There's a pair of ridiculously fluffy and overly scented towels, a toothbrush (still in its package), and a Sharpie marker waiting for Olivia on the edge of the bathroom sink. She suspects the first two items could be indirectly attributed to Life With Walter, as Peter calls it (complete with emphasis). Walter's fondness for his creature comforts isn't a big secret. Neither is his inability to differentiate ownership. Peter had once made a crack about buying toothbrushes by the gross.
Apparently he hadn't been joking, after all.
Either way, Olivia appreciates the gesture. She'd shown up last night with little more than a full bottle of bourbon and an ounce of courage.
She opens the medicine cabinet in search of toothpaste, a little bit wary of what she'll find. It's easy to pick out Peter's things from the rest. His little ordered space is carved out of the chaos of medication bottles and lotions, dental picks and telescoping mirrors, and some implements she won't even hazard a guess as to their purpose in this particular venue. She picks up the permanent marker and turns it over with a frown, then notices Peter's name written in block letters across the front of his after-shave, along the handle of his razor, and down the side of the tube of toothpaste. It's times like these when she wonders which one of them plays the role of the parent and which one the child.
She uncaps the marker, bites her lip as she hesitates, then writes her name on the handle of the new toothbrush, staking her own claim in this strange little family dynamic.
It's a step for her. A huge one.
In the kitchen, Olivia leans against the doorjamb with her hands stuffed deep in her pockets as she watches Peter navigate his way around the room with a familiarity that belies his bachelor lifestyle. He's almost graceful, the way he hooks the fridge door shut with his ankle on his way past with a handful of eggs. Or the way he twirls the glass tumbler from the dish rack right-side-up and holds it to the light to check for spots like a bartender juggling shot glasses for tips.
She's always liked watching the way he moves.
It seems he's been up for a while, given the cluttered state of the kitchen. Which is nothing like Walter being left to his own devices; at least there isn't a burette or a graduated cylinder in sight. (And wasn't there a time, not so long ago, that Olivia couldn't tell the difference between the two?)
"Hi," she says softly, aware that he knows she's up and about. The water pipes in the old house don't keep secrets well.
He turns, silhouetted in shifting yellow light, and for a moment, her gut clenches. Then Peter smiles and it's not the glimmer she's seeing at all, but the soft glow of the morning sun as it filters through the kitchen window behind him and starbursts off the rim of the glass in his hand. He tilts his head slightly, and the effect is gone altogether.
She closes her eyes and breathes deeply. The thick smell of bacon frying and the even tock-tock-tock of the clock in the hallway overwhelm her senses.
It also anchors her.
This is what she wants, she reminds herself. Not a fling or an affair with a co-worker, because look how well that worked out. She doesn't want a few awkward dates that end with sex and a lifetime of regret because she couldn't get past the idea that he was sizing her up and making comparisons to somebody she could have been.
No, she wants normal, for a change. She wants lazy Sunday mornings spent lying around the house, drinking coffee and swapping books which they leave piled on the nightstand because they never get around to reading the endings. (Or whichever day of the week; she's not picky, really. She's also not above wanting the sex either) She wants to put somebody on her emergency contact forms who doesn't live five states away. To have someone who needs her because she's his Olivia, and not just because she swore some oath to the law. She wants to be able to turn over in bed at night and wrap her arms around somebody who loves her, broken bits and all.
She wants a lifetime with a partner.
She wants Peter.
But she's just so afraid she's going to screw this up.
When she opens her eyes again Peter is there in front of her, waiting for her with that slight tilt of his head and that shadow of a smile that suggests he knows exactly what's going through her mind. Olivia doesn't understand how he can still be this patient with her.
She's just grateful that he is.
He leans in to kiss her and she can taste coffee on his lips. (He has been up for a while) His hand, the one without the glass, slips under her shirt and settles at the small of her back. She feels him smile against her mouth. "Hi," he says, finally, and he doesn't let her go.
"I guess this might be a bit presumptuous… " She pulls back enough to nod down at the pair of pajama bottoms she'd swiped from his dresser. The cuffs pool over the tops of her bare feet. She'd started to dress in her clothes from the day before, but staying for breakfast wearing yesterday's wrinkled blouse felt just a few steps short of driving home with her underwear stuffed in her coat pocket. That's not why she came here last night.
"Now yesterday it might have been presumptuous." His fingertips dip below the waistband at her back. She presses against him without meaning to and lets her hand drift over his hip. "This morning it's probably appropriate for you to appropriate my clothes." He brushes his lips against her forehead. "Breakfast?"
"Please. I'm starving."
She follows Peter to the stool at the end of the counter and perches so she can watch him bounce between the fridge and the stove, bowl of pancake batter in one hand, and tea-towel tossed causally over his shoulder. He makes a show of pouring coffee and slides the sugar bowl down the island like he's lining up a pool shot. She sees shades of Walter in his domesticity, but she'll never mention it because he doesn't like to be reminded that, in many ways, he is definitely his father's son.
It's not difficult to imagine a version of this scene playing out twenty years down the road. After the last few months, it feels like they're finally moving in the right direction again.
He nods to the clock on the stove. "More like 'brunch' at this point, but since we don't have a case to rush out the door for at the moment, I don't see that as being a problem. Do you?"
"Nope." She hunches forward and wraps her hands around her mug. "It is the most important meal of the day, apparently."
Peter chuckles. "Proven in 1973, though one has to wonder how Walter- "
"Don't even go there." She holds up a hand between sips. "I want to eat breakfast, not dissect it."
"Touché." He drops a dollop of butter into a waiting pan where it sizzles and pops. His tone is light and his smile easy. It reminds her of how it used to be between them, back before…well, back before a lot of things.
Olivia pushes the thought away and leans across the counter to snag the newspaper. "You were up early," she says as she folds the paper open the Arts and Entertainment section and creases it so the crossword sits flat.
Peter rummages through a drawer and hands her a pen. It's nothing special; one of those cheap ones the Bureau stocks by the case, but there's a label wrapped around the end. One of those self-adhesive deals that looks a lot like the ones that had been popping up all over the lab when Peter was gone. It's curled up around the top of the pen, so Olivia unfurls it to read it.
"Property of Walter Bishop?" She arcs an eyebrow up at Peter, who only shrugs.
"I won't tell if you won't."
The plate clatters as Peter sets it in front of her. It's not as fancy as Walter's breakfast menu, but that doesn't stop her stomach from growling in appreciation.
Peter drags the other stool over and sets his own plate beside hers. "Anyhow," he lets his knee rest against hers, "somebody was hogging my bed." The corners of his mouth curve into something just a little more wicked and she feels a rush of heat in all the right places.
"You need a bigger bed." She says simply, and reaches for the syrup.
"Hey, after the hotel sofa, that is luxury." She looks over her shoulder to the over-stuffed leather piece in the living room and she has to bite back the smile that threatens to give her away. Besides, the pancakes taste delicious.
She tells him so.
"Bishop family recipe," he says between bites. "We don't make these for just anybody, you know." He grabs the pen and fills in twenty-three Across. "I mean, don't take my word for it. We could always try the sofa later. Purely for comparison's sake, of course."
Olivia bites her lip and looks back over her shoulder again. The pointed nudge of his thigh against hers makes her breath catch in her throat.
She's saved from challenging his innuendo by the sound of a key scraping in the front door. She hears footsteps in the front hall, and then an unmistakable shuffle across the hardwoods towards the stairs.
"Walter," Peter calls, a much a statement as a greeting.
The footsteps pause midway up the stairs and Olivia watches Walter bend down so he can see through the doorway into the kitchen. "Oh, good morning, son."
He looks drawn and weary. She wonders when was the last time Walter's actually had a good night's sleep; if his demons ever let him rest anymore. He continues his way up the stairs, slowly, as if each riser is taller than the last and the sum of them wholly insurmountable. He pauses, turns, and peers through the staircase spindles like a child sneaking down on Christmas morning. "Olivia!" his eye widen in surprise, as if she'd just magically teleported into the kitchen.
She gives him a little wave. Whatever his goal on the second floor, it's forgotten as he detours through the kitchen.
"Good morning Walter." She says softly, and for a moment she's almost sure he's going to reach out and hug her. She offers up her seat instead.
Since she's been back, there are still times when Olivia has to tell herself that this man is a different Walter Bishop. Certainly nothing like the one who locked her up in an eight-foot cell while he stole her life and tricked her into playing make-believe at another one. And even though she still sees shades of him sometimes, particularly when he's frustrated and his patience is short, he has come a long way from being the Dr. Bishop in the grey asylum jumpsuit and the madman's beard.
"Have you eaten?" Olivia asks, but doesn't wait for an answer as she goes about heating up the pan again. It's an excuse to put a little space between them. She forces herself to breathe slowly as she half-listens to Walter telling Peter about his New York accommodations.
But sometimes Walter just overwhelms her. Even when she knows better, when she can see that he's a different man. His presence is everywhere in this house; in every room, every drawer, and in almost every conversation. And she can deal with that.
It's being in the same room with his larger-than-life self when she's already feeling unsteady this morning that's tripping her up like a blow to the back of the knees. This isn't the lab; Olivia doesn't have an office door to shut between them so she can spare his feelings.
She reminds herself that if she hadn't needed Walter so badly she would never have met Peter.
And she wants Peter.
"…oh, and son," Walter interrupts himself, sotto voce. "You made sure to put out the good towels for Agent Dunham, didn't you?" Like he's completely oblivious to the fact that she's right there.
"I did Walter," Peter answers dryly.
"Because we'd like her to feel welcome in our home..."
Olivia can feel Peter's eye on her back as she flips the pancakes. She doesn't flinch, doesn't turn around. She doesn't even let on that she's wishing her phone would ring and give her an excuse to step away, but he seems to know anyhow. He's waiting to see if she wants an out.
She drew these two men together and forced them, sometimes painfully, to build their own warped version of a family. To get to Walter, she'd needed Peter; to have Peter now, she cannot exclude Walter. They're a package deal. An If/Then statement.
It's that simple.
'I need to make this work,' she thinks as she stacks the pancakes on a plate and adds a side of bacon.
So instead, she digs down and tries to remember the voice on the video tape – of the man trying to comfort the scared little girl in the corner. The gentle Walter. The younger, undamaged version of the man sitting at the kitchen island.
The same man who's biggest concern at the moment is his son's happiness, and by extension, hers.
It's not the Secretary sitting there, not Dr. Bishop, either. The man wearing the heavy wool coat with the slumped shoulders and the tired face is Walter. He's the man Peter calls 'my father' with that dry note of affection in his voice. And there is still a lot of good in him.
She owes it to them both to try.
"I don't think that's a problem Walter," Peter points out. "She's making you breakfast."
Olivia squares her shoulders and edges in between the two men at the counter with the plate. Walter looks up at her with those heavy eyes, and for a moment she's got this crazy urge to pour the syrup and cut his pancakes into bite-sized pieces for him… not so unlike those lazy weekend breakfasts she cherishes with her niece. Something inside her eases a bit.
"Thank you, dear," he says, and then he's off again on some tangent about the cafeteria at Massive Dynamic.
Peter rests his hand against her back and she gets this feeling that, while this wasn't quite a test, she's passed anyhow. (She has decided that it's going to take a lot more than her occasional moments of uncertainty to break them)
He gathers up his empty coffee cup and nods towards the pot. "You want another?" he murmurs in her ear as he lets his lips linger against her temple.
"No, I'm good here." She slides into his vacated seat and watches him pull another mug from the cupboard for his father.
This morning, she really is.