It’s quiet as she steps into Walter’s lab. He’s hunched over a table, his shoulders broad even as he shrinks into himself. She pauses for a moment, her hand resting on the doorway, her eyes tracking the length of the room, taking it in; they stutter to a stop when they return to the white-clad back. The room is empty except for Walter.
“Hey Walter,” she says, stepping closer, her voice lilting lighter than she feels, “Where’s—where’s Astrid?”
Her tongue trips over a word she does not recognize; a gap where she expected a word to be. She runs her hand through her hair, her fingers combing lightly through it, pulling it back into place. She pulls her shoulders back, lifts her chin a little, pulling herself back up.
“She left,” Walter says. There’s something soft, almost mournful, in his voice, and she tells herself it’s because it’s late, and because he’s tired, and because she’s tired, and nothing more.
“You need a ride home?” she asks, feeling for not the first time the oddity of having Walter live by himself. Walter. Walter. His name rolls through her mind relentlessly before spilling out on her tongue. “Walter.”
When he looks up at her, his eyes are glassy and he blinks slowly, as if returning from somewhere far away. “I’m sorry?” he prompts. His hands are shaking, she notes, and there’s something warm pooling in her stomach, something like affection and protectiveness towards this man.
“A ride home,” she says. “I can stay for a bit, if you’d like. You can make me coffee and regale me with stories,” she adds, grinning a little around the words that suddenly feel too large for her throat. Walter pulls a smile onto his lips, even though she can tell he doesn’t mean it.
“That would be good,” he says, and she can see it in the way his fingers twist in his lap. He doesn’t want to be alone. Well, neither does she, so they can be a matched set.
In the car, Walter looks out the window. His eyes skim over the darkened buildings, the snow on the sidewalk.
“Olivia—” he starts, and then breaks off. She wonders what he was going to say. She wonders, abstractly, if he finds himself searching for what he meant to say, for words that won’t come and the second half of sentences that no longer seem to exist.
“Walter?” she prompts, her eyes still on the road ahead. The headlights push into the encroaching darkness, and she can feel it when Walter turns his gaze on her. Her fingers tighten against the steering wheel, and here, in the silence, in the pause between their breaths, she can feel the way her life stutters over spaces, the way she longs to prod the gaps as a tongue does a missing tooth.
Walter is silent for long enough that she almost gives up on him answering. Finally, he shakes his head.
“I don’t remember,” he says, and his voice breaks in that way it did so long ago, when she first managed to get him out the facility, when he still clung to—to her. Needed—her. And Astrid. But the three of them have managed well enough, haven’t they? Her and Walter and Astrid, working together. They’ve been enough.
“It’s all right,” Olivia says. “I don’t always remember, either.”
This is another night, in a long string of nights, that Olivia pulls out a blanket and settles in on the couch as Walter pads off to his bed.
Someday, she thinks, she’ll just move in with Walter, or have him move in with her. (Someday, someday—)
Sometimes, she wonders why she hasn’t already.
In the morning, Olivia leans against the bathroom counter and looks in the mirror. Her eyes flick over her shoulder, and it takes a moment for her to realize that she’s looking for something—someone. There’s only her and Walter in this house, though. There’s no one else to look for.
She helps Walter with breakfast, and while sometimes it’s easy to break her heart over this man and her childhood and everything that’s happened, today it’s easy for her to laugh at his antics. Her eyes skim to her left as Walter says something outrageous, but there is no one there to share an eye roll with, and she wonders why she thought there should be. Lack of sleep, she tells herself. She’s overworked. If they had more people—
But no. There’s no need.
She and Walter and Astrid—they manage things just fine.
She and Walter make a quick stop at her apartment so she can shower and change. Walter amuses himself with reorganizing her bookshelves and making a list of music she needs to buy.
As she drives them to work, she tells herself she’ll move them in together, because someone needs to take care of Walter, and she and Astrid are all he has.
She and Walter and Astrid—they’re all each other have.