Over the faint crackle of dead leaves underfoot, she heard his whispered apology carry through the garden's silence, hanging in the air like mist. There was a part of her that wanted to turn around and tell him she knew, to return to his side. The desire to collapse in the frosty grass at his feet, bury her head in the lap of the one person who could possibly understand what she's gone through, and weep, is nearly overwhelming. But it was because he was the one person who should understand, who should have understood, have known, that she couldn't.
Olivia knew, on some deep level, that she was being irrational and emotional and completely unlike herself. Right now, though, she was no more certain what was her than anyone else apparently was, so she let herself feel. She walked away, carried by her emotions as much as her feet.
The cruisers and ambulance had cleared out by the time she made her way out of the vegetation to the driveway. There is only Broyles' dark SUV and the Bishops' battered station wagon, and her own black Explorer. Broyles gave her a curt wave of dismissal as he caught her eye while she tried to get to the vehicle unnoticed, and she nodded sharply in return, closing her eyes to keep the threatening tears from falling.
It didn't work, and she gave in to them for a moment as she settled in to the driver's seat, safe behind tinted windows. They still blurred the edges of her vision as she pulled out of the long driveway, but she took a few deep breaths and forced herself into composure. Only the squeal of tires as she pulled onto the road belied her feelings. She cracked the window, and let the crisp air blow the loamy scent of fall across her face and tangle her hair.
For half an hour she drove, unaware of where she was going, just away from everything that happened this night, this week. She'd like to keep driving, get on 6 and go west until she hits a different ocean, in a place she's never visited. Impractical, she told herself, and looked out the windshield to the brightly lit highway signs, indicating her proximity to Cambridge. Inhaling sharply, she gunned the gas, kept flying, wind still whipping through the slim opening in the window. She was not sure where she wanted to be, where she would ever want to be now, but Cambridge was certainly not it.
There was a bowling alley calling her name, and she traveled in that direction for a few miles until she decided that cryptic exercises were not what she was in the mood for at the moment. It was too late to show up at Rachel's, waking Ella and trying to explain the inexplicable. Oh, Rachel would understand being upset with Peter, but she couldn't possibly understand the why. Rachel cataloged hurts in the physical, in the screamed, in abandonment. Oblivious, delusional, loving happiness was not something her sister would see as a problem, though she'd nod and share a drink. Somewhere deep down, she wondered if any of the Dunham women were capable of a normal relationship.
She drove south, away from Boston, away from anyone she knew. Taking an exit, she followed the road along the southern coast of the harbor, catching glimpses of the rippling water in the moonlight. The car's headlights flashed on an unlit state park sign, and it occurred to her that visiting World's End might not be a bad choice. Winding her way down the dark roads, she finally stopped at the gate blocking the entrance, and cut the engine. Without much thought, she slipped from the vehicle, tucking keys into her pocket and leaving her phone on the console.
The simple wood barrier proved no obstacle for her on foot, and she made her way into the park, appreciating the blackness, the lack of even moonlight, the smell of the sea and decaying leaves, frostily crunching underfoot. Gradually, the trees thinned to reveal the pale light of glitterless stars, so faint they weren't reflected in the gentle swells of the bay before her, lapping with a steady echo like a heartbeat. A bench was to her left, on a promontory overlooking the beach, and she sat and dropped her head into her hands, fingers tangling through her wind-whipped hair, strands falling free of the previously tidy ponytail.
She didn't realize she was crying until she felt the cold breeze drying the trails of her tears, cool on her cheeks. Her breath came in ragged, sobbing pants, inhaling great gulps of salty air. On another night it might have felt refreshing, cleansing, perhaps even healing. Tonight she didn't think there was anything that could make her feel clean, feel like herself and not someone in secondhand skin.
After a particularly deep breath, the exhalation was not a gasp or a sob, but a scream, roiling up from deep within her. If anyone else had been in range of her voice, they would have been hard pressed to tell if the sound was human or animal. The primal gesture surprised her, but she did not stop. She shrieked out her horror at what Walternate had nearly done to her, at what she had seen in the other universe, at what had happened in this universe in her absence, at what now never could be.
Even when her voice had grown hoarse and her tears had dried, she sat silently, shaking a bit, trying to believe it was from the frigid night air and not the surfeit of emotion. Only when the first grey streaks of dawn lightened the sky did she stir, her breath coming easier as she accepted that what had happened, happened. What had happened could not be undone, but it had been done to her, and she now had the freedom to chose what to do for herself. She would have to make decisions about who she wanted to be, what she wanted out of her life, she realized, rather than drifting along in the currents of insanity as she had been for the past three years. Now, she knew who the enemy was, and what they wanted. On that point, she could focus, rebuild, reconstruct herself from the outside in, because it was far easier to project the image of a confident agent and restore some semblance of normalcy to her life, than to start at the beginning and figure out how she felt. That would take time, a luxury she knew was in short supply now.
She rose from the bench, made her way back through the misty, crepuscular predawn, stride growing more confident with each step. Today, she would take, and tomorrow, she would return to work, put on the professional shell and carry on as necessity demanded. Over the years and myriad experiences, she'd become something of an expert at that, and told herself this time was no different. The rest would fall in to place, she had to believe, as she once again felt certain of her capabilities and self, and she could decide then what she wanted, take the opportunity to remake her life what she desired it to be.
Now, she had no desire but to sleep, and she turned the SUV back north, heading home. As she drove, she made a mental list, scrubbing the bathtub and buying new sheets, a new toothbrush. By the time she was approaching her apartment, the eastern sky had brightened to a golden pink, and the streetlights had gone off, leaving deep shadows across her street as she parked. Despite her exhaustion, she approached her door feeling better than when she left it the previous morning.
Waiting for her was a bottle, tucked right against the doorframe. She hefted it up in her free hand, studying the blue post-it was stuck to the front, with Peter's smudged scrawl.
"When you're ready."
She sighed, but felt a bit of a real smile creep across her face for the first time in days. Carefully tucking the bottle into the crook of her arm, she unlocked the apartment door and stepped inside, to begin putting the pieces back together.