doesn't. Their silence is companionable enough to give Astrid more time to just look at Olivia. She doesn't usually favour blondes, and also: if there was ever a counter-proof to the myth that they have more fun, it's incorporated by Olivia Dunham. But here, so close to midnight in this Cambridge bar, Astrid feels something beyond the admiration and affection she's always felt. Maybe it's the whiskey.
Olivia looks at her, sideways, and gives Astrid a smile that's sweet and awkward at once, and is that a light blush on her cheeks? "I know it's stupid, but I feel like I'm taking advantage of you, Astrid."
Definitely not just the whiskey, although something warm and golden slowly unfurls in Astrid. "You mean, you feel like taking advantage of me?" So maybe that giggle was far from professional, but right now, Astrid thinks that's not what either of them wants, to be or to act.
Olivia grins in return and gently nudges Astrid's leg with hers. "That too. Definitely." The freckles on Olivia's face are like the way-stations on the maps of all the foreign countries Astrid used to browse through with her mother: trails to follow, discoveries to make, only now Astrid wants to use her fingertips, her tongue.
"May I?" Astrid whispers, and although Olivia cannot know the question, she gives the right answer and nods, eyes soft and focused on Astrid's.
Their noses bump, and for a moment Astrid senses laughter bubble up. But then Olivia tilts her head just right, and they're kissing, kissing right here in a Cambridge bar.
Only because they have to come up for air, they stop. It's the lack of oxygen that makes Astrid breathe hard, so hard, most likely. "Would you -- would you like to come home with me?" It's crazy; it's a co-worker, but it's also Olivia, and maybe this is just the kind of comfort she needs. Certainly wants.
Astrid is not even sure who of them she is thinking about.
"Yes," Olivia says, and she leans in to kiss her again, quick but lush.
And after they have reached Astrid's home, Astrid's bed, she does make those plans come true and maps out every bit of Olivia's body.
She counts 981 freckles, that is: the ones she did touch.